The Onion in its 2004 Year In Review, ran the headline "Nation Delighted By
Rich Ass Who Fires People". The headline accompanied a picture of Donald Trump; it referred to the TV show "The Apprentice" which debuted that same year to considerable popularity, finishing seventh in the ratings, and launching a program run lasting fourteen seasons over eleven years.
Twelve years later, that same Rich Ass is now the presumptive 2016 Republican Party nominee for President of the United States.
The reasons to explain why and how this happened have been a rich vein of commentary in the days since Ted Cruz and John Kasich suspended their campaigns, a great many of them related to the American media:
* Trump, by virtue of being a media star in the past, was able to get the corporate coverage necessary for viability in our dollarocracy.
* Trump made statements that resonated with enough Republican primary voters, by openly invoking the spectres of race and economic hardship (contrary to a generation of Republican dogma). With Republican primary voters having as many as seventeen candidates running at one point in the Republican Clown Car, even getting a third of Republican primary voters was sufficient to win and win big.
* Despite a massive counterassault by opponents, Trump won anyway, helped to a great extent by having an overwhelming advantage in unpaid coverage by the corporate media fueled by lies and the widespread decimation of even a semblance of critical journalism and media policies that enable it.
* As one analysis put it: "News organizations, in an era of wrenching financial upheaval, are often following paths of least resistance in their quest for profits." One CNN source agrees: "I think he’s the Republican frontrunner because we’ve given him so much coverage."
The commercial media are clearly eager for an election year and all the money from political ads that can result. At the same time, however, they're freely giving away a ton of free airtime to someone who has been relatively stingy in his spending, ranking eighth among all Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Trump, even though he's a billionaire, is asking the Republican party to pony up $1.5 billion in fundraising (probably because the GOP donor base is skittish about backing Trump, while others argue that what's changed is not the media coverage but rather the media's newfound measurability of the ratings).
This speaks to the power of the media, and to something of a contradiction of sorts. The corporate commercial media certainly still play an outsized role in determining which candidates are "viable". But considering how much money they lost in free advertising in the attempts to gain eyeballs, that must have caused the bottom line to suffer. (It's not the kind of thing that even high-paid consultants can fix.) If this trend continues, it doesn't bode well for the corporate media, which now rely on political ads and on live sports as their last legs of profitability. And even if profitability is maintained or grows, the escalation of money, media and demagoguery is poised to continue.
It's poised to backfire for Trump and for the Republicans, at least in the 2016 election. Early projections expect Trump will lose and lose big as Trump now has his demagoguery in the primaries serve as a liability. One question now is how many Republicans will Trump bring down with him. And yet, like they have in non-presidential election years since 2006, Republicans may be able to rebound mainly because the electorate by and large goes to sleep in non-presidential-election years, allowing motivated Republicans to reclaim an advantage in just two years' time.
If there's a consolation, it's that as Bernie Sanders shows it may be possible that left organizers may not need the rich. But don't get too excited just yet; it's much harder than you think.
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