By John Burton
Washington, D.C. – Olivia Nuzzi is in a position that any political junkie would envy.
Nuzzi, at the tender young age of 23 is a national political writer for the news website, The Daily Beast, now largely covering the Republican candidates on the primary campaign trail—including the bemusing, confounding political juggernaut that is the Donald Trump campaign.
“I feel like I’ve been hallucinating,” about her experiences during what has become a turbulent, head-scratching surprising campaign, confided a tired Nuzzi, speaking from her Washington, D.C. home Sunday afternoon, after returning from covering the South Carolina GOP primary.
“I sure I’m not the only one that feels that way,” compared to more seasoned reporters on the campaign trail. “But I don’t have anything to compare it to,” given its her first working campaign, she acknowledged.
Nuzzi grew up in the River Plaza section of Middletown, where her mother still lives, and graduated from Middletown High School South. As a teen, she wrote for The TriCity News and for More Monmouth Musings, a politically conservative blog/news website. She had been an intern for the failed and scandal-stricken mayoral campaign of Anthony Weiner and was attending Fordham University in New York when she was got the job offer from The Daily Beast. She took it, and left school before graduating.
The Daily Beast is a news and opinion site, covering politics and popular culture, started in 2008.
“I always knew I wanted to write,” she offered. “And I always thought I would write about politics. But I didn’t know in what capacity.”
Her interest in politics, she recalled, really came to light as a kid, when she was watching then-Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation press conference in 2004. Nuzzi, even at that young age, had a sense of what was playing out. “I realized that political language is different than regular English,” she remembered, “and thought I had an innate understanding for it; the ins and outs of political language, when you say things you don’t really mean, obscure what you mean.”
Since then it’s been a whirlwind as she has been crisscrossing, going from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Next? “I don’t know, maybe Nevada,” for this week’s caucuses. “Then Super Tuesday, pick a state,” she said.
Nuzzi had only had the opportunity to interview Trump once, before his announcement to run for president, in Atlantic City, talking about that city’s difficulties. On the campaign stump, however, she’s been blacklisted by the campaign, denied access to the candidate and to press areas. “I’m not a welcome sight at Trump events.”
Trump’s people, and presumably the candidate, have taken issue with some of Nuzzi’s coverage. “I just think he’s hyper-sensitive; it’s obvious. I think he takes it personally,” she observed. “It’s no surprise that he doesn’t like our coverage.”
Trump rallies are the same wherever they’re held, made up of almost exclusively white, middle-aged or older and largely working class supporters. And Nuzzi has developed empathy for them. “When you meet them, they’re not evil or bigoted,” she offered. “They just feel like they’ve been left behind and feel like they haven’t gotten their fair share.”
Many of Trump’s supporters, Nuzzi has noticed, don’t really have the passion, the fire, for their candidate, as one might suspect. For many, she thought, they believe “he’s the only game in town,” voicing their anger and disappointment with the system.
Something else you’re certain to see at a Trump rally is the Donald will “make it a point to turn it against the media,” calling some reporters “scumbags” and other expletives. And “they yell at the media,” they being the supporters. And that can be a little harrowing, as Nuzzi is in the thick of it, as opposed to being cordoned off in media tent, she pointed out.
Trump’s accession to the leader of the GOP pack has taught Nuzzi one thing: “The biggest surprise is nobody knows anything at all,” among the chattering class of pundits who populate the 24-hour cycle of cable news. “There’s this sense of chaos here in Washington and in other places in the country.”
(Nuzzi has joined their ranks, recently making occasional appearances on MSNBC weekend shows.)
She has also found herself—surprisingly– empathizing with some candidates. Case in point was Gov. Chris Christie (not a fan, she acknowledged), when he dropped out of the race after his New Hampshire defeat. “Even though he really didn’t deserve my sympathy, there’s something sad about watching someone’s dream die, no matter who they are.”
Toward the end of Jeb Bush’s run, just before his South Carolina loss and withdrawal from the race, Nuzzi witnessed him in Greenville, North Carolina, where “he just seemed so sad.” Bush told the crowd, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in a play,” she remembered hearing the candidate say.
Nuzzi is in her wheelhouse and plans on continuing covering politics for the foreseeable future. “I never really thought about doing any other type of journalism,” she said. “For me it all goes back to politics.”
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