Trump Ducks Media as Questions Get Tough, Election Nears
In the first debate of the general election Monday, Donald Trump could face the most searing media spotlight of his candidacy. But in anticipation of that moment, Trump has dodged the press corps rather than confront it.
Although Trump earlier in his campaign blitzed television news, at times even monopolizing coverage, he has recently broken with this style and blatantly avoided the media — going nearly two months without a press conference, refusing to seat the traveling press corps on his campaign jet as Hillary Clinton has done, and only sporadically agreeing to interviews.
The strategic shift comes as Trump and his aides have attempted to keep the campaign on message, rather than veering off into controversies of the candidate’s creation.
When Trump has agreed to speak to the press lately, he has favored friendly turf, often on Fox News. On Wednesday, Trump taped a town hall event with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, who this week appeared in an ad affirming his support for Trump.
Trump has also done select interviews with local press — including one in Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday that included the type of uncomfortable questions he might face if he were to subject himself to a news conference.
In the span of just three questions, Trump was asked about donations from his eponymous charity that appeared to benefit only Trump, as well as at what point he realized President Obama was born in the United States.
Both issues have dogged the candidate, and responding to the latter question, he acknowledged: "Well, I just wanted to get on with, I wanted to get on with the campaign. A lot of people were asking me questions.”
Not long ago, it was Trump’s campaign criticizing Clinton for her lack of access, pointing to a press conference drought that lasted nearly 300 days.
“Hillary Clinton has to come out of hiding and start answering questions the American people deserve answers to,” Trump running mate Mike Pence said late last month. “It’s really quite a contrast — Clinton has been hiding, and Trump is everywhere.”
In addition, Trump’s campaign sent daily “Hiding Hillary” email updates to members of the press, with suggested questions to ask her.
More recently, however, the roles have reversed. On Labor Day, Clinton began inviting reporters to travel on her campaign plane, and she has since conducted multiple press conferences and informal “gaggles” with reporters. And this week, Clinton’s campaign needled Trump’s in an email to media: “20 Questions Trump Is Avoiding By Not Holding A Press Conference.”
Trump last took questions Sept. 5 from a select group of reporters, whom he invited on his plane. He has not held a full press conference since appearing with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during Trump’s surprise visit to Mexico Aug. 31.
Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s approach on CNN Tuesday, saying the Republican nominee “gives press availability every day by doing these rallies in these swing states where he is every single day and they are there with him.”
But Trump’s rallies do not give reporters any special access to the candidate, nor do these events afford opportunities for the press to pose questions. Meanwhile, Trump has recently stuck strictly to a teleprompter in his public remarks.
This dynamic has left Trump’s campaign surrogates and Pence to answer the most difficult questions of the day. Earlier this month, Pence caused a stir when he would not characterize former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as “deplorable.” Then, this week, Pence defended a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. comparing Syrian refugees to handful of Skittles, among them a few poisonous ones.
Appearing on MSNBC on Tuesday, Pence met another tricky question: After more than 50 days without a press conference, when would Trump face the media?
Pence responded without hesitation, “I think Donald Trump answers questions with the media just about every day.”