Yet here he stands atop the Real Clear Politics polling average in the Republican primary race, where he has been for all but three days since July 20. Carson is a close second, and 11 points separate the surprise front-runners from their nearest competitor, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Among the many conventional-wisdom-defying things about the candidacies of Carson and Trump, one of the most notable is this: Critical media coverage has not only failed to weaken their support but has actually made it stronger.
One theory is, as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in the third primary debate, “the American people don’t trust the media.”
This is largely true. Just this week, the annual American Values Survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found only 47 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or even “some” confidence in news organizations. And nowhere is skepticism of the media more prevalent than on the political right.
It’s certainly logical to conclude that, if the confidence level were higher, the damage to Carson and Trump would be greater.
The problem with this convenient explanation is that Americans have been skeptical of the media for a long time. Gallup’s annual survey of media confidence hasn’t recorded majority trust since 2003, so the current state of affairs isn’t dramatically different from what it was during the last three presidential elections.
Nevertheless, other recent candidates have had their bases eroded at least in part by media scrutiny. At this time four years ago, we were just two weeks away from the withdrawal of businessman Herman Cain, who briefly led the GOP field but proved unable to withstand coverage of his alleged sexual misconduct.
Also at this point four years ago, Michele Bachmann, who had won the Ames Straw Poll, was already fading fast as media reports chronicled a campaign staff exodus and fundraising trouble for the then-congresswoman from Minnesota.
So far, things are different for Carson and Trump. And the difference is that they — better than their predecessors — have successfully positioned themselves as the antitheses of status-quo politics while casting big-time media companies as symbols of entrenched Washington interests. For Carson and Trump, neither of which has held elected office, the media might as well be another career politician in a race that’s full of them.
The press is just one more opponent to be defeated. Media reports are no longer reports; they’re attacks — no different from what a political rival would launch.
For supporters who buy into this framework, every negative story merely reinforces the belief that their candidate is a threat to “the establishment.” That, of course, is what attracted Trump's and Carson's backers in the first place.