MINOT, N.D. — Tuesday, at 11:49 am Central Standard Time, Sen. Kevin Cramer, one of disgraced former President Donald Trump's staunchest allies, sent out a news release.
It was timed for the beginning of the Senate's trial of Trump based on impeachment articles passed last month by the U.S. House, which accuse him, accurately, of inciting a violent effort to stop the peaceful transition of power to the Biden administration.
"Welcome to the stupidest week in the Senate!" Cramer's statement proclaimed, going on to describe the process as "disgusting."
It was a juvenile jab — a provocative quip. As I wrote yesterday, there's nothing "stupid" about Congress exercising its constitutional authority to consider disciplining the president after his supporters attacked the legislative body.
Kevin Cramer is not a dumb man. I've interviewed him more times than I can recount and can say he is a very intelligent person with about as firm a grasp on the nuances of public policy as anyone who serves in Congress.
I esteem him highly.
Why would a smart and respectable political figure resort to the sort of rejoinder one might expect from an indignant eighth-grader upset about the first week of school?
Because acting that way bears rewards in the only currency that really matters in politics, which is attention.
From local media, sure. I wrote about Cramer's "stupid" comments, and the senator also booked appearances on local television news outlets such as KVRR and KVLY. But Cramer — who, to his credit, is very accessible to those of us in the news media — can get those bookings any time.
The desired payoff of his "stupid" statement was national bookings and, over the last 24 hours, they've come in droves.
Erin Burnett booked Cramer on CNN, where he seemed to acknowledge that the trial wasn't so stupid after all, admitting that Trump “bears some responsibility for ramping up the rhetoric” though claiming that doesn't meet the standard of incitement.
After Burnett came a hit on Fox News with Shannon Bream:
The bookings continued this morning.
Cramer was on Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo where he argued, alluding to the deadly riot, that "it will become clear that this was not President Donald Trump’s doing."
He then appeared on MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, where he said, "Unless I'm convinced otherwise, I expect the president will get my vote for acquittal."
I'm sure this trend will continue for the rest of the week, at least.
The problem is not that the senator is getting a lot of media attention. Again, Cramer has always been generous when it comes to accessibility. Even reporters and pundits I've spoken to who tell me they detest Cramer's politics will admit, grudgingly, that he doesn't dodge their inquiries.
Many of them even have the man's personal cellphone number.
The problem is why these bookings happened. Cramer threw a figurative bomb at the beginning of a news cycle that the Trump trial will dominate, and it had the desired effect.
This is a problem, and we're all a part of it. The reason comments such as Cramer's draw attention from booking producers is because those sort of rhetorical excesses also drive ratings.
And who drives ratings? We do, by tuning in.
Do you know what can also draw a crowd? A car wreck. But that doesn't mean we should be purposefully driving our vehicles into the guardrails.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.