“Go back to Univision.”
Donald Trump’s declaration to Jorge Ramos, a respected star of Spanish-language broadcasting, was the most flagrantly dismissive comment he’s made to a media member in a campaign full of them.
“He referred to Univision almost as if it was some other land. Some people will hear, ‘Go back to Mexico,'” said Ricardo Ramirez, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame.
Ramos, a sort of Walter Cronkite to his millions of viewers, has been unrelenting in raising questions about Trump, especially on immigration.
In so doing, he’s been acting as any responsible press organization should in a democracy.
Yes, he’s clearly given to a bit of grandstanding, as seemed to be the case as he went after Trump on Tuesday. But he has underscored the outrageousness of Trump statements about immigrants as rapists and Trump’s unwillingness to back down from demonizing a large class of individuals.
There may be some notion among the political punditocracy that both Trump and Ramos were “winners” during their rhetorical combat in Iowa Tuesday. The idea is that Trump confirmed his no-holds-barred image with his core constituents, while Ramos proves himself again as an articulate, passionate spokesman for those suffering discrimination.
But that construction underscores the very horse race coverage the media often hypocritically tends to itself deride, especially at post-presidential election post-mortems and other symposia. Events are seen by many analysts and reporters through the lens of somebody being up or down, even what can be minute-by-minute analysis of a press conference that received live cable TV coverage and briefly consumed social media.
Less attention is given to how Trump’s dealings with the press discard the most traditional notions of decorum in American campaigning. It goes beyond the mix of theater, posturing and seeming impossibility of his winding up in the White House that led Huffington Post to decide it would cover Trump in its Entertainment section.
With beer hall fervor, he slams down people, be they Megyn Kelly of Fox or Ramos. He does it with simplistic, derisive put-downs right out of “Archie Bunker,” the 1970s CBS sit-com about the bigoted New York City dockworker-cab driver (who just happened to be from Trump’s native borough of Queens).
“Make America Great Again” is the formal Trump mantra. But it’s getting a bit closer to “Make America Hate Again.” There’s a nasty, nativist undertone that should be taken seriously, if not as expansively as the press has done with Trump, who is two-legged celebrity click bait.
There is no presidential candidate, including Hillary Clinton, who can simply call into a TV network and get on the air when he desires. That’s seemingly been the case with Trump, whose Wednesday included calling into NBC’s “Today” for a Matt Lauer interview.
His use of his celebrity is brazen and pragmatic. Other candidates might crave his Rolodex and web of media relationships. But what’s political virtue for him can be something more complex for a compliant press, which can look as if they’re being played for fools by Trump.
And then there’s Ramos, himself a bigger media presence than many in the mainstream might have realized.
Ramirez suggests that he’s a combo of Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather in their heydays. “Triple each of them and that’s is the loyalty of Ramos’ following.”
He’s known for asking tough questions. It’s part of the reason he’s so trusted. He’s tough with all sorts of individuals, including leaders of other countries. But nobody, said Ramirez, has talked to him as did Trump on Tuesday.
“Jorge Ramos has a very strong reputation among Latino voters. In most major cities, he has the highest rated evening news show of any TV channel, including English channels, and in past surveys we have conducted we have found Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas to be a very trusted source of information from Latino voters,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions and a professor of political science and Chicano Studies at UCLA.
“Donald Trump already had very low standing with Latino voters, but kicking Jorge Ramos out of his press conference can only make things worse with Latino voters, as he now looks like he refuses to answer the questions most important to Latino audiences that Ramos speaks to,” said Barreto, who is a consulting on Latino issues with the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The actual political impact, if any, of Tuesday’s messiness is hard to figure. Being associated with Trump’s view can’t help but further weaken the Republican Party with Latinos in the long run.
But if Trump drops off and a more sensible figure on similar issues, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would win the GOP nomination, “It could send strong signals to Latinos that the more nativist wing of the party is not the core ideology,” said Ramirez.
Ramos’ Univision viewers remind one that television news is increasingly the province of older Americans. As is the case with the traditional networks, that audience, too, is older, with their children and grandchildren not following in their media consumption footsteps.
But even for a young, more bilingual and college-educated generation of Latinos, a ripple effect of the Trump melee “could be substantial,” speculates Ramirez. Ramos is simply that iconic. Word will get around.
What’s it all amount to?
Watching video of recent Trump lowlights, especially his debate duel with Kelly and Tuesday’s rhetorical mano-a-mano with Ramos, one might be reminded of the historic U.S. Senate Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.
There, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the notoriously Red-baiting Republican from Wisconsin, was over the top. His performance prompted a famous question from Joseph Welch, a private attorney hired by the Army for a Senate committee chaired by McCarthy and overseeing an investigation into alleged communist infiltration into the government.
“At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Welch asked McCarthy.