In the space of five days, Donald Trump, Elon Musk and Merrick Garland blew up the political landscape.
It’s like the mega-blizzard that dumped 80 inches of snow on Buffalo – no one has ever seen anything like it.
The media have been consumed by each explosion, breathlessly putting their spin on the resulting rubble, excited by the surge in clicks and ratings.
Remember, it was only a week ago that Trump did what some of his advisers had urged him not to do, launching a third campaign shortly after the disappointing midterm outcome that many in his party blamed on him.
MEDIA SAVAGE TRUMP SPEECH, CAST HIM AS DANGEROUS, INCLUDING ON THE RIGHT
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022, in Dallas, Texas.
(Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Trump’s stunningly early declaration drew denunciations from the mainstream press, which attacked him personally for having the temerity to run again. The journalistic assault went beyond his lackluster speech, which was barely quoted in major newspapers and not carried by MSNBC.
Instead, the stories basically said “Donald Trump, who masterminded an insurrection, twice battled impeachment, is a danger to democracy and a really bad guy to boot, declared his candidacy…”
And some in the conservative media, led by National Review, have called Trump unfit for office and a man who will lead the party to losses as he did in 2018, 2020 and 2022. When the former president hit back wishing for the magazine’s demise, it produced a fundraising appeal on its home page: “Donald Trump Wants National Review to Die.”
One direct result of Trump’s announcement was Garland’s decision to name a special counsel to run the Justice Department’s investigations of Trump. The attorney general also cited Joe Biden’s intention to run for re-election as a reason for putting a neutral prosecutor in charge. Garland would still have the final say on any indictment, but it would be hard for him to go up against his appointee’s finding that there is either a strong case or no case against Trump.
It’s striking that in picking Jack Smith, someone no one outside of certain legal circles had ever heard of, Garland triggered a debate among all those becoming instant experts on his career.
Among left-leaning outlets, the reaction was divided between those who say this shows Garland definitely thinks there’s strong evidence and those who call it a terrible idea that creates an unneeded bureaucratic layer and slows down the probe.
Among conservative commentators, who have given it far less attention, the argument is why Garland waited so long if he himself has a conflict, and challenging Smith’s fairness. The truth is Garland would have gotten slammed either way.
Trump is now calling Smith a “Radical Left Prosecutor” who is “totally controlled by President Obama and his former A.G., Eric Holder, and ripping the probe by the “weaponized” Justice Department “just another Witch Hunt.”
The basis for the “radical” accusation is that Smith served at DOJ during the Clinton and Obama administrations. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was a career prosecutor. In fact, he once headed the public integrity unit, the most sensitive post in the department, prosecuting current and former officeholders and generally headed by people of unimpeachable character. His current position was adjudicating Kosovo war crimes at the Hague.
That doesn’t mean Smith’s record can’t be criticized – his conviction of ex-Virginia GOP governor Bob McDonnell was overturned by the Supreme Court – but he’s as close to an unbiased prosecutor as one could find.
That story was still erupting when Musk stepped in. In a move shrewdly designed to lead the Sunday talk shows, he reinstated Trump’s Twitter account.
A picture of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013, in Washington, DC, as well as Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter.
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
This fueled both media outrage and praise. Some liberals announced they would leave the app in protest rather than share a platform with Trump (weren’t they already sharing it with all kinds of sleazeballs?). Others said of course a presidential candidate should be allowed on Twitter, nearly two years after Jan. 6.
No one could be shocked by the move, which Musk had practically made a campaign pledge. But the way he did it underscored his erratic management style.
After taking over the site, Musk said no one would be reinstated until he could form a content moderation council to review such actions. This was part of an effort to persuade advertisers he wasn’t abandoning the existing rules against offensive content.
But Musk abruptly scrapped that idea, reinstated a few people and posted a Twitter poll on whether Trump should be allowed back on. When the idea was backed by a narrow 52-48 percent margin, Musk declared that the people had spoken.
As a traffic generator, it was brilliant: about 15 million people voted. As a matter of policy, it was incoherent.
TRUMP DENOUNCES BIDEN, AIRBRUSHES HIS TENURE, VOWS TO TAKE BACK THE COUNTRY
Trump, who encouraged people to vote for him, said he sees no reason to return to Twitter and is sticking with Truth Social. But I’ve said for a long time that if he has the chance to start reaching the 88 million followers he had when he was banned, he will. A compromise will be worked out and the tweetstorms will be back.
People ask whether all the Trump coverage reflects a media obsession. Perhaps, but he’s been at the center of three huge political stories in just a few days.
Former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account was “permanently suspended” in January 2021.
(Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Footnote: Another of my predictions was that the scripted and restrained tone that Trump struck in his announcement speech wouldn’t last.
Within days, he was back talking about the rigged election and skewering critics.
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Take Maureen Dowd, who did savage him in her New York Times column as a traitor: “The arsonist seeking a job as a firefighter. He is the liar and con man who undermined confidence in our elections.”
Trump struck back on Truth Social, calling her “the super whacko who constantly writes so nastily about me.”
Then there was a riff I couldn’t follow: “Why doesn’t she write of her Trump escapes, where she bombed sooo badly–over and over again.”
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And finally: “She’s a sick & angry person, perhaps mentally disturbed. Give it up, Maureen!”
Now imagine if that had reached 88 million followers.
Howard Kurtz is the host of FOX News Channel’s MediaBuzz (Sundays 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET). Based in Washington, D.C., he joined the network in July 2013 and regularly appears on Special Report with Bret Baier and other programs.