Washington Post (The Fix)
By Callum Borchers
February 16, 2016
Donald Trump said during Saturday’s Republican presidential debate that he’s going to cut profanity from his famously fiery stump speeches. Why? “Because if I say a word that's a little bit off-color — a little bit — it ends up being a headline.”
I’ll believe it when I see it, and I’m certainly not convinced that the GOP front-runner doesn’t want to make headlines. But Trump’s pledge to clean up his act — however sincere it might be — is a good cue for the mainstream media to take an oath of their own:
It’s time to focus on the billionaire business mogul’s policies as much as his rhetoric, which is supposedly about to get tamer anyway.
For the most part, the attention paid to Trump’s various inflammatory remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, women and any number of other groups has been warranted. We’ve never seen a candidate quite like The Donald — certainly not one who consistently polls so well. Novelty plus success equals news (and, if we’re honest, entertainment).
But beyond his plans to build that “big, beautiful wall” along the southern border and “bomb the hell” (or is it “heck” now?) out of the Islamic State, many voters probably don’t know a whole lot about what Trump would actually do as president. That’s partly because his campaign is short on specifics, but it’s also because the most rigorous parsing of his positions has been left to a particular strain of the conservative press that contends Trump does not lean far enough to the right.
The National Review, for example, published 22 anti-Trump essays by leading conservative thinkers last month. They mostly set tone aside and zeroed in on, as Mona Charen put it, “Trump’s countless past departures from conservative principle on defense, racial quotas, abortion, taxes, single-payer health care and immigration.”
The mainstream media should follow suit — but without the value judgments. It’s time to give voters a clearer picture of where Trump stands.
One of the debate’s most heated exchanges would be a good place to start.
TED CRUZ: You notice Donald didn't disagree with the substance that he supports taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. And Donald has this weird pattern, when you point to his own record he screams, "liar, liar, liar." You want to go …
TRUMP: Where did I support it? Where did I …
CRUZ: You want to go …
TRUMP: Again, where did I support it?
CRUZ: If you want to watch the video, go to our website, at TedCruz.org.
TRUMP: Hey, Ted, where did I support it?
CRUZ: You can see it out of Donald's own mouth.
TRUMP: Where did I support?
CRUZ: You supported it when we were battling over defunding Planned Parenthood. You went on …
TRUMP: That's a lot of lies.
CRUZ: You said, "Planned Parenthood does wonderful things, and we should not defund it."
TRUMP: It does do wonderful things, but not as it relates to abortion.
CRUZ: So I'll tell you what …
TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me. There are wonderful things having to do with women's health.
Forget the storyline about the end of the Trump-Cruz bromance for a second. Trump’s position on federal funding for Planned Parenthood merits a closer look. Based on previous interviews, he clearly opposes the use of taxpayer money for abortion, but he also seems uncomfortable with completely cutting off an organization that also performs cancer screenings, tests for and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and even makes adoption referrals.
That’s a departure from the stance of many Republicans, who say they cannot overlook Planned Parenthood’s abortion practices and therefore cannot support funding it at all.
It’s unclear whether Trump, as president, would try to preserve the current funding system that allows Planned Parenthood to use federal money only for non-abortion services or whether he would try to pressure the group to stop performing abortions to keep its subsidy. He’s floated both ideas.
The media should attempt to pin Trump down on this. His answer might alarm some conservatives; it also might make some other voters see him as more reasonable and willing to compromise than they previously thought. Either way, the reaction isn’t really the media’s concern.
Their concern should be for voters’ understanding of Trump’s positions, which remains underdeveloped. Whether Trump truly turns into a mild-mannered version of himself or not, it’s time for coverage to move beyond the polarizing things he says and more thoroughly explore the things he would do in the White House.
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