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Roger Simon
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Trump and the High Priests of the Press

Comment

Having decided that Donald Trump is unworthy of his popularity, the grandees of journalism are hard-pressed to explain why he is so popular.

"It came slightly ahead of schedule," The Wall Street Journal gleefully wrote last week, "but Donald Trump's inevitable self-immolation arrived on the weekend when he assailed John McCain's war record."

Uh. Hold the fire extinguishers — because Trump did not burst into flame. His poll numbers actually went up after he attacked McCain, a man whose political base is largely made up of Sunday TV show bookers.

The Huffington Post was also in a snit. It declared it was not going to report on Trump's campaign in its political section but rather going to include it in its entertainment section.

"Trump's campaign is a sideshow," HuffPost sniffed. "We won't take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you'll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette."

In any case, the American electorate has thus far decided that the difference between politics and entertainment is too fine a line actually to be drawn and is unconcerned as to where The Huffington Post stuffs what.

But The Des Moines Register nearly came down with the vapors. "By using his considerable wealth, his celebrity status, and his mouth to draw attention to himself, rather than to raise awareness of the issues facing America, he has coarsened our political dialogue and cheapened the electoral process," it wrote of Trump.

The paper went so far as to demand that Trump drop out of the race, a decision, I always thought, the American people should make at the ballot box rather than a newspaper on its editorial page.

RealClearPolitics' polling shows Trump leading the Republican field by 4.5 percentage points. He is at 18.2 percent. Jeb Bush is at 13.7 percent, and Scott Walker is at 11.7. Everybody else is in single digits.

So Trump is not doing too badly for "a sideshow." In fact, he is beating the guys in the center ring.

And they have taken a close look at him and decided the only way to vanquish him is to become more incendiary and more buffoonish than he is.

So Mike Huckabee says Barack Obama wants to take the Israelis and "march them to the door of the oven" with his Iran deal.

(Will HuffPost banish Huckabee to its "Stuff That Makes Us Want To Vomit" section? Let's wait and see.)

Rand Paul — remember him? — brandished an actual chain saw.

Lindsey Graham bashed his cellphone with a baseball bat and dropped it into a blender. And Rick Perry said, "Trump's candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded."

This is the dignity The Wall Street Journal yearns for.

There are at least two reasons for Trump's current popularity. Though the high priests of the press find Trump oafish and vulgar, the public finds him unscripted and refreshing.

Some voters may also like Trump for his rabble-rousing attacks on immigrants who are here illegally — "people that are from all over that are killers and rapists" — but the Republican Party can hardly pretend to be much less incendiary. Trump goes overboard, but many in the Republican field are not far behind him.

Maybe if the press ignored Trump, he and his supporters would simply evaporate.

"This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in 35 years," Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News Channel. "You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest Cabinet America's had in our lifetime, and instead, all our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown."

(Actually, I think you could pick a dozen of the Republican contenders at random and have an FBI "most wanted" poster, but that's another story.)

But what is the real problem, the rodeo clown or the people coming to the rodeo in order to see the clown? And if the people are gathering, should the press keep that a secret?

"I have always felt that whatever the Divine Providence permitted to occur I was not too proud to report," Charles Anderson Dana, a 19th-century newspaper editor, once said.

Some look at Trump and see an evil clown.

Others look at Trump and see a candidate not part of the same weary political establishment.

I think Trump is flawed on many counts. But I don't think he has "coarsened our political dialogue and cheapened the electoral process."

I think it was coarse and cheap by the time Trump got here.

Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist. His new e-book, "Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America," can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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