Brian Beutler wrote a very good article on Monday, The Wackiest Donald Trump Conspiracy Theory Yet. But the headline (which I’m sure he didn’t write) is misleading. Rather than “wackiest” it should be “most predictable.” Republicans are now getting very excited about the idea that the media held back on Donald Trump during the primary, only to open up on him in the general election. The Liberal Media™ strikes again! Apparently, we are supposed to believe that Republicans don’t know how to do oppo research.
For those who don’t know, oppo research is what campaigns do to each other — looking for dirt. A great example of this is in Primary Colors where Libby and Henry head out to Florida to dig up dirt on Fred Picker. Also in that film is what I can only call reverse oppo research, where the campaign investigates its own candidate to know and prepare for anything that other candidates might dig up. I’m sure all modern campaigns do both of these things. I’m also sure that Trump’s campaign has not — or at least not much. That’s one of the most amazing thing about Trump: that he managed to dominate the primary without really having much of a campaign.
Silly Conspiracy Theory
This conspiracy makes no sense, because so much of the dirt that reporters find is fed to them by campaigns. As Beutler noted, campaigns “have more resources, no daily print deadlines, and no need to worry about impartiality.” So if the media didn’t dig up enough dirt during the primary, the fault lies not with the media itself, but with Trump’s pathetic opponents. Regardless, why would the media start dumping on Trump now — before he’s locked up the nomination? It would make the most sense to wait until after California.
Of course, I don’t really see that there is any greater amount of scandal now than there was before. Trump is a scandal machine. What’s going on is that Republicans are looking for something to blame. None of the pundits who are pushing this conspiracy are so naive as to not know about oppo research. They are just pretending for the ignorant conservative masses who might be slowly realizing that they are on the verge of nominating a scandal plagued fool.
Republicans Can’t Do Oppo Research!
The real question is why is it that over a dozen major Republican presidential candidates had campaigns with oppo research that couldn’t dig up any dirt about Trump? Well, in part, that’s unfair; they did dig up dirt; it’s just that none of it stuck. But the bigger problem is that much of what Donald Trump has done that’s bad is not considered bad by Republican elites.
Trump contracted with undocumented workers? So what! He’s just being a Randian Übermensch. He was a “job creator”! So he seems to have sexually harassed every woman he worked around? Since when has the Republican Party thought that women should be anything but subordinate to powerful men? “Sit quietly while I talk about pubic hair on a Coke can!” That sums up Republican outreach to women. And the fact that his tax plan was fantastical didn’t matter when the rival Republican tax plans were only less fantastical in level. It’s like saying, “Those Harry Potter books are fantasy, but Lord of the Rings is…” What?! Fantasy written for slightly older people?
Democrats Can Do Oppo Research!
There is no doubt that the Clinton campaign has a small library of dirt on Trump. But why would any Democrat let fly with their best material until after the general election starts? As Beutler put it, “It isn’t the media that’s been strategically holding fire — it’s the Democrats.” Actually, as much as we hear that we don’t want to hurt candidates in the primary, the truth is that we do: because the other party certainly will release any damaging information once the general is on.
This is where the Democratic Party has a distinct advantage. Democratic policies are generally popular. So Democratic candidates don’t have to hold back on criticisms that would be effective. Republicans have to twist themselves into knots in order to attack each other. Of course, I’m not certain that it would have mattered. There is at least a third of the Republican Party that wants nothing more (And I mean that literally!) than a charismatic authoritarian. And now they’ve got one.