It’s almost like a love/hate story — a New York Times Magazine cover article describes how GOP frontrunner Donald Trump captured the attention of an anti-D.C., skeptical journalist.
The journalist, Mark Leibovich, said he didn’t want to cover the billionaire presidential candidate, but found himself “drawn toward the bedlam” of reporters around Trump at the first GOP presidential primary debate.
Leibovich isn’t some starry-eyed progressive journalist — he’s the author of “This Town,” a book that is acidly critical of D.C.’s self-serving ways.
The establishment “would love to dismiss [Trump] as a sideshow and declare his shark jumped, except he keeps dominating the campaign and the conversation, and they have no clue whether to engage, attack, ignore or suck up in response,” Leibovich wrote in his new article, “Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere.”
And, of course, it is a dilemma for the media, who fear abetting a circus. This is why The Huffington Post announced in July that it would publish stories about Trump only in its ‘‘entertainment’’ section, so that when it all ended, as it surely would soon, the website could remain pristine and on the side of the high-minded. A similar sort of worry prevented me from writing about Trump throughout his rise this summer. Initially, I dismissed him as a nativist clown, a chief perpetrator of the false notion that President Obama was not born in the United States — the ‘‘birther’’ movement. And I was, of course, way too incredibly serious and high-minded to ever sully myself by getting so close to Donald Trump.
Leibovich admitted he didn’t believe Trump would even run, and “assumed that his serial and public flirtations with the idea over several election cycles were just another facet of his existential publicity sustenance.”
“I figured that even if Trump did run, his conspiracy-mongering, reality-show orientations and garish tabloid sensibilities would make him unacceptable to the polite company of American politics and mainstream media. It would render him a fringe player. So I decided not to write about him, and I felt proud and honorable about my decision,” he wrote.
Leibovich says his opinion changed when he saw “the phenomenon up close at the first Republican debate.”
I positioned myself in the post-debate ‘‘spin room,’’ the area where campaign surrogates spew their customized nonsense to media types. The candidates themselves almost never venture in. But suddenly, at the end of the night, a literal stampede was rumbling toward a far corner of the room, where Trump had crashed this assembly of polite company. I have seen many press scrums, but never like this. It was scary. People were tripping, falling and being shoved out of the way. Cameras were dropped. What I saw was polite routines and traditions breaking down as the American political order reoriented itself around a new center of gravity.
He noted that since Trump’s announcement, his poll numbers have climbed. Leibovich also pointed out how pundits – even from Fox News – predicted Trump’s performance at the second GOP debate would damage his poll numbers, saying some declared it was the “beginning of the end” for the frontrunner. But all were wrong, as Trump continues to lead the GOP field.
“Where does this end? I kept asking Trump this as we sat around his office and rode around in limousines and airplanes. ‘I have no idea,’ he always said, sometimes modifying the noun with a big, unclassy profanity. ‘But I’m here now. And it’s beautiful.’”
As a reporter in Washington D.C., Leibovich said he has grown weary of the lobbyists and the political world, “the familiar faces, recycled tropes and politics as usual — and here was none other than Donald J. Trump, the billionaire blowhard whom I had resisted as a cartoonish demagogue, defiling it with resonance.”
“He tacked not to the left or to the right, but against the ‘‘losers’’ and ‘‘scumbags’’ in the various chapters of the club: the pundits who ‘‘wear heavy glasses’’ and ‘‘sit around the table,’’ the ‘‘political hacks’’ selling out American interests overseas. Karl Rove ‘‘is a totally incompetent jerk,’’ Trump told the crowd in Dallas, referring to the Fox News commentator and chief Republican strategist of the George W. Bush years. The crowd went nuts at the Rove put-down, which in itself is remarkable — the ‘‘architect’’ of Bush’s political ride being abused by a right-leaning crowd in Bush’s home state.”
Leibovich wrote that his decision to now cover Trump’s presidential campaign was satisfying because Trump “seemed to have clearly seized on some profound exhaustion with our politics.”