Donald Trump is a swaggering, proud, thin-skinned and arrogant man obsessed with otherwise legitimate issues like undocumented immigrants and Chinese and Mexican commercial dumping in American markets. He is also a man whose incendiary reaction to perceived criticism is raw and brutal. Take a shot at Trump, however justified or fact-based, and the billionaire businessman responds rapidly and with disproportionate, devastating force.
On Monday night Trump’s target was my friend and colleague Megyn Kelly who 19 days ago had the temerity to question Trump sharply on his allegedly misogynistic past with women, calling some, including personality Rosie O’Donnell, ‘pigs’, ‘slobs’ and ‘fat’.
Last night, in an extraordinary campaign speech in Iowa, Trump had another Mano-a-Mano with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, the nation’s foremost Spanish-language advocacy journalist. Trying mightily to ignore the feisty reporter/advocate, Trump first ordered him ejected physically, telling him to “go back to Univision,” which sounded to me a lot like “go back to Mexico.”
Trump then relented and allowed Ramos back in to deliver a series of questions that amounted to an anti-Trump diatribe by the frustrated citizen/immigrant reporter representing the tens of millions of American Latinos distressed by Trump’s hardline.
Who “won” the exchange is in the eye of the beholder. At this point the billionaire businessman is the leading candidate by far for the GOP nomination. But he has little chance of securing any meaningful percentage of the Latino vote. So, in practical terms, his confrontation with Ramos feeds Trump’s support among his fervent, mostly white, anti-immigrant, Tea Party supporters he calls the new ‘Silent Majority’.
Ramos likewise benefited by standing up for the home team, his Latino TV viewers. Trump tossing out and belittling the Mexican/American anchor is exactly what both sides want to see, a microcosm of the enormously impassioned immigration issue, the opening salvo.
That main event, Trump’s fight with America’s burgeoning Latino population, will not be acted out until next November’s general election. In the shorter term, politically speaking, Trump’s war with Fox News is a higher stakes game. In terms of fabulous ratings, he is a walking/talking Super Bowl with extraordinary drawing power. He is Nielsen Ratings Crack, bigger than ‘Empire’ or ‘The Walking Dead’, impossible to ignore.
Basically it comes down to an extraordinary question, is Trump the first ever Republican bigger than Fox News? From its creation, FNC has been the place for the GOP candidates to reach 80% of their desired audience, a must-stop media spot treated almost reverentially by Republican candidates.
By savaging Megyn Kelly, one of our shining stars, Trump has apparently made the calculation that Fox News, the most powerful cable news network in history needs Trump more than he needs us. My boss Roger Ailes righteously labeled Trump’s anti-Megyn tweeted diatribes as ‘unacceptable’, ‘disturbing’ and ‘cruel’, but what are we to do now, ignore Trump’s bizarrely but undeniably successful campaign?
Last night, as Bill O’Reilly did his usual powerful, Number One rated program, CNN dumped and delayed its long-scheduled, highly promoted Anderson Cooper Hurricane Katrina special to carry Trump’s otherwise routine Iowa campaign speech live, from first minute to last. Then CNN devoted the following hour to analysis of what Trump had just done and said during his speech, including his confrontation with Ramos.
Trump is sending us a message that if we push too hard he’ll work to remake CNN or some other network in his own image. He is a force of nature and he has totally disrupted the traditional relationship between the media and the candidate. He has a job to do and so do we. It is a thrilling, but disquieting ride, one which no one knows how it ends.