The column also made no effort to qualify one of its most scathing arguments. Instead of honestly saying Trump called some of the people who participated in the controversial march in Charlottesville, Va., “very fine people,” the column says he called “white supremacists” very fine people. There’s a difference.
The authors similarly failed to accurately portray Trump’s criticism of chain migration in light of the Port Authority bombing attempt by a Bangladeshi immigrant last week. The editorial rhetorically asks why “all immigrants brought to this country by family are suspect?” just because one chain migrant attempted this attack. But the president never said “all immigrants brought to this country by family are suspect.”
The piece also commits serious sins of omission. At one point it says that the basic decency of President George W. Bush was “never in doubt.”
That statement simply doesn’t hold up. Attacks on personal decency have been a regular reality for leading Republicans for decades. Leading Democrats accused John McCain of supporting racism. Mitt Romney got hit with that “racist” label, along with being fingered for supposed sexism and hatred for the poor. And how can anyone forget how President George W. Bush was accused of failing to help victims of Hurricane Katrina because of his alleged racism? “Decency never in doubt?” It seems the USA Today doesn’t remember much of the news pre-2009.
The result of decades of this kind of crying wolf about other Republicans enabled candidate Trump to dodge much of their impact. When you throw words like “racist” and “sexist” at every Republican, they lose their meaning. This editorial just looks like more of the same.
But there is one aspect of the editorial that was right on the money. USA Today must have known that publishing a piece where you talk about Trump not being fit to scrub toilets would serve as dynamite “click bait.”
Now, this profession is a competitive and increasingly challenging industry, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to get more business. In that context, the Trump effect is undeniable. The wall-to-wall coverage of all things Trump has helped boost cable TV news ratings and many online newspaper subscriptions across the board.
In this environment, it sure looks like USA Today wanted to make that column stand out in the crowded field of Trump-related content. They succeeded in that goal, but failed in another in that it looks like “fighting with Trump” isn’t about principles as much as it is about dollar signs.
In this way, Trump is actually very lucky. Those who criticize him for his undeniably bad behavior seem unable to avoid behaving just as badly. When mainstream papers stoop to the level of conjuring up images of the president of the United States scrubbing toilets, Trump actually wins.
Perhaps his critics will figure that out before 2020.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.