Let’s take a giant step back and review what this wild, intense and sometimes insane presidential campaign has been about.
The size of his hands and the size of something else. Wiping the server with a cloth. Pneumonia. Basket of deplorables. Mexican rapists. Blood coming out of her wherever. Look at that face. A six-foot portrait. Russian hackers. A Scooby van. Nude modeling photos. Disgustingly dishonest media. Birtherism. Lee Harvey Oswald. Howard Stern. The Pope. Cocaine. A Mexican-American judge. Khizr Khan. Rosie O’Donnell. Monica Lewinsky. Miss Universe. And, as of Friday, a sex tape.
It somehow seems at odds with an election in which the country is furious at the political establishment and anxious about the economy and terrorism.
Politics always has its share of sideshows, but this is getting ridiculous. And it’s amplified by the hyperspeed nature of tweetstorms, as well as a media business that loves spats and feuds and scandals and is bored by policy discussions. (Unless they're about Donald Trump's 20-year-old tax returns, just disclosed by the New York Times, which said he "could have" used a huge writeoff to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades.)
But the low road is also being driven by the candidates, especially Trump, whose tabloid-style approach to politics--and weaponizing of Twitter—has driven the coverage from the day that he descended that escalator.
Trump’s latest assault, starting at 3:20 am Friday, was a series of attacks on the former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado:
“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?”
Why did he revive a story that was starting to fade? How does it help him, particularly with women, to be going after a beauty pageant winner he had criticized 20 years ago for gaining weight?
Hillary Clinton had raised Machado, and her allegation that Trump once called her Miss Piggy and Miss Housekeeping, in the debate--all very calculating, since her team had a video ready to go and Machado ready for a TV blitz. Most candidates on the receiving end would pivot away from that as soon as possible. But Trump doesn’t like to back away from a fight, even if it’s not a fight that helps him.
For the record, I researched Trump’s charge as a matter of journalistic due diligence. The so-called sex tape, reported by Radar, was a 10-year-old scene from a Spanish TV reality show in which Machado and the actor were going at it under the covers--no visible flesh.
So this is where we are in Campaign 2016: “Check out sex tape.”
Trump, meanwhile, continues to get hit by both conservative and liberal commentators. From the right, Charles Krauthammer:
“And now, less than six weeks from the election, what is the main event of the day? A fight between the Republican presidential nominee and a former Miss Universe, whom he had 20 years ago called Miss Piggy and other choice pejoratives. Just a few weeks earlier, we were seized by a transient hysteria over a minor Hillary Clinton lung infection hyped to near-mortal status. The latest curiosity is Donald Trump’s 37 sniffles during the first presidential debate. (People count this sort of thing.) Dr. Howard Dean has suggested a possible cocaine addiction.
“In a man who doesn’t even drink coffee? This campaign is sinking to somewhere between zany and totally insane. Is there a bottom?”
Hey, we have more than a month to go.
From the left, Paul Krugman, riffing in the New York Times on the debate:
“So how could someone like Mr. Trump have been in striking position for the White House? (He may still be there, since we have yet to see what effect the debate had on the polls.)
“Part of the answer is that a lot more Americans than we’d like to imagine are white nationalists at heart.” Okay, so a lot of Trump supporters are…deplorable.
As for Clinton’s, Krugman blames the media:
“She got Gored. That is, like Al Gore in 2000, she ran into a buzz saw of adversarial reporting from the mainstream media, which treated relatively minor missteps as major scandals, and invented additional scandals out of thin air.
“Meanwhile, her opponent’s genuine scandals and various grotesqueries were downplayed or whitewashed.”
It seems to me that Trump’s controversies, rather than being downplayed, have received immense coverage. And that the press hardly has the power to drive Clinton’s honesty and trustworthy numbers to record lows.
But then, the coverage of this campaign sometimes seems as crazy as the race itself. Especially now that Alicia Machado has become a household name.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.