Monday, July 9, 2018

Ezra Klein Is Right About Trump


It's rare indeed that I find myself in lockstep agreement with any one journalist, but after giving the matter considerable thought, Ezra Klein has nailed it on the head. And what is the "it" Klein has nailed on the head? Basically, that the media has become Donald Trump's "assignment editor."

In an interview he did with Brian Stelter on CNN, Klein pointed out that there's no requirement for the media to grant "wall-to-wall coverage" to Trump every time he holds a rally. Not when past presidents rarely got that kind of attention.
"What are we crowding out when we let him decide what we cover, every time he does a rally? What would have happened in another administration? How long of a story would Scott Pruitt have been? How long of a story would Bill Shine have been? How much information is encoded in those few stories?
"I do think there's a question of, does the public know what the government is actually doing as well as they know what Donald Trump is saying, but often not doing. Does the public know what is happening in the regulatory agencies? Does the public know what has happened to the Affordable Care Act?"
Klein's basic argument comes down to this: while the media is focused on Trump's antics and rhetoric, it is ignoring the real news, which is frightening. And that is precisely what Trump wants. He has become a master in the art of deflection and distraction, and the media has become his unwitting accomplice.

Of course none of this is new. As far back as three years ago, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown urged her former colleagues to, if not pull the plug on Trump, then to at least give him a time out. Unfortunately, they didn't take her advice. Like a heroin addict, they needed him as much as he needed them.

So now we have a reality-based president who holds rallies that are little more than infomercials disguised as news events. Trump cries wolf and the microphones and cameras are there to record his every utterance as if it's the fucking moon landing. And all the while, the pundits trip over themselves debating not the consequences of his disastrous polices, but whether his poll numbers will crater based on the latest outlandish statement that came out of his mouth, not quite realizing that the mere discussion of that outlandish statement was inadvertently helping those very same poll numbers.

Irony doth have a funny way of rearing its ugly head.

But there is one silver lining in this three-ring circus that Trump has created. He doesn't seem to be enjoying the fruits of his labor as much as he'd like us to believe; certainly not as much as his predecessors did. Klein writes in Vox,
Judged on the economy, which is the traditional driver of presidential approval, Donald Trump’s poll numbers should be much, much higher than they are now. Far from finding a winning strategy, he seems to have found a losing one despite holding a winning hand.
What that reveals is that, apart from his core supporters, Trump's act is wearing thin on a lot of people who would otherwise be predisposed to give him credit for a healthy economy. And the data backs this up. The Congressional generic polling, after narrowing to a slim 3.2 percent edge for Democrats five weeks ago, is now back up to a much healthier 7.2 percent advantage; Trump's overall approval rating in the RCP polling average is hovering around 43 percent, even with Rasmussen factored in; and the Right Track / Wrong Track is currently at a negative 13 percent, a bad sign for Republicans this fall.

The bottom line is this: the media needs to ignore the smoke and mirrors and concentrate on reporting the news. If Trump insists on throwing a curve ball, let him dig up Johnny Bench to catch it.

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