Will Trump’s War on the Media Work?

Earlier today, Donald Trump sent out a push “poll” to his supporters attacking the media, which I covered at The Weekly Standard.

If you missed the story, Trump — who has not, to anyone’s knowledge, spent a dime on internal polling — used a push “poll” to fan the flames of anger against “the media” whom he blames for his dismal general election results.

In my view, his campaign is likely using the clearly non-scientific “poll” for four purposes:

  1. Data mining his supporters’ views.
  2. Something he will seriously cite on national TV as evidence of X. (In any other year, it’d be beyond belief, but alas, it’s 2016…)
  3. Data mining his supporters’ reading/viewing habits. (TWS made the top five!)
  4. To use psychology to further convince them that they’re right and everyone else, including reporters, opinion writers, and outlets they typically read/respect, are wrong.

Zach Hanover, a GOP ad maker, writes in:

I can’t imagine doing anything like that with any of my clients. Easily one of the most pathetic and amateurish displays from this campaign and sadly I have a feeling we aren’t done yet…

Also as you pointed out… seems like the only purpose was data mining with the questions about channel preferences. Not sure what else can be gained from that.

One anonymous pollster I spoke to opined:

Once upon a time, people used to make fun of SurveyMonkey. But they never saw this survey from the Trump campaign’s sophomore-year government class… Direct mail people who send out those fundraising ‘surveys’ are laughing at this until their sides hurt… Trump has no other play than to keep his core supporters on board.

“It’s good to at least see what they’re working on instead of opening campaign offices or running ads…” commented former senate press secretary and communications consultant Michael Freeman. “Each day brings new evidence that this is one man’s ego trip, with a dash of grievance-airing, rather than anything resembling a real campaign”

Charlie Sykes, a prominent Wisconsin-based talk radio host and commentator who has been critical of Trump, has this to say about the Trump push “poll”:

It tells me that he has become rather consumed by his war with the media, even at he expense of talking about Hillary. For Trump, this is consistent. I’m guessing his loudest applause lines at his rallies are his attacks on the media and there is no downside to attacking them, at least when it comes to his own base.

His specific examples of mainstream media bias are likely to resonate with his supporters who have marinated in talk radio over the years.

But this is also now becoming a crucial tactic for his campaign: he lives by the media in the primaries and is dying by the media in the general. The coverage of negative, and it is clearly damaging. Trump’s response isn’t just to push back on negative stories; it is to de-legitimize the media altogether. That way he inoculates himself against stories about his outrageous comments, his phony charitable contributions, his Trump U. fraud case, his taxes, gaffes, or misstatements of fact. He has already benefited from the alternative reality created by friendly conservative media, so he has decided to double down in telling his fan base that they are the only credible sources.

Sykes, in an earlier interview with Business Insider‘s Oliver Darcy suggested that conservative media has “created a monster” as it pertains to their listening base:

We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers. There’s nobody. Let’s say that Donald Trump basically makes whatever you want to say, whatever claim he wants to make. And everybody knows it’s a falsehood. The big question of my audience, it is impossible for me to say that. ‘By the way, you know it’s false.’ And they’ll say, ‘Why? I saw it on Allen B. West.’ Or they’ll say, ‘I saw it on a Facebook page.’ And I’ll say, ‘The New York Times did a fact check.’ And they’ll say, Oh, that’s The New York Times. That’s [a lie].’ There’s nobody — you can’t go to anybody and say, ‘Look, here are the facts.’ And I have to say that’s one of the disorienting realities of this political year. You can be in the alternative media reality and there’s no way to break through it. And I swim upstream because if I don’t say these things from some of these websites, then suddenly I have sold out. Then they’ll ask what’s wrong with me for not repeating these stories that I know not to be true.

This might be charitably described as the “Fargo” strategy, from season one. A poster in Lester Nygaard’s basement reads: “What if you’re right and they’re wrong?” A red fish swims against the current of yellow fish.

This is the audience Trump seeks input from: citizens so distrusting of the media / trusting in Trump, they’re willing to suspend all disbelief in support of Trump. This, despite dozens of unfavorable stories on Trump from outlets they once, ostensibly, trusted.

In short, trust no one but … Trump and your own lyin’ eyes. (Read: Please, please, please stay on board the Trump Train.)

Brian Rell, chief of staff to Rep. Robert Aderholt tweets, about the push “poll,” that it is “a reflection of public sentiment being used as campaign tool…”

Indeed, Trump is doubling down on an old talk radio trope that had some truth to it. No longer is it “the mainstream media is biased” as it sometimes is, now it’s “the media is biased.” Writ. Large.

Will it work?

Sykes thinks so:

I’m tempted to say yes, because the media polls just above used car salesmen and hemorrhoids. But in this case, it just tells me that he is (1) off message, (2) blaming somebody other than himself for his lousy poll numbers. Neither is a good sign.

After submitting their responses, respondents, of course, are asked to donate, as is the custom of all fake surveys. But Trump’s push “poll” seems less about donations and more about voter psychology… Confirming their bias that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. #MAGA.

More importantly, when will the Trump campaign get around to doing serious polling, running campaign ads on television, and shoring up the infrastructure necessary to compete in American politics?

And what role does this “poll” play in such a strategy, if any?

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