By James Pindell
The Boston Globe
AMHERST, N.H. — Political reporters have conflicting feelings when Donald Trump starts talking about running for president (again) and begins visiting Iowa and New Hampshire (again), the two states that kick off the presidential primary process.
On one hand, there is the simple fact that when he arrives, it is an event. The guy draws huge crowds. There are also people who genuinely want him to run for president. In the 2012 election, polls showed him leading other potential presidential candidates I covered and interviewed and wrote about without a second thought. It would be unfair not to cover him the same way.
On the other hand, Trump has been talking about running for president since 1987. In different years he talked about doing so as a Democrat, a Reform Party candidate, and lately as a Republican. For several presidential cycles, he has been like Lucy with the football — pulling back at the last minute. But along the way he gets what he wants: publicity. He admits that in the past he wasn’t being serious. He played with people and made a mockery out of the process. Should we really cover him in the same way we cover other candidates?
During Trump’s last flirtation for president, I was working at a local New Hampshire television station and got goaded into saying during a live shot on the 6 p.m. news that, well, I thought Trump just might run for president, after all. Three weeks later he was out. I vowed to watch my words more carefully. I played into his hand. I was duped.
I last saw Trump was at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines in late January. I was supposed to see him again in Des Moines in early March, but he canceled on another big event there to be on television promoting a tournament at one of his golf courses. Priorities.
Don't say Donald Trump isn't in Iowa today. He is right here on the TV screen.
"Don't say Donald Trump isn't in Iowa today. He is right here on the TV screen."
When the news came out that Trump was going to visit New Hampshire under the pretense of another presidential campaign, I rolled my eyes. I told myself to find something more productive to do that day. Less than 48 hours before the event I still wasn’t going to attend the early evening house party. Then he announced that he had formed a presidential exploratory committee. He had never taken that step before. He became only the second Republican candidate to do it; not even Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton have taken this step. And, sure, he has hired staff in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and he had never done that before either.
I RSVP’d, but I still wasn’t going.
Then, about 24 hours before the Trump event, I decided to go. You know why? It is fun. Trump is fun. And everyone who goes to attend his events has fun. I wasn’t going to pitch it as a story in The Boston Globe. That would be giving him too much. But if he said something really newsworthy, then sure, I would alert my bosses.
As for the news, well, here you go:
When explaining how we would react when he made a final decision on running for president, in 2011 Trump said in New Hampshire, “I think you’ll be surprised.”
In 2015, his answer was, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
With the exception of that “pleasantly,” everything else about his trip was the same as it was the last time around. It was a media event. He visited two local television stations. He spent 45 minutes with the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper. He had an interview with a Republican blog.
When they set up a lectern and microphone for a house party, it didn’t seem at all weird. I say this even though I have attended probably over 300 house parties with candidates, and none ever had a microphone before. But Trump wanted to look and sound good on the evening news, so a microphone was necessary.
He talked to reporters afterward.
And even as the audience of a few hundred in a huge house laughed and clapped and smiled at Trump, a few were actually sorta serious about him running for president. New Hampshire state Representative Josh Whitehouse said he is endorsing him. John Hikel of Goffstown said he would back him. Activist Glynis Citarelli of Amherst said, “He is exactly what the country needs right now.” After sitting in a private roundtable with him earlier in the day, Manchester real estate mogul Ben Gamache came away convinced Trump was actually serious this time.
While sometimes the topics got serious — ISIS, college loan debt, gun rights, Social Security, outsourcing — the mood was light. This was partly because Trump was always quick with a joke or a zinger. And it was partly because he didn’t seem to be taking himself so seriously so why should we?
Hours before Trump was in New Hampshire, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was in Trump’s old stomping grounds of Atlantic City. She was giving a paid speech at the American Camp Conference.
“There’s a huge fun deficit in America,” Clinton told the audience. “We really need camps for adults.”
Instead of going to camp, I hung out with New Hampshire adults to see Donald Trump do his thing. There was no fun deficit in that room.
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