But arguably the worst effect of televised presidential campaigns has been to push up costs at astronomical rates. These add to the costs that create unbearable pressure on candidates to spend much of their time fundraising and give wealthy donors ever-greater access to their campaigns.
Americans have lived with televised campaigns for many decades. In some ways, this status quo has damaged the electoral process and undercut the seriousness of political debate. Yet some very good candidates have emerged victorious through this system. Republicans can point to Ronald Reagan or the Bushes, and Democrats to Bill Clinton or Obama.
Rather than focusing on the way television and media have created Donald Trump, it would be better to look at the underlying reasons why such large portions of the electorate are voting for this candidate. To take just one example: Middle-class families have suffered in the modern economy, causing some Americans to feel desperate and find appeal in demagogic arguments. Political leaders and government institutions are as much to blame for the rise of Trump as anything reporters have done. So too are “average” American voters, some of whom have proven to be open to the xenophobic, violent, and sexist statements that have come out of the mouth of a presidential front-runner. There’s one thing you can count on in an age of ratings: If Americans didn’t want to watch Trump, the networks would not be giving him time.