Over the weekend, we've seen a growing consensus that Donald Trump is finally done it: gone too far and killed his rising campaign for the Republican nomination.
Yup, and I've been part of that -- I think he might really be in touble now, though, as I've said, I'm not sure.
Ezra Klein and Nate Silver argue that Trump has finally picked a fight he cannot win for a very simple reason: So far Trump has built himself up by attacking "elites" and institutions base Republicans don't trust and feel grievances against. But now he's picked Fox News, which polls show and as Ezra and Nate note, Republicans trust in very high numbers. He can't win a battle over fairness with an institution base Republicans trust more than anyone else.
I don't agree. This is all too literal.
... Conservatives trust Fox News over and against other media organizations. It's still an elite institution run by people in and of New York City. I don't think it wins points against attacking a man, who is presenting himself as a conservative, for making demeaning remarks
... Trump has has boiled down to its essence the mantra of Republican politics for a generation: Never apologize. Always attack. I think everything we are seeing here in response - what the Times calls an emerging "consensus" in "Republican circles" - is a conversation among the east coast pundit class, whether that's Ezra Klein or Megyn Kelly or Nate Silver - the cultural commonalities are greater than the ideological divide.
I agree with Josh that Fox is not Trump's real problem. But I think Trump has other problems.
Plenty of ordinary right-wingers cheer on Fox when it seems to validate their angers and prejudices (which is most of the time) while resenting Fox when it seems to deviate from Correct Thinking. The debate attack on Trump falls into the latter category. I can tell that Fox is regarded as the villain, at least by a lot of the right-wing base, because I'm seeing the likes of this at Free Republic:
Fox has to tread carefully. It can't turn this into a vendetta against Trump -- that would be seriously alienating to a lot of the Fox audience.
What I think Fox will do is just try to deprive Trump of oxygen. Remember, Roger Ailes ultimately turned against Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but he didn't order them to be relentlessly attacked on the air. They're no longer on Fox, but Ailes knew that they retained support on the right, so he didn't go to war with them. I think Fox will treat Trump the same way.
If Trump has a problem, it's the sheer volume of negative coverage he's getting from the rest of the media. Mainstream journalists are no longer treating Trump as a colorful, endlessly watchable eccentric -- he's now getting relentlessly bad press and hostile questioning. (Please note that this didn't happen when he denounced Mexican immigrants as rapists, but did happen when the press saw him attacking a colleague.)
I'm not saying that right-wingers respect the mainstream press. Right-wingers see the mainstream press as part of the hated liberal establishment -- but they want their heroes to leave liberals sputtering in impotent rage. They think Trump's been doing that until now, but if he constantly seems to be on the defensive, he'll suffer the same fate as Palin, whom even conservative voters don't regard as a possible president anymore, although they still admire her. She lost credibility as a liberal-slayer when her status as a tabloid joke became so obvious that even conservatives couldn't help but notice. See also Chris Christie, who lost his right-wing cred in part because he was put on the defensive as a result of Bridgegate. (I still say that his failure to stay on the attack after that scandal came to light alienated more conservatives than the scandal itself, although embracing Obama was his biggest sin according to the right.)
If conservative voters think Trump is in a defensive crouch, he'll lose face, and that's when his poll numbers will drop. I think attacking Megyn Kelly could have that result -- but because of bad MSM press, not negative coverage on Fox.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog