How much responsibility does the national media bear for the Donald Trump phenomenon? Ted Cruz told John Dickerson on CBS’ Face the Nation yesterday that they not only have created the movement through an avalanche of free publicity for Trump, but also a curious reluctance to delve far into Trump’s long track record in finance and business deals. Cruz accuses the media of deliberately ignoring these potential “bombshells” until Trump wins the Republican nomination, especially when it comes to Trump’s tax returns.
Cui bono? Hillary, natch:
CRUZ: That’s true at first. But let’s be clear. The media has given Donald Trump hundreds of millions of dollars of free advertising. When you put Donald — when every press conference is carried live on every television station, and you essentially have a massive in-kind contribution from the media, that has helped create this phenomenon. And then I think an awful lot of reporters — I can’t tell you how many media outlets I hear have this great expose on Donald, on different aspects of his business dealings, or his past, but they said, you know what, we’re going to hold it to June or July. We’re not going to run it now.
(CROSSTALK) DICKERSON: You’re saying reporters have told you that? They have told…
CRUZ: Absolutely. We have gotten multiple…
DICKERSON: And from which organizations have they told you?
CRUZ: You know, look, I’m not going to out media outlets, but I can tell you there is so much there. When was the last time people are bringing up his tax returns, for example. We had a debate last night, didn’t hear a word about his tax returns. Every other serious candidate…
DICKERSON: Well, you could have brought it up.
CRUZ: I could have, and I do often. But as Mitt Romney rightly observed, the fact that Donald won’t hand over his tax returns suggests there’s a bombshell in there. The fact that journalists are not raising the question of what Donald Trump told “The New York Times” editorial board, the reports are…
DICKERSON: But the journalists brought it up, which gave you the platform to talk about it. So, surely they are. BuzzFeed wrote about it, so they are talking about it.
CRUZ: I promise you, come the general election, that will be the singular focus of the media. And I think Republicans, we have been burned by that before. We’re not interested in losing again, particularly when the stakes, I think, are catastrophic.
If anyone doubts the media mechanism that Cruz alleges, just recall the New York Times and its endorsement of John McCain in late February of 2008. After Mitt Romney conceded the nomination to McCain, the same newspaper that endorsed McCain published a shabby smear that insinuated that McCain had a sexual affair with a lobbyist, and then demanded to see his medical records to ensure he was fit for office. They didn’t seem to have an issue with his personal ethics or his physical abilities when they endorsed him for the ticket, but went after McCain with a vengeance afterward.
The best part of the Gray Lady’s actions in 2008 was that they were so transparently biased. The rest of the media acted with somewhat more subtlety while moving from “McCain’s a truth-telling maverick” to “McCain’s an old man yelling at clouds” coverage, and worse.
The entire interview is well worth watching, especially when Dickerson asks about strategizing for a brokered convention. Cruz insists that he’s in it to win the nomination outright, and says a brokered convention would be illegitimate if one candidate came in with enough delegates for a first-ballot nomination:
DICKERSON: Let me ask you about your political path. Is it to win the nomination and the delegates outright, or is it to just deny and get to Cleveland and figure it out there?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, we’re campaigning to win. And I will say any time you hear people talking about a brokered convention, I think that is the fevered talk of the Washington establishment. The Washington establishment is in a panic. They’re confused. They don’t understand what’s happening. And their favored candidates, the ones that they want to win, are not getting the votes. But if a bunch of Washington deal-makers try to step in, in a brokered convention and steal the nomination, I think we will have a manifest uprising. If you want to beat Donald Trump — and I don’t think Donald Trump is the right nominee to go up against Hillary Clinton. If you want to beat him, you got to beat him at the ballot box. And our campaign is only campaign that has demonstrated we can do so over and over.
DICKERSON: Do you think there is something illegitimate, though, about trying to have a brokered convention, work it out at the convention?
CRUZ: You know, I think, if it’s a bunch of Washington deal- makers and lobbyists who want to parachute in their preferred candidate because they don’t like what the voters are doing, I think that is illegitimate. I think it’s wrong.
It would certainly be seen as illegitimate if Trump had something north of 1237 delegates and still didn’t get the nomination. However, the brokered-convention strategy is mostly based on denying Trump a path to 1237, in which case a brokered convention is just following the rules. But Cruz is right, too, that air-dropping another candidate at the convention who hasn’t received a single vote in the primaries as the nominee would look like the biggest establishment play ever — in a cycle where “establishment” is the most ill-defined and yet freighted curse word of the last two years. Cruz wants to win it outright, but he’ll need to win some major winner-take-all states to pull that off.