Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • How Trump Dared The Press With A Campaign Built On Lies

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As Donald Trump’s three-ring circus-style campaign of misinformation winds down, one of the lingering questions is whether the press has helped normalize the kind of post-truth performance that the Republican presidential nominee has so enthusiastically embraced.

    Faced with the tricky task of covering a radically different type of candidate who walked away from so many previous norms of American politics (i.e. truth telling for him was entirely optional), the Beltway press faced a defining test: Forcefully call out Trump’s lies, or find wiggle room to politely describe his behavior.

    Trump’s not a politician who artfully shades the truth, or who has a tendency to modestly alter his proposal based on whichever audience he’s addressing. He’s just a chronic liar.

    On this crucial assignment, I’d give the press a C+/ B- grade. 

    12 months ago, it was becoming obvious that Trump campaigned as an unrepentant liar and that the campaign press had never dealt with a candidate who felt so compelled to make stuff up while simultaneously refusing to ever acknowledge or correct those fabrications. (Even many conservatives agree on that point.)

    In other words, Trump was ripping up the old playbook. No longer concerned with media fact-checkers who proved him wrong, and no longer interested in running any sort of factual campaign, Trump invented his own model and dared journalists to alter their ways in order to adjust to the Trump fabrication revolution.

    “Chronic,” “compulsive,” “pathological.” Those are not phrases that most journalists have felt comfortable regularly using when describing Trump’s run, even though when you look at the totality of his nonstop prevarications, those adjectives certainly apply.

    For the most part, the press never entirely ripped up its old playbook in order to cover Trump’s radical run. Instead, for too much of the race, journalists often clung to the conventional template to portray Trump as running something resembling a conventional White House run. The press seemed uncomfortable with accurately identifying Trump and his campaign for what they represented. (That includes his TV surrogates.)

    And I’m still waiting for journalists to take deep dives into Trump’s troubled personality in search of an explanation for his pathological ways. (Note that the press loves playing armchair psychologist to Hillary Clinton to explain her alleged flaws.) 

    Here’s a perfect example of how, with just two weeks left until Election Day, the press is still letting Trump get away with his lying game.

    Following last week’s final presidential debate, some commentators suggested Trump had done very well during the first half-hour. They contrasted that with the remaining 60 minutes, during which Trump suggested he might not accept the results on Election Day and derided Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman.” Before those colossal missteps, pundits suggested, Trump was on his way to delivering a winning debate performance.

    We saw the same widespread media response after the first debate, as well: If only Trump had been able to maintain his focus from the first half-hour, he might have been able to able to post an impressive debate performance.

    But here’s the thing: during the first half-hour of those debates, Trump lied constantly.

    During the first debate, in roughly the first 30 minutes, the GOP nominee badly misstated facts about job losses in Ohio under President Obama, Ford shipping “small car division” jobs to Mexico, the amount of financial support Trump enjoyed from his father over the years, whether he previously called climate change a “hoax,” the rate of energy production in the United States, the idea Clinton’s been fighting ISIS her “entire adult life,” and why he can’t release his tax returns.

    During the third debate’s first half-hour, Trump made stuff up about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clinton’s gun policy, her immigration policy, abortion, being endorsed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, the economic effects of NAFTA, not having a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. security officials having “no idea” whether Russia has played a role in recent email hacks, and insisting Japan and South Korea pay nothing for American troops being based in their country.  

    Despite that cabaret of nonstop fabrications, media observers praised those portions of Trump’s debate performance even though they were built around lies and fabrications. The standard that journalists still to use for Trump was that if he looked and sounded presidential while lying during debate, he scored points.

    That’s scary.

    Beyond those 30-minute sections, the debates represented a forest fire of falsehoods for Trump. According to Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, who methodically fact-checked the three presidential forums, Trump made 104 false statements during the debates, compared to Clinton’s 13. Incredibly, Trump unfurled 37 false statements during the third debate, which averaged out to one whopper for every minute he spoke that night.

    Obviously, one of the reasons we know Trump can’t tell the truth is because media fact-checkers have worked overtime to document his trail of deceit. And that’s been the good news. The bad news has been that the polite fact checking sometimes seemed to be cordoned off, and isn’t always used as aggressively in the day-to-day campaign coverage.

    As I previously highlighted, last December Trump uncorked the unsupportable claim that the wives of the 9/11 hijackers "knew exactly what was going to happen" the day of the terror attack and had been flown "back to Saudi Arabia" days before the hijacked plane strikes. (Fact: Most of the hijackers weren’t even married.) Addressing the specious claim, The New York Times reported that Trump was "fuzzy" on his 9/11 facts and that the wives tale didn't "align" with "the timeline and details of the hijacking of the planes." The Times suggested Trump was simply "having trouble keeping some details straight about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." 

    But that was timid 2015 Trump coverage, right?  Didn’t the press wise up to his falsehoods in time for the general election campaign? Not always.

    Last month, when the Times reported on Trump’s proposal for child-care and maternity leave plan, the paper noted that “in selling his case, Mr. Trump stretched the truth, saying that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has no such plan of her own and ‘never will.’”

    False. Trump didn’t ‘stretch the truth,’ he flat out lied: Clinton does have a plan of her own and she unveiled it last year, which the Times itself noted.

    Time and again, reporters and their editors, fumbling over polite euphemisms, simply couldn’t summon the nerve to accurately label Trump’s lies for what they were.

    And that creates a disturbing precedent going forward. Yes, it appears that Trump’s marathon of lies most likely isn’t going to win him the White House. But his bizarre detachment from the facts did highlight a stress point within the Beltway press: Its lingering hesitancy to call out a bullying Republican who dared journalists to use the “L” word.

  • Complaining That Trump Wallows In Conspiracies, Conservative Press Wallows In Latest Clinton Conspiracy

    Self-Awareness Deficit

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Caught up in this increasingly chaotic campaign season, sometimes it seems confused conservative media members can’t keep track of what both hands are doing. Confronted with a nominee who’s been rejected by key editorial outlets such as The Weekly Standard and National Review, conservative commentators often find themselves simultaneously condemning Trump’s behavior while trafficking in those same traits.

    For instance, on the one hand, lots of GOP commentators have forcefully criticized “unshackled” Trump for wallowing in endless, unsupported conspiracy theories, such as the candidate’s recent claim that the pending presidential election is “rigged” and that he might not accept the November election results.

    But on the other hand, the conservative press has been nearly unified this week in excitedly pushing yet another unsupported conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton’s emails, this one featuring a supposedly ominous “quid pro quo” arrangement between the State Department and the FBI. (Fact: The premise is completely bogus.)

    So yes, there are some major self-awareness issues on display during the final weeks of the campaign as the dysfunctional conservative media -- which for years (and for decades) has wallowed in wild, baseless conspiracies -- calls out Trump for wallowing in wild, baseless conspiracies.

    The disconnect is pronounced. “Mainstream Republicans are watching these developments at the top of the ticket with a growing sense of alarm, calling Trump’s latest conspiracy theories of a rigged election irresponsible and dangerous,” The Boston Globe reported.

    Really? Conservatives and Republicans are alarmed that Trump trumpets make-believe claims of “rigged” elections? That he might not concede defeat?

    “It is interesting that Republicans have chosen to draw the line at Trump’s completely unfounded claims,” noted Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. “For the past 16 years, the GOP has fervidly stoked Americans’ fears of voter fraud and repeatedly declared that Democrats were stealing elections without any basis in reality.” (Making it harder for people to vote has also become a hallmark of the GOP legislative agenda.)

    The GOP’s “stealing” claim goes double for right-wing media, which for years have delighted in fanning race-baiting flames about “voter fraud” and stolen elections. But Trump openly discussing “rigged” elections goes too far for the same community of pundits? Apparently the nominee’s sin isn’t claiming Democratic voters, and especially black Democratic voters, cheat at the ballot box, it’s that he lays it on too thick.

    I suspect the Republican and conservative media tsk-tsking over “rigged” rhetoric must be confusing for a political novice like Trump who’s trying to figure out which far-out conservative conspiracies are okay to campaign on, and which are deemed to be out of bounds.

    Here’s a possible cheat sheet for Trump:

    Claiming elections are “rigged” is bad, but insisting there’s been a wide-ranging Clinton email “cover-up” is good.  

    Pushing the Obama “birther” story is bad, but claiming Obamacare is built around “death panels” is good.  

    What’s also confusing is that the same conservative commentators and publications that are denouncing Trump conspiracies today are often busy simultaneously pushing their own dubious plots.  

    For instance, in July, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes admonished “crazy” Trump for pushing nutty schemes, like suggesting Sen. Ted Cruz’s father played a role in the JFK assassination, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, and that thousands of people in Jersey City, N.J., celebrated in the streets when the towers at the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11.

    Trump’s conspiracy gibberish sounded like something “one might expect from a patient in a mental institution” wrote Hayes.

    So Hayes is adamantly opposed to political conspiracies and thinks Trump looks foolish pushing them. But guess who authored The Weekly Standard article that recently launched the debunked FBI/Clinton email conspiracy? And guess which Weekly Standard writer spent three years concocting or running with unsubstantiated claims about the terror attack in Benghazi?

    Stephen Hayes.

    Hayes and The Weekly Standard aren't alone in their hypocrisy. Last year, National Review Online also criticized Trump for his support of the absurd birther conspiracy theory. More recently, NRO has attacked Trump for hyping the “rigged” allegations: “This is reckless in the extreme.”

    Indeed, for conservative commentators who have refused to back Trump this year and who have openly disparaged his candidacy and his nomination, his love of unproven conspiracies has served as a central plank for their opposition. 

    But like The Weekly Standard, NRO this week eagerly pushed the tall Clinton/FBI email conspiracy tale. Separately, NRO has claimed the reason Clinton wasn’t prosecuted for her use of private emails was because the Obama administration covered up the Clinton “felony” in order to protect the president’s equally illegal email use.

    Or something.

    Thinly sourced plots that supposedly reveal Democratic criminality (and worse!) have certainly defined the conservative press during the Obama administration. Just look at Benghazi, the three-year conspiracy-palooza proudly presented by Fox News and the entire conservative media galaxy. 

    Media Matters spent years debunking the endless claims.

    Simply put, this is a conservative movement that’s so addicted to dopey conspiracy plots and to connecting non-existent dots, and has so normalized the practice in the pursuit of partisan politics, that it can’t even recognize Trump is simply channeling their own paranoia into a national campaign.

    Watching Trump’s ugliness projected onto a big screen, conservatives recoil. But they’re really just watching a self-portrait.

  • As Trump Wages War On The Press, News Outlets Refuse To Fight Back

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Like everything else about Donald Trump’s vitriolic campaign, his attacks on journalists, and the way those assaults are being fervently amplified by Trump’s whipped-up supporters, have become genuinely frightening during the finals weeks of the Republican’s faltering run.

    Fronting a nihilistic campaign that seeks to do lasting damage to our electoral and democratic process, Trump has shifted his all-encompassing war on the media onto more dangerous terrain this month. Graduating from his previous claims that reporters are "disgusting" and "horrible people," Trump now insists they’re all part of the “rigged” infrastructure this election cycle that’s conspiring against the former beauty pageant owner.

    Forget blaming the messenger -- Trump’s now trying to bury the messenger. And his fans want to help.

    In addition to lobbing regular abuse at journalists on social media, Trump and his supporters have waged their vendetta at the candidate’s rallies, where journalists are corralled behind metal barricades. And his fans have become increasingly unhinged. “The traveling press corps covering Donald Trump‘s rally in Cincinnati had to be escorted out the back door of the event to a heavily guarded motorcade after being greeted with boos, middle fingers and a seemingly ‘arena-wide’ chant of ‘Tell the truth!’ from a crowd of 15,000 people, according to a pool report,” People recently reported.

    Meanwhile, journalists have been sharing disturbing rally snapshots on Twitter:

    From NBC News’ Ali Vitali:

    CNN’s Jim Acosta:

    Washington Post’s Jose DelReal:

    None of this is new, unfortunately. On Monday, The New York Times published a piece headlined “Criticism of the News Media Takes on a More Sinister Tone,” which raised concerns about “dangerous” anger targeted at reporters.

    It’s true that the level of contempt seems to have spiked in recent days as Trump takes his campaign off the rails, with his crowds “spontaneously targeting the press on their own, at a scale not yet seen in this campaign, or any in memory on American soil,” according to Politico.

    But Trump’s outrageous, out-of-bounds press attacks have been a staple of his campaign for more than a year.

    Last winter, after Trump from a rally stage targeted NBC reporter Katy Tur as a “dishonest” “third rate reporter” and after the Trump crowd turned on her "like a large animal, angry and unchained,” the Secret Service took the precaution of escorting Tur to her car after the event.

    The unyielding harassment hasn’t abated, according to Tur: “The wave of insults, harassment, and threats, via various social-media feeds, hasn't stopped since. Many of the attacks are unprintable.”

    Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists passed a resolution “declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ's ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.” Also, the National Press Club recently condemned Trump’s anti-media crusade: “We find this renewed pattern of journalist intimidation to be unacceptable and dangerous to our democracy.”

    These condemnations are important and welcomed, but unfortunately they’re the exception and not the rule this cycle -- and they arrive woefully late. In the face of Trump’s ongoing bullying, much of the press hasn’t fought back.

    For more than a year, the Trump campaign has beat up the media, and news organizations did little in response while showering him with even more coverage and hiring his former campaign manager as an election commentator. What kind of signal does that send? Why didn’t news executives ever say "enough" to the campaign bullying? And why didn’t they opt for collective action to fix the obvious problems with how the Trump campaign was manhandling the press?

    I am not blaming the victims here -- the victims being the journalists who have been doused with verbal attacks and rancid condemnations at Trump rallies. Obviously, hard-working reporters never deserve to be treated like that.

    But I do think those journalists’ bosses deserve part of the blame for never summoning the courage to effectively and unapologetically push back against Trump’s ugly war.

    At key junctures during the election season, dating back to the summer of 2015, Trump and his campaign have pushed the press around, sometimes literally. Institutionally, how did the press respond? With hallmark timidity, driven, perhaps, by the high ratings and advertising revenue that Trump’s campaign provided.

    I’ve highlighted this contrast before, but it’s absolutely essential in terms of understanding how toothless the press has been in dealing with Trump’s campaign intimidation, and how the press never would have let those types of hardball attacks go unanswered coming from a Democratic candidate.

    Last year, 17 journalists representing a multitude of news organizations met for two hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton's campaign was limiting access for journalists. Note that the Democratic nominee wasn’t besmirching journalists, calling them names, or inciting her followers to rain insults down on reporters. She was simply accused of not granting reporters enough access, which produced a collective response from news organizations.

    Last November, several news organizations did discuss their concerns with the Trump campaign, according to The Huffington Post, but seemingly nothing came of it. In fact, "facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump's events, the networks capitulated," BuzzFeed reported.

    So yes, the press has adopted separate standards for dealing with Democratic and Republican campaigns, especially when journalists feel they’re being treated unfairly. Trump sensed that, took advantage of it, and steamrolled news organizations that seemed more concerned with not losing access to Trump’s clicks/ratings-heavy campaign than with combating the candidate’s smear campaign and making sure their reporters were guaranteed safe environments to work in.

    The end result is the current shit show that’s unfolding, where journalists remain corralled inside Trump rally press pens while his fanatic followers unleash their venom.

  • Now, More Than Ever, Chris Wallace Is The Wrong Person To Moderate Final Debate

    Retreating To Fox, Trump Hasn’t Been Interviewed By CNN Or MSNBC Since August 

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    While Donald Trump’s campaign implodes under the weight of widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault by the Republican presidential nominee, he continues to maintain his bunker-like media strategy of basically only talking to his allies at Fox News. 

    The strategy is unprecedented for a general election candidate. But bombarded with bad news on all sides, Trump opts to hide out. “By cloistering himself on Fox News, he mostly avoids difficult questions about the daily controversies that plague his campaign,” noted CNN's Brian Stelter. (Trump’s last interview with either of Fox News’ main cable news rivals was August 25 on CNN; he hasn’t done a televised interview with any of the three broadcast networks since September 6.)

    Trump also hasn’t held a press conference since July.

    That means for Trump, the third and final presidential debate threatens rare exposure from his bubble strategy -- in fact, it could represent the last time this election cycle Trump will face unfriendly questions. Except there’s a hitch: Fox News’ Chris Wallace is moderating the debate. The same Chris Wallace who announced he won’t fact-check the candidates during the forum. It’s a hands-off approach that Trump and his allies heartily endorse.

    In other words, we have a potential mess unfolding. At the time when voters ought to be able hear a journalist press Trump about the avalanche of allegations from women who claim he’s groped and assaulted them, and at a time when Trump refuses to answer questions from most reporters, the final debate, at a distance, risks becoming another friendly venue for Trump, given Wallace’s past comments.

    “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” Wallace announced last month. “It's up to the other person to catch them on that."

    That’s simply not acceptable in the age of Trump. According to the fact-checkers at PolitiFact, roughly 70 percent of Trump claims they assessed have been found to be “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies. (Just four percent of the Trump assertions analyzed by the site have been found “true.”)

    And at the second debate, despite the best efforts by moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, Trump simply could not, or would not, stop lying. From NBC News:

    ·  Trump said Clinton doesn't know Russia hacked the DNC. U.S. intelligence has said they very likely did.

    ·  Trump said Clinton got a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl "off" his charges. She didn't.

    ·  Trump said Clinton laughed at a child rape victim. She didn't.

    ·  Trump said Clinton "viciously attacked" four women. This is largely unsubstantiated.

    ·  Trump said his 2005 recording didn't describe sexual assault. It did.

    ·  Trump said Clinton's campaign started the "birther" movement. She didn't.

    ·  Trump said Clinton wants a single payer healthcare. She doesn't.

    ·  Trump said the San Bernardino shooters' neighbors saw bombs in their apartment. They didn't.

    Notably, it is only because of Cooper's dogged questioning over the video of Trump bragging about commiting sexual assault that he was put on record denying he had ever committed that crime. Women have cited that public denial in coming forward to tell their stories about Trump this week.

    Against the background of Trump's rampant prevarications, Wallace is going to sit in the moderator’s chair and refuse to fact-check Trump. And Trump knows it. Talk about being unshackled.

    It’s also problematic because immediately following the second debate, some media observers seemed to deduct points from Clinton for supposedly not delivering a sure and steady performance, without simultaneously acknowledging she was confronted with an unprecedented avalanche of lies. (Reminder: In the past, most presidential nominees tried to avoid telling blatant lies during nationally televised debates for fear of being fact-checked and having to explain the so-called 'gaffe' the next day. Trump doesn't seem bothered in the slightest and just keeps telling more.)

    Meanwhile, as Media Matters has documented, there are lots of other reasons why Wallace is the wrong pick. He was recently deriding Clinton’s demeanor after the first debate as being excessive [emphasis added]:

    WALLACE: She was enjoying herself. Bob, you say that you were on the road this week in North Carolina. You talked to a lot of people, and that kind of, I think it's fair to say, gloating didn't set too well? 

    BOB WOODWARD: Yeah. She won the debate. I think there's universal agreement on that. I guess Trump would not agree. But she really did. But, you know, that clip shows this kind of self-congratulation, this self-satisfaction. And as we know and as we try to teach our children, when you win something, don't gloat. Humility works. And the problem for her is this feeds the notion that she's in this for herself. You see that. She was overjoyed with what she did. Fine, take a victory lap, but there is -- something like that doesn't get dialed back, and it probably should. 

    Talk about odd: The person who is going to moderate Wednesday’s debate went on national TV to criticize the winner of the previous debate for supposedly “gloating.”

    Of course, also troubling is the fact that for two decades Wallace worked for Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who left the channel in disgrace amidst allegations of sexual harassment. Ailes has reportedly been advising Trump for debate preparation, while simultaneously advising Wallace's ultimate boss, 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch.

    Obviously, the issue of sexual harassment is going to come up at the debate. Wallace’s employer just went through a high-profile sexual harassment scandal where allegations were made that the cable channel is wildly hostile toward women. Will the Fox moderator really try to hold accountable the candidate who’s being coached by the moderator’s former boss and good friend?

    This is how Wallace described Ailes this summer: “Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally.”

    As Media Matters’ founder David Brock stated in a letter to the debate commission last month, “It is a glaring conflict of interest that Roger Ailes, who resigned from Fox News in July, simultaneously provides advice to Donald Trump while serving as a paid adviser to Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch—debate moderator Chris Wallace’s boss.”

    Wallace’s selection as moderator has always been riddled with conflicts. The fact that Trump now essentially refuses to come out from behind the Fox News curtain, while serious allegations of Trump wrongdoing mount, makes Wallace’s moderator role even more problematic.

  • Wounded, Trump Retreats Into The Fringe Media Bunker

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The big dig has begun.

    At a time when most presidential campaigns are trying to widen their reach to the largest possible audience during the final weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump seems to be consciously contracting and burrowing down. Rattled by the release of audio tapes that revealed the predatory language he uses about women and how he plots his assaults on them, Trump’s been withdrawing into the fringe media. 

    This retreat is even deeper into the confines of non-reality than Trump’s previous withdrawal into the Fox News bubble. That was when, beginning late summer, Trump began appearing almost exclusively on Fox News, and then within Fox News, appearing almost exclusively on the show of his most ardent supporter, Sean Hannity, and the friendly confines of Fox & Friends.

    Trump’s current withdrawal is like having Hannity then hand Trump the keys to a small bunker beneath the Fox News bubble -- and trying to run a White House campaign from there.

    For Trump, the Fox News bubble is a reassuring place where his campaign is always soaring and nobody cares about his tax returns. But the bunker atmosphere is perhaps even more pronounced. It’s where Hillary’s a “bitch” who needs to be imprisoned for imaginary crimes against the state (starting with Benghazi), and where talk from middle-aged men about grabbing “pussy” and trying to “fuck” married women can be dismissed as boys being boys.

    It represents the darkest regions of the conservative media -- it’s basically the Breitbart News dungeon. Breitbart, of course, being “a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained.”

    Populated by a cranky collection of media outcaststrolls, and bottom feeders, Trump has embraced them all, inviting them into his sanctum. As his campaign implodes, his crew is now trashing what’s left of the Republican Party, while Trump and his cadre have their eyes fixed on the prize: Obsessing over allegations of sexual assault and harassment by former President Bill Clinton. 

    The AM talk radio bunker is the kind of place where ‘Let Trump Be Trump’ reigns as a guiding philosophy. And at the debate, prowling the stage with a permanent scowl on his face, Trump waved that flag and marked the occasion with relentless attacks against Hillary Clinton’s husband. (Trump and his cadre of advisers even dreamt up a scheme where Bill Clinton would be forced to shake hands with his accusers.)

    Why, millions of tuned-in voters likely asked, was the Republican nominee in 2016 fixating on allegations about Bill Clinton from decades ago? Especially when he’s not even running for office

    Politically, the strategy makes no sense for a general election candidate trying to lure independent voters during the home stretch of a campaign. “Veteran Republicans have long recoiled from dredging up accusations that have been leveled against Bill Clinton, considering it as a losing strategy that turns off voters,” CNN reported this week. And a YouGov from August confirmed that well-known fact: 62 percent of respondents said that it would be “inappropriate” for Donald Trump to “bring up Bill Clinton’s past personal behavior as a way to attack Hillary Clinton.”

    The focus now from Trump and his media surrogates like Rudy Giuliani, who actually spent time in the post-debate spin room Sunday night talking excitedly about Bill Clinton’s “semen,” is that Hillary’s husband acted horribly.

    Just as birtherism for years whipped up white-hot elements of the conservative base while simultaneously doing damage to the Republican Party’s image, broken-record attacks on Hillary over allegations about her husband’s behavior from two decades ago remain a political loser for Republicans.

    So the obvious question is, why? Why does there remain a small, but obviously powerful pocket within the Republican Party, or at least within the Trump campaign and within the fringe confines of the conservative media, that sees this topic as the Most Important Issue Facing America.

    "Right-wing journalists and operatives have been laying the groundwork for an attack on Bill Clinton's sexual history for months," wrote Michelle Goldberg at Slate late last year.

    In truth, the plotting has been going on for years, with Sunday night’s debate being the culmination of a manic campaign to try to humiliate the first female presidential nominee in the U.S. by shaming her with allegations about her husband.

    And that’s what Trump’s pre-debate stunt was all about, the “press conference” where reporters weren’t allowed to ask any questions to the Clinton accusers the candidate flew in for the event. “With Trump flanked at a long, narrow table by the Clinton accusers, it looked like a twisted version of ‘The Last Supper,’” wrote Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post.

    At Breitbart, readers were told Trump “crushed” Clinton in the debate, despite the fact that he lost the debate according to polls of viewers. Meanwhile, Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich cheered the idea that Clinton “was totally rattled by” the Trump campaign stunt.

    And that appears to be the entire goal of this last-ditch campaign effort: to stoke the fascination of the bunker dwellers and their remaining hardcore supporters. “[I]t will satisfy the Breitbart wing of the conservative movement, who only ever wanted to see someone really stick it to Hillary Clinton the way they would if given the chance,” wrote Noah Rothman at the conservative magazine Commentary. “But there is no evidence that Trump will benefit from this in the polls.” (A new NBC/WSJ poll showed Trump trailing by 11 points.) 

    Politically, the topic represents a guaranteed dead end for the Republican Party. (Ask Newt Gingrich about the 1998 midterms.) But from Trump’s fringe media bunker, it remains an oddly irresistible target as his campaign burrows even further underground.

  • The Reckoning Arrives For Trump, Fox News, And The GOP

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Spy magazine got it right more than two decades ago, Donald Trump is simply a short-fingered vulgarian.

    For any remaining non-believers, this week’s released tape of Trump boasting about his sexual predator behavior eliminated any real doubts. (“Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” and “Grab them by the pussy.”)

    In the wake of the ground-shaking campaign bombshell, the Republican Party now faces a political crisis the likes of which it probably has not seen since the days of Watergate. In terms of a political party openly being at war with its presidential nominee one month before Election Day, as a GOP chorus grows demanding Trump step aside, there’s simply no precedent for this in modern American politics.

    How did the Republican Party arrive at this cratered-out low point? Simple -- this is what happens when conservatives feast exclusively on Fox News gobbledygook for years, especially for the last eight years under President Barack Obama. It’s what happens when you abandon policy, when you abandon common sense, and when you abandon hope in favor of vulgarity as a party platform.

    This Trump fiasco was telegraphed months ago. All of it. It simply wasn’t possible that a vainglorious narcissist like Trump, deeply uninterested in how the world works, would be able to pull off a presidential election campaign without revealing his true identity.

    The best case scenario was that Trump would run as sort of a bombastic and obnoxious Mitt Romney, lose, but not do serious lasting damage to the Republican Party. The far more likely scenario, and the one that’s unfolding during the final weeks, was that Trump would reveal himself to be a pathological liar and disturbed sexual predator who thinks fame gives him a license to assault and harass women.

    Think about that: The GOP nominated a pathological liar whose moments of truth seem to be when he brags about his sexual predator habits. And even then, when audio and video proof finally confirmed what was long suspected, prominent Fox News hosts immediately sprang into spin control mode, while far-out Fox guests uttered bizarre statements.

    Gina Louden: "No one was raped, nobody has died."

    Dinesh D'Souza: “In my entire adult lifetime but never before have I seen the media so aggressively huffing and puffing to drag this crooked hag across the finish line.”

    The simple truth is the GOP followed Fox News into the ethical and moral abyss long ago. And the GOP did so willingly. Seduced by the millions of dollars (billions of dollars?) worth of free airtime that Fox News provides the party each year, and aroused by the channel’s unvarnished hate rhetoric and its fever swamp attacks, Republicans abdicated party leadership to the now-disgraced Roger Ailes, who then turned around and helped crown Trump the Fox News mascot/presidential nominee.

    This train wreck, this dumpster fire, this…..thing now on display in the form of the Trump campaign represents the logical conclusion for a party that decided to walk away from governance and embrace the bottom-of-the-barrel offerings cooked up by Fox News. For a party that opted to nominate in Trump someone who scooped up all that Fox hate rhetoric and made it the very cornerstone of his campaign. And yes, that includes dangerous insurrectionism and the racist smear that Obama’s a foreign-born terrorist sympathizer.  

    Lots of Republicans have since stood by Trump despite the fact he’s repeatedly denigrated women, African-Americans, Latinos, and the disabled, among others. That’s how the party arrived at its current crisis.

    The funny thing is we tried to warn them.

    Four years ago, I wrote about how Fox News was destroying the Republican Party. But no, back then I never imagined we’d be witnessing this kind of public disintegration of the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2016.

    And that’s what makes this unraveling so stunning. It’s not that the campaign apparatus has fallen apart. It’s not that Trump’s team misread the electorate. It’s that the GOP candidate has fully revealed himself to be a loathsome person who has surrounded himself with equally loathsome people. First and foremost among them is former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who was forced out this summer amidst a sexual harassment firestorm.

    Please keep in mind:

    During July, we learned that women claimed men who worked in positions of power at Fox News (namely Ailes, but not exclusively) groped women, kissed women against their will, made wildly inappropriate sexual comments (“Are you wearing any panties? I wish you weren't”), asked about female employees’ sex lives, pressured younger women to date older men in the office, made “jokes” about liking having women on their knees, promised promotions in exchange for sex, and cut short careers of women who took offense.

    And yes, Fox News general counsel Dianne Brandi and Ailes’ deputy Bill Shine were accused of trying to cover up their former boss’ behavior. (Shine has since been promoted to Fox News co-president.)

    Twenty years ago on Friday, the same day the predatory Trump tapes were released, Fox News made its national debut, on October 7, 1996. Over the last two decades Fox News has forever changed American politics. And right now, the Republican Party is paying the biggest price.

  • The Media And Clinton’s Invisible Supporters

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    This week’s issue of The New Yorker offers up an epic, 8,000-word look at Donald Trump voters in West Virginia, and why the state has switched from blue to red over the last two decades. An anthropological dig into cultural and political shifts that have benefited Republicans in the Appalachian State (W.V. voter: “Political correctness is destroying the country”) The New Yorker feature arrives on the heels of the magazine’s previous 10,000-word look at Trump voters in the July 18 issue. That equally detailed feature examined the rise of Trump rallies and what the raucous affairs, teeming with fanatical supporters (“Where did my country go?”) say about the state of American politics.

    So that’s 18,000 words in the span of two New Yorker articles published just three months apart dissecting Trump supporters and what makes them tick; what fuels their rage and passion. Do you get a sense of where the magazine’s focus has been this campaign?

    The esteemed weekly has hardly been alone in that regard this year. As the presidential campaign heads toward its final month and Hillary Clinton stands poised to become the first woman president in American history, the press continues to be strangely obsessed with profiling the supporters of the losing candidate, while often gazing uninterestedly at Clinton voters.

    Despite the fact that the Clinton campaign has put together a voting coalition that is in several ways historic, more and more media attention seems to be showered on the supporters of the candidate who’s trailing badly in the polls. (See here, here, here, here and here.) 

    Obviously, both general election candidates have been the subject of never-ending campaign coverage. But when it comes to spotlighting and understanding their supporters, journalists seem far more keyed in on Republicans in terms of time and attention.

    In general, I understand the media's desire to try to explain what’s driving the support for Trump, who’s obviously running a highly unusual campaign and marketing his run in openly bigoted language. For a lot of people that’s deeply troubling, so understanding the dynamic behind Trump represents an obvious story of interest.

    What I’m baffled by is the media’s corresponding lack of curiosity about examining Clinton voters. After all, she has accumulated more votes than any other candidate this year and is leading a Democratic surge into key states. (Why hasn’t The New Yorker published an 8,000-word piece on why Virginia has turned into a deeply blue state over the last decade?)

    And I’m not alone in noting the year’s long-running disparity. Journalism professor and Clinton supporter Jeff Jarvis recently admonished the media (emphasis in original): “I never hear from voters like me who are enthusiastic supporters. I never see reporters wading among eager backers at Clinton rallies to ask them how much they like her and why.”

    And from MTV News’ Jamil Smith: “Contrary to Trump voters, I hardly ever see profiles of Clinton supporters. She's winning. Yet, I hear a lot about her ‘enthusiasm gap.’”

    Smith’s tweet was in response to a 4,600-word Washington Post profile of a Trump supporter who thinks Obama’s a Muslim, Clinton should be in jail, and the White House may have plotted to have U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia murdered. (Smith wrote that the “deranged” Trump supporter had been treated to a “humanizing” profile by the Post.)

    So why do supporters for Clinton’s historical run seem to generate so little interest from the press? It might be because so many journalists seem wedded to the Beltway narrative that Clinton doesn’t inspire voters and she’s a deeply unpopular politician; that the only reason she might win (and serve “as a kind of default president”) is because she’s running against Trump, a flawed candidate. The press also became heavily invested in Clinton “scandal” storylines.

    So if journalists are committed to a downer storyline about Clinton, they’re likely less to be interested in acknowledging her vibrant political base. We saw that same dynamic during the Democratic primary season as well, where the press routinely depicted Clinton’s opponent as leading a vibrant “movement” while she, we’re told, struggled to connect with voters. Especially young voters!

    Even today, we see a continued media infatuation with millennial and young voters and relentless reporting about how they might not like Clinton as much as they loved Barack Obama. Mathematically, the indications are that the Republican Party stands poised to be routed by those voters in November. But that’s not story the press wants to focus on.

    So the only Democratic voting bloc the press seems genuinely interested in is the voting bloc that the press insists Clinton is struggling with. (She’s really not.)

    Another, larger demographic the press has singled out as being uniquely important this cycle are white working class voters, who (surprise!) are also not keen on Clinton. It’s almost as if when the Democratic nominee has trouble connecting with a particular set of voters, those voters suddenly become supremely worthy of media attention.

    And if you think I’m exaggerating about the press’ complete obsession with Trump-friendly white working voters, here’s a rundown of some of the pieces published at, just last month:

    “Why Trump Gets Backing of White Working-Class Voters” (September 6)

    “The 'Forgotten Tribe' in West Virginia; Why America's White Working Class Feels Left Behind” (September 20)

    “2016: Last Call For Working Class Whites?” (September 21)

    “The Anatomy Of A White, Working-Class Trump Voter” (September 23)

    “The Shell-Shocked White Working Class” (September 23)

    “White Working-Class Evangelicals: Christian Values Are Under Attack” (September 24)

    “The Truth About The White Working Class: A Mosaic Of Their Own” (September 25)

    Who wants to tell CNN there’s also a black and Latino working class in America, that they vote, and they vote overwhelmingly Democratic?

    All of this isn’t to say there haven’t been some insightful media snapshots of Clinton supporters. This week, The Wall Street Journal examined her strong backing among older voters: “Among voters 65 and older, the most recent round of major media polls show Mr. Trump running between 11 and 18 percentage points behind 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney at this same point four years ago.”

    Demographically, that’s a very big deal. Clinton’s campaign is also rewriting the rule book among college educated voters who, for the first time in six decades, may side with the Democratic candidate for president.

    We’re witnessing major, possibly historic voting shifts in favor of the Democratic Party this election cycle. “The demographic and geographic trends reverberating through 2016 could produce a electoral alignment unlike any since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act shattered the Democratic hold on the ‘solid South,’” noted Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic

    So why isn’t the press clamoring to explain all that to news consumers?

  • A Hotbed Of Sexual Harassment And Victim-Blaming, Fox News Fixates On The Clintons’ Private Life

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    After Fox News’ long summer of tawdry revelations about the culture of sexual harassment that permeates the cable outlet, and how women there who raised concerns were often maligned or penalized professionally, you’d think Fox hosts would know better than to lob hypocritical allegations about sexual harassment victim-blaming.

    You’d think, but you’d be wrong.

    On Monday morning, Fox & Friends hosts hovered on the topic again and again, setting aside nearly 10 minutes of TV airtime to discuss Bill Clinton’s sex life during the 1990s, and specifically to claim that Hillary Clinton doubled as some kind of victims bully.

    Using that day’s New York Times piece on the same topic as a springboard, the Fox crew erroneously claimed Hillary had had a starring role in smearing women; that she’s guilty of “sliming the women who came forward,” according to Fox’s Steve Doocy. Doocy also said she “ruthlessly covered up Bill’s many affairs,” and co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed she “went aggressively after” the women involved. Kilmeade even suggested, based on the latest book from discredited Clinton fabulist Ed Klein, that Bill Clinton was still carrying out extramarital affairs in the Clinton Library.

    The picture painted on Fox News was vivid: Decades ago, Hillary Clinton viciously attacked accusers in the name of protecting her husband and protecting her political future.

    Despite the Times’ best effort to resuscitate the evergreen allegation against Clinton, there’s simply no evidence, as the conservative media have claimed for years, to suggest that as first lady, Clinton was at the head of some sort of heartless, uber-aggressive opposition research team that set out destroy the reputations of women associated with Bill Clinton.

    The Fox pile-on, however, does represent part of a larger effort by the Trump campaign to position the Clinton marriage as a political issue for the final weeks of the campaign. Incredibly, it’s an effort led by an array of Republican men, including the Republican nominee himself, who have long histories of infidelity and sexual harassment.

    Even more incredible, you know who does have a history of eagerly taking up the role of attack dog and orchestrating offenses against women who made allegations against this abusive and tasteless behavior? You know who set up opposition research teams to spy on his political opponents? Fox News founder -- and current Trump adviser -- Roger Ailes, of course.

    So yes, it’s astonishing to watch Fox News hosts, who work at what’s been described as a hotbed of sexual harassment and victim-blaming, now paint Hillary Clinton as the villain.  

    As Ailes biographer Gabe Sherman tweeted this week:

    The hypocrisy runs deep, indeed. In fact, Doocy himself, who on Monday leveled allegations against Clinton, has been implicated in the Fox News sexual harassment cover-up culture.

    Recall that Roger Ailes was forced to resign from Fox in July after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. Subsequently, at least 25 other women detailed similar allegations against Ailes and the cable channel. One former employee even described Ailes as a “predator.” (He reportedly demanded the woman find “whores” for him.)

    Carlson’s lawsuit alleged that Ailes “terminat[ed] her employment,” because she would not have a “sexual relationship with him.” It also accused Doocy of “creat[ing] a hostile work environment by regularly treating [Carlson] in a sexist and condescending way.”

    Note that in the wake of the Carlson bombshell lawsuit in July, the Fox News cavalry rode to Ailes’ side, while often denouncing the accuser. Bill O’Reilly compared Carlson's allegations to a "frivolous lawsuit," and announced, "I stand behind Roger 100 percent." Greta Van Susteren suggested Carlson may have falsely accused Ailes of sexual harassment because she was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed,” while Jeanine Pirro called Carlson’s allegations “absurd” and tagged Ailes a “no-nonsense guy,” adding, “I just loved him.”

    Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed that of the women she had spoken to at Fox, “Nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations, adding that Ailes “is a man who champions women.” Brit Hume wondered, “Why didn't she quit & sue instead of suing only after she got fired.”

    More: Host Neil Cavuto wrote an op-ed for Business Insider defending "the character of Roger Ailes.” He called the allegations against his former boss “sick,” while Sean Hannity tweeted out this blanket denial, as he ridiculed Carlson’s lawsuit:

    Of course, just one month after the lawsuit was filed, Fox News’ parent company reached a $20 million settlement with Carlson and issued an apology regarding Ailes’ decades-long behavior. The corporate concession made a mockery of the staff-wide victim-blaming that went on at Fox News on behalf of Ailes.

    In truth, Fox News’ culture of nasty accuser-blaming goes back years.

    According to a 2004 sexual harassment suit filed against Fox host O’Reilly, O’Reilly allegedly threatened a former employee, saying, “If any woman ever breathed a word I’ll make her pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born,” and adding, “If you cross FOX NEWS CHANNEL, it’s not just me, it’s [FOX President] Roger Ailes who will go after you.”

    The following year, after settling an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the company, Fox News agreed not to enable workplace sexual harassment by retaliating against victims.

    And it’s not just Ailes. Doocy and Kilmeade, who leveled the claims against Clinton on Monday, currently work for co-president Bill Shine, who was promoted after Ailes’ ouster. That’s the same Bill Shine who reportedly “played an integral role in the cover up” of sexual harassment claims against Ailes. According to New York’s Sherman, Shine was responsible for “rallying the women to speak out against” Ailes’ accusers. Sherman also reported that Shine played a role in the silencing and “smearing” of reporter Rudi Bakhtiar, who claimed she was fired from Fox News after complaining about sexual harassment.

    Additionally, former Fox host Andrea Tantaros, in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the cable channel, claimed that when she met with Shine seeking “relief from Ailes’s sexual harassment and [Fox News publicist Irena] Briganti’s retaliatory media vendetta against her," Shine “told Tantaros that Ailes was a ‘very powerful man,’” and that Tantaros “‘needed to let this one go.’”

    Gazing back two decades and focusing on the Clinton marriage, Fox’s Kilmeade this week concluded, “I sense that she knew the truth and wanted to defame the woman and the accuser.”

    Lacking keen self-awareness, Kilmeade couldn’t detect the irony. But he was actually describing his former boss, Roger Ailes.

  • The Press Concocted A Clinton Caricature, But That’s Not Who Showed Up At The Debate

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Hillary Clinton sure didn’t look like an “awful” candidate up on the debate stage this week.

    “Awful” was how ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd derided the Democratic nominee over the summer on This Week. “She is an awful candidate. Everybody knows it,” he stressed.

    Dowd was hardly alone. The Beltway pundit class has relentlessly portrayed Clinton as someone who’s supremely uncomfortable in her own skin and ill-suited to be the Democratic nominee or the next president.

    But that’s not what 80-plus million viewers saw when they tuned into the debate. Poised, confident and in control, Clinton walked away with a clear victory, according to all scientific polling.

    So why the huge disconnect between the way the press portrays Clinton, often with a relentlessly caustic and cynical eye, and the reality of who Clinton is as a candidate, as seen during the debate? A large chunk of viewers, regardless of whether they support her or not, must have been genuinely confused by the person they watched for 90 minutes, and the person they’ve seen depicted in the press throughout this campaign.

    She certainly didn’t resemble the supposedly phony, unlikeable, calculating politician the press has been describing most of this year. She didn’t come across as the deeply secretive, distant, “scripted,” figure who can’t connect with voters. (Fact: Clinton accumulated more votes than any other candidate during the presidential primaries.)

    Aside from her agenda and her politics, the press has been nearly universal in the way they’ve described Clinton as a person and as a candidate. She’s “afraid to say what she thinks about anything for fear of alienating this or that constituency,” explained The Washington Post, while emphasizing, “She often comes across as inauthentic or lacking a basic core of beliefs.”

    Bottom line: Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate, and possibly a deeply flawed person.

    And that has been the nearly universal media theme since the beginning of this campaign. Last summer, The Wall Street Journal suggested Clinton sounds too "scripted and poll-tested," while Politico this year marked her victory in the Kentucky primary with the downer headline, “Hillary Clinton’s Joyless Victory.”

    But instead of that scheming Clinton caricature showing up at the debate, viewers saw a confident, at-ease candidate who at one point even shimmied with delight on the national stage.

    “[T]ens of millions of Americans saw the candidates in action, directly, without a media filter,” noted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman following the debate. “For many, the revelation wasn’t Mr. Trump’s performance, but Mrs. Clinton’s: The woman they saw bore little resemblance to the cold, joyless drone they’d been told to expect.”


    Unfortunately, as Media Matters has been noting for years, there has existed over time an almost open contempt for Clinton from the press corps. Last year there was even talk about how journalists were primed to “take down” her campaign.

    Obsessive Clinton tormentor Maureen Dowd at the Times, for example, has spent years looking past what Clinton stands for (does Dowd even care?) in order to belittle her as a person. Over two decades, Dowd has robotically represented Clinton as an unlikeable, power-hungry, phony.

    Author Neal Gabler made this key point over the summer (emphasis added):

    Hillary Clinton has always been under a media microscope. They assess her pantsuits, her hairdos, her gestures, her expressions, her “grating” voice. They assume that there is always some ulterior motive or calculation to everything she says and does — as if there isn’t for any presidential candidate. Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, she labors under the media’s presumption of guilt.

    And again, the most troubling aspect is that so much of the press pile-on regarding Clinton is oddly personal, and rarely revolves around her politics. (Except when it comes to her emails, which journalists have been weirdly obsessive about.) The press seems utterly determined to portray the nominee as a blemished individual.  

    And that’s one of the reasons why presidential debates are so important: They force the campaign press to get off the national stage for 90 minutes and allow candidates to speak directly to viewers, without a heavy-handed media filter and without journalists trying to fit everything into preferred narratives.

    Meanwhile, did you notice how few members of the Beltway media’s elite foresaw Clinton’s lopsided debate win?

    Think about all the hours and days of pre-debate commentary, all the analysis on radio, television and in print that commentators provided during the run up to the debate. Did you see, hear, or read many (any?) pundits confidently predict that Clinton would, as it turned out, easily win the debate and it wouldn’t even be a close call?

    Seemingly committed to the Clinton narrative that she’s a cautious, calculating pol who can’t connect with voters, lots of commentators seemed certain Trump would be able to equal her debate parries, even as they lowered the expectations for him to absurd depths.

    But even graded on an entirely different and gentler scale, Trump still wasn’t able to construct a coherent performance. With the media’s nasty Clinton caricature set aside for the duration of the debate, viewers were able to make up their own minds about the candidate.

  • Trump Becomes Latest GOP Nominee To Get Lost Inside The Fox News Bubble

    Trump Expands on Romney’s Failed Strategy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Looking to make the media rounds on Tuesday morning in an attempt to clean up his Monday night debate mess, Republican nominee Donald Trump actually had only one destination on his schedule: Fox News, of course.

    Calling into his allies and supporters on Fox & Friends, Trump promptly made things worse for his campaign. First, he suggested there might have been a debate conspiracy afoot to fit him with a faulty microphone, as a way to explain his shaky performance. (“My microphone was terrible.”) Then Trump got even further sidetracked from campaign messaging by fat-shaming a former winner of his Miss Universe pageant: “She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”

    For a candidate who was nearly unanimously crowned the loser of the first presidential debate (except for in unscientific online polls he and Fox News have been desperately promoting), Trump’s attempt at damage control via Fox News was like the captain of the Titanic circling around the iceberg for a second look. 

    But of course, they loved Trump on Fox News, even after his debate loss. “A very good night for Donald Trump,” announced Sean Hannity. And from news anchor Bret Baier: “I do think he gets credit for just being on the stage.” They also tried to spin away his debate lies and conjure up reasons for his lopsided loss.

    And that’s why Trump’s campaign now resembles a Fox News cocoon, or a hermetically sealed bubble. Since the summer, Trump has basically only spoken to Fox News. Gone is the much-touted Trump media accessibility from the Republican primary. It’s been replaced with the Trump bunker strategy, where only friendly questioners are allowed and the Republican candidate is able to expound in a fact-free Fox zone.

    It’s a bubble where Trump doesn’t have to explain his long-running birther pursuit, nobody cares about his tax returns, where Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is admired for his strong leadership, and where bigotry is celebrated.

    The Fox News bubble is a welcoming, comforting place for Trump, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of American politics today. And this week, that Fox-friendly strategy caught up with Trump. Reportedly uninterested in debate prep, Trump was confronted by a skilled opponent who accessed facts at will and spoke in complete paragraphs.

    Meanwhile, “Trump was scattered, swaggering and stumbling,” wrote  TPM’s Josh Marshall. “Just a mix of easily demonstrable lies and nonsensical statements.”

    Doesn’t that sound like another morning with Fox & Friends? Trump represents a presidential nominee who exhibits no intellectual curiosity, nor any commitment to facts. He’s the Fox News id.

    And while Trump is getting pummeled from all sides for his no-show debate performance, it’s Fox News architect Roger Ailes who probably deserves a lot of the blame for the GOP’s unfolding calamity.

    Not only did Ailes reportedly play a role in Trump’s disastrous debate preparation, but Ailes, of course, provided the nominee with a Fox News platform to launch into American politics back in 2011. Since then, Ailes and Trump have been inexorably linked.

    Today, Fox News gifts Trump with so many softball interviews you’d think Rupert Murdoch himself were the nominee. Even Republican Sen. Ted Cruz lamented that Ailes had “turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network, 24/7” during the primary season.

    What’s so astonishing today is knowing that four years ago, all the warning flags for the GOP were whipping in the wind when Mitt Romney tried to run a Fox News campaign to the White House. Romney veered hard to right and adopted the right-wing media’s contempt for the lazy “47 percent” of Americans who supposedly live off government handouts. Romney even embraced reality TV show host-turned Fox News favorite Donald Trump, who was fresh off his bogus investigation into whether the first African-American president was allowed to sit in the Oval Office.

    Following the second debate in 2012, when the GOP nominee adopted Fox spin and bungled the facts of the previous month’s Benghazi terror attack, I wrote that, “Married to the conservative media and all their bogus claims and conspiracies, Romney runs the risk of coming across as badly out of touch with the truth, the way he did last night.”

    Then, following the GOP’s defeat in November, which the Fox bubble never saw coming:

    This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there's little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox's firm grip on branding the party.

    In the wake of Romney’s defeat, some Republican operatives did vow to venture beyond the friendly confines of Fox News. And the Republican National Committee’s post-election autopsy even stressed the need for the Republican Party to “stop talking to itself.” (That’s what Fox News is very good at.)

    While I knew Fox News had a vice-like grip on the GOP, and the GOP was in love with the angry rhetoric and the free media the cable channel provided, in 2012 I couldn’t have imagined four years later the party would not only embrace their failed Fox News strategy, but they’d inject it with steroids and nominate Trump. Or that the GOP nominee would then effectively barricade himself behind Fox News interviews during the general election campaign.

    The punchline today? Reports suggest that in the wake of Trump’s failed debate performance, Ailes’ campaign role may be expanding. The Republican Party now appears to be trapped in a Fox News cycle that chews up GOP nominees.