Topeka Two of President Donald Trump's key campaign officials told a gathering of Kansas Republicans Tuesday night that they were fully confident Trump would win the 2016 election long before most other people were ready to believe them.
Brad Parscale, a Topeka native who served as Trump's technology director, and campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, who was born in Wichita but raised in Texas, returned to their home states Tuesday for a Kansas GOP fundraiser, and to explain how, in their own very different views, Trump won the hearts and minds of voters in Middle America.
For Parscale, it was all about the science of data, micro-targeting audiences and bypassing traditional media to reach people through Facebook, Twitter, email and text messages.
In one of his first meetings with Trump's son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner, Parscale, a 1994 graduate of Shawnee Heights High School, recalled saying, "Donald Trump is going to talk to America on Twitter, but he's going to win the election on Facebook."
"I said America is on Facebook, and their eyeballs have left television," he said. "When TV commercials come on, they open their phone and they look at Facebook."
Both Parscale and Pierson joined the campaign early in the process, long before most people knew for sure that Trump was going to enter the race.
Parscale said he started with a $1,500 contract to build a website for Trump. That led to another contract to build a campaign website, a job that evolved into running the campaign's entire digital strategy through a company that would bill the campaign for roughly $93 million — most of which, Parscale insisted, went to pay bills and other employees.
"That money led to the first major presidential campaign where we spent half our money on digital and half our money on TV, which was a drastic change from anything previously where I think the most had been like 15 percent," he said. "And I knew that to get to Middle America now, it was on all of you guys' cell phones."
Likewise, Pierson, a single mother living in Texas at the time, signed on as a passionate volunteer and soon found herself appearing on cable TV talk shows and other venues via a TV studio the campaign installed in her home in Texas so she could work from home while her son was finishing high school.
For Pierson, the race was about something more ethereal than data and social media strategy.
"I am convinced there was divine intervention with Donald Trump running for president," she said. "There is no reason either of us should be sitting here today, other than having the will and the fight and the courage, and obviously the doors that God himself has opened for this country."
After the campaign, Parscale and Pierson were among the founders of America First Policies, an independent political committee that was intended to work in support of the White House.
For a little more than an hour, Parscale and Pierson regaled their audience with the same kind of conservatism that Trump himself has become known for, lashing out at liberals, the media, and what they considered to be "fake news" about the campaign.
But Pierson said the results that came in on election night were, for her, "total, utter vindication."
Without giving specific examples, she said, "You know, what they did to us, the media did to us during the campaign was wrong on so many levels. It's awful. It kind of ruined me for TV in a lot of ways because I'd been doing for six or seven years by that point, and to see the outright lies, in some cases, on a hard news network, it just really threw me for a spin."
Despite their attacks against the mainstream news media, it was clear that they were also playing to it as well.
In the back of the meeting room at a Topeka convention hotel, a camera crew from the CBS show "60 Minutes" was recording the event and interviewing Parscale afterwards.