Trump Seriously: On the Trail With the GOP’s Tough Guy
After the Hampton rally, Trump is so exultant he practically floats the 10 miles back to his plane. On the tarmac, he hands out $100 bills to the drivers of his motorcade, and profusely shakes the hands of his advance-team members, some of whom, he says, will return to the school to collect names and cellphone numbers of folks still there. “You’d be amazed,” Trump tells me. “These people get so excited that they stick around for hours afterward.”
He parks himself at the dining table in the center of the big plane’s cabin, turns on the massive flat-panel unit that is preset to Fox News and watches reports of the speech he’s just given, while wolfing down a takeout dinner. Onscreen, it is wall-to-wall coverage of Trump, though none of it is mediated by Megyn Kelly, the network’s golden girl and homegrown star. A week after the Republican debate, in which she’d taken on Trump and tried to gore him over his caddish remarks about women, she’d gone missing from the conversation, vanishing to her beach house till late August. In the sweet but too-brief battle between Trump and the network that followed his ugly dust-up with Kelly, Trump had emerged from it the walk-off winner after staring down Roger Ailes, the Fox News chief. During his four-day boycott of the station, he pumped up the ratings of its rival networks by appearing on their shows and savaging Fox, and escalated his all-out war on Kelly with the crack about her bloody “wherever.” Ultimately, peace broke out, and Ailes brought him back on. Trump’s return, on Sean Hannity’s show, drove ratings back up, beating out the competition several times over. It devolved into a victory lap for Trump, but even in triumph, he couldn’t keep the truce. In his office, Trump slipped me a printout of a story titled “How Roger Ailes Picked Trump, and Fox News’ Audience, Over Megyn Kelly.” “I don’t start these fights, but I sure as hell win them,” he told me.
And that is Trump all over: He can’t-stop-won’t-stop whaling away at anyone who dares to bait him. The day after Kelly returned from exile, Trump trashed her afresh with snarks and retweets, refusing to give Kelly peace. This is the other thing he learned from his father, who taught his sons to “attack, attack, attack,” says Blair, the biographer. “He’s constantly on offense, picking massive fights, and it always results in polling spikes,” says Matt Boyle, a correspondent for Breitbart News, the only other writer on Trump’s plane. Riding the campaign trail since the middle of last year with Ben Carson, Cruz and others, Boyle marveled at Trump’s skill for fomenting fights, which kept him atop the news cycle every day. “And Fox, John McCain, they always respond to him,” which brings the media back a second day and sucks up all the inches on Page One. How do Bush et al. fight back against a puncher whose arms never seem to get tired? “They haven’t figured it out yet, and they’re blowing up in front of us,” says Boyle. “This guy here, he’s just at a different level.”