The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s in a never-ending battle against the media because it works

Supporters of President Trump at a campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday. (Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Not everyone who attended President Trump’s campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday was a fervent Trump supporter. Asked how they would rate Trump on a scale from 1 to 10, some respondents ranked him as low as an 8. (Others, of course, gave him a 10 or an 11 or an 11½ or a 20.)

There were concerns about his implementation of tariffs, though not from John, 30, a soybean farmer who didn’t give his last name. He saw the tariffs as “a small loss for a big-time gain.”

There were concerns about his tweeting, though not from Mike Connolly, 33, who said that he “liked his Twitter usage,” saying Twitter was Trump’s “only mouthpiece where he can get by everybody else.”

Generally, though, attitudes toward Trump mirrored Connolly’s broader summation.

“I love the president. I love his agenda,” Connolly said. “Love what he’s doing for America. Everything he said two years ago when I was in this exact parking lot, he’s been doing.” The friends who were with him whistled and clapped.

There’s an all-or-nothing aspect to a lot of the Trump support expressed by those who were waiting to hear him speak, often accepting — or at least agreeing with — the president’s representations of how his administration is faring.

At times that means accepting things that were at odds with what the media had reported, such as the nuance of Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un or that he self-funded his campaign or the agreement that he reached with the European Union last month or the immediate effects of Trump’s tax cuts. For every time the media reported news about Trump with a “yes, but,” what was remembered was the unfairness of that “but.” Reporting that differed from Trump’s representations was, simply enough, “fake news.”

Trump, as usual, reinforced that idea during his speech.

President Trump criticized the media, calling many reports "fake news" at a rally on Aug. 2 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Video: The Washington Post)

“They can make anything bad, because they are the fake, fake disgusting news,” Trump said, later adding: “Whatever happened to fair press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?”

He later called the media “horrible, horrendous people.”

For a reporter from one of the publications Trump targets, that makes interviewing his supporters a complicated proposition. Some were happy to share their thoughts. Others criticized Jeffrey P. Bezos, this newspaper’s owner. One man declined to answer questions, given how “liberal” The Washington Post is. Many offered half-serious asides about the Washington “Compost” or a quick “You’re fake news!” One man with a thick mustache offered a curt “You people suck.”

“Nobody hates you,” said Avi Bader, 28, who had come in from New Jersey. “They hate your reporting. They find it despicable and demeaning, but no one hates you personally.”

His brother Moshe, 31, had just finished explaining how the national atmosphere was “toxic” these days because of how Trump supporters were targeted for abuse.

Among those interviewed, the media often joined the Democrats and, in some cases, establishment Republicans as part of a broad effort to take Trump down.

Harry Peck, 57, wearing a T-shirt criticizing NFL players who have knelt in protest, had at one point worked at Trump Organization construction sites. He and his companion Victoria Stuchio, 60, came out to be part of the crowd cheering Trump on.

“I love the man!” Stuchio said. “I support him all the way.”

“The Democrats keep crying and crying, and they’re fighting him every step of the way,” she said. “Right, Harry?”

“It’s disgusting,” Peck said.

“No matter what he does, he’s a bum,” Stuchio said.

“He’s doing great, but the Republicans are stopping him,” said John Mancini, 63. “The Republicans are not allowing him to do what he wants to do, which is make this country great.”

“The deep state!” a guy standing nearby interjected.

Susan Price, 72, drove through the rain to attend the rally with her family and saw symbolism in how the weather cleared when they arrived.

“We want Trump to do exactly what he’s been doing and do more,” she said, “and give him the encouragement to overcome all of the various forces that are trying to take him down, whatever their motives are.”

Trump’s reported explanation to CBS’s Lesley Stahl that he targeted the press to discredit negative news stories seems obviously to be the case. But it’s broader than that: By castigating the media, he also heightens his own assessment that he’s a victim, which draws his base closer to show support. Because what’s absorbed by those supporters isn’t just that the president they support is under attack. It’s that they are under attack, too.

“You feel like he’s fighting for you,” Moshe Bader said. And when he wins — when he’s “kicking butt,” in the phrasing of Connolly — so are they.

Most of those in attendance at the rally Thursday were obviously part of Trump’s fervent base, a group so thoroughly examined that no insight, including that in the previous paragraph, is particularly novel. But it still bears repeating, outside the context of electoral politics, that there is a group of millions of Americans that broadly accepts Trump’s rhetoric as factual and his position as embattled. It may not help in November, but it fills arenas and contributes to sky-high approval ratings from Republicans — victories for Trump in their own way.

Hours after Ivanka Trump said the press was not the "enemy of the people," President Trump broke with her and doubled down in his attacks on the media. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)