In the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy capitalized on the new media of the day to capture the presidency and sustain his popularity. He recognized the power of television and the importance of winning the debate visually as well as substantively. That was accomplished by his dark blue suit, makeup, and lighting. It was an incredible contrast to Richard Nixon who was in a grey suit against a grey background and was bland looking with perspiration showing. He didn’t understand the media of the day.
Donald Trump is using today’s new technology with precisely the same savvy that Kennedy exhibited in 1960. He has tweeted his way to nearly 35 million followers and has dominated the new media. Moreover, he has recognized that the “old media” is not as powerful as it once was. Most Americans get their news online. So, while conventional politicians are criticizing President Trump for his oftentimes crass, “un-presidential” behavior, he is dominating their pages and television programs. He understands the three most important aspects of exposure: repetition, repetition, and repetition.
A media-shift online has surely taken place. According to Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at The Atlantic, 81 percent of Americans get some of their news though websites, apps, or social platforms. While TV is still the most popular news source for Americans—57 percent of U.S. adults “often” get their news from television—that’s mostly due to its popularity among older people. In essence, the older you are, the more likely you are to like TV. More than 70 percent of Americans older than 50 “often” watch TV news; less than 50 percent of Americans younger than that do. Meanwhile, only about a quarter of 20-somethings and college students are regular TV news watchers—but 50 percent of them are regular online news consumers.
Aided by the virtually universal negative coverage afforded by the conventional media which is surely biased, President Trump uses “fake news” to reinforce the perception held by many Americans that the media is more biased than perhaps it really is. He was skilled during the primary campaign and general election at two-word labels: “Little Marco, “Lyin’ Ted,” and “crooked Hillary.” That was no accident. His understanding of the mass media and ratings game is unparalleled.
If, and it is a big “if,” President Trump can become more disciplined and focused on his agenda and message, when the time is right and he has accumulated some legislative victories such as lower taxes and an infrastructure bill, then I suspect he will moderate his tone. Being media savvy, Trump knows that people have a short memory. So, he will keep his base and potentially appeal to independents who may ultimately conclude, “Trump’s not so bad,” especially when compared to an opponent who is likely a whining socialist complaining about free-enterprise and injustice.
Above said, if President Trump is really thin-skinned as his opponents opine, then all bets are off. On the other hand, if he does change his tone, moderate his message and become “more Presidential” he just might be a shoe-in for re-election in 2020. He is either dumb as a stump or sly as a fox. You decide!!
©2017 Steven M. Stroum (with permission to share)