Has any recent president snatched political defeat from the jaws of victory quite the way Donald Trump has done over the last few days? Watching the Democratic Party become ensnared in a nasty civil war being fought among House leaders and insurgent freshman congresswoman, Trump inexplicably entered the fray over the weekend by posting blatantly racist tweets about how the congresswomen of color should “go back” to the countries they came from. (Three of the four were born in America.)
After his racist rhetoric ignited a firestorm of controversy, which featured a handful of Republicans condemning him, the story then dominated headlines for days as Trump got into shouting matches with reporters and watched the House vote on a resolution condemning his rampant bigotry. As for the looming Democratic civil war? That story has been shelved for now, all thanks to Trump.
Despite the sprawling miscue, some media players actually scored Trump's racist attack on Democratic congresswoman as a tactical win, and once again credited him with being a masterful manipulator and communicator. This has been a constant media refrain since Trump entered the presidential campaign in the summer of 2015, as journalists routinely credited him for playing 3-D chess while his opponents played media checkers. It's a rather astonishing narrative considering Trump has wracked up some of the most consistently awful approval ratings in American history. Yet the narrative endures, even against the backdrop of his recent racist firestorm.
“Trump has completely succeeded in drawing attention away from the conditions at detention centers on the border,” tweeted Jonathan Weisman, deputy editor of the New York Times' Washington, D.C. bureau. “On Saturday the nation’s media were aghast at the images that came out of Pence’s visit. One presidential tweet storm later and we have completely changed the subject.”
First of all, the saga of how immigrants and refugees are being mistreated by the Trump administration is one that's been in the news for the last year, and will likely stay in the news for another year. So the idea that Trump's tweets magically made the disturbing story disappear is false. Secondly, the idea that Trump “succeeded” politically by launching an openly racist crusade against Democratic women tells you a lot about the starting point of so many D.C. journalists these days, and the extraordinary double standard they have adopted for covering Trump. Do you think if President Barack Obama or President Bill Clinton had ignited a firestorm by releasing blatantly hateful and anti-Semitic commentary that D.C. journalists would have been talking about how Obama or Clinton had deftly “succeeded” in changing the news topic? I certainly do not.