This is a proven strategy: Say something offensive. Get tons of corrective media coverage. Watch those poll numbers soar.
Yesterday Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. Now that’s grist for the morning shows.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” had quite an experience pushing back against this fascistic proposal. Trump got on the air via phone and boasted of the crowd at his address last night on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., where he repeated his call for the shutdown until authorities can “figure out what the hell is going on.” He told co-host Mika Brzezinski not to fear that brand of hate-mongering, but rather to fear the terrorists. “Now everybody’s fighting to be tougher than me on immigration,” he said. And he even repeated January’s loose talk of neighborhoods in Paris where “the police refuse to go” because of radicalization.
And he just kept going. As Brzezinski and co-host Joe Scarborough attempted to get the Republican front-runner to stop, Trump kept going. Scarborough said, “You gotta let us ask questions, you can’t just talk. No, you gotta let us actually ask questions.”
“Alright,” said Trump.
“You’re just talking,” said Scarborough.
“No, no, Joe, I’m not just talking. Joe, I’m not just talking. I’m giving you the facts,” said Trump, as Scarborough attempted to get him to shut up: “Donald, Donald, Donald, Donald.”
Scarborough continued, “We will go to break if you keep talking. We’re gonna ask you questions,” said Scarborough.
“Go to break then, Joe. All I’m doing is giving you the facts and you don’t want to hear the facts.”
“Go to break, everybody, go to break. Go to break. Go to break right now. We’ll be right back with more ‘Morning Joe,’ ” said Scarborough.
Some of that transcription may be a touch imprecise, given the heady amount of crosstalk between these two fellows.
After the commercial break, the program came back with a calmer product. Trump said that he was talking “common sense” solutions, though he made no sense at all. Pressed by Scarborough to identify the zones of Paris where police fear to tread, Trump responded: “I will get you the information.” Pressed by Willie Geist on when he’ll know to ease up on his blockade against Muslims, Trump said: “All it can be is a feel or a touch; we have to find it out.” Geist appeared astounded.
“Did the internment of the Japanese Americans violate your sense of American values? Yes or no?” “I don’t want to respond to it,” responded Trump, because that bears no resemblance to his proposal, he said.
Finger-pointing was part of the message from Trump: “The Muslim community has to help us … They’re not helping us. The Muslim community is not reporting what’s going on. They should be reporting that their next-door neighbor is making pipe bombs and they’ve got them all over the place. … The Muslim community — it’s not a one-way street. The Muslim community knew that this guy, what he was doing and his wife, his very heavily radicalized wife, they knew what they were doing was wrong. Nobody called the police.”
Geist asked just how this shutdown would happen in practice. What would a Customs agent say to entering travelers? “They would say, ‘Are you Muslim?’ ” responded Trump, in what may be the scariest soundbite yet from the candidate. Oh, perhaps check that. Scarborough asked Trump about his message to Muslims, and the candidate responded: “We love you, we want to work with you, we want you to turn in the bad ones. We all want to get along.”
In a solo interview with Trump before the “Morning Joe” session, CNN “New Day” co-host Chris Cuomo jousted with the Republican on these same themes. Cuomo pounded the guy again and again, citing falsehood after falsehood. Noting the widespread condemnation of Trump’s conspicuously anti-American proposal, Cuomo asked, “Do you have to impress anybody but yourself with these ideas?” Cuomo managed to explore Trump’s awful idea without tumbling into pettiness, which is quite an accomplishment given the material in front of him.
ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” also brought the accountability to Trump, who, again, didn’t seem to care about the implications of his proposal. Talking points ruled: As he did in both the “Morning Joe” and CNN sessions, Trump talked about these no-go zones in Paris, whose existence has been denied by Parisians.
In all, Trump racked up 32 (!) minutes on MSNBC, 15 on CNN and eight on ABC, for nearly an hour of exposure. Never have the media’s dreadful trade-offs vis-a-vis Trump coverage come through so starkly: Covering these moments gives Trump oxygen, name recognition and, quite clearly, a feeling of narcissistic achievement. Bad stuff, that. But what’s the alternative? Not challenge him on ideas that threaten the Constitution?