His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad.
He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president.
I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney.
A New Republic article proclaimed “Yes, Romney’s Vision for America Really Is That Scary” and the Huffington Post headline read “The Severe Danger of a Romney Presidency.” Rolling Stone explained “Why ‘President Romney’ Would Be a Disaster for Women” and Nick Kristof in The New York Times pontificated on “How Romney Would Treat Women” (spoiler alert: not well).
Mitt Romney was, of course, far from the first Republican presidential candidate to get this treatment. George W. Bush, John McCain, and any Republican who has the audacity to challenge a Democrat for the presidency are treated to ever more alarmist rhetoric. Every gaffe, every uncorroborated story is blown up by a media seemingly unaware of its extreme bias.
Lest you imagine all presidential candidates get this kind of media treatment, well, not quite. Barack Obama wasn’t stupid when he said there were 57 states. He wasn’t racist when he listened to Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s sermons for 20 years. He wasn’t insane when he said he would lower the oceans. He wasn’t unfit when he said he would end the Iraq war on the very day he took office. He continually got the benefit of the doubt that Republicans never get from the press.
So in 2016 when there is a Republican candidate who might be, actually, dangerous, it’s unsurprising that many mainstream Republicans don’t care. It’s too late for the media to say “no, no, we really mean it this time.” Republican Never Trumpers, like myself, find that when we call Donald Trump scary or unfit, voters have heard it so often before—and about people like mild-mannered, decent, knowledgeable Mitt Romney—that it doesn’t resonate at all.
Take Paul Krugman in The New York Times. In Tuesday’s column he wondered how any “rational Republicans justify supporting Mr. Trump.” He concludes it’s about “feelings,” a dismissal of legitimate arguments many people, both Republicans and not, have against Hillary Clinton. But no one is more feelings-based than Krugman when it comes to Republicans. If he wants to know how people can take Donald Trump seriously, he should take a hard look at himself.
In 2012, Krugman called Mitt Romney a “charlatan,” pathologically dishonest, and untrustworthy. He said Romney doesn’t even pretend to care about poor people and wants people to die so that the rich could get richer. Romney is “completely amoral,” “a dangerous fool,” “ignorant as well as uncaring.”
In March, Krugman had a column called “Clash of Republican Con Artists.” In it, he called Trump’s foreign policy more reasonable than that of Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz and said he’s just as terrified of either of those men in the White House as he is of Trump. He wrote: “In fact, you have to wonder why, exactly, the Republican establishment is really so horrified by Mr. Trump. Yes, he’s a con man, but they all are. So why is this con job different from any other?”
Yet a few weeks ago Krugman wondered how Republicans could rally around Trump “just as if he were a normal candidate.” It was exactly Krugman who normalized him! What makes Donald Trump normal to so many is that they’ve heard all the hysteria from people like Krugman before. If you use the most vile language available on a good man like Romney, or on real candidates like Rubio and Cruz, you find you have none left for the Donald Trumps of the world—and no one is listening to you anyway.
If every Republican is always unfit for the presidency then Trump is no different and it shouldn’t be surprising that rank-and-file Republican voters are lining up behind him. They know there aren’t actually any Republicans of which the media approves. There’s a joke among Republicans that the only GOP candidate the media likes is one who has no chance of winning. John McCain was a media darling when he lost in the 2000 primary to George W. Bush but not when he was actually running against a Democrat in 2008.
The media bear a lot of responsibility for the creation of Trump, and treating all Republican presidential candidates as if they’re a danger to American society is just one way they’ve done it. It’s unlikely that the media are going to en-masse recognize their bias, but perhaps if the Trump campaign has taught the media anything, it’s to ratchet down the rhetoric so that words mean something again.