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Stephanie Grisham worked in Trump's White House. She now works against him from deep-red Kansas

Plainville, population 1,746 is the largest town in Rooks County Kansas, where Trump to 86% of the vote in 2020.
Frank Morris
/
KCUR
Plainville, population 1,746 is the largest town in Rooks County Kansas, where Trump to 86% of the vote in 2020.

The former press secretary has become a high-profile Republican fighting against Donald Trump. And she’s doing that from an old house in Plainville, Kansas, a ranching-and-oil town of 1,750 in a county where Trump won 86% of the vote.

PLAINVILLE, Kansas — Stephanie Grisham has the distinction of serving as a White House press secretary who never held a press conference.

And who ultimately turned on the former chief executive who brought her into the West Wing.

Now she lives in a deep-red part of west-central Kansas — surrounded by Americans where Donald Trump remains a political savior and from where she’s coordinating with Republicans across the country determined that he never return to the Oval Office.

“She hides in plain sight here,” says Lauren Mack, veterinarian to the town of about 1,750 people.

Six years ago, she viewed the New York real estate man and reality TV star the same way as so many of her new Midwestern neighbors do today. She saw him as a straight-shooting antidote capable of draining a swamp of graft and self-dealing in Washington.

Grisham became determined to make America great again by working for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. She rose high enough in the campaign that after Trump was elected, she became First Lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman.

And late in the administration, she took over the job as the president’s press secretary.

But her view from inside the Trump White House made her lose faith. And when, during the Jan. 6 insurrection, Melania Trump refused to OK a tweet condemning the violence on Capitol Hill, Grisham quit.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham listens as President Donald Trump, right, speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. and then on to Georgia to meet with supporters.
Andrew Harnik
/
Associated Press
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham listens as President Donald Trump, right, speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. and then on to Georgia to meet with supporters.

Like a handful of other Trump acolytes-turned-antagonists, she wrote a book. It was not kind to the man who was once her hero. It cast Trump as an angry man-child with a special love of dictators.

Grisham has become one of the more visible Republicans fighting against Trump, appearing on national TV and working with other disaffected former Trump staffers on a plan to make sure her former boss stays out of public office.

She’s doing that from an old house in the ranching-and-oil town Plainville in a county where Trump won 86% of the vote in 2020.

And, so far, so good.

“I’ve had absolutely no problems,” Grisham said. “Everybody’s kind to me. There are a couple of people who, I think, give me looks that aren’t super pleasant. But well, you know, maybe they’re just having a bad day.”

People who aren’t immediately recognizable in Plainville stand out. Some don’t know who Grisham is. For a lot of people in Plainville, the most important thing is that a relatively young person (Grisham is 45) has moved to this shrinking town and fixed up an old house.

Others, though, call Grisham a traitor, someone who double-crossed Trump to make a buck. And they adore Donald Trump.

“He’s it,” said Candace Rachel, long-time editor of the Plainville Times. “A lot of people in this town think he’s the savior.”

Grisham said it’s unlikely she would ever have set foot in the place if her sister hadn’t married a Plainville native. But Grisham came out for a visit, and wound up staying for three weeks.

“We would sit on the patio and it’s so quiet,” recalls Grisham. “And at night you can see all the stars.”

That was during the pandemic lockdown, when Grisham was working remotely anyway. She would steal away from Washington for long visits to Plainville and eventually bought a house across the street from her sister’s place.

“It was just this really peaceful place that I thought would be a perfect place to kind of get over Trumpworld,” Grisham said.

 Stephanie Grisham holds a memento from her years working for the Trumps, a photo taken on Airforce One.
Frank Morris
/
KCUR
Stephanie Grisham holds a memento from her years working for the Trumps, a photo taken on Airforce One.

After she resigned on the day of the Capitol insurrection, Grisham’s Plainville place became the base for writing her book, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now.” In it, she calls the Trump administration a “clown car on fire running full speed into a warehouse full of fireworks” and chronicles childish, needy and dishonest behavior on the part of her former boss.

“I kept thinking like, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen here?’” Grisham said. “This is a very big Second Amendment part of the country and, I’m not going to lie, I thought, ‘Should I learn to shoot a gun myself? Am I going to need protection?’”

The answer was no. The book came out, but it’s hard to find anyone in Plainville who’s actually read it. And Grisham said she tends to keep her ideas about Trump to herself when she’s out around town.

That may change because Grisham feels a special responsibility to tell her fellow pro-gun, anti-immigrant neighbors that Trump is not the best guy to get the job done.

“He’s not your savior and he’s not looking out for you. And I am saying that as somebody who really thought he was,” she said. “I’ve got to try to figure out a way to express that to people.”

She wants to craft a message that respects that devotion, rather than ridiculing it.

“He’s the ultimate con man,” Grisham said. “I … feel the responsibility to try to talk to the people I talk to all the time who think he's amazing. And I wanna say, ‘I understand that. I thought he was amazing.” But I promise you, he’s not in your corner. He’s in Donald Trump’s corner. Period.”

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.