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“The Perfect Echo Chamber”: Why Is Matt Drudge Boosting Donald Trump?

Who’s responsible for Donald Trump? The establishment honchos of the Republican Party first and foremost, for not having the stones to stand up and stop the crazy in their party over the last seven years when Steve King and Louis Gohmert and Michele Bachmann and all the others said the unhinged things they said. The cable networks, for covering his every utterance and letting him play them like a fiddle.

A less discussed culprit: Matt Drudge. He may not get the headlines he got 15 years ago, so if you don’t read his site you might think he’s kinda gone away. Well, he has not. The Drudge Report is as huge as ever: Around 700 million visitors a month.

And what they’ve been getting for the last six months is a steady stream of pro-Trump agitprop. Drudge’s own weird, quasi-libertarian, crypto-racialist-populist political views have found their perfect echo in Trump’s campaign. If you’ve read the Drudge site over the years, you know how expert the site has always been at finding and promoting news stories that aren’t capital-P political on their face but whose political moral, and the reason Drudge highlights them, is obvious.

A preposterous-sounding grievance from a minority group member; a left-wing academic making some nutty claim or another; some new manifestation of political correctness afoot. These stories are the mother’s milk of the site, and they create the same paranoia that Trump is creating, and among the same audience.

And the audience is gobbling it up—and regurgitating it in the hoped-for way. As Republican-turned-independent (and now Hillary Clinton supporter) Jimmy LaSalvia noted at Salon recently, after every GOP debate, the Drudge site polls its readers on who won. And every time, Trump has won, usually big.

It’s no wonder. The Drudge site is (gulp) its readers’ most trusted news source, and nearly every day it’s playing a pro-Trump piece high up. As I write this, Tuesday the 29th, the story is “New poll shows Trump strong among minorities.” The link is to a story on World Net Daily, a far-right site whose stock in trade is headlines like “Democrats Think Christians Bigger Threat Than Muslims,” and it’s to a poll commissioned by…World Net Daily! It finds that “40 percent of blacks are lining up behind Trump, as are 45 percent of Hispanics, and even nearly 19 percent of Asians.” Right.

Now, if you’re reacting to this by thinking so what, tell me something new, my answer is that I am telling you something new. In 2012, Drudge generally backed not Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or Rick Santorum or Herman Cain, but Mr. Establishment himself, Mitt Romney! You can go back and Google it and find loads of stories from that cycle about how Drudge highlighted pro-Romney stories and how the other GOP contenders groused that Drudge was helping Mittens.

Why the change? I’m not exactly a Drudge world insider. The public evidence we have is the big and very rare interview Drudge gave back in October to wingnut radio host Alex Jones, where he delivered gems like this one: “You’ve got to be the greatest you can be now—now. Before this country is so completely altered and we’re left with Hillary’s brain in the Oval Office in a jar. Cuz that’s what we’re getting. She is old and she’s sick. She is not a contender. They’re making her a contender with these propped up Saturday Night Live things; it’s like a head on a stick. And then on the Today show with [Savannah Guthrie]—a head on a stick. She is not a viable, vibrant leader for this country of 300—including the illegals, 380 million—Americans. So the media is trying to put us to sleep.”

Eighty million illegals. And you thought it was 11.5 million. See how the corporate media have been lying to you? For what it’s worth, Drudge has been a major promoter of Jones’ conspiracy-mongering websites, often giving them prominent links.

So now we’re getting to crunch time. How much juice does Drudge still have with GOP primary voters, especially in the key states? Probably a lot is my guess. It’s obviously impossible to say how much Drudge has helped Trump thus far. Trump probably didn’t need a push from Drudge to get where he is. But look at it from the reverse point of view: If Drudge had been anti-Trump these last six months, Trump very well might not be where he is right now.

The more serious question is how much juice Drudge might have in a general election contest. He will want to destroy Hillary Clinton, there’s no doubt about that. If Trump is actually the Republican nominee, Drudge will have his dream match-up: the right-wing nativist fuck-the-establishment candidate versus a Clinton. Destroying, or trying to destroy, a Clinton (Bill) is what made Drudge world famous in the first place, back in 1998. But that didn’t work out for him. And promoting the candidate that half the Republican Party would run away from holding its nose doesn’t seem like the best way to stop this Clinton.

Maybe deep down on some level even they only dimly grasp, all these people want her to be the president. She’s great for ratings and page views, and everything they don’t like about a changing country that they no longer speak to or for can be immediately blamed on her. Only a Clinton victory would support their idea of America as a place where the corporate media are brainwashing people to become diversity-worshipping automatons, and conservative media will be there to ride the decline.

And that’s what Drudge’s move from Romney to Trump proves: On the radical right, it’s not about stopping liberalism anymore. It’s about demolishing conservatism.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 30, 2015

January 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Matt Drudge | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Too Shall Pass”: Everyone Should Calm Down About Trump’s Ongoing Presence At The Top Of The GOP Field

I’ve been consistent in my belief that former reality TV star Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee. I wrote as much a week-and-a-half ago arguing that neither Trump nor retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson would be the nominee, given that never in history has a major party nominated someone as bereft of political or military experience as either of these two.

Since then Carson has started his descent back into oblivion – he’s dropped five points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls over the last two-and-a-half weeks – perhaps because the Friday the 13th attacks in Paris exacerbated questions about his grasp of foreign policy. Trump, as has been the case at virtually every turn since his announcement of candidacy, has benefited, gaining three points over this same time period.

So it was gratifying to see yesterday a post by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver arguing that everyone should calm down about Trump’s ongoing presence at the top of the GOP field. He makes a few strong arguments, the first being that while Trump has remained comfortably in the 25-30 percent range, his “middling” favorable ratings make it unlikely that he will be able to grow that base as the field winnows. Another is the question of whether the Trump coalition will actually show up and vote (a question we’ve previously considered in this publication).

And, he adds:

It can be easy to forget it if you cover politics for a living, but most people aren’t paying all that much attention to the campaign right now. Certainly, voters are consuming some campaign-related news. Debate ratings are way up, and Google searches for topics related to the primaries have been running slightly ahead of where they were at a comparable point of the 2008 campaign, the last time both parties had open races. But most voters have a lot of competing priorities. Developments that can dominate a political news cycle, like Trump’s frenzied 90-minute speech in Iowa earlier this month, may reach only 20 percent or so of Americans.

He looks at Google search data and exit-poll data from previous elections to demonstrate both when voters have typically indicated that they made up their minds and also when their interest (as expressed by their online search patterns) starts to rise. “This burst of attention occurs quite late – usually when voters are days or weeks away from their primary or caucus,” he writes.

So as he suggests, everyone should calm down. Return to your regularly scheduled wondering if Trump’s latest insanity will be the event to pop – or at least start taking the air out of – his balloon. Last week it was his flirtation with fascism (yes, I know that he didn’t come up with the idea of stripping Muslims of their constitutional rights, but he didn’t bat an eyelash at it either and to the best of my knowledge still hasn’t actually repudiated the idea); over the weekend he mused about how roughing up a protestor at one of his rallies was the right thing to do. Now we’re onto his fabricated recollection of “thousands” of Jersey City, New Jersey, residents – he has identified them as Muslims but even supposing such an event took place, how would he be able to tell their creed over the television? – celebrating the 9/11 attacks. “It was well-covered at the time,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” What’s actually been well-covered is the fallaciousness of his memory on this topic. Think about this: Is there any way that mass celebrations in an American city would have not been – to borrow a Trumpism – a yuuuuge story in the supercharged days, weeks and months after 9/11? If such video existed, it would have run on an endless loop on Fox News Channel. It would have become an instant and enduring meme on conservative talk radio and on the right-wing of the Web. Even Carson, who initially shared Trump’s “memory,” has since retracted the claim. I suppose the same conspiracy that has purged every news report of the thousands of cheering New Jerseyans from the collective memory and all contemporaneous news reports must have gotten to Carson too!

The Iowa Caucus is scheduled for February 1 of next year. One circumstance that is bound to change in the more than two months before that event kicks off the formal primary season is advertising. Most of the ads that have run thus far have been positive and soft – basic introduce-the-candidate ads. But sooner or later rival candidates and other outside groups will start training their negative ads on Trump. There is reason to believe that advertising has been able to move numbers – which makes sense if you believe that the polls thus far have been driven by news coverage (which I do). Let’s see what happens when the ad dollars start flowing in earnest and especially start recounting some of Trump’s greatest hits, like those mentioned above.

The whole thing is bizarre – and will be superseded by his next outrageous pronouncement, which will no doubt be that Muslim terrorists attacked the first Thanksgiving dinner.

This too shall pass, in other words – rather like the Trump candidacy.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report; November 27, 2015

November 28, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fascism, GOP Presidential Candidates, Racism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Deathwatch Coverage”: Why The Media Are Digging Jeb Bush’s Grave

Why hasn’t Jeb Bush started complaining about the liberal media yet? Maybe it’s because he knows that at this critical moment for his campaign, it’s important to look sunny and optimistic. But he’d have a much better case to make than his primary opponents, who are all whining about how CNBC was mean to them at their last debate. The coverage of Jeb’s campaign right now is unremittingly negative, in ways that are, if understandable, not exactly fair. The Jeb Bush Deathwatch has begun, and it’s going to be awfully difficult for him to get past it.

Back in 1983, scholars Michael Robinson and Margaret Sheehan first wrote about “deathwatch coverage” in their book about the media’s role in the 1980 presidential campaign, Over the Wire and on TV. “The deathwatch generally begins with a reference to the candidate’s low standing in the polls,” they wrote, “moves on to mention financial or scheduling problems, and ends with coverage of the final press conference, in which the candidate withdraws.” Even before it gets to that terminal point, however, the press can decide as one that you’re circling the drain, and the result will be a wave of intensely negative coverage.

Let’s take a little tour of the articles about Jeb in the media just from one day, last Friday. “Can Jeb Bush Come Back?” (Washington Post). “Jeb Bush’s Existential Crisis” (CNN). “All the Money In the World May Not Save Jeb Bush’s Campaign” (Los Angeles Times). “Jeb Bush Campaign Faces Criticism, Skepticism Following Debate” (USA Today). “Jeb Bush Seeks to Recover Momentum After Debate” (Wall Street Journal). “Jeb Bush: Campaign ‘Is Not on Life Support'” (NBC News).

The headlines only partly convey how brutal things are getting for Bush. All the questions he now faces are about process—not “How would your tax plan work?” but “Why aren’t you doing better?” They’re questions about the campaign itself, not about what he wants to do if he becomes president. Reporters have also taken to asking Jeb whether he’s having fun on the campaign trail, which has a whiff of cruelty about it. He plainly isn’t, but what is he supposed to say? It’s almost as though they just want to see how he’s going to squirm. They might explain that they’re asking him this question because in January 2014 he said he intended to campaign “joyfully,” and there’s not much joy in Jebville right now. But that’s an excuse, not a justification.

So the frame of almost every story about Bush is how he’s floundering, struggling, and sinking. When you’re operating within that frame, it determines the kinds of questions you ask, not just of Bush himself when you get the chance, but of the other people you interview, and of yourself as you’re writing your story. Those questions will be things like: What’s he doing wrong? Why don’t people like him? What mistakes has he made?

When you set out to answer those questions, everything you produce will reflect poorly on Bush. That doesn’t mean there’s anything inaccurate about the coverage, just that it focuses on one particular aspect of reality and not others.

Now let’s compare that to Marco Rubio, whom most knowledgeable people have now concluded is the most likely Republican nominee. If you wanted, you could ask similarly uncomplimentary questions about him. Why has this guy who was once hailed as the savior of the Republican Party been unable to get more than 10 percent or so of the vote in national polls? Why is he stuck in fourth place in Iowa and sixth place in New Hampshire? How come he’s being beaten in fundraising by the likes of Ben Carson and Ted Cruz?

Those are perfectly legitimate questions, but if the focus of your story about Rubio is how he’s on the rise, they’re the kinds of things you’ll either leave out completely or deal with quickly (in the inevitable “To be sure…” paragraph).

Now for my own “To be sure…” paragraph: To be sure, there are perfectly good reasons why a reporter would describe Jeb’s campaign the way it’s being described and ask the questions he’s being asked. Expectations for him were very high. He was supposed to be this year’s version of the well-established, middle-aged white guy the GOP always nominates, and his super PAC quickly raised a staggering $100 million. For a time, he was indeed the frontrunner (though he never averaged more than 15 percent in the polls), so the fact that he’s now in fourth place or so is a significant fall. And Jeb hasn’t been particularly compelling on the stump, to say the least. He has struggled with things like trying to figure out whether the Iraq War was a mistake, and he seems flummoxed by the competition he’s gotten from other candidates, particularly Donald Trump.

But let’s not forget that no one has actually voted for president yet. The Iowa caucuses are still three months away. Super Tuesday isn’t until a month after that. The voters of California, our most populous state, don’t vote until June, a full seven months from now. A heck of a lot is going to happen just between now and Iowa.

Not only that, while Jeb’s place in the polls is certainly nothing to be proud of, other candidates getting much more positive attention aren’t doing much better. In the Huffpost Pollster average, Jeb is at 7.5 percent, admittedly no great shakes. But Rubio, who is now luxuriating in an invigorating bath of positive press coverage, is at a whopping 8.5 percent. Everyone seems to think Rubio is probably going to be the nominee, but the voters themselves don’t seem to be aware of it yet. Ted Cruz, whom insiders think has shrewdly positioned himself to be a strong contender as the race winnows? He’s at 5.5 percent.

One of the attractions of the deathwatch story for reporters always looking for a new angle on the presidential race is that it’s novel and, in its way, rather dramatic. And like much of what the press does, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Say that a candidate is toast often enough, and before long donors won’t want to contribute to him and voters won’t bother to support him. But we’re still far enough away from the primaries that another new story, the exciting Jeb Comeback, is still a possibility. He might even earn that exclamation point after his name. Is it likely? Maybe not. But you never know.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, November 2, 2015

November 3, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Media | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“No Trust Issues”: Don’t Believe Those Who Say Hillary Clinton Can’t Win Because Voters Find Her Untrustworthy

Is it true, as some pundits claim, that Hillary Clinton is a fundamentally flawed candidate, one whose presidential aspirations are potentially doomed by her lack of likeability and, especially, high levels of voter mistrust?

Consider the following results from this nationwide survey of voters. When asked, only 41 percent of those polled find Clinton “honest and trustworthy,” while fully 54 percent do not. Among those who do not find Clinton trustworthy, fully 67 percent say they are voting for Clinton’s opponent. The results seem to support the contention of political pundits that a candidate who is so widely mistrusted is unlikely to win the presidency. As one analyst puts it, “If you don’t fundamentally trust someone or believe they are, at root, honest then how would you justify putting the controls of the country in their hands for at least four years?”

How indeed? Except that this data comes from 1996 presidential election exit poll – the one taken on the day of the election. That was the election, you will recall, in which the deeply mistrusted candidate Bill Clinton handily defeated his opponent and man of sterling character, World War II veteran Bob Dole, 49.2 percent to 40.7 percent. Nor are the 1996 results a fluke.

As I have discussed previously, studies by political scientists have revealed weak correlation between candidate traits and presidential election outcomes. For example, Morris Fiorina, Sam Abrams and Jeremy Pope compared the public’s evaluation of presidential candidates’ personal qualities (separate from policy stances or experience) based on American National Election Studies surveys with election results in the period 1952-2000. Their conclusion? As Fiorina summarized in this op ed piece: “Over all, in the 13 elections between 1952 and 2000, Republican candidates won four of the six in which they had higher personal ratings than the Democrats, while Democratic candidates lost four of the seven elections in which they had higher ratings than the Republicans. Not much evidence of a big likability effect here.”

This is not to say that a candidate’s personal qualities have no bearing on the vote. All things being equal, it is probably better to be trusted than mistrusted. And candidate character traits may matter more to some voters, such as independents, than to strong partisans. But when it comes to presidential elections, all things are decidedly not equal.

Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996 because, according to the exit polls, 58 percent of poll respondents cited issues as more important than a candidates’ character when it came to deciding their vote, and among this group Clinton beat Dole overwhelmingly, 69 percent  to 20 percent. More generally, when presidential scholars put together their forecasts of the presidential popular vote, they focus exclusively on fundamental factors such as the state of the economy, whether the country is at war, and how long the incumbent party has controlled the White House. Question of candidate character, whether trustworthiness or likeability or any other personal attribute, do not figure into their models. The reason is that we find little evidence that they are determinative. Voters may have viewed Bill Clinton as untrustworthy, but in a time of peace and economic prosperity, most chose in the end to reward the incumbent with a second term in office, his personal peccadillos notwithstanding.

Despite these findings, this won’t stop pundits from incorrectly insisting that, “Candidates matter in close campaigns. That goes double for a presidential race which tends to be more dependent on personality and likability than on any sort of policy prescriptions [italics added].” Yes, I understand that it is August – a very slow news month. The president is on vacation. Congress is out of session. The next Republican debate isn’t until Sept. 15. Pundits – already naturally predisposed to create the perception of a race where none may exist – are deeply fearful that Clinton, who is trouncing the Democratic field by most metrics, will win this nomination without a real fight. And so why not during a slow news period pounce on the latest polls (never mind that they are not very predictive this early in the contest) to find evidence that Clinton’s “lead” is less than we might think and that she is in fact a deeply flawed candidate. So flawed, in fact, that she might as well bow out now! Cue the horse race!

Alas, simply trotting out one more stale variation about the significance of the “beer test” to make the case that Clinton is potentially doomed does not make the reference any more true this election cycle. To a certain extent the same goes for the constant emphasis on Clinton’s relatively high unfavorable ratings. While there’s some evidence that the favorable/unfavorable ratio is correlated with election outcomes, it’s unclear whether these ratings help determine voters’ support for or against a candidate, or are a reflection of that support. In any case, it is far too early in the campaign to put much stock in these numbers.

The bottom line? It may be that “Hillary just isn’t a very good candidate.” But it’s more likely that some pundits just aren’t very good political analysts.

 

By: Matthew Dickinson, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, August

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Incessant Flailing”: GOP Peddles Hard The ‘Hillary Can’t Be Trusted’ Line

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is the runaway pick among voters when asked who among the presidential candidates is the most credible, honest and trustworthy, and even the most compassionate. Her rank on the voter trustworthy meter is far higher than that of Barack Obama and easily tops that of all other GOP presidential contenders. The problem with this is the AP-Ipsos poll that gave Hillary high marks on trustworthiness was taken in March, 2007.

The two big questions are: What happened in the eight years since that poll was taken and today to change voter’s attitudes on the trust issue toward Clinton? The other even bigger one is: Does this pose a real problem for Clinton’s campaign?

The trust issue and Hillary has been the sole fixation of the pollsters and they seem to crank out a new poll monthly hitting that theme. If one believes the barrage of polls, one comes away with the notion that voters, especially Democrats, simply don’t trust Hillary.

Playing up Clinton’s supposed free fall in integrity has been the one constant in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign. The Republican National Committee early on put Hillary dead in its hit sights to do everything possible to render her candidacy stillborn even before it officially became a candidacy. It not so subtly recycled the old trumped up scandals of the past from Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal. It then cranked out a sneering “poor Hillary” video that touted Hillary’s quip that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House. It then intimated that she shook down poor cash strapped universities for her alleged outrageous speaking fees.

There was little doubt that the first chance the GOP got it would seize on a real or manufactured Obama foreign policy flub and make Clinton their hard target. The Benghazi debacle seemed to be just the right flub. In August 2013, the Republican National Committee rammed the attack home with a half-minute clip of her Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony earlier that year on the Benghazi attack.

The aim as always was to embarrass and discredit her not because of her alleged missteps as Secretary of State, but as a 2016 presidential candidate. Republicans got what they wanted when their phony accusations against her of cover-up and incompetence got tons of media chatter and focus and raised the first shadow of public doubt. The GOP then tirelessly searched for something else that could ramp up more public doubt about Clinton’s honesty. It didn’t take long to find.

This time it got two for the price of one. Congressional Republicans jubilantly waved a fresh batch of Clinton emails to the media, claiming that it proved that she deliberately mislead Congressional investigators, and the public, on what she knew and how she handled or allegedly mishandled the Benghazi debacle. This ties in with the GOP’s and the media’s incessant flailing of Clinton for supposedly hiding, deleting or misusing her private emails for some sinister and nefarious reason during her stint as Secretary of State. There will be more to come on this rest assured.

Meanwhile, the GOP mockingly ridicules Clinton’s attempt to reimage her campaign and herself as a hands, on in the trenches with the people, caring, feeling candidate as just more of the Clinton con, and an ineffectual one to boot. The supposed proof of that is to finger point her plunging favorability numbers in the polls. Of course, what’s conveniently omitted from the Hillary smear is that every one of her GOP rivals is doing an even lousier job trying to convince voters that they are any more “trustworthy” than Clinton. In the case of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and especially Jeb Bush, their integrity meter score with the public fall somewhere between Watergate Richard Nixon and that of a used car salesman.

There’s more. A USA Poll and an ABC-Washington Post poll found that not only does Clinton have solid numbers in terms of approval with voters, but bags big time general favorability numbers from Democrats. This is even more impressive given the spirited, and populist issues run that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is making at Hillary.

It’s certainly true that voters do want a president that they can trust to say and do the right thing both on the issues and in their dealing with the public. But they also want a president who is experienced, well-versed, thoughtful, and firm on dealing with the inevitable crises that will confront the country, here and abroad. There’s absolutely no hint in the polls or anywhere else that the general public has shut down on Clinton in this vital area of public policy. But this won’t stop the GOP and those in the media obsessed with depicting Hillary as two-faced from peddling that line.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Associate Editor of New America Media; The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 19,2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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