If I were giving Donald J. Trump campaign advice I would tell him that those folks advising him to morph into presidential mode, to become disciplined and remain on message, are all wrong. When he does that, he loses those supporters who get excited following the show, or, as in the case of his muted and scripted Detroit economic address, gets criticized for abandoning some of his more populist rhetoric.
If he really wanted to boost his brand, to continue what put him on top, Republican presidential nominee Trump missed a prime opportunity this past weekend, turning down two invitations that surely had the potential to change the conversation far better than an economic address that was short on details that don’t quite add up.
Trump could have offered what every news person and reality-show fan craves – a surprising twist.
In Baltimore, the National Urban League met, with panels that covered issues such as criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration. Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine showed up, but not the Trump campaign. And in Washington, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) held a joint convention, where Hillary Clinton made an hour-long appearance.
Folks have written about Clinton’s speech, the tough questions and her answers on everything from emails to the importance of the Hispanic vote to lessons learned from black friends (when part of the answer leads to some variation of “some of my best friends are …” you really can’t win). That’s part of the deal when you open yourself up to a roomful of journalists who will surely ask you, as one did, why you don’t have more press conferences.
But Clinton, as well as politicians and policymakers across the party spectrum who have accepted — from Barack Obama to George W. Bush to John Kerry to Condoleezza Rice to Reince Priebus — realize the importance of reaching thousands of journalists with lots of cameras who will write and Tweet about you. It’s an opportunity that’s tough to pass up.
Donald Trump, showman that he is, should know that better than anyone.
The crowd that lined up to see and hear Clinton — and pardon any insult to the former senator and Secretary of State — would have been dwarfed by any audience lured by the chance to question the GOP nominee.
Imagine all the international attention trained on journalists asking questions and follow-ups regarding Trump’s staunch “law and order” platform and his positions on Black Lives Matter, immigration reform and building a wall. What would he say and how would he say it?
The headlines write themselves — Trump appearing before members of the press, a group he has often maligned. (And for those with the obvious question, both journalism organizations boast a diverse and inclusive membership roster.)
But Trump did not accept our invitation — yes, I was there and, yes, I missed him. Maybe he did not realize that any minute spent in Washington would have been a win for him. He would immediately have gotten points just for showing up. It’s not bravery to face professional journalists when you are vying for the job of president of the United States; it’s part of applying for the job. But with the partisan divide that now exists in America, sadly it would have been interpreted that way.
His die-hard fans and followers would have tuned in expecting a sparring match, and, for opponents, if Trump appeared even a bit conciliatory and reasonable, he would have earned points for style and, perhaps, a vote or two from those who have written him off.
It would have led every news weekend broadcast and every Sunday talk show panel.
The good news is, Trump has another chance. NABJ President Sarah Glover and NAHJ President Brandon Benavides have invited the Republican presidential nominee to a press event for members.
Their joint statement said that “members of the audience who witnessed Clinton’s address included working journalists, media-related professionals, academics, corporate sponsors, volunteers, Clinton campaign officials and non-members of our associations. Some members of the audience applauded during Clinton’s responses. This is no reflection of our journalistic values, which include being non-partisan and objective. The members of NABJ and NAHJ, many of whom work in newsrooms throughout the country know the importance of journalistic integrity and impartiality, especially while covering political campaigns.”
The groups stand ready, the Monday statement said, to arrange a press conference before members of both organizations within 60 days. “We know it is important for our members and the communities we cover to hear from both sides of the aisle.”
Will Trump accept? Certainly, Republican Party leadership, whose autopsy after their last presidential loss, recommended minority outreach, should be whispering “yes” in his ear.
The public might learn something and, at the very least, it would be the ultimate reality show.
Mary C.Curtis is a columnist at Roll Call, NBCBLK, a contributor to NPR, a senior facilitator at The OpEd Project, and has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3