Elections

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  • Reminder: How The Media Missed The Trump Surge

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The media’s mea culpa season is in full bloom this spring as analysts and commentators step forward to concede that with Donald Trump effectively seizing the Republican nomination, they were often very wrong in predicting his political demise.

    Convinced that he was an outlier fluke who couldn’t sustain his popularity -- let alone nail down a major party nomination -- the Beltway media consistently missed the Trump surge for months, and often did so in bold fashion:

    *"Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously” (Washington Post

    *“Donald Trump’s surge in the polls has followed the classic pattern of a media-driven surge. Now it will most likely follow the classic pattern of a party-backed decline.” (New York Times)  

    *“No, he won't win the Republican nomination for president.” (ABC News)

    Credit now goes to journalists who have stepped forward to admit their mistakes and offer news consumers some guidance as to why commentators likely misread the Trump campaign.

    Some reasons offered up include, Republican elites failed to effectively coalesce around an anti-Trump candidate. The news media essentially sponsored Trump’s campaign with an unprecedented amount of free exposure. And Republican voters didn’t penalize Trump for his obvious policy flip-flops.

    Note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being incorrect about campaigns, assuming predictions are made in good faith. And this Trump misfire isn’t going to, nor should it, stop pundits and prognosticators from trying to peer into the future.

    But there is a problem if the media’s elite class doesn’t understand how one of America’s two major parties functions today. It’s problematic if the GOP’s gone through an ugly transformation, which produces a Trump nominee, and the political press is too timid or too detached to accurately document that radical makeover.

    And in the case of Trump that denial seems to have been widespread. For instance, much of the data pointed to a Trump win for a very long time. “Trump was a stronger candidate than anyone wanted to admit,” the Huffington Post recently noted. “He skyrocketed to the top of an incredibly crowded pack soon after announcing he was running.”

    Resisting those hard facts, many journalists clung to the idea that Trump was simply too out-there to become the nominee; too extreme, reckless, and garish for a major party nominee.

    And that’s still the problem today. Lots of media analysts continue to ignore a central reason for why they missed the Trump surge, and they’re still not acknowledging what’s driving his success: The truly radical nature of today’s Republican Party and its right-wing voter base.

    Y’know, the conservative movement that cheered Glenn Beck when he called the president of the United States a "racist"; that supported right-wing claims that president Obama was a tyrant who needs to be impeached. (And that he was foreign-born.) The movement that revolves around Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that if Obama weren't black he'd be working as a tour guide in Hawaii, not sitting in the Oval Office, and who insisted Obama ran for office because he resents white America and wants to score some payback.

    And it’s a Republican Party that has essentially shut down the U.S. Congress, rather than legislate with Obama. It’s a party today that refuses to hold hearings for the president’s highly qualified Supreme Court nominee.

    That’s what the Republican Party has become in recent years, but the press has mostly held its tongue about the nasty makeover. And in the process, the press missed the Trump surge, which rode that radical GOP wave. 

    The collective, years-long turning of a blind eye indicates to me just how important it is for the Beltway press to maintain a symmetrical balance between Democrats and Republicans. It shows how the press remains married to the idea that the two parties are simply mirror images of each other, occupying different ends of the political spectrum. That for however far to the edge Republicans move, Democrats are sure to reciprocate. It’s the Both Sides Are To Blame syndrome, basically.

    And there’s great comfort in that for the press. Because if you call out Republicans as radical, or note that the ugly nature at the base of the GOP could easily propel Trump to a nomination victory, that means the press has to break from the safety of the Both Sides narrative. That then opens the press up to “liberal media bias” denunciations from the right.

    So which is worse, being taunted with claims of liberal bias, or misreading a presidential campaign season for ten months? 

  • Pundits’ New Lament: Clinton Might Win, But She Won’t Win The Right Way

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    That distant rumble you’re hearing from the Beltway is the sounds of pundits eagerly excavating as they dig up the campaign goal posts established for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run and reset them during the middle of the race.

    After months of suggesting her White House push was possibly doomed, that she couldn’t connect with voters, pundits are now conceding she will be her party’s nominee and that polling data and demographics currently give her a November advantage. But instead of admitting they misread her run (how do you accumulate 13 million primary votes and not connect with people?), some have decided to change the rules -- to move the goal posts midway through the game -- and suggest that even if she wins the presidency, Clinton will have won it the wrong way, and that in some bizarre way her victory won’t be legitimate.

    Penning a campaign memo to Clinton with the subject line, “Winning Right,” Ron Fournier in The Atlantic insisted that winning isn’t enough for her (emphasis added):

    Congratulations! You are now the presumptive Democratic nominee. Considering the demographic obstacles piled against Donald J. Trump, you’re this close to the presidency. The nation’s first woman president. Heir to President Obama’s legacy.

    It’s not enough. Is your goal to win the presidency or to win and transform the presidency? Are you a caretaker or a change agent? Do you seize power for the love of power or for higher purposes: to modernize the institutions of politics and governance; to restore the public’s faith in Washington; to break the cycle of polarization and solve big problems; to galvanize the youth vote (like Obama) and translate millennials’ passion and power into governmental reforms (unlike Obama)?

    According to Fournier, Clinton’s victory and her presidency will only matter if she completely transforms American politics. And if she accomplishes that without any help from Republicans, of course.

    For context, note that Fournier’s column scolded Clinton’s campaign for not being “honest and authentic” the way Donald Trump’s campaign has been honest and authentic. So that tells you a bit about the writer’s worldview.

    Some of Fournier’s suggestions/demands for Clinton to win and govern the right way? She should “digitize” the “bully pulpit” to get Republican statehouses to stop gerrymandering voting districts, and as president she should change the rules for how the Democratic and Republican parties nominate their candidates.

    So no, I doubt the Clinton camp is taking Fournier’s offerings seriously. But his heavy-handed demands are worth noting since they offer insight into how parts of the pundit class are already preemptively undermining Clinton’s possible win.

    One popular refrain is that the rest of Clinton’s run is already tainted because her unfavorable/favorable rating is not good. Trump’s net unfavorable rating is worse, but many in the press are lumping the two candidates together and presenting them as a deeply unpopular pair.

    “I think is very frustrating is that the two people most disliked by a majority of the country are about to end up running against each other,” lamented Matthew Dowd on ABC This Week.

    Added Fournier on Meet The Press: “We have two presumptive nominees and most often America says oh, my God. Maybe I don't vote in November.”

    The theme is constant: Clinton’s viewed poorly by voters, therefore she doesn’t inspire. But that’s not true. A recent Gallup poll found that Clinton supporters were among the most enthusiastic this campaign season, and were even more enthusiastic about her run than supporters of Bernie Sanders were about his.

    Meanwhile, over at Politico, Todd Purdum’s recent piece, “How Hillary Could Win the Election—and Lose the Country,” harped on many of the same points Fournier made in The Atlantic. Yes, Clinton can win, but she’s winning the wrong  way (emphasis added):

    It is entirely possible to be the winner and still not get much of a mandate—to enter office as a kind of default president who gets in because no other candidate is electable but who doesn’t have the faith and loyalty of a large portion of the nation.”

    Specifically, Purdum deducts points for Clinton lacking a clear vision (a “new animating idea”). Yes, as Purdum quotes from a recent Clinton speech, she’s fighting for “civil rights, voting rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and rights for people with disabilities.” But to pundit Purdum, it seems boring.

    It’s boring and out of touch: “[Her] ideas are out of sync with the mood of the electorate in this three-sheets-to-the-wind age.”

    Of course, the idea that she’s “out of sync” with voters is undermined by the fact Clinton has received more votes than any other candidate this year.

    Have we ever seen a White House campaign where members of the press suggest the candidate winning the most votes isn’t really the candidate people want to vote for? Yet over and over Purdum insists Clinton’s out of touch with Democratic voters … while Clinton seems poised to accept her party’s nomination. (I’m anxiously awaiting the Purdum column about how Trump’s badly out of step with Republican voters today.)

    Overall, this whole not-winning-the-right-way thing is quite odd, mainly because for decades campaign coverage in America has revolved around one thing: Winning. It’s been the only thing that mattered. And winners were usually toasted as being super savvy regardless of their margin of victory. That's why it's called horse race journalism because the press has been obsessed with documenting who crosses the finish line first; with who's up and who's down. 

    Today, Clinton’s clearly up so some scribes want to rewrite the rules and announce that it’s not really about winning, it’s about how you win? Suddenly pundits are subtracting points for style and grace if she doesn’t run her campaign and win exactly how they say she must conduct herself?

    Media message to Hillary: Jump through these series of progressively smaller campaign hoops while we  grade your leaps and bounds as being insufficient.  

  • US Officials Report No Evidence Hillary Clinton Broke The Law, Will Right-Wing Media Listen?

    Conservative Media Conspiracy Theories Doused By The Facts

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    U.S. officials say they have not yet found evidence that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton willfully broke the law with use of her private email or that her server was hacked, according to two new reports, undercutting the conservative witch-hunt for a bombshell in the Democratic presidential front-runner’s email setup.

    Prosecutors and FBI officials “have so far found scant evidence that [Hillary Clinton] intended to break classification rules,” according to a May 5 Washington Post report. The article noted that “prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not”:

    Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter

    [...]

    The involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not indicative that charges are imminent or even likely. One official said prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not.

    CNN underscored the findings in the Washington Post article, reporting that “The investigation is still ongoing, but so far investigators haven't found evidence to prove that Clinton willfully violated the law.” The reports join the growing chorus of legal experts and government officials who have undermined claims made by right-wing media figures, who have repeatedly scandalized Clinton’s use of a private email server by arguing that she broke the law using her server for State Department emails.

    Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, who has a history of hyping evidence-free claims, most recently reported on May 4 that “the infamous Romanian hacker known as ‘Guccifer’ … easily – and repeatedly – breached former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email server,” a claim parroted by various right-wing media figures.

    But U.S. officials “dismissed claims [by “Guccifer”] that he was able to breach Clinton’s personal email server,” according to the Post, noting, “investigators have found no evidence to support the assertion.” NBC News also reported that the hacker “could provide no documentation to back up his claims,” and Politico reported that an “internal FBI review of Clinton’s email records did not indicate traces of hacking.”

    Fox also alleged that the Obama administration is “slow-rolling” the Select Committee on Benghazi Committee’s investigation into Clinton’s email use, scandalizing the fact that a “special unit to review Benghazi documents” was convened later than expected.

    The Department of Defense recently criticized the committee, slamming it for “straining the department's resources” chasing “documents and interviews” often based on “speculative or hypothetical” queries, according to Politico. A letter sent by Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger derided the Republican-led committee’s “multiple and changing requests,” some of which have been “unfair … unproductive … [and] unnecessary,” and implored the committee to “remain focused on obtaining facts rather than encouraging speculation.”

    Since Clinton’s use of private email was revealed, conservative media figures have made multiple baseless allegations, only to be burned by facts. The new revelations that investigators have not yet found evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton only add to the growing list of debunked myths spuriously pushed by right-wing media.  

  • Sean Hannity Endorses Trump, Lashes Out At Paul Ryan For "Sabotage"

    Hannity: Paul Ryan Is Leading A "Circular Firing Squad" In The Republican Party

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    In a series of tweets on May 5, Sean Hannity endorsed Donald Trump and attacked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), after Ryan told CNN's Jake Tapper he is "just not ready" to endorse presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump over the eventual Democratic nominee in the general election.

    [Twitter, 5/5/16]

    [Twitter, 5/5/16]

    Responding to Ryan's refusal to endorse Trump, Hannity tweeted "You have to be kidding me” and called Ryan's statement "pathetic."

    [Twitter, 5/5/16]

    Hannity continued to attack Ryan, writing "The Hell with what the voters think. Circular firing squad now led by @SpeakerRyan," and additionally characterized National Review Online's criticism of Trump as "Elitist BS."

    [Twitter, 5/5/16]

    [Twitter, 5/5/16]

    Hannity's criticism of House Speaker Paul Ryan highlights his reputation of attacking critics of Donald Trump while also being called out for his softball interviews of the Republican presidential nominee. Hannity has previously attacked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as a "pawn of the establishment" trying to take down Trump, and rebuked commentators who critiqued his contentious interview with Ted Cruz.