2016: The tale of two transitions

January 21, 2020

The Clinton and Trump transition leaders share what happened during the 2016 election. In this conversation, Rich Bagger (Trump) and Ed Meier (Clinton) discuss how they became involved with the transition, the challenges they faced and what happened after Election Day 2016. 

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Read the highlights from the episode:

Ed Meier and Rich Bagger say that having the two major-party transition teams working in the same building “wasn’t as weird as you might imagine.” Both attribute this to a recognition that ensuring a smooth transition is a critical task.    

Dave Marchick: “You were in the same room together after the conventions. You are in the same building together. Was that a little weird [having] your bosses—then candidate Trump and Secretary Clinton—building themselves up and tearing the other person down a [while] you all were working together, collaborating, talking in the same room?”   

Ed Meier: “It wasn’t as weird as you might imagine it could be… My colleague Ann O’Leary and I were the co-executive directors and we really emphasized with our team that this was a real responsibility, that we were preparing for governing. And in that sense, we weren’t sitting around trying to think of the next political hit to, to throw at candidate Trump. We were solely focused on how we were going to take the promises that Secretary Clinton was making on the campaign and implement those into the first 100 and 200 days of…[her] presidency. And in that sense, it felt more like governing than it did politicking—because that’s what it was. And so, in that sense, Rich was more of a colleague than a political competitor because we were learning about transition and really working on this great responsibility [together].”  

Rich Bagger: “Well, we [were] definitely working in close quarters. And it was certainly interesting, but I agree completely with, with Ed’s comments. When we would meet together– we would meet together every month, you know, in the White House for the White House Transition Coordinating Council. We’d also meet periodically with the agency transition directors in the Executive Office Building. And I remember sitting in those meetings really being incredibly proud as an American that participating in a system where an outgoing administration is briefing representatives [and] planning transitions for the competitors for the presidency during a very contentious election—sitting down together [and talking] about the fundamentally important things for [the] continuity of government.”  

Ed Meier discusses how his transition team realized it had failed to prepare for the chance that Hillary Clinton would lose, as well as the emotional aftermath of the election.  

Dave Marchick: Donald Trump won, and most people didn’t expect him to win. What was that like and then what happened?  

Ed Meier: “[Laughter] I’m glad the podcast listeners can’t see the tears streaming down my face right now. So, my family packed up, drove up to New York, and drop[ed] my kids off in New Jersey where my sister lives, and my wife and I went to the Javits Center for what we thought was going to be the victory party in New York City. Actually, one of my dear friends recalls…[that] I turned to her and I said, “Our transition website was so beautiful.” She still reminds me of that moment. And, it just sort of encapsulates [it]—all this planning that goes into this process and preparation and then for it to all [to] sort of not be as meaningful as you as you had hoped it would be…The next morning we had [all our] briefing materials with us and afterward, you realized we haven’t really planned sufficiently for this eventuality: Uh, what happens if we lose? And so as we were driving back down to Washington the next day, I sent [a] message to all of our transition team who had stayed…in Washington…and said “Don’t go into the office, come to our house. We’re going to have lunch. Bring your laptop computers, bring anything you have that you need to turn in.”   

Meier (continued): “And we took care of the beginning of all the logistics of winding down this organization we had spun up. And we also just had a moment for us; to just be there for each other emotionally. And there were definitely some tears shed. And, and you know, [on] one hand you’re having to take care of the logistical responsibilities of winding down an organization and [while also] taking care of a team—your colleagues who are and yourself—who are just emotionally exhausted and crushed. And it was definitely an extremely painful moment but also a moment where you realize you can’t just cry—even [if] you do cry a lot—but you also have to take care of winding down this organization.”  

Meier (continued): “We knew Rich would have been very gracious, for sure. But we just didn’t want our team to need to go back into the building… There were a handful of us that then took all the laptops and took all the fobs and all that sort of thing and return[ed] them to the GSA in the building…For the most part, we just didn’t want our team to have to go through that emotionally.”  

Rich Bagger recounts how he left his role as transition director “two or three days after the election.”   

Rich Bagger: “Two or three days after the election, [it was announced that] Vice President-elect Pence, would becoming the chair of the transition for the next phase, and Governor Christie would be moving to a new role as just a member of the transition executive committee. I decided that it was right for me to leave [my] role as executive director. The only reason I was doing the transition work was because of my relationship with Governor Christie and the fact that he had tapped me to do it. So, it was appropriate that I move out of that role and hand off to Rick Dearborn, who carried [the transition] forward to the next phase.”