Via Andrew Kirell, a perfect complement to my last post about the feeble Super PAC effort against Trump. It’s not just a matter of him having faced shockingly few outside ads given his standing in the race. It’s a matter of Trump’s stranglehold on TV media being so tight that it’d likely take many times the number of attack ads to dent his support as it would take to dent the support of the average 33 percent frontrunner. A guy who can command 20 minutes on the air at Fox, CNN, or MSNBC, day or night, without even needing to appear in studio, has an enormous instant rapid response outlet available to him — for free — that no other candidate has. You would need to bury him in ads to overwhelm whatever message he wants to put out day to day. Instead, he’s barely been touched. How is this guy not over 50 percent yet?
The fun starts below at around 3:00. Gingrich makes his criticism in good cheer but it’s clear that he’s struck a nerve. In fact, this is a many-layered criticism: Technically it’s a shot at this particular show on Fox, “Fox & Friends,” which has been holding friendly on-air phone chats with Trump for his views on current affairs for ages. More broadly it’s a shot at Fox News generally, which features plenty of Trump-friendly commentators — Hannity, O’Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, Eric Bolling, Andrea Tantaros, and on and on. Most broadly, though, it’s a critique of the media writ large. Just as I’m writing this post, Gawker published something about audio from Trump’s townhall last week with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski being leaked. Sample dialogue:
“You had me almost as a legendary figure,” Trump tells them at one point. And the punchline is, despite all the free press, no one’s been nastier to his media critics than Trump. Reporters at Trump events are getting an earful despite the fact that their guy’s running away from the race and cable-news media is his single biggest enabler:
Trump trashes press. Crowd jeers. Guy by press 'pen' looks at us & screams "you're a bitch!" Other gentleman gives cameras the double bird.
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) February 21, 2016
If you’re Rubio or Cruz, what do you do to counter that? Cruz fan Steve Deace begged Cruz on Twitter today to forget about attacking Rubio and turn his guns full force on Trump, who’s “stolen” Cruz’s very conservative and evangelical voters. Show those voters that you’re the alpha male in the race, Deace argues, and prove that you’ll take on Trump with the same unflinching sense of purpose with which you’ve taken on McConnell and Washington. But … I thought that’s what Cruz has been doing. No one has attacked Trump more relentlessly than him since the “bromance” ended around New Year’s. Cruz has hit him repeatedly for being a phony conservative, a pro-choicer, an enemy of the little guy who exploited eminent domain laws, and on and on. Cruz held a press conference last week for the primary purpose of daring Trump to sue him. Whatever Jeb Bush might tell you, Cruz has been the primary anti-Trump force in the race for nearly two months now — and he’s suffered for it badly, with his favorable rating declining and a hugely disappointing third-place finish in his “stronghold” of South Carolina to show for it. If Cruz follows Deace’s advice, cancels all the attack ads against Rubio, and repurposes that money to attacking Trump, what happens then? How many hourlong CNN appearances would it take for Trump to deflect those attacks? Here’s a radical theory: Maybe if Cruz and conservative media outlets like talk radio hadn’t spent so much time legitimizing Trump last year as an authentic populist voice for blue-collar right-wingers, he wouldn’t have had the foothold he now enjoys among those “very conservative” and evangelical voters. Everyone, including Cruz, delayed the reckoning with Trump and now the battle’s being fought belatedly on electoral terrain that’s favorable to him. I don’t think it’s winnable at this point. The media deserves plenty of blame for that. But not all of it.