How Attacking the Media Will Make America Great Again and Take Inches Off Your Waistline

If you believe McClatchy, baiting the media as Pres. Trump does “is now a deliberate strategy to help GOP candidates win elections fueled by public hatred of reporters.”  Why? “The conservative base needed more of an enemy than the Democratic candidate to become engaged.”

I noted last week that Trump’s own support is deteriorating, while strong opposition is growing, which suggests that Trump is: (a) being beaten in his fight against the media; (b) turning people off independent of the media; or (c) some combination of (a) and (b).  No matter how low your opinion of the media is, none of these answers recommends a media-baiting as a strategy.  It might energize the base voters most likely to turn out for the midterm elections…or it could be very stale beyond a narrow segment of that base 17 months from now.

Another risk in the strategy has to do with Trump himself.  Whatever else one might think about the man, Donald Trump comes by his love/hate relationship with the media honestly.  Their condescension and derision has fueled him for decades.

Consequently, when Trump attacks the media, he does so with complete authenticity.  It may be part of his shtick, but it’s part that is no act.  Other Republicans may lack that backstory and that authenticity.  They are just as likely to come off as posers; George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole certainly did when they tried “Annoy The Media” as an appeal.

Worse, signaling this strategy this early suggests the Congressional GOP already doesn’t expect to be running on its achievements.  People will be tempted to blame that on Trump, when the blame deserves to fall broadly on GOP legislators and voters.

One salutary effect Trump has had on politics is to publicly clarify some important points regarding the GOP.  Some traditional, full-spectrum conservatives were long in denial about their influence on the party.  Trump’s rise was a rude but probably necessary awakening for them.

Trump’s election has revealed a GOP House that had little appetite for delivering on their long-promised repeal of Obamacare.  The healthcare bill they passed is a mixed bag and dead on arrival in the GOP Senate.  Indeed, the Senate may tank healthcare reform entirely to move on to tax reform.  That’s an amusing idea, given that tax reform is arguably more difficult, particularly without the expected savings from healthcare reform.

Trump also submitted a budget that ostensibly seeks to slash projected domestic discretionary spending.  It’s a budget widely expected to be ignored by the GOP Congress.  Some unnamed Members of Congress are talking about using reconciliation to reduce mandatory spending; the fact that they remain anonymous isn’t a good start.

As Rich Lowry recently observed, “a weak president (low approval numbers, little clout) is now matched with a weak Congress.”  Lowry is correct that this is the culmination of a long trend of Congress abdicating its constitutional role.

OTOH, Congress was pretty busy in the first year of the Obama administration and likely would have been even if Obama had been a bumbler.  A Dem Congress moved some of Bill Clinton’s priorities despite early low approval numbers.

The failures of the GOP Congress cannot be blamed entirely on Trump’s lack of leadership.  Rather, Trump’s election has exposed the lack of interest in policy among GOP lawmakers, just as his nomination did among GOP primary voters.  Ironically, this also probably includes Trump’s supposed priorities.  Some version of tax reform may pass to please the donor class, but that’s more business than ideology.

I could offer the hot take that the Dems have tended to suffer in midterms by overreaching (see 1994, 2010) and that perhaps a do-nothing GOP Congress that runs against he media is the safer course to preserving their majorities.  But if the voters who wanted some inchoate notion of “change” notice Congress isn’t delivering, they could wind up in trouble.

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