An Endeavor to Take Trump Seriously

What happens when a reporter tries to take the GOP’s man of the moment seriously?

This illustration can only be used with Andy Kroll piece that originally ran in the 8/1/2015 issue of National Journal magazine.
Andy Kroll
Add to Briefcase
Andy Kroll
July 31, 2015, 1:02 a.m.

A FEW WEEKS AGO, two of my ed­it­ors am­bushed me in the news­room. Grin­ning mis­chiev­ously, they said they had an ur­gent as­sign­ment for me: a story on Don­ald Trump. The magazine had planned to take the high road and ig­nore his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, they ex­plained, but the frenzy he had cre­ated and his strong stand­ing in the polls were mak­ing the si­lent ap­proach seem less noble than clue­less. We had to say something fresh, something in­sight­ful about Trump — but what, and how?

News­rooms every­where ap­peared to be pon­der­ing the same ques­tion, with re­sponses run­ning the gamut from schizo­phren­ic to cheeky to des­pair­ing. Earli­er this year, CNN pres­id­ent Jeff Zuck­er in­struc­ted his pro­du­cers to ig­nore Trump’s antics as he pub­licly flir­ted yet again with the idea of run­ning for pres­id­ent — but from the mo­ment in mid-June when the bil­lion­aire of­fi­cially jumped in­to the race, the net­work has covered his cam­paign as if it were a dis­ap­peared Malay­sia Air­lines flight. At Fox News, Rupert Mur­doch was re­portedly feud­ing with chair­man and CEO Ro­ger Ailes over the net­work’s wall-to-wall Trump-track­ing. By con­trast, an­oth­er lead­ing voice of the Right, Glenn Beck’s ra­dio show, de­cided to be­come a Trump-free zone. “I just can’t do an­oth­er show about it,” pro­du­cer and guest host Stu Bur­guiere told listen­ers. 

Oth­er out­lets have tried more cre­at­ive ap­proaches. My former em­ploy­er Moth­er Jones asked a kinder­garten teach­er to of­fer the oth­er GOP con­tenders ad­vice on deal­ing with a “Trump tan­trum.” The Huff­ing­ton Post re­spon­ded to Trump’s cam­paign-as-pub­li­city-stunt with a stunt of its own, an­noun­cing that it would cov­er him un­der the “En­ter­tain­ment” ban­ner, rather than in the polit­ic­al sec­tion. “Trump’s cam­paign is a sideshow,” ed­it­or­i­al dir­ect­or Danny Shea and Wash­ing­ton bur­eau chief Ry­an Grim told their read­ers. “We won’t take the bait. If you are in­ter­ested in what The Don­ald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stor­ies on the Kar­dashi­ans and The Bach­el­or­ette.”

Here at Na­tion­al Journ­al magazine, we chased sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ideas be­fore even­tu­ally set­tling on ar­gu­ably the cra­zi­est of them all: If Trump wants us to take him ser­i­ously as a po­ten­tial next pres­id­ent of the United States, well, then, we would en­deavor to do just that. My task was to find out — if hu­manly pos­sible — what Trump ac­tu­ally had in mind for the pres­id­ency. Who did he plan to listen to on policy, for in­stance, and how would he work with Con­gress? What did he hope to leave as a leg­acy after a term or two in the White House, bey­ond seal­ing up the bor­der as tight as Tup­per­ware? 

(RE­LATED: The Trump Conun­drum)

For all the non­stop cov­er­age his can­did­acy had at­trac­ted in its up­roari­ous first weeks, those kinds of ba­sic ques­tions — ba­sic, at least, for any­one seek­ing the pres­id­ency — had hardly even been asked, much less answered. But surely, we ima­gined, Trump had giv­en them some thought, since he’d been reg­u­larly eye­ing a run for high­er of­fice — pres­id­ent? gov­ernor of New York? — for dec­ades. He had been, in a sense, the dog forever chas­ing the fire truck down the street. Now it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate to ask: What ac­tu­ally hap­pens if the dog catches the truck? 

BE­FORE WE’D FIGURED out which angle to fo­cus on, I set out to se­cure an audi­ence with Trump. I grabbed a name and phone num­ber from a press re­lease on the Trump Or­gan­iz­a­tion’s web­site (“DON­ALD TRUMP UN­VEILS PHIL MICK­EL­SON VILLA AT TRUMP NA­TION­AL DOR­AL”). A wo­man with a gentle voice named Hope Hicks answered. “I’m prob­ably talk­ing to the wrong per­son,” I ex­plained, “but I’m writ­ing about Mr. Trump’s pres­id­en­tial run and was try­ing to reach a spokes­per­son for his cam­paign.” 

“That’s me,” Hicks replied. “I can help you.” 

This seemed odd, but I pressed on and pitched an idea: I wanted to pose a series of straight-up ques­tions to the man about what he plans to do as pres­id­ent. No B.S., no gotchas, no ques­tions about the out­rage of the day: These would be sub­stant­ive quer­ies about Trump’s plans for the pres­id­ency. Hicks said she’d gauge Mr. Trump’s in­terest and get back to me soon. For a brief mo­ment I ima­gined my­self sit­ting across from Trump un­der the now-icon­ic Trump Tower es­cal­at­or, wear­ing my choicest off-the-rack Macy’s suit. I thought maybe I’d buy a Don­ald J. Trump Sig­na­ture Col­lec­tion neck­tie for the oc­ca­sion, if only to break the ice. 

Days passed with no re­sponse. The 24”Š/”Š7 drum­beat of Trump “news” con­tin­ued apace: Sen. John Mc­Cain had angered Trump, which led to Trump in­sult­ing Mc­Cain, which led to Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham call­ing Trump a “jack­ass,” which led to Trump giv­ing out Gra­ham’s per­son­al cell-phone num­ber at a cam­paign rally car­ried live on na­tion­al TV. The af­ter­noon that happened, I reached Hicks again to ask about my in­ter­view re­quest. With Twit­ter, TV, and the blogs all ablaze over the Trump-Gra­ham-Mc­Cain feud, I noted that she was surely be­ing be­sieged with calls and emails. “I feel great,” she told me. “I just woke up from a nap.” 

  Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial hope­ful busi­ness­man Don­ald Trump greets guests gathered for a rally on Ju­ly 25, 2015 in Oskaloosa, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Im­ages)In a sub­sequent call, Hicks said, “The cam­paign won’t be par­ti­cip­at­ing.” Next, I tried to speak to people close to Trump and glean some in­sight that way. My first call was to Mi­chael Co­hen. A lifelong Demo­crat who’s an ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent at the Trump Or­gan­iz­a­tion, Co­hen has been de­scribed as Trump’s “pit bull” and likened to the char­ac­ter Tom Ha­gen, the con­sigliere to mafioso Vito Cor­le­one in the God­fath­er movies. (Asked about the com­par­is­on, Co­hen told ABC News in 2011: “It means that if some­body does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to re­solve it to Mr. Trump’s be­ne­fit. If you do something wrong, I’m go­ing to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not go­ing to let you go un­til I’m fin­ished.” This past Tues­day, Co­hen pub­licly apo­lo­gized for de­fend­ing his boss against a dec­ades-old rape al­leg­a­tion from a di­vorce pro­ceed­ing by claim­ing that leg­ally “you can­not rape your spouse.”) 

(RE­LATED: Trump-Free Scen­ari­os for 2016)

I told Co­hen that I wanted to un­der­stand what Trump would set out to ac­com­plish as com­mand­er-in-chief and how he’d ad­just to the very dif­fer­ent life a pres­id­ent leads as com­pared with, say, a bon vivant busi­ness mogul. Co­hen began to an­swer the lat­ter ques­tion — “He’s gonna have to downs­ize and move to the White House” — then caught him­self and in­sisted that the rest of our con­ver­sa­tion stay off the re­cord. But he told me to send him some ques­tions and he would pass them along to Mr. Trump. 

Spit-balling with my ed­it­ors, we came up with six seem­ingly fool­proof quer­ies, each simple and eas­ily an­swer­able but de­signed to eli­cit something mean­ing­ful about Trump’s plans and am­bi­tions for the of­fice he seeks. For the re­cord, here’s ex­actly what I asked:

“What qual­it­ies would you look for in a vice pres­id­ent?”

“Some people say the cur­rent pres­id­ent has not done a good job of out­reach to Con­gress. How would you build re­la­tion­ships with mem­bers of Con­gress on both sides of the aisle?” 

“Aside from im­mig­ra­tion, if you were to put your name on one piece of do­mest­ic-policy le­gis­la­tion, what would it be?”

“What would be the chal­lenges of ad­apt­ing to the pres­id­en­tial life­style?”

“Who would run your busi­ness em­pire while you are in the White House?”

“Your slo­gan is ‘Make Amer­ica Great Again!’ What era do you think was the greatest in Amer­ic­an his­tory?”

The day I emailed those ques­tions to Co­hen, the cam­paign an­nounced that Trump was trav­el­ing to Laredo, Texas, to eye­ball the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der firsthand. Trump, of course, had caused an in­ter­na­tion­al up­roar when, in his cam­paign rol­lout speech, he claimed Mex­ico was send­ing drug deal­ers and rap­ists over the bor­der. I still wasn’t sure which of my pos­sible angles I was pur­su­ing, but I booked a flight to Laredo any­way and copied the bor­der co­ordin­ates provided by the Trump cam­paign in­to Google Maps. The pin landed in a vast, un­fa­mil­i­ar ex­panse of gray. As I zoomed out, the co­ordin­ates re­vealed them­selves to be slightly off — they had sent me to with­in a few dozen miles of the bor­der between China and My­an­mar. 

(RE­LATED: The Ap­peal of ‘Trump-ism’)

THE VERY NEXT morn­ing, Thursday, Ju­ly 23, I stepped off a plane at Laredo In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port, where the TV mon­it­ors were set to CNN: “TRUMP THREATENS GOP WITH THIRD-PARTY RUN,” the Chyron graph­ics blared. “TRUMP: RNC ‘NOT SUP­PORT­IVE’ OF MY 2016 RUN.” The can­did­ate wasn’t due to land for a few hours, so I grabbed break­fast at the air­port and got to talk­ing with a pair of Brit­ish re­port­ers from ma­jor U.K. pub­lic­a­tions. The young­er one was a dap­per-dress­ing, Los Angeles”“based rov­ing news re­port­er; the eld­er, a New York”“based ed­it­or, had been in Amer­ica since the early 1990s, when his news­pa­per had dis­patched him across the At­lantic to cov­er Gen­nifer Flowers, the mod­el and former Bill Clin­ton mis­tress. “Are you Trump­ing, too?” he asked as we in­tro­duced ourselves. 

I was curi­ous what the Brits made of this whole Trump phe­nomen­on. “I sit back and chortle,” the young­er, hip­per one said. “It’s George W. Bush all over again, in­nit? He hits a but­ton with people. But do you really want him in charge of the nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al?” 

The League of United Lat­in Amer­ic­an Cit­izens had prom­ised to muster “over a thou­sand pro­test­ers” to con­front Trump at the air­port, ac­cord­ing to The Guard­i­an, but we found a few dozen at most, clustered un­der the shade of a sol­it­ary tree and sep­ar­ated by a park­ing lot from the private ter­min­al where Trump would be land­ing. The Brits ap­plied their sun­block as the pro­test­ers took turns vent­ing about Trump to the swell­ing ranks of re­port­ers and cam­era­men. A guy from Uni­vi­sion staged a mini-demon­stra­tion with six of the pro­test­ers, ask­ing them to chant, “Trump no! Raza sí!” in­to his mi­cro­phone. 

In­side, the private-ter­min­al lobby was crammed with re­port­ers, pho­to­graph­ers, and pro­du­cers, all jost­ling to get out to the tar­mac for Trump’s ar­rival. A lone private-se­cur­ity agent stood in between the me­dia horde and the door­way lead­ing out­side; a ca­co­phony of voices was shout­ing out af­fil­i­ations (“Wash­ing­ton Post! Ex­cél­si­or in Mex­ico!”), beg­ging to be let through. Hope Hicks, the Trump spokes­per­son, sparked a mini-stam­pede when she ap­peared with a box of cam­paign-is­sued press passes — ad­mis­sion tick­ets for the two coach buses the cam­paign had hired to carry re­port­ers to the vari­ous stops on Trump’s sched­ule. 

Ten minutes early, Trump’s $100 mil­lion red-white-and-blue 757-200 plane tax­ied to a gentle stop. A phalanx of Es­cal­ades massed at the base of its stairs. Emer­ging from the rear of the plane, Trump waved and beamed broadly as he des­cen­ded to the tar­mac, look­ing as if the pres­id­ency were already his. His trade­mark bouffant lay hid­den un­der a white base­ball cap bear­ing his cam­paign slo­gan: “MAKE AMER­ICA GREAT AGAIN.” 

(RE­LATED: Poll: Will Don­ald Trump still be a can­did­ate for pres­id­ent by the Iowa caucuses?)

In­side the ter­min­al wait­ing room, the can­did­ate briefly ad­dressed the me­dia scrum. Trump had ori­gin­ally been in­vited to Laredo by the loc­al chapter of the Bor­der Patrol uni­on, but the group had res­cin­ded its in­vit­a­tion at the last minute. The cam­paign had sub­sequently is­sued a state­ment say­ing that Trump was pro­ceed­ing with the bor­der vis­it any­way, des­pite the “great danger” he faced in do­ing so. A re­port­er called out: Did he really think vis­it­ing Laredo and the bor­der was dan­ger­ous? “Well, they say it’s a great danger, but I have to do it,” Trump replied. He later elab­or­ated: “People are say­ing, ‘It’s so dan­ger­ous what you’re do­ing, Mr. Trump, it’s so dan­ger­ous what you’re do­ing.’ I have to do it. I have to do it.” An­oth­er re­port­er tried a dif­fer­ent tack, ask­ing: “Why is it dan­ger­ous?” Trump ig­nored the ques­tion and headed for his Es­cal­ade. We sprin­ted for the buses. 

The mo­tor­cade pulled out onto In­ter­state 35, headed for the bor­der. It was a pro­ces­sion with all the trap­pings of a pres­id­en­tial vis­it: a cluster of blacked-out Es­cal­ades flanked by po­lice cars with lights flash­ing, cops on mo­tor­cycles block­ing traffic at in­ter­sec­tions and on-ramps, and me­dia bring­ing up the rear. Trump’s ori­gin­al plan had him ap­pear­ing along­side Bor­der Patrol agents south of Laredo, about 10 miles from the Rio Grande River. But with the loc­al uni­on hav­ing backed out, the cara­van would make its first stop at Laredo’s World Trade Bridge, a ma­jor port of entry over the Rio Grande for semi-trucks shut­tling goods between the United States and Mex­ico. 

Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Don­ald Trump ges­tures dur­ing a news con­fer­ence near the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, out­side of Laredo, Texas Ju­ly 23, 2015. (RE­U­TERS/Rick Wilk­ing)As Trump toured the check­point, two bus­loads of re­port­ers clustered un­der a small make­shift can­opy pitched in a park­ing lot next to the bor­der cross­ing. We fanned ourselves in the stifling heat, checked in by phone with our ed­it­ors (“It’s just a bit of a bun fight,” I over­heard one of the Brits say­ing. “Every man and his dog here”), and waited to hear what Trump might say.

(RE­LATED: Meet the Spouses of the 2016 Pres­id­en­tial Con­tenders)

WHEN HE’D fin­ished his vis­it to the check­point, Trump was fer­ried to the me­dia tent in a black SUV. In his white hat, blue blazer, khaki pants, and white-leath­er golf shoes, he looked as if he’d just emerged from the club­house at the Mar-a-Lago. After a few in­tro­duct­ory com­ments from Laredo May­or Pete Saenz, the can­did­ate pro­ceeded to de­liv­er per­haps the strangest set of “pre­pared” re­marks of the en­tire 2016 cam­paign (so far). Here was a can­did­ate, mind you, who had dis­tin­guished him­self from the rest of the Re­pub­lic­an pack by savaging un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants and ac­cus­ing the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment of send­ing rap­ists and oth­er crim­in­al miscre­ants over the bor­der. And here is Trump’s state­ment at the bor­der, ver­batim and in full:

“Thank you. Well, thank you very much for be­ing here. It’s been an amaz­ing ex­per­i­ence. Mex­ico is boom­ing, ab­so­lutely boom­ing. And Je­sus [Olivares], the city man­ager, and Pete have done an amaz­ing job right here. But a lot of what’s hap­pen­ing here is be­cause of the fact that Mex­ico is do­ing so well. Just do­ing bey­ond what any­body ever thought. And I don’t know if that’s good for the United States, but it’s good for Mex­ico. Any­body have any ques­tions?”

I peered around the tent. No one knew quite how to re­act. Noth­ing about the state­ment com­puted at all: Trump had come to the bor­der to praise Mex­ico? Had the weath­er got­ten to him? Had he suc­cumbed to heat­stroke? Had we?

The en­su­ing ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion was no less sur­real. Re­port­ers tried hard to ex­tract something of sub­stance, pep­per­ing Trump with ques­tions about his views on im­mig­ra­tion and im­mig­rants and bor­der se­cur­ity, and what ex­actly he pro­posed to do about any of it. It was fu­tile at best, in­furi­at­ing at worst. To wit: 

Re­port­er: “What do you say to the people I’ve spoken to this morn­ing in Laredo who called you a ra­cist?”

Trump: “We just landed and there were a lot of people at the air­port, and they were all wav­ing Amer­ic­an flags, and they were all in fa­vor of Trump and what I’m do­ing. Vir­tu­ally every­one that we saw, there was such a great, warm — I was ac­tu­ally sur­prised — but there was such great warmth at the air­port with all of those people that were there. So we’re very, very honored.”

Re­port­er: “There were plenty chant­ing against you.”

Trump: “They were chant­ing for me.”

Re­port­er: “They were chant­ing against you.”

Trump: “I didn’t see that.”

With grow­ing des­per­a­tion, the re­port­ers turned to policy ques­tions:

Re­port­er: “What would you ac­tu­ally do to change the il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion?” 

Trump: “Well, the one thing you have to do, and as Je­sus was say­ing and as the may­or was say­ing, there is a huge prob­lem with the il­leg­als com­ing through. And in this sec­tion, it’s a prob­lem; in some sec­tions, it’s a massive prob­lem. And you have to cre­ate, you have to make the people that come in, they have to be leg­al. Very simple.” 

Re­port­er: “What would you do with the 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants who are already here?”

Trump: “The first thing we have to do is strengthen our bor­ders, and after that, we’re gonna have plenty of time to talk about it.”

After just ten minutes un­der the tent, Trump thanked us, turned on his white-leath­er heel, climbed back in­to an Es­cal­ade, and sailed away to the next stop on his ma­gic­al bor­der tour. 

The fi­nal event was a brief ad­dress to a few dozen Lare­doans at a loc­al re­cep­tion hall. Flanked on both sides by re­fri­ger­at­or-sized se­cur­ity guards in tie­less dark suits and earpieces, Trump ex­plained why he’d come to Laredo — sort of: “This is about you, not about me,” he said. “I heard you were here and I wanted to come.” He sang the praises of the in­trep­id re­port­ers who had braved the dangers of Laredo to tell the world about Trump’s day on the bor­der. “The press has been amaz­ing,” he said. “I really ap­pre­ci­ate it. The turnout of press has been in­cred­ible.” 

Mo­ments later, he was back to har­anguing the me­dia, after MS­N­BC host José Díaz-Bal­art shouted out a ques­tion about Trump’s “rap­ists” com­ment. “You know what, that’s a typ­ic­al case of the press with mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion,” Trump said. The Lare­doans roared their ap­prov­al; here was the guy they’d come to see! Díaz-Bal­art tried to ask his ques­tion again, but the can­did­ate cut him off. “No, you’re fin­ished,” he said, to an­oth­er round of ap­plause. 

Trump was soon fin­ished as well. As his SUV pulled out of the re­cep­tion-hall park­ing lot, he lowered his win­dow and waved to the on­look­ers. A few people rushed the car for high fives and hand­shakes. Trump tri­umphant. 

Soon we were back where we’d star­ted, at the Laredo air­port. Trump greeted the re­port­ers and seemed will­ing to take more ques­tions, but when he was asked about Rupert Mur­doch call­ing him “em­bar­rass­ing,” he said a quick thank you to us all and was gone. Less than four hours after he’d des­cen­ded on Laredo, Trump was headed home to New York — leav­ing a bunch of dazed-look­ing journ­al­ists be­hind to shake their heads and won­der: What the hell am I sup­posed to re­port about that

I FEEL DIRTY,” I told the Brits as we headed back to the nonprivate part of the Laredo air­port. Used. Chewed up. I couldn’t help think­ing about how my tweets and pho­tos — my mere pres­ence in Laredo — had helped to feed the in­sa­ti­able hun­ger for at­ten­tion and con­tro­versy that keeps Trump in the news. Or how, in re­turn, he’d giv­en me — us — ab­so­lutely noth­ing bey­ond a few hours of cable-news-style en­ter­tain­ment. 

I de­cided to spend the night in the ter­min­al be­fore catch­ing an early con­nec­tion the next morn­ing. The young­er Brit and I ordered din­ner at the air­port res­taur­ant. He ate while ra­cing to file his story be­fore his 5:30 p.m. de­par­ture, and I picked at my brisket and eaves­dropped on the con­ver­sa­tion between him and his ed­it­or. It was a telling ex­change. Each time the Brit tried to ex­plain how use­less Trump’s vis­it had been, how little had been said or done, a long pause fol­lowed. No, I could al­most hear the ed­it­or say­ing, we need some news. “I guess he did say that Lati­nos ac­tu­ally like him,” the Brit fi­nally con­ceded. “Sup­pose we could go with that.” A story de­scrib­ing what had ac­tu­ally gone on — “Trump briefly vis­its bor­der, says noth­ing” — was ap­par­ently un­think­able. 

It seems there were many sim­il­ar re­port­er-ed­it­or con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen­ing that af­ter­noon. After the Brit de­par­ted, I settled for the night in a chair across from the tick­et coun­ters and began scan­ning the vari­ous ac­counts of the day’s events. I ex­pec­ted to see stor­ies con­firm­ing, per­haps even lament­ing, the ab­surdity and fu­til­ity of it all. In­stead, what I read floored me. We’d all gone to the same events, heard the same re­marks, yet the stor­ies ten­ded to de­scribe Trump’s vis­it in the same terms as a run-of-the-mill pres­id­en­tial cam­paign event — as if it had been just the kind of per­form­ance that a Jeb Bush or a Scott Walk­er, say, might have giv­en if they’d sched­uled a day at the bor­der. In the clichés and tropes so com­mon to polit­ic­al journ­al­ism, Trump was be­ing de­scribed by per­fectly re­spect­able journ­al­ists as “de­fi­ant” and show­ing “flour­ishes of bravado”; his trip was a “whirl­wind” that led to “yet an­oth­er day of the head­line dom­in­ance that has made him the sum­mer’s sen­sa­tion.” (The prize for the gush­ing-est sen­tence about Trump’s bor­der tour goes to the NPR re­port­er who, on the next day’s Morn­ing Edi­tion, de­scribed Trump’s jet as a “sump­tu­ous, red-white-and-blue Boe­ing 757 with his name in huge gold let­ters that in lower­case mean ‘to sur­pass,’ ‘to outdo.‘“Š” Oy.)

Polit­ic­al re­port­ers are pro­grammed to cov­er pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates in a ri­gidly spe­cif­ic way. Present them with a purple-state gov­ernor or an am­bi­tious young U.S. sen­at­or, and they can per­form ad­mir­ably. Drop in an ab­er­ra­tion like Don­ald Trump — a sort of pseudo-can­did­ate who de­fi­antly knows noth­ing about the very is­sues he’s run­ning on and who openly mocks the ac­cep­ted cus­toms and niceties of Amer­ic­an cam­paigns — and they don’t know how to re­act, how to re­cal­ib­rate. To be fair, some did at­tempt to con­vey the bizarre empti­ness of Trump’s rhet­or­ic and the point­less­ness of his vis­it, not­ing in journo-speak that he’d said “vir­tu­ally noth­ing” or that he’d “ducked” ques­tions about fix­ing the na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem. 

Pop­u­list sup­port isn’t what fuels Trump. He mostly feeds off of us, the me­dia. And we ob­lige him.

But if it was head­lines Trump wanted — and you know it was — pretty much every­one com­plied. The New York Times: “Don­ald Trump, at Mex­ic­an Bor­der, Claims Close Ties to His­pan­ics.” Los Angeles Times: “At Texas-Mex­ico bor­der, Don­ald Trump cites ‘great danger’ from im­mig­rants.” The Dal­las Morn­ing News: “Trump does Texas: At bor­der, he blasts naysay­ers, pre­dicts vic­tory.” The cam­paign could hardly have writ­ten them bet­ter it­self.

Mean­while, I still had a story to write — with the lux­ury of far more time than the daily re­port­ers but without a single sub­stant­ive word from Trump, or his col­leagues, to put in the thing. The next morn­ing, on a stop­over as I flew back east, I called Mi­chael Co­hen to ask him about the status of the ques­tions I’d sent — the ones about Trump’s do­mest­ic-policy pri­or­it­ies and his ideas for im­prov­ing re­la­tions between the White House and Con­gress. Co­hen scoffed. “These are really kinda silly ques­tions,” he told me. “Where’s Melania gonna put her ward­robe? Who really cares?” Nev­er mind that I hadn’t asked any­thing about Trump’s wife or her clothes. 

Co­hen told me to call Hope Hicks, she of the mid­day nap, and whittle my ques­tions down to one or two. Back in Wash­ing­ton, I did just that. She took my call, put me on hold, brought me back on the line, then said she had to take an­oth­er im­port­ant call. “I’ll call you right back,” she said. I nev­er heard from her again. 

So this is my story, such as it is. I have zero to re­port about Trump’s plans for ac­tu­ally be­ing pres­id­ent — ex­cept that, from all avail­able evid­ence, he hasn’t giv­en it a mo­ment’s thought. My brief ad­ven­ture in Trump­ing, in fact, left me con­vinced that the whole point of this cam­paign — the sum total of all the “there” that is there — is the spec­tacle it­self, the loud, fast-mo­tion visu­al feast provided by an in­sa­ti­able yet boxed-in press corps track­ing the man’s every odd move and un­ac­count­able ut­ter­ance. 

Be­com­ing pres­id­ent of the United States is, for Trump, be­side the point. Sure, he’s ahead in the polls, some­times by double di­gits, but at this early date, those num­bers are ab­stract and al­most en­tirely mean­ing­less — a fact that Trump prob­ably un­der­stands quite well. There’s no deny­ing that his pug­na­cious at­ti­tude touches something raw in a swath of the Amer­ic­an elect­or­ate; however, I’d ar­gue that pop­u­list sup­port isn’t what fuels Trump, either. He mostly feeds off of us, the me­dia. And we ob­lige him. Trump didn’t fly to Texas for the Lare­doans; he didn’t go to the bor­der to show he could be “pres­id­en­tial.” He flew to Texas for me and the Brits and CNN. 

Think of it this way: If Trump’s poll num­bers were to com­pletely bot­tom out next week, but the press was still fol­low­ing his every move, would he con­tin­ue to cam­paign? I’d wager that he would keep go­ing, polls be damned, with the same glee­ful vig­or. But if the op­pos­ite happened — soar­ing poll num­bers and no round-the-clock press? I think it’s a safe bet that Trump would pack it in and move on to his next “GREAT” thing. Hon­estly: If a Trump rally in Ce­dar Rap­ids or Spartan­burg goes un­covered live by CNN or Fox, did it really even hap­pen?

The me­dia could quit him. The me­dia should quit him. And that — I feel in­cred­ibly for­tu­nate to say these words — is the last I’ll write on the sub­ject. 

Cor­rec­tion: This story ori­gin­ally quoted a Brit­ish journ­al­ist re­fer­ring to Trump’s bor­der press con­fer­ence as a “bum fight.” The term is ac­tu­ally “bun fight.”

What We're Following See More »
FCC Tightens Internet Privacy Standards
11 hours ago

Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
16 hours ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
18 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

DNC Sues RNC Over Trump’s Rigged Vote Comments
21 hours ago

The Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee in U.S. District Court in New Jersey for aiding GOP nominee Donald Trump as he argues that the presidential election is "rigged." The DNC claims "that Trump's argument is designed to suppress the vote in minority communities."

Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
1 days ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.