The other day, I wrote a post about the dynamics of media coverage in the 2016 presidential campaign. My thesis was simple: The US political system, especially the US media, needs two roughly balanced sides. People's jobs depend on it; accepted habits, practices, and financial relationships depend on it; ratings depend on it.
The media simply can't countenance a race as lopsided as Clinton versus Trump. It breaks the model.
And so the media will work to balance the race, to make it more competitive, by dragging Hillary Clinton down and lifting Donald Trump up.
Today brings a small but piquant bit of confirmation for that thesis.
Media needs pro-Trump talking heads; pundits answer the call
Cable news, you see, has a problem. It is built around talking heads from one side squabbling with talking heads from the other side. But in this race, "the other side" means Donald Trump, and most talking heads — struggling, as ever, to remain firmly within DC conventional wisdom — have been bad-mouthing Trump for months.
Now, however, Trump is almost certainly the nominee, one of the two sides.
So what's happening? At the Washington Post, Callum Borchers tells the story: Several pundits who mere weeks ago were decrying Trump are now supporting him. And the early wave — those most shamelessly willing to throw out their previous opinions, pivot, and serve the new niche — are becoming "hot commodities."
It's slightly awkward, sure:
For some of these surrogates, their previous statements don’t always square with what they say on behalf of the candidate now, and it can be hard to avoid the perception that they saw an open market for Trump sympathizers and sold out. Not necessarily for money — they aren’t paid by the campaign or, with the exception McEnany and Lord, by the cable channels — but for fame that could eventually lead to a payday and in the meantime represents its own kind of currency.
Yes, you could say that perception is "hard to avoid." You might even call it blindingly obvious.
Yet it doesn't bother the pundits in question much. "I’ll be the first to admit some inconsistency with comments I’ve made in the past," Scottie Nell Hughes, former Tea Party champion, breezily told Borchers. "I’m sure you could go back."
But she knows nobody will. Cable news lives in the eternal present; it has the institutional memory of a fruit fly. No pundit will pay any long-term professional or personal penalty for their obvious opportunism. It's just how the game is played.
The media needs pro-Trump voices, so pundits are answering the call. They will be embraced and rewarded with air time — and they will be followed by many, many others.