In 2012, many liberal media hosts gleefully referred to the Republican primary field as the “clown car,” as everyone from a pizza chain CEO to a previously disgraced congressman took turns atop the polls before Mitt Romney ultimately won the nomination.
Three years later, the media has seemingly chosen its ringleader for 2016’s version of the GOP circus: Donald Trump, a.k.a. the self-proclaimed “greatest jobs president God ever created.”
Trump’s already shown a knack for bashing his Republican opponents as career politicians who are all talk, no action, but a more interesting dynamic will be whether he can turn widespread media mockery into campaign momentum.
“Donald Trump’s tough-talking announcement speech was targeted at a certain audience that is fed up with Washington,” former VP for CBS News and ex-president of Fox News Joe Peyronnin told TheWrap. “He knew exactly what he was saying — even the insults to Mexicans — because it was designed to get him attention.”
Those insults depicted Mexican immigrants as criminals: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said during his announcement speech.
And in a primetime interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly Tuesday, the “Celebrity Apprentice” host doubled down: “You have to let me handle that,” Trump said about how he would get Mexico to build a wall around the U.S. southern border. “Mexico will start behaving… I will do something, they will not be thrilled.”
Peyronnin stresses that Trump knows how to capitalize on media criticism during the campaign, particularly in debates, where he’ll be formidable.
“Nobody markets the Trump brand better than Donald Trump,” Peyronnin said. “Can he win the presidency? No. But you can bet he will put on one hell of a show.”
In less than 24 hours, the Donald has done just that. “Bush didn’t have the IQ,” he told O’Reilly about former President George W. Bush’s failure to deal with enemies like Vladimir Putin. He then turned to George W.’s brother: “I’m not a big fan of Jeb Bush,” he said. “The last thing we need is another Bush.”
As TheWrap previously reported, Trump’s grandiose announcement speech ignited mass mockery throughout the media, with the New York Daily News even going so far as anointing Trump with a clown nose. Experts say the real estate magnate’s tough talk may not do much to boost his credibility.
“The Donald’s traction will not be a function of his media mouth,” director of Georgetown University’s media studies department Frank Sesno told TheWrap. “Bashing media and having media bash back will not change his persona or make him a more believable candidate.”
Another media veteran thinks the mockery has gone too far.
“I am not comfortable with mainstream political coverage that mocks,” Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute senior faculty for broadcasting and online, told TheWrap. “I realize Trump incites and invites such coverage, but for the moment he requires serious examination.”
Another expert says Trump provides a great marketing tool for the GOP.
“He’s a great brand for the Republican Party because he excites — whether or not you disagree with him — the media and his opponents,” branding and marketing expert John Tantillo told TheWrap. “He’s the excitement and entertainment brand, but he’s not a political brand.”
Trump’s abrasiveness, however, makes him unlikable as a candidate for the majority of Americans, as do his wealth, arrogance and overconfidence, Tantillo added. “People just can’t relate to that; they want in their president someone who will be able to solve their problems and the perception of Trump is he’s only capable of solving his problems.”
In a Republican field that could potentially grow to 20 candidates, the media will play a bigger role than ever before in elevating or destroying candidates. But while the initial reaction has been mocking, the media shouldn’t count out a self-funded, charismatic business tycoon. After all, Ronald Reagan overcame many “experts” saying he was too Hollywood for Washington, D.C.; Richard Nixon was panned by the media as uptight and without personality, but won convincingly in 1968.
Trump might be a long shot, but he has a shot — and the media will stay focused on him for as long as he offers it a positive shot in their ratings.