It was déjà vu all over again recently when some in the press rushed to announce that current events suddenly threatened to derail Donald Trump's unorthodox campaign.
The first supposed hurdle came in the form of Trump's bizarre, 95-minute rant in Iowa where he belittled and insulted one of his opponents, Ben Carson. The New York Times reported, “some Republicans believe that his scathing attacks on Mr. Carson -- and voters who support him -- will backfire.” The Boston Globe highlighted “some observers” who argued that “Trump may have finally gone too far, hurting his standing at the top of most polls and also adding to worries among Republicans about their field this season.”
Then in the wake of the Paris terror attack, The Wall Street Journal suggested the killings, “could shake up the 2016 presidential race, reminding voters of the high stakes and potentially boosting candidates who put their governing experience front and center.”
The Times twice last week stressed that GOP voters might turn away from Trump in favor of “more sober-minded candidates”; that they'll take “a more sober measure of who is prepared to serve as commander in chief.”
Sober-minded candidates? Have these people been watching the spectacle that is the Republican campaign season for the last six months?
There was no backlash -- quite the opposite. Trump and his xenophobic campaign continue to soar in the GOP polls as he unfurls an endless stream of outrageous proposals. (Bring back U.S.-sanctioned torture! The government needs to close down some American mosques!)
Fact: Trump really has emerged as the perfect Fox News era candidate. He's a bigoted nativist. And he's a bullying, congenital liar who wallows in misinformation. In the process, he's winning over the demagoguery wing of the Republican Party that's been feasting off far-right media hate rhetoric for years.
Now, by successfully neutralizing enough members of the press, Trump's created space for himself to maneuver while espousing jaw-dropping rhetoric that in the past would have been considered disqualifying for any candidate.
After months and months of predicting the "beginning of the end" of Trump's run, the press ought to forthrightly concede he could represent the GOP next November, while at the same time aggressively chronicle the unprecedented extremism that's propelling his run.
Instead, the campaign press today seems poorly equipped to handle what's happening to the Republican Party, and especially over the last ten days since the Paris attack. That signature press timidity seems to spring from a larger reluctance to face the reality of today's GOP.
Desperate to keep alive a long-outdated, asymmetrical model that suggests partisan battles in Washington, D.C., are fought between center-left Democrats and center-right Republicans, the press simply doesn't want to acknowledge the GOP's radical right turn. But it's that defining lurch that's opened the door for a possible Trump win.
Meaning, you can't understand Trump's surge without understanding that the GOP has dismantled the guardrails; that it's now anything goes.
“There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts,” wrote Norm Ornstein, one of the few mainstream media observers who for years has been forcefully clear about the Titanic shifts within the Republican Party in response to Barack Obama's presidency.
To be fair, some of the he's-peaked coverage and commentary has been driven by so-called Republican "elites" who continue to cling to the dream that a “moderate” Prince Charming will magically emerge and save the party from Trump's possible electoral ruin.
Still, there appears to be large overlap between the GOP establishment and the Beltway media in terms of a deeply held belief that Trump doesn't really represent today's Republican Party, and that someone as garish and ill-informed as him could never been selected as the party's nominee.
“For months, the GOP professional class assumed Trump and [Ben] Carson would fizzle with time,” reported the Washington Post. In truth, you could replace the phrase “GOP professional class” with “Beltway journalists” from that sentence and it would still be just as accurate.
And it's not just Trump who's wallowing in outrageous rhetoric or radical initiatives. After the Paris terror attack, Ted Cruz claimed Obama "does not wish to defend this country." Ben Carson suggested refugees should be screened as they might be "rabid dogs." Gov. Christie warned against the looming dangers of orphaned toddlers. And Jeb Bush proposed a religious test for refugees from Syria.
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio suggested it's about more than closing down some mosques in America (Trump's idea): “It's about closing down any place, whether it's a cafe, a diner, an internet site, any place where radicals are being inspired.”
Collectively, and covering the span of just a few days, the GOP's post-Paris outburst represented some of the most extreme campaign rhetoric heard in many, many years. But you wouldn't necessarily know it from the often-unsure coverage.
That faulty coverage extends beyond the hot-button refugee coverage. At a Saturday Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, a Black Lives Matter protester interrupted the Republican's speech and was quickly attacked by Trump supporters who pushed the man to the ground and pummeled him.
Look at how CBS News reported on the event:
-- CBS News (@CBSNews) November 21, 2015
Really, a “fight” broke out? Like a back-and-forth physical confrontation between two sides? Not quite. All available evidence suggests a black protester who interrupted Trump's speech was quickly jumped and then beaten, kicked, and choked by a crowd of white Trump supporters. (Though his campaign originally said they did not “condone this behavior,” the next day, Trump suggested the protester deserved to get "roughed up.")
We've never seen a campaign like Trump's in modern American history. We've never seen a candidate soar to the front of the pack for months on end while espousing such divisive and often bigoted rhetoric. That's why it's long past time for the press to take off any lingering blinders: Fox favorite Trump is a truly radical candidate and he represents today's truly radical Republican Party.