Breaking News Emails
The most consistent thing about my life for the past two years has been @realDonaldTrump.
During the presidential campaign, when I was NBC News' "embed" with candidate Donald Trump, you never knew when a late-night or early-morning tweet would torpedo your day’s work.
It's why every embed group dinner on the road was interrupted by simultaneous pings and vibrations, courtesy of our Twitter notifications. It was why I was paranoid to fall asleep during the primaries. I actually set daily 5 a.m. alarms from August 2015 through Super Tuesday so I could catch up on any overnight or early-morning missives. Compulsive? I had to be.
Things haven't changed much.
Except for the work space. For roughly the past 100 days, my “office” has been the White House briefing room.
I push my overloaded shoulder bag into an X-ray machine, walk through magnetometers (think TSA), and get screened by the Secret Service. Then I push open the white double doors each day and enter the home of the world’s most powerful leader — a man who I’ve covered, if you include the campaign, for over 600 days.
Yes, I’ve been keeping track.
Over that time, I chronicled how a controversial real estate mogul made his way to the Oval Office. In the process, I’ve visited a dozen of President Trump's properties, in the United States and in Scotland, and spent winter weekends following him to the Florida sun when the president stays at his Mar-a-Lago club.
I’ve covered his low points — like the bruising fallout from the leaked 2005 "Access Hollywood tape" in which Trump condoned sexually assaulting women — and his political high moments, most recently the U.S. military strike in Syria launched amid bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
I've even been glared at by Kanye West in one of the more bizarre collisions of politics and pop culture in the lobby of Trump Tower.
Since taking on the White House beat for NBCNews.com, I've been thinking a lot about the adage that this place is an institution that shapes presidents, not the other way around. That’s something I think Trump and I are learning at the same time.
After all, we both came up in politics during the 2016 campaign. Him, a long shot seeking the Republican nomination. Me, a 20-something NBC News campaign "embed" itching to cover a presidential election and hoping for an assignment that would keep me on the campaign trail through Election Day.
Trump seemed more confident from the start that he’d succeed in his goal than I felt about whether I'd attain mine.
While he plowed ahead at early rallies packed with throngs of cheering supporters, I griped on the phone to my then-boyfriend about how sad I was that it seemed my time as an embed would probably be short lived because virtually no one was giving Trump much of a chance. That wouldn’t be the first prediction I made last year that turned out to be utterly wrong.
Not that I was in the business of making predictions. The presidential campaign was full of pundits and analysts, but I wasn’t one of them. I was an embed: Attending every rally; toting 50 pounds of TV gear; filming protesters by standing on tables; emailing rally-by-rally readouts to NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, plus affiliate networks; trying to break news; get some TV hits — and also making sure to call my mom enough.
That job is how I landed here, at the White House.
Everyone knows it hasn't been a laugh riot for the media covering this president. Not only does he make news more than anyone in recent memory, but he's continued his attacks on the press as "fake news."
For me? The sting's gone out of it a bit. Head down, work to do. I've moved on. For sure, it's easier to handle now than it was during the campaign, when those same anti-media grenades were lobbed from a podium and into a sea of thousands of cheering Trump fans, excited for the chance to boo the press.
I'm a baseball fan from New York, so I think of it like how the Yankees must feel when they're playing in Fenway Park. It's a small distraction, at most. The fans enjoy the razzing; the players learn not to be fazed by it.
Bottom line: The shock value of Trump’s anti-media campaign has worn off.
I first met Trump while he served jury duty in New York City in the summer of 2015, introduced by his longtime body man Keith Schiller. The first question I had a chance to ask him about was how he planned to pay for the wall on the Mexico border (he didn't really say). I’ve spoken with him before tapings of interviews and seen him pose for pictures with reporters at a post-election off-the-record gathering at Mar-a-Lago.
Amid the opulence and gold of his estate, where he's more at home than in the White House, I glimpsed another side of Trump. I began to understand what his aides often said of their boss — he can read a room.
In those settings, I understood why former business partners and current associates describe him as likable and even charming; a guy who cajoles, laughs and does deals. It was almost enough to make me forget about the time he pointed me out from the stage at an Iowa rally around Christmas in 2015 as I was shooting cutaway shots of him from the buffer area around the stage. A normal embed task, but he interrupted his speech to assert his dominance, telling the crowd: “Look, here we have NBC. They’re supposed to be back there but that’s okay.”
The predictable unpredictability of Trump. And Twitter's still the perfect platform for him.
Tweets have always been a cornerstone of covering Trump and he can still send reporters on a merry-go-round of fact-finding with one tap. It's his way of circumventing a media that he says doesn't treat him fairly.
The social media firebombs have changed with the absence of "Lyin' Ted" or "Little Marco" to riff about. "Crooked Hillary" Clinton has not made an appearance on Trump's feed in months, though even five months later he still finds ways to raise the specter of last year's campaign to remind people that, yes, he did beat her even though everyone said he couldn't.
Trump's 140-character messages now include real threats on trade, new promises on healthcare, and seemingly spontaneous reflections on foreign policy — all with the gravitas of the @POTUS handle to retweet them. The messenger hasn't changed; he's just got a bigger platform and a national archive.
PHOTOS: The First 100 Days in Pictures
New office, new house, new city, same Trump who yearns for the campaign trail and the reassurance of his base. It's 2017 and yet I still find myself booking flights to campaign-style rallies where he can speak directly to his people. He's got another one in Pennsylvania on Saturday, the same night as the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner that he's boycotting. I joke with friends about checking the calendar to make sure I haven't somehow time traveled back to 2016 when a press "pen" cobbled together with bike racks in the middle of thousands of screaming Trump fans felt like my natural habitat.
Trump's still at home there, too. Gripping his podium, using his crafted TelePrompter remarks as suggestions for what he should say. He often doesn't stick to the script.
Same as ever on the stage, but those close to him say they've seen a change in the former real estate mogul. And even Trump himself has mentioned his realizations about the vastness of the government he now helms and the weight of the decisions he now makes. He's not just talking about bombing "the s--t out of" enemies anymore — he can literally do it.
When the campaign ended, many people asked me if I would follow the president-elect to the White House. I had dedicated so many hours, attended hundreds of rallies, logged thousands of miles and charted intimately his rise. It had been exhausting; it had consumed my personal life. Admittedly, there was a part of me that would have liked to close the book there.
But separating from this beat and him is impossible. I feel beholden to this story. On the job at the White House or overhearing the table next to me at dinner, Trump is everywhere — especially on my phone, which still buzzes every time he tweets.