Since a U.S. Presidential election year is now underway and since the Mainstream Media, for all its credibility problems, still supply the news coverage that so many voters rely on in whole or in part, it seems important to present some evidence that, nearly four years after Donald Trump’s victorious presidential run, at least two newspapers arguably at the top of the journalistic heap still have no clue as to what or why it happened.
Both examples deal with President Trump’s capture of the Republican Party, and the most disturbing of the two examples comes from The New York Times. The title of its December 21 piece – “Fear and Loathing: How Donald Trump Took Over the Republican Party” – tells you pretty much all you need to know about its perspective. Authors Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman do refer in passing to “Mr. Trump’s deviations from longstanding party orthodoxy on issues like foreign policy and tariffs,” but they apparently believe that they’ve had nothing whatever to do with the GOP’s transformation.
Instead, they portray the post-2016 party as nothing but a cult of personality, comprised of voters and a majority of office-holders so blindly devoted to and terrified of Mr. Trump, respectively, that they’re determined to overlook supposedly dispositive proof of the President’s unfitness for the White House as his Ukraine policies.
In fact, Martin and Haberman are so incapable of attributing the President’s success to the policy disasters spearheaded by the political establishment’s right wing (Google “financial crisis” and “Great Recession”) that one of their sources for this claim is no less than the head of the Club for Growth – a leading anti-Trump orthodox conservative organization.
And when they encounter a more convincing explanation – an observation by a North Carolina Republican Congressman that Mr. Trump “has a complete connection with the average Republican voter and that’s given him political power here” – they simply leave it hanging.
Somewhat better – but more bewildering – is Jeff Stein’s December 27 Washington Post report on “Trump’s quest to shatter GOP economics reached its culmination in 2019.” Let’s give Stein his due for focusing on the substance (even though he seems to forget that major Trump departures from Republican dogma began on his first day in office – when the President pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement).
But his two paragraphs could not be weirder – even from a standard political standpoint:
“Whether [the Trump era shift] will permanently remake the Republican Party, on the other hand, remains an open question.
“‘Republican lawmakers privately still believe the deficit is a problem and support free trade — but they’re not going to say that publicly, because it’s not where their voters are,” said Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the libertarian-leaning Manhattan Institute. ‘I’m not sure Trump has changed the minds of Republican lawmakers as much as he has won over the base and lawmakers understand crossing the president is political suicide.’”
There’s no question that the long-term future of conservative, Trump-ian populism is still up in the air – if only because its triumph has been so sudden, and because largely as a result, its ability to create the institutional underpinnings needed for durability can’t be taken for granted.
But does Riedl really believe that Republican lawmakers matter to the party more than the base? That may be convenient for someone in a weakening establishment struggling to avoid the ash heap of history. But does Stein buy it? Or does his use of Riedl’s statement indicate that, like so many Mainstream Media reporters, he identifies with that weakening establishment, too?