Monday, June 17, 2024

Analysis | One of Trump’s biggest political assets is his mundanity

Analysis | One of Trump’s biggest political assets is his mundanity

By February 2024, if you are tuning in to a broadcast of Donald Trump being interviewed by Maria Bartiromo, you should know what you are getting. Bartiromo has cemented her position as one of the most sycophantic members of the pro-Trump media, with even one of her colleagues at one point warning that right-wing conspiracy theorists had her ear. (With good reason.) So Sunday’s conversation between the two on Bartiromo’s ostensibly business-focused Fox News show “Sunday Morning Futures” was what you would expect: an assemblage of the standard claims and fictions and hyperbole from Trump interrupted occasionally by prods from Bartiromo.

For example: “We’re letting 18 million people in,” Trump said at one point, offering a wildly inflated estimate of the number of immigrants allowed to stay in the United States under President Biden. “I think the number is going to be 18 million people by the time he gets out.”

“Wow,” said Bartiromo.

And so it went. There were some awkward edits in the broadcast where Trump undoubtedly started riffing about how the 2020 election was stolen, a topic that Fox News has learned the hard way not to put on the air. But otherwise it was what you’d expect.

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Listening to the patter — the indescribably familiar patter of Trump talking about the things Trump wants to talk about — the effect of his approach is clear: It’s another example of how Trump overwhelms systems that would otherwise be a political disadvantage for him.

Simply by virtue of saying the same things over and over, Trump didn’t make much news. He did suggest that he would be happy to see Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel go, and — with unsubtle prods from Bartiromo — acknowledged that some of the obvious contenders for his possible future vice-presidential pick were contenders for that pick. Beyond that? Same old. The news is about what’s new, and Trump specializes in offering anything but that.

And yet here it was, mostly unfiltered for half an hour on Fox News. Here he was talking about how foreign governments were putting criminals in caravans and sending them north, just as he had said when he first announced his candidacy in 2015. Talking about how the situation at the border meant there was a “100 percent” chance of a future terrorist attack, while claiming no such attacks had occurred when he was president. (They did.) Asserting that, if he were president, the Chinese would never have sent a balloon over the United States (they reportedly did) and that U.S. service members would never have been killed in Jordan.

Trump even had the temerity to suggest that the rampant turnover he saw in his administration was a sign of success and strength, akin to “The Apprentice.” (His analogy, not mine.) According to Trump, he did and would have done everything perfectly; Biden does and will continue to do everything awfully.

Bartiromo just nodded along, occasionally asking things like whether Chinese immigrants arriving at the border were “being directed by the Communist Party to come here.”

It is not a new observation that Trump wears down opposition through repetition. He says things that were once considered beyond the pale so often that people become acclimated to them, if not accepting of them. The effect is that he says them to those who are listening — his base of support and those still curious enough to pay attention — as fact checks and rebuttals and context become more and more stale.

The Washington Post invented a new category of fact-checking for Trump since he says the same false things so often, but who has the energy to get up every day and tell people who don’t care that Trump once again is being dishonest?

Particularly in the wake of the 2020 election, there was a push within the media to more actively ensure that Trump wasn’t able to simply make false claims (particularly about election fraud) to viewers and readers. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently suggested that this impulse has gone too far, that Americans are being shielded from seeing Trump’s more reactionary and aggressive rhetoric about governance and policy. That will probably change as the campaign progresses, but it’s an interesting point: Many people don’t know just how extreme Trump’s argumentation has gotten.

We shouldn’t gloss over the “who don’t care” qualifier above, though. Maria Bartiromo doesn’t seem to care that Trump is saying false things; she doesn’t even seem to care that he’s saying the same false things he always says, limiting the ostensible news utility of this interview. But that’s not why she’s talking to him, because that’s not what his supporters want.

Trump went from being a right-wing-outrage cover band in 2015 and 2016 to having his own catalogue of hits by 2020. Now he’s just the popular act that does the same numbers over and over to people who follow him from show to show like he’s Jimmy Buffett. (This is at times literal; his rallies feature groupies who follow him from town to town and get seats right up front.) If you dislike the music, you’re not going to check out the concert.

The result is that people who tune in to his interviews or watch Fox News or obsess over the former president hear this same litany of claims over and over without context or pushback. Traditional media does offer some context, at times, but doing so in the same way repeatedly is resource intensive, and the people who are actively tuning in to Trump aren’t likely to flip over to The Washington Post afterward to see how he is misleading them. What’s in effect at Fox is the opposite pattern to the one Hayes is focused on: On Fox, Trump is covered relentlessly, and what’s muted is criticism.

All of this is a way of describing the bubble in which Trump and his ideological cohort have existed for some time. As the presidential election campaign grinds on, though, it’s worth reiterating: The dullness and familiarity of Trump’s rhetoric interest those to whom he wants to appeal and slip past those he hopes to sidestep.

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