Harsanyi: Media enabled Trump; so did Clinton
Former Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is back doing what she does best: selling books. “What Happened,” her newest, doesn’t feature a question. It has answers. Clinton blames the FBI. She blames sexism and fake news. She blames the “godforsaken” Electoral College and the “deep currents of anger and resentment” running through society.
She also blames Sen. Bernie Sanders for out-promising her at every turn. She probably blames clandestine Russian mind-control laser beams for persuading tens of millions of Americans that she was nothing more than a calculating, deceptive and insipid career politician.
And she blames the media. Political journalists, writes Clinton, “can’t bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump.” Now, hearing a Democrat argue that the institutional media wasn’t accommodating enough in helping her win an election is, I admit, a bit jarring. Support from journalists is so embedded in the Democratic Party’s strategy that any negative coverage — even something as unavoidable as writing about an unprecedented FBI investigation into a leading presidential candidate — must be quashed.
Yet Clinton’s claim happens to contain a morsel of truth, if not in the way she intended. When supporting Trump seemed advantageous, the media — not only left-leaning outlets like CNN or the Washington Post but also rating chasers like NBC’s Joe Scarborough — did much to help lift the fortunes of the soon-to-be president. This was obvious to anyone observing coverage of the primaries. But for those who need confirmation, a study by the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that during the year 2015, major news outlets covered Trump “in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers — a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump’s rise in the polls.”
A big chunk of this coverage, the report found, was positive in tone. Of course, that tone would drastically change as soon as Trump won. It was curious happenstance, but somehow, the preponderance of ugly stories regarding his past only began pouring forth after he captured the nomination. The man didn’t change at all; the coverage did.
While all this is true, the problem is that Clinton and her advisers were part of the same effort. “The variety of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right,” read one Clinton campaign agenda item, according to WikiLeaks. “In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more ‘Pied Piper’ candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party.” Those candidates included Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson and Trump.
In fairness, some were worried that the strategy would backfire. “Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky emailed John Podesta. Most, however, liked the plan. Another agenda item involved how to prevent candidate Jeb Bush “from bettering himself/how do we maximize Trump and others?” Neera Tanden emailed Podesta: “Bush sucked. I’m glad Hillary is obsessed with the one candidate who would be easiest to beat. ... Besides Trump, of course.” Of course!
Although Bush was a concern, most Democrats seemed to fear Sen. Marco Rubio. Not that their takes would have swayed many conservative voters, but it’s worth remembering that left-wing pundits played the same cynical game, which makes their histrionics today unconvincing. “Why I’m More Worried About Marco Rubio Than Donald Trump,” read a Vox headline. “Donald Trump Is Actually a Moderate Republican,” wrote Slate. “Why Cruz Is Worse Than Trump” read one headline by The New York Times’ Paul Krugman. “Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination” was New York Magazine’s contribution to this genre.
The major media outlets, the Clinton campaign and the liberal punditry all got what they wanted: Trump. The problem was they also got Clinton. The media did cover the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails and server. “It was a dumb mistake,” Clinton now says. “I think it was a dumber scandal, but it hurt.” This kind of attitude speaks to the entitlement she carried around with her.
Attempting to bolster the chances of an opposing candidate who is perceived to be the weakest isn’t a unique strategy. The problem is — and I understand that many people disagree with me — Clinton probably would have lost to virtually any Republican candidate, and probably by even larger margins. But the bigger question now is: Why did Clinton’s campaign prop up Trump, “the most dangerous White House candidate in modern history”? It seems irresponsible and selfish to put Americans in such a precarious position for personal gain. Maybe someone with access will take a break from sitting shiva and ask her.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist.