“The Sunday Political Brunch”—January 1, 2017

Sunday, January 01, 2017


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Happy New Year! As of today, I begin my fortieth year in mass media, much of that time spent covering politics at the local, state, and national levels. The year 2016 was like no other. One of the main reasons it was so fascinating is because so many people in the mass media business got it all wrong. Why did that happen? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Bush League” – One of the first clues that this was going to be an “outside-of-the-box” year politically was what happened to former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). He was the legacy candidate with name recognition, a solid resume, the most money, and the biggest organization. And there was the potential of a “Bush v. Clinton” rematch to atone for 1992. This race had it all. Yet, after South Carolina (only the third primary or caucus in the country), Bush was done. But the press missed the big story here and in the Clinton campaign, too) This wasn’t just a rejection of Jeb Bush; it was a repudiation of legacy and insider politics - a repudiation the likes of which we’ve never before seen in the United States.

“Trump ‘Trumps’ Publicity”—For all of its flailing at Donald Trump, the media was more like a high-wind, fanning the flames of a forest fire! Remember, even before the primaries began, Trump was getting a grossly disproportionate share of the publicity. There were 17 Republican candidates, but he was siphoning all the oxygen out of the room. This trend started from the day he announced, and continued through the debates and primaries and even through the general election. In many ways, the mass media was Trump's enabler, and he was more than happy to give them material. It turns out that was gold.

“Just Win, Baby!” – When coaches would ask the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis for advice, he would simply say, “Just win, baby!” That seems simplistic, but there is an old saying that winning is the best deodorant. Despite whatever flaws one might have, continuous winning gives a sense or momentum and inevitability. Trump was a strong second in Iowa; he won New Hampshire; and, then he won South Carolina. He then took eight of the next twelve contests, through Super Tuesday. And regardless of whatever he said - however provocative and outrageous - he kept winning. Trends matter; and - by and large, the media missed it. Many reporters and analysts I know firmly believed Trump would eventually trip and fall. (I thought the release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes in October would be that moment, but I was wrong, too.)

“Record Debate Audiences; Record Turnouts” -- Another trend that should have received more coverage early on was crowd size. Trump was attracting huge crowds, including 40,000 people in Mobile, Alabama. Democratic upstart Bernie Sanders was also attracting huge crowds of 30,000 in Wisconsin and Oregon. Hillary Clinton’s crowds were far smaller, and considerably less passionate. I noticed this very same phenomenon in 2008, when she ran against Barack Obama: Her crowds were starkly smaller and less excited. I wasn’t the only one in the press pool who noticed this; yet it got scant coverage. But all through the 2016 primary season, there were two crucial phenomena at work: record debate viewership and ratings; and record turnout in almost every state primary or caucus. Trump was attracting millions who were disengaged from the political process. These were clues that Trump could really win; yet few saw it coming.

“The Bernie Factor” -- I have long mentioned what I deem the similarities in the appeal of Trump, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). While they are bookends of the political spectrum, they represented a lot of the same rebel, outsider, speak-from-the heart appeal. They worked without scripts or the safety net of a teleprompter. People in both parties (and many independents) found it engaging and refreshing. A lot of people - including friends in the national media - thought I was nuts when I kept calling Trump and Sanders “two sides of the same coin.” Sanders nearly beat Clinton for the Democratic nomination; and if many national pundits had agreed with me, they would have seen the possible Trump path to the White House. Back in February, 2016, I kept saying in interviews, “Trump could win this whole thing,” but a lot of people I told did not take me seriously.

“The ‘Trump Titanic’” – Trump can be his own worst enemy. Often what he says or tweets generates negative headlines. First, it was the wall on the Mexican border; then it was the total ban on Muslim entry into the U.S.; and, then it was his on-air spat with Megyn Kelly about Rosie O’Donnell, in the first Fox News debate. Every time these controversies happened, the prediction was that Trump would plummet in the polls and he would implode. But seemingly he defied gravity, and his poll numbers often increased. He was the Titanic that kept hitting the iceberg, yet never sank!

“My Analysis” – When I talk about the lessons the news media needs to learn from this election, I certainly include myself. As you may recall, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win the Electoral College, 272 to 266 over Donald Trump (a one-state margin). I correctly picked 47 of 51 states and the District of Columbia. I was only wrong about Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (the last three of which decided the race for Trump). As a native of Wisconsin - and someone who still has a lot of family and friends there - I should have been more accurately in tune with the public mood. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, a lot of media mistakes are due to not listening to “people on the ground” about what matters most in their lives.

Where do you think the press went off the rails? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.


Related Slideshow: Trump’s Win - What Does it Mean for Rhode Island?

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Jennifer Duffy

Cook Report

"We don't really know what a Trump presidency means for the nation, never mind the smallest state.  One of the unintended consequences of last night's results is that Sen. Jack Reed won't be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Chalk that up as a loss for RI."

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Pam Gencarella

Head of Ocean State Taxpayers' Association

"Trump’s win means that his signature issue, illegal immigration, could have a big impact on RI, hopefully reversing our course as a sanctuary state and saving the state taxpayer millions of dollars.  While we agree with his 'repeal and replace' Obamacare stance, we have no idea what that means to the RI debacle known as UHIP.  It is not a stretch to believe that federal funding for this kind of system will be off the table so, will RI be stuck with this massively expensive system that still doesn’t work and that is expected to cost another $124 million to fix?  

Trump's belief that there is significant fraud in the Food Stamp program and the policies that may come from that belief could have a negative impact on RI's local economy since there are businesses in certain cities that rely heavily on this program, fraud and all. On the upside, we may be able to ditch the UHIP program if there is significantly less need for processing welfare program requests (ie. Medicaid and food stamps) resulting from fewer illegal immigrants and less fraud.  While we are ambivalent about his touted child care policies, if enacted, it may force our legislators to revisit the ever growing state cost of subsidies in this area and possibly reduce the fraud and abuse in this system." 

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Kay Israel

Professor at Rhode Island College

"With a Republican President and Congress, Rhode Island will probably be excluded from the 'fruits of victory."  

The congressional delegation will be able to vocally make their presence felt, but in the long term it's more symbolic than substantive.  

For Rhode Island it's a matter of holding on and waiting until '18 or '20 and a surge in Democratic influence."

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Jennifer Lawless

Professor at American University

"The RI congressional delegation just became even less powerful than it was. With unified government, Trump doesn’t need to quell Democrats’ concerns or acquiesce because he’s worried about a Democratically-controlled Senate.

His appointments will reflect that. His executive orders will affect that. And the conservative policy agenda he puts forward will affect that."

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Len Lardaro

Professor at University of Rhode Island

"Well there's a few things -- because there's not going to be gridlock, that's a big difference if it had been Hillary and a GOP Congress, in which nothing would got done. We'll at least get a half a billion in infrastructure that's going to pass which will have an impact.

I think you'll see there will be reduced reliance on government nationally -- and that's where we'll stick out like sore thumb. We've relied way too much on government -- and our government is highly inefficient and ineffective.  Maybe, just maybe, in this who cycle of things we might be forced to be small and more efficient for once.

A couple of other things -- interest rates jumped. The one to follow is the ten year government bond rate -- which is tied to mortgages. It went from 1.7% to 2.05% in one day. The point is -- if the ten year stays high, mortgage rates will start going higher -- and in the short time people will run to re-finance. 

That's the short term impact -- but then if rates stay hight, that will make mortgages more out of reach. And we just passed a bond issue to limit open space -- housing has limited upside here.
The next thing -- the Fed Reserve will go ahead with tightening next month. A strong dollar will hurt manufacturing. When the dollar is strong our exports become more expensive overseas. 

Our goods production sector -- manufacturing and construction -- in the near term will do a little better, but as time goes on will be more limited. But something you won't hear, is there are lags in fiscal policy, of six months to year. So we won't really see the effects until the third our fourth quarter of 2017, going into 2018."

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Mike Stenhouse

RI Center for Freedon and Prosperity

"As the unbelievable turned into reality this morning, it struck me that the presidential election was not really all about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It was about a fed-up people, revolting against a corrupt system - the "beast" - that relentlessly favors insiders. Hillary personified the beast, while Donald personified the slayer.

Sadly, based on election results in our state, Rhode Island's version of the beast lives on. I fear our political class has not learned the lessons from the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump movements - and will continue with their government-centric, anti-family, anti-business status quo."

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Kristina Contreras Fox

VP of Young Democrats of America

"A Trump Presidency means the validation of the ugliest part of America. In RI, as with the rest of the country, the hammer of his hatred will fall hardest on minority communities. Being a blue state doesn't make us immune from this danger.

Trump won over 35% (39.5) of the vote here! We need to look in the mirror, and not lie about what the reflection shows us. No more hiding underneath a blue blanket. I expect those who claim Democratic values to be true to those values. The gulf between words and actions have turned into fertile ground for Trump's message to grow here in RI. If you call yourself a Democrat, if you claim to stand in opposition to Trump, now is the time to prove it. Show up and fight back."


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