Conservatives pick Donald Trump for president because the media picks on him.
Even the Fox News referees went Matthew Dellavedova hard on the billionaire at the basketball arena last night. Megyn Kelly lambasted the Donald for calling certain women “fat pigs” and “slobs.” Bret Baier raised his history of supporting “liberal”—fighting words in that crowd—policies. Chris Wallace, pointing to Trump companies declaring bankruptcy four times, asked: “Why should we trust you to run the nation’s business?”
But the slings and arrows, which didn’t kill the candidate, likely make him stronger.
From Richard Nixon through George W. Bush, the intensity of the Right’s support for a politician correlates most closely not to his commitment to conservatism but to the degree of displeasure the politician causes journalists. You can impose price controls or attempt to foist illegal-immigration amnesty on the American people. Just don’t turn Chris Matthews’ sneer into a smile, receive a party invitation from Maureen Dowd, or allow something halfway nice about you to appear at the Huffington Post.
Conservatives hate the media more than they love their principles.
A Ted Kennedy donor who regarded himself as “very pro-choice,” urged his countrymen to “reexamine the single-payer plan,” and called the banker bailout “something that has to get done” does not appear as an identikit candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. But CNNMSNBCNewYorkTimesNPR despises him, and smiting enemies, not instituting principles, stands as priority one.
Surely other forces propel the Trump wave.
Trump the candidate strikes as the anti-Obama. The Donald and the teleprompter belong together like mustard and ice cream. The current president came to the office with little private sector experience. His would-be successor embodies the Calvin Coolidgism, “The business of America is business.” For Americans tired of living in a repeat of the 1970s through much of the Obama presidency, awarding the job to a job creator appeals.
His sway over a group accustomed to playing a punching bag stems in large part from his impulse to punch back—hard. When Univision attacked him for his strong restrictionist stance on immigration, he barred its executives from his golf courses. When Neil Young objected to Trump’s use of “Rockin’ in the Free World”—after harboring no such qualms (as Pete Townshend did for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) when Michael Moore sought it for the cinematic conspiracy theory Fahrenheit 911—Trump tweeted out a picture of the Canadian musician begging for dollars at his office. He responded to Lindsey Graham calling him a “jackass” by giving out the senator’s cell phone number.
Trump, like the Kinks, loudly and frequently announces: I’m not like everybody else. Sixteen candidates rush to prove that they fit in. One guy dares to stand out. Even the ill-advised debate decision to refuse to back the party’s nominee separated Trump from the pack. That’s necessary on such a crowded stage.
Entering the race with the most money and name recognition helps. His ability to speak for rather than speak to the party base on illegal immigration generates enthusiastic support. And “Make America Great Again,” in melding two uncontroversial sentiments—America lost its mojo and regaining it sounds nice—surely beats “He’ll Do for America What He Did to the USFL” as a campaign slogan.
Worse strategies exist than taking reverse marching orders from the media. Previously, Republican primary voters tended to treat the nomination as a lifetime achievement award, strangely making a winner of the last go-around’s loser. Proven losers (Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole) generally proved to lose. Go figure.
And some wisdom colors the impulse to choose the candidate that the New York Times chooses to hate most. From experience, GOP voters know that whoever they nominate becomes the devil anyway.
Trump seems too thick-skinned to pull a Ross Perot and bolt. A more likely scenario sees his asset becoming a detriment in his loose lips sinking his ship. An abrasive style necessarily wears thin, so what sounds refreshing in August may grate seven or so months from now on Super Tuesday.
Then again, the Washingtonspeak of his gaggle of opponents grates terribly, which explains their troubles in the polls and preference for going for his voters rather than his jugular. John Kasich last night offering, “We need to take lessons from Donald Trump if we’re really going to learn,” sums up the challenge facing the apprentices. They either learn from Trump’s success this summer or bow to him at the convention next summer.