Corporate media is catching up: Trump is weak, economy is strong
The numbers don't lie, as many GOP voters reject Trump and as Americans feel good about the financial outlook, all in time for the 2024 election.
Last week, I wrote after the Iowa Caucuses that the first contest showed us how weak Trump is (and how extreme the GOP has become). There were a lot in the media who clearly did not agree, since Trump did technically win in a “landslide,” as many of the hyperventilating reporters pointed out, thirty points ahead of second-place finisher Ron DeSantis.
But a few strategists and writers, notably among them James Carville, were saying something similar to what I and others were saying: that Trump should be treated as an incumbent, not a newcomer. And in that frame, getting only 51% out of Iowa was a dismal showing. Imagine President Biden just barely hitting over 50%. We’d never hear the end of it from the media.
As I noted, Trump is the leader of the Republican Party, bowed to by its members of Congress, endorsed by 100 members of the House, including the House leadership, and almost 20 senators. We were told he had an all-encompassing grip on the party. But clearly, a lot of people in Iowa who turned out to vote—49%—didn’t agree with the party elites.
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Now, Politico, the gold standard of safe conventional wisdom that often bolsters the GOP’s position, has caught up in a piece today at the top of their page: “Trump has a big problem ahead.” They looked at both the entrance polls in Iowa and the actual voting that I and others had analyzed as well:
Donald Trump has a problem no matter what happens in New Hampshire on Tuesday night: There’s a whole swath of the Republican electorate and a good chunk of independents who appear firmly committed to not voting for him in November if he becomes the nominee.
It’s an issue that became starkly apparent in polling ahead of the Iowa caucuses, when an NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of voters in that state found that fully 43 percent of Nikki Haley supporters said they would back President Joe Biden over Trump. And it’s a dynamic that has been on vivid display as the campaign shifted this week to New Hampshire.
And they rightly put it in the incumbency frame rather than that of the newcomer:
Trump is not making his pitch to voters as a first time candidate. He is a known quantity who is being judged by the electorate not for the conduct of his current campaign so much as his time in office. And that, political veterans warn, makes it much harder for him to win back the people he’s alienated, including those once willing to vote Republican.
The Beltway reporters are also catching up on the economy after a year of hammering the message that people don’t “feel” that it’s good—and thus reinforcing that vibe in the electorate, where Republicans would be loathe to tell a pollster that the economy is doing well since they see it as a question about Joe Biden. Now journalists are forced to say people are actually feeling great about the economy because several key indicators of just that—consumer confidence—cannot be denied, something we’ve been pounding away at here.
CNN this week tooted that “Americans are feeling much better about the economy thanks to slowing inflation.” NBC, which had been particularly bad on this, reported, “Americans are feeling optimistic about the economy” (but then had to save face by offering "some exceptions.")
The New York Times, which is completely hellbent on finding something, anything that can go wrong—particularly for Joe Biden—no matter how positive the news, went with this headline, “Americans Feel Better About the Economy,” but then added, “Will That Help Biden?” The, answer, they claimed in the subhead, is that “it’s complicated.” Really? Wasn’t that complicated before.
You just cannot make this up. But, whatever. They will spin themselves into a dervish of denial in their warped commitment to offer “both sides,” and we all know what the truth is. And thankfully we have the great Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman as a columnist at the Times, telling readers this week why Americans are now feeling good about the economy and how Trump and the GOP have now lost an issue they were going to make a centerpiece of their campaigns.
The Times aside, most of the media seems, as I noted on Saturday, to be at a turning point in reporting on the economy and its impact on the election. That will have an effect as it filters down moving forward.
And editors, producer and reporters will have to grapple with Trump’s weakness. As Politico wrote, no matter what happens in New Hampshire tonight, that weakness is evident. Trump, as the former president and incumbent Republican, shouldn’t be battling with anyone. If Haley even gets 30%, it shows there’s resistance and a lack of enthusiasm for him in a party that was supposed to be nearly 100% behind him.
Like any candidate and any incumbent, Biden of course has weaknesses. But most of those have been measured in (often problematic) polls, not in any actual voting yet, so you have to take anything we've seen with a grain of salt. (Though other Democrats have been foreshadowing the ‘24 race, winning big in 2023 and in special elections, and often flipping GOP seats).
But none of the weaknesses discussed in the media compares—even in the polls—to Trump’s weaknesses, which we’ve now seen in actual voting. The New York Times/Sienna poll from last fall, for example, showed Biden getting over 90% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, while Trump only gets 86% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
Yet in Trump’s electoral strategy, he needs nearly 100% of his own party and leaners. It’s always been a risky strategy, and it didn’t work in 2020. And he has a bigger problem now than in 2020 because of both January 6th and abortion rights. Then add in that he and the GOP have lost the economic doom and gloom talking point.
Let’s also please take a minute to celebrate the fact that the anti-woke movement—at least within presidential politics, as another GOP talking point—is dead, completely slaughtered in school board races last fall and now officially buried with the dropping out of its leader, Ron DeSantis, from the GOP primary race. (And also celebrate that DeSantis is not getting near the White House any time soon.)
None of this is to say we shouldn't be working our asses off, nor that the Electoral College, gerrymandering, third-party candidates, and voter suppression by the GOP are not challenges—as they always are. But with the corporate media being such a powerful force in shaping politics, we should keep up the pressure and take notice when they change the narrative.