Donald Trump has more than Fox News to thank for creating buzz around his testing the waters for a presidential campaign (and associated spreading of discredited birther conspiracy theories about President Obama). Right-wing website Newsmax was an early and enthusiastic promoter of Trump's presidential ambitions, and a Newsmax reporter helped pave the way for Trump to speak at a major conservative get-together.
Newsmax has been giving a platform Trump since at least 2006, when its chief Washington correspondent, Ronald Kessler, wrote a column noting that Trump "has plenty of thoughts about what he would do if he were president." Newsmax's current round of pushing the idea of Trump as president, though, began last November, when it paid for a poll asking how various people would fare against Obama in "a head-to-head race for the presidency." According to a Newsmax article on the poll, among business figures, Trump "would get nearly half the vote, 47 percent." Additionally, Trump "polled strongly among Republicans and conservatives, and got 50 percent of the vote among independents." The article also stated, however, that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates polled better than Trump.
In a December column on the Newsmax-operated financial news website Moneynews, Bill Spetrino touted Trump's prospects: "I can tell you that dealing with the Chinese and Russians wouldn't be one-sided if Trump was in charge. He won't hire power-hungry academics without real-world knowledge but instead will hire experienced businessmen and women with practical knowledge."
Newsmax's Kessler followed up on January 3 with a column stating that Trump "is telling friends he has decided he will definitely run for president as a Republican." A few weeks later, Kessler wrote about how he and his wife "spent the Martin Luther King holiday weekend with him at Mar-a-Lago, [Trump's] home and club on Palm Beach," where it became "clear" that "when it comes to a successful run at the presidency, don't underestimate him":
Don't expect to see him shaking hands in Iowa; he has a notorious aversion to shaking hands. But with every news outlet begging to have him on, he doesn't need to press the flesh. When it comes to cresting a controversy -- such as with Rosie O'Donnell -- he has a perfect sense of timing, knowing when to add more fuel to the fire and when to pull back before the public tires of the subject.
In short, to those who are understandably skeptical about Trump and his intentions, don't count him out. Donald already has a winter White House picked out.
For good measure, Kessler dropped references to Trump's "stunning wife Melania" and noted how Trump's 4-year-old son, Barron, "speaks Serbian, French, and some German, as well as English."
Shortly after Kessler's sycophantic fawning over Trump, Newsmax did an "exclusive" video interview with Trump that generated five separate articles:
- Trump: Obama 'Isn't Doing Anything in Middle East'
- Trump: U.S. 'Whipping Post' for World Under Obama
- Trump: 'I'm Thinking About' Running for President
- Trump: Rebuild America, Not Afghanistan
- Trump: Hannity, O'Reilly, Other Fox Hosts 'Great'
In February, Newsmax promoted Trump's speaking appearance at CPAC, followed by an upbeat article on his "rousing speech" there and a fawning Kessler column in which Kessler took credit for his role in getting Trump the speaking slot:
Trump was not listed on the CPAC agenda. The back story is that after I had written stories saying Trump will announce a presidential run in June, Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, whose foundation runs CPAC, asked over lunch if I would extend an invitation to Trump to speak at CPAC. In a faxed note touching on other matters, I did so on Jan. 24.
In introducing the star of "The Apprentice," Lisa De Pasquale, director of CPAC, cited those Newsmax stories, which most recently included "Don't Underestimate Donald Trump for President."
(Kessler and Keene are pretty tight; Keene awarded Kessler the ACU's "Robert Novak Journalist of the Year Award" at last year's CPAC.)
In March, Newsmax launched an opt-in poll titled "Donald Trump -- Would You Vote For Him?" that it has heavily promoted for weeks in web ads like this:
Newsmax apparently shared early results from the non-scientific poll with Trump. An April 4 Newsmax post highlighted that Trump said in a Fox & Friends appearance: "A Newsmax poll said I'm winning." The article added: "Trump was referring to early results of a Newsmax poll asking for respondents' preference among 10 potential GOP presidential candidates for 2012, and their choice in a Trump-Barack Obama race. The Newsmax poll will close shortly and the results will be released in the coming days."
The first Newsmax article on the results didn't appear until April 11, which claimed that "Americans overwhelmingly favor Donald Trump as their preferred candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012."
Since writing the first story in January to report that Trump will definitely run, I have been amazed at how much the idea of a Trump presidency is catching on across the political spectrum. As I wrote in my story, Don't Underestimate Donald Trump for President, he can be outrageous and boastful. But when it comes to a successful run at the presidency, don't count him out.
(UPDATE: Kessler's article has returned to the Newsmax website.)
Kessler did acknowledge that Trump had "problems," such as "womanizing between marriages," but insisted that "what will also become clear -- as depicted recently on 'The Oprah Show' -- is that he has been a model father to his five kids," adding: "Every morning, Trump reads the papers with his 4-year-old Barron, commenting on developments. His devotion to his kids and loyalty to friends speak volumes about his character."
Kessler concluded: "From talking with him, I can tell that he has thought through the details of running." Kessler and Newsmax have clearly thought through the details of serving as public-relations agents for Trump and his presidential ambitions.