"I'm not comfortable with it," the former first lady said, according to Frankly, We Did Win This Election

By Sam Gillette
July 15, 2021 11:19 AM
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President Donald Trump claps alongside US First Lady Melania Trump after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, early on November 4, 2020
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

Even as President Donald Trump geared up for an expected victory in November, a new book recounts, First Lady Melania Trump was doing everything in her power to ensure the election night party wasn't held at the White House because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a battle she ultimately lost.

The first lady rejected Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' request to use the White House for the event three times, according to Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender, which was published on Tuesday.

Just nine days before November's Election Day, Meadows circled back again to explain that the White House was the best option because the original location, Trump International Hotel, was restricted by local regulations, Bender reports.

"I'm not comfortable with it," Mrs. Trump, who preferred to have no parties at the White House during the pandemic, reportedly told Meadows.

Her feelings were confirmed by Timothy Harleth, the White House's chief usher, and her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, who warned her about the potential length of the party, per the book. (A current spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this account.)

Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump appear on election night in the East Room of the White House in the early morning hours of November 04, 2020
Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on election night
| Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender
Credit: Twelve Books

She had reason to be concerned: In September 2020, the Trumps' Rose Garden ceremony for future Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which included a significant indoor gathering as well, was later described as a "superspreader event" by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

President Trump had also been widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic and his open ambivalence about preventative measures like mask-wearing.

He, his wife and their teenage son, Barron, all got the disease in the fall of 2020.

"Win or lose, there are going to be protests that night," Mrs. Trump's spokeswoman told her, according to the book. "Are we going to end up with a 300-person slumber party at the White House if these people can't get out?"

After Mrs. Trump's fourth rejection, Meadows took the request to the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who then brought the issue to the president himself.

Four days before the election he called his wife from Air Force One, writes Bender, a senior White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

"This is your night — do what you're going to do," Mrs. Trump told her husband, according to the book. "You're going to do it anyway."

If the first lady couldn't stop the party — which was apparently a point of contention between the East Wing and West Wing, especially as planning commenced — she could isolate herself and her son from the crowd.

Ivanka Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Lara Trump, and Eric Trump arrive to hear President Donald J. Trump speak during an election night event in the East Room at the White House early in the morning on Wednesday, Nov 04
Ivanka Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Lara Trump, and Eric Trump arrive to hear President Donald J. Trump speak during an election night event in the East Room at the White House early in the morning on Wednesday, Nov 04
| Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

"She would stay in the residence with Barron and her parents, and only come if Trump needed her to stand next to him for a public speech," Bender writes.

While his Frankly, We Did Win This Election provides an inside look at the Trumps' last days in the White House, it is primarily a deeply reported review of the 2020 re-election campaign, the administration's in-fighting that prevented a streamlined response to COVID-19 and the eventual siege on the U.S. Capitol.

(President Trump has denounced the book and its reporting, even though he was interviewed by Bender himself. In a statement earlier this month, he slammed Bender as a "third-rate reporter.")

In one of the more colorful scenes in his book, Bender describes how the party on election night — which was "mostly a party for the kids" (i.e. the president's eldest children Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump) — devolved after the president and his team realized he was losing to Joe Biden.

"What the f---?" Trump yelled into the phone after Fox News announced that Biden had won Arizona, according to the book. (As a source close to Eric told PEOPLE at the time, as the vote-counting became clear: "They're very upset. It's been hard to watch.")

Ivanka Trump, assistant to U.S. President Donald Trump, attends an election night party in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020
Ivanka Trump at an election night party
| Credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty

Bender writes that people who had been watching the results come in from the White House's Map Room immediately ran to the war room, heard Trump yell at campaign manager Bill Stepien and then ran to the president's private residence.

Everyone from campaign officials to Trump's family members attempted to give him encouragement and advice, according to the book.

"Trump never allowed so many people in the residence, mostly because it drove Melania nuts," Bender writes. "But it didn't matter now. No one could give Trump an answer he wanted to hear."

"It was a s-------," an official told Bender. "And the saddest thing I've ever seen."

On Saturday, Nov. 8, the race was called for Biden. But his predecessor was far from done.

Riding on his evidence-free claims of fraud, which he had tossed around like confetti during the campaign, Trump continued to insist the election had been stolen.

In the months between the voting and Biden's inauguration, Trump's allegations were repeatedly rejected by the courts and officials, including Republicans.

But he persisted — ultimately encouraging his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, during a joint session of Congress to certify the election results.

capitol coup
Rioters at the U.S. Capitol following Presidential election results
| Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty

"You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong," Trump told the crowd.

Five people died in the ensuing riot.

On Feb. 13, Trump was acquitted in his unprecedented second trial by the Republican-led Senate after he was impeached by the House of Representatives for "incitement of insurrection."

Throughout proceedings, the Trumps were ensconced in Mar-a-Lago, their private club in Palm Beach, Florida. But it hadn't been as comfortable a homecoming as one would hope, according to Bender.

The family arrived at Mar-a-Lago immediately after leaving the White House on Jan. 20, only to learn that staffers weren't prepared for their arrival.

Bender writes that the former president had to set up his office in the resort's bridal suite because his own space was too cramped. But that setup wasn't his main focus.

Trump "repeatedly asked friends if they blamed him for the riots at the Capitol," Bender writes.

"You don't think I wanted them to do that, do you?" he asked them, according the book. He also asked friends, club members and aides if he should run for president again, though he seemed more focused on his "political power" than the 2024 election in the initial months after leaving the White House, according to Bender.

Businessman Donald Trump and wife Melania at the Trump Invitational Grand Prix at Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida, January 4, 2015
From left: Donald Trump and Melania at the Trump Invitational Grand Prix at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Jan. 4, 2015
| Credit: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty

"To start, there was a new melancholy to the former president's tone when he talked about the new phase of his life. Melania loved it at Mar-a-Lago, he told friends, and she looked more beautiful than ever," Bender writes.

"She's young, she's 50. Donald Trump is 24 years older," biographer Mary Jordan told PEOPLE. "She has a big life ahead of her."

"Mrs. Trump is enjoying life at Mar-a-Lago," Mrs. Trump's spokesperson told PEOPLE in April, despite reporting that Mrs. Trump appeared to be in somewhat of a sour mood. "She is focused on being a mother and putting her family first, while working on various projects that will take time to finalize."

RELATED VIDEO: What Melania Trump's Biographers Learned: 'More in It for Her to Stay Than to Go'

As the Trumps make plans for the next stage in their lives, Bender writes that the former president has had time for a little introspection:

"He acknowledged his advanced age, musing about whether some of his health risks — he was overweight, adding 'at least that's what they say' — might catch up with him, and even gave God at least partial credit for lasting as long as he had."

"The Good Lord's given me good health up to now—but you never know," Trump said, per the book.

Adds Bender, "And that was about as much self-reflection as he would ever allow."

Frankly, We Did Win This Election is on sale now.