Vacuuming up as much media attention as humanly possible—a key element of Donald Trump’s campaign strategy—requires an army of campaign surrogates to represent the big man in an endless stream of cable news appearances and shout-fests.
Enter the Trumpkins: a merry band of media-loving talking heads who’ve become cable news mainstays as the reality TV star dominates national polling and steamrolls through several state primary votes.
Fox News, as The Daily Beast has noted, has its own in-house roster of Trump defenders in Eric Bolling, Jeanine Pirro, Andrea Tantaros, and Jesse Watters. Prime-time star Sean Hannity, too, has taken heat for appearing too friendly to Trump’s candidacy.
Ann Coulter, meanwhile, acts as a roving surrogate, bringing her aggressively xenophobic brand of pro-Trump commentary to every outlet possible, including social media.
One day she’s sparring with the ladies of The View; the next she’s tweeting hateful remarks about the South Carolina governor endorsing Trump’s newest rival; and the next she’s on MSNBC to bash a fellow conservative or even Fox News for not going far enough in the fight against “illegal aliens.”
Over on CNN, the Trumpkin-in-chief is Jeffrey Lord.
A former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, Lord has shifted to the opposite end of the conservative spectrum in recent years, becoming one of populist Trump’s most vocal defenders on cable news.
Lord is frequently pitted against guests horrified by the rise of Trump—and he’s a savvy choice: He’s a seasoned political vet who presents himself as more even-keeled than his loudmouthed candidate. Oh, and he’s also on the air, according to Lord himself, because Trump demanded CNN use his commentary more often.
"He certainly gave CNN my name, but I had to take it from there," Lord told PennLive after describing how the real estate mogul was miffed by CNN’s lack of commentators who “get” him.
Lord has used his airtime at the cable news network to generate even more headlines for Trump.
After the brash businessman proposed banning all Muslim immigrants to the United States, Lord told CNN that the real racists were Trump’s critics. When Trump made sexist remarks about Carly Fiorina’s face, Lord defended him and ultimately deemed Fiorina to be the real sexist.
Also familiar to cable news viewers is Katrina Pierson, the national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign who has created her own share of media controversies since taking on the role.
A former Tea Party activist and failed Texas congressional candidate (despite an endorsement from like-minded Trump fan Sarah Palin), Pierson appears to share Trump’s love of showmanship and brutish rhetoric.
In addition to wearing a choker made of bullets on-air, Pierson has used many of her cable appearances to offer baffling or incoherent defenses of her boss. After Trump gleefully repeated a fan’s suggestion that Ted Cruz was a “pussy,” Pierson declared that the billionaire “has single-handedly brought back freedom of speech.” And when Trump unveiled his plans to ban immigration from all Muslim nations, Pierson told CNN: “So what? They’re Muslims.”
And then there are the cable news careerists.
Take, for example, Scottie Nell Hughes. The self-described “God-fearing, gun-toting, baby-loving, traditional marriage believing, SUV I don’t care about my carbon imprint driving, border securing, Benghazi truth seeking...lame stream media smacking, sip my sweet tea from a Big Gulp drinking, RINO hunting, target of IRS auditing, ‘one nation under God’ pledging mom” often appears on Fox News, Fox Business Network, and CNN to profess her adoration for The Don.
Her website trumpets her on-air appearances and is packed with screengrabs from her various TV hits and pages worth of embedded video sizzle reels. She has also served as the news director for the Tea Party News Network and is now a correspondent for the Christian conservative USA Radio Networks.
On Twitter, in between selfies and screengrabs promoting upcoming TV gigs, Hughes tweets in defense of Trump, claiming allegations of sexism against him are nullified by the “numerous” women speaking in support of him.
On cable she vigorously defends Trump’s every outrageous comment. Just this past week, Hughes spun Pope Francis’s stab at Trump’s un-Christian desire to build walls by saying evangelical voters don’t want to hear from some “foreigner.”
But most of the time she offers polite, more articulate reiterations of Trump’s biggest boasts: He’s a “diplomatic” personality who speaks to America’s “blue-collar workers, the heartbeat of America.”
Similarly, cable news upstart Kayleigh McEnany has become a go-to for CNN on all things Trump. Easily the youngest of the Trumpkins, McEnany, 27, got her start as a Bush White House intern and eventually graduated to the hallowed halls of Fox News, working on Mike Huckabee’s show before seeking her own on-air career (which, at one point, included an audition for The View).
Trump’s candidacy has given the Harvard Law student an opening to appear frequently on the high-profile cable channels. Initially skeptical of the candidate (she told CNN in July that Trump ought to “tone it down” lest he become “another Todd Akin”—oh, how times change), McEnany now routinely shows up on CNN billed as a “Trump supporter.”
Really, it’s no surprise such a committed self-aggrandizer has attracted so many fans of the spotlight. If anything, he’s the king of fearless media hounds.
What CNN personality S.E. Cupp said of Lord last year could apply just as easily to the rest of his highly skilled, dogged fellow Trumpkins: “I don’t envy Jeffrey having to carry Donald Trump’s decidedly fetid water every day. It’s not an enviable job and he does it very well.”