Donald Trump has arguably soaked up more bandwidth, airtime, and ink than any other candidate in the 2016 presidential race.
But the way he's achieved that attention – with a series of insults and outrageous claims, rather than serious solutions to pressing problems – has "cheapened the political process," according an editorial by the Des Moines Register. The editorial is creating waves in the political blogosphere for calling on Mr. Trump to terminate his campaign.
The response has been loud, from both ends of the political spectrum.
Trump wasted no time in taking on the Register, the biggest newspaper in the key early caucus state of Iowa. Calling the editorial "sophomoric," he insisted that the paper was upset about his performance in the polls.
"As one of the most liberal newspapers in the United States, the poll results were just too much for them to bear," Trump said Tuesday in a statement, pointing to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday that put him at the top of the Republican field nationwide, with 24 percent.
And readers can't seem to get enough of Trump news stories. As FiveThirtyEight blog recently pointed out, since mid-June, Trump has been Googled more than all the other GOP candidates combined.
"He has become 'the distraction with traction' — a feckless blowhard who can generate headlines, name recognition and polling numbers not by provoking thought, but by provoking outrage," the editorial read.
Those on the other side of the political spectrum insist that Trump is speaking truth to power with a fearlessness unmatched among the other candidates.
On Trump's Facebook page, Mia Maria wrote, "Thank you for ALWAYS speaking the truth and for being REAL. Thank you for not treating us like FOOLS like the politicians have been doing for years. Thank you for doing your very best to protect our rights. We sure do need someone to look out for us." She concluded, "Give us back our COUNTRY Mr. Trump. WE NEED YOU." Her comment racked up over 3,000 "likes" in two hours.
Trump's critics note that in the five weeks since he announced his campaign, he has offered no platform, other than on immigration.
Trump's "entire campaign is a series of cheap shots, pop offs and fits of pique," writes the Washington Post. "His big idea is to build a massive wall across the Mexican border, an idea that would, according to most experts, cost billions of dollars – if it could even be completed. His idea of charging the Mexican government $100,000 for every undocumented worker that enters the US is even less feasible."
Rem Rieder with USA Today agreed, writing last month, "Trump is a "carnival barker" who will “inevitably will hijack the focus away from important issues that need to be aired."
As such, the Register argued that Trump isn't, as some have suggested, an innocuous sideshow. "In just five weeks, he has polluted the political waters to such an extent that serious candidates who actually have the credentials to serve as president can't get their message across to voters."
While it's undeniable that newspapers (including this one) are putting resources into covering Trump that might otherwise cover other candidates, the massive readership of those articles, and Trump's growing popularity as measured in polls, suggests that he is finding traction with a sizable portion of the electorate, many of whom praise what they call his "straight talk."
As David Catanese wrote for US News and World Report, "With Trump, there's no convoluted nuance, parsing of words or adhering to politically correct norms. There's definitely no filter. Call it a 'Straight Talk Express' on steroids."
Mr. Catanese notes that both Trump and Bernie Sanders are drawing huge crowds, in part because both are blunt speakers with no patience for focus-grouped answers. "Trump and Sanders [represent] an outlet for the super-engaged, highly ideological party factions who rarely find a way to get inspired by conventional politicians," he writes.
Whether either candidate can sustain their momentum through next 14 months remains to be seen, but moderate voices who dismiss either campaign as a fluke would do well to reflect on why Trump and Senator Sanders are drawing crowds of thousands while the mainstream candidates struggle to attract even a few hundred to stump speeches.
Americans have always responded to honesty, and perhaps bluntness is seen as honesty on the political stage. Trump's "willingness to offend" is a strength, not a weakness, said Mickey Kaus, an activist against illegal immigration, to US News. "He won't sell out like the others have."