Trump and the Media
May 20, 2016
It seems all but certain certain that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will square off in a series of presidential debates in the fall.
I can’t wait.
Hillary Clinton is one of the most experienced political debaters in the country – perhaps THE most experienced. She went through a grinding series of 25 primary debates in 2008 against what started out as a fair-sized field and finally came down to herself and Barack Obama, and this year she has gone through nine more.
Donald Trump has ridden his populist, anti-politically-correct instincts to victory over what – 17 opponents? – going through ten debates and by all appearances he has done it with relatively little preparation.
But presidential debates for the general election, and their audience, are very different than primary debates, and I expect that Trump will be hearing advice to behave differently; to be more dignified, to stop playing to the live audience (if there is one), to not interrupt his opponent during her turn to speak, and to cite verifiable facts in support of his positions.
He won’t take any of this advice.
Trump undoubtedly believes that he “won” this year’s Republican primary debates by going with his instincts, and will see no reason to change horses in midstream. Plus it would require a lot of time and hard study.
The debate moderators and panel members will presumably be experienced journalists, as they have been in the past.
Major news organizations such as CBS News frequently remind us of the difference between the professional journalism standards to which they adhere versus the anything-goes circus found on most of the Web. And rightly so. Brian Williams and Dan Rather both learned the harsh lesson that no individual is more important than the upholding of these standards.
These panelists will be torn; they want to be “fair” to Trump, but nearly everything that comes out of his mouth violates journalistic standards. With the greatest assurance he states “facts” that are either unverifiable or demonstrably false. He contradicts his own past statements and writings on his own website. Instead of using facts and logic, he finds demeaning phrases to attack his opponents: “Little Marco”, “low energy” Jeb Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.
To be true to their profession,, the panelists can’t just stand quietly by; they will have to call him out then and there (as debate moderator Candy Crowley called out Mitt Romney during his October, 2012 debate with Barack Obama for his false claim that Obama had not recognized the Benghazi attack as a terrorist act). And afterword in the “spin room”, Trump and his accolytes will tell us that this is more proof that the mainstream media is biased against him (just as Romney’s loyalists attacked Crowley).
Whatever happens to Trump in the debates won’t disillusion his loyal voters. They already believe that he is telling truths that The Establishment does not want heard, and that the journalists of the mainstream media are part of the problem.
Most of the pundits failed to spot Trump’s appeal. Yes, much of it is the channelling of the anger and disillusionment of those left behind by our changing economy and demographics. But some portion is also based on, believe it or not, trust. For fourteen years he has played a character named Donald Trump on a popular TV show. Millions of regular viewers believe that they know him, and their comfort is buttressed by the fact that the Trump they see on the campaign trail acts the same way as the guy they know from TV. “See, that’s the real Donald”, they tell each other. “He’s just being himself, not trying to fool the voters or be someone he’s not.”
The Donald also has a genuine talent for attracting news media attention. He plays the free publicity game for all it’s worth. And it’s worth plenty, as in the millions of dollars his campaign didn’t have to spend on advertising. As of October 2015, Trump’s campaign had spent less than $2 million, compared to Cruz’s $5.7 Million, Carson’s $5.8 million, and Clinton’s $18.2 million, per FEC operating expenditure reports as reported in Business Insider.
His campaign expenditures have risen since that report, but a significant portion of those expenditures have gone for services and goods provided by Trump companies (e.g., rent for campaign headquarters in Trump-owned buildings). And in spite of past statements that he would be self-funding, Trump has not contributed a dime to his campaign. He has loaned the campaign several million, which he may well get back if the campaign raises enough money from contributions and sale of “Make America Great Again”-themed clothing.
Back in 2000, Donald Trump briefly considered an independent run for President. The New York Times quoted him as saying, “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run
and make money on it.”
Maybe he will.
A Publicity Stunt That Got Out Of Control?
I recently saw a political cartoon in which Trump admits to an advisor that he is running for President only to get publicity for his businesses and does not want to actually win. So he purposely makes a series of outlandish statements, each more outrageous than the last (and all of which are accurate quotes of his actual statements), so that he can lose. But nothing works and he ends up winning.
Good satire, I thought.
Then I learned that by one account, it was at least partly true.
In March, a public relations expert, Stephanie Cegielski, came forward with “An Open Letter To TrumpVoters From His Top Stragegist Turned Defector”. In her “Open Letter”, Cegielski says thst in the spring of 2015:
“I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it. The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.”
Cegielski has created some credibility problems for herself by her claim to have been Donald Trump’s “Top Strategist”. Turns out she was actually hired as communications director for “Make America Great Again”, an independent Super-PAC allied with the Trump campaign, but not part of it (and which has since folded). And she has never identified her source. Obviously, if it was Trump himself, she would have said so.
is the author of Wounded Warrior, a recently published biography of former governor and Supreme Court justice John Swainson. He is also a retired Ingham County Circuit Court Judge and former legal advisor to Gov. James J. Blanchard.