So this is the new media blueprint for dealing with Donald Trump's antagonism: Push back, be confident, and he just might back down.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, a panelist for Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary debate, executed the plan to perfection in Las Vegas when he shut down the GOP front-runner’s rant against CNN, which aired the proceedings. Trump was miffed by questions that invited other candidates to attack him or, at least, disagree with him.
Moments earlier, for example, Hewitt had asked Jeb Bush about his prior statement that Trump isn't qualified to be president.
This was part of the exchange between Trump and Hewitt:
TRUMP: I think it's very sad that CNN leads Jeb Bush, Governor Bush, down a road by starting off virtually all the questions, "Mr. Trump this, Mister" — I think it's very sad. And, frankly, I watched — I think it's very sad. And, frankly, I watched the first debate, and the first long number of questions were, "Mr. Trump said this, Mr. Trump said that. Mr. Trump" — these poor guys — although, I must tell you, Santorum, good guy. Governor Huckabee, good guy. They were very nice, and I respect them greatly. But I thought it was very unfair that virtually the entire early portion of the debate was Trump this, Trump that, in order to get ratings, I guess. In order to get ratings, I guess.
HEWITT: But, Mr. Trump, it's not CNN — I was on CNN last night. ...
TRUMP: I just think it's very— excuse me.
HEWITT: ... watching...
TRUMP: Excuse me. I think it's very unprofessional.
HEWITT: But it wasn't — it wasn't CNN. It was me. I watched you last night for 16 minutes. It's not CNN.
TRUMP: Well, I think it's very unprofessional.
HEWITT: It's not CNN. It's America's watching you.
TRUMP: Okay, fine.
“Okay, fine"? How very un-Trump. Except this wasn’t a total fluke.
Just last week, in fact, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough took an unplanned commercial break to end what he felt was a Trump filibuster during an interview.
“All right, Donald. Donald, Donald, Donald, Donald. You’re not going to keep talking,” the host interjected. “We will go to break if you keep talking. We’re going to ask you questions.”
When Scarborough followed through on his threat, Trump actually stayed on the line, rejoined the show after the break and took 10 minutes of additional questions. As I wrote then, Trump "seems to respect — and actually respond to — a level of pushback that journalists would generally consider overly assertive or even rude.”
We now have further evidence that this is true. It doesn’t mean that journalists should lose their cool or behave exactly like Trump. But it does mean that the best way to maintain control over interviews and debates is to take it and dish it right back.
Provided you are good at it, of course.