The standards of American politics are so low that it is probably not possible for Donald Trump to lower them. Nevertheless, the media is treating him as a grave danger to the integrity of political discourse.
Perhaps what's most distasteful to the press now is not his birther questions but his recent celebration of infant birth. His stated conversion to a pro-life view leaves reporters and commentators very dismayed.
In the past, Trump was the sort of pro-choice Republican that the press used to insist the GOP needed to promote. But now that he holds himself out as a pro-life Christian Tea Partier, the press's enthusiasm for big, circus tent Republicanism has dimmed. They don't mind if fringe candidates enter the tent as long as it is from the left rather than the right. But once they enter from the right, reporters ask: Where are the GOP's standards?
Trump has now committed a series of unpardonable sins, from criticizing the Koran (it gives off a "very negative vibe," he said) to defending Carrie Prejean's "honorable" opposition to gay marriage, but probably his worst one in the eyes of the press is to adopt an opposition to abortion.
"One thing about me, I'm a very honorable guy. I'm pro-life, but I changed my view a number of years ago. One of the reasons I changed -- one of the primary reasons -- a friend's wife was pregnant, in this case married. She was pregnant, and he didn't really want the baby," Trump said to the Christian Broadcasting Network. "He was crying as he was telling me the story. He ends up having the baby, and the baby is the apple of his eye. It's the greatest thing that's ever happened to him. And here's a baby that wasn't going to be let into life. And I heard this, and some other stories, and I am pro-life."
Joan Walsh on MSNBC thought it appalling that Trump would base his conversion on the experience of a "wealthy" friend. She also scented sexism in the answer, writing in a later column that it was a wealthy male friend. Other pundits were shocked by his bombastic indifference to Savannah Guthrie's sacred invocation of the right to privacy during an interview with him:
GUTHRIE: Is there a right to privacy in the Constitution?
TRUMP: I guess there is. I guess there is.
GUTHRIE: So, how does that --
TRUMP: Why do you -- why just out of curiosity, why do you ask that question?
GUTHRIE: Well, I'm just -- wondering how that squares with your pro-life views.
TRUMP: Well, I don't -- it's a pretty strange way of getting to pro-life. I mean, it's a very unique way of asking about pro-life. Why are you -- what does that have to do with privacy? How are you -- how are you equating pro-life with privacy?
GUTHRIE: Well, you know, about the Roe v. Wade decision.
TRUMP: Yes, right, sure. Look, I'm for pro-life -- I am pro-life. I've said it.
By steamrolling over Guthrie's equation of the right to privacy with the right to abort an unborn child, Trump, if only accidentally, drew attention to the unfairness of the question. Of course, the press didn't see it that way, accusing him of "ignorance" of the Constitution and a "Palin moment" for not respecting Guthrie's shorthand.
Trump's scattershot approach to politics is deservedly mocked, but it is telling that the press gets as or more worked up about his conservative views than his crackpot ones. It generally doesn't mind suspicious conversions, pandering, or half-baked opinions from public figures provided that they fortify the prejudices of political correctness. Not this time.