Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum picks up on the symbiotic relationship between Donald Trump and the media. It extends beyond the debates, where his mere presence guarantees record ratings, especially for the offshoot channels like CNBC and Fox Business. It also goes to his frequent interviews, taking on all comers to get as much free exposure as possible. This goes to how Trump is managing to maintain his lead in this extremely crowded field.
You see, his poll numbers are directly related to how much free press he’s getting, and the more outrageous he’s being, the more free press he gets.
For the latest example, Drum notes that Trump’s offensive comments about Muslims — how he literally contemplates a national registry of Muslims, as if they are X-Men mutants — are not as stupid as they first appear. Whenever he pulls a stunt like this, he always enjoys a resulting bump in the polls from the frantic media coverage and tut-tutting of opinion writers on both sides of the aisle. I believe this is because Trump’s circus act appeals to two of his core constituencies — the alt.Right, and morons. (As an aside, people should not fool themselves into thinking these two terms are synonymous. Many alt.Right thought leaders are highly intelligent, from some writers at VDARE to Heartiste to Vox Day. They will all gladly tell you that all they care about is immigration, and couldn’t care less about Trump’s unconservative stances elsewhere.)
And the media benefits from the ratings and exposure. If Trump spouts off to Yahoo, for instance, the resulting coverage from all outlets will have to note this fact. “… Trump said in an interview with Yahoo News,” for instance. It’s free advertising for both Trump and the media outlet. Symbiosis at its finest. (Or foulest, depending on your point of view.)
Drum says that the media should stop doing this with “Republicans,” but really, there’s only one Republican candidate who’s the master of this. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio apparently are starting to catch on to this strategy of calculated provocation, but they will never be a natural the way The Donald is, with his decades of experience in the media spotlight. He knew instinctively from day 1 that outrage from liberals and mainstream conservatives alike is the rocket fuel for his campaign. The strategy is artificial and unnatural for Cruz and especially Rubio, however — and arguably blew up in Jeb Bush’s face when he gave it a try.
So, to answer Drum’s thesis: should the media really stop playing into Trump’s strategy? From a moral perspective, sure. But from a business perspective, absolutely not. If I were a producer for a show on FoxNews or CNN or Yahoo News, you better believe I would pursue Trump interviews with gusto, with calls to his media people daily if not hourly, and would take his calls and visits as often as he pleased. After all, my bosses at the network wouldn’t give two hoots if Trump were endangering minorities or the Constitution or what have you. All they would care about are the numbers, and Trump sure keeps his end of the bargain there.