Donald Trump vs. the Media: Who's Winning the War of Words?
A renewed attack on Megyn Kelly and a new fight with Jorge Ramos could be an opportunity for one of Trump's opponents, says analyst Matthew Dowd. But they "can't bring a butter knife to a Howitzer battle."
As another Republican debate looms — this one Sept. 16 on CNN — frontrunner Donald Trump barnstormed Iowa where he kicked the country’s most popular Spanish-speaking journalist out of an event and doubled down on sexist broadsides aimed at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
The latest round of barbs have garnered Trump more attention in his battle with the media — a popular conservative bogeyman. But it has also left many wondering when Trump’s time in the spotlight will come to an end.
"You have to give him credit, he has an intuitive sense for what a certain segment of voters will respond to," said ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd. "I don't think he’s going to suffer right now."
But with the caucuses five and a half months away, Trump’s biggest enemy is time. "It could easily wear thin on people," added Dowd.
And Trump’s renewed attack on Kelly — which prompted a lengthy statement from Fox News chief Roger Ailes — had many strategists scratching their heads. (Of course, Newt Gingrich also experimented with attacking Fox News in 2012, albeit in a less public and extreme fashion.)
"What led him to do this?" Bob Shrum, the seasoned Democratic political strategist and current Warschaw Professor of Politics at the University of Southern California, wondered about Trump’s Monday night Twitter tirade against Kelly.
"Does he sit down and just fly into rages? I’m not sure I’d want someone like that with his finger on the nuclear trigger. I think it was very foolish on his part," Shrum said.
Trump had already emerged from a one-sided war with Kelly after she questioned him about past misogynist remarks about women during the Aug. 6 debate on the network. But his latest round of fire — which came Monday night as Kelly returned to her Fox News program after a 10-day, post-debate vacation — prompted Ailes to publicly defend one of his most popular personalities.
Deeming Trump’s attack "as unacceptable as it is disturbing," Ailes called on Trump to apologize. Trump, of course, rejected the suggestion. Kelly’s Fox News colleagues, including Bret Baier and Bill Hemmer, are now defending her. If it pits Trump's supporters against what is arguably one of the most potent platforms for GOP aspirants, observers say Ailes is playing the long game.
"Roger Ailes is doing the exactly the right thing in defending Megyn Kelly," added Shrum. "He has to defend her. It’s important to the integrity of the network."
Still, the public rebuke from Ailes does not seem to have chastened Trump. On Tuesday evening he set off a new feud — this one with Univision’s Jorge Ramos, a Mexican immigrant who is viewed as Spanish-speaking media’s Walter Cronkite. Trump’s security team tossed Ramos out of an event in Iowa when Ramos attempted to buttonhole the candidate on his incendiary rhetoric about immigrants. Ramos was granted re-entry to the event a short while later. And on Wednesday morning Trump appeared on NBC’s Today show to answer Matt Lauer’s questions about his latest kerfuffle while Ramos was on ABC’s Good Morning America.
"Never in my life — and I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years — have I been thrown out of a press conference," Ramos told George Stephanopoulos on GMA.
It was all predictable. As Trump's candidacy has blurred the lines among politics, news and entertainment, it’s increasingly clear that the media is re-enforcing Trumps antics.
"It’s not just confined to Fox. They’re all part of it," said Michael Meyers, the Republican strategist and president of TargetPoint Consulting. "Morning Joe has turned into the Trump hour; the market's in a free fall and all they’re talking about is Trump. Marco Rubio and Scott Walker are delivering fairly serious speeches this week on China. I can’t imagine they’ll get even an eighth of the coverage of Trump."
The circus atmosphere surrounding Trump has produced a ratings bonanza (more than 24 million viewers watched the Fox News debate). And Trump continues to be a sought after media get in spite of his ubiquity. In August, Trump has garnered 50 to 60 percent "of all coverage received by the GOP field," according to Nate Silver. "In other words," wrote Silver on FiveThirtyEight, "Trump is getting as much coverage as the rest of the Republican field combined."
Meyers likened Trump to "the new kid at high school who shows up and beats up the playground bully. The media is one of the bullies out there. It’s a good way to get popular quick. But if you want to get elected president that one act is not enough. He has to find another act."
Still, Trump has at least temporarily upended the political system, running not on policy issues but on his personality. In doing so he has tapped into voter frustration with Washington cronyism with a from-the-gut style that has succeeded in not only positioning him ahead of the pack, but diminished his opponents in the process.
"It’s all persona. It’s all bravado. He creates an aura around him," added Dowd. "It seems the other candidates around him have gotten smaller and are operating from a place of fear."
Jeb Bush, the scion of a political dynasty, "has now been turned into this small figure."
But therein lies an opportunity. Adds Dowd: "If somebody’s able to stand up and slay him they’re going to emerge. But they can’t bring a butter knife to a howitzer battle."