Vox’s David Roberts rightly laments that as primary season gives way to the general election, the media will, as a matter of hard incentives, begin to normalize Donald Trump. The press isn’t institutionally equipped to cover a campaign between one essentially normal candidate and one who is, by bipartisan admission, unfit for the presidency, so they will contrive a kind of parity between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
This is a real danger. But as extraordinary as Trump is, it’s just as important that reporters not treat him as a fluke.
Case in point, Binyamin Appelbaum’s important story about Trump’s dangerous position on the national debt.
Trump, said in a television interview Thursday that he might seek to reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment…. “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.” …
Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent.
This is indeed nuts, but it isn’t a complete surprise. For five years, Congressional Republicans have opposed increasing the statutory debt limit unconditionally, and have advanced legislation that would require the Treasury Department to “prioritize” American debt repayments, in the event that Congress refuses to increase the government’s borrowing authority. Foreign creditors would be paid. In some versions, Social Security beneficiaries would be paid. But we would default on “lower priority” debt. This, too, is nuts. And as with Trump’s call for banning Muslim travel, expelling 11 million immigrants, charging Mexico for a border wall, etc., it’s a step beyond standard Republican recklessness, but on the continuum.
Trump is in many ways a new political phenomenon, and that poses challenges to the press corps. But as Josh Marshall memorably put it, Trump isn’t a total aberration: He’s cashing in the GOP’s aptly termed “nonsense debt.” As we grapple with covering a deviant presidential nominee, we must also resist the temptation to treat Trump as a complete anomaly. He wasn’t able to win the Republican nomination without a firmly laid precedent.