Can't the Horse Race Journalists Start Speculating on Trump's Convictions?
Gossip that's worth it
It’s been a while since I slagged horse race journalism. The “who’s up, who’s down” style of reporting, which long predates the internet but was hyper-charged by Politico and various digital outlets—to the point where Ben Smith, political jockey extraordinaire, actually had to offer a mea culpa—has not benefited anyone other than political obsessives who should probably turn to sports if they really want a hobby. Politics can be “fun” but it’s also the stuff democracy is made of, and journalists should be far more focused on the implications of these campaigns. What will candidate X actually do if he gets in power? Will his words match his actions? What does he think about abortion or climate change or the expansion of nuclear power plants? What’s his plan?
I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my life, but not Donald Trump. One tactic I’ve seen no journalist pursue is asking the former president straightforward—no preamble, no huffing and puffing—questions concerning basic facts. “Mr. President, what does the Affordable Care Act do? Mr. President, do you know, what’s in the Tenth Amendment? Mr. President, what are the three branches of government?” Trump would not feel humbled and his supporters would still love him, but I’ve been surprised that the journalists who do manage access to Trump have been so unwilling to test what knowledge still resides in him. Most other lines of inquiry are worthless. Trump rarely sticks to his word—he never did shred all the libel laws—so it’s far less fruitful to push him on his plans for another presidency. It’s not that these questions can’t be asked; it’s more that any journalist must acknowledge, rather quickly, whatever they’ve heard today might change next week, and again in another month.
But you know what can be speculated on? What’s worth the juice, what the many Politico and Axios and Punchbowl and Times and Post and Puck reporters desperate for something to gossip over 2024 should probably turn to?
What actually happens when Trump, indicted four separate times, gets convicted. Because at least one of these trials—probably more—is not going to go well for him. He will be a convicted criminal.
It’s absolutely worth asking what comes next.