When Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer finished their rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s Oval Office address on Tuesday, it was not entirely clear what Democrats were hoping to accomplish. The dual remarks seemed largely like a rehash of familiar talking points.
But their effectiveness emerged Thursday when President Trump traveled to McAllen, Texas. On Tuesday, Pelosi, the House speaker, had said that “President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage and stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.” Schumer, the Senate minority leader, added, “This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
While reporters like yours truly puzzled over the point of the speeches, Trump heard it loud and clear. “Democrats have refused to listen to the border agents, and they say this is a manufactured crisis,” the president said during a roundtable about border security at the border between Texas and Mexico. He continued:
That’s their new sound bite. All over. I turn the television on—you know, I call it the opposition party. It’s called the fake-news media. And what happens is every network has “manufactured crisis. This is a manufactured crisis.” Every one of them. It’s like they, you know, send out to everybody, “Let’s use this sound bite today.”
Trump is wrong about the coordination, but as for the networks airing the line, that’s how sound bites work, as no one should know better than Trump: A politician says something, and then the press covers it. For more than three years, first as a candidate and then as the president, Trump has been the primary beneficiary of this dynamic, even (or especially) when he says things that are plainly false or offensive. And because the media’s foremost bias is toward novelty and flash, he’s been helped by his own knack for grabbing attention, as well as the diffusion of the Democratic Party, which has had no single leading voice.