So much for the Blue Wave. As Rachel Maddow put it last night, there weren’t even ripples in the pond. The media lost their minds last night as it became apparent that this election was not turning out the way they’ve claimed it would for months, with a double-digit landslide for Joe Biden and coattails that pulled in one battleground victory after another, cementing a Democratic majority where ending the filibuster, packing the court, and adding two new states was just a question of when, not if.
Instead, it turns out Donald Trump is a lot more popular with a lot more people than polls would indicate and the media would like to believe. It turns out the “Shy Trump” voter, rather than a fiction pollster bros laugh about on Twitter, absolutely exists. It turns out that the polling industry is laughably bad at getting things right. And it turns out the Republican Party, with what looks to be double-digit gains in the House and a strong hold on the Senate, is now far more diverse than it was in the pre-Trump era.
Let’s also be clear about one thing: If Trump feels this election was stolen from him, as he clearly is already inclined to think, he’s not Richard Nixon in 1960. He is not going down without a full-on legal fight, a slog that could turn into weeks given the widespread nature of it (compared to the relative confinement of Florida 2000) and the meandering, confusing approach to deadlines, envelopes, signatures, and the like.
The failure of the media in 2016 was written off as a fluke. They wanted to pretend Trump sneaked up on them and that there were always warning signs and caveats and so on. This time around, their hubris was even more evident, as they confidently projected outcomes that never came.
Circling back to Maddow again, leftist journalist Ryan Grim had a good comment about how dismissive she was of Amy McGrath’s efforts: “Rachel Maddow just said there was no evidence Amy McGrath would ever be competitive. She could have saved her viewers tens of millions of dollars if she’d have shared that earlier. She gave it like nine seconds, a shrug, and moved on to the next race. Poof, there went 90 million. She raised 90 million, and that doesn’t count the last two weeks!”
But Maddow is an opinion host, so she at least can argue she was fighting the good fight. The pollster bros have no such excuse. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn went off the other day on how he doesn’t trust the RealClearPolitics averages any more, that they were too pro-Trump and included too many R-leaning polls. As it turned out, you could actually argue based on the outcome that the RCP battleground averages were insufficiently pro-Trump, given that he overperformed by as many as 7 points in Ohio, 6 points in Wisconsin and Iowa, 5 in Texas, and 4.5 in Florida, only underperforming the average in Arizona and Minnesota, both by about 3 points. But Cohn is surely a consummate professional who would never allow his personal biases to infect his analysis of polls.
So we should not expect the media to learn anything from this. They will pretend it didn’t matter. The New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, CNN, MSNBC — none of them will feature anything but the most hand-waving approach to acknowledging they did anything wrong, or that they need to feature voices emerging from the vast voter base established by the Trumpian GOP, a party that is more socially conservative, fiscally moderate, and judicious in foreign policy instincts than the one that came before.
There will obviously be much more to say about what this means for the Republican coalition going forward should Biden eke out a victory. But what this election clearly was not was the repudiation the media had hoped for, prayed for, and worked for over the past four years. They lied to the people, some out of intent, some out of foolishness, and the people no longer believe them. And when you see old-guard corporate journalists claiming that the Trump campaign’s Spanish language ads warning against socialism represent “disinformation” or “misinformation,” you know they won’t stop.