A new political season is upon us, and we’re being treated to another round of the media’s favorite sport: The Death of a Thousand Cuts. This sport involves targeting a candidate for a barrage of negative reporting until people wonder how they ever could have considered that person viable. When Sarah Palin was nominated for Vice-President she was a popular governor. But the media’s thousand cuts quickly turned her into a bimbo and former governor.
Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn. Not that he doesn’t sometimes cut himself. Even his supporters probably recognize that the Mr. Nice Guy award should go to someone else. His angry man persona is not the product of a media writer’s imagination. And we won’t even discuss the hair. But if you’ve been paying attention, the media does seem to have decided to employ its sharpened scalpels on Mr. Trump.
One commentator has predicted that Mr. Trump is destined to fall because he’s supposedly a “throwback” candidate. Too much dependence on media attention. Very uncool. Another political observer says that Trump will fall because women don’t like him. This editorial is illustrated with a series of mind-numbing graphs measuring the female reaction to Mr. Trump from six or seven different perspectives. Republican voters, general election voters, etc.
Then there are the stories. Mr. Trump blames crime on undocumented Mexicans. Mr. Trump has a racist advisor. Mr. Trump calls former POW John McCain a loser. Mr. Trump defends the notion that there is no such thing as rape between married people. Trump-owned companies seek to import foreign workers for his hotels and restaurants, contradicting his stand on protecting American jobs. Even Jimmy Kimmel has gotten into the act, running a montage of Mr. Trump overusing the term “disgusting.” Can you count the cuts? Fast and furious.
Ultimately though, it won’t be the media’s cuts that break Mr. Trump. His ascent or descent will be up to him. This is because he is a bigger circus on his own than any circus the media can manufacture. This was true of Teddy Roosevelt and his cousin FDR. It was also true of LBJ. These men were – for better or worse – larger than life, as Donald Trump seems to be. But perhaps the 20th Century titan with whom Mr. Trump is most comparable is William Jennings Bryan. History fans will recall Bryan as a man who habitually connected himself with crusades that by today’s standards appear more than a little eccentric. A perennial presidential candidate, Bryan capped his career by taking part in the infamous Scopes “Monkey Trial.” The trial demonstrated the fine line between contender and cartoon.
But let us not underestimate Mr. Trump. As FDR demonstrated over and over again, a thousand cuts don’t always, well, cut it. The suggested course of action for members of the media is to sit this one out. It’s Mr. Trump’s show; all you can do is monitor the ratings.