Donald Ducking The Press

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Stranahan Theater in Toledo, Ohio on September 21, 2016
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Stranahan Theater in Toledo, Ohio on September 21, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

As I write that headline, I have to wonder why we all haven't been using the neologistic verb "Donald ducking" by this point in the presidential race. After all, a large part of Donald Trump's campaign has been built on the foundation of him ducking questions and issues that he doesn't want to talk about. He's a master at the art, in fact. Consider just the birther issue -- up until last Friday, Trump's been successfully ducking the issue for the entire campaign. He never answered the basic question of Barack Obama's birthplace, saying quite bluntly that he just didn't want to talk about it. He got away with not talking about it for almost a year and a half. Donald ducked, and it worked.

But since his makeover into Trump 2.0 (now with TelePrompTer!), Donald hasn't just been ducking the questions he doesn't like, he's been ducking answering any tough questions altogether. Earlier in the campaign season, Hillary Clinton was (quite rightly) derided by the press for not giving a press conference for nine solid months. She finally relented (as a part of her own campaign makeover), and now gives press conferences and answers questions from the press corps travelling with her on a regular basis. Trump, however, has moved in the opposite direction, and hasn't given a press conference in almost two months now.

This is kind of extraordinary, because he used to hold press conferences all the time. He seemed to love the back-and-forth freewheeling nature of the events, even taunting the reporters at times. But now he hasn't given one since the last week in July. I suppose it's not all that surprising, since this period roughly matches up with the press suddenly waking up to its responsibility to vet both candidates equally (call it the post-Matt Lauer era). Much tougher questions have arisen around Trump, questions he quite likely doesn't want to answer any more than the questions about his championing birtherism for so long.

The Trump Foundation is the prime example this week, as the Washington Post continues its very deep dive into Donald Trump's charitable giving (or lack thereof). It seems the Trump Foundation gave over a quarter of a million dollars -- of other people's money, since Trump hasn't given the foundation a dime for more than six years -- to resolve lawsuits against Donald Trump himself. This could be a federal crime, amusingly named "self-dealing." This revelation came after the news that the Trump Foundation had made an illegal campaign donation of $25,000 to a state attorney general who was considering taking Trump University to court -- but who decided not to, after getting money from the Trump Foundation.

These are just the biggest revelations about the Trump Foundation, mind you -- the Post has uncovered plenty of other questions Trump is not likely to want to answer either (Lester Holt, are you paying attention?). But even sticking to just the biggest stories, it'd be pretty easy for an enterprising reporter to frame the question to Trump in the following manner:

"Mr. Trump, the Washington Post has revealed that your namesake foundation has given over $250,000 to settle your personal legal problems. What interested me most -- and, I suspect, what will interest the public as well -- is that one of these payoffs happened because you essentially refused to make good on a golf bet. You offered a cool million bucks if anyone got a hole-in-one during a tournament held at one of your golf courses. A man hit a hole-in-one, but instead of ponying up, you stiffed him. You said that the hole somehow wasn't long enough. He sued you to get you to make good on your promise, and you wound up paying only $158,000 -- not to him, but to a charity he supported; and from your foundation's funds, not from your own pocket. So my question is: why should the American people trust you as their president when you don't even keep the promises you make on the golf course?"

This would nicely wrap the controversy up in a package that just about anyone could relate to. Wimping out on paying a bet (or a promise made on a golf course) is something few people see as an admirable quality, after all. It's something that has happened to many average voters, in fact. Say what you want about Mitt Romney, but if Rick Perry had indeed taken him up on that infamous $10,000 bet, I would never have expected Romney to weasel out of paying off the bet if he lost. This is simply not true with Donald Trump.

The Trump campaign, quite obviously, doesn't want Donald Trump to even have to face such questions. He'll do interviews with friendly journalists guaranteed not only to just toss softball questions at him, but also guaranteed to not call him out on it when he ducks them. But he hasn't faced the press en masse in almost two months. The campaign is probably smart to do so, since the less Trump talks to the press off the cuff, the fewer chances he has of lighting a bonfire of a controversy for them to report on (as used to regularly happen).

So from now on, it would behoove the media to ask all Trump surrogates who are willing to appear on camera the basic questions: "Why hasn't Trump given a press conference in two months? What is he scared of?" Or, to put it in slightly more "animated" terms (as it were): "Why is Donald ducking?"

 

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