The media schadenfreude over Donald Trump’s loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa and his narrow margin over Marco Rubio has been almost as loud as Trump’s screams that he was robbed.
“The Emperor has no clothes,” says USNews.com. “Dead Clown Walking,” the New York Daily News front page crowed. On Fox, Brett Baier’s and Megyn Kelly’s delight was palpable—Trump has had to admit that skipping their debate hurt him. And this old tweet of Trump’s, quoting golf pro Walter Hagen, is flying across Twitter like famous last words: “No one remembers who came in second.”
But in those corners of the media universe where Trump’s dominance had slowly, inexorably, become an article of faith, it’s been… awkward.
Because we’ve been here before. Over the summer, most pundits laughed at the notion that Trump could be a serious candidate. But as his every lie, insult, and threat to beat up protesters only boosted his poll numbers, these same pundits, fearing they’d been made to look like fools, began to overcompensate by hopping on the bully’s bandwagon.
This evolution is nowhere more evident than on Morning Joe, where co-host Mika Brzezinski went from refusing to even mention Trump’s name last summer, so tawdry did his candidacy strike her, to joining Joe in scorning those pundit chumps who couldn’t see the Trump light. The two co-hosts snickered, they snorted, even at their regular panelists, practically kicking sand in the face of the 90-pound-weaklings who weren’t with the program.
When Trump skipped last week’s Iowa debate because Megyn Kelly was moderating, Joe not only railed against Fox but took on Trump’s misogynistic tone. After running a mash-up of Kelly’s perfectly legit criticisms of the mogul (“He doesn’t get to control the media”), Scarborough said, “I would rather set myself on fire in front of the Fox News studio than go on a debate stage with that.”
Joe’s instinct to fall in with a bully was so strong he even forgot his forcefully stated opposition to any pol who wouldn’t state unequivocally that Obama was born in the USA.
So it’s been a weird two days on Morning Joe, as Joe and Mika try to paint their man’s loss as a victory. “Trump got more votes than anyone in the history of the Iowa caucuses—except Ted Cruz,” Joe said, repeating one of Trump’s new talking points. Mika chimed in that Trump’s “results are historic, too, whether you like it or not.”
At the same time, they’re ridiculing Rubio for portraying his surprisingly close third-place finish as a win. “They said we couldn’t do it,” Rubio said in his post-caucus speech Monday, to which Joe unleashed, “Whaddaya mean?… The media has been kissing him!” insisting that everyone expected him to come in third. “They said this day would never come? C’mon!” echoed Mika. Jeremy Peters of the The New York Times had to correct them both: most polls did expect Rubio to finish third, “but he wasn’t expected to come within a point of Donald Trump.”
Joe and Mika have even been putting out a version of Poor Little Rich Man: Trump is self-made politician who came from nowhere to beat out a bunch of sitting governors and senators.
Trump, said Mika, had overcome the degradation of being a laughingstock to rise to those historic heights. Then Nicole Wallace had to remind her gently, “I don’t think anyone’s been laughing [at him] for a quite a while.”
Trump is still excusing himself by playing the innocent neophyte. Maybe his ground game wasn’t the best, he conceded on the show today, but gee, “ground game” is “a term I wasn’t even familiar with.” The MJ crew just laughed, letting yet another Trump tall tale slip by. (And this after the MJ panel spent a good 10 minutes attacking Hillary for holding the mic too close, for shouting on the stump, and generally for being “unrelaxed,” as Bob Woodward put it, as if nobody on the MSNBC set had ever heard Trump speak.)
As I’ve said, I’m rooting for Ted Cruz. Here’s my bottom line: Cruz—or Rubio or Christie or Jeb—would be far easier for Hillary or Bernie to defeat than Trump. Only Kasich, I think, comes close—and unlike Trump, he can deliver Ohio.
In addition to stripping off Trump’s armor of invincibility, there’s another silver-lining to Cruz’s victory. He was the only candidate—including Hillary and Bernie—to oppose the federal subsidies for ethanol in ethanol-dependent Iowa.
This is no small matter. In a jolting Harper’s piece, “The Trouble with Iowa,” Richard Manning details the devastating environmental and human health effects of subsidizing factory-farmed corn, especially when coupled with Iowa’s growing tsunami of hog and chicken shit.
But Big Corn, like Trump, may not be so invincible after all. The Renewable Fuel Standard program may finally be dying of its own weight. And even if the Cruz campaign goes nowhere after Iowa—and Donald could well squash him in New Hampshire and become the new “Comeback Kid”—winning Iowa without shucking corn proves that politicians can stop sucking up.
At least Ted’s been good for something.