Mar 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump "floods the zone" as general election tests desensitized voters

Photo illustration of Donald Trump with speech bubbles coming out of his mouth getting progressively larger. The speech bubbles are all on fire and burnt around the edges.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

With Tuesday triggering the start of a 34-week general election campaign, critics of former President Trump are imploring voters and the media to hold the presumptive GOP nominee to the same standard as any politician.

Why it matters: For eight years, the hurricane of news conjured by Trump's unprecedented behavior and rhetoric has enraged, exhilarated and eventually numbed much of the American public.

  • Many voters have tuned out — or priced in — Trump's baggage and legal issues to the point where he's now favored to defeat President Biden in November, according to RCP's polling average.
  • A Suffolk poll out Wednesday found that 49% of voters now approve of Trump's job performance as president — matching the highest point he ever reached in office.

The big picture: Financial Times columnist Ed Luce calls this phenomenon "the banality of chaos."

  • Trump's candidacy is "so far off the charts it is almost paranormal," Luce writes, but most of the former president's controversies no longer break through to the public.
  • In 2018, former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon argued that the best way to neutralize the media — which he labeled "the real opposition" — is to "flood the zone with shit."

Mission accomplished, Luce argues — citing events from the last five days alone:

  • On Friday, Trump posted a nearly $92 million bond in a New York court to appeal damages a jury ordered him to pay to writer E. Jean Carroll after he was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming her.
  • On Saturday, Trump mocked Biden's lifelong stutter and called the journalists attending his rally in Georgia "criminals."
  • On Sunday, Hungary's authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Trump promised him that he will end Russia's war with Ukraine by not giving "a single penny" in aid.
  • On Monday, Trump vowed to free "wrongfully imprisoned" Jan. 6 rioters as one of his first acts if he's re-elected in November.
  • On Tuesday, CNN's Jim Sciutto reported in his new book that Trump privately had praised Adolf Hitler for doing "some good things," according to former chief of staff John Kelly.

There's plenty more to choose from — including Trump's false claim Wednesday that Democrats used "artificial intelligence" to create a montage of his gaffes in the House's hearing with former special counsel Robert Hur.

The other side: Biden — who, like Trump, clinched his party's nomination after Tuesday's primaries — is fighting another side of the "Americans tuning out" equation.

  • Biden has gotten little credit in the polls for the strong U.S. economy, while concerns over his Israel policy, his age and his frequent gaffes tend to dominate media coverage.
  • FiveThirtyEight's average of polls suggests Biden's energetic State of the Union address has not produced a bump in his approval rating, which currently sits at a low of 38%.
  • The Biden campaign views its mission over the next six months as ensuring that the real-world implications of another Trump presidency are not lost in a deluge of hyperbole.
Go deeper