President Trump has shown that he cares about coverage of his doings at the White House. More than one behind-the-scenes account has depicted him blowing his top as he watches talking heads blast this speech or that policy initiative. Then he comes out and complains about it all, helping to cement the idea that negative coverage equals “fake news.”
A fresh story from Politico, however, threatens the homeostasis of his narcissistic soul. As it turns out, his ratings are sliding. The president’s recent rallies, as noted by Jason Schwartz and Gabby Orr, aren’t scoring the audiences that’ll keep them on a steady rotation on Fox News, the president’s cable-news mainstay. No longer is Trump a lock to outdraw the Trump supporters who speak every night during the prime-time hours on Fox News — which is to say, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
It’s the dilution effect. As the midterm elections approach, the president has taken to barnstorming the country, stopping in different locales — about 10 since early September and more to come — to boost Republican politicians. At each stop, he burnishes the same set of talking points: Our trading partners are taking advantage of us; the media is dishonest; Democrats are awful obstructionists; all his friends are being treated very unfairly; and don’t we just love Fox News? Even Fox News viewers who’ll sit for the same Trump propaganda from the Carlson-Hannity-Ingraham crew every night are apparently tiring of the president’s shtick. Instead of live coverage, on recent rally nights, hosts have apprised their audiences of ongoing Trump rallies and advised them that they’ll cut to the action if news is in the making.
Well, there’s a new standard. Trump has been not-making news at rallies stretching well back into his presidential campaign. No matter: Cable news organizations covered them with the same slack-jawed, eye-rolling astonishment as the rest of the country. He repeated the same points back then, too. And sure, he’d break news now and then, but that was no excuse. TV news outlets are quite capable of monitoring the speeches for news nuggets and then presenting them to their audience. Weeks before Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, acknowledged that running so much Trump-rally stuff during the early stages of the campaign was a mistake. The cable networks will never go back to that approach, unless a new and more exciting demagogue comes along!
Nothing animates Trump so much as his ability to affect people’s entertainment options. His obsession with his ratings on NBC’s “The Apprentice” is legendary; his boasts about filling up venues for rallies, likewise; his illusions about his not-very-impressive inauguration crowd helped to kill the career of a Washington political hand. In fact, Trump may be the only one in the country who cares about ratings more than cable-news executives.