After 2008, Ms. Wallace, who has acknowledged not voting in that race and then voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, explored career alternatives. She began writing a series of three well-received novels, the first of which, “Eighteen Acres,” told the story of the first female president and her controversial and polarizing running mate, also a woman. (From the book: “She was loud, tacky, and rude. She seemed to calculate the least presidential approach to every situation and pursue it with vigor.”) More important, in 2013 she signed on as a regular contributor to “Morning Joe.”
Early on, Ms. Wallace seemed an awkward fit, especially compared with her voluble and more experienced colleagues. The show’s co-host Mika Brzezinski, who watched Ms. Wallace’s growth, said she felt that “over the course of the time that she was on ‘Morning Joe’ what I saw was Nicolle learning to have fun being on TV.”
Ms. Wallace doesn’t recall having growing pains as a panelist — “I have never engaged in any self-examination as it pertains to television,” she said — but she does acknowledge that her very first appearance on the show, as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign, had the potential to be contentious.
“That was certainly an awkward job to have, to be speaking for Palin who was internally at war with me,” she said. “So, when I first showed up on that show, it was often to spar with all of the other guests about Sarah Palin and McCain. But I always felt welcome and comfortable on that show. And one of the hallmarks of that show is that everyone is given all the space and time and latitude to be themselves.”
Soon after being added to “Morning Joe” as a regular panelist, Ms. Wallace added another TV job to her résumé, joining “The View” in 2014 to replace the combative Elisabeth Hasselbeck as the resident Republican. It was not a success.
Ms. Wallace said that ABC executives let her go for “not being Republican enough” and that she learned of her dismissal from her fellow sacked colleague, Rosie Perez, who read about it in Variety. (The producers of the show reportedly offered her the chance to return as an occasional contributor, but she declined.)
Though Ms. Wallace had worked with ABC News on special events, she made sure that her “View” contract let her keep a place as a contributor to “Morning Joe.” After her dismissal, NBC and MSNBC offered her a job, and within a month she was filing the first of her reports for “Today.”
Over the course of the 2016 campaign, executives, including her now-executive producer Patrick Burkey, raised her on-air profile. She conducted candid, hourlong interviews with Jeb Bush, her former boss, and Chris Christie, then the New Jersey governor, after both had left the race. In the latter interview, Gov. Christie acknowledged that he hoped to be picked as Mr. Trump’s running mate, a spot that ultimately went to Mike Pence. “I’m a competitive person, so I’m not going to say it won’t bother me if I’m not selected,” Mr. Christie told Ms. Wallace. “Of course it bothers you a little bit, because if you’re a competitive person like I am and you’re used to winning like I am, again, you don’t like coming in second. Ever.”
By then, Ms. Wallace had all but officially left the political party she had been an active member of for decades. Her public breaking point came after Mr. Trump’s strident and often angry acceptance speech for the Republican nomination in Cleveland. On air with Tom Brokaw and the NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt after the speech, Ms. Wallace said, “The Republican Party that I worked for for 20 years died in this room tonight.”
‘I Can’t Explain Why They All Talk’
“The idea for the show was very much mine,” Ms. Wallace said of her initial pitch to Mr. Griffin. What she wanted most, she told him, was a show revolving around “a round-table conversation and always having a boisterous conversation with very, very little script.”
That comes across in the freewheeling nature of “Deadline,” aired live every weekday from 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Ms. Wallace will raise her voice in reaction to clips, and doesn’t withhold her indignation. She often puts on her reading glasses when looking down at the sheets of paper on her desk, only to take them off when she stares up to talk to one of her guests. She laughs easily and strikes a tone between sarcasm and outrage over the actions of the institution she once served. Her guests joke with one another. In a recent episode, Mr. Schmidt, her former colleague and now a frequent guest, compared the journey of the Trump delegation to Davos to the two-part “Brady Bunch” episode in which the family decamps to Hawaii.
Ms. Wallace says her on-camera personality is one that anyone who knew her before “Deadline: White House” would instantly recognize.
“I am the same on TV as a guest as I am as a host, as I was a White House communications director, as I was Jeb Bush’s spokesperson,” she said. “I don’t speak any differently. I don’t hold any different views ideologically. I don’t hold back.”
Said Mr. Schmidt: “I think who you see is the real Nicolle.”
Ms. Wallace begins each day by calling some of the several staff members she knows in the current White House — looking for dish, for insight, for a talking point she can bring up with her guests later that day.
But why, given the stance she’s taken toward Mr. Trump, who she feels “debases the presidency to the last cell of my body,” do they open up?
“Sometimes they’re there to talk about how they’ve made things better,” she said. “But I don’t know why. I can’t explain why they all talk.”