Before Tuesday night, Republican presidential contender Donald Trump’s self-funded campaign could, at least in theory, have been undertaken for the sake of mere spectacle. Sure, he racked up support in polls, upended debates and stole the spotlight from more experienced politicians with his brash comments about immigrants, Muslims and Megyn Kelly. Was the “Art of the Deal” author and reality TV star really out for the White House, or had he embarked on an extended, zany publicity stunt just for laughs? With each passing month, that seemed less and less likely — but, as has always been the case with Trump, there was no way to know for sure.
But now, the Donald has actually won a primary, besting his closest competitor in New Hampshire, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, by almost 20 points with almost 90 percent of the votes counted. Whether or not he triumphs nationwide, Trump’s put one in the “W” column, and is in the history books. And, to mark the occasion, the Huffington Post, a devoted Trump foe, has honored the mogul with a provocative headline calling him a “racist, sexist demagogue,” and his victory “a stunning turn of events for a party that vowed just four years ago to be more inclusive to minorities after failing to unseat President Barack Obama in the bitter 2012 election.”
In sum: “WTF GOP.”
“What the GOP got instead is a xenophobic demagogue who’s insulted pretty much everyone and even earned the endorsement of white supremacists,” Ryan Grim and Igor Bobic wrote. “Trump’s victory in New Hampshire likely points to a drawn-out slog between Trump and at least one of his rivals as they battle to secure enough delegates in hopes of winning their party’s nomination this summer.”
It’s not surprising that a media company would disrespect a politician. In America, we’ve been doing it at least since the 18th century, when some partisan newspapers professed allegiance to the Federalists or the Republicans. Indeed, the New York Daily News — never shy when it comes to giant capital letters proclaiming apocalypse — weighed in with its own take on Trump’s victory, putting the Donald in Joker make-up. “Dawn of the Brain Dead,” the paper crowed. “Clown comes back to life with N.H. win as mindless zombies turn out in droves.”
But the Huffington Post is not the New York Daily News, and its unique War on Trump has long been simmering. Way back in July, the publication refused to cover Trump’s campaign in its “Politics” section, confining him to the “Entertainment” section.
“Our reason is simple,” Grim and Danny Shea wrote then. “Trump’s campaign is a sideshow.”
Still, the authors had to explain themselves. Media organizations might ignore candidates with little support, but Trump performed well in early polling. Was this fair and balanced journalism?
“Trump’s campaign is largely a creation of the media and the coverage is a feedback loop involving outlandish statements and meaningless polls,” they told Poynter. “We’re very proud of the decision. Remember that we made the call the day before he made his infamous comments about John McCain’s war hero status. We believe that our decision was validated within 24 hours.”
Trump, however, could not be contained. HuffPo was forced to revisit its editorial decision in December when Trump advocated preventing Muslims from entering the United States, and his campaign leaped into the center ring.
“As today’s vicious pronouncement makes abundantly clear, it’s also morphed into something else: an ugly and dangerous force in American politics,” Arianna Huffington herself wrote. “So we will no longer be covering his campaign in Entertainment. But that’s not to say we’ll be treating it as if it were a normal campaign.”
Indeed, HuffPo was dedicated to pointing out that Trump’s “novelty has curdled and congealed into something repellent and threatening — laying bare a disturbing aspect of American politics.”
“We believe that the way we cover the campaign should reflect this shift,” Huffington wrote. “And part of that involves never failing to remind our audience who Trump is and what his campaign really represents.”
Since then, the war on Trump escalated: HuffPo began affixing “editor’s notes” to stories about Trump. One read: “Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist,misogynist,
Trump, as is his wont, was already hitting back. “Mr. Trump has never been a fan of Arianna Huffington or the money-losing Huffington Post,” his campaign said in a statement last year. “Mr. Trump is not focused on being covered by a glorified blog.”
HuffPo, in turn, published a piece about Trump’s “unrequited love affair with the Huffington Post” last week, posting photos that reportedly showed the candidate scrutinizing its content.
“The recent pictures, however, show that no matter what we do, Trump just can’t stop reading us,” Janie Velencia wrote.
After Trump’s victory in New Hampshire, however, the battle between HuffPo and Trump enters a new phase. While far from winning the White House, Trump now seems a more serious contender than ever. What with HuffPo do if he becomes the Republican nominee and moderates his message in an attempt to win the general election? And what if it actually becomes president?
This is a war of attrition — and it’s going to be a long one.
“With each new crude display, the press gave Trump more and more exposure, making it ever more difficult for his rivals to make their own platforms known,” Grim and Bobic wrote.