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?
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?
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?