Trump’s new midterm strategy: Outrage
President Donald Trump spreads misinformation. A lot of it. Really, a lot.
But every once in a while he will come out guns blazing in defense of the truth, demanding corrections and consequences for spreading falsehoods told by others, and using incorrect news reports to undercut the media as a whole.
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He executed the well-practiced maneuver once again on Tuesday, seizing on images of detained migrant children in bare-bones holding areas that had been spread on Twitter to attack his immigration policies but turned out to have been taken in 2014 while President Barack Obama was still in office.
“Democrats mistakenly tweet 2014 pictures from Obama’s term showing children from the Border in steel cages,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning. “They thought it was recent pictures in order to make us look bad, but backfires. Dems must agree to Wall and new Border Protection for good of country…Bipartisan Bill!”
Then, hours later, came the broader indictment of the press: “The Fake Mainstream Media has, from the time I announced I was running for President, run the most highly sophisticated & dishonest Disinformation Campaign in the history of politics. No matter how well WE do, they find fault. But the forgotten men & women WON, I’m President!”
In recent months Trump has called for the firing of a Washington Post reporter over an inaccurate tweet, slammed the media for mischaracterizing his characterization of some immigrants as “animals” and called for ABC to fire Brian Ross over an incorrect report concerning the Russia investigation.
This kind of rhetoric is emerging as a central element of his 2018 and 2020 campaign strategies. Republican strategists, including officials behind Trump’s reelection effort, are operating under the premise that Democrats will be plenty energized for the midterms and 2020 elections — and they largely see their job as helping the GOP match, or exceed, that energy.
“This is what happens when two parties are at war,” said former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, referring to Trump and the news media. “But like two combatants in a war, all the civilians can do is shake their heads. The issue of who fired the first bullet doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s just a war.”
But whereas mainstream media outlets correct false reports, Trump and his White House refuse to back down from exaggerations, falsehoods and outright lies. On Saturday, the president claimed on Twitter that a White House official quoted by The New York Times “doesn’t exist.” In fact, the official the paper cited spoke to dozens of reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House press office — on the condition that the official not be quoted by name.
Some Republicans contended that the Times misrepresented the official’s statement, while others in the White House blamed the official for going too far beyond the official line during the background call.
“It’s almost like a political nihilism,” said one former White House official. “They’re just so used to these sorts of issues popping up that it’s just normal.”
GOP campaign strategists say they need to close the intensity gap with Democrats, who are anticipating an anti-Trump wave.
Stoking outrage has proven effective. An October POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that 76 percent of Republicans think the news media fabricate stories about Trump. And a Poynter Institute study last year found that more than 60 percent of respondents who supported Trump believe that the media is the “enemy of the American people.”
“Taxes. Pelosi. Immigration,” said one person involved in Trump’s reelection effort. “These are red-meat issues.”
Trump has also focused on the economy and tax cuts, tweeting on Monday that Democrats would try to repeal the Republican tax reform bill passed last December if they win control of Congress.