Now that Super Tuesday II is over and both parties have just about settled on their nominees, let’s take a quick look back at some lessons learned about what has undoubtedly been the strangest election cycle in a long time:
The Hostile Takeover of the Republican Party Was Not Hard or Expensive. Donald Trump has stampeded his way to the GOP nomination largely on TV appearances and a Twitter feed. He has spent less than $25 million, did not even start advertising until January, and eschewed the conventional retail campaign tactics in Iowa and New Hampshire that are supposedly essential to winning those states (he finished a close second in the former and won the latter in a walk). Meanwhile, his opponents raised (and spent) close to $200 million to little effect. In Florida, they threw more than $20 million in negative ads at him and he still won by 18 points. Trump barely broke a sweat while outlasting current and former Governors and Senators that made up the biggest (though not the “deepest”) field of Republicans in history. For as odious as his politics are, his achievement may be the most impressive feat in recent political history.
Horse Race Reporting Has Completely Taken Over Presidential Politics. Did you know Marco Rubio wants to completely eliminate the capital gains tax? Or that Rand Paul called for temporarily stopping Muslims from 32 countries from entering the United States? That Chris Christie wanted a massive overhaul of Social Security? Of course you did not because the media has become completely consumed by polling and “who won the day” analysis popularized by publications like POLITICO and cable shows like With All Due Respect. At the same time, there has been even more emphasis on faux controversies like whether Hillary Clinton tipped properly at a Chipotle instead of a deeper dive into the policies of the candidates.
The Media Could Not Make Marco Rubio Happen. No candidate benefitted more from favorable media coverage than Marco Rubio and no candidate so successfully manipulated the press for his own gain. He spun a third place finish in Iowa into a “victory,” sold the media on a “3-2-1” strategy in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, then ignored it when it turned into “3-5-2,” and finally bought himself another month in the race by selling himself as the consensus candidate even as he was getting rolled in state after state. When he trained his fire on Trump, it backfired spectacularly and then, in a final swing of shamelessness, he bemoaned the tone of a campaign he helped lower by making allegations about hand size and pants peeing.
The Bern Is Real. Readers of my blog know where my allegiance lies, but I will give the 74-year old democratic socialist his due, his campaign legitimately tapped into left-wing frustration and his fundraising prowess is remarkable. The media coverage of him has been awful throughout. There is no question the media was slow off the mark in seeing his popularity, but they have now overcorrected even as he is at a 60/40 deficit in both delegates and the popular vote against Hillary Clinton while she enjoys a more than 9:1 lead in super delegates that will ultimately push her over the top - which is how Obama won the nomination in 2008 even though he and Mrs. Clinton split the popular vote very close to 50/50. Sanders has been the most effective insurgent since Gene McCarthy in 1968, but he has also benefitted from tissue thin vetting that has given him a wide berth to drum home his message. After losing all five races on Super Tuesday II, he would rise in stature if he dropped out, but instead, he will soldier on, even though he has no chance of winning the nomination.
The Establishment Is Dead. At varying times, TIME magazine anointed Rand Paul “the most interesting man in politics,” Marco Rubio “the Republican savior,” and Chris Christie simply “THE BOSS.” (caps in original). This was before Jeb Bush brought his family name into the race and immediately vaulted to the top of the polls. Paul dropped out after Iowa, Christie after New Hampshire, and Bush after South Carolina. Rubio limped on with little money but plenty of endorsements and media support (see above) before dropping out after being humiliated in his home state of Florida. Other candidates, like 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum, 2008 runner-up Mike Huckabee, three-term Texas Governor Rick Perry, and South Carolina’s senior Senator Lindsey Graham, barely registered before quitting to no ado. If a year ago you had a reality TV star and the most hated man in Congress as your two most likely victors in the Republican field, bravo.
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