Though Thrush started with Politico back when its metier involved breaking stories in minute increments, his role changed as the organization matured. In addition to serving as Politico’s chief political correspondent, he has been a senior staff writer for Politico Magazine. That latter function has allowed Thrush to assist in Politico’s turn toward slow-cooking feature stories with greater long-term resonance than the site’s early fare. A memorable long-form collaboration with Haberman in spring 2014 asked, “What Is Hillary Clinton Afraid Of?” Answer: The media — and the double-bylined piece foretold the Clinton campaign’s tortured relationship with news organizations in the 2016 campaign.
Some of the material for that piece stemmed from Thrush’s work covering Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. He followed that failed effort for Newsday before hopping aboard Politico.
No word yet from the New York Times on precisely how they’ll integrate Thrush with the rest of the newspaper’s Washington operation. Thrush would have been a more logical choice to amp up coverage of a Clinton White House, though reportorial chops are always transferable commodities. In October, for instance, he wrote a feature on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Trump’s “immigration whisperer.” And along with Alex Isenstadt, he wrote about turmoil within the Trump campaign following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.
“And there are growing signs that the GOP nominee is no longer competing just against Hillary Clinton, but against members of his own party who are withdrawing or reconsidering their reluctant endorsements, making Trump’s objective on Sunday less about reviving his candidacy than proving himself able to stop his party from completely abandoning him to the electoral wolves howling outside Trump Tower,” read the story — a reminder of the tortuous black box that was the 2016 presidential campaign.
The New York Times, says Thrush, liked a pair of feature articles he’d turned out: A profile of Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough and a deeply reported piece on the shrinking role of Cabinet secretaries. Those articles, says Thrush, result from his concern with the “institutional” components of the presidency — components that will get a new look under Trump, who has pledged to shake up Washington. “Trump kind of throws all that out the window — it’ll be interesting to see where it all lands,” says Thrush.
The White House beat in the coming years will be a hothouse for reportorial inquiry. Donald Trump came to power with skimpy and often conflicting policy pronouncements and has interviewed candidates for Cabinet appointments whose views differ from those he used to score cheers in his many campaign rallies. After just one meeting with President Obama, Trump appeared to ease up on his hostile viewpoint on Obamacare. “I would not have been half as enthusiastic to do this job if Hillary had been president,” says Thrush. “I mean, I think a Hillary Clinton presidency would be more predictable and for myself personally easier to cover, but if you do this kind of work, you want a challenge and the Trump people posed a variety of challenges on a number of levels and I think they’re also a fascinating group of people to get to know and my experiences with them covering them throughout the campaign are at variance with how the public tends to view them,” says the reporter who’s seeking new sources with the upcoming Trump administration.
In his Politico incarnation, Thrush used Twitter to throw some pointed short-form elbows at the incoming White House crew. Examples:
Such tartness may not be bursting from Thrush’s account in the coming months. At Politico, notes Thrush, his role included the duties of a columnist, which “necessitated my expressing my analysis in a colorful way and in a less restrained way. It is a role that I was requested to fill and I filled it but I don’t think I will be expressing it in the same way at the Times.” Emailing habits may also undergo curtailment. As part of the WikiLeaks dump of emails pertaining to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, Thrush was put face to face with an email he’d sent to Podesta. He was seeking to check his reporting: “Because I have become a hack I will send u the whole section that pertains to u. Please don’t share or tell anyone I did this Tell me if I f****d up anything,” wrote Thrush.
After sustaining criticism that the email amounted to pre-clearing his draft with the Clinton campaign, Thrush tweeted, in part, “Nobody controls my stories but me. Troll on!” Asked about the situation, Thrush said, “Various publications have various policies and I will adhere by the policies of my publication.” Politico’s policy is to “not share editorial content pre-publication except as approved by editors.”
Thrush joins a New York Times that is losing staff. Around 70 New York Times employees have taken buyouts, and layoffs are next. “It really is an incredibly painful situation,” says Thrush. “I wish I was coming in under different circumstances.” Not long after graduating from Brooklyn College, says Thrush, he received his first two journalism job offers as a scab during the New York City tabloid labor disputes of the early 1990s. He declined.
Politico served as a fabulous place to practice his work, says Thrush, who said that two years ago, then-Editor Susan Glasser and Jim VandeHei, a founder of the site, convinced him to stay on. When the “bell rang” this time, however, Thrush couldn’t say no. “You can’t be an eighth-year senior in high school,” he says.
Addressing his work at the Times, Thrush says the newspaper will need to counter the “misstatements of fact” that come from President-elect Trump, though he credited the paper for already excelling on that front. “They view that increasingly as one of their responsibilities,” says Thrush. Monitoring the goings-on at the Trump White House, says the reporter, will be important. “If you’re somebody who does what I do for a living and somebody who wants to continue doing this, this might be the biggest story of your career.”
Thrush is among many reporters who have suffered anti-Semitic abuse online over their work on the 2016 campaign. His wife, Diane Webber, wrote a story for the Forward under the headline, “When Your Husband Gets Called a ‘Filthy Kike’ On Twitter.” The Anti-Defamation League concluded in an October study that there’s “evidence that a considerable number of the anti-Semitic tweets targeting journalists originate with people identifying themselves as Trump supporters, ‘conservatives’ or extreme right-wing elements.” Asked whether these circumstances would affect his coverage of the White House, Thrush responds, “No, not at all…To me, it’s the cost of doing business in today’s environment.”