Tag Archives: Donald Trump

The Media to Trump: Thank You Donald! May I Have Another?

Another day, another poll showing Donald Trump leading the Republican field for the 2016 presidential nomination and another round  of hand wringing by political pundits baffled by The Donald’s staying power. The latest WashingtonPost/ABC national survey has The Donald trumping his nearest Republican rival Jeb Bush by a whopping 10%, 23%-13%. That’s a gain of 18% for The Donald in just under two months, while Jeb’s support has remained static. To be sure, the poll was in the field just as The Donald’s comments regarding John McCain’s war hero status hit the airwaves, so the impact of this latest contretemps may yet to be fully felt in the polls. Still, it is clear that The Donald is exhibiting surprising – at least to the punditocracy – staying power as measured in national surveys of voting-age adults.

Of course, we have seen these types of candidate boomlets before. Political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck documented this process of discovery, scrutiny and decline in their book The Gamble, the definitive study of the 2012 presidential campaign. But Trump’s “discovery” phase has exceeded those of his 2016 Republican rivals in terms of size and duration and, so far, he has sustained and even enhanced his support during the ensuing period of scrutiny.

It is tempting to attribute The Donald’s polling success to some combination of his personal characteristics and his stance on the issues. Perhaps, as some pundits contend, The Donald has tapped into a vein of deep-seated anger among Republican voters. From this perspective, his blunt talk and forthright stance on controversial issues like immigration resonate with a good portion of likely Republican voters. Perhaps. But there is likely a more prosaic reason to explain the Trump phenomenon: he is exploiting the media’s tendency to view nominating contests through the prism of campaign tactics and especially candidate personalities, a point I’ve made in previous posts. Trump has decades of experience in attracting and manipulating media coverage, and he had drawn on that knowledge and training to issue a succession of attention-getting statements that have consistently kept him in the media spotlight. In particular, capitalizing on the media’s focus on candidate personalities, he has turned the Republican nomination contest into a series of personality-driven feuds between Trump and leading members of what might be called the Republican Party establishment. The latest exhibit is Trump’s testy exchanges with South Carolina Senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, culminating in Trump’s decision to give out Graham’s cell phone number during a campaign stop yesterday. “I did it for fun and everybody had a good time,” Trump said during a Fox & Friends interview last night. No, he did it because he knew the story would lead just about every news outlet for the next 24 hours, which it did. Like him or not, The Donald has the media on a string, and they seem only too happy to help him exploit their own vulnerabilities.

Consistent with my argument, in a Monkeycage blog post yesterday Sides and Vavreck show data indicating that Trump has received a disproportionate amount of news coverage since announcing his candidacy. That has surely contributed to his rise in the national polls, much as I suggested in earlier posts.

But does the media have any choice in the matter? In a comment to my last post, Middlebury College student (and presidency seminar alum!) Becky Van Dercook asks, “My one question/comment regarding this post is although the media should be taking Donald’s candidacy seriously, do you think that they shouldn’t be engaging in the outlandish and offensive commentary that he is making at all? And if they do, how can the buffoonish …nature of his commentary be completely ignored?” My short answer is: no, they shouldn’t engage in his outlandish and offensive commentary and yes, they can ignore it. And they should.  However, as I wrote in an earlier post, this does NOT mean relegating Trump to the entertainment pages. “Instead, journalists should take his candidacy seriously by pressing him on the details of his policy pronouncements, and helping the public understand the differences between the public and private sector. The sooner the media begins evaluating The Donald on the details of his policies and his governing expertise, rather than on his deliberately provocative comments designed to mobilize a disaffected public, the sooner The Donald’s political bubble is likely to burst.”  It’s that easy.  When Donald seeks the limelight by saying something outrageous, bury the statement and focus instead on what really matters in a presidential campaign.  If you absolutely must quote The Donald’s more outrageous claims, at least put them in some type of real-world context.

Put simply, the media makes choices about what constitutes “the news” and how it should be covered. There’s no reason why Trump giving out Graham’s cell phone number should have led almost every news story yesterday. And yet the political punditocracy fell all over themselves to report it.

How likely is it that the media will follow my advice regarding how to cover Trump? Not likely at all. That’s  because it has little incentive to do so. As Robert Schlesinger (another proud Middlebury graduate and presidency seminar alum!) acknowledged in his US News column yesterday, “’I’ll be honest, I burst out in giggles of delight when I saw the Washington Post/ABC News poll yesterday showing that Trump had opened substantial lead in the GOP field – not because I believe he has even the remotest chance of becoming the GOP nominee (though that would be fun too) but because it guarantees at a least a few more days of Web traffic Trump-mentum.”

Schlesinger is not the only journalist not-so-secretly rejoicing in Trump’s staying power. Despite the media’s harrumphing and hand-wringing over Trump’s “sideshow” candidacy and how it detracts from a discussion of serious issues, most journalists are absolutely giddy that rather than having to write months of stories analyzing meaningless polls and rehashing stale candidate biographies (Hillary’s pantsuits anyone?), they instead get to wax indignant about The Donald engaging in blood feuds with his Republican rivals. What could be better for a profession that has seen its audience and profit margins dwindling for years?  The Donald is the gift that, so far, keeps on giving!

Of course, it is worth remembering two important points. First, polls this early in the nominating process have very little predictive value in terms of forecasting the eventual nominee. Second, these are polls – not votes. To date, I know of no research indicating whether Trump has put together the infrastructure for an effective ground game in Iowa or New Hampshire. Political science studies indicate that the best way to get people to the polls is to contact them personally.  This is particularly crucial in low-turnout affairs like the Iowa caucus. There’s no evidence as yet that Trump has developed the necessary organization to do this. So, for now, Trump is exhibiting a lot of sizzle. But we have yet to see any steak.

In the short run, of course, the lack of a campaign organization is not likely to dampen media coverage of The Donald. But the next time you see a political pundit publicly weeping over what The Donald is doing to political discourse in this country, pay no attention to those crocodile tears. The media loves The Donald almost as much as he loves himself. And they are more than willing to show their love by engaging in the endless self-flagellation that is the essence of covering Trump’s run for the presidency. Please, please, stop me before I write another Trump story!

Never mind. He just said something newsworthy. Thank you Donald! May I have another?

Addendum 2.29 p.m.: Greg Dworkin points to still another poll, this one in the field after Trump’s war hero comments, that still shows The Donald leading the Republican pack.  So, the early evidence suggests his criticism of McCain apparently hasn’t hurt The Donald among Republican voters.

Why The Donald Trumps the Media (and What They Should Do About It)

With Donald Trump now vying with Jeb Bush for the top spot in the national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, one would think the media would begin more deeply investigating his stance on the issues, or documenting his governing philosophy. Instead, this morning’s Sunday talk shows all featured discussion of The Bombastic One’s latest off-the-cuff personal attack, this one targeting Arizona Senator John McCain for his recent description of Trump supporters as “crazies”.  The Donald, of course, is not one to miss an opportunity to engage in personal warfare against any critic (Rosie O’Donnell anyone?) – indeed, he relishes these public feuds in no small part because he knows they provoke the media coverage that is partly responsible for fueling his meteoric rise to the top of the national polls.

In this instance, Trump responded to McCain’s “crazies” comment by calling McCain “a dummy”. When asked Saturday at the Family Leadership summit about criticizing a war hero, Trump opined, “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Because the media has focused on these two sentences, it’s worth putting The Donald’s comments in context – here’s his extended remarks when asked about McCain – notice the audience reaction:

The Donald’s comments about McCain – as he intended – sucked up almost all the weekend media coverage, and left second-tier Republican candidates like Rick Perry trying to bolster their own anemic polling by expressing outrage over Trump’s criticism of a decorated war veteran. That, of course, meant that they spent part of their brief media time talking about The Donald, rather than their own candidacies – which is precisely what The Bombastic one wants.

Trump’s media coverage to date reflects a basic weakness of how journalists cover elections more generally – one I’ve talked about in previous posts: it tends to describe election contests in terms of candidate personalities and campaign tactics rather than focusing on candidates’ issue stances and expertise.  In Trump’s case, we see these media tendencies illustrated in spades. But by characterizing Trump as a bombastic buffoon who shouldn’t be taken seriously (the left-leaning Huffington Post recently announced it would move its Trump coverage to the entertainment pages) journalists are playing directly into Trump’s hands. In fact, his polling support is coming from that part of the electorate that is increasingly dissatisfied with what it views as a corrupt political establishment, one that is not addressing bread-and-butter issues like job creation, trade policy, immigration reform and border security. And the media, like it or not, is often viewed by these voters as part of that establishment.

As a classic example of how not to cover The Donald, look at Martha Raddatz’ interview with him today on George Stephanopoulos’ This Week morning show regarding his war hero comments. She repeatedly tries to publicly shame The Donald for his remarks and to insinuate that he is emotionally unfit to be president, but Trump adroitly uses the opportunity to double down on his earlier remarks and, not incidentally, to reach out to veterans. When the interview concludes Raddatz can barely prevent herself from rolling her eyes at The Donald’s remarks. However, I would not be surprised if Raddatz’ questions and demeanor actually bolstered Trump’s standing with a segment of Republican voters.

The problem with the media coverage, at root, is that its persistence in portraying The Donald as a cartoon figure is at odds with his undeniable accomplishments. While the media chases its tail in trying to hold the Donald accountable for his latest outrageous statement, he uses that coverage to cite his very real track record of getting things done, and to promise that he will reprise that record as President.

But it is in fact Donald’s private sector experience (and concomitant lack of political experience) that is potentially the real vulnerability of his candidacy, if only the media would take the time to examine it. Consider the following anecdote provided by the late, great political scientist James Q. Wilson in his classic book Bureaucracy, which is a study of how government works – or does not work, as the case might be. In the early 1980’s, as Wilson tells the story, the city of New York spent some $13 million dollars across a six-year period in an ultimately fruitless effort to renovate the Central Park skating rink. At this point The Donald stepped in and agreed to renovate the rink for $3 million, with any cost-overrun coming out of his own pocket. Mayor Ed Koch agreed to the deal. Trump completed the rink renovations a month ahead of schedule, and $750,000 under budget.

At first glance, this example seems to feed into The Donald’s argument that as president he would have the expertise and experience to get things accomplished. Indeed, that is precisely the mantra The Donald repeats at every campaign stop – his standard stump speech includes multiple statements that begin: “As President, I will” accomplish some objective, whether it means building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, or negotiating a more favorable trade deal with the Chinese government, or any number of accomplishments.

But in reciting this story about the skating rink, Wilson is making a more subtle and important point, one that potentially undercuts the relevance of The Donald’s private sector experience as preparation to be President. Wilson is using the skating rink example to demonstrate how the very factors that made the Donald so effective in the private sector are rarely to be found in the political sphere. As Wilson acknowledges, The Donald proved far more efficient than did government in renovating the skating rink. But ultimately public policy is evaluated on more than narrow grounds of economic efficiency – instead, “government has many valued outputs, including a reputation for integrity, the confidence of the people, and the support of important interest groups.” When it comes to skating rinks (or any government program), Wilson argues, “A government that is slow to build rinks but is honest and accountable in its actions and properly responsive to worthy constituents may be a very efficient government, if we measure efficiency in the large by taking into account all its valued outputs.” I would add that governing in the public sphere at the national level requires an understanding of how to address the interests of those, such as members of Congress, whose support is required if the President is to accomplish his objectives.

By extension, Wilson is suggesting that the tactics that work so well for The Donald in the private sector are unlikely to be as effective when it comes to passing public policy. This is because other values – accountability, transparency, and equity – are embedded in our political process to a degree not seen in private sector transactions. As President, The Donald will find that he cannot run roughshod over the political constraints built into our national system of separated institutions sharing power. Building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants will be nothing like renovating the Central Park skating rink, and that is not simply due to the different scale of the projects. It is because the incentives facing political actors, including the President, do not reward them for maximizing efficiency alone, at least in the narrow economic sense. Instead, to achieve one’s goals in the political sphere means utilizing tactics that emphasize “we”, not “I”.  Based on his public statements to date, it is not clear how well The Donald understands this.

So how should the media cover The Donald? Not by ignoring him, or dismissing him as a “farce to be reckoned with”.  Instead, journalists should take his candidacy seriously by pressing him on the details of his policy pronouncements, and helping the public understand the differences between the public and private sector. The sooner the media begins evaluating The Donald on the details of his policies and his governing expertise, rather than on his deliberately provocative comments designed to mobilize a disaffected public, the sooner The Donald’s political bubble is likely to burst. Alas, I have little confidence that most journalists, in this era of dwindling audiences and shrinking profit margins, will be able to resist taking the easy road by dismissing The Donald as a serious candidate.  To date, it is a media strategy that has The Donald laughing all the way to the top of polls.

Why I’m Telling The Donald: You’re Hired!

My students (and their parents) as well as long-time readers of this blog know by now that I don’t vote in national elections. As I’ve explained (and as George Stephanopoulos recently reminded us) my reason for not voting is that I don’t want my readers to view me as simply another partisan pundit trumpeting the party line under the guise of “independent” analysis. (It’s also irrational at the individual level to vote, but that’s an argument for another day.)

But I’m here to tell you that I’m breaking my pledge this election cycle. I’m voting for The Donald. And I think if you watch his announcement, you’ll vote for him too.

If you can’t make it through the entire video, let me just point out the highlights as a way of justifying my decision. It was a sprawling presentation (much like The Donald’s real estate empire, or his marriages) and he covered an astonishing array of topics in just this one event, and did so with a degree of confidence and creativity that is hard to convey without watching the video. But I will give it my best shot.  You expect no less, I know.

Let me begin with his stances on the important issues of the day. Obviously, we want a president who knows what he’s doing. Well, it’s hard to exaggerate the number of policies on which he can speak knowledgeably and in depth, but let’s be clear – by the end of this speech The Donald left no doubt about how he would solve some of the most pressing problems facing the country today. He would do it The Donald way.

Take illegal immigration, especially from Mexico. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The Donald would build a very big, inexpensive wall. And, guess who will pay for that wall? Not the American taxpayers! “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” You heard that right. Mexico will pay for the wall! And, by the way, The Donald will immediately “terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration.”

Gun control? The Donald will “fully support and back up the Second Amendment.” As he noted, if you live near the Clinton correction facility in upstate New York, the site of a recent breakout by two murderers, those area residents with guns are certainly sleeping better right now, particularly since law enforcement has no clue where the escapees are. Indeed, The Donald recently talked to a resident there who told him, “We now have a gun on every table. We’re ready to start shooting.” (Note also that the prison is named “Clinton” – I hadn’t realized the significance of this until The Donald pointed it out. Think about it.)

Obamacare? “You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high, it’s virtually useless.” The Donald would repeal it, along with its $5 billion, nonfunctional website. The Donald has many websites – “They are all over the place” – but he pays his people $3 – not $5 billion – to create one. Which would you rather have? A three-dollar website, or a $5 billion dollar one? And what would he replace Obamacare with? Something “much better and much less expensive for people and for the government.” How can you oppose that policy? I know I can’t.

Defeating ISIS? “Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. Nobody. I will find — within our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy.”

Ending Iran’s nuclear program? “I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And we won’t be using a man like Secretary Kerry that has absolutely no concept of negotiation, who’s making a horrible and laughable deal, who’s just being tapped along as they make weapons right now, and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old, and falls and breaks his leg. I won’t be doing that. And I promise I will never be in a bicycle race. That I can tell you.” I believe The Donald when he says he will end Iran’s nuclear program and that he won’t be in a bicycle race. After all, this is a man who wrote, “The Art of the Deal”.

Repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure? “Nobody can do that like me. Believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought. I look at the roads being built all over the country, and I say I can build those things for one-third.” One-third the cost! Who could oppose that? Not me!

Reforming entitlement programs? The Donald would “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts…Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it.” Why haven’t our current politicians thought of this?

Free trade? The Donald is for free trade, but the key is who is doing the trading. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid.” You can be sure The Donald will hire only smart people, and will get rid of the stupid ones. Stupid people, you’re fired!

Exporting jobs overseas? The Donald would bring the U.S. executives responsible for shipping jobs abroad into the Oval Office and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Consider the executive who recently set up a Ford plant in Mexico. Here is what The Donald would say to that unfortunate executive: “Congratulations. That’s the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.” How will the Ford executive respond? This is how: “‘Please, please, please.’ He’ll beg for a little while, and I’ll say, ‘No interest.’ Then he’ll call all sorts of political people, and I’ll say, ‘Sorry, fellas. No interest,’ because I don’t need anybody’s money. It’s nice. I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

That’s right. We all know that The Donald is a great man. But the key to his presidency will be that he is really rich. He has a net worth of $8,737,540,00. That’s billions of dollars. I know because he said so. This means that unlike other politicians, he’s not in it for the money. His campaign isn’t some gambit designed to boost the ratings of his television show, or to feed his own ego. No, The Donald can’t be bought and he is already a great man. He is doing this for us. That is why he will be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” He told us that, and I believe him. After all, he is a man who has declared bankruptcy on multiple occasions! How many times have his opponents declared bankruptcy? What do they know about running up excessive debt and not being able to pay bills? How can they possibly understand the American experience like The Donald can?

But beyond his fabulous wealth, his golf courses, convention centers and magnificent hotels, The Donald is also a kind person. I know because he said so. “I think I am a nice person. People that know me, like me. Does my family like me? I think so, right…I give a lot of money away to charities and other things.” What are those “other things”?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter why people like The Donald – they just do.

And as a kind person, he loves other people – all types of people. Among them are:
• His family, who he introduced during the event. It was his lovely daughter Ivanka who hyped the crowd before The Donald’s magnificent entrance coming down from his board room above, using the escalator, to greet the “thousands” in the audience. Surely The Donald is blessed with multiple wives and loving children. “I love my life. I have a wonderful family.”
• Soldiers (especially wounded ones). “We have wounded soldiers, who I love, I love — they’re great — all over the place.”
• Republican presidential candidates. “…[T]hey’re wonderful people”.
• Lobbyists. “I have lobbyists that can produce anything for me. They’re great”.
• Cheerleaders. “And we also need a cheerleader…Obama wasn’t a cheerleader. He’s actually a negative force”.
• The Chinese. “I like China. I sell apartments for — I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?”
• Tom Brady and the Patriots. “It’s like take the New England Patriots and Tom Brady and have them play your high school football team. That’s the difference between China’s leaders and our leaders.”
• The Saudis. “I love the Saudis. Many are in this building. They make a billion dollars a day.”

The Donald is truly a loving person.  A rich, loving person.

So, that’s why I’m voting for The Donald. He will solve our critical problems by using common sense and hiring good people and making deals and threatening opponents and doing it all for pennies on the dollar. I know because he said he will.

And he is a kind person, one who is also rich. Really rich.

Some of you might think I am trumpeting his candidacy to boost his polls so that he will be included in the debates. Do you really think I would support The Donald for his entertainment value? Have I ever been anything but a sober-minded, empirical-driven analyst? I didn’t think so.

This is an election about competence. The Donald said so. And who is more competent than he? Don’t take my word for it – here’s what the hyper-competent Gary Busey had to say about The Donald back in 2012:

So join me and Gary Busey and Terrell Owens and the thousands of others would-be apprentices who watched The Donald’s speech and came away thinking, “Donald, you’re hired!”

High Stakes in Nevada: Can The Newt “Trump” The Mitt?

The next stop in the Republican road show is Nevada, which holds its caucus this Saturday.  In 2008, Mitt Romney won this state easily, with 51% of the vote, in large part because of strong organization and turnout by the state’s substantial Mormon population (about 7% of the population).  Based on entrance polls, fully 25% of those participating in the 2008 Republican caucus were Mormons, and 94% of them supported Romney.  Barring a major gaffe, there’s no reason to believe he won’t reprise his 2008 victory on Saturday.  Of greater interest, perhaps, is whether Ron Paul, who is counting on doing well in caucus states, can beat Newt Gingrich for second place.  Paul finished second in Nevada in 2008, at 14%, barely edging McCain.

Although caucus states are notoriously difficult to poll, PublicPolicyPolling (PPP’s) one-day poll indicates that Romney is up by 20% over Gingrich, with Paul in third.  However, media reports indicate that The Donald – hotel magnate Donald Trump – is set to make a “major announcement at noon” today.   Rumors are that he will endorse The Newt who, you may recall, was one of the only Republicans who bothered to travel to Trump Towers last year to genuflect before The Donald, and who also had agreed to participate in The Donald’s debate when most of the other Republicans opted not to.  It appears that Newt’s diligence in courting The Donald may now pay off.   Although I have to say I’m not convinced these media leaks are accurate; it’s not like The Donald to back a loser.  He’s a front-runner through and through, so it would make more sense for him to endorse The Mitt.

Assuming the media reports are true, however, this sets up an interesting dynamic.  The Mitt likes to fire people.  The Donald has constructed an entire television program based on this premise.  Who has more “fire”-power?  Alas for The Newt, I think The Mitt’s organizational advantage is going to trump The Donald’s endorsement.  Barring a major Romney gaffe, he should win Nevada.

Keep in mind that the ultimate prize here are Nevada’s 28 delegates. Moreover, this is a closed caucus; only registered Republicans can participate. The delegates are apportioned as follows: 10 are awarded to whoever wins the state, and an additional 12 are divided up based on the winners of the four congressional districts, three are reserved for the party, and there are three “bonus” delegates. Candidates must clear a 3.57% vote threshold to be eligible for delegates. Note also that Saturday’s caucus is merely the first step in a three-step process to determine who gets the delegates so, although it will be possible to estimate the delegate allocation based on the first step voting on Saturday, the process will not be finalized until the county and then state-level voting takes place.

Nevada is the first in a succession of caucuses stretched out through the month of February that will test the candidates’ organizational skills and resources.   Colorado will hold its caucus on Tuesday.  Minnesota also has a caucus on Tuesday, but its results are non-binding.  Missouri will hold a non-binding primary on Tuesday.  Although the results are non-binding, Rick Santorum is banking heavily on a strong performance there, particularly since Newt is not on the ballot.  Maine, meanwhile, will be organizing a series of local caucuses throughout the period of February 4-11. These caucuses will include non-binding presidential straw polls whose results will be announced on February 11.  Ron Paul has already been campaigning in Maine.

We will try to keep you abreast of these results as they come in, beginning with Saturday’s caucus in the Silver State.  In a clash of financial titans, it’s The Donald vs. The Mitt.  Who has better hair?  Ok, never mind.  Who gets to say, “You’re fired”?   My money’s on The Mitt.

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m.  Dueling news leaks: ABC News is reporting that in fact The Donaldis going to endorse The Mitt.  Frankly, this makes more sense to me – I can’t see The Donald willing to tarnish his brand name by backing a second-place finisher.  In any event, we should find out soon  – The Donald is set to make his announcement at noon.  Not that it matters.

UPDATE II: It’s official.  The Donald is in fact endorsing The Mitt, not The Newt.  Not that it makes any difference at all.  But, frankly, I’m relieved.  It would have been so unlikeThe Donald not to endorse the front-runner.  Although apparently he led The Newt on for a while, but in the end The Donald was true to his character.