How Donald Trump courted the right-wing fringe to conquer the GOP

27 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Donald Trump denies mocking reporter’s disability, demands apology.

Donald Trump hadn’t said 300 words during his announcement speech before he called Mexican immigrants rapists. McKay Coppins a senior political writer for BuzzFeed and the author of the new book, “The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House,” from which this essay is adapted.A day after he was widely rebuked for mocking a reporter with a physical disability, business mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump on Thursday denied that he had done so and accused the reporter of “using his disability to grandstand.” Trump also demanded an apology from the reporter’s employer, the New York Times, which earlier in the week issued a statement condemning Trump for ridiculing “the appearance of one of our reporters.” The incident occurred Tuesday at a rally in South Carolina, as Trump was defending his recent claim that he had witnessed thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, as the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

Early one evening in January 2014, I sat in a darkened den with walnut-paneled walls and baroque furniture, trying desperately to get Donald Trump to stop telling me about his Barack Obama conspiracy theories. “And to this day,” my billionaire host bellowed, “we haven’t seen those records!” Our interview had started out fine, but now Trump kept veering off on long, excited tangents about forged birth certificates and presidential coverups. On stage, Trump berated Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski for his recent recollection of an article he wrote a few days after the attacks, which Trump has been citing to defend his claim. “Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! Ted Cruz to guarantee the Texan the vice presidential spot on the ticket, and conservatives are raving that it would be the best pairing since Harry Burnett Reese combined peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate.

A statement posted on his Twitter account Thursday said Trump doesn’t know the reporter personally or what he looks like and was only mocking his journalism. And Thanksgiving of the year prior to a presidential election, or a point shortly thereafter, is when Americans stop This isn’t just an old pundits’ story, the sort of “truism” they relate on Fox/MSNBC when the shouting narrative lags. But by word 300, he’d already made the comment that prompted a backlash from Univision — a backlash that drew new attention to his hard-line stance on immigration and, by extension, moved him into first place in the polls.

No matter what questions I asked, I couldn’t get him off the subject. “We have seen a book of [Obama’s] as a young man that said he was from Kenya, okay?” Trump said, connecting the dots for me like a crazy uncle who has cornered his nephew at Thanksgiving dinner. “The publisher of the book said at first, ‘Well, that’s what he told us.’ But then they said, ‘No, that was a typographical error.’ . . . The Cruz campaign vehemently denied that there was an agreement to form the conservatives’ “dream ticket,” while the Trump campaign remained mum.

Sowing distrust in the mainstream media has been a key goal of the conservative movement for decades, with some politicians excoriating us as the enemy. I have a whole theory on it, and I’m pretty sure it was right.” Trump’s effort to expose Obama as a fraudulent foreigner had routinely hijacked national news cycles and riled up right-wing voters in 2012, turning him into a political celebrity courted by top Republican presidential candidates. Run the numbers from past elections, and you’ll see that the predictive power of polls of Iowa and New Hampshire voters turns upward about a week and a half after Turkey Day, according to David Byler, an election analyst for RealClearPolitics. Trump has defended his recollections by citing a 2001 article by Kovaleski, who worked for The Washington Post at the time and wrote that “authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” Those allegations were never corroborated but have persisted in online rumours in the 14 years since the attacks.

As Republicans like John Kasich, who’s running tough ads linking Trump to Nazis, seem befuddled that the billionaire is getting away with brazen lying, they should probably remember why their base is so susceptible to it. For attention, Trump had turned to the conservative fringes, where his torch-juggling act was still cheered at grass-roots gatherings and his musings about impeachment still went viral in far-right corners of the Web.

Political journalism is now a festival of “hot takes,” where reporters agnostically report on something politicians do and decide if it’s “smart politics.” Take Republicans pushing a Syrian refugee ban because of the Paris attacks. His lead did start to slip a bit in September and October — but that was because Ben Carson was gaining ground more than it was because Trump was faltering. Trump’s dominance in this year’s presidential primary race has often been described as a mysterious natural phenomenon: the Donald riding a wild, unpredictable tsunami of conservative populist anger that just now happens to be crashing down on the Republican establishment.

Trump said in endorsing the senator from Texas as a possible VP. “Ted Cruz is now agreeing with me 100 percent.” The remark piqued the interest of tea party and conservative activists who had already theorized that recent moves by the two campaigns signaled a secret pact. “It’s highly likely that there is a sweetheart deal there, and it is a very good thing with almost no downside,” said Tom O’Halloran, host of the Texas-based conservative webcast Patriot Radio Show, who subscribes to the theory of a secret Trump-Cruz ticket. Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation in Boston said Thursday the Republican presidential contender should apologize to Kovaleski and the public. “It is unacceptable for a child to mock another child’s disability on the playground, never mind a presidential candidate mocking someone’s disability as part of a national political discourse,” he said. But in fact, Trump spent years methodically building and buying support for himself in a vast, right-wing counter-establishment — one that exists entirely outside the old party infrastructure and is quickly becoming just as powerful. In fact, in Quinnipiac’s most recent poll at the beginning of this month, Donald Trump had only slightly more people saying they’d never vote for him than people who said that about Jeb Bush.

When no one was watching, he was assuming command of this Fringe Establishment, building an army of activists and avatars that he would eventually deploy in his scorched-earth assault on the GOP’s old guard, on his rivals in the primary field — and, as an early test case in the winter of 2014, on me. Inspired by sites like, the smart folks at the bipartisan Center for Michigan thought we needed something like that for the Mitten State — especially as newsrooms were shrinking at an alarming rate. There were the John Birch Society newsletters of the 1970s and ’80s; the AM talk-radio shows of the ’90s; the world-government chat rooms and e-mail chain letters around the turn of the millennium; and the vibrant, frenzied blogosphere of amateur muckrakers of the mid-2000s. (Anyone wondering whether the phenomenon is ideologically exclusive need look no further than George W. Bush’s presidency, when the left-wing Web teemed with crazed speculation that the White House had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.) But in the Obama era, the reach and power of this segment has increased dramatically.

Trump’s blisteringly personal attacks. “I don’t believe Donald is going to be the nominee, and I think, in time, the lion’s share of his supporters end up with us,” Mr. The fringe has swelled with new Web sites, radio stations, confabs, causes, pressure groups, celebrities and profit-making businesses noisily pitching themselves to the tea party. Cruz said in an interview on WABC Radio. “If you look to the records of all the Republican candidates, there’s a big difference between my record and that of everyone else if you ask who has stood up to Washington,” he said. “I think his involvement has been tremendously helpful to my campaign, because it’s framed the central question of this primary.” According to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday, Mr.

An entire right-wing media ecosystem has sprung up, where journalist-warriors flood social media with rumors of sharia law coming to suburbia and hype a fast-approaching “race war” in America targeting whites. In 2013, for example, a fierce conservative backlash organized by lobbying groups and right-wing media torpedoed a bipartisan immigration bill, in part with a campaign of misinformation, and sent its Republican champion, Sen. Senate in 2012. “I find that extremely interesting, knowing Katrina’s apparent affection for Senator Cruz, and particularly since she spent so much time getting him elected in Texas and her unwavering dedication to tea party values,” he said.

Bobby Jindal, a Rhodes scholar once hailed as a conservative brainiac, ran for president this year by attacking nonexistent Muslim “no-go zones” in Britain and touting endorsements from “Duck Dynasty” stars. Right-wing support transformed an icon of African American achievement, Ben Carson, into a leading presidential candidate whose stump routine has included Nazi analogies and suggestions that Muslims are unfit for the presidency.

Trump does not adhere to the movement’s constitutionalist tenets. “I would feel much better about a Trump ticket that included Ted Cruz,” said Ken Emanuelson, an activist with the Far North Dallas Tea Party who has known Mr. It hardly mattered whether he believed that their government-shutdown would actually gut the health-care law; few, if any, of the architects did. (“I don’t think you could find a single person in that room who really believed the plan would work,” one of the meeting’s attendees confessed to me. Several days into the shutdown, a Cruz aide told me with jarring candor that the senator had stuck to the “defund” rallying cry because “a more complicated message” wouldn’t “make for a good hashtag.”) When the dust settled, Obamacare was still fully funded and GOP officials were panicking — but Cruz was a newly minted conservative superstar, and the organizations that backed him had raised millions of dollars. Skirmishes between the Grand Old Party and far-right populists are as old as lever-operated voting machines, and the old guard usually comes out on top. Trump was among the first players to realize that. (His staff, too, did not respond to requests to comment for this story.) The insight appears to have struck him during the run-up to the last presidential election, when his “birther” antics briefly propelled him to the top of pre-campaign polls.

Trump, a masterful marketer, has taken care since then to make his right-wing cheering section look huge and wholly organic, habitually retweeting typo-laden messages of support from sycophantic egg accounts. Not Trump. “You know, it’s a lot of work to smile for an hour and a half,” he said, recalling how people surround him after events asking for pictures and autographs. “At the same time, I always say to myself, ‘How would it be if I stood there and there was nobody wanting it?’ That wouldn’t be so nice, either.” He spent his birthday in 2013 speaking at a gathering of conservative Christians and has contributed generously to a variety of right-wing outfits — particularly organizations that host political conferences populated by TV cameras. When the conference came, he had a plum speaking slot. (Cardenas confirmed the donation to me but denied that the money bought Trump a spot in the lineup. “He’s entertaining,” he said.) Trump also worked to win over Breitbart, a crusading right-wing Web site that wields tremendous influence within a certain hyper-aggrieved class of conservative activists. (Its unofficial mission statement: #WAR.) Trump turned the site into a source of loyal coverage by showering it with access and possibly more. Breitbart, which is privately held, doesn’t make the sources of its financial backing public, and the company’s chairman, Steve Bannon, denies that it has any financial relationship with Trump.

Schedules were rearranged, flight plans rerouted, and before I had time to think it through, I was wrapped in a gold-plated seat belt in Trump’s 757 as we soared toward Palm Beach, Fla., home to Mar-a-Lago, the billionaire’s sprawling beachside compound. But Trump added a nice touch by sending me an addendum to the $850 bill BuzzFeed had already paid for my stay at Mar-a-Lago, claiming that he neglected to tack on the cost of the flight: $10,000. First, a Buffalo-based public relations pro with ties to Trump named Michael Caputo began circulating an e-mail to Republican press secretaries, accusing me of being a “partisan flibbertigibbet” and warning that I was not to be trusted. Then Trump went to Breitbart, which began publishing stories about me, including a 2,100-word alternate-reality version of our trip to Mar-a-Lago: “Exclusive — Trump: ‘Scumbag’ BuzzFeed blogger ogled women while he ate bison at my resort.” In one particularly colorful passage, a hostess at Trump’s club identified as “Bianka Pop” recounted my efforts to seduce her. “He was looking at me like I was yummy . . . [like he wanted] a cup of me or something,” she said.

In another story, Palin (whom I had never met) joined Trump’s crusade, telling Breitbart: “This nervous geek isn’t fit to tie the Donald’s wing tips. A notorious right-wing blogger and opposition researcher popped up in my Gchat with a brief, cryptic note reporting that someone had tried to enlist him for a “project” in which I was the target. When I asked a Republican source to intervene on my behalf, the organizer resisted. “Did you see that stuff on Breitbart about him?” he asked, referring to the site’s less-than-accurate portrait of me as a nefarious left-wing hack.

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