If Donald Trump wants to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, he will have start taking himself more seriously. And by that I mean putting together an operation that’s competent, credible, and creative. In particular, Trump, as a Republican, will have to get smarter about dealing with the mainstream media. Here’s the short version: MSM reporters are not your friend, so don’t trust them!
Trump is certifiably a brilliant businessman, best-selling author, and TV star. And, of course, he’s a consummate self-promoter. Nothing wrong with that; this is, after all, America. And as for media relations, in his own circle, he’s a champ; he has a demonstrated mastery of the New York City-centric tabloids.
In other words, if Trump were happy just to be a famous rich guy, that would be end-of-story. After all, he is 67; he has been at the top for decades. Plenty of billionaires would be satisfied with all that and nothing more.
Yet Trump clearly does want more. He seems to have had the run-for-President bug since the 1980s, and over the decades, he has put forth distinctly center-right policy opinions on issues ranging from tax policy to entitlement reform to the Middle East. So why shouldn’t he run? Can anyone say that the last few presidents have been so great that they prove that only career politicians know what they’re doing? Why not someone with a strong business background? And a fresh vision?
Yes, Trump is in his mid-60s now, but Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected to the White House in 1980, and Hillary Clinton will be 69 in 2016. In addition to deep pockets, Trump undeniably has a sort of New Yawk-meets-Vega$ kind of charisma. So after eight years of Slick Willie and scandals, eight more years of “moral clarity” and disasters–and then eight years of teleprompters, division, and decline, maybe we’re ready for something new; maybe we need a true dealmaker with an eye toward the pro-jobs, pro-business bottom line.
Yet to get anywhere near the Republican presidential nomination in ’16, let alone the White House, Trump still has a lot to learn. Exhibit A is the February 13 BuzzFeed profile on Trump; the headline says it all: “36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump.”
The author of the hit piece, McKay Coppins, had close access to Trump for a day and a half, from New Hampshire to Florida–and he depicts Trump as some sort of self-indulgent sultan, surrounded by yes-men:
Within the bubble of luxury and loyalty Trump has created for himself, he hears about his own greatness every day from people on his payroll, or people who profit from his TV show, or people who are simply excited to see a famous person in real life.
The BuzzFeed hit piece continues in that derisive vein, for thousands and thousands of words. It provides no insight into what made Trump so successful or how his success might translate into America’s success.
Trump would be politically effective, for example, if he were to apply to the country his own corporate enthusiasm. In Trumpian parlance, everything he touches is “the greatest,” or “the best.” So why not apply that same ego and energy to the United States? Why not articulate a broad vision of America as Number One?
That is, Number One militarily, Number One economically, Number One in everything.
Trump’s triumphalism would become the sort of collective patriotic language that runs counter to the language of both liberals on the left and libertarians on the right. Today, neither extreme thinks much about the strength of the nation as a whole, preferring to focus on, say, diversity and climate change, or on more tax cuts for rich investors and privatizing Social Security.
In comparison to such avant-garde ideologizing, Trump’s practical background as builder/developer would serve him well; on the campaign stump, he could cite his own business background to talk up infrastructure, industry, and the jobs and strength they create.
Of course, it’s not a journalist’s job to tout Trump’s record or to outline his potential political appeal. Instead, an MSM reporter can do just the opposite–he can stab Trump in the back, as Coppins did. And why not? An MSM-er who thoughtfully analyzed a Republican’s attributes would be derided by his or her colleagues; the smart play, the way to be a journo-hero, is to dump all over a conservative.
There’s a long history of such knifing; right-of-center figures are especially vulnerable to being stabbed by MSM reporters they trust too much. Virgil is old enough to remember such epic burns as William Greider’s sensational detonation of Ronald Reagan’s first director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, back in 1981. Stockman thought he was off the record with Greider, then writing for The Atlantic. Yet the agreed-upon ground rules notwithstanding, Greider saw his chance for media glory, and he grabbed it. In the wake of the article, Stockman was nearly fired by Reagan, while Greider used his newfound prominence to write a book and gain a new string of lefty gigs.
More recently, we saw the same dolorous syndrome in Michael Hastings’ sucker-punching of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US Afghanistan commander, in Rolling Stone. Once again, McChrystal and his talkative team thought they were off the record, and once again, the reporter burned him. Within days of the article’s publication in 2010, McChrystal was fired by President Obama.
To be sure, Team Trump has hit back: We can read Trump’s side of the story here, told exclusively to Breitbart News’ Matthew Boyle. The counter-attack is effective, but it’s after-the-fact. Trump is on the defensive; meanwhile, Coppins is no doubt angling his employer for a raise.
So the big question is why Trump agreed to let Coppins get so close. He trusted his aide, Sam Nunberg, who seemed to be under the illusion that BuzzFeed was a) sympathetic and b) truly powerful in the politics world. And he was wrong on both counts: First, BuzzFeed’s political section, led by ex-Politico writer Ben Smith, is MSM to the core. Second, any online publication that makes its money with viral cute-cat pictures is not going to be taken seriously by either the political community or activists. (Still, it must be said that by letting down his guard, Trump let BuzzFeed build itself up just a little.)
If Trump wants to be president, he is going to have to up his game. As noted, a real campaign of competence, credibility, and creativity would mean formulating a positive agenda as well as a powerful critique, boiling it down to a pithy message, then creating events that highlight and drive that message. Could Trump do it? Yes. Will he do it? We’ll have to wait and see. But we know this much for sure: If he can’t handle BuzzFeed, he can’t handle real media, real rivals, and the real rigors of the campaign trail.