A User's Guide to the Donald Trump Meltdown

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 18 2014 6:50 PM

A User's Guide to the Donald Trump Meltdown

A normal politician, or a politician with a reasonably developed sense of decorum, might have shrugged off a story like McKay Coppins' "36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump." Sure, Coppins' piece makes Trump look like a buffoon who yearns to be taken seriously by people he doesn't have on the payroll. It also humanizes the guy, quoting his jokes, quoting his compliments and asides. In a pair of touching scenes, Trump sees a photo of Coppins' wife and calls her a "good-looking woman," then tells the reporter there's nothing better than children.

In one of the many angry tweets this grown man has written since the piece went up, Trump says:

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So Trump, a wealthy person who's covered himself in ignorance and humiliation every time he's ventured into politics, is clearly unhappy about Coppins' article. Because he has no tact, he's shown this by firing an aide, Sam Nunberg, who encouraged Trump to sit for the profile, and by retweeting Coppins' critics. It's all quite pathetic, but increasingly hilarious—Trump, as usual, is running to sycophants in the hopes that they'll lie for him. And in the past day, it's become an unnecessary lesson in the problems of conservative journalism.

Exhibit A: Nunberg's apology tour. The fired aide has been telling (mostly) New York media that Coppins' piece was innacurate—a "pejorative hit piece"—without specifying what was wrong. But as Dylan Byers first reported, Nunberg's initial response to the piece was an email, to Coppins, calling it "fantastic." Coppins has passed me another email written by Nunberg after 1 a.m. on Friday. Its text is mostly just a forwarded tweet.

2014 version of Primary Colors. So good - 36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald #Trump buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/3… via @BuzzReads

Did Nunberg, an opposition researcher before he worked for Trump, tell Coppins one thing, then change the story when he got in trouble? "No comment," he told me in an email.

Exhibit B: On Twitter, Trump pointed his followers to a piece by Jeffrey Lord in the American Spectator. Lord defines "real journalism" by contrasting Coppins' observation that he was "the only reporter from a national outlet" to trek to New Hampshire for the speech with a local news station's bland lede: "Real estate mogul Donald Trump paid a visit to the Granite State on Tuesday as the featured speaker at a Politics and Eggs event at St. Anselm College."

This, says Lord, is real journalism—not the Coppins piece, which takes readers behind the scenes of a press room that's bored by the speech, and points out that (in my words, not his) it got less national in-person coverage than a comparable speech by Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. CNN followed Paul on the trail in Texas recently; CNN did not dispatch a reporter to cover Trump. Not to belabor the point, but Lord was angry at Coppins for providing context instead of stenography.

Exhibit C: Well, this is the reason for my post—Matt Boyle's piece for Breitbart puts total faith in Trump sources and portrays Coppins as an awkward, ogling double-crosser. One except, though it's hard to choose just one:

An infuriated Trump and his team contend that basically everything in Coppins’ article is wrong – and that Coppins was a boor at Trump's Florida resort to boot.
“I don’t know how to say it — he was looking at me like I was yummy,” recalled Bianka Pop, a hostess at Trump's Florida resort, almost a month later. She was one of a number of people, including Trump, who said Coppins behaved unprofessionally there.
Trump himself said Coppins is a “scumbag,” recalling that at his Florida resort, Coppins said he wished his wife looked like two beautiful women who had just walked by.

Coppins is a married Mormon who doesn't drink—shouldn't matter, but worth pointing out given how pregnant the phrase "behaved unprofessionally" is. Coppins denies the charges, and Boyle's sources include Trump, Nunberg, and a Trump employee. This is a joke, but not as funny as the kicker interview with Nunberg.

If you are a Republican, if you are a Democrat, if your are from the green party, an independent, the tree-hugger party, or any other party, you should never ever grant BuzzFeed access to anything in light of this piece. Anyone shouldn’t. And, if fact, I have friend who works at [an official Democratic Party campaign committee] who called me up and said "he [Coppins] looks like an idiot for what he did for this. This could burn his career."

Brackets! [An official Democratic Party campaign committee]! The alleged campaign group isn't even named! This is a dispatch from fantasyland. Here on Earth, plenty of conservatives and Republicans see Trump as a vain imbecile who makes Republicans look bad. That, they say, is why the media covers him.

That's surely not the only reason. The media loves a good fight, be it between celebrities in a hot tub or aging congressmen in a closed-door conference meeting. Trump is fighting, because there's no other way to convince the press that he matters.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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