As the New York Republican primary approaches the media has been awash in stories about Donald Trump’s New York values. As you know, Ted Cruz raised the issue when commenting on an interview the Teflon Don did with Tim Russert many years ago.
Being a New York businessman, Trump explained that he held to the same values, on issues like abortion, that most New Yorkers did. New York City suffers from a serious case of groupthink and if you want to do business here, and especially if you want to command space in the media, you do best to think like a New Yorker.
Now that Trump is a candidate for the presidency he has learned how to echo values that reach beyond New York. And yet, as the Republican dinner dance the other night showed, New Yorkers and especially New York Republicans see him as one of their own. They see Ted Cruz as an interloper and ignored his speech. Apparently, New York values, as practiced by New York Republicans, do not require anything resembling manners.
Ross Douthat presents an interesting take on the question of Trump’s New York values in The New York Times this morning. He does not merely note that Trump was born and bred in the Big Apple, but he adds that his cozy relationships with the New York media, both liberal and conservative has been key to his marketing success.
Douthat repeatedly makes the point, which I find unimpeachable, that if someone from the Midwest or the South had been spouting off what Trump is spouting off he would have been laughed out of the race. It’s Trump’s New York persona that shields him from the media, just as it created the legend of his business prowess. It’s not the right wing media, but the mainstream media that created the legend of Trump.
Why do Americans believe in the idea of Trump as the World’s Greatest Businessman, the playboy with the Midas touch? Because that’s the story that a New York-based media — not talk radio but Time and Vanity Fair, not alt-right bloggers but prime-time TV — spent years and decades selling them.
Writing for The Intercept earlier this year, Jim Lewis pointed out that “… it wasn’t some Klan newsletter that first brought Trump to our attention: It was Time and Esquire and Spy. The Westboro Baptist Church didn’t give him his own TV show: NBC did. And his boasts and lies weren’t posted on Breitbart, they were published by Random House. He was created by people who learned from Andy Warhol, not Jerry Falwell, who knew him from galas at the Met, not fund-raisers at Karl Rove’s house, and his original audience was presented to him by Condé Nast, not Guns & Ammo.”
Donald Trump was created by the New York media. We can add that Trump received front page treatment from the Village Voice. Now he has come back to repay the favor… in massive ratings.
How important is this fact? Douthat writes:
If some drawling southerner in an ill-fitting suit had showed up on TV promising to send investigators to hunt down the president’s real birth certificate, much of the media would have covered him as a cross between late-career Sarah Palin and David Duke.
But Trump was a pal, a get, and ratings gold. Trump was just playing a part. Trump was part of their scene.
So he kept getting (and still gets) the celebrity treatment — friendly interviews with favorable ground rules and softball questions — rather than the mix of ostracism and horror that a cultural outsider would have reaped.
While conservative thought leaders like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review have been denouncing Trump, the rest of the conservative media has been drooling over the Donald. Douthat mentions Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, but he could easily have added Lou Dobbs to the list.
In Douthat’s words:
Here, too, New York values have been crucial, because Trump’s success has revealed how much the conservative media is infused with a distinctively Big Apple style.
Think of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and a host of lesser Trump-enabling Fox News personalities — most of them northeastern white guys with outer-borough affects and more of ethnic Catholicism’s pugilism than its piety. Think of the Trump-voting Rudy Giuliani and the Trump-endorsing Post and even the not-quite-#NeverTrump Wall Street Journal editorial page.
They all have a style that reflects New York’s distinctive culture (worldly, striving, ever-so-slightly-impolite), and its distinctive right-of-center constituencies (Manhattan hedge funders, Staten Island cops). Which means that their conservatism differs, in large ways and small, from the conservatism of Utah or Texas or Wisconsin.
But big-time conservative media isn’t made in those places, even if it’s marketed to them. It’s made in Trumpland, and so it hasn’t been able to help itself from helping him.
Douthat clarifies his point:
If Michele Bachmann were running on Trump’s exact platform, Hannity wouldn’t be running nightly infomercials for her candidacy. If Rick Santorum were promising to make America great again, The Post and The New York Observer wouldn’t be endorsing him. If Mike Huckabee were leading in the delegate count, The Journal’s editorial writers would have long ago gotten over their doubts about Ted Cruz.
But for Trump, these gatekeepers are willing to overlook, to forgive, or at least to tolerate. Because he’s a New Yorker, just like them.
Of course, Douthat does not belong to the New York conservative media elite and does not much care for Trump.
… if authoritarianism really comes to America, it won’t come slouching out of the dark heart of Middle America, wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.
A flag pin it will have, no doubt. But on the other lapel will be a button that says I Love New York.