The ‘liberal media’ vs. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, et al.
In his moment of triumph in Iowa, Ted Cruz did not forget to say that it was the American people, not the media, who had chosen him. A supporter emphasized the point by waving a placard in front of the camera, urging viewers — “Don’t believe the liberal media.”
Most Republican contenders take a swing at the media, but Cruz swings more than others. He took time out in the third Republican debate in late October to blame the moderators – all media members – for trying to promote a “cage match” of abuse among the candidates. When, in December, the Washington Post published a cartoon showing him using his family as “political props,” he did a cartoon of his own. It shows Hillary Clinton, toss-of-a-coin winner for the Democrats in Iowa this week, walking two dogs, labeled “Washington Post” and “New York Times.”
No surprise that he was mad at both these pillars of the East Coast establishment. Neither the Post nor the Times rate him: and in an editorial last month the Times declared that both Cruz and Donald Trump were “equally objectionable,” pointing up Cruz’s unpopularity in the Senate (he is the junior senator from Texas) and ending the unflattering thumbnail sketch with “Cruz will say anything to win. The greater worry is that he’d follow words with action.”
Can Cruz win? The media still bet that the Republican Party’s elders and funders won’t go for either Trump or Cruz, but for the man who came in just behind Trump – Florida Senator Marco Rubio. The commentator David Brooks, the day after the Iowa caucuses, wrote that Cruz represented the Tea Party wing of the Grand Old Party, but that it was not numerous enough to get him the nomination. “The Republican Party usually nominates unifying candidates like Marco Rubio. The laws of gravity have not been suspended. He has a great shot.”
It is reverse flattery for the liberal media to be so vividly disliked by conservatives: it’s a pleasure not confined to the United States. The insurgent populists of Europe – Marine Le Pen of the Front National in France, Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Per Jimmie Åkesson of the Swedish Democrats, Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord in Italy, and others – all inveigh ritually against the liberals and leftists in journalism, and have few friends in the liberal media (or any mainstream media). Yet most are presently at or near the top of the polls. For all of them, press enmity is a boon, not a curse.
The Times’ endorsement of Ohio Governor John Kasich for the Republican presidential nomination reveals why that is. One who is complimented for being “capable of compromise” is the antithesis of the ideal type of populist. The populist leader is one who wants it one way only, “the people’s way,” however that is defined. And at least for American conservatives, one who “believes in the ability of government to improve lives” is also suspect of believing in “big government.”
Europe has a more statist tradition, and Marine Le Pen, who talks of “the dictatorship of the markets,” can often sound more like democratic socialist Bernie Sanders than Trump or Cruz).
The media, as a whole, would seem to believe in secular-rational values: a style of government that taxes the rich more than the poor, ensures that the latter have a variety of safety nets which give them a minimally decent life, restrains the excesses of corporate power and seeks compromises with other nation states, even where there is enmity between them. To much of that, the liberal-conservative media can usually agree, even as they are split on just how generous to be with handouts and how lax to be with corporate governance.
The much promoted row between Trump and the Fox anchor Megyn Kelly had its origins in the journalist’s intention to do the same to Trump as she had done to Rubio and Cruz. That is, to present a documented run-through of their past support for immigration and their U-turns when their past positions became unpopular. Kelly, who is certainly no liberal on a certainly-not-liberal network, still deploys the techniques of news media which insist on the record, on showing what actually happened, what actually was said.
The secular-rational approach is particularly practiced in the United States, which can claim to be — with the British — its main inventor. The pragmatist school of philosophy was an American development, which gave to journalism in the early decades of last century a pointer to respecting facts as instruments of civic education. It is a way, as the pragmatist John Dewey wrote in his 1927 book, The Public and Its Problems, of informing the public, but also of involving it in public affairs.
Populist politicians, by contrast, work at the emotional level, and in the United States, at the religious one. When Cruz’s wife Heidi fell into depression a decade ago, she and her husband confronted it with prayer, a private event that they have offered the public domain.
When Trump speaks, he often makes little sense and many of his proposals are ludicrous. But he projects a mixture of aggression to the elites and the media, a seductive belief that all woes can be solved by decisive, even brutal action and gives a performance, honed on his long-running TV show, “The Apprentice,” where he frames himself as dominant, decisive – and right. He has reduced politics to the status of a TV show, and the Republican reality TV watchers have loved it.
A BBC interview with the former chairman of Iowa’s Republicans, Matt Strawn, on the eve of the poll had him admit that “there really isn’t much of a political establishment any more. They’ve lost control of the debates, and the finance and donor community don’t know who to vote for any more.” Strawn may exaggerate the extent of the collapse of the traditional Republican elite: they might just still be powerful enough to get Rubio on the ticket.
Yet even the big donors can go over to the populists: the Koch Brothers, who wield the biggest financial clout on the right, have favored Cruz in the past, and may be encouraged by his early win. Cruz, supported by “the people” and the Koch billions, could win: Kasich, with an unwelcome endorsement from the Gray Lady of New York, won’t.