Meet Donald Trump's cable-news strike force

By Elise Viebeck

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photo / AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photo / AP

It's a reality of the 2016 primary: turn on cable news at any given time, and you're likely to see Donald Trump.

And if you don't personally see or hear the businessman-turned-GOP-frontrunner, you're likely to lay eyes on one of The Donald's burgeoning group of television surrogates.

There's a conundrum for the anti-establishment pol who is dominating airwaves like no other candidate this campaign season: Trump's lack of widespread lawmaker endorsements means there are fewer credentialed pundits to draw from when TV bookers are looking for someone to make his case on 24-hour cable. (Chris Christie could soon be called into service, though he's said he's "not a full-time surrogate" for Trump.)

The result is a new breed of Trump surrogates who sound nothing like the spokesmen for the campaigns of his GOP rivals, many of them simply identified as "Trump supporter" in the chyron below their names. Several come from Tea Party backgrounds and a few did stints on Trump's former reality show, The Apprentice.

Controversial, impulsive and attention-seeking, it's a group that takes cues from Trump himself. And since Trump's family members typically restrict themselves to social media and in-person events to support the campaign, the surrogates' role has grown exponentially with Trump's progress through primary season.

Members of the campaign's inner circle, like spokeswoman Hope Hicks, leave the TV hits to these devoted partisans.

Only one of the five listed below - Katrina Pierson - is officially with the campaign. "We greatly appreciate the support from the others mentioned," Hicks wrote in an email.

Here are official and unofficial spokespeople who help fuel the fire for Trump on TV:

1. Katrina Pierson

Katrina Pierson joined the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump in November 2015. Photo / CNN
Katrina Pierson joined the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump in November 2015. Photo / CNN

Perhaps Trump's best-known surrogate, Pierson helped define the aggressive tone of the campaign early on, from her bullet necklace to her "So what? They're Muslim" comment on Trump's proposed anti-Muslim ban.

A Texas resident, Pierson is an Obama-supporter-turned-Tea-Party-activist who was part of Senator Ted Cruz's inner circle during his 2012 Senate campaign. She ran an unsuccessful primary challenge to Representative Pete Sessions in early 2014, and became a national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign in November.

Key moment: Back in 2012, Pierson asked on Twitter if there are any "pure breeds" left in politics. The tweet reemerged in late January and was denounced as evidence of racist motivations on Trump's campaign team: "Perfect Obama's dad born in Africa, Mitt Romney's dad born in Mexico. Any pure breeds left?" Pierson defended her comment on CNN.

2. Jeffrey Lord

Jeffrey Lord, contributing editor to the American Spectator and Donald Trump spokesperson for the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Photo / Supplied
Jeffrey Lord, contributing editor to the American Spectator and Donald Trump spokesperson for the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Photo / Supplied

The most prominent Trump surrogate, Lord has the deepest ties to the actual GOP establishment - he was an official in the Reagan White House and an aide to the late Jack Kemp. After years of taking divisive positions in outlets like the American Spectator, where he still contributes, Lord was hired by CNN as the network's de facto on-air Trump supporter.

He is frequently called to defend Trump's views and tactics for the network.
Key moment: One of Lord's favourite lines of argument is that groups like the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan belong to the political left, not the right, in terms of their ideological orientation.

This was one of the themes that animated his exchange with former Obama Administration official Van Jones on CNN during Super Tuesday coverage. The two discussed Trump and race in a segment that has now gone viral. Our colleague Callum Borchers called it "the most compelling TV moment of the campaign."

3. Andy Dean

Conservative talk show host Andy Dean is part of the Donald Trump Presidential Campaign 2016. Photo / Supplied
Conservative talk show host Andy Dean is part of the Donald Trump Presidential Campaign 2016. Photo / Supplied

Dean has been in Trump's corner for some time. A former contestant on The Apprentice who was once the president of Trump Productions, Dean spent three years as the host of America Now, a radio talk show that hosted Trump for an interview in its first week of syndication.

The 30-something Trump backer is now volunteering for media hits on behalf of the campaign. In September, he managed to make the famously poised Anderson Cooper of CNN lose his temper while talking about Trump's rhetoric towards Muslims.

Key moment: Last week, Dean seemed to applaud a 78-year-old Trump supporter who threw a punch at a black protester at a campaign rally. The Trump supporter was later charged with assault.

"At that age, it looks like good exercise," Dean said of the punch. (Later in the interview, former Jeb Bush aide Tim Miller mocked Dean for sitting in a booster chair.)

4. Scottie Nell Hughes

Scottie Nell Hughes news director of the Tea Party News Network. Photo / Supplied
Scottie Nell Hughes news director of the Tea Party News Network. Photo / Supplied

Hughes is the conservative writer and commentator behind the Tea Party News Network, an online media outlet. She made national headlines after several appearances on CNN in 2012 and 2013, where she defended gun rights in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown.

(Producers for former host Piers Morgan reportedly discovered Hughes after she wrote an op-ed discussing her support for gun rights in spite of the shooting death of her brother when he was 8-years-old.) Hughes came to the attention of Trump supporters after introducing Trump at a rally in Dallas last year. She is now one of his most frequent boosters on cable news.

Key moment: Hughes has had several controversial episodes as a Trump surrogate, notably when she said evangelicals don't want to hear from Pope Francis because he's a "foreigner," and when she accidentally swore while talking about friendly fire toward Trump from fellow Republicans.

5. Omarosa Manigault

Omarosa Manigault appeared on MSNBC to discuss violence at Trump's rallies. Photo / Supplied
Omarosa Manigault appeared on MSNBC to discuss violence at Trump's rallies. Photo / Supplied

Fans of The Apprentice will remember Manigault as a contestant on the show's first season. Though she did not win, her seemingly ruthless tactics won her a place in the pop-culture zeitgeist simply as "Omarosa."

Manigault now lists herself on LinkedIn as owner of Access America Enterprise Corp., a consulting firm, and assistant pastor at Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. (She was reportedly ordained in 2012.)

Key moment: Last Friday, Manigault appeared on MSNBC to discuss violence at Trump's rallies. Her interview with Chris Matthews made headlines after she said protesters "get what is coming to them"and argued the media is covering up protests at other candidates' rallies.

- Washington Post - Bloomberg

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