The ghost of 2016 hangs over them and some of us….
Donald Trump’s unexpected come from behind win surprised him and EVERYBODY else….
It still sits on our minds….
Even though by almost all accounts it looks like Donald Trump is gonna crash and burn politically….People are holding back a bit in their comments…
Any previous campaign in Trump’s circumstances — bad polls nationally, behind in multiple must-win states, coming after four years of low favorability ratings and steady off-year and midterm losses for the party he leads — would be facing coverage that would be the political equivalent of a hospital vigil for a very sick patient.
Veterans of past losing campaigns say that such coverage often creates its own hopeless reality. Everything an underdog candidate tries to do to change his or her circumstances is described through an interpretive filter that amounts to “check out the latest from this loser.”
In Trump’s case, however, many journalists (including the two of us on this story) emerged from the 2016 race wondering if Trump is the political equivalent of Hannibal Lecter. Sure, he’s in captivity now, but an escape may be imminent — in which case he’ll be eating pundit predictions with fava beans and a nice Chianti.
“You’re not seeing as much overt coverage of desperation quite in the same way as in the past,” said Rick Berke, a former chief political reporter for the New York Times who now is top editor of the health publication STAT. “People, after four years ago, feel like they were burned and want to leave open the possibility that he could do it again. So I think reporters are second-guessing themselves and each other in how they cover this race, and they’re being extra-cautious, and it’s understandable because they’re a little bit spooked.”
In normal times for normal candidates, the politician running significantly behind suffers from every news story starting with a dependent clause: “With time running out and supporters increasingly worried of an electoral debacle…” Or perhaps: “Amid finger-pointing among campaign aides and despair among party allies….” Cumulatively, this creates a penetrating odor of death around a campaign before the actual death arrives.
Generally, Trump has avoided this phenomenon. While there is lots of coverage illuminating the reasons he is in trouble, or even forecasting that defeat is significantly more probable than victory, the dominant storyline is far from, “Why even bother waiting for Election Day — let’s just admit this thing is over.”…