No matter what anyone thinks about Republican front-runner Donald Trump, they must admit he is a master-manipulator. Since he announced last summer, Trump has totally dominated the nation’s media coverage without spending a dime in ads. Trump calls himself a genius. When it comes to media manipulation, he is unequalled in history. His GOP rivals are fuming, as “The Hill” reported Thursday.
Donald Trump, businessman turned Reality TV star, turned likely Republican nominee, was treated as a joke by pundits and some Republican officials when he announced his candidacy. Almost immediately, Trump started climbing in the polls. Pundits continue to dismiss the Trump phenomenon saying that it is “early” in the election cycle. However, it is getting less early every day and in previous elections, no candidate has dominated the polls for as long as Trump has; and none with such a dominant lead.
Trump’s message is the reason for his popularity among Republican voters. It is the 24-7 media attention that is main reason that message gets out. This free attention keeps him well ahead of his rivals in national presidential polls and surveys of states with early primary contests such as New Hampshire and South Carolina. But, the media’s obsession with Trump keeps his potential Democratic rivals out of the news as well. And, once he is the official Republican nominee, he will probably dominate the news cycle in the general election without sending money either.
Trump seems to do much better with negative coverage than positive stories. When someone bashes or criticizes Trump, it just firms up his base of supporters and communicates his wildly popular brand of anti-establishment conservatism that he punctuates with outrageous statements. This not only explains the outrageousness of some of his statements and proposals, but also their timing.
Every time a poll shows some softening in Trump’s lead, he comes out with an increasingly more radical statement or proposal. And in every case, it lifts him higher in the polls. This is absolutely true after his most controversial comments. Polls out today show Trump surging again.
This is a double win for Trump. Not only does he dominate the news day after day, week after week for free, but he is forcing his opponents to spend money on ads to get their message out, diverting money away from organizing and other efforts. Jeb Bush has spent $50 million dollars so far and sits at three percent in the polls. Trump has spent less than $300,000 on ads, and he is the top choice of a third of all Republican voters.
Republican candidates feel that the media has fallen into Trump’s ingenious trap. “I’ve never seen anything like it, it was like 9/11 coverage,” said an operative from a rival campaign who spoke to “The Hill” freely on condition of anonymity. “I talked to two reporters yesterday about potential story ideas, and they said, ‘Sorry, I don’t have time. My ** editor is making me cover Donald Trump.’”
Many Republicans viewed Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims as a calculated effort to recapture the spotlight and stake out the far-right position on an issue that animates the base. Trump “knew that by saying that, it would provoke a response,” former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said. “Smartly or cynically, he knows the best way to deal with bad poll numbers is to create another outrage du jour to redirect our focus.”
Republicans believe, rightfully so, that the media’s coverage of Trump is all about the ratings. Love him or hate him, Trump is good for advertisers and the companies that sell air time to them. Beginning with the first Republican debate, the audiences have been many times larger than in any previous election. Network and cable news ratings are higher when Trump is on making bombastic statements. Money trumps objective journalism in the media.
There is no guarantee in politics, but there is nothing on the horizon to indicate that Trump will be de-railed. He has created a conundrum for the media. Do they stop covering Trump and lose money or do they continue doing what is good for their bottom line. My bet is on the latter.