Former President Donald Trump looks more likely than ever before to secure the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election. But on the same weekend he effectively sealed up his bid, he threw off a series of gaffes, slurred words, and bizarre analogies that are deserving of media coverage. Apart from some outliers, they are largely being ignored.
The American electorate is about to be faced with the choice of an 81-year-old incumbent, President Joe Biden, whose occasional stutters, stiffening gait, and notable lack of press availabilities have only fueled negative coverage of his geriatric candidacy. I’ve written before that it’s not always ageist to cover Biden’s experience and the benefits and challenges that come with it.
But Trump will be 78 when voters take to the polls in November. While he has mostly been sharp and lucid during rallies and friendly media appearances, this past weekend told a different story. The former president made a series of flubs and missteps that serious minds should want to know more about. And yet, his stumbles are barely getting covered on cable news.
The most cringeworthy example? Trump repeatedly confused his last remaining primary opponent, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“You know, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, you know they– do you know they destroyed all of the information and all of the evidence?” Trump told a crowd. “Everything. Deleted and destroyed all of it. All of it because of, lots of things. Like, Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people.”
The clip is tough to watch (putting aside the fact that, even if he got the name right, his attack is baseless: Pelosi did not reject troops on January 6.) But there was more.
Trump insisted that “We won two world wars out of those forts,” while lamenting the changing of military base names from Confederate army heroes. He compared himself to a rogue cop and pedophile priest while insisting he needs blanket presidential immunity. He repeated his attacks on E. Jean Carroll — despite already being found liable for sexual assault and defamation against her.
Public speaking comes with challenges, especially in politics. Every mispronunciation, gaffe, and slur gets pounced on for political gain. It’s not the individual mistakes that create the story, it’s the sum total that should raise eyebrows. For the most part, it’s a news narrative that has largely been ignored.
Fox News has made it clear that it has no interest in reporting news that paints Trump in a negative light, regardless of whether it is newsworthy or true, for fear of losing viewers who tune in more for opinion reinforcement and outrage validation than news.
MSNBC has largely been focused on policy differences, with many hosts refraining to go at Trump’s apparent cognitive declination full bore. There also seems to be some reticence over the issue in light of Biden’s apparent decline. CNN still seems to be operating under some assumption they will be attacked for bias if they cover this and are as a result treading extremely lightly.
Now, these are broad generalizations, and certainly, there are outliers. MSNBC’s Morning Joe opened Monday’s show going long on the topic, which they have been covering relentlessly for the past year. Jim Acosta opened his Saturday show with this, and ABC’s Jonathan Karl noted it during his Monday appearance on Good Morning America. There are other examples, but they are largely outliers to the horserace journalism that comes with presidential elections.
Why are so many networks giving Trump a pass? New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg thoughtfully posits it’s a consequence of Trump fatigue. The former president’s Borscht Belt insult comedy schtick, with a heavy ladle of pro wrestling kayfabe, is tired. It’s no longer interesting to journalists or their audiences.
Since then, the ranks of the disengaged have grown. Trump keeps doing appalling things: In just the past couple of days, he nearly got thrown out of the second defamation trial brought against him by a woman who, according to a jury, he sexually abused, and then claimed on social media that presidents should enjoy absolute immunity from criminal prosecution even when they “cross the line.” But his misdeeds have lost the capacity to shock, and they no longer drive conversations. That might change if he is once again president, but like a virus, he won’t generate as strong a reaction when he’s no longer novel.
No one seems to be more aware that he is no longer novel than the media genius carnival barker Trump, which is why his rhetoric and attacks have literally reached “strongman” levels. He may say these things archly; they are no less unnerving and newsworthy.
This should be a clarion call for all dispassionate journalists to cover the apparent mental decline of both Biden and Trump. It’s not only fair game; it’s vital for the body electorate.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.