I began watching the Sunday talk shows again last weekend because of Antonin Scalia's death, which propelled the U.S. into an exceptional time in our history. We'll be living with the consequences of how the next Supreme Court appointment is made for a long time.
Watching one of the shows today reminded me of how terrible political reporting on television can be.
On CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump 10 questions:
- Mr. Trump, congratulations on your victory. What do you think this means for the race going forward? Are you unstoppable?
- Your campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that you have not gotten the credit you deserve from the party for leading the race. Why do you think that is? Do you think some Republicans still don't take you seriously?
- Last week, Senator Rubio said he didn't think a brokered convention would necessarily be a bad thing. Are you concerned at all that party leaders might try to block your nomination at the convention?
- Senator Cruz says that you attack him every day because you know he's the only one who can beat you. Is that right?
- Governor Jeb Bush dropped out last night. He was once the front-runner, once expected to win the nomination. Many would point to you as the primary reason his campaign sputtered. Do you think, by labeling him low-energy and targeting him so quickly, do you think that's what did him in?
- You also took on Jeb's brother President George W. Bush in South Carolina, a state that he won in 2000. And then you won it handily, even though you took on George W. Bush. Do you see Jeb's loss and your victory in South Carolina as a vote on the entire Bush legacy, in a way?
- There's a lot of concern, as you know, among Republican Party leaders in Washington about, can you win a general election? Let's talk about demographics for a second. If the next Republican nominee wins the same share of the white vote that Mitt Romney did in 2012 -- that was 59 percent -- that nominee would need to win 30 percent of the non-white vote. Now, with all due respect, sir, a lot of Republican leaders in D.C. struggle to envision you accomplishing this, especially given the fact that there are white supremacist groups and individuals like that who support you, some of whom you have even retweeted.
- I want to get some clarification on comments you made this week at the CNN town hall about Obamacare. Take a listen. ... So, sir, what did you mean when you said, "I like the mandate"?
- But -- but, just to clarify, you're saying now that you would not support requiring every individual in America to have health insurance? You wouldn't support that?
- Last question, sir. We heard from your wife, Melania, last night, which doesn't happen a tremendous amount. Are we going to hear more from her going forward?
By my count that's seven straight horse-race questions that are solely about who's leading and who's trailing, one policy question with a follow-up and then a nice softball question that lets him say something nice about his wife.
Trump is the Republican front-runner and the favorite to win the GOP nomination. There's a great deal of importance in the media getting beyond his vague policy statements to pin him down on actual things he would do as president. Making America Yuge Again is not a concrete policy objective.
Tapper had an opportunity to do this, but he thought the bulk of his time with Trump was better spent with such queries as "Are you unstoppable?"
That's the kind of dumb-ass question a non-journalist would never ask. Political reporters ask them all day long.
The one time Tapper delved into Trump's actual policies on health care and the individual mandate, we got to see that Trump is completely out of his depth. After he took insurance away from millions of Americans by killing ObamaCare, the only things Trump could suggest are to let states compete and offer healthcare savings accounts.
The answer Trump gave was as floundering and repetitive as the Marco Rubio debate answer when he was accused of being robotic. Trump twice repeated that we're going to have great health care if he's president, and three times said people won't be dying in the streets.
Or the sidewalks: "They're not dying on the sidewalks, and they're not dying on the streets if I'm president," he said. "They're just not."
Unless he shoots them, I guess.
The Sunday show reporters should ask candidates as many questions about policy as they do about winning and losing. If they did, it would be clear to millions that Trump's a bag of hair whose ideas never go beyond braggadocious posturing.