After Donald Trump ignited a firestorm by launching a racist attack on four Democratic members of Congress, the Beltway press last week temporarily revised a time-honored journalism tradition of forcing members of the president's party to respond publicly to controversial behavior. The results were utterly predictable, of course, with most Republicans refusing to criticize Trump's latest bout of open bigotry. But even the recent media questions for the GOP seemed muted, given the stunning and historic nature of Trump's racist behavior.
The sad truth is, the press mostly gave up a long time ago on holding Republican lawmakers accountable for Trump's erratic behavior. Faced with a party that has completely capitulated to Trump's unbalanced ways, reporters seem to have lost interest in the pursuit.
Why isn't there constant, nonstop coverage detailing how radical the Republican Party has become, and how any hints of dissent in the age of Trump are cultishly hidden from view? Instead of vivid portraits of a party abandoning its principles as GOP lawmakers obediently fall in line behind Trump's nasty behavior, we get coverage about how savvy Republicans are for holding their tongues about Trump and refusing to hold him accountable—about how strategic Republicans are being in allowing someone like Trump to maintain a stranglehold grip on the party.
Indeed, Republicans seem to have cracked the media code: By remaining devoutly loyal to Trump—or, at least, obediently silent—they've drained the oxygen the press needs to file stories about the type of turmoil Trump may be creating in the party with his buffoonish and offensive antics. Now entirely bored with the prospect of asking nonemotive Republican lawmakers for their take on Trump's latest outrage, journalists for the most part have stopped trying to hold party members accountable for Trump's actions.
We saw a brief flurry of activity in the wake of Trump's racist tirade in recent days. But the media pursuit of Republicans seemed restrained compared to the avalanche of coverage that would accompany demands that basically every elected Democrat in the country provide a comment if a Democratic president ever acted as hatefully and erratically as Trump has this week—or for the last two years.
Newsrooms seem to have simply accepted GOP silence. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “makes a practice of avoiding comment on remarks by President Trump that have electrified social media,” The New York Times recently reported. Republicans “also believe that, in most cases, the firestorm lasts only so long and will be quickly followed by the next iteration, making it pointless to get caught up in the repeating cycle.” Oh, well; I guess that takes care of that. Apparently now, if a political party essentially takes a vow of silence with regard to hateful behavior by the head of that party, the press shrugs its shoulders and moves on, abandoning all efforts to hold public officials accountable for those they support politically.