The media missed the rise of Donald Trump because they were looking at the man, and not the powerful underlying movement.
This was the subject under discussion at an event looking at the media coverage of the 2016 campaign co-hosted by USC Annenberg and TIME Sunday morning in Manchester, N.H. and moderated by TIME managing editor Nancy Gibbs. “I think a lot of us were snobs about it,” said Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’, noting he didn’t have Trump on his show for the first two-and-a-half months the billionaire tycoon led in the polls. “And we were wrong about it. The story is not about Trump. The story is about the electorate that he tapped into.”
The panelists, including ABC contributor Matthew Dowd, who was George W. Bush’s campaign strategist in 2000, Washington DC TIME bureau chief Michael Scherer and TIME Washington correspondent Jay Newton-Small, also agreed that the 2016 election has upended much of the conventional wisdom about campaigns in Washington. For example, time was when a candidate like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush bought $70 million in paid advertising, that would have a tectonic result. But this campaign season it has had relatively little impact, with most of the attention going to earned media as Trump upended news cycle after news cycle with his braggadocio.
Dowd argued that another reason why campaign ads have had little impact is also the fact that they have been pretty terrible this cycle. “Candidates should ask for their money back,” Dowd said. “There has been no imagination, no humor in any of these ads and they are spending tons of money on them.”
On Hillary Clinton, Newton-Small talked about how she’s been challenged to show passion in the same was rival Bernie Sanders does at campaign events. “When Hillary screams, she gets called shrill by people like Bob Woodward on ‘Morning Joe,’” said Newton-Small, author of the new book, “Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works.”
When asked why Clinton wasn’t appealing to younger women, Newton-Small said: “Bernie is like getting swept off your feet on the first date. Clinton is like going out with an actuary who is planning your mortgage payments and retirement funds over dinner. He’s all dreams; she’s all pragmatism.”
Todd, who with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, moderated Thursday night’s debate between Clinton and Sanders, marveled at how much more vocal the left has been this campaign—much more than anticipated. “Bill Clinton’s whole purpose as a presidential candidate [in 1992] was to eliminate the liberals from the party, so now we have come full circle,” Todd said. “The progressives have already won the primary. Hillary Clinton is already hugging the left.” But, Todd, warned moving out of New Hampshire, Sanders was going to have a tougher time in other states. “If you’re a Democrat and you like President Obama, why do you want a revolution?” Todd said.