Super Tuesday is finally upon us, and much to the shock and chagrin of the media, Donald Trump appears to have an unstoppable head of steam in his quest to obtain the Republican nomination.
But if the media are appalled at the prospect of a Trump presidency, they only have themselves to blame, having showered him with media attention for the past thirty years and then given him a near-monopoly on press coverage these past six months. And by “media” I really mean “television,” since television remains the most important way that people get their information.
Most TV pundits and smart guys thought that Trump’s candidacy was a joke when he launched his campaign last June. Jon Stewart for his part, pretended to have a sexual climax at the mere thought of being able to cover a Trump campaign in his last weeks at “The Daily Show.” Well, who’s laughing now, Jon?
The disparity of media coverage between Trump and the rest of the candidate field has been outlandish from day one. The University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics has graphed the amount of coverage given to each candidate, and on any given day Trump averages more attention than the rest of the field combined.
The relationship between Trump and the media is sickly sadomasochistic: The more Trump beats up on them, the more time they give him. The media might dislike him, but they know that whenever they give him time, their ratings go up.
In the media’s defense, there’s ALWAYS a reason to talk about Trump. He has a genius for manufacturing news and getting TV coverage with outrageous statements that keep the media focused on him. The other candidates are then forced either to respond to his crazy talk — or become completely invisible. God forbid the cable networks pass on an opportunity to discuss the latest Trump tweet.
It’s no surprise why viewers tune in. Not only is he an entertainer, he’s far and away the most famous person running for the Republican nomination. As the host of the highly rated “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice,” he deftly positioned himself as a knowing boss and capable leader. Before that, he achieved fame as a high-wattage businessman and beauty pageant impresario. Trump was already one of the most famous people in America when Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were still in high school.
But it’s more than fame alone that explains Trump’s high ratings. In a sea of conventional politicians, he’s funny, colorful, and larger than life. With his baubles, beautiful wives, and prizefighter friends, he lives a life that many middle-class voters would choose for themselves if they only had the money.
Unlike the social elites who mock him and his tastes, he doesn’t look down on middle-class aspirations; he embodies them. Plus he says whatever he wants and doesn’t care what the Jon Stewarts of the world think.
Theoretically the primary debates should have exposed Trump’s great weakness: the fact that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But too many of the moderators either let him slip by with vague answers, or, worse, tried to turn the debates into gladiator matches. No one is going to win an insult contest against Donald Trump — and the more the moderators played it that way, the better it was for him.
Still, with the field now down to five candidates, there is less room for him to hide. At the most recent CNN debate Rubio and Cruz did successfully expose his shallowness on the issues, although that might not even matter at this point.
That CNN debate may have dinged Trump, but also demonstrated why the channel might as well change its name to the Trump News Network. During the debate itself, the CNN questioners gave him vastly more time time than any other candidate, frequently directing their next line of questions to him first and then asking the others to respond to his answers.
And then when it was over, they immediately switched to a softball one-on-one interview with Chris Cuomo and the man of the hour himself, during which Trump was permitted to bash his opponents all over again without challenge. If that wasn’t enough, they came back soon thereafter for a SECOND interview with Trump.
Much has been made about how Trump has run circles around the traditional media and the Republican establishment, but he’s also trouncing the anti-establishment special interest groups, including the right-wing media. For decades, Republicans trembled at a negative word from Fox News, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and the rest of what Hillary Clinton identified as a vast right-wing conspiracy. No more.
Trump has swatted Fox away like like a cow brushing off an annoying fly, and made Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge swallow his departures from conservative orthodox — and like it. Perhaps nothing has been as surprising this election season as discovering that Fox News has no clothes. Trump has smashed the GOP, the traditional media and the conservative media. The question now is whether any of them will be able to regain the power they once had.