By far the weirdest feud in American media and politics right now is the alliance of Donald Trump, Breitbart.com, and, now, Sarah Palin against BuzzFeed and the reporter behind a piece suggesting that maybe Donald Trump's political aspirations were insincere. The whole thing is funny mostly because it necessitates the question: Why on Earth is anyone defending Donald Trump?
This whole kerfuffle began a week ago, sparked by BuzzFeed reporter McKay Coppins' hysterically comprehensive review of Trump's weirdo pseudo-campaign. Appearances in New Hampshire, flights to Florida, a fervent insistence that Trump was considered important and legitimate as a candidate. It's the sort of thing that seems better fitted to a psychology textbook than a political website, an exploration of the narcissism that would have resulted if Narcissus had yes-men standing by to keep his head out of the pool and to agree with all of his aesthetic assessments.
How come discredited reporter @mckaycoppins refused to write that the events in New Hampshire, Buffalo and N.Y. were all record breakers!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2014
In short order, Trump started attacking Coppins and BuzzFeed and Coppins' boss Ben Smith on Twitter, interspersing his constant retweets of praise from sycophants with insistences that, for example, his praise for Coppins' wife's beauty was sarcastic. Just deeply juvenile, sore-loser nonsense. Then Trump fired the staffer who suggested he do the interview, a staffer who had been working with Coppins, and who, after reading the piece once it was published, emailed the reporter to say that the piece was "fantastic." Silly yes-man said yes to the wrong man.
Just when it seemed to be blowing over, Breitbart's Matthew Boyle dropped a 2,000-word "report" outlining Trump's view of the whole thing. For example, here's how Boyle describes the flight Coppins took with Trump down to Florida.
Many reporters who get a shot at “The Donald” exude confidence, but on the plane, Coppins was quiet, reserved, and nervous, those present, including Trump, recall. He maintains an awkward, geeky persona, with a choppy bleach blonde haircut and medium-thick rimmed glasses protruding from his oversized forehead. Coppins slouched in his chair during his interview with Trump, seeming intimidated.
The rest of the piece shares the same weirdly personal, Trump's-views-lightly-filtered tone. Coppins is portrayed as a schlubby loser and lecher whose animus toward Trump is politically motivated and obvious. While Breitbart.com's claim to the title of journalism has never been a strong one, this piece reads like a gossip column or like a fraternity newsletter about the rival house across campus. (Note: Boyle is himself not without controversy.)
But Breitbart wasn't done! The site points to a Washington Post article which questions whether it was fair for Coppins to use the term "yes men," pointing back to the Boyle article to make sure you get the point ("WAPO: BUZZFEED'S TRUMP HIT CONTAINS 'GLARING UNPROFESSIONALITY'"). Breitbart bashed other BuzzFeed reporters who mocked Boyle's weird article ("4 BUZZFEED STAFFERS WHO TRASHED OUR DONALD TRUMP STORY WITHOUT READING IT"). And then, this morning, the coup de grace: an EXCLUSIVE from Sarah Palin.
"This nervous geek isn't fit to tie the Donald's wingtips," Palin told Breitbart News after Trump ripped Coppins for lampooning him with what he alleged were out-of-context quotes and boorish behavior at Trump's Florida resort. "Don't ever give him attention again."
Over the course of 1,000 words, writer Tony Lee explains that Palin knows only too well how scurrilous the press can be, rehashes yet again what a loser Boyle's article revealed Coppins to be, and so on.
Here's the thing. Everyone knows that Trump has an exceptionally thin skin. He possesses the sort of vanity that Twitter only exacerbates, allowing him to shuffle the entirety of the internet into one of two camps: people who recognize that he should run the world and people who are losers. He surrounds himself with gaudily conspicuous consumption and people who will nod on command. Fine.
But what Breitbart is doing is something a little different. There's a niche on the right into which it has fit ever since its founding by the late Andrew Breitbart: the aggrieved populist hyperconservative wing of American politics. It's the same niche from which Palin emerged in 2008 — or, rather, into which she settled over the course of that campaign. And it's a niche in which people apparently aren't averse to taking Trump at face value: that he is a business genius that lives a life of class and elegance and who could put this country back on the right course. One confidante put it to Coppins this way: "It’s like, 'Wow, if I was rich, that’s how I would live!' The girls, the cars, the fancy suits. His ostentatiousness is appealing" to blue-collar types. Some of the opposition to Trump, to be fair, is that he's gauche, tacky. That's a classist response that is reviled within Breitbart's niche.
Also LOL at the idea that Trump's gang of sycophants have any pull in GOP politics. They're jokes. No downside to mocking them.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) February 18, 2014
Which doesn't make Breitbart's defenses of Trump any less obvious or clunky that it is on the surface. It has itself gone full Trump. BuzzFeed and Coppins and Trump's other opponents are swept into the large bucket labelled "the liberal opposition." That Trump's conservative credentials are less than sterling is beside the point. (Someone on his staff is enough of a pragmatist to give generously to Democratic candidates, for example.) It is simpler to pick and assign teams — Trump good, Coppins bad — than it is to actually police the politics.
Breitbart's veneer of journalistic authority is just another facet of the game. The lamestream media is trying to take out the powerful conservative Donald Trump as it tried to take out the powerful conservative Sarah Palin and as it tried to undermine the powerful conservative Andrew Breitbart. The world keeps turning and in that little angry niche, tiny tempests continually erupt.
Correction: This piece originally said that Coppins and the Trump staffer were friends. The two didn't meet until Coppins began covering Trump.