The more incendiary his rhetoric and the more nonsensical his righteous utterings, the more news and public attention Donald Trump rakes in. The real estate entrepreneur, reality show host, and socialite has flirted with the presidential candidacy before. But this time around, without a dominant Republican candidate for the 2012 race in sight, he seems more engaged than in previous pre-campaign periods.
Tapping into the charge that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore not qualified to be president, Trump has moved into the realm of crazy conspiracy theories at the right fringe of the Tea Party crowd and into the world of the unreal.
At first sight that seems ironic for the host of a reality show unless he simply throws his rhetorical bombs in a clever effort to revive the sliding rating numbers for his pitiful show – if only by drawing in the “Birthers” who call the sitting president “The UsurpingpResident Obama” on their web site.
It doesn’t matter whether the talking heads in radio and television or the reporters and columnists of the print media take Donald Trump serious or not, the mere volume of the coverage he receives is mindboggling since he has not taken preliminary or semi-official steps towards the presidential candidacy as have Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney and perhaps Michele Bachmann.
A cursory review of television and radio transcripts for the last month from March 13th through April 12th (contained in the Lexis/Nexis electronic archives) reveals that Trump was far more often in the news than all other mentioned contenders for the Republican nomination. As the following list shows, Trump was the topic or appeared or was mentioned in more than 700 radio and TV segments compared to less than 400 for Romney in second place and less for the rest.
Donald Trump 708
Mitt Romney 371
Sarah Palin 358
Newt Gingrich 304
Michele Bachmann 295
Tim Pawlenty 186
Mike Huckabee 181
Haley Barbour 127
The media, particularly cable but increasingly broadcast networks, thrive on controversy, conflict, and aggressive rhetoric. Just as terrorist bombs are assured of massive news coverage, rhetorical bombs are sure to result in media and public attention.
Just as terrorists and the media are in a symbiotic relationship, aggressive, colorful, controversial public figures—whether from politics, entertainment, or business—are in a symbiotic relationship with the media as well. They feed of each other in that the real and rhetorical bomb throwers get the publicity they want and the media get the news that they believe news consumers crave.
Thus, the media and Trump make good bedfellows. While most in the media don’t dare to criticize Trump and, indeed, seem to encourage him to run, those who point to his shortcomings become the targets of his wrath.
After New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a critical piece about him in which she wrote:
“Donald Trump has run faux campaigns for president before, flirting with the Democrats and independents. This time, he’s playing a conservative Republican. By 2016, he’ll probably be talking about his affinity for the Alaskan Independence Party or the Whigs.”
He fired off a letter to-the-editor in which he showcased his inflated ego by putting down Collins’ writing ability and noting of that criticism “coming from me, who has written many bestsellers.” In a follow-up column, Collins refuted the “birther” evidence that Trump had listed in his letter point for point.
As for Trump, there are many reasons why he (along with several of the other mentioned hopefuls) isn’t presidential material. Not the least of those reasons is that he cannot stand the heat in form of the inevitable criticism that comes with running for the highest office.
As corporate boss, he can demand that his orders are followed and never questioned by the people he hires and fire those who act otherwise.
That’s not how it works in politics.