Donald Trump has set a new standard for media-baiting among politicians in his or any other U.S. party, openly mulling official and unofficial efforts to muzzle press critics, and demonizing “liberal” and “mainstream” media as the “enemy of the American people.”
But he hardly invented attacks on “liberal media” and “media bias” in Republican politics. It is a very old tradition. One of the best examples was this line from a national GOP convention speech by a two-term president of the United States:
Let us particularly scorn the divisive efforts of those outside our family, including sensation-seeking columnists and commentators, because I assure you that these are people who couldn’t care less about the good of our party.
No, that was not Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon, but Dwight D. Eisenhower, at the 1964 confab that nominated Barry Goldwater. But for the record, that was two years after Nixon angrily told journalists at his “last press conference” (following a bitter loss in the 1962 California governor’s race), “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”
And it is a reflection of that tradition as much as Trump’s example that seems to be leading today’s congressional Republicans into making media hate a central theme in their fight to hang onto the House and Senate in 2018, as McClatchy reports:
[I]nterviews with Republican strategists and party leaders across the country reveal that what started as genuine anger at allegedly unfair coverage — or an effort to deflect criticism — is now an integral part of next year’s congressional campaigns.
The hope, say these officials, is to convince Trump die-hards that these mid-term races are as much a referendum on the media as they are on President Trump. That means embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them.
The strategy makes some cold political sense. Base mobilization is really the only effective defense an incumbent White House party can pursue in midterms, where the relatively few swing voters usually tilt toward the “out party” unless the president is very popular. And attacking the media has the dual value of reminding “the base” of an old conservative punching bag while neutralizing any inconvenient media reporting or analysis that undermines the GOP. And as a bonus, it may also intimidate members of the Fourth Estate into more favorable coverage of the GOP.
“Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot so you have to have something else to run against,” said Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk radio host from Wisconsin who has been openly critical of Trump. “And the media is perfect.”
It’s “going to be a major part of the strategy,” he predicted.
The obvious question these plans raise is whether there is any awareness of a limit to acceptable media-bashing — particularly in the wake of the literal bashing of an actual journalist by now-congressman-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana.
While no Republican pol or consultant is about to go on the record and say Gianforte helped himself politically by slugging Ben Jacobs, the fact that he’s headed to Congress speaks for itself. So you can expect others to push the envelope in the near future. And that is especially true if Trump continues to make attacks on the media central to his presidency. And why wouldn’t he? It’s a talking point all Republicans can agree on regardless of where they are on a border-adjustment tax or exactly how many Obamacare regs should survive.