The way the media — especially the television networks — characterize the two major presidential races underway is interesting.
On the right, we have Donald Trump, almost literally holding press and pundits in thrall, catering seamlessly with his showmanship. He is regarded as an outsider, nonchalantly staging a remarkable campaign and reshaping the GOP. He is the maverick that failed to appear in 2008 and 2012.
On the left Bernie Sanders is doing much of what Donald Trump has accomplished, but with substance and less theatrics, and almost entirely without the support of press and pundits. On the right political types are pondering what-ifs, what if Trump wins. On the left, they’re merely wondering if Sanders will try to bring his message to the Democratic convention this summer.
The difference? Hilary Clinton. Most plainly and correctly because she is indeed leading the Democratic race for nomination, but I think for more reasons than that…although her lead is a big one. However, it is hard not to see Hilary as the so-called Anointed One. Press coverage of her campaign ranges from drama (what’s wrong with Hilary) to cheerleader (Hilary’s victory has righted her ship).
But look at the numbers. Could the problem for Hilary Clinton be Bernie Sanders? I am convinced that as this “problem” persists for Clinton, the press will veer away from it. There already is plenty of evidence of a journalistic fugue underway.
Hilary’s “victory” in Nevada was less than 5% and in a campaign where delegates won are allotted proportionately. Hilary scored 19, Sanders 15. Reading the headlines, however, Hilary not only won Nevada — suggesting to the many people who may not know better — but she won it by
Hilary’s “victory” in Nevada was less than 5% and in a campaign where delegates won are allotted proportionately. Hilary scored 19, Sanders 15. Reading the headlines, however, Hilary not only won Nevada — suggesting to the many people who may not know better — but she won it by large number. The message is clear, Hilary’s the winner.
Now on the Republican side, Trump holds a tenuous, but so far a convincing, lead. Other than a stumble in Iowa, he’s pretty much on top and the press is sure to remind you of that. The drama here isn’t who is going to catch Trump, but who is going to solidify second place! Then we’ll “take it” to Trump.
In South Carolina Trump scored 33% of the votes from Republican voters. In Nevada, Sanders scored 47% of Democratic support. And while it is only a two-way race on the Democratic side, Sanders is in more than a solid second place, he’s been running so far in a virtual tie with Hilary Clinton. Media coverage does not clearly report this. People looking to the Sunday morning talk shows, for example, can be forgiven for thinking Sanders is an outlier and not a political force in the way that Trump is.
Sanders frequently endures the socialism slander. That doesn’t help. He’s compared with madmen and unicorns in less serious media, but the mainstream at times dismisses him out of hand because he of his political views. The label — “Socialist” — not the ideas gets the press. Unlike Trump, who virtually never speaks of policy specifics, Sanders speaks overwhelmingly of specifics. We should not dismiss the substance of his plans so easily, regardless of whether you have the propensity to agree with them. After all, the point of a campaign is to assess the content of a candidate’s ideas, as much as his or her personality, is it not?
It feels like the press is filtering the details of the campaigns to make it simple. The result has been thus far a race of personalities, not ideas. The right is nothing but personalities. Jeb Bush, a guy with some policy credentials and ideas, could not compete on personality and he is out. Kasich and Carson surely not far behind. Personality is a liability for Rubio, too. His squeaky complaints just don’t impress the way Trump’s and Cruz’s bombast does.
On the left, Clinton’s personality is a liability, too. She has a hard time commanding the stage and comes across as prickly and defensive. Sanders, on the other hand, may not be very glamorous or flashy, but he does have personality and quirks. This go around, he is the personality on the left.
My last thought on this is about how Sanders and Trump affect the base of their respective parties. When you listen to the pundits, much is made of how Trump has expanded the base of the Republican Party to include more working class, less-educated people. The assessment of Sanders is different. In Nevada, for example, the story was not how Sanders gleaned votes from people who had not before identified as Democrats, but rather that Sanders has trouble with traditional Democrats. We’re told “only” 40% of self-identified Democrats supported Sanders in Nevada. Doesn’t Trump have a similar and more pronounced problem with traditional Republicans? The difference is entirely in how it is reported. The media tells us that Trump is expanding his party’s base, while Sander gets his support from outside the party.
So far this has been an election where big money hasn’t yet had a major impact. The real player to this point has been the media. Some of it is driven by the pursuit of celebrity and entertainment — this is America — and yet it is hard to think that there might not be more, whether intentional or otherwise. Bias and inconsistency in coverage so far could simply be a matter of careless reporting. Maybe.