I watched Donald Trump's rally in Burlington, Vt., Thursday night from the comfort of my couch. Jenna Johnson was at the scene -- as she always is as The Post's lead Trump reporter. During Trump's speech, I reached out to Jenna to see if she would share some of her experiences from the Trump trail with me -- and you. She agreed. Our conversation, conducted via email and edited only for grammar, is below.
FIX: Okay, Jenna. I watched the Trump speech in Burlington tonight. It felt like nothing so much as a sort of circus with Trump as ringleader. He was interrupted repeatedly by protesters. He urged the security to throw them out — without their coats! He veered into all sorts of asides and tangents. He picked people out in the crowd to stand up and be recognized.
How typical was the Burlington rally of all of the Trump rallies you've been to? Has Trump sort of leaned into the circus-like atmosphere as his crowds have grown and, I assume, the protests have grown, too? Is the Trump in Burlington a different Trump than, say, who he was in a speech two months ago?
Jenna: This is all classic Trump. If someone were to create bingo cards loaded with things that may or may not happen at a Trump rally, items would include: Ask a random person to stand and be recognized. Sign a book. Order television cameras to pan the crowd. Tell someone you love them. Mock protesters. Impersonate someone. Impersonate your wife. Brag about poll numbers. Make fun of George Will's glasses. Call Ted Cruz a nice guy. Flash two thumbs up.
Sit through one Trump rally and it all seems very random. Sit through dozens of Trump rallies, and you suddenly realize that he sticks to a script of sorts, but reordering everything each night so that it seems fresh and new. In the past few weeks, as he ramps up for February, Trump seems a bit more disciplined, and we are seeing fewer news bombshells at his rallies.
Thursday night was interesting because Trump was on Bernie Sanders's turf -- and there were quite a few hecklers even though Trump staffers tried to screen them out at the door. I have also never seen a rally crowd so eager to root out possible protesters before they could take action.
Other than that, this was a rather, dare I say, tame rally for Trump.
FIX: Totally amazing. Maybe not surprising but still amazing.
So what about when Trump isn't at these rallies? Like what is the campaign like to travel with? Is that even a thing? Or is it fly in, do event, and go back to New York?
Jenna: The Trump campaign is not your typical campaign. He and his top staffers fly in on his private jet, do a private meet-and-greet with locals that's never open to the press, attend the rally for about an hour and then fly out. So, at least for now, there's no chance of running into the candidate in the Marriott gym, catching the campaign manager for a comment in an airline jet bridge or running into top aides at a popular local restaurant. Reporters make their own travel arrangements -- and I have to tell you, it's getting more and more difficult (and sometimes it's impossible) for our commercial flights and rental cars to keep up with Air Force Trump.
Over the past couple months, the campaign has also slowly cut off direct access to Trump. He rarely holds press conferences, and reporters are no longer allowed to follow him along the rope line after a rally. During the rallies, reporters are kept in a "pen" that's guarded by campaign staffers. When Trump is in the building, we are not allowed to leave the pen -- a trip to the bathroom or leaving a rally right after it ends often requires an escort.
FIX: So, the candidate who is most accessible to the press — in terms of cable TV and phone interviews — is one of the least accessible in terms of impromptu interviews on the trail. Hmmm.
Talk to me about the Trump press corps. How much bigger is it now than it once was? How much foreign press is in it? How many celebrity-type channels — E! etc. — are on the trail? And what’s the relationship among reporters who cover Trump like, given, as you say, that there isn’t the sort of we-are-all-trapped-on-a-bus-together-for-six-months sort of vibe?
Jenna: The press corps is growing by the week. When I first started covering Trump about three months ago, it was a pretty small group of regulars. Others joined along the way, and we saw a boom after the New Year. I rarely see any entertainment reporters in the trenches.
Some news outlets seem to have decided that they don't need to regularly be on the trail with him to cover his candidacy, as he rarely does impromptu press gaggles and all of his appearances are live-streamed -- plus, a lot of the news he makes is on Twitter and in television interviews. I like being on the road because it gives me the chance to talk with his supporters, observe the audience vibe and document this unexpected movement he has sparked.
And while the press corps isn't trapped on a bus together, we have been traveling together nearly nonstop for months. Out of all of the candidates, Trump has had the most aggressive travel schedule, hitting at least five or six different states each week.
FIX: Okay, last question. Tell me what you have learned about Trump from your time covering him. Like, who is this guy, really? And how serious is he about actually being the president?
Jenna: I think he's totally serious about being president -- if he were not, I don't think he would be spending this Sunday in Reno. A few things that have surprised me: Months ago I was sure that a sizable number of people at his rallies were just there out of curiosity, but I have found that a majority of the people at most of his rallies seem to really believe in him and want him to be president. For as all-over-the-place as he seems, he is also quite methodical and calculated in who, when and where he attacks. And this is a guy who gets fired up and propelled forward by the energy of a rowdy rally, so I have been surprised to see him occasionally take a softer, more personable tone when addressing smaller audiences.