It took some unknown number-cruncher at the AP to make it official, but the media went into breaking-news mode yesterday in declaring Donald Trump the Republican nominee.
He was, of course, already the de facto nominee. But after all our months of obsessing over 1,237, there was something about seeing him exceed that magic number that underscored the magnitude of what Trump had just pulled off. I was about to go on the air and was thinking, who needs an election-night speech when you’ve got cable news?
But while this should be a unifying moment for Trump, that hasn’t been the case, at least as far as the media are concerned. When I saw a banner about his “smash and burn” tactics on “Morning Joe,” it was clear that the way he’s running his campaign is still a matter of hot debate for the press, as it has been since his maiden ride down the Trump Tower escalator.
The signature moment was when Trump went to New Mexico and slammed the state’s governor, Susana Martinez. Given his push for party unity and his weakness with women and Hispanic, I fail to see the benefit in his hitting the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, who happens to be a Republican.
Yes, Martinez has failed to endorse him, and yes, she’s criticized the way he talks about immigration. But why go there when New Mexico is a state he’d like to win?
The criticism was mild by Trumpian standards, hardly rising to the level of Little Marco or Lyin’ Ted. But his recitation of New Mexico statistics also shows that it was premeditated.
“It’s your governor’s fault,” Trump said at a rally. “We have to get your governor and get going. She’s got to do a better job, okay? Your governor has got to do a better job.” (Martinez stood her ground, saying she wouldn’t be bullied into backing anyone.)
But Trump was just getting warmed up. He repeated his shots at Mitt Romney as a “choke artist” and added a new image, that the last GOP nominee waddles “like a penguin.” He was back to wondering whether low-energy Jeb might get a burst of energy and endorse him.
And then Trump took on Bill Kristol, who has been leading the charge for a conservative third-party candidate.
“Nobody ever heard of this guy,” Trump declared. “Why do you keep putting a guy on television who’s been proven wrong for so many years?”
Well, Kristol is a pretty prominent conservative as the editor of the Weekly Standard and a former GOP strategist who worked for Dan Quayle in the White House.
Noting that Kristol was a major Iraq war booster, Trump said: “All the guy wants to do is kill people, go to war and kill people, even though he knows it’s not working, although he doesn’t know because he’s not smart enough.” And later on: “What a loser!”
Kristol’s fair game, but is this a good use of Trump’s time? Kristol later tweeted that he wouldn’t respond because he shouldn’t “punch down.”
It’s one thing for Trump to mock Elizabeth Warren, who’s been eviscerating him, as a “Pocahontas” with “high cheekbones.” But why strafe all these Republican targets?
The negative explanation would be that Donald Trump just can’t help himself, that he doesn’t have the discipline to refrain from responding to every slight. And if the offenders happen to be Republicans, at a time when he’s trying to win Paul Ryan’s support, so be it. They’re probably losers, anyway.
The positive explanation would be that Trump’s street-fighting style is what got him the nomination, that it’s pointless for aides to try to tone down his act. He seems to be consolidating rank-and-file GOP support, and maybe his backers see the internecine fights as another sign of his independence.
The billionaire is now the last Republican standing. But he’s going to get more bad press if he keeps slapping Republicans around—which, of course, just gives him a chance to unload on his favorite target of all.
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.