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Analysis: What Donald Trump doesn’t get about Matt Drudge

(CNN)The latest target for President Donald Trump’s vitriol isn’t Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or the media. It’s the man who runs an eponymous website of links.

Yes, Matt Drudge’s “Drudge Report” is more than just a “website of links.”  Since the Bill Clinton impeachment in the late 1990s, the simplistic page has served as a sort of front page for the political world — driving scads of traffic to at-times obscure stories (or publications) that Drudge highlights.

For Trump, Drudge has always been a critical touchstone. During his rise in the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump not only regularly touted stories he found on the Drudge Report but also cited Drudge’s post-debate polls, which are not even close to scientifically conducted, as evidence that he had performed best.

So pro-Trump was Drudge considered during the 2016 primary that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas referred to the webpage as an “attack site for the Donald Trump campaign.”

And Drudge’s coverage of Trump in the general election was as laudatory as his coverage of Hillary Clinton, long a Drudge nemesis, was negative. 

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When Trump got to the White House, he didn’t forget Drudge: The two men met in the Oval Office in early 2017, according to Politico.

All of which makes Trump’s recent attacks on Drudge fascinating.

“Our people have all left Drudge,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “He is a confused MESS, has no clue what happened. Down 51%. @DRUDGE They like REVOLVER and others.”

(It’s not clear where Trump got the numbers on Drudge’s alleged traffic, although there is some evidence that Drudge’s ability to drive page views is decreasing.)

“Drudge didn’t support me in 2016, and I hear he doesn’t support me now,” Trump tweeted earlier this month in a blatant rewriting of history.

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That Trump feels betrayed by Drudge, whose site has focused much more on negative news about the President since at least last summer, is obvious to anyone paying attention.

Why he feels betrayed speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding on Trump’s part about what drives Drudge. While there’s no question that Drudge is a conservative, he is primarily not driven by ideology. 

Rather he’s driven by the story, or, to put it more bluntly, the page views and referral traffic he can rack up through any given story.

“Matt Drudge is first and foremost a business man and a brilliant one,” author Matthew Lysiak, who wrote a recent book about Drudge, told Axios in July. “His interest is not in political loyalties. It’s in page hits.”

Pumping up Trump was, for several years, good business for Drudge. And now tearing down the incumbent is good business. So that’s what he does.

The Point: Trump is an entirely transactional politician and person. Which is why it’s weird that he has a blind spot for Drudge’s purely transactional nature.

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