Trump Versus the Press

Jorge Ramos of Univision

Image courtesy of Univision

Trump Versus the Press
| published August 26, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

Politics may make strange bedfellows, as the old expression goes, but it can sometimes make even stranger enemies.

The current chatter about President Barack Obama giving his “blessing” to Joe Biden in Biden’s widely-rumored pre-planning for a presidential run is a case in point. As August approaches its final days, the thread of political analysis indicates that old grudges and old wounds might be reignited if Obama endorses—even tacitly—the vice-President over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Though intuition says that the President would be best to keep silent, offering a robust endorsement only after someone has been nominated by Democrats next summer, Obama is looking even more seriously at his legacy. In that vein Biden would be an exemplary warrior to defend Obama’s centerpieces of legislation, where Clinton has already broken with the President on several themes—immigration, the Middle East, Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Russia and Putin, China policy, Syria, and notably Libya. And when Clinton is called again before the Senate in October to face more grilling on Benghazi, with the newly added element of emails and servers, you can bet Clinton may abandon the stonewall tactic in favor of tossing of top Obama people under the bus.

Alternately, if Clinton’s email woes reach critical mass, spurring a campaign meltdown, who better to offer the official nod than Biden? And how likely will the President be to offer warm encouragement to Bernie Sanders? James Webb? Lincoln Chaffee? Obama needs a Democrat to get elected in 2016, period. Put in that light, Biden quickly seems like the right guy at the right time to sustain and secure Obama’s place in the history books.

Though some in the press seem eager to watch this unfold into a grisly feud among Democrats, it still seems unlikely that any such civil war will break out—at least not until Biden makes a decision. In the meantime, Clinton remains the undisputed front-runner.

For Republicans, the race remains far more complicated.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump, currently the GOP front-runner in the crowded 2016 race, has publicly unearthed a bloody hatchet which was freshly buried only a week ago after a nasty dust-up with Fox News and commentator and anchor Megyn Kelly. An ugly fight which began when Kelly challenged Trump to explain his record of denigrating and belittling comments about women, Trump not only impugned Kelly’s journalistic credentials, but essentially said raging hormones were at the root of her behavior during the first Republican debate earlier in August. That debate drew a record audience, and some 24 million people watched the now-infamous exchange.

A war of words ensued unlike anything ever seen in contemporary politics. The always irascible and unfiltered Trump refused to apologize for his comments, and instead dug-in his heels. Like his previous off-the-cuff and politically-insensitive comments about Mexican immigrants and his heavy-handed insults thrown at Senator John McCain, most observers held their breath in anticipation of his swift plummet in the GOP polls, but instead, his stock rose even more. No amount of media chatter has any effect on Trump’s polling, and despite his unpopularity on Fox News, Trump still fills football field arena’s to capacity.

This week Trump again assaulted Kelly with harsh words, and this time Fox News chief Roger Ailes also unburied the hatchet, demanding an apology from the gregarious and unpredictable Trump. What has sparked this fight? Trump sent out messages on Twitter and other social media telling his followers that he is unhappy about Kelly’s return to Fox after a recent vacation. Trump said he liked her show better while she was away, and then offered a critique that she is “really off her game” and that the popular host “must have had a terrible vacation.” He also said that Kelly was a terrible journalist, and little later, after resending the original same messages, Trump added the phrase “the bimbo is back in town.”

The exchange prompted Ailes, also not one to mince his words, to quickly retaliate.

“Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism,” Ailes said in a widely distributed statement, “and all of us at Fox News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise. I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults.”

That would have been enough to sustain a lot of media chatter for one 24 hour news cycle, but Trump wasn’t done. In Dubuque, Iowa on Tuesday, irritated by a reporter’s question about immigration at the beginning of a press conference, Trump told the reporter to sit down. When the reporter did not comply, Trump nodded to a security guard who had the journalist escorted from the room.

The reporter was Jorge Ramos, a well-known author, and a anchorman and journalist for Univision, one of the world’s largest Spanish-language networks and news channels. Trump’s irritation was immediate and visceral as Ramos began speaking, and instead Trump pointed to another reporter nearby. But when Ramos continued with his question, Trump interrupted him.

“Excuse me!” Trump yelled, then, as Ramos continued to try to speak, “sit down, you weren’t called. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. You haven’t been called. Go back to Univision.” Within seconds the security detail removed Ramos. When other shocked reporters attempted to intervene on Ramos’ behalf, Trump blanched. Trump described Ramos as being “very emotional” and described Ramos as “screaming,” though clearly video clips of the exchange do not show Ramos screaming as much as he is insistent on being heard and not being dismissed by Trump.

A little later in the press conference, Trump allowed Ramos to re-enter the room, and gave him another opportunity to ask a question. After describing Trump’s immigration plan as “full of empty promises,” Ramos asked Trump how he intends to deport some 11 million people, how he plans to pay for a security fence stretching more than 1,900 miles, and how he expects to overcome a 75% negative approval rating from native-Spanish speakers in the U.S. Trump offered no specifics on his plans for the U.S.-Mexico border, but instead turned the question on Ramos by asking about the multi-million dollar lawsuit brought about when Univision cancelled its relationship with Trump’s “Miss Universe Pageant” over Trump’s comments about Latinos.

Trump’s previous fistfights with Univision are now well-known. Ramos and Univision—along with another network, Fusion—have been requesting an interview with Trump since the day the businessman announced his candidacy. Trump has dodged making any commitment to either network, and after Ramos sent a personal letter requesting a chance to sit down and clear the air, Trump—in typical gregarious and bullying style—made Ramos’ personal cell phone and email addresses public knowledge by posting the letter verbatim on Instagram. Though the message was later removed, it forced Ramos to abandon the cell phone and the account in favor of a new one—a repeat of the same stunt Trump has used against U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham after Graham sought to defend the honor of his friend John McCain.

Trump later said that Ramos wasn’t authorized to be a part of the press conference, through Ramos said he had the proper credentials to be there.

Donald Trump’s very public war with the press hasn’t cost him any points with potential voters, at least according to polls. In a normal election year cycle, Trump’s unfiltered outbursts and manhandling of reporters would spell disaster for a would-be President. But this is no ordinary election year, and Trump—clearly—is no ordinary candidate. Contrary to most of the largely reasonable and intuitive guesses that Trump would have imploded by now, his popularity has surged, even among some Democrats. In fact, the more abusive he becomes—especially to reporters—the more his approval ratings climb upward.

His next closest GOP challengers, some of whom have given up on trying to confront or shame Trump directly, are now falling deeply into the low teens, or even single digits. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio, all seen at one point or the other as potential front-runners—are now mired so low in the polls that they find it hard to attract any media attention at all. Worse for the GOP, almost all the productive gains made by some of the candidates to extend outreach toward Latinos—especially by Bush and Rubio—have now been lost in the tsunami of attention given to Trump, whose jingoistic populism now fuels his surge in many polls, which in turn draws more media attention, and—inevitably—more dust-ups with more reporters.

For the GOP top brass, this self-sustaining cycle is not merely unseemly, but dangerous in the extreme. Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012 was so narrow, especially in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, that it can be safely argued that a shift of only a modest percentage of Latinos might have changed the outcome. As a result, GOP chairman Reince Priebus set in motion plans to help the GOP find a better tone of voice in its outreach to Latinos and other minorities. Much of that now seems only a quaint memory.

Meanwhile, Trump has restarted a brushfire within conservative circles with his latest attacks of Megyn Kelly and Fox News.

“Donald Trump rarely apologizes,” Ailes said, “but in this case he should. We have never been deterred by politicians or anyone else attacking us for doing our job, much less allowed ourselves to be bullied by anyone, and we’re certainly not going to start now.”

Bret Baier, another Fox anchor and reporter who also served as a moderator alongside Kelly in the first debate, sent out a message on social media which said simply “this needs to stop.”

Some Republicans worry that the frequent fights with Fox News, long considered the voice of conservative values in a media sea awash in elitist liberalism, may be a sign of a deeper problem for the already uneasy GOP-Trump relationship. In their view, Trump is an interloper, a charlatan or worse. His ever-shifting positions over the last two decades—often out of personal convenience—make him a highly unreliable standard-bearer. His positions have flip-flopped on abortion, on health care, on the Middle East, on Iraq and Iran, and on taxes so many times that few conservative groups or religious organizations give him any credence.

His vagueness on the tough emotional issue of immigration—the construction of a massive wall, for example, and his plan to round up 11 million illegal immigrants and simply ship them out—compares with his equally vague schemes to destroy ISIS with one “foolproof” but top secret plan (echoes of Richard Nixon’s top secret plan to get the country out of Vietnam). Trump now says he is opposed to Obamacare, even though just a few years ago he openly supported a system of “health marts” and patient-employee buying options which look exactly like how Obamacare operates. He frequently tells audiences that as a billionaire businessman he knows how to create jobs and spur economic growth, even though the reality of Trump’s business empire shows him to be a savvy, canny interpreter of the fine print and someone more gifted at mass layoffs, business closures, divestitures, and bankruptcy. His recent lawsuit with Trump Entertainment, in which he demanded the company remove his name from all properties, was meant to quickly distance himself from an economic meltdown in Atlantic City which is largely the result of bad business decisions and overspending.

Trump isn’t even a registered Republican. Over the course of the last decade and a half, he has switched his party affiliation four times—from Republican to independent to Democrat, then back to Republican before switching to independent again, his current registration. This has led several Republicans to openly demand that Trump declare his allegiance to the GOP regardless of who the nominee is in 2016. Trump openly dodged that question when it came up as the first question in the first debate, and there are plenty of folks in the GOP who worry that if Trump loses in the primaries and caucuses, he will bolt the party and take a share of the base with him—at least enough to divide those voters who might otherwise be predisposed toward the GOP in a General Election.

In the meantime, Trump’s war with Fox News—like his other explosive campaign trail antics—has not damaged his standing in the polls. In most recent polls, he leads the GOP field by a substantial margin, and he continues to draw enormous crowds. In Mobile, Alabama this past weekend Trump drew an estimated 22,000 to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, a venue known more for its annual Senior Bowl football game than for political events.

As for Ailes’ assertion that Trump rarely apologizes, at that same press conference with the fracas between Ramos and Trump, reporters quizzed Trump about his continuing fights with Fox News and Megyn Kelly.

“She should apologize to me,” Trump declared, “but I just don’t care. I think they (Fox News) cover me terribly.”

Related Thursday Review articles:

Will Biden Receive Obama’s Blessing?; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; August 25, 2015.

Is Trump Destroying the Air Quality?; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; August 9, 2015.