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The Press Shouldn't Quit Trump After The Election

Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post and Frank Bruni of The New York Times have written strikingly similar columns urging the media to cut Donald Trump loose after the election.
The Press Shouldn't Quit Trump After The Election
Image from: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post and Frank Bruni of The New York Times have written strikingly similar columns urging the media to cut Donald Trump loose after the election. Here's Sullivan:

American news organizations may complain of Trump Fatigue.

But whether or not we’ll admit it, we have a far worse condition: Trump Addiction. Combined with the candidate’s own need for attention, and his skill at keeping all eyes riveted on him, it’s going to be a hard habit to break....

Trump coverage ... seems obsessive, and smacks of codependency.

So here’s a modest proposal. If Trump loses on Nov. 8, let’s avert our addicted gaze.

And Bruni:

He is bound to lose the election, and we in the media will lose the rationale that his every utterance warrants notice as a glimpse into the character of a person in contention for the most consequential job in the world.

But he will remain the same attention-whoring, head-turning carnival act that he is today. And we will face a moment of truth: Do we care chiefly about promoting constructive discussion and protecting this blessed, beleaguered democracy of ours? Or are we more interested in groveling for eyeballs and clicks?

... if he remains catnip to readers and viewers? We should show some courage and restraint.

... we ... can’t roll over for him, the way we’ve sometimes done over the last 16 months, chronicling even those speeches and rallies that amounted to sales pitches for his properties and products. His reckoning comes on Nov. 8. Ours comes shortly after that.

How tempted will the press be to cover Trump as obsessively after the election as he's been covered during his campaign? I think he's going to have a loser label attached to him. I remember the media's obsession with Ross Perot's presidential candidacy in 1992, but when he finished a distant third, he lost his cachet. Perot, of course, went away more or less quietly, returning only for a NAFTA debate with Vice President Al Gore for which Gore was well prepared and Perot wasn't. But he was seen as a loser and a crank by then, rather than as a fascinating outsider leading a significant movement. He'd done a lot to advance the cause of deficit hawkery, but he was no longer a media star, because everybody loves a winner.


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On the other hand, Sarah Palin lost in 2008 and managed to stay in the limelight for a while. Was it bad for America that Palin continued to find her way into the news, or at least the gossip columns? I don't think so. For a time during the 2008 campaign, and later during the peak of the Tea Party's influence, there were those who said that Palin represented the Real America. They thought she might have a real political future.

But we got to watch her stumble as she tried, fitfully, to remain a political force without ever learning anything about politics and government that didn't come from dubious conservative media sources. It became clear that she was a grifter who was more interested in media stardom than government, and she and her family made a mockery of the traditional values she claimed to espouse.

Palin has no remaining political credibility because we saw all that.

We should all watch Donald Trump stumble around in the wilderness after the election. We should watch as he fails to sue all the people he's threatened with lawsuits during the campaign, as he deals with multiple legal entanglements (Trump University, a rape charge), as he tries to salvage his heavily damaged businesses, as he tries to cope emotionally with the loss of an election and (probably worse for him) the loss of the regular injections of ego gratifications he's received on the campaign trail from adoring mobs. We need to see all that. A lot of Americans have made Trump into a demigod, and they need a close-up look at his feet so they can see the clay.

If the press ignores Trump after November 8, it will be that much easier to pretend that the Republican Party was never Trump's party, that it was all a bad dream, so we should welcome Paul Ryan and John McCain and Kelly Ayotte and the rest back into the community of responsible citizens. I suspect we'll have a problem along those lines even if Trump stays in the news -- the media continues to talk about McCain as an admirable gray eminence, and has never blamed him as much as he deserves to be blamed for foisting Palin on America. Similarly, I think every Republican who endorsed Trump without embracing him will be forgiven. Ryan will continue to be the media's golden boy. Ex-senator Ayotte will be on Sunday talk shows every other week to criticize President Clinton's foreign policy. There'll be no stigma.

I even think Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich will be rehabilitated. In the Acela Corridor, they're seen as good television, and they'll be fierce critics of the new president. That'll be all that matters.

But we certainly won't have a Trump reckoning if he's allowed to slip off the media radar. Fortunately, he'll insist that we keep watching him -- he can't give us up either. No, the press shouldn't continue to track him as obsessively as he's been tracked. But we should watch him fall.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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