When Donald Trump won the New York GOP primary on April 19, he gave a speech that was shorter and more subdued than his usual Wizard of Oz–like rant. Instead of calling his vanquished opponent “Lyin’ Ted,” he called him “Senator Cruz.” And the corporate media heard their cue.
On television, pundits lined up to testify that Trump was “very disciplined,” “less combative,” “fundamentally different,” and, above all, “more presidential.”
We’ve been riding this roller coaster for a while: The press claims sightings of a more presidential Donald Trump, only to later be shocked, shocked, that he’s still the same outrageous showman they’ve known all along. After Trump tied Ted Cruz’s father to the JFK assassination, the commentariat went from Trump 2.0 to “WTF?” But just three days later, when the presumptive GOP nominee finally said a few nice words about Paul Ryan, they were patting him on the back for his “baby steps,” as CNN’s Dana Bash put it, toward more presidential behavior. “So perhaps, perhaps,” she said, “he is sort of getting it, and he’s saying, look, it’s different now.” Expect them to eventually attaboy Donald for no longer suggesting that the Clintons murdered Vincent Foster.
You can partly blame the mainstream media’s urge to presidentialize this man on their usual false-equivalency narrative, according to which Donald and Hillary are more or less playing in the same league. But the MSM are also struggling to follow an even more deeply embedded script—a kind of comic-book origins story. The leap from common man to dignified leader of the free world is part of the national myth. And Trump’s journey from reality-TV star to potential POTUS, from pop to pomp, is no different, in kind, from those stories that start with a Georgia peanut farmer, or a Hollywood actor, or even a Kentucky rail-splitter. But if Donald Trump wins the election, the storyline would require him to star in a particularly dramatic, real-life fairy tale, one we haven’t seen before: an Internet troll turns into a prince. It appears that the mainstream media are rehearsing for the day when they might, despite all of Trump’s glaring flaws, have to make that transformation stick.