It’s pretty safe to say that nobody in the history of political campaigns has ever gotten more free media coverage than Donald Trump has.
As subjective as the criteria must be to prove, or even disprove, the above statement, many will swear it’s true, and almost no one is denying it. With relative impunity, Donald Trump issues controversial statement after controversial statement, in response to which virtually every media outlet does everything to cover it but preempt actual breaking news. Despite so many media companies predicting the beginning of his political demise with each statement, however, he remains firmly atop the polling for GOP candidates.
At question is whether his statements really are controversial, or whether just the media and the du jour political pundits think they are controversial (and want you to believe they are). There is no question that many viewers, upon seeing the headlines and news lead-ins, have decided that Trump’s statements are polarizing. Nonetheless, Trump issues them virtually daily, and seemingly doubles down immediately afterwards, while large cadre of journalists eagerly report, with each just hoping to be the one to deliver the news that will finally bring Donald Trump down and force him out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination. They may hate him, but he brings them viewers.
But Trump just isn’t going down. And least not yet. Why? Three principal reasons:
- The editorial side of media has long been plagued with the reputation of leaning ideologically left. Indeed, multiple studies of the political donations of media personalities have shown that the vast majority of those donations are given to Democrats. So media personalities who may feel outraged by Trump’s statements assume that their public will be equally outraged. These media personalities are obviously not on the same wave length as their viewers. They clearly misread what will outrage the public. Trump has seemingly no fear whatsoever of the media, as he’s experiencing media personalities excoriate him regularly, yet polls show Trump’s base is strong and growing.
- Trump is tapping into an electorate long distrustful of the media and of professional politicians, who they perceive as almost willing to sacrifice national security for avoiding the possibility of offending special interest groups. Indeed, Trump’s controversial statements have been causing new discussion involving defining just it means to be an “American” – and therefore, who is anti-American.
- Trump has been playing a calculated game with the media. He likely maintains a list of statements that he calculates are just controversial enough to cause immediate media attention, but fall below the line of “too much” controversy to cost him his base. His calculation will most probably include a factor of the outraged public who will ask themselves what he is really thinking, study into his statements, and conclude that he actually makes some sense.
Not since Ronald Reagan has America seen a political candidate interact with a media which is coming to the conclusion that they need him more than he needs them. Is this the definition of “owning” the media? For now, it would seem to be.