Democrats may be repeating a media mistake from 2016

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President Trump complains often that cable news channels, other than Fox News, cover the wrong stories.

“Great jobs numbers and finally, after many years, rising wages- and nobody even talks about them,” Trump said in a tweet earlier this year. “Only RussiaRussiaRussia.”

Apparently some Democrats agree with the “Russia, Russia, Russia” part of the president's grievance, and even share his frustration.

Though such coverage is frequently critical of Trump, the Daily Beast reports that some Democratic political operatives rue what they see as a harmful side effect: the drowning-out of their issues-oriented messages. Here's an excerpt from the piece by Gideon Resnick and Sam Stein:

In conversations with the Daily Beast, numerous other aides echoed this point, sharing stories of fruitless calls and emails to bookers and abrupt cancellations on preexisting bookings. Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said she was bumped three times from a prime-time MSNBC show due to Trump scandals.

“It’s difficult to break through with stories about teachers’ strikes or assaults on voting rights because there’s a new bad thing that Trump has done or Scott Pruitt has done in every news cycle,” Post, whose group has helped flip 40 state legislative seats since Trump’s inauguration, told the Daily Beast.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed similar sentiments last week at an event sponsored by Politico. She lamented her party's inability to break through on cable news, which she described as “all these shows that only talk about the president and the court and the this and the that.”

According to an analysis by The Washington Post's Philip Bump, there is indeed a gap between what Democratic members of Congress talk about, as measured by their tweets, and what dominates cable news.

One question is whether Democrats are prepared to reckon with their own shortcomings. A border wall was not a cable news topic until Trump made it one with chanting crowds and force of personality. Will Democrats find candidates and messages that similarly excite voters and command media attention or will they dismiss cable news as unserious and therefore unwinnable?

Resnick and Stein reported that “many offices and aides have come to the conclusion that they should simply give up on trying to break through on cable news at all.” The reporters added that “as the midterms near, Democrats are increasingly content to let Trump have cable.”

Such a concession could play into Trump's hand. I am reminded of this passage from David Von Drehle's March 2016 dispatch from Trump's campaign plane, published by Time magazine:

When he flips to Fox News, Trump notices a caption that sums up everything: “News outlets around the world are covering Trump.” Turning to me on the sofa, he gestures at the screen and remarks with satisfaction, “The key word is covering.”

So much exposure comes at a price. As he watches, Trump maintains a quiet but constant critique of “dishonest” and “inaccurate” statements. He would like to “open up the laws” on libel to protect people like himself, he says — but adds with a shrug, “I don’t know exactly what it means to do that, or exactly how it works.” Nor does he care, because what matters more than accuracy is the sheer fact of being covered. Own the airwaves, own the campaign, run the world. To be certain that I’ve grasped this point, he expands on the theme:

“You see what this is, right? It’s ratings. I go on one of these shows and the ratings double. They triple. And that gives you power. It’s not the polls. It’s the ratings.”

Frustrated Democrats may be letting Trump own the airwaves again in 2018 and just hoping for a different outcome.