Just when it seemed the media were starting to accept Donald Trump’s front-runner status after South Carolina, we had a newspaper throwing a temper tantrum.
New York’s Daily News, ticked off at the outcome, blamed the voters with this front-page screamer: “CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.”
In other words, TABLOID TO VOTERS: YOU’RE ALL LOSERS.
And the lead of the story was just as insulting: “The piggish voters of South Carolina gobbled up the slop that Donald Trump served up Saturday — handing the bloodthirsty billionaire his second straight Republican presidential primary win.”
I know the News, which is becoming a sad parody, despises Trump, having depicted him as a clown and, during his dustup with the Pope, the “ANTICHRIST.”
But that doesn’t seem much different than the Huffington Post reacting to Donald Trump’s first primary victory with a red-letter headline: “NH GOES RACIST SEXIST XENOPHOBIC.”
And it illustrates how, when it comes to Trump, some in the media are moving from denial to anger.
I wonder if a New York Times piece on the eve of the South Carolina primary is a more polite and sophisticated way of getting at the same point—that the voters are to blame for making a lousy decision.
The Times has on-the-record quotes to back up its story line, but the underlying assumption is that Trump is just bad news:
“Republicans in South Carolina have in recent years raced ahead of the national party in presenting an inclusive face to voters.”
But in the face of this admirable progress comes a likely Trump victory: “For party leaders and mainstream voters here, it may come as a kind of deflating climax…
“His results in the two early-voting states so far have alarmed more traditional Republicans, who fear that a Trump nomination would solidify for nonwhite voters an image of Republicans as an angry and intolerant party…
“The fear among Republican leaders here is that a smashing victory for Mr. Trump would say more about the party, and about the state, potentially undermining South Carolina’s image as a more welcoming place that is no longer defined by figures like Strom Thurmond.”
Got it? The Palmetto State is now a “welcoming place,” but for Trump to win the primary would make South Carolina look like it was back in Thurmond’s segregationist era.
As Trump has continued to gain strength, he’s attracting a different kind of bad press, which tries to blame others—the culture, the media, the Republican Party—for what these critics see as the awful phenomenon that is The Donald.
Slate, in the process of slamming MSNBC’s town hall with Trump, complains that “the media’s coverage of Trump has been soft, insufficient, and without substance” because it has failed to deal with “months of bigoted comments and almost pathological dishonesty.”
“It’s that the media’s relationship with Trump should worry Hillary Clinton, assuming each of them vanquishes their primary opponents. I would have said six months ago, perhaps naïvely, that a blatantly bigoted candidate would face such a sustained media firestorm (especially in liberal precincts) that he would be incapable of getting elected. That’s not yet the case. Indeed, there are no signs that the media’s sick, interminable honeymoon with Trump will come to an end anytime soon.”
Think about that. Trump is a bigoted and pathological liar, so any coverage that doesn’t portray him that way, or confront him with his many sins, is embarrassingly anemic.
National Review Editor Rich Lowry, a fierce Trump critic, says in Politico that Trump is defining decorum down:
“We’ve grown used to how Trump has treated Jeb Bush in the debates, but that doesn’t make it any less appalling a breach of political norms or basic decency.
The faces he makes while Bush talks, the constant interrupting, the petty put-downs — all of this would have been thought unworthy of the lowest political guttersnipe but have become an accepted part of the landscape thanks to Donald J. Trump…
“The key to Trump’s strength, which buttresses all his outrageousness, is that his supporters want someone to blow up the system. So there's almost nothing he can say or do that will discredit him in their eyes, and the least destructive scenario for his defeat — Trump blows himself up — will take some doing on his part.
“It’s all very entertaining — but so are demolition derbies.”
Now there’s an eye-catching metaphor.
National Review’s David French says both Trump and Bernie Sanders have risen from “the wreckage of a broken culture”:
“The conservative culture we do have is still a celebrity culture, and Donald Trump has taken it by storm.
“The secret of his continued dominance is that he does anger bigger and better than anyone else, and his fans are willing to forgive or even cheer any transgression against conservative principle or simple good taste as a result. All manner of cruelty and lies can be justified by fury at the Left, by rage at the ‘GOPe,’ or by the cry of ‘the other side does it.’
“Conservative leaders who were used to being the angriest and least politically correct people in the room now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of saying ‘no’ — of saying that some things shouldn’t be said and some ideas are genuinely offensive.”
Back to the left, Salon paints Trump as a Frankenstein created by a pathetic GOP:
“What makes Trump unique isn’t his shameless sophistry or his crass rhetoric; he simply does what most politicians – especially on the right – have always done, only better and without limits. He knows his supporters – a majority of whom are old and white – don’t care about policies (many of them have been voting against their own interests for years anyway), and so he goes straight to their sense of identity. Of course he can’t make Mexico pay for a wall, but promising to do so assuages their fears of a country in which white people will, eventually, be a minority. If they cared about their jobs, that rage would be directed at the corporations that shipped them overseas, not the brown people coming here to park cars and pick fruit…
“The GOP now consists mostly of old and angry white people who are rejecting a world they don’t like or understand. The nativism and hysteria animating Trump’s campaign has been at the center of Republican politics for a long time – Trump is simply capitalizing on it.”
Old angry white guys, blatant bigotry, confederacy of dunces. Not much attempt here to discern why Trump has won the first two primary states—and giving him more ammunition that the press treats him unfairly.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.