Donald Trump likes to boast about how little he’s spent on his campaign compared to his primary opponents. That may be true. But let’s be honest here; Trump gets millions of dollars in free advertising because the mainstream media is obsessed with him. They’re searching for ratings, and they’ve found their proverbial cash cow.
It has been extraordinarily difficult for other Republicans – consistent and proven conservatives like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio – to compete with Trump because of the media’s fixation on him. That’s the media’s prerogative. Perhaps, though, their motives aren’t necessarily journalistic. The coverage seems almost politically strategic because they believe Trump would be easier for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to beat. Surprise! The media is pretty much a publicity arm of the Democratic National Committee. And, besides, most television news networks now resemble entertainment programming rather than any actual informational content.
Trump has proven the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Although much of the media attention he has been given has been negative, the constant repetition of his name, face, and brand has clearly helped him more than the substance of the reporting has hurt him. Meanwhile, substantive, policy-driven messages from other candidates have been drowned out so spectacularly, that we have witnessed a noticeable lowering of tone from all the candidates, with the most recent debates devolving into little more than shouting matches. But what else can one expect when the media teaches candidates that the only way to get noticed is with name-calling and hyperbole.
Furthermore, the constant trumpeting of poll number (many of which have proven drastically inaccurate) gave Trump an early aura of inevitability. It’s hard to imagine that didn’t discourage voters who otherwise might have opposed Trump, by making them feel as if their states were not competitive. It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of politics: the media changes the outcome by measuring it—in such a blatantly biased way.
It really does feel like Ryan Seacrest is going to show up on screen and ask debate watchers to text in their pick to move on to the next round of American Idol. But the media deserves only part of the blame. The Republican establishment may actually be the worst culprit in this presidential race turned reality television show.
The conservative grassroots has been crying out for change. They gave Republicans the majority in the House in 2010, but nothing changed. They gave Republicans the majority in the Senate in 2014, but nothing changed. They ousted John Boehner in 2015, and now it looks like Paul Ryan has yet to prove that he will govern like a conservative.
It’s the Republicans’ failure to do any of the things people elected them to do – cut spending, stop corporate welfare, tackle the debt, repeal ObamaCare, and on and on—that has forced the grassroots’ hand. People starving for leadership will do desperate things. You can’t blame a drowning man for reaching for a life raft, even if that raft has terrible hair and authoritarian tendencies.