On July 21, 2016, just hours before he accepted the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump and I sat down for an interview. What he said on that occasion would serve as a remarkably candid foreshadowing of how Trump would handle his relationship with the media in what, on that day, seemed the unlikely event that he would actually become president.
“I don’t need you guys anymore,” Trump told me.
He pointed to his millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook, explaining that the days of television anchors and commentators acting as gatekeepers between newsmakers and the public were essentially over. Without discernible acrimony, Trump trotted out one of the early versions of what would eventually become a leitmotif of his presidency: The media was made up of largely terrible people trafficking in fake news. There was nothing personal in the observation. It was the unsheathing of a multipurpose device, one he used adroitly in tandem with the endlessly adaptable political vehicle provided by social media during the election campaign and now during his presidency.
Is there any reason to believe that what worked for Trump before he was elected and while in the White House won’t be equally effective after he leaves office?
There is a disarming innocence to the assumption that whether by impeachment, indictment or a cleansing electoral redo in 2020, President Trump will be exorcised from the White House and that thereby he and his base will largely revert to irrelevance.
It imagines that, for some reason, Trump in defeat or disgrace will become a quieter, humbler, more restrained presence on Twitter and Facebook than heretofore. It assumes further that CNN and Fox News and MSNBC, perhaps chastened by the consequences of their addictive coverage of Trump the Candidate and Trump the President, will resist the urge to pay similar attention to Trump the Exile.
Let the record show that Trump has launched the careers of numerous media stars and that expressions of indignant outrage on the left and breathless admiration on the right have resulted in large, entirely nonpartisan profits for the industry of journalism. Why anyone should assume that Trump and those who cherish or loathe him in the news business will easily surrender such a hugely symbiotic relationship is hard to understand.
It is all but inevitable that whoever succeeds Trump in the White House will be perceived by 30 to 40 percent of the voting public as illegitimate — and that the former president will enthusiastically encourage them in this perception. Whatever his failings, Trump is a brilliant self-promoter and provocateur. He showed no embarrassment, either as candidate or president, about using his high visibility to benefit his business interests. Untethered from any political responsibility whatsoever, he can be expected to capitalize fully on his new status as political martyr and leader of a new “resistance” that will make today’s look supine.
The dirty little secret about the United States’ relationship with Trump is that we have become addicted to him. His ups, his downs, his laughs, his frowns are (as the lovely song from “My Fair Lady” once put it in another context altogether) “second nature to [us] now, like breathing out and breathing in.”
When he fails to tweet for even a few hours, Trumpologists search for meaning in the silence. Hours are devoted on cable television, each and every day, to examining the entrails of his most recent utterances. Has there been a day in the past two years without a Trump-related story on the front page of every major U.S. newspaper? How does the president lie to us? Let us count the ways. And we do, endlessly, meticulously.
Do you believe for a moment that Americans are ready to give that up merely because, for one reason or another, Trump has been obliged to reoccupy Trump Tower full-time?
A President Pence would not satisfy that hunger. Nor, for now at least, is it easy to discern within the growing ranks of potential Democratic candidates a man or woman with a matching aura of glitz, a similar degree of shamelessness, a comparable pairing of so much to be humble about with a total lack of humility.
A new president may provide a sense of relief and normalcy. But he or she will not satisfy our craving for outrage. Trump’s detractors are outraged by him. His supporters are outraged with him. He is a national Rorschach test. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. One way or another, Trump will be renewed for another season.
He was a peace president who ordered ten times more drone strikes than George W. Bush. He was the peace president who left office with American boots on the ground in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and scattered across North Africa. His administration refueled Saudi jets to enable the indiscriminate Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. Oh, and he droned American citizens abroad without even a nod to due process.
He was the environmentalist president so hostile to fossil fuels that he presided over an extraordinary boom in domestic oil production:
.. He was the compassionate president who admitted a grand total of fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees in the first five years of the Syrian civil war. He was the compassionate president whose deportations peaked at an average of 34,000 people in fiscal year 2012.
.. Indeed, I’d argue that both conservative and liberal media outlets had an interest in amplifying Obama’s progressive credentials and advancing a fundamentally flawed narrative about the nature and character of his presidency. Exaggerating his progressive virtue (or vice) kept partisans engaged. It kept ramping up the stakes of our political conflicts, and it contributed immensely to the Flight 93 mentality that dominates politics today.
.. How much time did conservative media spend debating Obama’s willingness to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” even while he was droning, bombing, and shelling terrorists from Afghanistan to Libya? How much time did the liberal media spend amplifying Obama’s desire for peace with Iran even as he helped Saudi Arabia wage its proxy war against Iran in Yemen, at a simply enormous toll in innocent human life?
.. By failing to provide perspective, the media creates a sense of outrage when none is justified and inoculates the public against injustice when injustice is real.
.. we act as if the immense American ship of state lurches from right to left with each new election, when the reality is often that the turns in crucial areas are gradual.
President Trump is operating from an ancient political playbook.
Gail: Perhaps my single favorite revelation was that our self-made billionaire was earning $200,000 a year from the family empire when he was a 3-year-old. Do you think all the nation’s toddlers are now eyeing their parents and wondering, “O.K., where’s my income stream?”
.. The idea that the president is self-made is almost as laughable as the notion that he writes (or, for that matter, reads) his own books.
.. The Democrats need to come up with a compelling, forward-looking agenda for the 2020 elections. Demanding an end to tax loopholes would allow them to talk about real change for the future while eviscerating Donald Trump at the same time.
.. Do Trump fans care about this stuff? Thanks to our colleagues, we know he’s a phony billionaire who represents all the things they in theory hate about the New York economy. But he’s already run a populist anti-immigration campaign that managed to jump right over the undocumented workers he’s hired.
.. Mainly, though, they don’t care because it’s an investigation that dwells on the past, while the presidency is about the present and the future. And while the rest of us were busy tearing our hair out over Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the unemployment rate dipped to its lowest level since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the Dow hit another record and trade disaster was averted when a new Nafta agreement was reached by Mexico, Canada and the U.S.
All of which is to say that you’re right. Democrats really do need to come up with a forward-looking agenda for 2020, because if all they have to talk about are the Trump family’s tax dodges from 30 years ago, or if they try to relitigate the 2016 election, they will lose again... Back in days of yore the media was mainly TV networks and big newspapers that wanted to communicate with a large audience. Now the stars are — people who yell. Blogs, Twitter — we’ve been painfully aware since 2016 that power belongs to whoever can get their followers really, really worked up... There’s a lot of talk about divisions between left and center among the Democrats, but it doesn’t compare to what’s happened to the Republicans. It’s really two parties, with the establishment so terrified of the Trump train, they’re afraid to peep... I wish the G.O.P. were more divided: One of the most depressing political facts of our day is the extent to which Trump has captured the party, leaving conservatives like me who oppose him feeling politically homeless... But you’re right. It does feel different this time. And I think the difference is that the fights aren’t really about policy. They’re about our personal experiences and deepest fears... By the end a vote for Kavanaugh was a vote for a guy who went out of his way to rally the troops by turning the nomination into a partisan us-against-the-Democrats battle. I realize the Democrats were not exactly working above the fray themselves. But the Supreme Court is about transcending partisanship. That’s supposed to be the whole point. And if the justices don’t always live up to that goal, that doesn’t mean you pick a new guy who’s given up the fight before he starts... something tells me that if the nominee were Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats would look for a reason to postpone the vote, hope to retake the Senate and then … take revenge for Merrick Garland by refusing to hold a vote.
.. Gail: Not necessarily agreeing, but Merrick Garland is an open sore. Particularly since Mitch McConnell keeps gloating about it.
.. One thing we can probably agree on is that the process managed to degrade and demean just about everyone who participated in it. Blasey never intended to go public, but Washington can’t keep a secret so her name got leaked. I doubt Kavanaugh intended to go on the attack quite the way he did, but, yet he was advised by White House counsel Don McGahn to “channel his outrage and indignation.”
.. The news media reported stories that otherwise violated normal journalistic standards. And most senators made fools of themselves one way or another: The low point for me was Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, who famously lied about his military service, lecturing Kavanaugh on the legal concept of “false in one thing, false in everything,” as I noted in my column.
.. my constant preoccupations: the way this country is organized to disenfranchise urban voters and empower people from rural areas.
.. The 59 million people in California and New York are going to elect Democratic senators. But they’ll be completely canceled out if the less than two million people in Wyoming and Montana decide to go Republican.
Steve Bannon doesn’t do subtle. So it’s no surprise that there’s nothing subtle about the new movie President Trump’s onetime political guru has produced to energize the Trump base for this year’s midterm elections.
It’s entitled “Trump at War,” and it’s an hour and 15 minutes of pure Trumpian adrenaline. It opens with a series of shots of Trump supporters being attacked by angry opponents, shifts to outtakes of Trump supporters proudly accepting the “deplorables” label bestowed by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, runs through a long series of angry ripostes at Trump detractors and praise of administration policy moves, and closes with dire warnings of the need to vote for Republicans in 2018 to head off efforts by liberals to impeach the president.
Mr. Bannon previewed the film for some Republican supporters in Dallas recently, but the big premiere is scheduled for Sept. 9—chosen because it is the second anniversary of the speech in which Mrs. Clinton used the “basket of deplorables” phrase. The location? The very club in Manhattan where Mrs. Clinton made the speech, which has been rented for the occasion.
.. Republicans face a Democratic party whose activists appear exceptionally motivated—to campaign, donate money and turn out in November.
Republicans need something to match that fervor. That something is the Trump base—and the best motivating tools are anger and fear.
.. In this case, that means specifically the fear that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, New York prosecutors and a Democratic Congress will conspire to kick Mr. Trump out of office. That’s why Republicans are talking about the specter of impeachment, not Democrats. Democrats know impeachment talk is a surefire way to motivate the other side.
.. Right now, independent voters are hard to read. Their sentiments have been shifting around a lot in Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling in recent months. As a general rule, they have a low regard for Mr. Trump personally and appear weary of the atmosphere of constant crisis around him. But the polling also indicates they increasingly like how Republicans are handling the economy, appreciate the GOP tax cut and think the party is changing the way things work in Washington.
That leaves moderate Republicans, of whom Mr. Bannon says simply: “We need RINOs.”
.. More conventional Republicans may be disdainful of Mr. Trump personally, but they also think the tax cuts, deregulatory policies and judicial nominations they like are imperiled if he goes down.
.. For the Trump base, impeachment talk is a source of outrage. Soft Republicans dislike it for less emotional, more practical reasons.