Stop expecting Trump to change

Photo credit: Tony Webster

Insanity, as Einstein is often credited with saying, is “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Yet here we are after more than a year of Donald Trump’s self-enriching presidential campaign—and more than a year of media-on-media sniping over the press’s role in fueling the candidate who often spouts racism, sexism, and conspiracy theories. Still, some in the press continue to put on shocked faces when Trump pulls a fast one.

Cable news in particular has struck a Faustian bargain with the GOP nominee, giving him a platform for his charade in exchange for the ratings he brings. The rationalization: By stepping foot onto the media’s turf, Trump opens himself to a cross-examination that will ultimately benefit voters. 

That would be true for a normal candidate. But it’s a fallacy when Trump is part of the exchange. The GOP standard bearer has taken advantage of cable’s naïveté repeatedly, embarrassing “the media” as a whole time and again.

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Perhaps the most glaring example yet came Friday, when Trump lured journalists to his new hotel in Washington for what was billed as a press conference on the racist birther conspiracy that fueled his political rise. Trump was expected to finally admit President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Cable networks tuned in live: This was it. 

But the big moment never fully materialized. Trump arrived almost an hour late and began with an infomercial for his new property: “Under budget and ahead of schedule!”; “This is our brand-new ballroom!”; “It’s such an honor to have our first event!” Pro-Trump testimonials from veterans followed. When the GOP candidate finally returned to the mic, he made a 33-second statement before scurrying away without taking questions.

“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump said, a claim that has no evidence. “I finished it—I finished it. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

Journalists covering the event were intensely critical of Trump throughout and immediately afterward. But cable news anchors and reporters were particularly apoplectic: They’d been had in the most public way. “It was nobody else’s nonsense by this morning but his own nonsense,” CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield summarized during a particularly pointed segment Friday afternoon.

Rebukes and fact-checks on cable were sharp and swift. But the expectation of getting anything but the usual from Trump was perhaps just as nonsensical as his performance. Trump has repeatedly played a similar con, dousing journalists in faux access littered with casual lies. This bait-and-switch—on the foundational issue of his political rise, at his gleaming new hotel in the heart of the American political establishment—was different only in its magnitude.

Hillary Clinton has been a public figure for a quarter-century–hers is a career that has been internalized by reporters who quickly place events into a longstanding narrative of personal ambition and secrecy. This is who she is. With Trump, on the other hand, we’re all still waiting for him to pivot, in part because he’s so absurd. TV outlets in particular seem hellbent on giving him abundant opportunities to surprise us once more, yet they’re consistently stunned when he responds with self-serving antics. Maybe it’s us, their viewers, who should stop expecting anything different. 

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David Uberti is a CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.