A Former Trump Aide Becomes a Liberal Favorite

A Former Trump Aide Becomes a Liberal Favorite

Now and then during an election cycle, a Republican pundit becomes something of a hero to Democrats.

Peggy Noonan, a conservative Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, filled that role in the months leading up the 2008 election, after she had pilloried the second Bush administration over its invasion of Iraq and criticized Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt, veterans of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, reached pundit primacy on MSNBC excoriating the tea party activists then in ascendance.

A rising star of the current season is Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former communications director for President Trump who is now a co-host of ABC’s “The View” and a regular commentator on CNN.

Ms. Farah Griffin, who resigned from the Trump administration in December 2020, garnered wide attention with a tweet she posted on Jan. 6, 2021: “Dear MAGA — I am one of you. Before I worked for @realDonaldTrump, I worked for @MarkMeadows & @Jim_Jordan & the @freedomcaucus. I marched in the 2010 Tea Party rallies. I campaigned w/ Trump & voted for him. But I need you to hear me: the Election was NOT stolen. We lost.”

Three years later, Ms. Farah Griffin, 34, spends many of her nights at the CNN headquarters in the Hudson Yards district of Manhattan, bantering with Van Jones, David Axelrod and other liberal commentators.

“There are a lot of refugees from Trump World who are objects of interest, but not all of them are as comfortable in the medium as she is,” Mr. Axelrod said in a phone interview. “She’s very, very fluent. And she’s a great communicator.”

A little after 10 a.m. on Tuesday — Super Tuesday, that is — Ms. Farah Griffin was seated in her dressing room in ABC Studios on the Upper West Side. She was decked out in a hot pink Dolce & Gabbana suit and a pair of nude colored platform heels from Gianvito Rossi. (“From wardrobe,” she said. “Not my own.”)

On her ring finger was a big diamond, a gift from her husband, Justin Griffin, a former political consultant whom she married in 2021 and who now works in venture capital and commercial real estate.

On the table in front of her was a fan letter from an 80-year-old man who described himself as a gay Democrat.

Joy Behar, who has called the MAGA movement a cult, poked her head into the room and demonstrated how invested she was in Ms. Farah Griffin’s success by offering some advice aimed squarely at me: “Be nice — or else.”

With guests who more often than not come from the world of entertainment, “The View” is hardly wonky. Just last week, Ms. Farah Griffin interviewed an actor from an Off Broadway show, “The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers.” The segment ended with Ms. Farah Griffin getting covered in a bucketful of goo.

Yet because the format of the round table involves women from different backgrounds talking about everything from pop culture to abortion, and because “The View” has been for three years running the nation’s highest-rated daytime talk show, its political influence is hard to deny.

In 2010, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to appear on a daytime talk show when he headed to “The View” for a chat. Since then, more than a dozen presidential candidates have stopped by.

ABC’s internal research indicates that the audience for “The View” runs slightly more Democratic than Republican, but it is by no means a large gap, said Lauri Hogan, the show’s spokeswoman. The fact that viewers come from a wide range of ethnicities and age groups has also enhanced its appeal among politicians.

The studio audience on Tuesday included a Black couple from Arlington, Va., who were nearing their 50th wedding anniversary, a white woman in her 40s from outside Philadelphia, who had her nails bedazzled in honor of RuPaul (the episode’s celebrity guest) and an assortment of young gay men from Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea.

Whoopi Goldberg kicked things off with a discussion of Super Tuesday.

Voting had begun mere hours before, but the panelists seemed to agree that the day would not end well for Nikki Haley. Ms. Behar said she was waiting with dread for Ms. Haley to endorse Mr. Trump.

“I’m not convinced that she will,” Ms. Farah Griffin said. “Listen, the day that will break my heart are two things happening: Nikki Haley endorsing Donald Trump and if Mike Pence does.”

“Prepare to be brokenhearted,” Ms. Behar responded.

From there, the panel considered Jason Kelce’s emotional announcement of his retirement from football, which provided an opening for the co-hosts to delve into the subject of midcareer reinventions.

“The only consistent thing in life is that it’s unpredictable,” Ms. Farah Griffin said. “I never thought I’d be sitting here. I worked at the Department of Defense — and I got slimed last week!”

“You know what?” Ms. Behar said. “You should have done that to Trump while you were working for him.”

Ms. Farah Griffin said her biggest concern when she auditioned for the show in 2022 was not her ability to fit in with a panel that still skews blue but whether she would be able to hold her own during the lighter segments. She did not play a large role when RuPaul appeared on Tuesday to promote his memoir, “The House of Hidden Meanings.” But when the show wrapped at noon, a number of audience members sang her praises.

“She’s relatable to our generation,” said Nate Jobe, 33, who is gay, lives in Hell’s Kitchen and works in content marketing for a hospitality company. “We don’t agree on certain policies, but she’s pro-L.G.B.T., she believes in human rights and she’s so articulate and easy to understand.”

Robbie Dorius, who works in public relations for a health insurance company, praised Ms. Farah Griffin’s openness on the air about the toll her political transformation has taken on her family.

Mr. Dorius, 32, was referring mainly to Ms. Farrah Griffin’s father, Joseph Farah, the co-founder and editor in chief of WorldNetDaily, a website that was started in 1997 and predated InfoWars as a platform for unfounded conspiracy theories.

In 2007, the site put forth what Ms. Farah Griffin now calls the “racist birther conspiracy” about Mr. Obama, who was baselessly described there as having been born in Africa. Had it been true, he would have been ineligible to serve as president.

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Farah got divorced from Ms. Farah Griffin’s mother, Judy Farah, a career journalist who worked at The Associated Press; Ms. Farah Griffin spent most of her childhood with her mother in Sacramento, Calif.

Mr. Farah moved to southern Oregon, where he and his next wife, Elizabeth Farah, had a compound on which WorldNetDaily staffers lived. A 2019 Washington Post article said he went to work every day with a pistol on his hip. “That’s probably right,” Ms. Farah Griffin said. “He owned guns and they were prevalent.” (A phone call to Mr. Farah requesting comment was not returned.)

Ms. Farah Griffin wrote for her father’s website during her high school years. She went to Patrick Henry College, a conservative Christian school in Purcellville, Va., where she majored in public policy and journalism.

In 2014, she went to work as the press secretary for Mr. Meadows, the Tea Party Republican serving North Carolina’s 11th congressional district in the House of Representatives.

Ms. Farah Griffin said that she did not vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. “I wrote in Paul Ryan’s name,” she said, referring to the Republican speaker of the House at the time. But she nevertheless accepted an administration job in September 2017, as the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence.

Two years later, she served in the same role for the Department of Defense. In 2020, Mr. Meadows, who was then Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, tapped her to become the White House communications director.

Whether or not she had swallowed the Trump philosophy whole, she was able to forge relationships with people outside the MAGA nucleus, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, oversaw much of the federal government’s response to the Covid crisis.

In a phone interview, he described Ms. Farah Griffin as an “outstanding person” and a “breath of fresh air” who was a “straight shooter” in the darkest days of the pandemic.

“She defended me when I was telling the truth, instead of attacking me the way others did,” Dr. Fauci said. “She understood the truth is the truth, whether it’s inconvenient or not.”

But Ms. Farah Griffin has heard the accusation that her subsequent political transformation arose more from necessity than principle.

Around the time the presidential election was called for Joe Biden in November 2020, Fox News reported that Ms. Farah Griffin had hired a talent agent to find her on-air opportunities. (“Not true,” she said.) A 2022 Vanity Fair profile that appeared months before she signed on with “The View” referred to her “checkered history working for some of the most notorious right-wing figures of the last decade.”

National Review published a withering piece on her evolution, titled “What Happened to Alyssa Farah?” It noted that she herself had parroted Republican talking points about voter fraud and “rigged elections” in the weeks after Mr. Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.

Ms. Farah Griffin acknowledged having made those statements, but said her changing views since that time are the result of her experiences and observations, rather than being a part of a media master plan.

“I came from an environment and was raised to have a deep distrust of institutions,” she said in her dressing room at ABC Studios, her shoes off, her legs crossed in the lotus position. “And I think that was a factor early in my career, gravitating toward things like Young Americans for Liberty and the Freedom Caucus, which existed to challenge the Republican Party from within the Republican Party.

The funny thing is that, with the benefit of history, I’m kind of the opposite,” she continued. “The only thing, or one of the only things, I have faith in are the institutions that provide guard rails to keep this experiment in democracy working.”

Part of what she aims to do with her platform, she said, is set an example for the millions of people like herself, the ones who feel cast adrift by the two major political parties. She said that while she cannot see getting an abortion herself, she believes overturning Roe v. Wade was a mistake. She added that she opposes the “bathroom bills” that prevent transgender children from identifying as they are.

“It’s a manufactured problem, when there are simple solutions like gender neutral bathrooms.”

She is staunchly in favor of aid to Ukraine.

“I don’t want to be like Bill Kristol, who never met a country he didn’t want to invade,” she said, a reference to the pundit who had helped define post-9/11 neoconservatism. “But there’s a difference between supporting Ukraine without putting a single boot on the ground and placing tens of thousands of our troops in Afghanistan for over 10 years.”

Though she said she regards Mr. Trump as “the most dangerous politician” in her lifetime, she also wants to live in a world where people with serious differences engage in civil discourse.

“My dad and I have not spoken since Jan. 6,” she said. “I always leave that door open. I believe in reconciliation, I believe in forgiveness.”

She added that, though she is aware they are just two people among many whose relationships have been upended in a polarized political climate, it still feels ridiculous to her that her father stopped speaking to her when she came out publicly against Mr. Trump.

“All I did was state my opposition to a politician,” she said, inserting a choice expletive.

But becoming an island has its upsides, she said. When she and her husband were married in 2021, no wedding planner was necessary, because about 50 of those closest to her were no longer willing to attend.

The couple now lives with a Havanese dog named Herbie on a high floor in an Upper East Side apartment building A few hours after Ms. Farah Griffin had wrapped at “The View,” I met her and Mr. Griffin there.

She was getting ready to head over to CNN for several hours of roundtable Super Tuesday discussions hosted by Jake Tapper.

The television was on, tuned to CNN. Behind the sofa were pictures of the couple at their wedding in Florida. I noticed that the place had lots of photos of Mr. Griffin’s family, and none of hers.

“That is correct,” she said. “But it’s not intentional.”

After changing into another pink suit — “bright colors pop on television,” she said — Ms. Farah Griffin gave her husband a kiss goodbye and headed off to an Uber.

In the back of the S.U.V., she talked about the people from Trump World with whom she no longer speaks (Mr. Meadows, Kayleigh McEnany) and one with whom she does (Cassidy Hutchinson).

“We were texting this morning,” Ms. Farah Griffin said. “I’m trying to get her to move to New York.”

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