Buzzfeed Reporter Speaks On Covering Trump Campaign
Issue   |   Wed, 04/13/2016 - 00:00

Students gathered to hear Buzzfeed senior political reporter McKay Coppins speak on his experiences following Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last Thursday, April 7, in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry. The talk, titled “Life on the Trump Trail,” was co-sponsored by the Religion Department and the Willis D. Wood Fund.

Visiting professor of religion Max Mueller introduced Coppins for the talk.

Coppins started by introducing how he wrote “Life on the Trump Trail.” He described meeting with Trump’s aides, who invited him to attend a speech the candidate was delivering while the campaign still had only a small amount of political momentum.

“I remember, right before it came out, I was googling Trump’s name ... and nothing,” Coppins said. “It had been days since Trump’s name had been in a headline. He had constantly said, ‘I’m going to run for President.’ He would get a ton of attention, and he would say ‘Actually, I’m not going to do it.’ Trump is as likely to run for president in his lifetime as he is to accept follicular defeat. I was wrong — he ran for president two years later.”

After the article was published, Coppins was blacklisted from attending Trump events.

“Trump proceeded to spend the next several weeks trying to generate a flame war on Twitter with me,” Coppins said. “He called me … ‘slime bag,’ and ‘true garbage.’ There were a lot of words like that.”

Then, Coppins began to talk about the relationship between religion and Trump’s campaign. Coppins said that Trump does not strictly follow any religious beliefs.

“He often praises the Bible as ‘even better than his best-selling book,’” Coppins said. “One of his most famous religious experiences was courting his mistress-turned-wife in a church in Manhattan … He has failed to list a favorite Bible verse, saying he likes them all.”

Coppins, who is Mormon, described his experience talking to Trump about Mormonism and politics. According to Coppins, Trump claimed that Romney lost the election because he was Mormon. When Coppins revealed his own Mormon faith, Trump immediately raised his eyebrows and corrected himself, saying that he loved Mormons.

“Trump, in general, is someone who views minority faiths with skepticism and is quick to cast them aside unless he needs them,” Coppins said, “He tends to use religion, when he does, for his own political purposes.”

Coppins said that Trump uses faith for political gain. “It actually fits well into his general campaign message,” he said. “The Trump message, ‘Make America Great Again,’ is key. It’s about nostalgia. It’s about targeting a certain swath of the American electorate, who tend to be white, middle class, in areas of the country particularly hard hit by the recession and slow to recover — his message is targeted to those people saying that America has gone to hell in a handbasket, and I’m going to fix it.”

Coppins said that his theory on Trump’s campaign strategy is that he promises to return mainline Protestant denominations to the political power they had in past decades.

In response to a question about the election, Coppins said, “I do think it’s worth noting that Trump is, to an extent, really outside anything we’ve seen in a long time in presidential politics.”

“I really enjoyed the talk,” Chloe Revery ’16 said. “It was wonderful to have the chance to talk to a journalist whose pieces I’ve read, about his work and the subjects he covers. Mr. Coppins is an expert on Trump’s candidacy and has been following him for several years. But he’s also very knowledgeable about today’s Republican Party. That dual expertise puts him in a position to comment on what Trump’s success means for the Republican Party.”