If Jeb Bush was the frontrunner today with over 30% in national polls and a double-digit lead in Iowa and New Hampshire, what do you suppose the national news media would be saying about the race? They would declare him the winner, delighted that he was the likely nominee because they want Hillary Clinton to be the next president and would assume that Bush would lose to her in the General Election.
Why then is the news coverage about frontrunner Donald Trump so different despite his commanding lead in the polls (see: Seven Days Away: Trump In Command In Iowa With One Week Until Caucuses)?
Quite likely it is because they cannot control this frontrunner nor the outcome of the race. While the news media love the ratings that interviews with Trump deliver, they are also accustomed to Republican candidates bending to their will – apologizing for misstatements or slights, accepting the terms of interviews or debates, responding to every question instead of setting the agenda or topics for the campaign. They are used to GOP candidates serving as their patsies or wimps and Trump is the exact opposite.
You may remember the 1988 presidential race, for instance. Despite George H.W. Bush’s history as a war veteran and the youngest fighter pilot in World War II, the rub against Bush was that he was a wimp. Surely his patrician, blueblood lineage was more a political liability that year, as his opponents claimed that the sitting Vice President was unfit to carry on the Reagan legacy and oversee the defeat of Soviet Russia because he wasn’t tough enough.
In fact, Newsweek Magazine even ran a cover story titled “Fighting the Wimp Factor” about the GOP frontrunner in October 1987. The failed magazine ran a similar cover story 25 years later, “The Wimp Factor: Is He Just Too Insecure to Be President?” about Mitt Romney in August 2012, again branding a GOP nominee as a wimp.
It was on October 29, 1987 in a televised debate hosted by William F. Buckley, Jr.'s "Firing Line" in Houston that one of Bush’s opponents branded him a wimp in a shrewd way. As the discussion centered on a nuclear arms treaty with the USSR, the late Alexander Haig, Reagan’s first Secretary of State (and my boss at the time), proclaimed to Bush about his presence in Reagan cabinet meetings, “I never heard a whimper out of you.” The audience roared with approval (see: BUSH DEFLECTS ATTACKS DURING GOP DEBATE).
The attacks continued against Bush. In a famous interview on CBS with Dan Rather on January 25, 1988 – 28 years ago today - Bush used the interview with the veteran newsman to push back and put an end to the claims that he was not tough enough to be president (see: Bush/Rather Interview 1/25/88). In 2008, Newsbusters shared excerpts from the book The Quest for the Presidency about the 1988 campaign, retelling how CBS media minions saw that consequential Bush interview as a way to take out the wimpy frontrunner.
Bush did a lot that day to prove his mettle for office and went on to win the presidency that year, though he was later outmatched in his reelection bid four years later against Bill Clinton. If only George H.W. Bush had shown the same kind of toughness consistently, he likely would have enjoyed that second term.
Ironically, Donald Trump has had Jeb Bush similarly on the defensive this entire campaign, repeatedly referencing the establishment, dynastic Bush heir as “low energy.”
Now factions within the GOP that oppose both Donald Trump and fellow frontrunner Ted Cruz have nowhere to go because they and the national news media are no longer fighting wimps. More importantly, the news media are in complete conflict, loving and hating Trump at the same time. You can imagine how they must be declaring in their hallowed halls, "Boy, Trump is great for our ratings. Now how can we take hime out to ensure Hillary's election?"
If nothing else, Donald Trump has provided us a lesson in countering the news media as they campaign in concert with the Democrats. He is the anti-wimp candidate, and while his detractors will assail him for not being consistently conservative, he is consistently tough at a time when Americans are sick and tired of the consequences they endure from all of the wimps they have sent to Washington in the past.
With hope, Trump's lasting legacy will be to set a new standard so that GOP candidates will no longer allow themselves to be portrayed as wimps, but will fight back as Bush 41 did 28 years ago today, only consistently, never giving up the fight for our future for a moment.