Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE is having a rough go of it in the media of late.
The GOP front-runner has for months thrived on the around-the-clock coverage of his nontraditional campaign. But several tough exchanges this week have proved that there’s also a downside to his reliance on earned media.
Reporters and anchors have provoked unforced errors from Trump, fact-checked and challenged his oft-repeated assertions in real-time and rebuked the surrogates who have at times struggled to defend their candidate.
It’s a significant turn of events in a primary that has otherwise been defined by Trump’s mastery of the news cycle.
“Turns out his media strategy is a double-edged sword,” said former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye, who opposes Trump. “The most striking thing is that it’s been a string of bad showings back-to-back.”
The trio of controversies that have trailed Trump over the last week – dragging Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOcasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday GOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE’s wife into the spotlight, his campaign manager’s battery charge against a reporter and his statement on punishment for illegal abortions – all had key media components.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper excoriated Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders – the daughter of Trump’s former presidential rival Mike Huckabee – after Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino fanned the flames around a National Enquirer story alleging Ted Cruz had multiple affairs.
“Sarah, I’ve known you and I’ve known your family for a long time and I can’t believe that either one of you would condone what Dan Scavino did yesterday,” Tapper said. “At some point, aren’t you just ashamed?”
Later in the week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a viral exchange with Trump at a town-hall event in which he pressed the front-runner on why he had dragged Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz, into the spotlight.
Trump has been criticized for re-tweeting an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz set next to a professionally shot picture of his own wife, model Melania Trump.
Cooper mocked Trump for claiming that Cruz had instigated the fight.
"I didn't start it," Trump insisted.
“Sir, with all due respect, that's the argument of 5-year-old," Cooper said.
“I thought it was a nice picture of Heidi,” Trump countered.
“Come on,” Cooper shot back.
And after Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery earlier this week for grabbing a woman reporter by the arm, many in the media circled the wagons around one of their own. High-profile female pundits from some of the nation’s largest news outlets signed a letter demanding Lewandowski be fired.
But perhaps the most notable exchange took place between Trump and MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, who cornered Trump on abortion and refused to let him off the hook.
"This is not something you can dodge," Matthews said.
Trump told Matthews that if abortion were illegal, he’d advocate for punishing women who seek them out.
The statement provoked backlash among liberals and conservatives alike, and Trump had to act quickly to walk the statement back.
It was one of the few occasions this cycle where Trump has appeared susceptible to political damage by the kinds of verbal gaffes that have sunk candidates in the past.
And it appears to have knocked Trump off balance.
Trump revised his statement on abortion hours after it became a political problem. He changed his position to say that doctors, not women, should be punished for illegal abortions.
The next day, Trump accused MSNBC of selectively editing the exchange. The network says it ran the interview in full.
The front-runner also claimed that he’s being treated unfairly, and singled out specific reporters and networks – CNN, MSNBC and Fox News among them - as biased against him.
Trump’s defenders argue that the missteps are minor and should be expected from a candidate who has been the most accessible by far. Trump has sat for scores of exhaustive interviews and often makes news because he’s willing to answer questions – like Matthews’s hypothetical question on abortion – that others might shy away from.
Some conservatives believe that the media is all too eager to twist the knife on a candidate that is despised by many political elites.
“Part of this is malice on the media’s part,” said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. “He’s been able to outfox them at every turn, and now that he’s backed into a corner you see some of the latent aggression coming out here as they try and make up for past instances where he’s gotten the better of them.”
Still, Trump won’t find too many who are sympathetic to his plight here.
Trump has benefitted tremendously from the wall-to-wall coverage of his campaign.
A New York Times study from earlier this month estimates that Trump has received $2 billion worth of free coverage, which has helped him keep a lid on his own campaign spending.
Trump’s rivals bemoan the fact he can phone-in to the networks for interviews – including on the high-profileSunday political talk shows. That’s not an option for most other candidates, they argue.
And networks often cut away from scheduled programming to air Trump’s rallies and press conferences because they draw huge ratings.
Some have argued that the media saturation has super-charged - or even created - the Trump phenomenon.
But at least over the last week, the coverage appears to have been detrimental to Trump. The rocky stretch comes as rival Ted Cruz has blown past him in the polls of Wisconsin, where voters will cast ballots in a critical primary on Tuesday.
“The media gives and the media takes away,” O’Connell said. “It got away from him this week. If Trump loses the nomination, I think this is the week we’ll look back on as when the bottom fell out.”