The media’s holy grail is, as it’s been for much of the campaign, about what will stick. Of the myriad likely damaging possibilities, which one will be so prima facie damaging (pay no attention to the many instances that many people already thought were, or would be) or so shocking and insulting to the body politic that it will be the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of Trump? Nothing counts but delivering a mortal wound, so everything is delivered as though it is a mortal wound.
The Trump people recognize this and, it would seem, even encourage it. A key difference between the Trump and Nixon administrations is the relative lack of paranoia in this new White House. There is contempt but not paranoia (that may, of course, come). The Trump strategy, conscious or not, is to invite overreaction—to program for it. Kellyanne Conway, with effortless smile, is more official media tormentor than simple spokesperson. The Trump team’s overt threats against the media—which is quite easy to placate if, in fact, you want to placate it—reliably serve to stoke several news cycles of the media’s breast-beating and self-serving virtue, never a pleasant sight.
Of course, the media’s inability to damage Trump leads it to try all the more. The list of attempts is long: the dossier, the tax returns, emoluments, conflicts of interest, etc. The weight of all this, the media clearly believes, ultimately brings him down. In turn, the more stuff that is piled on, the Trump team believes, the more it is all diminished.
This might lead to a natural constitutional crisis: Here is a media united in its opposition to the president and determined to find and pursue that charge, that guilty opening. How can there not be one—it believes—that will surely bring this presidency down? And here is a White House that believes the media’s single goal, and entire reason for being, is its destruction—and that its own survival, its legitimacy, depends on some version of breaking the media tide in the same dramatic way it intends to break the tide of immigrants it sees as so loathsome. (“We’re going to have to rethink our relationship here,” said Conway, with impeccable cool and pointed chill, to NBC’s Chuck Todd.)