Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources hosted by Brian Stelter, senior writer at Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins, and senior political reporter at POLITICO, Maggie Haberman, spoke with Brian about the motivation behind Trump’s political campaigning, how he was been portrayed in the media, and the reaction to Coppin’s piece.
A transcript from the discussion is available after the jump.
BRIAN STELTER, HOST: Joining me here are McKay Coppins and Maggie Haberman, a senior political reporter for Politico.
And, Maggie, since you have written stories about Trump over the years, as so many reporters have, I — I want to start with you.
Do you think we’re at the point where he shouldn’t be taken seriously as a political figure?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR REPORTER, POLITICO: I think that when he, uh, fake ran for president, I guess, as we would put it, uh, in 2011…
STELTER: In 2012…
HABERMAN: — because he — 2011, because he never…
HABERMAN: — actually ran…
STELTER: Right. He…
HABERMAN: He never…
STELTER: — gave up on that.
HABERMAN: — actually declared. But what he did tap into was a real sentiment in the Republican Party base, and I think McKay also saw this, that the other candidates weren’t tapping into.
So there was a reason that his numbers went high. There was a reason he was covered. I would argue this gubernatorial flirtation is a mistake. It is hard to take seriously…
STELTER: This is the New York governorship that he’s talking about now.
HABERMAN: This is the New York governorship. And the person who it seems to be helping the most is Andrew Cuomo, the current governor, because Donald Trump is having this debate with somebody who is thinking of running, Westchester County executive Rob Astorino.
I think that you are going to see diminishing returns on this for Trump. I think you are going to see less and less coverage. But I do think for Trump, the — the dissonance here is between the New York media and that crucible which he was very used to versus the national media, which he got exposed to in a very different way in 2011. And I think he has not quite adjusted to how different they are.
STELTER: You’re shaking your head yes, McKay. Do you agree with that, that it was worthy of some coverage in 2011?
MCKAY COPPINS, WRITER: Oh, I mean, I — I think so. Look, I mean the thing that you have to remember is that in 2011, virtually every serious Republican candidate made the trek up to Trump Tower to kiss his ring, right?
COPPINS: They wanted his endorsement.
COPPINS: He even managed to get, you know, Mitt Romney to go up on stage with him and accept the endorsement in purpose — in person. So there — he was a real player in 2012.
I do think, though, that there was kind of a shark jump — a shark jump moment toward the end of that — that cycle. There were many shark jump moments, but I think by the end, really, everyone, on all sides of the aisle, especially in the press, in punditocracy, were rolling their eyes.
And so I think that a — by, you know, going forward, the gubernatorial thing, 2016, I just don’t see it getting the same kind of play that it used to.
STELTER: In your piece, you acknowledge how meta this is, talking about whether he should be covered. Uh, what was your reason for wanting to write a long profile of him?
COPPINS: Yeah, I mean, you know, I admit at the top of the story, I am part of the problem and have been part of the problem. I — I think that actually what drew me to this, I mean partly I wanted to call out the long con, as I call it. But more interesting to me was what is it that makes this billionaire, who’s already famous, already rich, uh, so obsessed with getting the political class to take him seriously, right?
Why is he so interested in this? I think it’s true that he always wants attention…
STELTER: And you concluded what?
COPPINS: My conclusion was that, you know, at the end of the day, he’s already done real estate, he’s already done reality TV. He has fame. What he wants is credibility. What he wants is for at least some segment of the population to look at him as a serious person.
And the problem and kind of the great tragedy of him is that he doesn’t know how to do that.
HABERMAN: He is a tremendous manipulator of the media. He always has been. And I don’t say manipulator as a pejorative. I mean that actually he is somebody who really knows how to work it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could teach others how to do it, you mean?
HABERMAN: Correct. This has long been one of his really impressive, uh, characteristics. I will say, to McKay’s thing about McKay saying I’m part of — he’s part of the problem, um, so we now have a big Twitter fight where Trump is attacking McKay and some of these have obviously gone — these Tweets have gone too far…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They’ve been going on for days.
HABERMAN: Right. So going on for days. It’s getting BuzzFeed attention. It’s getting Trump attention.
People do want to read about Trump. That doesn’t mean they’re going to vote for him…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
HABERMAN: — but at the end of the day, people do want to read about him or McKay would not be writing about it and you would not see Twitter blowing up with, you know, Tweets about how irrelevant the guy is. And yet we all can’t stop Tweeting about him, can we?
COPPINS: I think the key distinction, I think that’s true. And the key distinction is that he thinks that this somehow gets him credibility. The fact is, everybody pointing and laughing at him doesn’t necessarily make him a more creda — credible political figure.
STELTER: Well, entertainers are there to be pointed at and to be laughed at.
STELTER: Does the press have more of a responsibility to almost surround the stories with a warning label that say we know this guy isn’t serious?
COPPINS: Um, I tried to do that with my piece. I think — I don’t think anyone, uh, came away reading that thinking that we should take him any more seriously than we have been.
But, yes, I think that in the future, people are not going to stop writing about him, right?
But I think that in the context of a political campaign, yes, I think the political press could do a little better, this is myself included — uh, making clear that this is not a real political candidate, not a real political figure, this is a sideshow.
STELTER: Well, Maggie, you raised a good point about the New York governorship.
If he does go further down that road, maybe there’s a difference between that and these — threats to run for president in the past?
HABERMAN: If he actually does run for governor, then, yes, then he is running for something and that all goes away. I mean then — and then it stops becoming this is a fake candidacy…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
HABERMAN: — which is what everyone is saying on Twitter and that’s been the — the heart of this issue.
Um, I am skeptical that he’s going to run for governor. I think at the end of the day, it is going to be either Rob Astorino or some lesser known candidate who challenges Cuomo.
But again, some of this is also, to be put candidly, on the New York Republican Party, which is sort of entertaining this in the first place. It’s not really just the media’s fault. When you’ve got members of the state — the state Senate and the state Assembly and county sheriffs who all, as McKay said, trek to Trump Tower to kiss the ring and — and do some — some dance here, we — are we obligated to cover that or should we not cover that?
So I think it — that’s the other question there.
STELTER: And he’s also still flirting with the idea of president, at least on Twitter. He wrote this the other day. Uh, well someone wrote to him and said, “Why are you not running for president in 2016?”
And he couldn’t resist replying and saying, “We’ll see what happens.”
STELTER: So there again, injecting himself into this will he or won’t he sort of debate.
COPPINS: Right. I mean even when I was with him, he tried repeatedly to convince me that this was a real possibility, that he was really going to do it this time.
I think the moment we can, uh, appropriately start taking him seriously as a presidential threat is when he has filed papers and is giving speeches to sweaty crowds in Iowa. I think until that moment, we just treat it like a sideshow.
STELTER: So ever since your profile came out, you know, you’ve been attacked by him and his — his yes-men, as you call them.
What kind of names have they called you? What has it been like, because…
STELTER: — you know, it makes you think about whether this guy can be — ever be a serious candidate if he treats reporters the way he’s treated you.
COPPINS: Well, there have certainly been a long line of, uh, politicians, especially here in New York, who have made their bones picking on reporters.
COPPINS: So I don’t know if that, you know…
COPPINS: — excludes him from — from running.
Uh, but, yes, I mean it’s been nasty. But as I expected, Trump — Trump fights dirty. And really, the whole — all the blow-back and everything that he’s done kind of confirms the premise of my story, which is he’s a little thin-skinned and takes this stuff very, very seriously.
STELTER: I want to put up a…
HABERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) around him (INAUDIBLE).
STELTER: I want to put up a Tweet on the screen from, uh, David Korn, who — who wrote this. He said, “The downside to the Trump-McKay Coppins kerfuffle is that realDonaldTrump” — Trump’s handle on Twitter — “may steer clear of the media.”
And then, of course, his hash tag was ohno.
Do you think that’s possible?
Will Trump dodge the press for a little bit now?
HABERMAN: I don’t think Trump is going to host anyone on his plane again any time soon. But, uh…
HABERMAN: — but, no, I think at the end of the day, I think that — I think that Trump and the media have a symbiotic relationship and I think that will continue.
STELTER: Well, thank you all for being here and having a very meta conversation with me about not covering Donald Trump.
COPPINS: Thank you.
HABERMAN: Thank you.
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