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16 Revealing Stories About Donald Trump, His Businesses, And His Movement

From the fake campaign trail to the real "Ivanka Voter."

Posted on November 7, 2016, at 10:57 a.m. ET

BuzzFeed News was the first to get the biggest story about Donald Trump wrong, with a mocking prediction he'd never actually run. And we were, I think, among the first to really get the story right, as our reporters kept their eyes wide open to a candidate who would smash American democratic norms and who would, in particular, vault the high bar to calling a public figure a liar.

Many BuzzFeed News reporters have covered Trump and his movement, the central and surprising story of 2016, and one that — win or lose — we will be reckoning with for years to come. We've broken stories of the campaign's craziest moments (remember the great Breitbart meltdown of March 2016?); ones that feel like hallucinations (the secret Times tape!); and ones that the nominee could never shake, like his support for the Iraq war. And our breaking news reporters have been all over the eye-opening day-to-day on the Trump train.

Here are some of the stories that can be read the day before the election to tell the story of this crazy year. They include McKay Coppins' rich, explanatory profiles of Trump and his "yes men" from the inside; Rosie Gray's narrative of the marginal figures and ideas who took over the Republican Party, and how; and a series of tour-de-force pieces of reporting from our investigative team. Those indelible images include the console at Mar-a-Lago where Trump allegedly listened in on phone calls, and the specter of him barging into a dressing room full of teenagers.

So here's Trump:

1. 36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump (February 2014)

John Gara / BuzzFeed News

Ever since the last presidential election — during which Trump strung along the press for months as he feigned interest in jumping into the GOP primary — many in the media have soured on his political sideshow. Covering Trump’s various stunts and inflammatory comments feels increasingly like a chore, akin to donning a network-branded parka during a snowstorm and shouting into the camera about a predictable phenomenon that viewers somehow still find surprising. Trump’s supposed political aspirations, in particular, inflict upon reporters made to cover them a special sort of journalistic indignity; it’s like hyping the “storm of the century” before a single flake has fallen.

I, of course (writes McKay Coppins) am part of the problem. I came to Manchester on the promise that I would be able to catch a ride on Trump’s private jet back to New York (where a real-life blizzard, it turns out, is descending on the city), for the purpose of pressing him on why he is so intent on continuing this charade. But what I found was a man startled by his suddenly fading relevance — and consumed by a desperate need to get it back.

2. The Real Media Machine Behind Trump: Conservative Talk Radio (August 2015)

Scott Olson / Getty Images

For weeks, some of the biggest names in conservative talk radio — Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage — have praised Trump and his bashing of the politically correct left and Republican establishment.

But the conservative talkers are also pushing his rhetoric on immigration and his vow to revoke birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants — and delivering that content straight to their millions of listeners.

Unlike cable news, conservative talk radio speaks directly to the disaffected conservative base fueling Trump’s rise. Rush Limbaugh’s is still the most-listened-to talk radio program in the country, pulling in 13 and a quarter million weekly listeners, according to estimates in Talkers magazine, an industry publication (Limbaugh himself has estimated it in the past at 20 million). Talkers puts Sean Hannity in second, with 12.5 million. Mark Levin ties with Glenn Beck (a Trump critic) for fourth, with 7 million. Savage has more than 5 million, according to Talkers’ estimates.

3. How 2015 Fueled The Rise Of The Freewheeling, White Nationalist Alt Right Movement

Rebecca Cook / Reuters

The movement probably doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before. The alt right is loosely connected, and mostly online. The white nationalists of the alt right share more in common with European far-right movements than American ones. This is a movement that draws upon relatively obscure political theories like neoreaction or the “Dark Enlightenment,” which reject the premises on which modernity is built, like democracy and egalitarianism. But it’s not all so high-minded as that. Take a glance at the #altright hashtag on Twitter or at The Right Stuff, an online hub of the movement, and you’ll find a penchant for aggressive rhetoric and outright racial and anti-Semitic slurs, often delivered in the arch, ironic tones common to modern internet discourse. Trump is a hero on the alt right and the subject of many adoring memes and tweets.

In short, it’s white supremacy perfectly tailored for our times: 4chan-esque racist rhetoric combined with a tinge of Silicon Valley–flavored philosophizing, all riding on the coattails of the Trump boom.

4. The Anti-Trump Cavalry That Never Came (January 2016)

Ralph Freso / Getty Images

For seven months, it has been an article of faith among anti-Trump Republicans that the billionaire’s calamitous campaign would eventually melt down on its own before things got too serious — and if it didn’t, they assured themselves, a cash-flush coalition of conservative groups, super PACs, and presidential campaigns would chase him out of the race. Attack ads would blanket the airwaves in Iowa. An army of activists would descend on New Hampshire. Trump would be exposed for the charlatan that he is, and he’d drop out before a single vote was ever cast.

But the cavalry never came.

Now, 18 days out from the Iowa caucuses, Trump is leading every national poll by 10 points or more — and while single-digit candidates and their backers spend millions to bludgeon each other on TV and radio, they’ve barely lifted a finger to take on the frontrunner.

5. The Jeb Bush Hatchet Man who Might Accidentally Elect Donald Trump (January 2016)

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images; Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images; Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

The critics argue that Mike Murphy recklessly enabled Trump’s rise last year by cavalierly dismissing him as a “zombie frontrunner” and stubbornly refusing to use the vast war chest at his disposal to take the billionaire down. (“Trump is, frankly, other people’s problem,” he said when asked about it in August.) Meanwhile, Murphy's Right to Rise super PAC went on to spend approximately $30 million on attack ads targeting Marco Rubio — a candidate many (including Bush donors) believe to be the party’s last best hope to stop The Donald. In spite of it all, Murphy shows no signs of letting up: In the final sprint to Iowa, Right to Rise has reportedly spent nearly $1 million per day hammering Rubio on everything from his immigration record to his insufficiently masculine boots.

6. Inside a White Nationalist Conference Energized by Trump’s Rise (May 2016)

Jared Harrell / BuzzFeed News

“I would like to invite you to cover an event in Tennessee next month that will help explain part of the voter enthusiasm for Donald Trump,” Taylor had opened his email to me (writes Rosie Gray). “I know you have been following his campaign, with a particular interest in the so-called ‘extremists’ who support him.”

7. The Donald and the Dictator (June 2016)

AP Photo / Getty Images

Donald Trump tried to raise money from the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi two years before a 2011 revolution toppled the brutal leader, according to four people with knowledge of the effort. Trump even tried to set up a meeting with the tyrant himself, three of the sources say, to explore business ventures — despite the Libyan leader’s notorious sponsorship of terrorism that killed scores of Americans.

8. Sources: Donald Trump Listened in on Phone Lines at Mar-A-Lago (June 2016)

Matt Rourke / AP

At Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach resort he runs as a club for paying guests and celebrities, Donald Trump had a telephone console installed in his bedroom that acted like a switchboard, connecting to every phone extension on the estate, according to six former workers. Several of them said he used that console to eavesdrop on calls involving staff.

9. Inside the Fraternity of Haters and Losers who Drove Donald Trump to the Republican Nomination (July 2016)

View this video on YouTube

It’s not done yet (writes McKay Coppins). As Trump completed his conquest of the Republican Party this year, I contemplated my supposed role in the imminent fall of the republic — retracing my steps; poring over old notes, interviews, and biographies; talking to dozens of people. What had most struck me during my two days with Trump was his sad struggle to extract even an ounce of respect from a political establishment that plainly viewed him as a sideshow. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that he’d felt this way for virtually his entire life — face pressed up against the window, longing for an invitation, burning with resentment, plotting his revenge.

I had landed on a long and esteemed list of haters and losers — spanning decades, stretching from Wharton to Wall Street to the Oval Office — who have ridiculed him, rejected him, dismissed him, mocked him, sneered at him, humiliated him — and, now, propelled him all the way to the Republican presidential nomination, with just one hater left standing between him and the nuclear launch codes.

What have we done?

10. Here’s What Actually Happened During Monday’s Republican Convention Chaos (July 2016)

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Chaos reigned on the floor for a few moments as anti-Trump delegates reacted to the news. A message went out on the text messaging system being used by the anti-Trump delegates: “Rigged election. Walk out.” Sen. Mike Lee, who has emerged as one of the most prominent members of the movement in favor of unbinding delegates, shouted “NO!” and later “point of order!” trying to be heard by the chair. Meanwhile, convention whips and Trump staff hovered on the floor, monitoring the situation.

“I have no idea what’s going on right now,” Lee said during an unexpected pause in the proceedings in which smooth jazz started playing from the stage. “This is surreal.”

“It’s strange, this is a political convention,” he said. “People have taken time off from work, they’ve come from all over the United States to be here. People can be unheard anywhere. They can be unheard at their workplace. They can be unheard at home. They can be unheard with their friends and their neighbors. They don’t travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to be unheard at their own party’s national convention.”

“The chairman of the convention walked off the stage and left it completely unattended for five or 10 minutes,” the senator said.

11. Meet the Workers who Sewed Donald Trump Clothing for a Few Dollars a Day (July 2016)

Katie Orlinsky for BuzzFeed News

As a candidate, Trump has campaigned on a platform of bringing American jobs back to the US. “Craftsmen and tradespeople and factory workers have seen the jobs they loved shift thousands and thousands of miles away,” he said during a speech in Pennsylvania last month. “Now it’s time for the American people to take back their future.”

But when it comes to his own businesses, Trump has for years relied on cheap labor in overseas factories to manufacture clothing for his line of men’s suits, shirts, and ties sold under the Trump label available at Amazon and, until last year, Macy’s.

12. How Donald Trump Broke the Conservative Movement (And My Heart) (July 2016)

There’s a way to look at Trump’s fundraiser — and his candidacy — that offers clarity: This is the end of the conservative movement. Trump is the grinning skeleton in the crowd; what he reveals about other people is the most important thing about him. And what he has revealed is how conservatism isn’t sacrosanct, how precarious ideology is, how little people need to accept something in the name of partisanship. “That’s when I know it’s over,” Junot Diaz writes in a story about a breakup. “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”

13. How Donald Trump Won Control Of A Prized DC Landmark


Winning control of this magnificent, taxpayer-owned building — long coveted by developers and by one of Washington’s most notoriously corrupt lobbyists — was a remarkable coup for Trump. It is unusual for someone to personally profit from such a prominent contract with the government while at the same time seeking to win that government’s highest office.

14. Sean Hannity Didn't Change. We Did. (September 2016)

This year, Hannity’s program has become an object of fascination, rage, and at times mockery, particularly among the conservatives still not on board with Donald Trump. Hannity is one of the loudest voices in the media constellation of Trump boosters — from Breitbart News, whose chairman is now the CEO of the Trump campaign, to Matt Drudge — who appear at times to work in tandem with the campaign. Any casual viewer of Hannity’s television show or listener to his radio program can see that Hannity devotes a large amount of time to Trump. The New York Times reported that Hannity has even become a kind of informal adviser to the candidate.

But Hannity isn’t the one who’s changed. He gave John McCain and Mitt Romney similarly generous treatment when it came to the general election. The difference this time is that Trump is an intensely polarizing figure, and Hannity has broken with much of the conservative punditry establishment in backing him to such a pronounced degree. His show is now a glimpse into the mind-meld of a certain segment of the conservative media with Trump’s campaign and the movement he represents. Hannity’s story plays into some dominant themes of this election: how the Trump campaign has broken new ground by becoming a sort of media organization in its own right, and how the conservative movement has tried and failed to stamp out the ascendant nationalist Trumpist movement, forcing longtime conservative warriors like Hannity to either get on board or risk irrelevance. Winning has become an ideology of its own, and Hannity is dead set on winning.

15. Teen Beauty Queens Say Trump Walked in on Them Changing (October 2016)

Bobby Bank / WireImage

“Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”

16. Meet the Ivanka Voter (November 2016)

Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

The Ivanka Voter is not the stereotypical Trump voter. She doesn’t have a Trump sign in her yard, either because it would get egged or she doesn’t want to fight with the neighbors. She knows all about Ivanka’s clothing line and brand, and thinks she would be great in the White House, because she’s classy and sophisticated, polished and well-spoken, all the things her father is not. She’s very clear that there are things that Trump says that she doesn’t agree with. She does not think of herself as racist. She describes herself as “socially moderate.”

But she’s voting for him.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.