What did the political careers of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have in common? Many observers, particularly supporters of Donald Trump, would respond to this question by shouting, “Absolutely nothing!” These people would be wrong. In reality, the careers of Reagan and Bush shared at least three important characteristics. They were both viciously assaulted by the “news” media on a daily basis. Neither allowed these transparently partisan attacks to distract them from the core messages of their campaigns. And, not coincidentally, they are the only Republicans who have served two full terms as President since Dwight Eisenhower left office.
There’s a lesson here, if Donald Trump is able to absorb it. Media bias in favor of Democrats is a fact of life. This is blindingly obvious to most serious observers of American politics, and it has been repeatedly confirmed by serious studies of journalistic trends. It is also an utter waste of time for a GOP presidential nominee to whine about it. Complaining about the partisan press is like complaining about the weather. It accomplishes nothing. Yet, instead of emulating the successful strategies of Reagan and Bush, Donald Trump has allowed himself to be tricked into squandering increasingly valuable campaign time bellyaching about media bias.
At his rallies, where he should be contrasting his positive vision for America with the dystopian nightmare into which Hillary Clinton’s distorted worldview will transform the nation, he moans about the media. Jeffrey Lord, who highlights the disgraceful mendacity of the media at NewsBusters, quotes one of these rants. “CNN is like all Trump all the time. All Trump all the time. You walk out of an interview and you say, ‘that was a good interview’ and then you get killed for the rest of the weekend. So they are so biased toward Crooked Hillary. You know they call it: CNN, Clinton News Network.” OK, but the election is not about CNN.
Even more self-defeating than Trump’s time-consuming digressions about the partisan press during his rallies is the opportunity he is missing in social media. Neither Reagan nor Bush possessed anything like the direct access to voters that he enjoys on Facebook and Twitter. He should be using his enormous social media presence to highlight his strengths and Clinton’s weaknesses. Instead, he uses it to preach to the choir. Saturday evening, for example, he fired off this querulous tweet: “I am not just running against Crooked Hillary Clinton, I am running against the very dishonest and totally biased media — but I will win!”
In reality he is almost certainly going to lose if he doesn’t stop mumping about media bias and devote the next 90 days to convincing skeptical voters that he can be trusted with the keys to the White House. And, regardless of wishful thinking about an imaginary “monster vote” by pundits who admit that they aren’t polling experts, he is in real trouble. Nate Silver, the wonk with the best accuracy record of anyone in 2012 and 2008, writes, “Our polls-plus forecast projects Clinton to win by about 4 percentage points.… And given the wide uncertainty in forecasting an election three months out, it has Trump with a 26 percent chance of winning.”
Many of Trump’s supporters disregard Silver’s prognostications because he underestimated the Donald’s chances of winning the GOP nomination. But this is hardly an exclusive club. In fact, there is evidence that even Trump was surprised to discover that he might win. Which brings us to something he has forgotten about his media coverage. As the New York Times has reported, “Over the course of the campaign, he has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.” In other words, the media gave Donald Trump a huge in kind campaign contribution.
Oddly enough, Trump didn’t object when CNN was “all Trump all the time” during the primaries. He didn’t complain that he received more “earned” media than all the other GOP candidates combined. In those halcyon days, he actually seemed to believe that he was manipulating the media rather than the reverse. For the media, Trump was a “twofer.” He generated great ratings and they knew, if their disproportionate coverage actually won him the Republican nomination, he would be a very weak general election candidate — a disadvantage they would augment by relentlessly hammering him after the conventions.
Now the pummeling has begun and the Donald is screaming. But neither he nor his supporters should be surprised. Don’t forget how “reporters” used JournoList to collude on stories about Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008. And, for those who don’t remember the JournoList scandal, consider the revelations in this column by Brent Bozell about this year’s media collusion revealed by WikiLeaks. It has long been obvious to many observers that the American “news” media has devolved into the public relations department of the Democrat National Committee. This is a reality that all Republicans, including Trump, must face.
What no Republican needs to do, however, is allow transparent media bias to distract him from the core message of his campaign. It is quite possible to beat the press at its own game. Ronald Reagan was a master of this art and George W. Bush was far better at it than most observers realize. If Trump will hammer Hillary — day in and day out — via social media, talk radio, and the few “old media” outlets still run by honest journalists, he can beat Hillary Clinton. Many voters are looking for an excuse to vote against her. Donald Trump has 90 days to stop whining about the media and convince them that he would be a better President.