I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a complete major media freakout like last night’s NBC Nightly News coverage of Trump—it tops even the breathless coverage of the “constitutional crisis” of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973. You can watch it at the link above if you are a glutton, but suffice it to say the NBC News crew failed in concealing their animus and panic toward Trump (I thought NBC’s foreign correspondent Richard Engel was going to have an embolism on camera, and Andrea Mitchell looked like she’d need another facelift by the end of her report) and, by extension, his millions of supporters who are presumed to be semi-literate gun-toting racist xenophobes . . . have I left anything out? Oh yeah—Trump’s supporters probably eat at Denny’s and don’t listen to NPR. The horror.
But let’s face it: the institution with the most at stake in Trump’s continued success is . . . the media. Here’s a not so secret fact of modern journalism: covering presidential campaigns is really boring. Most leading candidates are fairly disciplined, and stick to a standard stump speech. They don’t make a lot of national news, with the exception of having to respond to events (or in this case, respond to Trump). If you’re covering Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio right now, you aren’t getting much broadcast airtime or front-page space. Covering Trump has to be the best thing since the invention of moveable type: you never know what he’s going to say. If you’re NBC’s Katy Tur, covering the Trump campaign is a career-making assignment. I can easily imagine her getting at least an MSNBC show of her own after this is over.
And let’s face it—Trump is the best show in town. I’ve watched a few of his rallies on C-SPAN, and you can’t look away. He is mesmerizing, even when he’s talking complete rot, which is much of the time. The only people who would be more disappointed than Trump’s supporters if he dropped out would be the hypocrites in the newsrooms.
I’ve made clear here repeatedly why I dislike Trump (and some readers have made clear their contempt for this dislike—fair enough), which, in one compound sentence, is that he lacks the statesmanlike capacity to fix any of the problems he rightly addresses in his campaign, and that our problems can’t be fixed simply by “better management” and appointing “good people” (no wait, the best people!). At the end of the day, Trump underestimates the depths of the crisis of American government.
But on the other hand, watching the media and establishment freakout over Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration makes me want to become anti-anti-Trump. The media and the establishment studiously avoid recognizing the serious source of Trump’s appeal (beyond his show biz genius), which is the sheer incompetence of government, and the revolting way our government (especially Obama) condescends to us with empty platitudes and vacuous clichés. From the Obamacare website, running VA hospitals, securing the border and managing immigration, the mania for climate change, to the plainly wrong assurances that there was no domestic threat from ISIS, it’s one clown show after another. The only other candidates who get this as clearly as Trump are Cruz and Fiorina, but they don’t have Trump’s celebrity flamboyance nor share his recklessness. And consequently they aren’t getting one tenth the media attention as Trump.
The media/establishment freakout helps Trump, and assures that he’s not going away any time soon. Henry Olsen has some worthy observations today at The Atlantic about why Trump’s support may be underestimated in the polls, because what Trump is tapping into is occurring in many advanced democracies right now to the befuddlement of the elites:
Why does this happen? It starts with working-class voters across developed countries being under severe economic pressure because of competition with foreigners at home (immigration) and abroad (EU/trade). They respond to people and parties who tell them this state of affairs isn’t inevitable, and they are often impervious to cries of racism. Their lives are just plain harder than they used to be and working-class voters don’t see elites doing much—or wanting to do much—to make them better. Donald Trump is simply the American version of Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, and many other European leaders of working-class, anti-immigrant parties who profit from stoking the flames of resentment because there is so much kindling available to light.
So what explains the chasm between these particular candidates’ online versus live polling data? It turns out that a nontrivial share of these same working-class, anti-immigrant voters won’t tell a live person who they support but will share their true feelings when their support is secret—like on Election Day. This is no surprise: Support for immigration and globalization are perhaps the only political sentiments that unite elites from both business and the academy, from right and left. Openly supporting an anti-immigration candidate can risk social opprobrium, ridicule, or worse. In other words, for every group of vocal Trump supporters, there are probably a lot more who just don’t advertise it.
Trump is on track to do much better than many of his detractors think; he’ll likely be much closer to the Internet and automated polls, where his lead is in the double digits, than the live polls, where his lead is still in the single digits. . .
American elites must understand that Trump’s appeal is large and not going away. Working-class voters all over the world are legitimately upset about the turn their lives have taken in the last decade and a half. They are largely not racists, nor are they “fruitcakes and loonies,” as British Prime Minister David Cameron once called UKIP backers. And whether Trump’s support strengthens or fades, the real issue remains: Millions of working-class voters are angry, and their anger is not going to quickly disappear even if their current champion does.
Democrats no longer care about the working class, of course. Republicans better start figuring it out fast. It’s going to be a long primary season.