The 2016 election is a game of chicken between Donald Trump and the national media — who have blinked every time. He knows he has the upper hand with them and he’s gleefully making the most of it. And weakening the media plays into his strategy of mainstreaming white nationalism, which now appears to be the central focus of his presidential run.

This presidential race is a high stakes showdown between Donald Trump and the national media.

Trump is consciously (and successfully) testing how far he can go without generating the kind of rabid, obsessive, sneering, dismissive coverage that Hillary has received over her emails and her so-called “trust problem.”

Astonishingly, he has yet to find that limit, the point at which the elite punditry treats him like a wretched outcast, as they reflexively do with Hillary.

Calling for the assassination of his opponent? Barely a 24 hour news cycle (a fair amount of which was excusing what he said) and back onto Hillary’s half-decade old emails.

Insisting that the sitting president is the founder of a terrorist organization? Fact check the claim like it actually has merit.

Trump knows he has the upper hand with the press and he’s playing it to the hilt. On Morning Joe, David Ignatius expressed the same befuddlement we’re hearing across the media: How do we cover Trump? Oh, how do we do it?

The answer is glaringly obvious:

Get your act together and start covering Donald the same way you cover Hillary — with dripping disdain, boundless skepticism and utter indifference to his voters. Stop acting so mystified by his obnoxious behavior. Stop pondering if he magically lives outside the normal rules of politics. He doesn’t.

With a few notable exceptions, the national media have been the great disgrace of the 2016 presidential election. This chart from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center tells you everything you need to know:

Media tone

Let that sink in. The candidate who wallows in bigotry, who incites violence, who verbally abuses his critics, who is a self-avowed threat to the free press, gets more positive coverage than his opponent — an opponent he suggested should be shot! It is an astonishing commentary on the enduring capacity for sycophancy and cowardice on the part of mainstream reporters.

Joe Scarborough, of all people, now has to play the role of the national media’s conscience:

Under the blunt headline “The GOP must dump Trump,” Scarborough penned a piece for the Washington Post strongly condemning, in no uncertain words, Donald’s incitement of violence against Hillary. “A bloody line has been crossed that cannot be ignored,” he writes. This put Scarborough firmly on the same page as iconic journalist Dan Rather, who said in a powerful Facebook statement: “No trying-to-be objective and fair journalist, no citizen who cares about the country and its future can ignore what Donald Trump said today. …This cannot be treated as just another outrageous moment in the campaign. We will see whether major newscasts explain how grave and unprecedented this is and whether the headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers do it justice.”

Until journalists and pundits let go of Hillary’s (metaphorical) jugular long enough to see the menace who taunts them, Trump will continue to say whatever he pleases. And he’ll do it until someone gets hurt, badly.

[Updated 8/14/16]