Time for some straight talk: We in the media love Donald Trump.
Even when we're criticizing him — and boy, has he gotten plenty of criticism from people in the media over the last few days — we still love him. There's just something magical about the guy. I think it resides in the contrast between his transcendent boorishness and his unflagging insistence that everything about him is the height of class and sophistication. And the details — the spectacular comb-over, the downscale New York accent, the wife regularly turned in for a younger model — all combine to make him a truly glorious character, so easy to mock and yet so unfazed by the mockery of millions.
It's hard to think of too many people who have sustained the kind of celebrity Trump has for as long as he has. After all, he first started appearing in newspapers and magazines in the 1980s. Nothing takes him down, not bankrupcy, not the failure of his political endeavors (remember how he was going to prove that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States?), nothing. He just keeps coming.
So while the Republican Party is hoping desperately that somehow Trump will just go away, he's not going anywhere until he's good and ready. And as long as he can turn on the news and see his face, he's a happy man.
After he seemed to belittle John McCain's status as a war hero over the weekend ("He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, I hate to tell you"), you could almost hear the collective whoops from GOP headquarters, not to mention from Trump's primary opponents.
"There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably," said an RNC spokesman, which might be news to John Kerry, since disparaging his service was pretty much the centerpiece of the campaign against him in 2004. After weeks of trying not to say anything impolite about Trump lest they offend his supporters, the candidates finally mustered themselves to a round of condemnation.
It provided a perfect moment for the media, which is why this episode has gotten such enormous coverage. On one hand, it's Trump, who's always good for a story. And on the other hand, Trump could have been discovered to have a lab in his penthouse where puppies and kittens are tortured to make cologne from their tears, and it wouldn't have offended journalists as much as an insult to John McCain.
There isn't time to go into the details now, but suffice it to say that no politician in at least half a century has benefited from the kind of media adulation that John McCain has enjoyed, and his suffering as a POW is always presented as the justification for that worship. In striking contrast to the way they treat every other politician, McCain's motives are assumed to be pure, his sins are excused, and his coverage focuses on his best moments rather than his flaws and mistakes. (Even his 2008 presidential campaign was reported with more gentle affection than most losing candidates get.) So even if the presidential candidates were not saying a word, McCain's admirers in the media would be covering this story with all their might.
Which doesn't make it much different from what's been happening with Trump's candidacy from the outset. As John Sides notes, Trump got much more coverage from his entry into the race than any other candidate, and the coverage sustained its high level even after that initial period. It's interesting to contemplate whether Trump will still be news if and when he's falling in the polls instead of rising, but chances are that before long he'll say something else outrageous, which will lead to a new round of breathless coverage.
I suspect that Trump's supporters aren't going to desert him because he insulted John McCain — after all, McCain isn't much liked among the Republican base, and this actually fits in with Trump's political brand as the guy who tells it like it is. The fact that he's getting universal condemnation could even convince the base that he's exactly the kind of no-nonsense, shake-up-the-system candidate they've been hoping for. When he said Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers, his support leaped among Republican primary voters, and they love the fact that he tosses around insults at anyone and everyone. And we in the media love it too.
Trump being a jerk is a feature of his candidacy, not a bug — and we just can't get enough.