“Mr. Trump, I have a question,” said Jorge Ramos, the top news anchor at Univision and one of the country’s most recognizable Mexican-Americans, as he stood up in the front row of journalists.
“Excuse me,” the Republican presidential front-runner told Ramos. “Sit down. You weren’t called. Sit down.”
Ramos, holding a piece of paper, calmly tried to ask Trump about his plan to combat illegal immigration. “I’m a reporter, an immigrant, a senior citizen,” he said. “I have the right to ask a question.”
Trump interrupted him. “Go back to Univision,” he said. Then the billionaire businessman motioned to one of his bodyguards, who walked across the room and physically removed Ramos from the room.
Ramos returned and engaged in a back-and-forth with Trump. (“For five minutes, they tangled over immigration policy, an issue on which both men have passionately different views.”)
Trump doesn’t have to take everyone’s question, Trump sympathizers insisted. (Who said he did?) Ramos was being too opinionated, others declared, as if the press corps does not include other overtly partisan outlets. This all misses the essential point: When confronted with someone threatening to upstage him, Trump had to resort to physical force to remove him. (In a discussion about his inhumane plan to round up millions of illegal immigrants, it was a telling response.)
Trump could have ignored Ramos. He could have treated him like a heckler. He could have answered a question and then moved on. But Trump lacks verbal acuity and finesse. He incites and bullies, but he does not engage or disarm. What would he do in a debate when challenged forthrightly — call for his bodyguards?
You can disagree with his style, but Ramos was on to something. If you are going to treat Trump with kid gloves (e.g. letting him interview via phone unlike every other candidate), the media will be a prop. If the media want to engage someone who refuses to abide by basic rules of civility, they will need to take a more aggressive and confrontational approach.
George W. Bush was peppered with quizzes on, for example, the names of foreign leaders. Why is Trump never forced to show what he knows and doesn’t? In addition to pressing him to give real answers testing whether he understands basic policy issues, the media should probe his own record. They like to sit back and watch him insult others, but why haven’t they asked about his bankruptcy failures? Was he just another “loser” in these deals? He like to stress his own genius, but how much money did he inherit, what doors were opened for him and what did he really achieve on his own? His grandfather came to the United States in 1885 (when there were no quotas on immigration). Wouldn’t his own restrictive immigration policies, if in place at the time, have prevented the Trumps from coming here?
His opponents would be wise to press Trump, too. In the next debate, candidates should feel free to challenge, mock and even bait Trump. They don’t need to be overtly rude, but some irreverence would go a long way. The lesson from Ramos should be that a candidate who refuses to play by the rules and resorts to physical force cannot be treated like everyone else.