Reporters, Learn to Stop Worrying About Clinton-Trump

Journalists can’t seem to help themselves but imagine ways in which Hillary Clinton might lose.

Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton gives a speech in Iowa, January 23
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton gives a speech in Iowa, January 23 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

If you didn’t know any better, you would think Hillary Clinton was losing the presidential election to Donald Trump.

CNBC’s Jake Novak argues that she is making big mistakes, from “letting Trump drive the agenda” (read: challenging the ridiculous things he says) to not breaking with Barack Obama (the most popular outgoing president in recent history) on “anything” (except a trade deal with twelve Pacific nations that comprise 40 percent of the world’s economy).

Alex Pareene of Gawker worries that the Clinton campaign is inadvertently helping Trump by characterizing him as a “loose cannon”. Building Trump up “as a reckless and virile force of nature” only feeds “the myth of his power and strength,” he writes.

Farfetched? Consider David Frum’s latest in The Atlantic, which suggests that Clinton could lose in November if she appeals too exclusively to women at the expense of young Latino males.

There is not a shred of evidence this could happen, mind you. If anything, the polls show Latinos abandoning the Republican Party in droves with the biggest shift taking place among — wait for it — young voters! More than three times as many Latinos under the age of 35 now think the Republican Party is hostile to them as compared to 2012, The New York Times reports. But let’s not get that in the way of Frum’s imagination.

What’s going on here?

Media logic

Part of it is simply that the media want a story. Probably few journalists honestly expect Trump has much of a chance, but a close race is better for clicks and ratings and more interesting to cover. Hence the hype when one poll suggests a dead heat and the disinterest when all the others — and the trend, and the betting markets — put Clinton ahead.

But there are two more reasons the media can’t give Clinton a break, argues David A. Hopkins, a political scientist, at his blog.

The first is that many reporters, even center-right ones like me, think a Trump presidency would be calamitous.

The second is that few personally like Clinton, especially when she’s riding high.

It’s not all their fault. Clinton’s disdain for the day-to-day obsessions of the news media may be justified; it is also a shortcoming in a political candidate. How long did it take her to recognize that using a private email server while secretary of state was a mistake? Her instinct is to hunker down when challenged and reporters rightly interpret her defensiveness as mistrust of them.

“Conditions are thus ripe for members of the media to spend the upcoming campaign picking over every strategic and tactical choice made by Clinton or her advisors,” writes Hopkins, “not only questioning the political wisdom of each decision but also suggesting that Clinton bears grave moral responsibility for keeping alive the possibility of a Trump presidency.”

Keep calm

Earlier this month, I advised readers not to pay too much attention to arguments in Trump’s favor. Of course there is always a chance, but all the evidence we have suggests he will lose the election.

The flip side of that is that Clinton is not as vulnerable as her detractors would have you believe. Of course there are ways in which she could lose. It’s six months between now and the election. But everything we know at this point suggests that she will prevail.

Leave a reply