No Bad Press

[ Posted Wednesday, July 5th, 2023 – 16:04 UTC ]

It has long been a Hollywood maxim: "There is no such thing as bad press." To movie stars, it doesn't really matter why you get your name in the papers, because it puts your name in front of the public, whether for good or bad. The worst tragedy for a Hollywood star is being forgotten by the public, to put this another way. So it doesn't matter what gets you in the news -- a scandal, a real stinkeroo of a movie, whatever -- it reminds everyone who you are and creates the magical "buzz," which means you stand a higher chance of getting better roles in the future.

We seem now to have reached the point where this maxim is true in politics as well, at least for some people. News that would previously have been not just bad but downright disqualifying in the past now boosts your name recognition and actually builds support among your party's base. This is becoming more and more frequent in the age of Trump, as more and more politicians learn how to capitalize on the phenomenon.

Donald Trump, of course, is the king of ignoring whether press is bad or good, because he knows he'll dominate the news cycle either way -- and that's all that really interests him. Trump was part of the celebrity world for a while with his reality television show, so he already knew all about the Hollywood maxim on bad press. Even before he made it on television, Trump absolutely loved seeing his name in the New York tabloid press (which happened often), and it simply didn't matter how scandalous the actual story was. He built his brand on the entire idea, as a matter of fact.

He truly is Teflon Don -- nothing ever sticks to him. Over and over again, Trump embraces scandals that would have killed off any other politician's career . What other politician would have survived long enough to be known as "twice-impeached and twice-indicted," after all?

Trump continues to dominate the Republican presidential field, with no other candidate even really coming close to challenging him, at least as of yet. Both times he was indicted, his popularity among Republicans went up. Rather than knock him out of the frontrunner slot, it all just strengthened his support with the GOP base. And we're not even done yet -- Trump will quite likely face at least two more indictments, a federal one over the events of January 6th, and one in Georgia over him trying to convince Republican officials to overturn the results of the election there (and just rig the vote so it showed he won). The federal investigation seems like it is nearing the end, and the Georgia prosecutor has telegraphed that Trump will be indicted in early August. But who, at this point, expects this to change Trump's political fortunes? If past is prologue, the only way it will change Trump's standing with the GOP voters is to improve it. It's even a safe bet that Trump being convicted of felony crimes wouldn't harm him with the GOP base.

Trump manages this feat by continually proclaiming himself the biggest victim of all time. It isn't the scandalous things he is accused of, it is instead (to his followers) a scandal that he was accused of these things -- whether they are true or not. It is all a "partisan witch-hunt." The tribalism dominating American politics right now means that such scandalous accusations are a badge of honor to Trump (again, at least among his followers).

Other MAGA politicians have tried to pull off this same trick, with varying amounts of success. People like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz have been thriving through their own scandalous behavior. Occasionally it backfires, as in the case of Madison Cawthorn, but for many mini-Trumps out there it is the path to large donation hauls and increased interest from the right-wing press.

But it isn't just the right side of the aisle where such things happen. From today's news:

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that he raised $8.1 million for his Senate campaign during the second quarter of the year, an impressive haul that is likely to widen the fundraising advantage he has enjoyed over his rivals.

Schiff appears to have benefited from his censure last month by the Republican-led House for pressing allegations during his tenure as House Intelligence Committee chairman that Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia. Schiff turned the censure vote -- as well as an early failed censure effort -- into a rallying cry for liberal donors to support his campaign.

Of course, Schiff was already a liberal hero long before he was censured. That was merely the partisan icing on the cake, for him. The article goes on to point out:

Schiff was the lead impeachment manager in then-President Donald Trump's first Senate trial, on charges stemming from the withholding of military aid from Ukraine while Trump sought dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Schiff also served on the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Schiff is seen as a righteous warrior willing to take on Trump, and that is about the highest badge of honor imaginable among Democrats today.

Schiff raked in more cash in an off-year second-quarter than any Senate candidate ever, which is pretty impressive. And he's running in a race for a seat that Republicans have no hope of winning, so it's not even that he's convincing Democrats to donate to his campaign for strategic partisan reasons. What may once have been a career-ending and shameful House censure (back when the House only censured members for actual wrongdoing rather than to score cheap partisan points) has instead made him the best Senate fund-raiser of all time. Schiff raised money from over 144,000 donors "from all 50 states and all of California's 58 counties." He has nationwide appeal among Democrats, because they all see the censure as nothing more than a petty political hit job.

Even so, Schiff is in a race where in all likelihood the general election contest will be between two Democrats (due to California's "top-two jungle primary"). Such a safe seat would normally not attract such a pile of donations. Nevertheless, a full 98 percent of Schiff's donors gave less than $200, and the average contribution was $34. That shows an enormous amount of grassroots support from small donors. It is impossible to tease out how many of those donations were because Schiff got his name in the news for being censured by an outrageously partisan Republican House, but you have to at least assume it helped.

Now don't get me wrong -- I am not equating Kevin McCarthy giving in to the most radical of his members demanding a censure as being in any way on a par with Donald Trump trying to overthrow an election or stealing classified national security secrets so he could continue to show off to his guests. But it does seem to show that when all political moves are seen through heavily partisan lenses by the public, that the Hollywood maxim is now becoming ever more true in the world of politics. What used to be bad press can now vault you to the front of the public's attention in such a way that you actually gain support. Bad press from one side of the aisle can translate into very good press on the other.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “No Bad Press”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    forget bad press, in today's political climate there's no such thing as objective reality.

  2. [2] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    and was before ChatGPT...

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Don’t forget that bad press originates from bad news and bad news often leads to bad results *cough* indictments *cough*.

    Teflon works. Until it doesn’t.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


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