Criticism

Why Donald Trump Won’t Trash a Newly Critical Drudge Report

The Drudge Report was one of Donald Trump’s most powerful supporters. Now its founder is criticizing the president—and the Trump White House, unusually, is not attacking back.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch might not be the only Donald Trump admirer who’s disheartened and demoralized by the president’s recent behavior.

Internet rabble-rouser Matt Drudge—who last year essentially put his influential Drudgereport.com news and opinion site at the service of Trump’s presidential campaign—has also been expressing dissatisfaction of late.

In a series of eruptions over the past couple of weeks on his personal Twitter account—mostly tweets that Drudge deleted almost as soon as he posted them—the 50-year-old media and political tastemaker has been chiding congressional Republicans, the White House staff, and seemingly even the president himself for losing sight of campaign promises and getting mired in time-wasting distractions.

“Republican party should be sued for fraud,” Drudge recommended on Wednesday alongside a photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan praying—Drudge’s only tweet that, as of this writing, remained online. “NO discussion of tax cuts now. Just lots of crazy. Back to basics, guys!”

In a second, now deleted, tweet this week, Drudge noted sarcastically: “White House eyeing executive order targeting ‘conflict minerals’ rule… Meanwhile, is Obamacare penalty tax still in place?”

Since that tweet, the Trump White House has plunged even further into confusion, with its attempts to govern and communicate thwarted not only by adverse court rulings but also by an epically pointless, and ethically damaging, debate over whether a department store chain dropped Ivanka Trump’s clothing line for nefarious political reasons.

Sitting in front of his laptop 15 hours a day at his grand, 20-acre estate in Homestead, Florida, a Miami suburb on the edge of the Everglades, Drudge is doing basically the same work he did two decades ago when he was a humble blogger in a tiny Hollywood, California, apartment—before he achieved global fame, and accompanying riches, by revealing the Monica Lewinsky scandal during Bill Clinton’s second term.

Every so often Drudge has threatened to retire, privately complaining that staring into a computer screen for hours on end is a terrible way to live—something he has done so others don’t have to, as he has told friends, even if it has meant martyring himself in order to warn against sinister liberal schemes to destroy Western civilization.

Three years ago, Drudge seemed to be losing enthusiasm for his mission, and traffic to his web site—usually more than 30 million page-views per day—had begun to dip into the 18 million range.

Yet, in the midst of the 2016 campaign, Drudge was freshly energized by Trump’s anti-establishment, populist candidacy; when the Washington establishment scoffed and snickered, Drudge was an early and eager adopter of Trumpism. And he has managed to maintain and even enhance his relevance, especially in the power precincts of Trumpworld.

“The thing is, Drudge has a very inflated ego,” said a person who agreed to be quoted as someone familiar with Drudge’s thinking. “In a lot of ways, Drudge believes that he may have singlehandedly given Donald Trump the presidency.”

Self-confidence verging on megalomania, if true, is certainly something Drudge has in common with the 45th president; he didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

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This person added: “Drudge is really very good at seeing trends and seeing where things are going much earlier than most people. A lot of other people got on top of the Trump phenomenon later, but Drudge was early in recognizing that ‘Damn! This Trump message is really resonating across America!’”

During the campaign, the president took care to flatter the web aggregator—“What’s better than Drudge? He’s a fantastic guy. What he’s built is unbelievably respected,” Trump once declared on CNN—and Drudge returned the favor. At one point, Trump’s then-rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, accused The Drudge Report of becoming Trump’s personal “attack site,” a reliable promoter of “whatever the Trump campaign is pushing that day.”

Thus a White House and a president that didn’t hesitate this week to trash a bona fide war hero and fellow Republican, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, for daring to criticize the failed military operation in Yemen, has reacted to Drudge’s complaints with delicacy and respect.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer—who on Wednesday demanded that former Vietnam prisoner of war McCain apologize for “doing a disservice” to the memory of the Navy SEAL killed in the Yemen raid—was careful not to lay a glove on Drudge.

“I think it’s hardly stalling,” he responded mildly to Drudge’s Obamacare kvetching, obviously attempting to placate rather than confront the blogger. “I think it’s a mammoth thing to repeal and replace. I think there’s no question of the president’s commitment to doing this.”

Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown was also on a mission to mollify when he told Fox News on on Thursday, “I love Drudge. I read Drudge,” before arguing, “with respect,” that “it’s been 19 days… I think people need to relax a little bit and give the guy at least his full Cabinet and give him a month maybe. And then if it doesn’t work out, you can hammer him.”

Political scientist Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Drudge’s dissents are both significant and surprising.

“I’m not shocked by much of anything anymore,” Sabato told The Daily Beast, “but I was shocked by that, because he was so pro-Trump during the campaign.”

While Drudge in the past has been critical of Republicans in Congress for not standing up for conservative ideals or offering effective opposition to President Obama, “this is worse, because it’s not just Congress, he’s going after Trump, too,” Sabato argued. “When he says ‘lots of crazy’ that means one person. I think we all know ‘crazy’ is a synonym for Donald Trump these days.”

Sabato explained the White House’s extraordinary deference toward Drudge this way: “Obviously in Trumpworld he is very significant. He’s not as important as Steve Bannon, but he’s on that same list.

“His fan base and his subscriber base are enormous. Whether you like or dislike the Drudgereport, you can’t ignore it,” Sabato continued, “because what he says very quickly works its way into conversations of the Trump cult, and the millions of people who are Trump’s base and the Republicans who generally follow him.”

With Drudge keeping the pressure on the Trump White House, “it’s not going to be long before it’s obvious to everybody that there’s trouble in paradise,” Sabato added. “It’s easy to talk about this stuff on the campaign trail. But, as always, it’s difficult to do.”