everybody thought, “This guy’s a joke. He’s going to implode inside
of two weeks. He’s going to take himself out of the race.” It never
happened. He kept growing in popularity despite violating every
rule establishment politics has had in place. Then the “Access Hollywood” video comes out, and he was able to overcome that, whereas nobody else on the Republican side would have been able to.
There’s not a single Republican who would have been able to survive ten percent of the stuff that Trump triumphed over. Does that
give you some indication of his staying power as President in terms
of the loyalty and support of his people that voted for him?
ZITO: Yes. Rush, in July in between both conventions, and then
after the Democratic Convention, I drove only back roads from
Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and back, and I came back
from that thousand-mile trip, and I was like, “Oh, dear God. I
think this is over. People are not standing in quicksand. Their heels
are dug in, and they are voting for this guy.” So many people said,
“Please don’t use my last name,” Please don’t use my whole name,”
or “Please don’t say what town I’m from,” because they were embarrassed to admit it. There was a chief of surgery. There were lawyers.
There were very well-educated, very successful people mixed with
just regular working-class folks.
In July I wrote a story, “If you are stumped by Trump’s success,
take a drive 15 minutes out of a city because it’s right there.” The
problem for my profession is that they all travel in the same plane,
and then they all land at the same airport. They all go to the same
Marriott. They get their points. They get their Starbucks. They go
to a rally and they find the freakiest person that’s there, or maybe
two. They all write the same story and they never immerse themselves in the culture and people in the towns that matter, people
from Scranton, Pittsburgh, Akron and Dayton, and outside of
Madison and Detroit.
To understand a voter, you have to actually go. I would drive
around on only back roads, and I would stay in bed-and-breakfasts
in the center of town, so the first person that I talked to was a small
business owner right in town. He or she pretty much gave me the
lay of the land. In the middle of the “Access Hollywood” fiasco, I
had driven across country from the New York coast. I went from
Appalachia to the Rockies to Cheyenne, Wyoming only on Route
30. I came back and I was like, “It’s so over.”
ZITO: If I thought it was over in Pennsylvania, it was really over in
the rest of the country.
RUSH: You said that “everybody thought I had lost my mind.”
That’s a quote.
RUSH: You were by yourself on this. I can relate to this, by the way,
quite a bit. The media, including the vaunted and so-called conser-
vative media, every one of them were formulaic. They were all say-
ing the same thing. It didn’t matter. Fox, CNN, you were hearing the
RUSH: You stood out and, as such, you had people telling you, you
had lost your mind. Did that cause you any angst? Did it bother
you? What are these same people who said that to you, saying to
ZITO: People still complain to me because I continue to report what is
going on. I don’t insert what the general line should be: If you’re a
Democrat, “Oh, it’s terrible,” or if you’re Never Trump, “Oh, he’s aw-
ful,” or if you’re the media, “Oh, isn’t he ridiculous.” My job is to report
what people are saying and thinking and feeling and experiencing.
In the middle of all of this, I left the newspaper that I worked at
for 11 years, The Tribune-Review. They had a buyout, and on Septem-
ber 19 I didn’t have a job. On September 20 I had an interview with
Trump, and I had nowhere to take it. I had never freelanced before,
so I made some calls, and the only place that would take it was The
Atlantic. That’s where the “seriously/literally” story came from.
I did three freelance pieces for them. I went down to this Penn-
sylvania town called Charleroi, which is like 90 percent Democrat,
and I went to this energy company because I heard they were hav-
ing like a voter registration thing, and so I went down to it just on
a hunch. Turned out every single person there that was registering
to vote was a Democrat who was changing their registration to Re-
publican. There were 90 employees there, every single one of them,
from the CEO on down to the janitor, and I was like, “Holy crap.”
There was a guy standing
there who was signing up to
vote for the first time, and he
was crying. He was 62 years
old. It just blew my mind.
RUSH: Well, given every-
thing that you’ve learned
about these Trump support-
ers, what could he do wrong
that could cause these people
to lose interest or to with-
draw their support? What
are the fault lines for him?
ZITO: Of everyone I’ve inter-
viewed, I have not found one
supporter, Democrat, Repub-
lican, or independent, who’s
withdrawn support, and I
keep in touch with a lot of the
people I talked to previously.
I also am constantly talking to new voters. Tomorrow I’m heading to
Harrisburg, the largest gun show in the country, so I’ll be able to talk
to a lot more people. I think probably the only thing that annoys
them is the tweeting.
RUSH: Interesting. Okay.
ZITO: Not all the tweeting but some of it. It’s not that they’ve
thought one tweet was worse than the other, but I think it’s more
the fear of what tweet might happen at three o’clock in the morning
that’s inappropriate that could hurt him.
“Voters have been sending a message to Washington, and Washington has
continuously misread the voting results, and that’s what led to Trump.”
— SALENA ZITO