Donald Trump had an unusual entourage this week as George Stephanopoulos and an ABC News crew followed him to Iowa and met him at the White House for the president’s first network news interview in more than four months, a sign that Trump may be hoping to reach beyond his base ahead of his formal 2020 campaign launch next week.
Trump has given dozens of interviews to Fox News and Fox Business hosts, but he’s largely ignored the broadcast networks since taking office. As president, Trump has only done two interviews for Sunday shows, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS correspondent who tracks Trump’s appearances.
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In most presidential administrations, an interview with a major network news anchor wouldn’t warrant much surprise. But Trump’s decision to give extensive access to Stephanopoulos — ABC News’ chief anchor, co-host of “Good Morning America” and host of “This Week” — is a sharp departure from his usual habit of dialing into friendly opinion shows.
The ABC News team traveled to Iowa Tuesday on Air Force One and sat in one of the front cabins, separate from the rest of the press corps, according to a White House pool report. One of ABC’s cameramen rode in the president’s helicopter from the White House to Joint Base Andrews, a trip that journalists almost never make. And Stephanopoulos rode in the president’s limousine, known as “The Beast,” according to a source familiar with the trip.
A White House official told the press pool that Stephanopoulos was conducting an interview that will air Sunday; the White House did not respond to further questions on Wednesday. An ABC News spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday, and Stephanopoulos declined to comment when asked about traveling with the president Tuesday by a White House reporter.
ABC has had a long-standing request for an interview with Trump, network sources said. But Trump waited until now, a week before he formally relaunches his re-election bid next Tuesday in Orlando, to grant Stephanopoulos access.
The interview, which is likely to air in part or in full across several ABC News programs, could reach Americans who don’t tune in nightly to sympathetic Trump interviewers like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. It comes at a time when the crowd of Democrats seeking to take on Trump in 2020 is increasingly dominating the airwaves, especially with the first party debates approaching in late June.
“As much as social media has played a role in his rise politically, the president is a legacy media guy,” said one former administration official. “To him, Time Magazine and ABC News — those are the cool things.”
Trump appears to have a good rapport with Stephanopoulos, who, decades earlier, served as one of the most high-profile officials in President Bill Clinton’s White House.
Trump made a cameo in a 2011 “Good Morning America” segment as one of several “Manhattan wise men” offering Stephanopoulos encouragement as he raced up the stairs of the Empire State Building.
“George, I know you well,” Trump said. “I know you’ll have no trouble with this race. Don’t disappoint me.”
While Trump has repeatedly knocked TV news stars on Twitter, such “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, he’s only once jabbed at Stephanopoulos. “@GStephanopoulos stupidly believes that Hillary wants to run against me because she said so,” Trump tweeted in December 2015, referring to Hillary Clinton. Stephanopoulos replied, “See you tomorrow on @ThisWeekABC!”
The then-GOP nominee also defended Stephanopoulos after a tough interview during the 2016 campaign.
“I thought that George Stephanopoulos gave a fair interview,” Trump told Hannity at the time. “I didn’t see anything wrong with the interview.”
Since becoming president, Trump sat down with Stephanopoulos for an interview in Singapore after he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
And although Trump routinely bashes the news media on stage in front of supporters, he had nothing negative to say about the ABC News star at the Tuesday event in West Des Moines.
“You know who’s here tonight? George Stephanopoulos. The great George Stephanopoulos,” Trump said at the Iowa Republican Party’s “America First” dinner.
Trump pantomimed as if searching the room for the ABC News anchor, who was sitting to one side of the ballroom. Stephanopoulos, Trump assured the crowd, “happens to be a nice guy.”