That's Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), suggesting on ABC's “This Week” in late July 2015 that Donald Trump stood a chance of winning the Republican nomination. The idea is met with laughter from two of the other people there, including the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and host George Stephanopoulos.
“I'm telling you,” Ellison says, over the chuckles, “stranger things have happened.”
Indeed. When Trump locked up the nomination in early May, that clip resurfaced, first posted to Ellison's campaign YouTube account and then picked up by MoveOn's Iram Ali on Twitter and reporter Brendan James, who summarized it succinctly.
From there it went viral. It re-emerged again recently, thanks to Ellison's bid to run the Democratic National Committee.
But what's missing is context. Why the laughing? Was there a discussion earlier in the show about the topic?
A glance at the show's transcript reveals that, no, this wasn't a riff on an earlier conversation. The other members of the panel — Haberman, ABC News political director Matthew Dowd and Republican strategist Ana Navarro — outlined their expectations for the upcoming first Republican debate and how other candidates might deal with the nuisance that was this Trump character. Then the conversation turned to Ellison.
“I'm watching Keith Ellison over here just smiling silently through this whole discussion,” Stephanopoulos said, by way of introduction — and the other panelists chuckled at that, too. Ellison then offered his thoughts.
Was he being sincere? Playing Devil's Advocate? Was there some other reason people might have thought he was joking? To find out, we reached out to the members of the panel (save Stephanopoulos, who didn't reply to our outreach) individually over email. They told us what they remembered from that moment, and why they thought it resonated months later.
DOWD: I think Ellison believed what he was saying, that there was a possibility Trump could be the nominee — though I don't think Ellison really believed it would actually happen. I think he thought Trump had a realistic shot, but that it was improbable.
I thought Haberman and George's reactions were natural at the time since most people, even people pro-Trump, thought Trump winning the nomination was very unlikely. There was near-universal belief at the time that Trump's path to the GOP nomination was highly unlikely, and so their reaction seemed rather normal.
HABERMAN: The reason I laughed was not at the notion of Trump as a nominee, nor was it to be disrespectful of the congressman. The congressman described Trump's “momentum,” which struck me as him trying to elevate the wished-for Democratic candidate instead of expressing a real fear of someone who was marginally leading a race he had just entered.
That said, laughing is one of my top five regrets of this campaign.
ELLISON: Yes, I thought Trump could win. I also thought that Democrats weren't taking him seriously enough.
Based on the conventional wisdom, [Haberman and Stephanopoulos] were right. Maggie and George are great at their jobs.
Let’s remember that this was in the very early days of Trump’s campaign. He had just conducted a news conference where he called Mexicans rapists and criminals. And don’t forget he entered coming down on a golden escalator and had extras who were paid to portray themselves as supporters. Very few people took him seriously at the time.
DOWD: I think everyone had a natural reaction to the moment at hand on live television. I think there has been a way overreaction to Haberman's and George's natural reactions. They weren't laughing at Trump or his voters, they were laughing at the very long and unlikely odds of Trump.
NAVARRO: I have zero memory of it. Saw the clip and didn't even remember being there. I don't remember. I don't want to remember. I don't want to think about it. Anything I tell you is made up.
I do over 1,000 TV hits a year. Unless I say “pussy” on TV, I barely remember what I talked about yesterday. In fact, I don't remember what the hell I had for breakfast today.
HABERMAN: This never was a “thing” until May, when it mysteriously showed up on one person's Twitter feed, clipped to include just that segment featuring two journalists who Trump has repeatedly denounced in private.
Again, I regret having that reaction, but it still doesn't mean I was laughing at the notion of Trump winning. I'd point you to coverage I did of Trump in 2011 when he thought of running when I was at Politico. I took it, and him, pretty seriously.
ELLISON: The [Jesse] Ventura win taught me not to dismiss the long shot. There is an appeal to someone who is portrayed as an “outsider” who will speak for working families. Donald Trump is no working-class hero, but he played one pretty well on TV. He is a billionaire who is just filling his cabinet with other billionaires and lobbyists. The idea that he is going to help working Americans is founded on TV hype and PR.
HABERMAN: As it's gotten passed around on Twitter, it is not just out of context of the panel, but out of context of time. It was taped five weeks into Trump's race.
DOWD: I remember afterward telling Ellison that I agreed with him that Trump had a real shot at winning the GOP nomination — but that the general election was a whole new situation.
ELLISON: People dismissed a Trump victory, but some understood the appeal. The lesson is that there are no sure things in politics, and never allow your constituents to feel unheard.
We also asked Ellison why he thought the clip went viral. “Clips go viral every day,” he replied. “It's just one of those things.”