2016's biggest losers: Democrats and the media
In an Election Day filled with surreal moments, the most telling might have come shortly before Donald Trump declared victory. The media had not crowned Trump the winner in enough states to tally up 270 Electoral College votes, although the outcome of the election had become obvious anyway. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, had just addressed the shocked crowd at the Dems' post-poll bash to defiantly announce that the Democratic nominee would not concede the election. Still, sources in the Trump campaign told media outlets that the Republican winner planned to address the throngs of supporters who had already started their celebrations.
This puzzled the Fox News anchors covering the race. Chris Wallace — the best debate moderator in the cycle and normally an adept observer — asked why Trump would risk throwing decades of precedent down the tubes by declaring himself a winner before the media had made that call themselves. For a few moments, the trio of Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier discussed the potentially dire consequences of a candidate who clearly had won not waiting for the imprimatur of The Associated Press (or Fox News) before offering a victory speech.
It was bizarre. Not only did they demonstrate no comprehension of Trump's long-demonstrated disdain for the media as part of the "rigged" system against which he routinely inveighs, but also missed that voters had just improbably lifted him to victory in part to spite that system. Even after everything they had just witnessed, three otherwise excellent journalists seemed shocked that Trump would not wait for the establishment media to anoint him before taking the stage and embracing his victory.
Well soon enough, The Associated Press called the race for Trump, and that particular national crisis was averted. It served as a reminder, however, of how difficult it will be for the media to come to grips with the political and social landslide of Trump's stunning victory.
And that brings us to the Democrats. They, too, will struggle to learn the real lessons of Trump.
Democrats could have found a more viable candidate for a general election than the woman who ran what looks like the embodiment of an establishment-elite vortex at the Clinton Foundation and State Department, especially in a cycle where populist anger about "rigged" systems abounded. They had a wealth of opportunity to find a more trusted figure when the email scandal first broke open almost 21 months ago. Instead, thanks to the Clintons' co-opting of big donors and the DNC itself, Democrats sat on their hands while the media insisted on parroting the nonsensical argument that Hillary Clinton was the "most qualified nominee in history."
Meanwhile, President Obama, who has enjoyed his highest approval ratings in years during the final months of the election cycle, saw the election become a referendum on his legacy — a point that Obama himself explicitly made on the campaign trail. His signature legislation, ObamaCare, has become such a disaster that even Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, one of its loudest proponents, called it "unaffordable" after seeing premiums skyrocket an average of 60 percent in the state.
If one wonders how the electorate got this angry, angry enough to elect Donald Trump, ObamaCare is a great case in point. Consider the pattern of Democratic disaster that unfolded after its passage in March 2010. Democrats lost the House in 2010 over it, then lost the Senate in 2014 largely on the same issue (among a few others). Obama has now presided over the loss of Democratic control over the White House, both chambers of Congress, a record number of state legislatures, and after last night, even more gubernatorial offices. Maybe refusing to deal realistically with popular opposition to government-run insurance markets had something to do with that, eh?
And then there's the Senate. Before the start of this election cycle, the Democrats had licked their chops at the prospect of control in the upper chamber, where the GOP had to defend 24 seats to just 10 for Democrats. They drafted old warhorses like Evan Bayh and Russ Feingold to rally voters to their standards, and most media outlets focused their analysis on whether the change in Senate control would lead to an easy ride for President Hillary Clinton even if the GOP held the House. All Democrats needed was to flip four Senate seats, and the field brimmed with vulnerable incumbents and open spots.
Instead, Democrats only converted two opportunities — in Illinois and New Hampshire, giving them just 48 seats in the upper chamber. Bayh and Feingold didn't just lose; they got blown out. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey eked out a win at about the same margin as Trump won in Pennsylvania. GOP Sens. Roy Blunt and Richard Burr will still be around in 2017.
Those losses in supposedly easy-opportunity races don't just reflect Trump's surprising political strength. They demonstrate the depth of the passion against the establishment — and that includes the media. Three weeks ago, I wrote that the election system wasn't "rigged" against Trump, but media bias against him and Republicans in general had become painfully obvious — even as media outlets promoted Trump in the primaries to fill their wallets with advertising revenue. In the final month of the election, the same media picked up every attack line from Clinton in an attempt to shame voters into acquiescing to their worldview. Voters finally answered in the most direct way possible.
At its heart, the 2016 election stuck a thumb in the eye of the elites in both parties, but perhaps in both eyes of the establishment media and the Democrats with whom they ally. Any lessons to be learned from Tuesday's results must start here.