Last night, the president of the United States stood onstage at a rally and praised a member of Congress for having attacked a reporter in 2017. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kinda—” the president said, miming a body slam, “—he’s my guy.”
Where Donald Trump used to do a coy dance around the question of violence, as he urged his supporters to be angry at their enemies, now he’s just saying it. And this morning, Chuck Todd and his NBC politics team treated it as a merely one more political messaging tactic to be analyzed:
And like in 2016, this pure brute force from Trump could work, because there is no equal response from Democrats. If the next 18 days are going to be like last night, Trump’s message will be the dominant one. Are Democratic TV ads on health care, bipartisanship and “check and balance” enough to counter Trump on the campaign trail?
If you woke up from a coma and watched Trump’s rally in Montana last night, you’d conclude that the president and his party were off the rails. Instead, given the polling and Senate momentum we’ve seen for the GOP over the past month, it appears that Trump is actually putting the train back on track.
This was amoral and appalling, and people were rightfully disgusted by the analysis. But NBC also—caught up in the president’s own desire to tell a story of dominance and aggression—missed a key piece of context about the messaging competition: Trump isn’t getting his rallies on live TV anymore. The networks have finally, two and a half years late, gotten tired of him and cut him off. Even Fox has given up on his sagging viewership.
Trump is incoherent a lot of the time, but he’s not complicated. His brain is television, all stimulus and response. The response is fading, so the stimulus gets more extreme. The only thing he worries about seeing hurt is the ratings.