December 17, 2015

MEGAN MCARDLE:

What’s interesting about Trump’s rise is that it reveals how little power that establishment actually has. Trump is not somehow taking power away from a self-satisfied elite. But he is revealing that the elite never had the kind of dominance that populists like to imagine.

Consider the two great villains of the populist mind. The left thinks that politics is controlled by the vast fortunes spent on elections by corporations and right-wing billionaires. The right thinks that similar influence is exerted by liberal media and economic elites. Trump’s poll numbers belie both theories.

But isn’t Trump a billionaire, you will ask. Ah, but Trump is spending very little money on this campaign. The reason he’s doing so well is that he’s getting a ton of media coverage. While other candidates have to spend money to hire staffers and air ads in order to get their message out, Trump just has to say something outrageous and wait for the media to swoop down and give him eons of free air time.

The other billionaires, meanwhile, hate him. Virtually everyone in the professional Republican establishment hates him. . . . Yet the establishment, and the billionaires, with all their money, can’t seem to do a darned thing to stop Trump. So much for money buying elections. Media matters much more than money. . . . And yet, the media is also curiously powerless here. If the news media actually operated like the tacit conspiracy that many conservatives imagine, we would have all quietly gotten together and agreed to bury Trump.

Trump isn’t just a billionaire; he’s a media star who’s been building his image for decades. That does affect things.

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