Should we just ignore Donald Trump?
He doesn’t die if you don’t believe in him. You’re thinking of Tinker Bell.
Almost every time I tweet about Trump these days, I get replies like this:
The idea that if we just ignore Trump he’ll go away is quite pervasive. I also think it’s wrong. And it’s probably worth devoting an edition of the newsletter to explaining why, especially since this debate is likely to keep coming up in the months and years to come.
There’s a sense that Trump’s political rise in 2015 and ‘16 was enabled by the mainstream media lavishing attention on him, and there’s certainly something to that. We all remember how all three of the major cable news networks covered Trump’s empty podium instead of Hillary Clinton’s speeches. Trump’s brand of politics was remarkably ugly, but it made for good TV and they couldn’t get enough. One analysis found he benefitted from more than $2 billion worth of free media just during the 2016 Republican primary, which was almost three times what Clinton received during the same timeframe. Even if a good portion of that coverage was negative, all of that attention fueled Trump, and people are understandably concerned about history repeating itself.
There’s also the fact that Trump was banished from Twitter after he used it to organize and incite the January 6 attack on Congress. Since he can no longer tweet on his own, journalists shouldn’t help Trump circumvent his ban by tweeting out his statements or clips from his interviews, or so the argument goes. Let him yell into the void.
The best way to support this work is with a paid subscription, but free ones are great too. Thanks to those of you who have already subscribed!
But here’s the thing — even though @realDonaldTrump no longer exists, Trump isn’t yelling into a void. Whether they’re subscribed to his email lists, tuning in to Trump propaganda outlets like OAN or Newsmax, or following MAGA social media accounts that reliably circulate his statements, Trump fans hear what he’s saying loud and clear. And considering Trump is the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee and still very popular with the GOP base, I think it’s important for all of us who care about politics to be aware of what he’s saying and doing.
Consider a statement Trump released over the weekend that prompted the “Stop tweeting his stuff” reply at the top of this post. The statement is about a flimsy, half-baked conspiracy theory stemming from John Durham’s politicized investigation into “spying” on the Trump campaign. Durham’s court filing is getting heavy play on Fox News, and Trumpers are using to baselessly accuse the Hillary Clinton campaign of some kind of… well, of something.
For our purposes, the details of the alleged conspiracy aren’t important — if you’re curious about them, the New York Times has a concise explainer you can read here, and I plan on diving deeper into the story for Wednesday’s newsletter — but what does matter is that Trump responded to the new Durham-related revelations by suggesting members of the Clinton campaign should be put to death.
“This is a scandal far greater in scope and magnitude than Watergate and those who were involved in and knew about this spying operation should be subject to criminal prosecution,” Trump said. “In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.”
It probably shouldn’t have to be said, but a former president and the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee calling for the execution of his political foes is a big deal. It speaks to the degradation of our political culture and the GOP’s increasingly open embrace of authoritarianism, and it’s also the sort of thing that directly endangers people by putting a target on them. And elected Republicans who continue to stand by Trump — like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey Graham, among many others — should really be grilled by reporters and their constituents about how they can continue to support him in light of statements like this. (Notably, George Stephanopoulos didn’t ask Graham about Trump’s statement when he interviewed him on Sunday.)
This isn’t to say that everything Trump says or does these days is newsworthy. His statements insulting people or trying to grift them don’t really rise to the level. Neither does each and every one of his lies or exaggerations about his record. As I wrote about in October while discussing my approach to covering Trump’s rallies, it’s important to separate the signal from the noise. But I think Trump suggesting his political opponents should be executed is a signal.
So while I understand where people are coming from when they tell me to stop live-tweeting Trump rallies or reporting on his TV interviews and statements, in this case I feel pretty strongly that ignorance is not bliss. You may be done with Trump, but Trump is not done with you. It’s important that political journalists don’t let themselves get used to uncritically disseminating Trump’s statements or inadvertently promoting him. But as long as he remains a force in Americans politics, I’ll continue to view explaining what he’s up to and why as an important part of what I do.
— This Valentine’s Day tweet from Mehmet Oz, a TV personality who’s now running for a US Senate seat in Pennsylvania, illustrates how ridiculous Republican primaries will be this spring and summer.
— Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars, raised a lot of eyebrows on Monday by sending a letter to Trump’s general counsel severing its business relationship with the Trump Organization and declaring that statements it prepared from Trump from 2011 to 2020 “should no longer be relied upon and you should inform any recipients thereof who are currently relying upon one or more of those documents that those documents should not be relied upon.”
“We have come to this conclusion based, in part, upon the filings made by the New York Attorney General on January 18, 2022, our own investigation, and information received from internal and external sources,” the letter adds.
To understand what this all means, I’d recommend checking out this analysis by Luppe Luppen.
“The determination by Mazars that Trump’s financial statements over a full decade are not reliable through no fault of its own amounts to a declaration that it has been repeatedly misled by its client,” Luppen writes.
— Finally, if you missed my Monday Q&A with Sarah “X Soviet” Hurst about the big picture view on why Putin wants to invade Ukraine, I recommend checking it out here. The Ukraine crisis remains the biggest story in the world this week and it’ll get you up to speed if you haven’t been following it closely.
Thankfully, Putin seemed to signal a deescalation as I was putting this finishing touches on this newsletter by indicating he’s open to further negotiations with the US and NATO.
That’s it for today!
I’ll be back with more tomorrow.