There are seventeen republican candidates and five democrats in the presidential campaign, and the wealthiest one of all is getting the most help running his campaign—without paying a dime for it.

This is the first and last article I will write about Donald Trump. He is the televised equivalent of the schoolyard bully about whom your parents always said, “he just wants to get a rise out of you; ignore him and he’ll leave you alone.” Were your parents right? At least partly. It may be that the bully didn’t just leave you alone, and you had to fight him in the end. But they were at least right about giving the bully attention: the crowd that forms, the loud and sputtered protests, returned insults, or tears only fuel the fire that gives the bully power.

So why is the media, on every side of the political fence, fueling the fires of Donald Trump’s campaign, when he is rich enough to finance his own campaign—and has thus far done so? As they say, even bad press is good press, and this seems to tragically be true even of presidential campaigns.

With the help of the press, Trump has steadily risen in the polls to lead his Republican adversaries. Many of his supporters cite his “outspokenness” or willingness to “say what is on everyone’s mind” as the primary reason they like him, which are exactly the characteristics that the media publishes at every turn. It is baffling to me, then, that even liberal media sources have flocked to publicize, and evidently empower, Trump’s every move.

Financing Campaigns

A 24/7 Wall St report has researched and released the net worth of each presidential candidate, as well as the amount each candidate has spent on their campaign.

The richest candidates in the race are all republicans: Trump, Fiorina, and Bush, in that order. Trump is worth an estimated $2.9 or $4 billion, though he has claimed a net worth of $10 billion. Meanwhile, he has donated $1.8 million to his own campaign—95% of his total campaign funds. Trump commands 22% of GOP voters, which is about double his runner up Bush, who is worth between $19 and $22 million. Bush’s campaign has raised more than $11 million, about six times Trump. Fiorina and her husband are collectively worth $59 million, while her super PAC has raised $3.4 million and her campaign has raised $1.4 million.

Hillary is up next with a net worth of $15 million, not including her husband, from investments, her book, and speaking fees. She has still raised almost $48 million, not including super PAC funding, and spent 18.9 million on her campaign. Her competitor, Bernie Sanders, falls way low on the list, having raised and spent $16 million and $4.8 million, respectively.

These numbers, unfortunately, matter a whole lot. Every dollar is a leg up, but you have to work for them. Every dollar a candidate has in their pocket is another dollar that doesn’t need to be raised, and another dollar that can be spent campaigning.

The Media Matters

If money matters, how much does the media matter? Fortune estimates that it costs $10 million just to start a presidential campaign, and up to $50 million just to make it through the first four states. For someone who isn’t already a billionaire to stand a chance, they need all the help they can get. But for someone who is already a billionaire, those financial obstacles are just giant banana peels left for poorer candidates on the Mario Kart track of a campaign race. Media attention is a red speed mushroom powering them even further along.

Does press coverage really influence voters? Yes, actually. Humans are impressionable. Every piece of information we read works like an advertisement—we remember the product even if we don’t remember the details of the ad, which is why obnoxious, crude, or offensive ads still work. Even if we disagree with the message, we remember the product name, and that’s good enough for any company.
The Washington Post has provided two graphs related to Trump’s popularity in the media:

trump's campaign

Dominating coverage as soon as he announced / via Washington Post

As soon as Trump entered the race, the media began covering him above all Republican candidates who entered the race within a similar two-month timeframe: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. Even after the initial spike, Trump continued to dominate the news, raking in about 21% of all coverage.

Data proves that this coverage is actually meaningful:

Favorability jumps as media coverage rises / The Washington Poast

Favorability jumps as media coverage rises / The Washington Post

Trumps favorability in the polls has risen alarmingly in line with his coverage in the media. The more voters hear about him, the more they like him—even if what they’re hearing is silliness and empty rhetoric. Just like TV commercials, Trump only has to entertain, not inform. As long as he gets a chuckle from you, or an outraged gasp from you, a knee-slapping, eye-rolling “oh, that Donald…!” he’ll be swimming in your subconscious until the primaries, or up until the next outlet gives him another boost.

Listen To Your Parents

As far as I’ve read, Huffington Post has been the only media outlet to recognize the reality show reality of Trump’s candidacy. They came out with the following pledge:

After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won’t report on Trump’s campaign as part of The Huffington Post’s political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

It’s a start. Still, there seems to be some disconnect between the media and the public in this department. The media may not take Trump’s campaign seriously, and may feel comfortable enough with that knowledge to devote pools of ink to his promises and blunders in any section. But if the rest of the world takes him more seriously—and clearly, they do—every article is a Trump vote on a platter if it doesn’t specifically criticize and question his plans and policy.

We’re all starting to figure out by now that Mom and Dad were right all along, right? Let’s all stop feeding the bully, before he keeps growing.