WASHINGTON, July 17, 2015 — The media have a love-hate relationship with Donald Trump. He is at once audacious in his proclamations and ludicrous in his behavior. He is hard to ignore. Like the entertainment value of watching two trains collide, no one in media wants to miss a Trump event.
At the same time, they don’t want to take him too seriously.
When Trump formally announced his intentions to run for President of the United States, there was a huge crowd in attendance, including plenty from the media. Few other candidates with zero electoral experience or other significant public service have ever garnered the media attention that Trump has received.
Trump’s announcement speech was classic showmanship, with the billionaire taking an escalator down to his stage and audience applauding all the way. What he had to say was the exact type of “red meat” that the media loves and they were eager to share it with their audiences.
Yet the media seem to be reeling from the overwhelmingly positive response Trump has received from the public, which sees him as a champion of everyday Americans. He is the antidote to a government that will not deal seriously with tough issues, such as illegal immigration.
Americans have grown tired of politicians and their soft rhetoric and guarded stances when it comes to serious problems facing the nation.
How big is the Trump rise in the 2016 race? Virtually overnight, Trump became one of the top two contenders. His support among voters continues to grow. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Trump nearly tied for first place with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The rest of the pack is far behind them.
How far behind him? Trump is currently favored by 15.8 percent of GOP voters, compared to Bush’s 16.1 percent. The distance between them is within the margin of error for the poll. Third place goes to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul who, with 8.9 percent, is statistically tied with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and “wouldn’t vote.”
Being stuck in single digits isn’t just a Paul and Christie problem; it is an issue for all other major candidates. Marco Rubio, who was in second place in April, has plummeted to tenth place and less than 4 percent in the poll. Scott Walker, once a national and Iowa favorite, is now in fifth place, having gone from 14 percent to about 6 percent since April.
The GOP candidates have largely been a lackluster group, unable to gain any traction and essentially providing a mere “flavor of the month.” Trump has made the GOP race interesting in a way that rattles the Republican establishment.
So what should they do about Trump? What they have done to date seems ineffective. Since I started watching politics in the 1970s, I have never seen the chairman of either major party publicly scold a candidate in the primary season. According to Business Insider, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, in a phone call with Trump, urged him to “tone down his inflammatory comments that have infuriated a key election constituency’ (Latinos)” Such a statement could be seen as blatant bias and even an “anti-endorsement,” the equivalent of an endorsement for others if you are the subject of such criticism.
What do we learn from these mixed messages? Trump is entirely unpredictable, and the last thing the GOP should do is give him an incentive to bolt. If there is one person who will not tolerate being “mistreated” and is likely to hold a grudge, it is Donald Trump.
If the GOP is worried about Trump as the nominee of the Republican Party, should they not be much more concerned about the him dropping a billion dollars in an independent campaign that can only sink the party’s chances?
The GOP should handle Trump with kid gloves or plan on losing their best opportunity to win a presidential election in years. The GOP is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It must handle Trump with extreme care.