While presenting wall-to-wall coverage of reality star-turned-presidential candidate Donald Trump, it often seems that the media establishment is holding its collective nose, treating the Republican front-runner as a political curiosity, disruptive force, angry-populist panderer, and “ratings machine,” as the boastful real estate mogul calls himself—but by no means as a serious White House prospect.
Former Washington Post investigative reporter Ronald Kessler is a conspicuous exception.
“I do think he would be a good president,” Kessler, 71, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t agree with some of the things he’s been saying. I don’t think he’s serious about some of these things; he’s appealing to the base right now.
“If he were the nominee he would broaden his appeal. Several years ago, he said to me that the GOP will never win if it comes across as mean-spirited towards immigrants, and I happen to think that’s the real Donald—the way he really feels.”
Kessler, who has appeared on Fox News, CNN, and other television channels on behalf of the paperback release of his Secret Service exposé, The First Family Detail, has been touting a Trump presidential candidacy at least since January 2011.
That was when he penned a Newsmax column predicting—erroneously, as it turned out—that The Apprentice star was ready to give up his NBC series and run as a Republican in 2012.
“I was right—almost,” said Kessler, who—in an irony that Trump himself might describe as “rich, very rich”—months later wrote a column in which the mogul criticized Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney for his “mean-spirited” anti-immigration policies.
“Romney’s solution of ‘self deportation’ for illegal aliens made no sense and suggested that Republicans do not care about Hispanics in general, Trump says,” wrote Kessler, at the time the chief Washington correspondent for the conservative-leaning news site.
Kessler’s Newsmax column continued: “‘He had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal,’ Trump says. ‘It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote,’ Trump notes. ‘He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.’”
One can only imagine the ferocity of invective—“Loser! Idiot! Rape-enabler!”—that Trump circa 2016 would deploy against any candidate who endorsed that view today.
Kessler—who spent 15 years at The Post, and won two prestigious George Polk Memorial Awards for one series on the mismanagement of Washington area hospitals and another on corruption in the General Services Administration before becoming a best-selling author—got to know the press-friendly billionaire in 1998 when he started work on a book about Palm Beach.
Trump—with whom Kessler and his wife Pamela spent quality time aboard the mogul’s jetliner and at Mar-a-Lago, the former Marjorie Merriweather Post estate that Trump developed into a resort and private club—was a major character in Kessler’s 1999 book, The Season: The Secret Life of Palm Beach and America’s Richest Society.
That book portrayed Trump as the righteous enemy of the old guard’s snooty, exclusionary, and downright bigoted traditions—making a point of launching a Palm Beach club that welcomes Jews and African-Americans.
“I don’t look at it as necessarily defending him; I look at it as being a reporter and representing the side of him that I know,” said Kessler, who has written two columns this month alone for The Washington Times, offering a heartwarming, reassuring picture of a man who comes across to some as a belligerent egomaniac.
To the contrary, Trump is “the dearest, most thoughtful, most loyal, most caring man,” Kessler wrote, quoting the mogul’s late communications executive Norma Foerderer in an August 3 column.
He is also “such a man of vision” who “instills in you the desire to do more and more and more and you want to please him. And yet he rarely criticizes,” Kessler quoted Foerderer.
Kessler added that Trump is such a soft touch that when he bought Mar-a-Lago, “he kept on 70-year-old gardeners who could barely pull weeds.”
And when Trump’s Palm Beach butler suffered a stroke, he visited him in the hospital and insisted he stay at the posh resort to recuperate.
In an August 17 column, Kessler wrote that Trump is a loving father, personally shops for birthday presents for the children of friends, is so charitable that he pays off the mortgages and hospital bills of hard-luck cases, and—far from demanding the blind loyalty of yes-men—is collegial and open-minded enough to take the contrary advice of underlings.
Kessler insists that his books are “non-partisan” and “apolitical,” although he acknowledges that he privately leans Republican—not a popular attitude where he lives in the gilded, heavily Democratic Washington suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland—and also likes what he hears from Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and other GOP candidates.
Kessler’s access to Trump, however, is total, and whenever he wishes to speak to the candidate, wherever he might be on the campaign trail, Trump’s office is under instructions to put him through.
Kessler said he considers Trump a personal friend, even though he allowed that the questions the candidate fielded during the August 6 Fox News debate, including Megyn Kelly’s about Trump’s misogynist comments concerning certain women, were “totally fair.”
Kessler added: “Of course, all those questions were bound to come up eventually from somebody.”
On the other hand, Kessler argued that Trump’s post-debate complaints about Kelly were willfully misinterpreted in the media. “The business about menstruation was a lot of BS,” he said. “He never said anything like that.”
Kessler clearly has no use for Hillary Clinton, who is allegedly “nasty” and “abusive” to her Secret Service detail, as Kessler claims in his latest book—an attitude of arrogance and hypocrisy that seems to have been internalized and adopted by Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, according to Kessler.
A recent, typically sensational story in Britain’s Daily Mail—based on Kessler’s book—contains several hair-raising anecdotes concerning Abedin’s allegedly rude behavior to her boss’s protectors.
“Here’s this woman who claims she’s going to help the middle class and be the champion of the little people,” Kessler said about Clinton, “and she treats those very people with contempt… To me, that’s so important.”
Not surprisingly, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill has dismissed Kessler’s allegations—along with those of Clinton scandalmonger Ed Klein—as “trashy nonsense.”
Last year, as the hardcover edition of Kessler’s Secret Service exposé was about to be published, Merrill told The Washington Examiner that “legitimate media outlets who know with every fiber of their beings that it is completely made up should not get down in the gutter with them.”
Still, it’s unfair to lump Kessler with authors such as Klein, whose best sellers are regularly derided as the product of a fevered imagination.
Kessler, after all, has enjoyed a reputation for solid reporting over the past four decades. Revelations of ethical abuses uncovered for his 1994 book on the modern FBI, for instance, played a role in the dismissal of then-director William Sessions.
“All my books have been non-partisan,” Kessler insisted, pointing out that the Secret Service book contains unflattering anecdotes about Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, George W. Bush’s daughters Jenna and Barbara, and Mary Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, while it praises President Obama and his wife for their respectful treatment of their security details. “I have negative and positive information about Democrats and Republicans,” Kessler said. “I think I’m very independent, for better or worse.”