Editor’s Note: Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Tim Stanley: Why do supporters still back Trump? Journalists don't get it: Many think media is enemy he says it is
He says hatred of media will rally Trump's troops as he tries to do his job. His genius is that if he fails he can blame media
They still love him. On Saturday, Donald Trump addressed a rally in Florida that was as big and adulatory as any he’d seen during the campaign. He attacked the federal judges who challenged his travel ban order. He attacked the reporters who ask tough questions. “They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda,” he said. This crowd was “our people,” he said.
And those people have lost none of their faith. Don’t expect them to.
Their fidelity is impressive given the events of the last month. Trump has had to accept the resignation of his national security adviser, had his travel ban stymied, and ended last week with a bizarre anti-press press conference that, in the opinion of many journalists, was not only inappropriate but frightening.
But we journalists need to be reminded that not everyone is a journalist. Outside the media bubble, opinion of the media is colored by partisan prejudice and is often quite low. Trump has identified an enemy that, many conservatives believe, needs calling out.
Full disclosure: I did not go to the rally in Florida. But I have been to many, many Trump rallies, and as I’ve tried to score interviews with the audience, I’ve noticed that Trumpites have two things in common. One is a suspicion of journalists. They always want to know what outlet I represent and what questions I’m likely to ask. Once the interview is over, they usually say the same thing: “Why does the media hate Donald Trump so much?”
I reply that we’re just doing our job – asking questions in the same way that we do of every politician. But there’s no escaping that the media does have an institutional leaning.
My conservative politics are unusual within journalism. The average Trumpite would think I was a pinko. But the average editor probably thinks I’m to the right of Chuck Norris. And while that institutional liberalism is not universal – after all, Fox and Breitbart are part of the media, too – and does not routinely translate into bias, the right-wing skepticism of our motives is understandable. If the media keeps politicians on their toes, political activists are at liberty to keep us on our toes, too.
In the last few years – particularly since Sarah Palin – confronting the press has become part of the right’s program, like securing the border or cutting taxes. They see a liberal press as injurious to democracy and a block to conservative governance.
When they watched that crazy press conference Thursday, they didn’t share the media’s alarm. They saw Trump fighting for survival, trying to break what they regard as the media’s damaging monopoly on the truth. They’re asking themselves, “Why doesn’t the media let Donald get on with the job he was elected to do?”
Aside from hatred of the press, the other thing I’ve found that binds Trumpites together is a fear of decline. It’s often noted that Trump supporters are wealthier than the working-class they claim to speak for, but that’s beside the point. These are concerned citizens who have a patriotic dislike of unemployment or Islamist terrorism. They voted for Trump because he promised to restore the nation’s greatness, by building a wall and locking jobs inside.
From this point-of-view, conservatives are keeping faith with Trump because Trump is keeping faith with them. His list of executive orders is a wish list for the right: reverse Obamacare’s spiraling costs, start planning for a border wall, reduce regulations, etc. His Supreme Court pick is a younger Antonin Scalia. The whiteness, maleness and conservatism of his Cabinet proves he’s not making any concessions to political correctness.
If Trump had done what so much of the media expected him to do and come into office promising unity, compassion and lollipops, it would’ve amounted to a betrayal of his base. What’s striking – almost impressive – about Donald Trump is the consistency between candidate and president.
And here’s the genius of his anti-media strategy: Even if he fails, it’s not his fault. Trump and his base believe the conspiracy against them is enormous and almost unbeatable. By attacking the media as forcefully as Trump has, he has primed his supporters for defeat. That’s why many will forgive the mistakes he has made in the past month. They’ll regard them as inevitable. Donald, they’ll say, is doing his best.
Donald Trump needs the media. Attacking the media is part of the reason he won. Hatred of the media is one of things that will rally his troops around him as he tries to do his job. Ironically, the media needs Trump, too. As the President has often said, he’s great for ratings.