As the controversies mount and the poll numbers slide, the media are depicting Donald Trump’s campaign as a train wreck.
It’s been a rough patch, no question about it. But perhaps journalists are forgetting how many times they wrote this guy off during the primaries.
Maybe we’ll look back and say this is the period when Trump lost the election. But maybe he will bounce back and confound the media establishment that never gave him much of a chance of winning the Republican nomination.
After all, the press was horrified when Trump first proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, but that wound up helping him in the primaries. Is his stance going to be less popular after a radicalized Muslim killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub?
The pundits have understandably seized on Trump’s sinking numbers. A Bloomberg poll gives Hillary Clinton a 12-point lead, followed by a Washington Post poll showing Trump’s unfavorable at a stunning 70 percent. But the same survey showed a 55 percent negative rating for Clinton. Plus, it’s the middle of June.
For the mainstream media, three consecutive stories have combined to drive the negative reporting on Trump. This is aside from the frequently harsh commentary, with Trump that rare nominee who is getting hammered by commentators on the right—along with top Republican leaders—as well as the left.
The first was Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, saying he couldn’t be fair in the Trump University case because he is of Mexican heritage. The second was his response to the Orlando attack, derided in most news accounts as divisive, self-congratulatory and less than presidential. The last was his decision to yank credentials from the Washington Post over an inaccurate headline—something he now boasts about on the trail.
The New York Times pounces on Trump’s “apocalyptic speech,” saying “exploitation of fear” has long been part of American politics. But Trump “has intensified the power of fear in presidential politics by demonizing an entire religious group. And he has expanded the use of that power by stirring up fear in the aftermath of national traumas, like the San Bernardino, Calif., attack and now the Orlando shooting, that traditionally elicited measured and soothing responses from political leaders.”
My question: Are soothing responses enough at a time when the country is actually afraid?
The Washington Post plays up GOP dissent: “Top Republicans joined with President Obama and other Democrats Tuesday in sharply condemning Donald Trump’s reaction to the nightclub massacre in Orlando, decrying his anti-Muslim rhetoric and his questioning of Obama’s allegiances as divisive and out of step with America’s values.”
Actually, most of them didn’t “condemn” Trump. Paul Ryan, for instance: “I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country.” But it’s noteworthy that Sen. Bob Corker, who has been supportive of Trump, is saying he’s “disappointed.”
Politico’s headline is “Hill Republicans Despondent over Trump”:
“A palpable mix of despair and resignation has permeated the Senate Republican Conference. Many lawmakers are openly frustrated, and refusing to defend the comments and actions of their own standard-bearer.”
And this is without even getting into the commentary, such as a Times editorial calling Trump's post-Orlando comments "offensive" and "un-American."
Trump is in a hole at the moment, but that doesn’t mean he can’t climb out. The terrorism issue could wind up helping him, and voters worried about gun control tend to be very motivated. He’s not running against a wildly popular Democrat. He’s still an outsider in a year when people are fed up with politics as usual, and promising change after eight years of Barack Obama.
The press should be careful about portraying his campaign as “Apocalypse Now.” Sometimes movies don’t have a predictable ending.
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.