President Trump’s strategy is well established.
He asserts that he is a counterpuncher who will only attack if he himself has been attacked. He positions himself as a truth-teller in a world of fake news. He laments that the media do not talk about the good things his administration has done, generally describing those successes in repetitive and/or vague terms.
The effect? The media’s corrections on his frequent falsehoods are positioned as attacks. Its failure to report on policy successes — of which there haven’t been many — is used to argue both that the media are biased and to imply that there are hidden successes no one knows about. His constant disparagement of the media is framed as defensive, not offensive. It’s well-honed.
And it appears to work. New poll data from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist show that slightly more Americans think the media are a bigger driver of the negative tone and lack of civility in Washington than is Trump himself. The pollsters also offered some other options, including Republicans or Democrats on Capitol Hill. A plurality chose the media anyway.
Technically, given margins of error, essentially as many Americans blame Trump as blame the media. Broken down by political party, that equivalence collapses.
Democrats are far more likely to blame Trump. Republicans are far more likely to blame the media. Independents are about 6 points more likely to blame the media, too, hovering around the edges of a statistically significant difference.
In case it wasn’t obvious already that politics is inextricably interlaced with opinions on this subject, the pollsters broke out two other demographic groups that have proved to be significant of late: whites with and without college degrees and suburban residents, by gender.
Non-college-educated whites are much more likely to blame the media, as are suburban men. Whites with degrees and suburban women are much more likely to blame Trump.
Again, broadly speaking, Trump’s rhetoric works. He’s convinced those sympathetic to him that the media are the problem. Most of the media are the “enemy of the people,” in fact, and Republicans are inclined to agree.
As I was writing this article, Trump sparred with Democratic leaders in the Oval Office.
This is indeed false. It is both false and has been offered by Trump as true so frequently that The Post had to invent a new way of describing it: the bottomless Pinocchio. Endlessly untrue.
Asked to choose who to believe, though, the media’s analysis or Trump’s assertions, which will Americans pick? In July, most Republicans picked Trump.
If you believe Trump, then his rhetoric outlined at the start falls into place. The media are underplaying his accomplishments. They are undercutting him unnecessarily. They won’t support the president. The media, therefore, are to blame for the negative tone.
One success of Trump’s: making this particular case.