1,001 Times the Media Acted Shocked That Trump Was Running a Real Campaign

Yes, he’s running for president.

Jay Paul / Reuters

Back in February, Donald Trump was trying to convince the Washington Post he was really going to run for president, after years of crying wolf.

The article, which makes amusing reading now, reported that Trump had hired a potential campaign manager, New Hampshire-based Corey Lewandowski, as well as operatives in Iowa and South Carolina. The Iowan, Chuck Laudner, was particularly well regarded, having directed Rick Santorum’s winning campaign in the state in 2012.

“I am more serious about this than I’ve ever been before,” Trump said in the article. “I made the deal with Chuck and Corey and some more we’ll be announcing soon because I’m serious and I want to focus on making America great again.” Still, the piece took a skeptical tone, noting that Trump had flirted with running without following through several times in the past.

Today, there’s no doubt that Trump is running—he has been the clear frontrunner for three straight months, since announcing his campaign in mid-July. Yet that aura of disbelief still pervades articles about his campaign, which are invariably suffused with a sort of can-you-believe-it? incredulousness that no other candidate faces.

Here’s the Post again, on August 13 (“An Iowa surprise: Donald Trump is actually trying to win”):

Trump is trying to beat the politicians on their turf, building one of the most extensive organizations in the Republican field.

The groundwork laid by Trump’s sizable Iowa staff, with 10 paid operatives and growing, is the clearest sign yet that the unconventional candidate is looking beyond his summer media surge and attempting to win February’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Here’s Politico on August 25 (“Trump’s growing pains”):

Donald Trump’s candidacy is trying to get real. Having proven the durability of his lead in the polls, Trump’s political organization is now working to put together a ready-for-prime-time operation that can withstand the rigors of a campaign waged beyond the realm of stage-managed rallies, television screens and Twitter feeds. … In South Carolina, the campaign has just landed a sought-after activist, and in Iowa it’s building a 99-county infrastructure, even as Republicans in New Hampshire says its ground presence there pales next to those of its rivals.

Here’s Reuters on August 25 (“How Trump plans to turn gawkers into hardcore supporters”):

The Republican frontrunner's surging campaign is largely viewed as powered by his personal celebrity and his persistent presence on television. But...when those voters enter the Grand River Center on Tuesday evening, they will immediately be diverted to tables where Trump’s staff will recruit them to be county precinct captains, organizers, and volunteers. … It’s another reason, beyond strong poll numbers, why Trump’s candidacy is being viewed with increasing seriousness both inside and outside Iowa.

The New York Times, August 26 (“Test for Donald Trump: Turning Crowds Into Real Voters”):

And yet, despite his flamboyant politics and a strategy that seems focused on appearing, every hour of every day, in the national spotlight, Mr. Trump has put in place a robust field operation in Iowa, grounded in the most time-proven methods.

The Guardian, October 8 (“‘The goal is to be the winner’: Donald Trump’s campaign is for real”):

Donald Trump is quietly transforming his made-for-TV rallies across the US into a disruptive coalition of actual voters that could sustain his outsider run for the White House, an intimate review of his campaign infrastructure can reveal. … Trump’s growing team has identified more than 10,000 voters—many at his hot-ticket rallies giving away their personal data for a glimpse at a celebrity—who have committed to voting for him in February’s first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, the Guardian has learned. His sprawling campaign apparatus already has more paid organizers on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire than any of his 14 Republican rivals.

Politico, October 16 (“Donald Trump’s building a long-term operation”):

Donald Trump’s eccentric presidential run is looking more like a standard campaign every day. … His campaign has been building the infrastructure necessary to put up a real fight in the earliest primaries and beyond. … The campaign has taken its organization in many of these states [voting on March 1] to the next level, announcing the hiring of state directors in, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama in recent weeks. It has also brought on state directors for Illinois and Florida, which vote on March 15.

This last one was trumpeted in the daily Playbook newsletter with the slug, “GAME CHANGE.” But perhaps it is no longer news, three months in, that the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is, in fact, running for president.

To be sure, Trump’s campaign isn’t totally standard: Few of his hires have presidential campaign experience; his Iowa chairwoman is a former contestant on his reality show, The Apprentice. He doesn’t have a pollster or a super PAC. Though his press secretary, Hope Hicks, occasionally tangles with the media, he frequently gets on the phone with reporters to speak for himself in articles about him, rather than deploying a spokesperson. (This is refreshing, and more candidates should do it.)

But Trump is a candidate—and an uncommonly successful one—and it’s silly to keep pretending that his campaign is a mere brand exercise or entertainment. He has hired a lot of staff and opened offices across the country. He has issued position papers (three so far: immigration, guns, and taxes). He’s organizing potential caucus- and primary-goers in the early-voting states and beyond. No other candidate, engaging in these activities, would be greeted with shock for doing the things presidential candidates are widely expected to do, particularly after he had been doing it, and proclaiming he was doing it to anyone who would listen, for months.

Indeed, by succeeding so easily at the campaign game, Trump has made a mockery of political journalism’s obsession with campaign strategy. Reporters, myself included, treat campaigns as a delicate and mysterious art, one whose practice reveals the inner core of the candidates themselves. Trump just found a bunch of people he liked and hired them, and it’s working out great. And isn’t that what he’s saying he would do if he gets elected?