These are the dog days of summer, and who better then a tsunami-haired billionaire real-estate mogul and canceled reality TV star to dominate the news cycle and spike ratings on Fox News, CNN, “Meet the Press” and elsewhere? What a revenue bonanza for talk radio and TV stations, especially in early primary and caucus states. The media needs Trump in the lazy, hazy, hot August days. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd alone got two headline-grabbing columns out of Trump.
Trump knows explicitly that we need him, as much as many of us may loathe the misogynist and racist tripe he spouts and tweets so often. For us “grassy knoll” conspiracy theorists, he is the right guy, at the right time, at the right place. Gabriel Sherman (author of the unauthorized Ailes biography “Loudest Voice in the Room”) has been making the rounds of news outlets, including CNN's “Reliable Sources” and NPR's “On the Media,” detailing the back-and-forth juicy dialogue between Fox News supremo Ailes and Trump.
What great beach reading for us media/political junkies to hear tales of Ailes' pretzel-like maneuvers to make peace with the Donald, and not look like he was throwing Megyn Kelly, arguably Fox News’s biggest star, under the bus. It’s definitely a stretch even for Ailes, about as shrewd a media mind as you will find in the business that represents some Olympian-gold-medal-level negotiating gymnastics.
One Machiavellian theory I've heard bandied about is that some kind of handshake deal existed between Ailes and Trump that fueled the Donald's entrance into the GOP primary, with a promise from the Fox News chief to Trump that he'd get plenty of play on Fox. According to the theory, Ailes wanted Trump in the mix because he knew he was good for Fox's bottom line – less so that he actually wants him to be the GOP nominee. For Ailes, who enjoys the reputation as a king-maker in Republican circles, the Donald's blustery, over-the-top presence in the race would make conservative candidate vying for the job seem, in contrast, more credible and in the mainstream. Compared to Trump, candidates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for example, seem, well “fair and balanced.”
Fox News has benefited ratings-wise. But Trump is holding on to his early front-runner status. Part of the effect of Ailes’ making post-debate peace with Trump is that establishment news organizations are taking his candidacy seriously. The Times recently ran an analysis on its Upshot blog, “Donald Trump, Moderate Republican,” that posited that beneath his blustery, boorish soundbites and tweets, the Donald was “middle of the road” on such issues as health care and taxes, and even had expressed “flexibility” on immigration. According to The Upshot, “Mr. Trump is offering an unusual mixture of extreme language, moderate policy and rudeness, and so far it's connecting with Republican voters.”
In Trump, Roger Ailes may have met his media manipulation match.