The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Donald Trump is begging for attention. Nobody cares.

President Donald Trump, seen reflected in a television camera lens, speaks at the White House on Nov. 5, 2020. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In the past two presidential elections, Donald Trump had a not-so-secret weapon: control over the news cycle. Trump could, with an inflammatory tweet or unscheduled speech, grab political reporters by the prefrontal cortex and direct their coverage toward the topic of his choosing.

But he might not have that gift in 2024. Three data points tell the story.

The first comes from cable TV.

Trump tried to focus the media on himself throughout the fall of 2022 — first by repeatedly teasing his 2024 presidential run, then by announcing it on Nov. 15. More recently, Trump dined with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye (the former Kanye West, who has made virulent antisemitic comments), and just a few days ago called for “terminating” the Constitution.

None of it yielded the media attention that Trump craves.

In the months leading up to Trump’s announcement, he was often ignored or hit with tough coverage. Fox News — home to numerous conservative commentators — did not talk about him much. And MSNBC, the progressive hub of cable news, covered him most in August — when the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-A-Lago home for classified documents.

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Trump’s Nov. 15 announcement speech didn’t garner much coverage, either. MSNBC didn’t broadcast his announcement. Fox News briefly cut away from his live remarks. And, though the cable news covered Trump’s meeting with Ye and Fuentes, the event didn’t create a spike in Trump’s November mentions. It’s still too early to tell whether Trump’s “termination” comments about the Constitution moved the needle.

But the data we have suggest that Trump has lost command of the cable news cycle — and he might be losing his grip on the average news consumer, too. Two more data points:

Despite Trump’s best efforts, Americans paid much less attention to him in 2022 than they did when he was president. And when Trump scrambled for attention, he was only one story — not the story — of the moment.

In terms of Google’s search index, Trump’s announcement was a tad more interesting than the mad rush for Taylor Swift tickets and much less grabby than a big soccer tournament. And his dinner with Ye and Fuentes, so far, seems to be a non-event.

Trump still holds advantages in his attempt to recapture the White House. He is leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by nearly double digits in the RealClearPolitics average of Republican presidential primary polls. And he is still the biggest name in Republican politics: Trump’s announcement speech generated far more Google searches for him than DeSantis’s blowout reelection did for him.

But Trump isn’t new or exciting anymore — and he can’t bend media coverage toward himself at will. If he wants to win another term, he will have to do it the old-fashioned way: by touting his record as president, building a coalition and relying on TV just a little less.

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