Oh man, have we ever got a hot feud for you today! Yes, sir. Seems that President-elect Donald Trump, after leading crowd after crowd in a lusty chorus of “Lock her up!” during the presidential campaign, isn’t really feeling that whole “prosecute Hillary Clinton for emails” thing anymore.
As Politico reported, the news of Trump’s reversal on this matter broke on Tuesday morning’s edition of “Morning Joe.” According to an anonymous source “with direct knowledge of Donald Trump’s thinking,” Trump had all but decided to decline to “pursue criminal investigations against Clinton over her use of the private server or into her family’s charitable foundation.”
Trump has since confirmed to reporters from The New York Times that he is going to kinda-sorta drop the matter. “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about,” he said. (And, indeed, he seems to feel much more strongly about extracting all of the benefit he can from the trappings of his office in as quick a time as possible.)
Of course, the news that Trump would be largely moving away from a promise to go fully Javert on Clinton if elected was not received well in some circles ― most notably his allies at Breitbart News, who signaled a sense of betrayal to their readers as news of this decision broke.
And that’s cute as hell. Some quality playacting, right there.
Professional wrestling fans are familiar with a concept called “kayfabe.” Kayfabe refers to “the portrayal of events within the industry as real, that is the portrayal of professional wrestling as not staged” and the further “suspension of disbelief that is used to create ... feuds, storylines, and gimmicks.”
You can apply this term to what’s publicly been going on between Trump and Breitbart. There’s no real feud here. This is just for show. If you’re thinking that a rift is forming between Trump and his media allies, you can stop. Trump’s relationship with Breitbart News is fine; feel free to postpone whatever follow-up stories you’d planned around this shiny development in perpetuity.
Everyone understands that the Department of Justice can choose to bring a case against Clinton if it thinks it has enough evidence to prosecute, right? Even Trump understands this. He’s hedged all his bets, saying that he wasn’t going to actually take “potential investigations into Clinton off the table.” Right now, he gets to play the role of the magnanimous unifier who doesn’t want to “hurt the Clintons” or be “divisive for the country.”
But Trump has some other problems in that regard, coming in the form of the most energetic members of his fanbase ― a bunch of Sieg Heiling chumps that came to Washington over the weekend to spit anti-Semitic doggerel and declare themselves the transformative vanguard of Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s been having to disavow these supporters’ affections all day. But one big impediment is that his chief strategist is Breitbart News Executive Chairman Steve Bannon, who’s essentially admitted that his site was built out as a platform for this part of Trump’s fanbase.
So Trump coming forward and announcing that he’ll not pursue prosecution against Hillary Clinton ― which again, is not his choice to make ― puts his whole transition operation (and by extension, Bannon) on the side of the angels, while Bannon’s former platform gets to act all bereft and betrayed while garnering a spate of media attention, paid toward a supposed rift. Meanwhile, Trump gets a little bit of distance from his white nationalist fans and Breitbart, potentially altering the conversation.
So this was nicely done by Breitbart’s headline and page editors. This was some good-ass kayfabe. Hats off.
I’m by no means the first to notice the interesting way Donald Trump deploys professional wrestling tropes when the mood, or need, arises. Back in May of 2016, Gawker’s Alex Pareene noted that Trump’s then-”feud” with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of “Morning Joe” had all the obvious hallmarks of classic kayfabe.
Which reminds me: Anytime you encounter a situation where “Morning Joe” is breaking some sort of exclusive news about Trump, facilitated by anonymous sources, keep an eye out for the tripwires. Because you are being worked.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.