Observers on all sides of the Republican Presidential Stampede have been watching with everything from delight to horror as Jeb Bush has begun returning fire at Donald Trump's barrage of insults. Rather than a mistake, as some pundits suggest, this may be a brilliant strategic move by the Bush folks, and one that's hardly going to hurt Trump.
What Trump and Bush have done is narrow the major focus of the race to two candidates and leave the other fifteen candidates and would-be candidates out in the cold, desperately jumping up and down trying to get anyone to pay attention. There is rapt interest in The Donald's latest jabs at Bush, and now, on the Bush campaign's counterpunches.
The nearly-nonstop media coverage of Donald Trump is a modern political phenomenon. Seldom, if ever, has an individual with so little of substance to say but such an amazing combination of high volume promotional ability and pure, unadulterated and unapologetic ego enjoyed this kind of sustained headline news coverage; perhaps Sen. Joe McCarthy at his pinnacle.
We continue to see television coverage, sometimes of multiple Trump "events" in one day, while thoughtful news reporters and commentators look on in horror, yet with cameras rolling.
How is this possible? The media, particularly broadcast networks and cable outlets, have become driven by the pursuit of audience -- ratings. More and more, they've become just another box on the organizational chart of their particular corporate ownership. As imminent communication researchers continue to describe, the once-inviolate wall between a network's ownership and sales operation and its news department has become at best translucent, fading toward transparent. News operations that once took great pride in their independence from the sales/revenue side of the business have become much more attuned to generating audience numbers, which means increased ad sales revenue. So, even the network news operations are now captives of the sensational. They're following the old local television news axiom: "If it bleeds, it leads."
But rather than let The Donald be the sole beneficiary of the media's fascination with his Travelling Snake Oil Show, the Bush campaign has figured out how to share top billing, and use Trump's insults as leverage for equal attention on their message that Trump is not a true conservative.
At least initially, it's working. The stories are about whatever snarky thing Trump says about Bush and then Bush's response. It's sort of like watching a food fight, but it's great television. And it leaves fifteen other Republican candidates for President of the United States completely out in the dark.