I’ve been covering presidential candidate spectacles since I was a student at the University of Iowa in 1999.
One of the benefits of living in the cornfields was that every four years, you practically tripped over wannabe leaders of the free world. I saw Al Gore actually get fired up at the UI field house, interviewed John Edwards at a backyard barbecue, and sat in the same booth as conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson at a local greasy spoon for a Howard Dean event.
Since moving to Michigan, I’ve continued to cover candidate stops, from Barack Obama in Toledo to John McCain in Battle Creek to Mitt Romney in Commerce Township. At this point, I’ve lost count how many events I’ve been to. (I look forward to leaving my kids a box full of lanyards and press badges that they can promptly donate to Goodwill –– or the dumpster).
The pageantry can’t be beat. And it’s always interesting to see candidates up close and personal, ask them questions and see how they interact with voters.
I’ve particularly enjoyed interviewing die-hard supporters at rallies and coffee klatches. Who cares enough to come out to a smoothie shop at noon on a Wednesday to see Dennis Kucinich? That’s a more fascinating story to me than listening to a hopeful’s stump speech for the 20th time.
Many times, I dragged my daughter to events, especially as a single mom. I regarded it as a unique opportunity for civic engagement. She considered it a good opportunity to play on her iPad (most of the time).
This cycle has been different. I’m no longer a daily news reporter working for various outlets. As the owner of Inside Michigan Politics, it’s difficult to take a day off to traverse the state. It’s far easier to keep up by streaming events while I edit the newsletter, pay vendors or write columns.
I’ve attended a few campaign events and debates this year, and the same thing has happened every time. I spend most of my answering calls and emails from reporters who want my take on said event –– leaving little time to actually talk with voters there. And I’ve come to really appreciate chatting with voters who never attend candidate stops to see what’s motivating their electoral leanings.
But I’ve never covered a Donald Trump affair, making him the first nominee in four cycles who I haven’t seen in person. And there’s a very good reason for this.
The violence at many Trump rallies deeply worries me, with several protesters and journalists being assaulted. Most reporters are routinely subjected to verbal abuse –– replete with anti-Semitic slurs you’d like to believe were a thing of the past. Some TV networks are now providing security for their staff.
It’s the unfortunate, but logical conclusion, of a far-right movement hostile to any media that is outside its Breitbart, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh bubble. And it reflects Trump’s own vitriol for journalists –– many of whom he inveighs against by name at his rallies –– and gleeful declaration that he would alter the First Amendment once in office.
That’s why the Committee to Protect Journalists just made the unprecedented move to condemn Trump.
I admire all the reporters who cover Trump and have provided fair and insightful reports, even as their personal safety was threatened. Because it’s not necessary for my job to attend these events, I have exercised my choice not to.
Over the years, I’ve covered KKK rallies and Tea Party protests where I was heckled, insulted and occasionally shoved. I’ve interviewed folks with AR rifles slung over their shoulders who told me they weren’t big fans of the First Amendment (you can imagine which one was their favorite). It came with the job.
Naturally, I’ve never taken my daughter or stepson to those kinds of events.
But in 2012, I did bring my daughter to an Americans for Prosperity forum in Troy where Andrew Breitbart and Rick Santorum brought the house down. Reporters were penned up in the back and we had to wade our way through a rather dour crowd. I was absolutely aghast when someone pushed my 9-year-old –– quite purposely –– and thrust a “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media” button into her hand.
There was a real ugliness there. It’s something on full display with Trump’s frenzied crowds. So no, I’m not about to take my kids there. And I don’t see that there’s enough of an upside for me to go, either.
I truly hope that these tensions ebb after the election. It’s been fashionable for 40 years for conservatives to bash the media, but physical abuse and verbal harassment have taken things to a whole new –– and disturbing –– level.
As a country, we’re better than this.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.