Anyone who has watched at least five minutes of national news this past weekend heard about Donald Trump criticizing John McCain. Trump, critical of McCain’s lack of efforts on veterans’ affairs, declared, “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” The outrage has been fast and furious, from the left and the right.
Conventional wisdom is that Trump’s short lived presidential candidacy is done. The New York Post pronounced on their front page, “Trump is toast…Don Voyage.” The Washington Examiner declared Trump’s “political suicide.” The Wall Street Journal predicted his “inevitable self-immolation.” And these are all conservative publications. The political left was a bit conflicted in reacting to Trump as it’s not in their nature to rush to the defense of a Republican senator, or a former soldier.
To the casual news observer, the conventional wisdom is right. Trump has jumped the shark. Starting with his controversial comments on illegal immigration, culminating in his criticism of McCain’s war record, he has finally crossed the line and can kiss his presidential aspirations goodbye. But could conventional wisdom be wrong?
An Iowa poll conducted by Monmouth University, representing the first polling after Trump’s comments, “shows no change in his standing.” Scott Walker remains the favorite of Iowa Republicans, but Trump remains solidly in second place. A Washington Post poll straddling the day of his comments still shows Trump with twice the support of his closest rival. How can this be?
The first reason is that Americans distrust mass media. According to Gallup, only 40 percent of Americans are confident, “in the media’s ability report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” But don’t Trump’s words speak for themselves? Yes, if you heard the entirety of his interview with Frank Luntz. But if you happened only to catch the Washington Post’s reporting, you would not find The Donald’s actual words, but the Washington Post’s selective interpretation. As Sharyl Attkisson observed, “Trump actually said the opposite of what the Post lead sentence and video caption claim.”
Sloppy journalism, or a pattern? NBC doctored the George Zimmerman 9-11 call to portray Zimmerman as a racist. Brian Ross of ABC News, incorrectly tried to tie recently convicted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes with the Colorado Tea Party. When political agendas “trump” fair and accurate news reporting, thinking Americans tune out the major media.
The second reason is that much of the Washington DC political establishment is disconnected to the heartland of the country. Latte sipping, New York Times reading East Coast liberals have little in common with Iowa or Kansas voters, other than both groups having two arms and legs and walking upright. The New York Times book review of What’s the matter with Kansas? observes that the Midwest is considered “flyover country,” seen from 36,000 feet between the real civilizations on the two coasts. “A large number of the Democratic faithful view the Midwest and evangelical Christians as socially backward, politically amusing and religiously nutty — and the objects of this disdain are sick of it.”
The disaffected rubes between Manhattan and Malibu don’t care what the Sunday morning talking heads think of Trump, they form their opinions based in large part on what they read and hear, without the major media filters.
The third reason the conventional wisdom is wrong about Trump is that for a change here is a candidate who says what he means and means what he says. Most candidates in Trump’s shoes would be groveling for forgiveness after uttering anything negative about a fellow Republican. Trump didn’t back down, he doubled down. Compare and contrast to Democrat presidential candidate Martin O’Malley speaking at this past weekend’s Netroots Nations conference uttering the unspeakable, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” The audience turned on him and he folded like a cheap suit, apologizing and admitting “That was a mistake on my part and I meant no disrespect.”
Would Trump roll over like that? Would Trump capitulate like the Republican Congress in the face of Obama’s executive orders? Not a chance.
The odds hardly favor The Donald winning the Republican presidential nomination. He may be a flash in the pan candidate like Herman Cain. Or perhaps not. Finally, Republicans voters have a voice. Whether on illegal immigration or the do-nothing Republican political establishment, Trump is tapping into a modern version of Nixon’s silent majority. His message is resonating with many Republican voters, annoyed that the other Republican candidates are directing more vitriol at Trump than at Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Yet the establishment, whether at CNN or Fox News, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, can’t envision a world beyond their studios and newsrooms, where people are actually fed up with the direction of the country. Trump, residing outside of the establishment bubble, is tapping into this anger.