CNN’s Jake Tapper Calls Anti-Trump Headlines ‘Very Height of Elitism’

“I think journalistically, to not take Donald Trump seriously is a mistake,” Tapper tells TheWrap

Jake Tapper

CNN’s Jake Tapper is not impressed with Huffington Post and New York Daily News headlines mocking Donald Trump.

“I think those are business decisions that they are making, not journalistic decisions. They think that will appeal to readers and allow them to carve out a niche to get clicks or have newspapers purchased,” said the host of “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” in an interview with TheWrap.

“But, I think journalistically, to not take Donald Trump seriously is a mistake. And I think journalistically to attack people who support a candidate is the very height of elitism,” added Tapper. “These are Americans exercising their right to vote and it’s important to go out and meet them and talk to them and find out why they’re supporting the candidates they’re supporting. It’s not my approach to journalism. My approach to journalism is to cover what’s going on and try to understand it and understand the voters and the candidates, not to mock them.”

Tapper said the campaign and his many jobs — he is also CNN’s chief Washington correspondent and host of “State of the Union” — have kept him so busy that his wife had to finish watching “Making a Murderer” without him. At least the work is paying off: “State of the Union” finished January with its best ratings since Tapper started anchoring June 14, finishing No. 1 across cable news in the key age 25-54 demo during the noon ET hour.

We talked to Tapper about Fox News, the presidential debates, and why he thinks Trump will be the Republican nominee.

Fox News boss Roger Ailes famously stood up to Donald Trump in defense of Megyn Kelly. How do you think CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker would have handled a similar situation if a candidate went after you during CNN’s GOP debate?

Jeff is incredibly loyal. He is, with the exception of my wife, my biggest supporter. It would never occur to me that he would have anything but my complete backing. I think he’d be as fierce and advocate as Mr. Ailes was.

Do you feel there are too many debates in general? 

No. I feel like there aren’t enough, to be honest. As a beat reporter in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012, I covered them all, and I love it. This is the most important job interview in the world, as the cliché goes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a lot of tests of the candidates. I’m always pro-more. I always want more.

What are your key takeaways from the New Hampshire primary?

This process is going to go on, on the Democratic side, a lot longer than I think anyone thought six months ago. That voters are very, very angry and frustrated with Washington, both Democratic voters and Republican voters, and of course, Independents. That Donald Trump is a major force in the Republican Party and the establishment needs to find a way to [deal] with it one way or another, whether it’s trying to make friends with him or trying to figure out how to prevent him from being the nominee, that’s up to them. But, their hope that he was going to self-destruct was wishful thinking and he is a force. The attitude that some people have in regards to who is supporting him is wrong. He wins college graduates, he wins upper-income individuals, and he wins all sorts of voters.

Did you ever think we’d be sitting here in February with Donald Trump as the GOP frontrunner?

Yeah, I’ve been saying for months… I was very, very early on very bullish at his chances. As soon as he got to the top of the pack and he went through his first two controversies. He showed not only no sign of weakening, but only signs of getting stronger. I said and I continue to say, “I do not see a scenario where he does not get the nomination.”

“State of the Union” won the demo during the month of January in its timeslot. What needs to be done to maintain the success?

We need to continue to bring the same energy and enthusiasm and love of politics that we have. This is an incredible political season. It’s captivating the nation and it’s incredibly fun to cover. Anything where you don’t know how it’s going to end can be fun to cover. Hopefully the audience is responding to the genuine exuberance we feel being political journalists during this period.

“State of the Union” went commercial-free last week because you had five candidates on the same show. Who made the decision to scrap commercials and what did the process entail?

It was Jeff Zucker‘s idea. We had been talking about what might happen if we got every [interview request] that we put out there. He said, “If you have a show where you have so many great guests that you need more time, let me know and we’ll either go long or will kill the commercial breaks.” It’s an amazing testament to his support.

You’re very active on Twitter and even published your social media rules. How do you think social media has changed the election process?

I think it allows people to hear from voters that they might not hear from, for better and for worse. It allows candidates to communicate in a way that they never had available before, to go directly from themselves to voters. One example might be Ted Cruz after Trump started attacking him on his citizenship. Cruz tweeted out a clip of Fonz jumping the shark from “Happy Days.” Which he, Ted Cruz himself did that. Four years ago, eight years ago no candidate would have done that.