President Donald Trump’s campaign is taking stock of his opponents in the 2020 presidential election, but it’s not the Democrats they are worried about.
Instead, senior campaign communications officials say the media is the “biggest obstacle” to the president’s reelection.
During a Daily Caller visit to the official campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia, the officials spoke of their reelection strategy, the messaging on Democratic candidates, and their relative optimism about Trump’s chances in 2020. The Daily Caller wasn’t the first media outlet to take a tour of the HQ — a peek at the organization’s guest book revealed that the campaign had already met with The Hill, NPR, and Fox News, among others.
Despite the communication team’s obvious attempts to establish good working relationships with media outlets, the officials described hostile behavior from some reporters that they believe will hinder their efforts. Tim Murtaugh, the Trump Campaign’s director of communications, Erin Perrine, the deputy communications director, and Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary, all said they routinely feel frustrated when dealing with the media.
“People always ask, ‘what’s your biggest challenge, what’s your biggest obstacle?’” Murtaugh said. “And Kayleigh always says, ‘the media.’ The media is our biggest challenge.”
“It is very frustrating,” he said, referring to at least one outlet as outright “adversarial.”
The three officials shared one encounter with a reporter who visited the headquarters and was muttering negative comments to herself as Perrine was speaking.
“One [reporter] was mumbling under her breath about what I was saying,” Perrine said, with McEnany adding that it was “incredibly rude.”
McEnany shared, “I have balloons in my office that were from my birthday months ago and I kick them around every time I’m on the phone because it’s just infuriating.”
A quick look at the media’s treatment of some of the 2020 Democratic candidate’s campaigns reveals at least the appearance of a double standard. A CNN reporter following Kamala Harris on the trail referred to the California senator’s “rock star reception” and helped her shop for a sequin jacket at one campaign stop.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner, received positive coverage from The New York Times merely because he managed to last one weekend without any obvious gaffes. (RELATED: Biden Gets New York Times Headline For Not Saying Anything Stupid)
Then there’s former Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s glowing Vanity Fair profile photographed by Annie Leibovitz, wherein the failed Senate candidate described himself as being “born” to run for president.
However, recent action from the official campaign Twitter account reveals that, just like the president, they aren’t afraid to fight back when they feel they’re being misrepresented.
After CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta shared an out-of-context quote from President Donald Trump’s speech on immigration Thursday, the campaign responded with a fuller video of Trump’s remarks and accused Acosta of “lying.”
“How can you do this and go home at night thinking you’ve turned in an honest day’s work as a journalist?” the Twitter account jabbed.
How can you do this and go home at night thinking you’ve turned in an honest day’s work as a journalist?
Full transcript of what President Trump actually said: pic.twitter.com/xmTPmHJ604
— Official Trump War Room (@TrumpWarRoom) May 16, 2019
One particular issue the campaign officials expressed slight annoyance about is the media’s focus on a potential threat from Biden. Biden has been considered by some to be the moderate choice for Democrats, and many have pointed out that Biden’s roots in Pennsylvania could help him poach Trump’s blue-collar base.
“A lot of the people in the media have said, ‘Well, look at Biden, Biden’s the great moderate hope.’ But Biden himself has acknowledged a number of times he’s not even trying to be a centrist,” Murtaugh replied when asked about Biden. He pointed out a recent comment Biden made hitting back at progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for accusing him of being too centrist on the environment.
“I’ve never been middle of the road on the environment,” Biden said at a New Hampshire campaign event this week. “Tell her to check the statement that I made and look at my record. She’ll find that nobody has been more consistent about taking on the environment and the green revolution than I have.”
The campaign ultimately believes that Biden will be forced to take on increasingly leftist positions during the primary — positions that they can later attack him for during the general election. They disagree with the notion that Biden can move back to the center during the general, instead insisting he will be tethered to his primary campaign.
“Most of the reporters that we talk to kinda roll their eyes when we talk about socialism but the issue set that they’re being forced to focus on by the primary electorate on their side is absolutely a bunch of socialist policy positions,” Murtaugh argued, noting the Green New Deal, medicare-for-all, and repealing the Trump tax cuts. “You cannot run as a centrist in 2019 as a Democrat and be successful.”
Polls indicate, however, that the Democratic Party as a whole isn’t as left-leaning as some of its most vocal activists. According to a poll from Christopher Newport University, 56% of Democrats self-identify as “moderate.” If Biden is able to buck the full-on progressivism demanded by some factions in the party, he very well could capture the party’s rank-and-file members.
Still, the campaign isn’t worried — or at least, not outwardly so. They argue that the primary will render whoever wins “beat up” and “broke.” That won’t exclude Biden, who has a 40-year political history for opponents to draw from.
“Democrats have this cardinal rule that they’re going to play nice but at some point they have to realize that this is a zero-sum game — one person wins and the others lose,” McEnany said, betting that the Democrats will start outwardly attacking one another soon.
Regardless, the campaign still views the media as its biggest challenger. But if history is a guide, the media may also be Trump’s greatest asset. Voters have told pollsters that they view the media as more divisive than Trump, and there’s no doubt that Trump’s base loves when the president locks horns with the press.
Provided journalists cover Trump just as negatively as they did in 2016, the president has at least one opponent that he knows very well how to defeat.