The news media doesn’t seem to care about Donald Trump’s incendiary remarks anymore. At least, not as much as they cared when they were covering Hillary Clinton in 2016.
During that election cycle, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched off a massive media feeding frenzy when she referred to a portion of Trump’s fan base as a “basket of deplorables.” But while the coverage at the time was unrelenting, major media outlets seem to have lost their taste for defending voters against the slings and arrows of major political figures. The major three broadcast news stations—NBC, CBS, and ABC—covered Clinton’s 2016 “basket of deplorables” comment 18 times more than Trump’s recent remarks, in which he referred to his political opposition as “vermin” that needed to be “rooted out,” according to a report by Media Matters.
That number was even larger across print publications, which apparently gave 29 times more space on the broadsheet to Clinton’s comments, which targeted a specific cohort of racists and misogynists in Trump’s following. That Trump’s base of support was dominated by all manner of antisocial extremists was a fact the political press had spent more than a year confirming—and enjoying the fruits of such coverage—before Clinton made the same observation.
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” Clinton said during a September 2016 LGBT for Hillary gala. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
While Clinton didn’t write off all of Trump’s supporters—noting that a significant portion of his base were citizens who were “desperate for change” and who felt that the government had “let them down”—the Democratic candidate faced months of political venom from conservatives who suggested Clinton held contempt for everyday Americans. Eventually, that insult became an asset to the Republican Party, paving the way for new shirts, hats, and party messaging.
Meanwhile, Trump’s latest swath of dehumanizing vitriol crossed a new threshold by employing authoritarian rhetoric reminiscent of genocidal regimes. On Veteran’s Day, Trump made some eyebrow-raising public remarks that took his often callous approach to politics to an ugly new level: “We pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said during a Veteran’s Day campaign speech in New Hampshire. “They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American dream.”
That group would include President Joe Biden and his administration, whom the Republican front-runner has frequently referred to as “Communists.”
Hours later, Trump made it clear the comments weren’t a fluke made in the heat of the moment, echoing the statement in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.
As The New Republic’s editor, Michael Tomasky, pointed out, the word “vermin” has a fairly noteworthy place in the history of political rhetoric. “To announce that the real enemy is domestic and then to speak of that enemy in subhuman terms is Fascism 101,” he wrote. “Especially that particular word.” Nevertheless, Trump’s dangerous new escalation was met with a muted reception by press and politicians, its similarities to the fascist speeches of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini completely lost on them.
Those remarks not only failed to damage Trump’s numbers in the polls—they may have actually improved them, according to an MSNBC analysis. Days after the speech, once Trump’s name had been paired with Hitler’s in a couple of headlines, Republican support for Trump jumped by 2 percent, from 56.6 percent to 58.6 percent, according to polling averages by FiveThirtyEight. Two weeks later, that number edged closer to 60 percent.
Naturally, Republican officials didn’t bat an eye at the explosive comments from their party leader. Days after Trump’s speech, former Ambassador Nikki Haley told an Iowa crowd that she simply didn’t agree with Trump’s position, while Senator Lindsey Graham told HuffPost that he doesn’t use “that kind of language, but it’s a free country.” If Trump can be taken at his word, perhaps not for much longer.