Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is blaming “The Media” for his falling poll numbers, and working his followers up into yet another poorly thought out lather. Though Trump’s battle cries are about media bias and dishonest reporting, I suspect he is truly upset because he thought he was in control of the press–using them to his own benefit. He thought he had a firm understanding of how to play a game. When he transitioned from the primaries to the general election, though, the game changed, because the players changed. Trump’s shenanigans were now being focused on by the rest of America–judged, as they should be, in the harsh light of a serious Presidential election.
“The Media” is not a thing, at least not in the collusive, conspiracy-cloaked way many Trump supporters are referencing it. It is a broad collection of persons in a related profession. Now, within the media, there are news outlets that are characterized as liberal media or conservative media. It is up to the consumer to make sure they vary their sources. This is of particular interest because Trump’s ire is directed at the media as a whole. He claims he is treated unfairly even by notoriously conservative news outlets like Fox News. What are they doing that is distressing him so? Well, they’re doing what they’ve done all along. They are reporting on and discussing the things he says in speeches, interviews and tweets. But, here’s the rub…when he says something outrageous, sensationalistic or outright false, it dominates the press. This is not a new phenomenon, and Donald Trump knows that. Consider the following:
“One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better…The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.” – Donald Trump, The Art of The Deal, 1987
“I use the media they way the media uses me — to attract attention. Once I have that attention, it’s up to me to use it to my advantage…I learned a long time ago that if you’re not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you. … So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want — viewers and readers — in order to make a point. I’m a businessman with a brand to sell.” – Donald Trump, Crippled America, 2015
So, if he’s just doing what he’s always done and they are doing what they’ve always done, then what’s the problem? The problem for Trump is how the audience is perceiving it. You see, Trump’s “any press is good press” brand marketing style did work to get him the GOP nomination. At that point, three things changed:
1). A general election is a lot more serious than a primary. Trump did not enter into the general election with his game-face on, or implement any changes to his approach. He continued to deliver the same demagoguery, supporting his claims with hearsay and falsehoods. He continued with his “tell-it-like-it is” approach, littering his campaign with racism, sexism, and antagonism, behaving in an absolutely un-Presidential manner.
2). His audience changed. He was no longer only targeting a section of the Republican voting base. The fact that he needed to alter his style to appeal to a much larger voting base seemed to allude him. This is not just a matter of modifying his approach to connect with moderates and progressives, but to win the respect of educated people. Once he was on stage as a Presidential candidate, the bombastic buffoonery needed to stop. Yet, his campaign has been fraught with overtly controversial statements and genuinely ignorant pratfalls. When the press covers these situations, the “any press is good press” theory no longer applies to his new audience of potential voters.
3). Remember that brand he was trying to sell? The one he estimates at $3.32 billion? It went downhill fast. In fact, his fellow Republicans have been so concerned about fallout from association with Trump’s brand that they have been refusing to endorse him and/or vote for him. This number started small, but has grown with each one of Trump’s sensational outbursts. In fact, today, a letter requesting that the Republican National Committee cut off funding to Trump has been signed by more than 120 Republican politicians and congressional aides. The letter states:
“We believe that Donald Trump’s divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide, and only the immediate shift of all available RNC resources to vulnerable Senate and House races will prevent the GOP from drowning with a Trump-emblazoned anchor around its neck,” the letter says.
Donald Trump is not being treated unfairly by “The Media.” He’s been playing a game for attention, it’s just a game he’s now losing. And like a petulant child, he wants to accuse the other players of cheating. I, for one, am waiting to see if he chucks the game board and goes home.