Call it the Harry Reid strategy. In an interview to be aired Sunday on HBO, Donald Trump admits to Axios that he doesn’t really consider the media the “true enemy of the people,” but says that’s the “only way of fighting back” he has against false reports. If the media would report fairly, Trump tells the agitated interviewer, he’d be the “nicest president” ever.
When pressed, Trump denies that anyone has advised him to tone it down. “Hey, I’m here!” Trump exclaims. “It got me here!” It’s the same basic “Romney didn’t win, did he?” that Reid offered up when confronted over his smear tactics against Mitt Romney:
1) “Axios on HBO”: “You are the most powerful man in the world. And if you say that word — ‘enemy,’ ‘enemy,’ ‘enemy’ — think about what enemy means.”
Trump: “I think I’m doing a service [by attacking the press] when people write stories about me that are so wrong.”
“I know what I do good and what I do bad. I really get it, OK? I really get it better than anybody in the whole world.”
2) “Axios on HBO”: “Tens of thousands of people go into a stadium to listen to you, and then people go on social media and they get themselves so jazzed up. There’s got to be a part of you that’s like: ‘Dammit, I’m scared that someone is gonna take it too far.'”
Trump: “It’s my only form of fighting back. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do that.”
It’s tough to dispute that, even if it doesn’t justify the “true enemy of the people” rhetoric (which it doesn’t). Trump has a long history with the media: being part of it, manipulating it to enhance his brand, complaining about it at the same time, and all long before he went into politics. One key to his appeal with a large number of voters was his refusal to back down from a fight and that long track record of applying it to the media. Trump made it part of his primary campaign for a reason.
And he’s not wrong in saying that this resonates with a lot of people, and not just Trump supporters. A new poll from Morning Consult shows 64% of respondents blame the media for dividing people in America since Trump’s election, eight points higher than the president:
To a certain extent, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey suggests Trump’s criticism rang true for roughly two-thirds of Americans, although it shows a majority also says he has been a mostly divisive presence.
In the new Morning Consult/Politico poll, 64 percent of registered voters said the press has done more to divide the country than unite it since Trump took office, compared with 56 percent who said the same was true of the president. The poll of 2,543 voters was conducted Oct. 25-30, after news first broke of mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc’s attempted acts of politically motivated violence and amid news of a shooting by suspect Robert Bowers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The view that the national news media has been a mostly divisive presence was shared among partisans: A plurality of Democrats (46 percent) said the national media has done more to divide than unite — about half the share of Democrats (88 percent) who said the same of Trump. Eight in 10 Republicans agree that the media has done more to divide, while a quarter of Republicans said Trump has been mostly divisive.
It’s not just Republicans who put more blame on the media. Sixty-seven percent of unaffiliated voters also blame the media, while 54% of them blame Trump. It’s not tough to figure out why, either. Morning Consult quotes Media Matters president Angelo Carusone:
“The press themselves have become a tribe, as opposed to a foundational source of information. They’re viewed as much as a political player as advocate groups or partisan interests are.”
Allahpundit nailed it yesterday in extending Jon Stewart’s thoughts on media narcissism. The industry moved from being a “foundational source of information” to being lecturers, scolds, and political activists — even before the OJ Simpson trial gave us the “talking head” format and prime time became the home of gladiatorial ideological combat. The smugness and preening started back in the Sam Donaldson/Dan Rather era and hasn’t stopped since.
None of that, by the way, justifies Trump’s rhetoric. But if the highest value today is “whatever works,” as Harry Reid made clear for years, then …