The news media must break the spell. But before it can, it must understand his magic. At the core of his game is distraction: He shows the media and the public something shiny, sparkly, and outrageous, and they race after it. While they’re running, he returns to his laboratory to conjure something else equally shiny and outrageous for them to chase. It’s like watching a dog trainer leading a pack of feral hounds into performing a ballet.
Last night’s buffoonery fit the pattern Trump has been weaving all campaign long: Do something provocative for maximum coverage. Wait a day or two or three, to allow the provocation to fester in the press corps’ collective mind. Then, lance the provocation with yet another provocation. In the case of last night’s infomercial, Trump’s design wasn’t just to declare victory: It was to counter the speech Mitt Romney gave last week in which he attacked many of the mogul’s branded businesses as defunct. Romney’s point was Trump’s poor business acumen, and that acumen serves as a preview for what would be a failed Trump presidency.
But Trump got the last laugh: By going on TV last night, waving a copy of Trump magazine, a bottle of Trump water, and exhibiting a platter of Trump steaks, he presented visual refutation of the Romney speech. Or did he? Romney never said anything about Trump water in his speech, according to the transcript. When Romney said Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage, and Trump University had vanished, he was telling the truth. As for the steaks Trump put on display last night? They were fake—they still had Bush Brothers labels on them. Like a common three-card Monte dealer, Trump had distracted the audience—and the media—and fleeced them.