In a rare moment of unity in today’s polarized politics, media outlets set aside their usual differences on Saturday and uniformly agreed: President Trump “caved” on the shutdown. Looking more closely at media coverage of the shutdown over the past week, we can see that the postponement of his State of the Union address seems to have foreshadowed Trump’s Friday capitulation to reopen the government without funding for a border wall.
The media’s reaction to Trump’s spectacular reversal was perhaps best summarized by the New York Daily News’ Saturday front page headline: “Cave Man.”
The HuffPost ran similar headlines, including “This Is A Cave, Not A Wall” and “Trump Caves On The Shutdown — To A Woman Who Questioned His Manhood.” Politico titled it “Complete, total surrender.”
The conservative press was not much kinder.
The Washington Examiner offered “Art of the bad deal yields an ‘F’” and lamented “Trump’s cave-in to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” Ann Coulter called Trump “the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.” Breitbart proclaimed “Pelosi Trumps Trump” while The Gateway Pundit tendered “Trump Caves!”
The word of the day seemed to be “cave,” taken from Trump’s own tweet last Tuesday where he demanded that Republicans back him: “No Cave!”
The timeline below shows the percentage of worldwide online news coverage by hour (Eastern time zone) in the 65 languages monitored by the GDELT Project that contained the words “Trump,” “shutdown” and “Pelosi” and either “cave” or “caved” or “caves” or “caving.” Since much of the post-Friday shutdown coverage has focused on logistical issues such as when museums and parks will reopen, the inclusion of Pelosi’s name ensures the results below are limited to political coverage of the latest developments.
Immediately clear is that there were actually three periods last week where the word “cave” dominated political conversation of the shutdown. The first, reaching a high of 36 percent of coverage, came on Tuesday in the aftermath of Trump’s “no cave” tweet. On Thursday the word peaked at 49 percent of coverage as Trump accepted that his State of the Union address would be postponed until after the shutdown ended. Finally, by 8 p.m. Friday a full 77 percent of coverage used the word as the press on both sides used Trump’s own “no cave” words against him.
Starkly clear in the timeline above is how Thursday’s State of the Union concession gave way to Friday’s total capitulation. It seems Trump’s loss of the SOTU speech was the beginning of the end for his shutdown resolve and reminds us how important the theatrics of the presidency are to him.
The impact of Trump’s Wednesday night acknowledgement that his SOTU speech would have to be rescheduled can be seen in the timeline below, which plots the percentage of shutdown coverage that mentions “concession” or “concede” or “conceded” or “conceding” or “concedes.”
With a peak of 41 percent of coverage twice on Thursday and hitting 80 percent on Friday, it is clear that the media viewed Trump’s refusal to hold his SOTU at an alternative venue as a recognition that Pelosi was now in charge.
Capitulation was the word of the day Friday afternoon as media outlets digested his agreement to reopen the government without wall funding. “Capitulation” or “capitulate” or “capitulates” or “capitulating” or “capitulated” reached 59 percent in the 2 p.m. hour and lasted through the 5 p.m. hour.
In turn, capitulation gave way to “surrender” or “surrenders” or “surrendered” or “surrendering” Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning, reaching a peak of 74 percent.
Combining all of these terms together, we can see that Wednesday night’s State of the Union concession was the start of an uninterrupted progression of negativity from half of all political shutdown coverage Thursday morning through more than 90 percent of coverage Saturday through Sunday morning.
Putting this all together, Trump’s shutdown concession has finally achieved a moment of unity in our fractured nation: Both the right and the left seem to agree that he caved, conceded, capitulated and surrendered to Pelosi.
The fact that Trump’s acceptance of Pelosi’s extraordinary State of the Union snub seems to have kicked off the media’s darkened tone suggests the loss of the SOTU may have played a larger than expected role in Trump’s ultimate agreement to reopen the government without any of his original demands having been met.
In the end, at least Trump can be proud of finally bringing our divided country together for one brief moment.
RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.