Home / General / Political Media Loves Gossipy Book That Ignores Political Media’s Role In Election

Political Media Loves Gossipy Book That Ignores Political Media’s Role In Election



You know the drill. After every losing presidential campaign, there will be multiple books consisting of random inside baseball anecdotes from the losing campaign. They will get fawning reviews and the Mark Halperin one will get made into an HBO movie. The core premise of all such books is that structural factors are irrelevant, and that a campaign losing proves that the losing campaign was worse. The strategists with access to the reporter assure the reporter that they were right about everything but were ignored; field offices assure the reporter that they would have won if given enough money; disagreements within the campaign team are revealed; self-interested claims are always taken at face value if they reflect badly on the losing campaign. And, critically, the role played by the media is always ignored. Michiko Kakutani’s review of the first quickie campaign book hits every mark, but let’s just consider this:

There was a perfect storm of other factors, of course, that contributed to Clinton’s loss, including Russian meddling in the election to help elect Trump; the controversial decision by the F.B.I. director, James Comey, to send a letter to Congress about Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before Election Day; and the global wave of populist discontent with the status quo (signaled earlier in the year by the British “Brexit” vote) that helped fuel the rise of both Trump and Bernie Sanders. In a recent interview, Clinton added that she believed “misogyny played a role” in her loss.


After a planned appearance in Green Bay with President Obama was postponed, the authors write, Clinton never set foot in Wisconsin, a key state. In fact, they suggest, the campaign tended to take battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan (the very states that would help hand the presidency to Trump) for granted until it was too late, and instead looked at expanding the electoral map beyond Democratic-held turf and traditional swing states to places like Arizona.

The Comey letter (which almost certainly changed the outcome of the campaign) and Russian interference (which might have, but the impact is much harder to measure) are given the usual yadda-yadda graf that makes no effort to determine how important they were and is written in a matter that suggests that even bringing them up is whining. On the other hand, resource allocation decisions that we know were not decisive (insufficient resources dedicated to WI and MI) are asserted to be crucial causal factors. But, again, the problem is that neither campaign devoted much attention to Michigan, and Clinton fought hard and consistently outspent Trump in Pennsylvania. The latter case is crucial, not only because WI and MI are meaningless without PA, but the outcome in PA shows that you can’t just assume that dedicating more resources would have changed the outcome. But, of course, the acknowledging that campaign tactics are a rather minor factor in determining the outcome of presidential elections would completely undermine books that argue that campaign tactics are massively important.

And the yadda-yadda graf is also notable for what’s missing — the media. Kakutani’s newspaper devoted 5 (out of 6) above-the-fold stories to Comey’s “controversial” letter the weekend after it came out. As Kakutani tastefully omits, like so many media outlets the Times was played — there was no basis for the belief that Weiner’s laptop would contain evidence implicating Clinton and the FBI quickly determined that it didn’t. The Times played a major role in amplifying the FBI director’s baseless implication that Clinton was a crook less than two weeks before the election. So I think why you can see why Kakutani passes over this remarkable and unique aspect of the 2016 campaign in a few words before returning to the bog-standard, unfalsifiable second-guessing that happens after every losing campaign.

But it’s a nice racket. Amazingly enough, pundits who were obsessed with Clinton’s EMAILS! are very pleased by books which assure them that they were irrelevant to the campaign:

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 12.03.47 PM

Does the Clinton campaign need self-examination? Sure. But so does the media, and all signs are that we’re never getting it.

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    one of us is lucky Cilizza and I aren’t in the same time zone. Not sure which

    • farin

      Both of you, but the rest of us lose.

  • CP

    My Chris-Christie-worshiping friend (more friend of a friend) that I saw over the weekend was eagerly awaiting this book’s arrival, so I was pretty sure it would be crap and good mostly for ignoring.

    • efgoldman

      I was pretty sure it would be crap and good mostly for ignoring.

      Is it heavy enough for a doorstop?

    • sam

      quite frankly, the only thing that might make a Halperin-type book worth reading (at least excerpts of) is the potential for “ritual-humiliation-of-Chris-Christie-anecdotes”.

      Maybe it makes me a horrible person, but I’m not sure I will ever tire of those.

      • If getting schadenfreude out of the humiliation of Christie (and Romney) is wrong, I’m not sure I want to be right.

        • TopsyJane

          If getting schadenfreude out of the humiliation of Christie (and Romney) is wrong, I’m not sure I want to be right.

          Don’t forget ol’ Low Energy Jeb.

          Watching Trump gore a succession of GOP sacred cows was one of the great guilty pleasures of the primary season. I just loved it when he hollered “Your brother didn’t keep us safe!” while Bush seemed to melt away before our eyes, like the Wicked Witch of the West.

          • Lyin’ Ted, also, too. And, by proxy, Little Marco Rubiobot. Technically it was Christie that put the finishing blow on Rubiobot, but I have to think the shitgibbon’s attacks probably contributed as well.

          • sam

            Jeb I just kinda felt sorry for. I mean, like every republican, his policies were awful, but he wasn’t a *personal* bully in the way Christie was through his entire career (culminating, of course, with bridge-gate).

            I’m not even sure Jeb knew why he was running for president, other than the fact that he felt some familial obligation to.

            I’ll stick to enjoying the fall of true assholes like Christie.

            I mean, I will NEVER, in a million years, understand what he was thinking – HE PUT JARED KUSHNER’S FATHER IN PRISON. He is many things (bully included), but I never thought he was stupid. But you have to be colossally stupid to think that Trump is going to give you a cushy job in his administration when you PUT HIS SON-IN-LAW’S FATHER IN PRISON. You know, the son-in-law who he clearly loves more than his own sons? I really like to think that they were stringing him along and conning him the whole time, sending him out on late night fast food runs and Trump forcing him to eat that meatloaf knowing he had his gastric bypass surgery, secretly videotaping him when he got on his knees to beg (beg!) for the VP slot, so that they could replay that moment and just laugh about it over and over again.

            They’re all monsters, but sometimes they eat their own. THOSE are the stories I want to read.

            • CP

              Jeb Bush is the politician everyone said Hillary Clinton was. A comprehensively corrupt upper-class twit, whose only achievement in his entire life was belonging to a political dynasty, and who only got as far as he did because enough elite people felt that it was “his turn.”

              He’s nowhere near the person I hate the most. But the phrase “I would’ve gone into Iraq even knowing what we know now about WMDs!” alone is reason to celebrate the fact that that talentless little shit never got anywhere close to Commander-in-Chief-hood.

            • lunaticllama

              Chris Christie will be remembered for having decimated NJ Transit, degrading the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people in Northern NJ that commute via public transportation, and risking the possible destruction of the entire Northeast rail system. I can’t remember the last time anyone said anything positive about him in NJ, die-hard Republicans and Trumpers included.

            • TopsyJane

              Christie is a bully. He is also a politician of formidable gifts. I see no such native talents in Jeb. I don’t see how anyone could find Bush morally defensible after the Schiavo affair.

              It’s dumb for anyone to repose any trust in Trump’s loyalty, but Christie was in a desperate position. He gambled and lost.

              • If Christie hadn’t been arrogant enough to let the Bridgegate scandal happen, he would’ve been a formidable contender for the presidency last year. He was basically his generation’s Nixon, another politician with similar gifts that often get underrated these days (and for basically the same reason; he just happened to let his scandal happen at a higher level).

                I actually kind of respected him more than most of the other R candidates; he at least was fairly qualified and competent, and probably wouldn’t have run the country into a ditch the way the shitgibbon is doing. He’s also just incredibly arrogant, and most of his policies are horrible. And, as you said, he’s a bully. I’d still take him as president over the shitgibbon.

                • CP

                  Also Hurricane Sandy and standing with Obama that one particular time. That was a very big black eye for him in Republican politics.

                • True. At the same time, it would’ve been an incalculable strength in a general election, because the mainstream media love them some ‘bipartisanship’. I suspect David Brooks and Ron Fournier would’ve had orgasms on camera.

              • Dr. Acula

                Christie : Trump :: “Reek” : Ramsay Bolton

          • Q.E.Dumbass

            I’ve always thought of Jeb! and Carly Fiorina as Cyril Figgis and Mallory Archer.

            • This is a perfect analogy.

            • Colin Day

              Jeb! failed to realize that the exclamation point made him a factorial, not a factor.

          • CP

            Trump was never more truthful than when he was skewering his primary opponents. I think my personal favorite is when [I don’t even know which of them] made the usual sneer about “New York values.” And instead of abiding by the usual rules of chuckle, nod, and continue talking, Trump just went, hey, fuck you, too.

            I’m sorry, but that’s just incredibly refreshing in a political system where the usual rules are that it’s okay to trash the coasts as unworthy of even being in the same country, but everyone’s still expecting to sing praises to the wholesome small-town folksy people, who till the land, and go to church, and love their children, etc etc etc.

            • Q.E.Dumbass

              Ramfis II Cruz. Incidentally, it was the only time during the primaries that Trump showed any humanity.

              • CP

                Thanks. It’s not the first time I’ve brought this up and people keep reminding me, but I keep forgetting. I guess Ted Cruz is just that unmemorable to me, or that interchangeable with the rest.

              • Colin Day

                There was the time when he said that we didn’t understand the complexity of Syria and should stay out. He dropped that one.

            • sam

              Our public radio station (WNYC) ran an entire fundraising campaign off of that one. I still have my “New York Values” button that came as an “extra” gift in addition to your normal gift with every donation.

              (and to be clear, I don’t think much of the WNYC listenership is particularly fond of Trump – but come after our city, and we will eat you alive)

  • DrDick

    I am sure they do, as it brings electoral politics down to a level that they are capable of actually understanding. Completely wrong, but opinions differ on the shape of the world.

  • SNF

    If a small number of votes were different, there would be books praising Hillary Clinton for running a fantastic campaign.

    Look at all the praise Obama got after his elections for running a fantastic campaign, even though he made plenty of mistakes (remember the first debate in 2012?). But people don’t criticize your campaign if you win.

    • humanoid.panda

      And what’s more, the same exact strategists and data scientists who were lauded as geniuses who will ensure Democratic presidencies forever because DATA are now universall derides as metrosexual morons who had never left Brooklyn and experience REAL AMERICA.

      • CP

        To be fair, Nate Silver was derided as exactly that for months before the 2012 election. (Remember “unskewed polls?”) I think a lot of the chattering classes are relieved that they can now argue that again, it had been a little difficult in the last four years.

        • Q.E.Dumbass

          JoeScar and Politico (especially Dylan Byers) led the Villager charge against Silver that cycle, IIRC.

    • nemdam

      It’s weird how no one whoever praises Obama’s reelection is immediately rebutted with “He ran a flawed campaign” despite the fact that he did.

      • humanoid.panda

        And hey: I am sure that there were suboptimal decision Obama made, even in 2008 (if I recall, he made a late push in Indiana, but not in Georgia, where a close Senate race took place, to cite an easy one.)

      • Aexia

        His 08 campaign was flawed too.

        The turnout tracking app Houdini basically shit itself on Election Day and I felt vindicated having successfully pushed to not devote any resources in my state to using it.

        You hear lots about Romney’s Orca failing hard in 2012 but it’s not like Obama’s Narwhal was much of a success either. The engineering team overpromised and undelivered. But since he won, we only get to critique and second-guess the loser.

        • nemdam

          No, no, you see that was part of the plan. By failing on Election Day, it motivated all the campaign workers to work extra hard getting people to the polls which was the plan all along! If Hillary wasn’t a flawed candidate, she would’ve relied on broken technology too. And sure, Mitt Romney did the same the same thing as Obama, but he just wasn’t likeable when he did it.

  • Phil Perspective

    Does the Clinton campaign need self-examination? Sure. But so does the media, and all signs are that we’re never getting it.

    If you mean we’re not getting it from either, then yes.

    • humanoid.panda

      And by “self-examination” he means that the DNC is not even going to try marching HRC and DWS naked down the National Mall, while real progressives pelt them with eggs.

      • CP

        I’d love to see that.

        Mostly because we’d never actually get to that stage. Instead we’d get completely bogged down in an argument of who does or doesn’t qualify as one of the Real Progressives who have earned the right to do the pelting, and the entire thing would end with the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea pelting each other with eggs.

        • Slothrop2

          You’ll note that “structural factors” rarely include class consciousness.

          • Norrin Radd

            Other than the Electoral College were their structural factors that favored Trump? I guess there’s the difficulty for the incumbent party to secure a “3rd term” but the popular vote proves the structural factors all favored her…except the Electoral College of course.

            • humanoid.panda

              The electoral college is not a structural factor, as the term is usually defined.

              the strutural factors that favored Trump: HRC was running for a 3rd incumbent term, in an economy that was ok, but nothing fancy. Most model predict a very narrow edge for the out party in this scenario.

            • ForkyMcSpoon

              the popular vote proves the structural factors all favored her

              Yeah, that’s not how that works, like, at all.

              • Right, especially since the Electoral College itself is one of those structural factors.

        • Donna Gratehouse

          You underestimate the capacity of disparate groups to come together quickly under the banner of misogyny.

          • CP

            Nah. I just don’t underestimate the capacity of the Real Progs to trip over their own dicks. Those people could fuck up a ham sandwich.

            • kped

              “are there any GMO’s in this? Hey, do we have gluten free bread? Also, instead of ham, what about pickles and ketchup?”

              • ThresherK


                My wife and were houseguests at a True Principled Progressive couple’s. We all got take out from a better-than-ordinary shack kind of place, and I didn’t ask for any ketchup packets to go with my fries.

                While the car pulled into the driveway I realized this, and asked our hosts, “Do you have any ketchup?”

                “Do you know what’s in ketchup?” came the answer.

                I do. I also know why ketchup is called “tomato ketchup”, and that in the mid 19th century changes in canning made modern ketchup as we know it basically the ultimate expression of itself.

                However, I realized immediately that, had I answered, I was gonaa get fed up. Not with fries and ketchup, but with a lecture about the evils of ketchup.

                • Caepan

                  You should have asked for catsup. Ketchup is SO declassée.

                  (And yes, I am aware of the whimsical anti-ketchup bromides regularly published at LGM.)

              • Colin Day

                what about pickles and ketchup?”

                Let them try that with Loomis!

        • efgoldman

          we’d get completely bogged down in an argument of who does or doesn’t qualify as one of the Real Progressives who have earned the right to do the pelting

          And then they’d argue about whether it was OK to use generic mass-produced supermarket eggs, or mandatory to use organic, natural food, free range eggs.

    • kped

      The truth is, there isn’t much to say about Clintons loss. I mean, “don’t run if you have 30 years of bullshit baggage that is mostly based off of innuendo” is a great lesson that will likely apply to no one else. Clinton ran a pretty decent campaign, but was felled by years and years of media hate that allowed bullshit to be flung, while her own relatively minor missteps (email server) was used to damage the campaign at the last minute.

      I mean…is there a lesson there that will be relevant to literally any other campaign? Sure, but it’s not the lesson a lot of the online left wants it to be (that lesson is “BOW DOWN TO US AND LET US CHOOSE AND DON’T VOTE UNLESS WE TELL YOU IT’S THE CORRECT PERSON AND BLARRRRRGH”, but really, fuck that).

      • joel hanes

        years and years of media hate

        Much of it forwarded, if not actively fomented, by persons named Cilizza and Halperin.

      • Alex.S

        There is a lesson to learn — make sure to run your candidate by the FBI and CIA to make sure that they approve. You know what, throw in various military groups, the NSA, etc.

        As we have learned, it’s possible that any candidate can fall under “investigation”. Therefore, better make sure that those groups approve of the candidate, otherwise they might leak about an “investigation”.

        I know it sounds bad, but Democrats need to learn that right-wing organizations like the FBI are a defacto veto point on the Presidential election and we need to get their approval for our candidate. Maybe run a primary or something that counts for 5,000,000,000 delegates just to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

        I mean, that’s the end result if the media refuses to criticize or examine the FBI’s actions in 2016.

        • Davis X. Machina

          I know it sounds bad, but Democrats need to learn that right-wing organizations like the FBI are a defacto veto point on the Presidential election

          Why in God’s name could they not deliver the election to McCain (war hero) or Romney (paid-up member of the PTB)?

          • Couldn’t or didn’t want to? It seems that CDS and misogyny were major contributing factors at the FBI that led them to intervene this time when they hadn’t in the past.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        She did run into a frequent problem that parties get into when running for a third consecutive term in the White House: it’s very hard not to run as the previous president’s third term. And, even under the best of circumstances, this is a difficult position from which to win, becasue there tends to be a fair bit of desire for change after eight years of a presidency. On the other hand, I’m not sure what the lesson is here. You also run into trouble if you don’t embrace a popular two-term predecessor (see Gore 2000, e.g.).

    • McAllen

      Depending on what you mean, this is either false (I’m pretty confident the Democratic candidate in 2020 is going to pay more attention to Wisconsin and Michigan than Clinton’s campaign did) or irrelevant (Clinton will not be the candidate again, and whoever is the candidate will not have the same set of problems).

  • nemdam

    I asked this in another thread, but it bears repeating. At this point, what is even the case that Clinton was a horrible candidate and ran a horrible campaign? The excerpts from this book seem to say the main reason is she didn’t campaign in WI or MI which is both so dumb is doesn’t need to be refuted but has been refuted a million times if you can’t figure it out. The other big reason is that some strategists and campaign workers had some disagreements about strategy and resource allocation? So, just like every campaign? I also saw this gem from the book:

    i like the part where Clinton's primary campaign is depicted as fiasco–she won by 4M votes. pic.twitter.com/OJt5gRBQmk— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) April 18, 2017

    If these are the worst mistakes she made while barely losing despite unprecedented outside interference and media double standards, then I don’t see how you can conclude that she ran a bad campaign or was a bad candidate. Of course, none of this implies she was perfect or ran a mistake free campaign, but if that is your rebuttal than you are making my point for me.

    • cleek

      The Narrative says she ran a lousy campaign.

      why must you dispute The Narrative?

      • bizarroMike

        The Narrative draws a lot of water in this town, Lebowski. You don’t draw shit.

        • “…I don’t like your jerkoff name, I don’t like your jerkoff face, I don’t like your jerkoff behaviour, and I don’t like you. Jerkoff.”

      • The Lorax

        There is an a priori assumption that both sides are roughly equivalent. Therefore, if one side seems scandal-ridden, so must the other (oh, there’s just a nothing server issue? Never mind; we will portray it as equal to Trump anyway. If we don’t Rush Limbaugh might call us liberal.).

        • CP

          Yeah, but it only works one way. Like, does anyone believe that if Democrats had run a candidate with Trump’s raft of issues against a bland and “establishment” Republican without anything similarly blatant against him, the media would feel the need to carry water for said Dem?

    • slightly_peeved

      I’d argue her debate performances were pretty much the gold standard. An easy opponent, true, but one that she comprehensively beat on all three occasions.

      • nemdam

        Ah, but if she wasn’t such a flawed candidate, she would’ve won by even more therefore insulating herself from Russia and Comey. But then again, nothing can insulate you from not campaigning in Wisconsin.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I don’t agree at all that Trump was an easy debate opponent. Lying and non-sequiturs can be very effective debate tactics (cf. Romney’s first debate in 2012.)

        • Right. And as an analysis published on Vox shortly after the last debate proved (I’ll go find it again later if someone wants it), she was very, very effective at drawing out responses that revealed his weaknesses, which none of his other debate opponents had proved able to do. She made that look easy, but it really can’t have been at all, since no one else did it, or even came close to doing so.

          We need to consider the possibility that the shitgibbon was a much stronger candidate than he seemed to be during the election cycle. The fact that he defeated sixteen other candidates, some with strong resources and heavily favoured by experts to win, seems at least somewhat worthy of notice.

          The biggest problem I see with Clinton’s campaign in retrospect is that many things she did correctly were also things she made look effortless, but couldn’t possibly have been anywhere near as easy as she made them look. As a result, it’s extremely easy to underestimate what a disciplined campaign she ran. At the same time, if not for Comey and the media, everyone would be talking about how brilliantly her campaign was run right now.

          • Caepan

            Or, it being the mainstream media, they would just minimize her “winning” campaign with condescending remarks like, “Well, of course she won! Look who she ran against!”

            • …ah, yeah, good point. I still assign people far more faith than they deserve sometimes.

          • Colin Day

            Did debating Trump one-on-one give her an advantage that Trump’s Republican opponents lacked?

            • …maybe? I’m not really sure it’s so much an advantage as it is a different environment. The shitgibbon relied a lot more on Gish Gallops against Clinton than he did against his Republican opponents, whom he mostly attacked with name-calling like a wrestling heel. It’s possible that the latter was simply a more effective strategy for him. But at the same time, I’d need a lot more evidence to suggest that the different environment was decisive in the GOP candidates’ inability to take him down, or that any of them could have debated him as effectively as Clinton did.

              The difference in strategy dwindled with the number of candidates in the Republican primary, and none of the others ever came up with a strategy that took him down, or really even dented his poll numbers. In short, the difference between the circus that was the early primary debates and the less hectic Clinton-shitgibbon debates dwindled as the primary drew to a close, and the shitgibbon’s opponents still never found a strategy that worked for them.

            • ForkyMcSpoon

              The GOP debates didn’t seem to help Trump that much in the polls. I mean, he skipped one of them for a reason. And he was not generally declared the winner/best performer in the debates.

              The problem they had – which existed both during the debates and outside them – was a collective action problem, where nobody wanted to be the one who attacked Trump but went down with him. Whoever attacked Trump, he would attack back, and going all in on him might mean he loses voters, but they migrate to a different candidate. They were all hoping he’d implode on his own and they’d be there to be the Trumpkins’ shoulder to cry on.

              I’d say the format helped prevent Trump from being the biggest loser, but it did not make him the winner.

          • ForkyMcSpoon

            Yeah, but such discipline is only because she’s a calculating she-bot with no authentic feelings. Duh.

        • nemdam

          It’s been forgotten because she lost and so many more important things happened later, but remember the Alicia Mochado stuff? That honestly might be the best thing I’ve ever seen in a debate. If you forgot, Trump’s response was to attack Mochado for being fat and tweeting out in the middle of the night that everyone should check out her sex tape. She rattled Trump for like a week! It takes a tremendous amount of skill to do something like that.

          • That’s a good point. There was a ton of preparation put into that attack (they even had an ad ready IIRC), and it was incredibly effective. I’m honestly not sure anything about it could’ve been done more effectively. It looks fairly trivial in retrospect, but it was a strong demonstration of so many aspects of the shitgibbon that we’ve seen again and again, particularly the misogyny and the late-night Twitter temper tantrums. It was one of the most effective political attacks I’ve ever seen.

            • Davis X. Machina

              Too bad there are 30-40 million “We like sexual-assault perps. We just don’t get them on the ballot enough, is all.” voters out there…

            • nemdam

              Oh, at the time it was not trivial. Remember, this was the first debate that had an insane amount of hype and before either the Access Hollywood tape or Wikileaks. Clinton not only smashed Trump on debate night, the Machado stunt caused Trump to keep replaying the loss every night for like a week. It was a spectacular success.

              • Agreed. But somehow, because the media demonstrated worse memories than goldfish (who don’t actually have the short memories they’re popularly reputed to have), both of those stories turned into non-factors by Election Day. Both of them should’ve been intrinsically disqualifying, but the last thing most voters heard before heading into the voting booth was EMAILS!, and that probably swung the election.

      • D.N. Nation

        Trump may be “easy” because he’s pig-ignorant on policy and has the stage presence in adult settings as a squirmy, overcaffeinated child, but just ask the 47 Republicans he turned into tongue-tied losers how easy it is. Clinton was calm, didn’t bother herself with his bullshit, and got under his skin (“nasty woman”).

    • MyNameIsZweig

      At this point, what is even the case that Clinton was a horrible candidate and ran a horrible campaign?

      She lost (or, rather, “lost”) to Donald Trump.

      For some people (not me, I want to make clear), this is all the proof they need.

    • malraux

      I think there’s an even stronger case to be made. Based on fundamentals based measures, the democratic candidate should have lost. But Clinton well over performed those expectations.

      • This is a good point, and I hadn’t thought about it too much (mostly because I dismissed those fundamentals before the election more than I ought to have).

      • Hogan

        At this point, what is even the case that Clinton was a horrible candidate and ran a horrible campaign?

        “I never liked that bitch.”

      • Davis X. Machina

        Based on fundamentals based measures, the democratic candidate should have lost.

        Hence the need to nominate a not-Democrat to run. That would have upset the fundamentals…

        • Davis X. Machina

          Oops. Hit the del and not the b-quote button.

    • DamnYankees

      At this point, what is even the case that Clinton was a horrible candidate and ran a horrible campaign?

      The case is what the baseline assumption of the election outcome should have been. It’s false, but that’s what drives this perception.

      People just had and have this intuition that in any rational world Trump would have lost by 20 points. And it’s an intuition I’m sympathetic to. But it’s just not true. Partisanship is too high, the floor on the vote is too high.

      But if you have this intuition that Trump should have lost to anyone by 20, and you never move off that (emotionally, if not intellectually), then of course Hillary was a disaster. She came in 18 points under expectations! This was such a common refrain during the campaign, that only Hillary could lose to Trump, and only Trump could lose to Hillary. It’s a comforting lie.

      If you totally ignore who Trump was and look purely at fundamental models, I believe Hillary outperformed them by, like, 4 points or something. A generic D would have lost by 2, and she won by 2. But everyone just throws that away, because TRUMP. And any sane person would have beaten Trump!

      It’s not true. It’s pathetic and sad and horrifying that it’s not true, but that’s what it is. It’s not Hillary’s fault she didn’t win by 20, but people blame her as though she should have.

      • A crucial factor here that I think people underestimate almost constantly is that people simply aren’t rational. We like to think of ourselves as rational beings, and we’re really not, especially when it comes to politics.

        And we’re especially bad at ascertaining the honesty or benevolence of people we perceive as authority figures, particularly if they spend their time appealing to the benevolence of a given ideology, which is something Republicans do all the time (see their ostentatious public displays of piety, for example). They’ve also figured out that they can lie shamelessly and no one in their base will care or even call them on it. This means that any society largely structured around hierarchies features intrinsic weaknesses, and as psychology identifies more and more of those weaknesses, those weaknesses are going to become easier and easier for malicious people to exploit. It’s a serious problem, and the only long-term solution I see to it is restructuring our society to be less trustful of hierarchies in and of themselves and to contain fewer of them.

        Between those two factors and a number of others I’ve brought up several times, the outcome of the election really isn’t that surprising, and the fact that Clinton did as well as she did actually suggests that she ran a fairly competent, disciplined campaign. Were there things she could have done better? Yes. But she ran as a woman candidate in an intrinsically misogynistic society against the FBI, the media, Wikileaks, the Russian government, twenty-five years of right-wing defamation, and equally defamatory content from ‘leftists’. The fact that she performed as well as she did in light of all of that is really quite remarkable.

      • nemdam

        I might be wrong, but I actually think without Comey/Russia and a media environment like 2012 where the candidates are treated to a roughly equal standard, Hillary wins by around 10. So the intuition that she should’ve won this easily is still correct and one that I share, but that doesn’t factor in the incredible outside influence Hillary ended up facing. Call me crazy, but I think if McCain or Romney got the same advantages Trump got, they both would’ve won and Romney would’ve won going away. It’s impossible to prove, but I think folks are generally underestimating the role Russia played. They regularly gave Trump a lifeline after he had self-combusted and amplified every attack he lobbed at Hillary in a way that normal campaign operations can’t do.

        But back to the original point, I still haven’t heard one good reason why Hillary ran a horrible campaign or was a horrible candidate. Because if you can’t argue that, then you have to admit outside forces are what caused her to lose which is something pundits simply refuse to accept.

        • CP

          Honestly, the deck is so stacked against Democrats that I tend to assume we’re underperforming by several percentage points in every election compared to what we’d be doing with a level playing field.

          • I suspect I am going to make this assumption going forward until it is proven wrong. I’m also simply going to assume polls are overstating how well we’re doing because the media can always find a way to fuck us over some way or another.

  • Murc

    In fact, they suggest, the campaign tended to take battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan

    Prior to November 9th, nobody fucking considered MI and WI to be battleground states. Nobody. Not the Clinton campaign. Not the Trump campaign. Nobody. There was no empirical evidence for it. At all.

    As for Chris Cilliza… christ on a bike, I’m tired of this constant denial of Republican agency. When Democrats win it was because of what they did. When Democrats lose it is because of what they did. The default assumption is that Republicans gonna Republican and it is not just the job, but the responsibility, of the Democrats to deal with their sociopathy. And if the Democrats fail to do so it isn’t the fault of the Republicans for being sociopaths but the Democrats for not managing their meds right and for just making those darn Republicans so angry and for making them lash out.

    • humanoid.panda

      Prior to November 9th, nobody fucking considered MI and WI to be battleground states. Nobody. Not the Clinton campaign. Not the Trump campaign. Nobody. There was no empirical evidence for it. At all.

      Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Trump did several appearances in Mi and WI in last two weeks, and the HRC campaign sent resources to MI (including Obama) in the last week.

      • humanoid.panda

        And of course, the 538 folks gave Trump 25% odds exactly because they thought that if he hits the inside straight, he could flip the closest swing states.

        • humanoid.panda

          Here is their take from September.

          So, my answer to the Secretary would be something like: “Madam Secretary. With all due respect to my elders, so far the election veered between us leading by a couple of points to us winning by a landslide. If we win in a landslide, what we do doesn’t matter much. However, if things are tight, we ought to concentrate our resources at the areas where Trump seems to have most upside based on demographics.”

          • Murc

            However, if things are tight, we ought to concentrate our resources at the areas where Trump seems to have most upside based on demographics.”

            The response to that is “I agree. Send more resources to Florida and Pennsylvania.”

            • Spider-Dan

              Thank you.

              The idea that Hillary lost because she didn’t spend enough resources in states that couldn’t have won the election for her anyway is total nonsense. The only valid argument (re: campaign resources) is that she should have spent more resources in PA/FL/OH, which a) would hardly have been possible and b) is so obvious as to be content-free.

    • The default assumption is that Republicans gonna Republican and it is not just the job, but the responsibility, of the Democrats to deal with their sociopathy. And if the Democrats fail to do so it isn’t the fault of the Republicans for being sociopaths but the Democrats for not managing their meds right and for just making those darn Republicans so angry and for making them lash out.

      I guess that’s what people mean when they say Democrats are the Mommy Party and Republicans are the Daddy Party.

      • CP


        And “abusive relationship” is still by far the best analogy I’ve heard, for those who like to think in terms of family metaphors, for the present-day national scene.

      • Donna Gratehouse

        I guess that’s what people mean when they say Democrats are the Mommy Party and Republicans are the Daddy Party.

        See also: wars. Republican daddies get praise for starting them. Democratic mommies are neoliberal warmongers.

      • Robespierre

        Fine, but we are not Republicans and can’t control what they do except by making them suffer (when we are able to). We can, collectively, influence what Democrats do.

    • Cilizza basically makes placating the Republicans an existential decision for the Democrats. The abuse comparisons are very good, but from this point of view the question is why do Democrats need to make decisions and deal with reality, while Republicans are just a force of nature or something that has no responsibility for anything it does?

      ETA And the problem with family metaphors, also, as I realized reading Robinson’s “Home”, is they can just say “the sin of Eve” and expect you to be unable to answer,

      • Hogan

        Hm. I haven’t read anything by her since Housekeeping, and it’s time I fixed that.

        Should I read Gilead first?

        • Don’t ask me. I’ve only read the one.

          I’ve meant to read Housekeeping someday, but I didn’t like the movie much at the time.

    • Slothrop2

      Prior to November 9th, nobody fucking considered MI and WI to be battleground states. Nobody. Not the Clinton campaign. Not the Trump campaign. Nobody. There was no empirical evidence for it. At all.

      Actually, there was plenty of evidence.

      Actually, the DNC’s contempt for labor and the middle class made HRC and her neoliberalism vulnerable in traditional Democratic strongholds.

      • Donna Gratehouse

        Except that she won voters citing economics as their top concern, including WWC ones.

      • Murc

        A Google search, especially one where one of the top three results is a hate site, does not constitute a citation of empirical evidence.

        • humanoid.panda

          I am not a fan of the Slothrops, to put it midly, but the top 3 results in his search are 538 (x2), and the New Yorker.

          • Q.E.Dumbass

            I clicked the link and I got Breitbart as the 3rd top result (the New Yorker and 538 are #2 and #1, respectively).

            • Murc

              And I the second result.

            • humanoid.panda

              Interestingly, when I clicked again, I saw the Breitbart link too. The ways of google are unknowable. (Still, notice that Breitbart is citing Politico Mag: not exactly a hate site.)

        • Slothrop2

          Neoliberalism is the cancer that is slowly killing the DNC. It’s slowly killing whatever Donald Trump has with his “base.”

          At least now we know that HRC’s degree of separation from Trump does not include neoliberalism, kowtowing financiers, and a passion for bombings.

          • humanoid.panda

            Fuck you.

            • Slothrop2

              You hangers-on are so strokey-strokey. It’s like you’ve found an ant in your mint julep, and suddenly discovered you’ve run out of lorazepam.

              • Aaron Morrow

                … says the guy who can’t define neoliberalism, but knows it when he sees it…

          • Do you even know what neoliberalism is?

            • Slothrop2

              Yes. Do you even know what the organic composition of capital is?

              • Perhaps you could try defining it, then, if you know so much more about politics than someone who actually makes his living teaching it to university students.

                • Slothrop2

                  He wrote an okay book about the “scourge of capitalism,” without ever once mentioning the name of Marx or demonstrating any kind of knowledge of Marxism.

                • Cool story. Doesn’t answer my question at all.

                • Slothrop2

                  I sure like Fripp’s improvs in 20th century schizoid man. It is like a glorious departure within a song that has aged terribly.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Do you even know what neoliberalism is?

              Of course he does. It’s the Merle Haggard songbook. Everyone knows that.

      • Scott Lemieux

        the DNC’s contempt for labor and the middle class made HRC and her neoliberalism vulnerable in traditional Democratic strongholds.

        Yes, clearly voters support Scott Walker and Ron Johnson and rejected Russ Feingold because they hate neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is also why women rejected Clinton en masse and why Prince sucks. You are very learned, Papa slothrop.

        • Slothrop2

          Yes, clearly voters who are Democratic voters rejected Russ Feingold, and HRC did more poorly with women than did Obama. Obama: you go, girl.

          • John F

            HRC did more poorly with women than did Obama

            HRC won among women by 13, Obama won among women by 11

            • Scott Lemieux

              clearly voters who are Democratic voters rejected Russ Feingold

              He did worse than Clinton. I blame his neoliberalism.

        • Hogan

          “Learn’d,” Scott. It’s pronounced “learn’d.”

      • JMP

        Neoliberalism! It’s nice when one word tells us a persons’ opinion is completely unworthy of attention

    • xq

      Prior to November 9th, nobody fucking considered MI and WI to be battleground states. Nobody. Not the Clinton campaign. Not the Trump campaign. Nobody. There was no empirical evidence for it. At all.

      This is false. Everyone paying attention knew MI and WI were battleground states. Here’s 538 on tipping point states on Nov. 2. PA, MI, WI all in the top 5.


      • Murc

        On November 2nd.

        Would you find my statement more agreeable if I altered it to be the date of the Comey letter? I’m willing to do that.

        Actually, no, you know what? I’m going to do this again because it is apparently necessary.

        Let’s say it is the beginning of October, 2016. You’re a senior Clinton campaign advisor. You sit down in the morning meeting and say “Madame Secretary, we need to devote resources to Michigan and Wisconsin. We’re terribly vulnerable there.”

        From across the table, another advisor goes, “What the hell planet are you on? We’ve been up in the polls there consistently for over a year. Not just one poll; all of them. Our internals have us up. Gallup has us up. Even Fox and Rasmussem, which have their mouths wrapped firmly around Trump’s dick, have us up. Not just a little bit up; comfortably up, in many cases outside-the-margin-of-error up. What we can glean of Trump’s internals indicate they believe the same thing, as they’re not devoting resources there either. We haven’t lost either state since Reagan. What POSSIBLE evidence do you have that we need to move resources there?”

        Clinton nods thoughtfully and turns to you. What is your rebuttal? Keeping in mind you have to be able to articulate it using actual empirical evidence available at that time.

        • humanoid.panda

          Counterpoint: the folks at 538, operating from publicly available data, made the case for more investment in MI, and WI (basically, Trump can’t win if he loses there.)

          • slightly_peeved

            Countercounterpoint: 538 was a heavily-criticised outlier in October 2016, because it gave a far more variable prediction based on a bunch of assumptions inside Nate Silver’s head. Sam Wang and others operated from public data and often simpler models, and were saying what advisor #1 did in Murc’s hypothetical.

            Nate looks better in hindsight because his number wasn’t as off, but that’s due to him generally hedging his bets rather than him including any particular factor that the other models didn’t.

            • Murc

              Nate looks better in hindsight because his number wasn’t as off,


              Nate Silver only looks “good” because when everyone else was betting the house on black, he only bet his car. He still bet on black!

              • humanoid.panda

                No, that’s just totally wrong. The issue is not the number. The issue is that he laid out exactly ***why*** his number was lower than others: HRC’s weakness in the “blue wall” states with high proportion of non-college whites.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Yes, Nate’s ex ante analysis looks very good. It’s weird that he doesn’t get more credit for it.

                • humanoid.panda

                  His basic insight: that the fact that Obama did better in closest swing states than national averages, while HRC did worse, was a simple at it was brilliant, alas.

                • D.N. Nation

                  Silver was an early and, among the big names, sole proponent of two arguments:

                  1) That there was a legit chance Clinton could win the popular vote but lose the EC
                  2) That there was a legit chance her gains in red states like GA/TX/AZ would of course result in 0 electoral votes but losses in Rust Belt states could actually flip them to Trump

                  He didn’t say that these things WOULD happen, mind you, just that they could, and were major reasons behind his bet-hedging. And he was right.

                • nemdam

                  FWIW Hillary referenced Nate’s analysis in the one interview she did since the election. So there’s a least one prominent person who credits it. But since she refuses to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for her loss, it was simply done to deflect from her defeat. And emails.

              • djw

                Yeah, this is a gross misrepresentation of what Silver ‘s model was doing. Saying “X has a 70% chance of happening” isn’t betting the house, car or anything else on X, it’s saying that based on what we know, our best estimate is that X has a 70% chance of happening.

                • Murc

                  Saying “X has a 70% chance of happening” isn’t betting the house, car or anything else on X

                  Yes, it absolutely is. When you are a professional analyst, any prediction you make involves you betting your credibility and that of your model on it. The more certain you say it is, the more of your credibility you are staking.

                  Nate Silver was merely less wrong than everyone else. Now, does he deserve credit for that? Absolutely! Less wrong is just another way of saying “more right.”

                  But he was still pretty wrong, and it annoys me when I see people treating him like some kind of prophet simply because other people were even more wrong.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  But he was still pretty wrong

                  No, he really wasn’t. The number isn’t what’s important here; the 70% probability doesn’t make him more right than anyone else. What makes him right was his analysis, which explained exactly how Trump could win and was very prescient. He was also one of the first analysts to take the effects of the Comey letter seriously (Chait deserves credit here too.)

                • pillsy

                  This is nuts. Saying that you have an 83% chance of surviving a round of Russian roulette is a very different thing from saying you’re definitely not going to blow your brains out.

                • djw

                  Yes, it absolutely is. When you are a professional analyst, any prediction you make involves you betting your credibility and that of your model on it.

                  I find it very difficult to believe you don’t have a better understanding of the concept of “probability” than this comment suggests you do.

                  You hand me a die. I am a professional die inspector, and I give it the once over, determining it to be properly weighted and otherwise functional. You ask me, as a professional die examiner, what in my professional opinion the odds of a 3, 4, 5, or 6 coming up on the next roll are. I say “66.67%.” The roll comes up 2. Am I “wrong”? Did I “bet” the wrong way? Of course not.

                  Silver wrote essays about this in the past. If the candidates he gives a 70% chance of victory are winning 90%+ of the time, he’s doing a bad job of estimating probabilities. By his own reckoning, he’d be doing a *much* better job of estimating probabilities if (on your accounting) he’s “wrong” 30% of the time than if he’s “wrong” 0% of the time.

            • xq

              It was criticized by people who had much worse models. You’d think being wrong about a claimed 99% probability would hurt people’s reputation a little.

              “hedging his bets”–yes, that’s the purpose of probabilistic models.

            • John F

              rather than him including any particular factor that the other models didn’t.

              That’s not quote true, one factor he included was the assumption that polling error was gonna be correlated- if one state’s polls was off by 3-4 points in Trump’s
              favor, it’s possible they would all be off 3-4 points in Trump’s favor.

            • Spider-Dan

              Not only that: 538 had the same topline prediction – Hillary favored, but narrow Trump victory (including pop. vote loss) or Hillary landslide still possible – both before and after the Comey letter, as if nothing changed. Silver was hedging his bets to cover all outcomes.

              Hillary landslide? We told you so.
              Comfortable Hillary win? We told you so.
              Narrow Hillary win? We told you so.
              Narrow Trump win? We told you so.

              Note that 538’s post-election tagline has essentially been “We were the least wrong.” I think it was a calculated gambit to mitigate the same kind of egg-on-face he suffered after he stridently predicted over and over that Trump would lose the primary, which served to show that his Magic Method was no better than the drooling talking heads’.

              • ForkyMcSpoon

                It wouldn’t actually be the case that you couldn’t say they were “wrong” if the outcome had been different, though.

                1. forecasters that were more certain and correctly predicted the outcome would look better than 538
                2. you can quantify accuracy in terms of error in predicting margins and in terms of estimating probabilities

                I believe on those measures 538 mostly comes out ahead.

                It is true that less mathematically literate folks would probably not be able to make such distinctions though.

                • Spider-Dan

                  In what possible scenario could you say that 538 was “wrong” more than you can right now… the Hillary win that was listed as their most probable outcome? Short of a Trump landslide, I see no result that isn’t better for 538 than the one that happened.

                  It seems to me that we experienced the “worst case scenario” for 538’s forecasting, and even in this scenario they still get to proclaim that they were the Least Wrong. From a cynical business perspective, this seems like exactly the kind of forecast one would make to limit exposure to risk.

                • ForkyMcSpoon

                  Because they did not make a simple prediction of the outcome of the Electoral College vote.

                  They made many predictions: the winner of each state, the vote % in each state, the senate elections and so forth.

                  If the election had gone in Clinton’s favor, it’s quite plausible that other forecasters would’ve outperformed 538 on those measures I mentioned.

                  But like was said by others in the thread: if you were asked to predict the outcome a die roll, it does not follow that you were wrong to say there was an ~83% chance the result would be less than 6… if it then turns up a 6. It just means that something unlikely happened.

                  And to answer your question: 538 would’ve been more “wrong” had the result hit the nail on the head for one of the other forecasters that had more certainty. 538 would look better relative to this result, but they would’ve looked worse relative to the other forecasters. Keep in mind there is not just the overall outcome, but also the state-level outcomes providing 51 tests of their models. It was very possible for the other models to outperform them.

                • Spider-Dan

                  But 538 isn’t even using the other races as evidence that they were the Least Wrong. They have repeatedly pointed out that they gave Trump a better chance than everyone else. The very first graf from that link:

                  “Based on what most of us would have thought possible a year or two ago, the election of Donald Trump was one of the most shocking events in American political history. But it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise based on the polls — at least if you were reading FiveThirtyEight.”

                  Furthermore, 538 really didn’t tout their superior accuracy on state polling models. Here’s another quote (emphasis added):

                  “But what about the state polls? They were all over the place. Clinton actually overperformed FiveThirtyEight’s adjusted polling average in 11 states and the District of Columbia.”

                  Silver correctly ascertained that the political world (as opposed to the statistical world) does not give a damn if you got the undercard races right if you missed the top line race. And so the lion’s share of 538’s 2016 postmortems have been various themes on “We warned you that Trump could win,” which is not at all the same as “Our model did really great on House races” or “Other outlets had poor state polling models.”

                  In short: when your primary defense is “We were the least wrong about the outcome of the biggest race,” you do not get to then say, “It’s not all about the outcome of the biggest race.” At the end of the day, 538’s post-election analysis looks a whole lot like “everyone else said the die would be a 5 or a 6, and we said it would probably be a 4, so the fact that it was a 3 makes us the most accurate.”

        • efgoldman

          What is your rebuttal?


        • xq

          Tipping point states were actually pretty stable during the course of the campaign. MI and WI were both clear targets well before the Comey letter. This is a useful article from Nate Silver:

          As Silver notes in that link, the correct strategy is to campaign in tipping point states, not close states. If the polls are off, or if there’s a bad event, those are the states you need to win.

          • Murc

            Tipping point states were actually pretty stable during the course of the campaign. MI and WI were both clear targets well before the Comey letter.

            Non-responsive as well as irrelevant. The fact that Trump is targeting something (to the extent his minimal presence in Michigan and Wisconsin constitute meaningful targeting, which it is not) isn’t a case.

            As Silver notes in that link, the correct strategy is to campaign in tipping point states, not close states.

            By this logic Obama fucked up in both 2008 and 2012.

            I do like how you respond to my hypothetical about what case could have been made pre-election by linking to a post-election analysis, tho.

            • xq

              How is it non-responsive? Did you read the link?

              By this logic Obama fucked up in both 2008 and 2012.

              OK? I have no commitment to saying Obama ran a perfect campaign.

              • Murc

                How is it non-responsive? Did you read the link?

                Yes. The link contains nothing you could have said to the Clinton campaign pre-election that would have constituted then-available empirical evidence that they were vulnerable in MI and WI.

                At best, its an argument that her entire strategy from day one was flawed and she should have been running a defensive campaign from day one in order to maximize win chance. That’s fair enough, I suppose, but it also requires making the case that Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton fucked up their own campaigns, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t view Clinton not being very receptive to that argument even if it was made.

                • xq

                  I don’t think her entire strategy was flawed. Her campaign made a couple of mistakes. Or at least, choices that seem like mistakes from the outside based on publicly available data. This particular mistake was not huge, and not decisive, but I don’t see the value in ignoring it.

                  she should have been running a defensive campaign from day one in order to maximize win chance

                  This just seems totally obvious to me, yeah.

                • Hindsight is always 20/20, of course. If the Clinton campaign had known the Comey letter was coming, then clearly they would have devoted resources to MI and WI rather than to states like GA and AZ. But there’s a case to be made for devoting infrastructure to states that are fairly close and that you look like you can win. By exposing more people within GA and AZ to Democratic messages, even if you lose them this year, you can contribute to turning them blue in future cycles. There’s certainly value to that.

                  Let’s be clear: no one with any credibility thought the shitgibbon was going to win, not even the shitgibbon himself. I think people throughout the cycle (and I’m hardly innocent here either) put far more value into polling than was merited, because they forgot the observer effect: the act of observing a phenomenon changes the phenomenon. Predicting election outcomes can itself alter the outcome. None of the models seem to have taken that into account; even Silver’s seems to have drawn uncertainty from other factors rather than the observer effect. (And everyone seems to forget how awful his primary cycle was; he assured everyone throughout that the shitgibbon couldn’t win. To be fair, though, he does seem to have learnt a lesson from that.)

                  And the thing is, Clinton’s campaign apparently realised they were vulnerable in WI and MI after the Comey letter, because they did start devoting resources there. But by that point it was likely too much to make up – and as others have repeatedly pointed out, PA and FL are both strong counterarguments to the case that Clinton should have devoted more resources to MI and WI. Even if she had, it may not have been enough to make up the difference. She may actually have been better off putting her FL resources into AZ and GA. But we’ll never know for sure. In any case, that still wouldn’t have been enough to make PA, WI, and MI.

                • John F

                  1. The polling for the Michigan primary was waaay off. HRC was up 20 in the polls, Bernie WON.

                  2. From mid October on, ALL the polls had HRC up, but less than 10, the last 2 weeks you had 10 straight polls cluster around HRC +4 to +6, first off a cluster that tight should make you nervous- the pollsters are herding they have their thumbs on the scales, second, given the massive Michigan polling failure in the Primary, a 5 point lead is not comfortable at all.

                  The state with the biggest polling failure was probably Wisconsin, and it wasn’t THAT big, and like Michigan there are signs the pollsters were herding.

                • xq

                  A Trump win was never favored by the publicly available data, but it was always plausible, and focusing on building infrastructure when there’s even 1% chance you could lose just doesn’t make sense. Presidential elections in the US are extremely high stakes; you need to do everything you can to maximize win probability. And that’s not hindsight; I said exactly that a number of times on LGM during the campaign.

                • Well, as others have pointed out, merely winning those states wasn’t her only goal. She also wanted to ensure she had a Democratic Congress, because without one, she would not actually be able to help people much as president. Things like her thoroughly detailed mental healthcare proposal simply wouldn’t be possible without Congress. (And if it had passed, it would’ve been of invaluable assistance to me and to tens of millions of others like me.) Spending time in parts of the country that previous Democratic presidents had neglected makes a lot of sense: it might flip districts that hadn’t gone blue in a long time.

                  We can game out all we want after the fact about what the odds of a shitgibbon victory should’ve been considered at the time. But frankly, if there’s a 1% chance of that, I don’t know that if I were running for president, I’d assign much consideration to that chance. If there’s a, by contrast, 40% chance that spending time in states I’m not guaranteed to win will pick up Congressional seats that wouldn’t otherwise be in play, I’d lean strongly towards doing that.

                  Clinton seems to be that rare sort of person who actually went into politics with the intention of helping people. She’d have been able to help far more people with a Democratic House and Senate than she would have without them. With a shitgibbon victory considered almost impossible by almost every credible observer and all the available evidence, I can see why she assigned value to increasing the Democrats’ representation in Congress. It looks wrong to us after the fact, but if Comey hadn’t intervened, we’d probably be praising her political genius for picking up seats that enabled her to enact more of her agenda. And, again, Comey was a black swan event. No one could have predicted in advance that the FBI would intervene in such a nakedly partisan manner based on… nothing, as it turned out.

                • xq

                  She also wanted to ensure she had a Democratic Congress, because without one, she would not actually be able to help people much as president.

                  Vetoing everything the Republican congress wants to pass and preventing Republicans from putting anyone on the Court would help people enormously. Plus control over the executive branch, military intervention, etc.? People tend to overstate the power of the presidency, but it’s still the most powerful job in the world, with or without congress.

                  Besides, it’s not clear that Clinton could even do much to help downstream races. She was not a popular candidate in most competitive districts.

                  We can game out all we want after the fact about what the odds of a shitgibbon victory should’ve been considered at the time

                  It’s not just after the fact. 538 was very clear during the campaign that Trump had a plausible path to victory the entire time. Some other models were way overconfident, but I trust that Clinton had better data people than Sam Wang.

                • As I’ve said elsewhere, 538’s recent track record was… not confidence-inspiring at the time. 538 may have been the most correct about the general. By contrast, it was the least correct about the primary. Silver constantly assured everyone that the shitgibbon had no realistic path to victory, while Wang considered him the favourite for the entire primary. There were certainly reasons to believe that Wang was on more solid ground at the time, because his analysis had gotten the primary correct, and Silver’s hadn’t. There were other detailed analyses at the time that also suggested Silver might’ve been overcompensating (I remember a particularly detailed one from electoral-vote.com).

                  It also appears that Clinton’s data people more or less had the same kind of polling that everyone else did. They didn’t seem to think WI, MI, and so on were in danger for most of the campaign. They seem to have felt they were in danger after the Comey letter. That suggests that their polling wasn’t really much different from the information available to anyone else.

                  And Clinton is quite popular among Democratic voters, who were exactly the sort of people she was trying to get to the polls by making appearances in those states. The whole point of that was to fire up the base and get them to the polls, not to reach more ambivalent independents. It seemed like a credible strategy at the time.

                  There are reasons that, with hindsight, it appears to have been a bad strategy. But, again, there were also strong reasons to discount Silver’s analysis, because he’d bungled the primary so badly. Other people had detailed analysis suggesting that his model was overcompensating in the shitgibbon’s favour, and since they hadn’t bungled the primary, there were good reasons to think their analysis was credible at the time. It doesn’t help that 538 apparently isn’t all that open about certain aspects of its model, so there weren’t even surefire ways to determine whether that analysis was correct with the available information.

                  Silver looks like an oracle now because he did actually get the shitgibbon’s path to victory correct. But before the general election, his reputation was incredibly tarnished. I’m not surprised people looked at his being the outlier and dismissed him.

                • xq

                  I don’t blame normal people for trusting Wang over Silver. But to actual experts, it should have been evident which model was superior.

                  I’m sure Clinton had her own models, of course. The point isn’t that Clinton should’ve been checking 538, it’s that there was real uncertainty in the race. 538 was just the most prominent outlet saying so publicly.

                • If it should have been so obvious to actual experts which model was superior, then it’s strange that so many supposed experts got the race entirely wrong.

                  As I said, there appear to be many aspects of Silver’s model that are not particularly transparent, so I can’t blame even experts for having legitimate uncertainty about whether the criticism of his model was correct. I suppose a legitimate argument can be made that the experts should have assigned greater uncertainty to the state of the race as a direct result of that uncertainty about Silver’s model, but, again: a lot of apparent experts got the race completely wrong.

                  In any case, your argument still runs into the problem that even Clinton’s data people don’t seem to have thought that MI or WI were in danger for most of the campaign cycle. So unless you’re going to say that they’re not experts – which I’ll admit is possible – your argument still has a problem.

                  And even if they weren’t experts, how exactly can we expect Clinton to possess the resources to evaluate this? Or her campaign manager? Or any of the other people she trusts? This stuff is ultimately incomprehensible to laypeople, and that group includes politicians here. Even if we do accept your premise that actual experts got the race correct, there is no reason to expect Clinton or anyone in charge of her campaign to possess the necessary knowledge to ascertain who those experts are. In short, blaming her for not possessing perfect foresight is ridiculous.

                • One further addendum is that, yes, of course, there were people saying MI and WI were in danger for most of the campaign cycle. But there are always people saying that for the entirety of the campaign cycle throughout the country for every campaign. A campaign has fixed resources, even one for president, and it has to make decisions about how to allocate those resources based on the best available information. If the best available information to the Clinton campaign suggested that there were more productive ways to allocate resources than to MI or WI, then it’s perfectly understandable that they would have allocated them to those other regions.

                  And this argument, again, runs into further problems because of PA and FL, states that Clinton contested throughout the campaign and still lost. Even if we accept that she should have known to allocate more resources to the Rust Belt, we still don’t have enough information to know whether that would have been decisive – and even if it had been, it still wouldn’t have swung PA, and Clinton still would have lost.

                  Again, the impact of the Comey letter appears to have been impossible to predict, because the letter itself was completely unprecedented in American history. There was no realistic reason to think the FBI would interfere in the race in such a nakedly partisan manner that affected the race so severely.

                  So, again, ultimately this comes down to “campaigns have imperfect information and will not be able to predict the future with perfect clarity.” Film at 11.

                • xq

                  I don’t know why so many people who should have known better took the 99% stuff from Wang and HuffPo seriously. Wishful thinking, probably.

                  I mean, Wang came out like a week before the election saying he didn’t even remember how he came up with an important parameter in his model, and that if you made slightly different assumptions then Clinton only had a 93% chance instead of 99%. That didn’t seem to lose him any credibility with his fans.

                  There’s no reason Clinton should have done worse than 538. She had a billion dollars. She had better data. She had more people.

                • I don’t recall him saying he didn’t remember how he constructed that parameter; he did admit that, in retrospect, his model’s confidence level was too high, and that he should’ve gone with the 93% parameter, but he felt it would be unscientific to change it mid-race. I believe his explanation was that he had two conflicting starting points that he couldn’t choose between, and that information that had become apparent to him later in the race had suggested to him that he’d gone with the wrong starting point. I actually searched for that post again a couple of weeks ago, because it was relevant to a writing I’m working on. I might not be remembering all of it, though.

                  I agree that in retrospect it should’ve been more of a red flag. At the same time, the difference between 93% and 99% isn’t going to seem that alarming to most people, particularly given that, if people regard an authority figure as trustworthy, they’re not likely to change their mind no matter how much evidence they’re presented otherwise (a point I’ve been addressing again and again in my recent comments). There are other people who are far more obviously full of shit than Wang seemed to be at the time who still have extremely devoted audiences, starting with the shitgibbon himself.

                  And you still haven’t presented any credible argument for how Clinton should have been realistically expected to possess the knowledge to ascertain the competence of any of her statistical analysis people.

                • One final note is that I feel the most important lesson to be drawn from the various statistical sites shouldn’t be “Silver is more intrinsically trustworthy than Wang”; again, Silver fucked up the primary badly. They both have major failures in their track records. The most important lesson to be drawn here is “Models need more uncertainty baked into them than anyone bothered including last cycle.”

                  It’s physics’ observer effect for politics, basically. The act of observing a phenomenon changes it. If people think an outcome is preordained, that’s going to change their behaviour. So a 90% or 95% confidence level from an influential modelling site can, in and of itself, contribute to making that very projection less accurate.

                  If people hadn’t assumed a Clinton victory was preordained, the coverage of the race would likely have looked very different (most newspapers and TV news coverage appear to have covered her as though she were already the president), and maybe Comey wouldn’t even have released his letter. That, in turn, would almost certainly have altered the outcome.

                  To be fair, this problem has likely solved itself to a certain extent. This election cycle has probably broken most people’s faith in 90+% confidence intervals for political races, at least in this country, and it’s possible that some sort of failure like this would’ve happened inevitably regardless. Still, I think it’s the most important lesson here.

                • xq

                  I don’t recall him saying he didn’t remember how he constructed that parameter;

                  He did it in the comments to a post:

                  In summer 2016 I had to figure this parameter out. I am unable to recount the thought process that went into estimating the parameter at the time. I did not anticipate that it would be controversial. But if we really want to do it more rigorously, here we go:

                  Note that this is the single most important parameter in his model. He thinks the time to estimate it rigorously is in a comment to a blog post the day before the election.

                  And you still haven’t presented any credible argument for how Clinton should have been realistically expected to possess the knowledge to ascertain the competence of any of her statistical analysis people.

                  I’m not interested in assigning blame to Clinton personally. The point is that the campaign seems to have made a mistake, which we should all learn from for the future.

                  “Models need more uncertainty baked into them than anyone bothered including last cycle.”

                  Well, no, I think the 538 model had about the right amount of uncertainty. It’s not an argument from authority–you’re absolutely right that Silver got the primary badly wrong–it’s simply that his arguments were better.

                • Ah. I hadn’t seen that comment, and I doubt most of his readers had either.

                  Silver’s model may have had closer to the correct amount of uncertainty baked in during the general, but it didn’t during the primary. However, Silver’s model still got Clinton as high as 85% at its highest point. That, to me, still looks far too high. Maybe it would have turned out that, had the election been held at that particular time, she would’ve won 85% of permutations of the race.

                  However, I’m saying this for reasons that are entirely unrelated to statistics, and are wholly based in human psychology and the observer effect. The existence of all these predictions with that level of certainty almost certainly changed the behaviour of actors that were enormously influential in the outcome of the race. Had those predictions not existed, it’s entirely possible that those actors would have behaved differently, and the outcome would have been different. In short, we once again are seeing the observer effect.

                  It is impossible, several months out from a political race, to predict an election with 85% confidence intervals, because there are too many possible black swan events to account for, and merely by the act of projecting those confidence levels, you may be increasing the chance that such a black swan event will occur. Those confidence intervals may have been the deciding factor for Comey releasing his letter. Reduce those intervals, and maybe Comey doesn’t release the letter, and Clinton wins.

                  There is no way to account for events like this ahead of time, so even if the 85% figure would technically be correct for what it is projecting, it could still change the outcome of what it is projecting purely because it exists and people trust it. There are too many factors in human behaviour for any model to have that level of confidence that far out from the election. I’m even agnostic about whether you can have that level of confidence on election day: if voters believe an outcome is preordained, they may not bother showing up, and that itself would be decisive. But it’s particularly true that far out in advance.

                  Anyway, yes, Silver was closer to being correct for the general, but I still see flaws in his general election model for the reasons I’ve covered above, and his primary model was terrible. If nothing else, models should be vastly less confident than all of them were until the day of the election.

                • …in other words, even if the 85% figure is correct (candidate wins 85% of races held today), people won’t understand what it means, and they’ll take it to signify something that it does not, which will change their behaviour and change the outcome of the election.

                  Maybe this is all a moot point, because after this cycle, people are going to be a lot more sceptical of projections of election results generally. But it still looks to me like the perception that Clinton couldn’t lose the election was, ironically, a major contributing factor to her loss. And the only way I can see to control for that is for future projections to include far more uncertainty than any of last cycle’s did.

                • xq

                  even if the 85% figure is correct (candidate wins 85% of races held today)

                  That’s not the correct interpretation of Bayesian probabilities. Probability is a quantification of uncertainty; it has nothing to do with the proportion of races Clinton would win if you somehow reversed time and ran the election over again.

                  We have good reasons to believe we aren’t vastly underestimating the uncertainty in elections. After all, we predict elections accurately based on polling data all the time. Most elections are easy to predict, it’s just the close ones that are hard.

                • Was Silver making a Bayesian projection? I distinctly remember one of his models explicitly saying it was projecting the results of outcomes of elections were they held today (IIRC it wasn’t the polls-plus one though; I can’t remember what he called it).

                  I also don’t remember him explaining the polls-plus and polls-only models as being specifically Bayesian, though he may have just been trying to avoid statistical jargon in doing so (but again, he has been surprisingly opaque about how, exactly, his model calculates its results).

                  Regardless, my point stands: people will still not understand what the projection means, so if it’s forecasting a high level of confidence, that can influence the actions of people who can influence the result, and thereby invalidate the projection, even if the race isn’t anywhere near close at that time. It’s impossible to have any knowledge of that months out from the race. There was no way of ascertaining, for example, what the odds were of Comey releasing his letter and swinging the election at the time Silver made the 85% projection. We’re basically dealing with the effects of the observer effect interacting with chaos theory here.

                • I may simply not be explaining my argument clearly, because it’s not really an argument about the specific methodology of statistics. It’s an argument about human psychology.

                  The existence of a widely trusted site forecasting an 85% certainty of a politician’s victory can, in forecasting that certainty, change the outcome. Does Comey release the letter if he doesn’t believe Clinton is the overwhelming favourite to win the race? I suppose that depends to a rather large extent on one’s level of cynicism, but my personal belief is that he doesn’t. I don’t think he wanted the shitgibbon to win. I think he wanted to dent Clinton’s probability of winning.

                  The thing is, though, that if Comey’s belief that Clinton is going to win is the deciding factor for his decision to release the letter, then that 85% probability figure invalidates itself. (I’m using 85% even though I know it’s not what Silver had at the end of October, to be clear; I’m using it as a useful shorthand for the many sites that wrote the shitgibbon out of being able to win the race.) If he sees the 85% figure and it’s his reason to release the letter, then it had a decisive effect on the race. If, in 100% of cases where the 85% figure exists, Comey decides to release the letter, then the question becomes: does the letter swing the outcome of the election in only 15% of those cases? Given the information we have from election returns, that conclusion seems impossible to defend.

                  The problem we possess is that there is absolutely no way for any statistician or pollster to know about the existence of such factors before they appear. It is essentially unknowable. And that’s why I cited chaos theory and the observer effect. Obviously, black swans don’t affect every race. But we don’t have the information to suggest how likely they are to affect this race.

                  There is strong reason to believe that projections of election returns can change the outcomes of elections – but we don’t have anywhere near enough data to possess an understanding of how they change them, or why, or under what circumstances. So yes, the race may have looked 85% certain at the time that projection was released. But the act of releasing that projection can have changed the results. And how it changed them is completely unknowable, because you’re not dealing with statistics here; you’re dealing with human psychology.

                  It is impossible to predict the behaviour of individual human actors. If we were merely modelling the behaviour of crowds whose behaviour wouldn’t be influenced by the actions of any one specific actor, then we could make such high-certainty projections. But we’re not. We’re not just modelling the behaviour of crowds. We’re modelling the behaviour of crowds with the added influence of tens or hundreds or thousands of individual humans who can influence the behaviour of those crowds decisively. And that is much, much harder to predict.

                  So, yes, your argument may be correct within the bounds of statistics. But I’m not dealing with statistics. I’m dealing with human behaviour. Human behaviour is intrinsically unpredictable. The fact that these models may have held in previous elections may, itself, be a contributing factor to why they didn’t hold in this one: the fact that people held faith in the models’ predictive value may well have changed their behaviour and thereby completely invalidated their scientific value in the process. And there was never any way to calculate the probability of that occurring. We simply don’t have empirical data to justify that. Humans are, ultimately, unpredictable.

                  To use a literary reference, the models in previous cycles could have been considered Hari Seldon. The models’ influence on the outcome of this election was the Mule. The mere fact that people believed the models were credible changed their behaviour, and thereby changed the outcome of the election. And that’s something statistical models are not capable of predicting.

                  I still may not be explaining myself correctly, though, so apologies if that’s the case. And I ultimately don’t really have further time to clarify myself right now, so if there’s further confusion, I apologise, but it’ll have to wait.

                • …one of my sentences in that reply is phrased wrong, and it’s obviously too late to edit. I think I meant to say “I think he wanted to dent Clinton’s chances of having a Senate/House majority,” not “I think he wanted to dent Clinton’s chances of winning.”

                  I should also add that while I specifically cited Comey, I also include the mainstream media in my analysis as well. If the media don’t believe a Clinton victory is inevitable, they almost certainly cover the election very differently. That also was a decisive factor. I think it’s almost impossible to overstate how much of a decisive factor the widespread belief in Clinton’s inevitability was on the outcome of the election. It probably affects several other sources I didn’t even encompass in my analysis, as well.

            • xq

              You edited more in after I responded. The argument has nothing to do with what Trump did. Your hypothetical Clinton adviser thinks “we’ve been up in the polls there consistently for over a year” is a reason not to campaign in MI and WI. This logic is incorrect; you should campaign in tipping point states, and MI and WI were both clear tipping point states at the beginning of October.

              • Murc

                So basically the argument has to be “our entire conception of how to run a campaign is wrong.”

                I don’t see that getting much traction.

          • Scott Lemieux

            As Silver notes in that link, the correct strategy is to campaign in tipping point states, not close states

            Right, but also as you imply “tipping point” and “battleground’ states are not the same thing. Kakutani isn’t saying “Clinton should have campaigned in WI and mI even when they didn’t look close.” She’s saying “Clinton was incompetent for not realizing that they would be close.” Nate’s excellent analysis doesn’t bail out everyone attacking Clinton using standard hack narratives. And it’s worth noting as well that even if Clinton had followed Nate’s advice…she loses.

            • xq

              Yeah, I shouldn’t have conflated “battleground state” and “tipping point state.” It wasn’t always clear that WI and MI would be close, though it was always a reasonable possibility.

              • Aaron Morrow

                It wasn’t a likely possibility that WI and MI would be close when Clinton was up by 8% or so. As Silver defines the terms, “tipping point states” become “battleground states” when the delta between the candidates approaches 0%.

                I don’t think it was always a reasonable possibility that a drastic event like the Comey letter would happen; Clinton’s strategy before that was in line with increasing Democratic presence in Congress as one would expect with such a big lead.

                • xq

                  But Trump winning was always a reasonable possibility! That’s the whole point. Clinton’s win probability never got higher than 85% in the polls plus model, and there were a number of periods before Comey it was in the 50s or 60s. The uncertainty in this race was not due to Comey’s intervention. The Comey effect was tiny; any race in which Comey could be decisive was a highly uncertain race in the first place.

                  Clinton’s strategy before that was in line with increasing Democratic presence in Congress as one would expect with such a big lead.

                  I actually really doubt that. I think Clinton was trying to maximize win probability, and just made some mistakes in doing so.

                • The Comey effect was not tiny; it dovetailed completely with existing media narratives, and the early voting returns suggest that it moved the race substantially. The returns from before Comey’s October surprise had Clinton winning by a much larger margin than the ones after it.

                  And sure, Silver only had her at 85% at the highest. Other sites with equally strong track records as Silver’s had her at much higher percentages, as high as 99%. We now know that Silver was correct to be cautious, and in retrospect, everyone should have taken the observer effect more into account than they did.

                  But again, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to have that kind of foresight. A common assumption was that since Silver had gotten the primary completely wrong, he was overcompensating by overstating the shitgibbon’s chances. It’s easy to forget just how badly he fucked up the primary after he was the only one who really came even close to getting the general right, but really, he fucked up the primary. Badly. He constantly assured us that there was no way the shitgibbon could win it. I can see why he would have seemed somewhat discredited in the aftermath of that.

                  To be fair, in both cases the narrative that wound up being incorrect – “there’s no realistic way the shitgibbon can win” – was the same. But there were detailed, convincing-sounding analyses of 538 that seemed to suggest that Silver was overcompensating in his model at the time, and I can’t blame people for taking them as credible.

        • Aexia

          Clinton was also trying to run a more national campaign that would lift the entire ticket and give her a Democratic congress.

          It’s really really infuriating to see people who complain endlessly about the lack of a “50 state strategy” also complaining that Clinton devoted resources outside of MI/WI.

          • nemdam

            If Clinton ran a 50 state strategy, that would be considered running a horrible campaign.

            • humanoid.panda

              Right. A 50 state strategy has nothing to do with the presidential race, unless you are a moron.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Prior to November 9th, nobody fucking considered MI and WI to be battleground states. Nobody. Not the Clinton campaign. Not the Trump campaign. Nobody. There was no empirical evidence for it. At all.

      It’s always easy to take the test after you’ve been given the answer.

      • Murc

        In fairness to some of my critics, Scott, I should have made that the date of the Comey letter rather than election day. That’s a legitimate fuckup on my part and it undermines my larger point, and people are right to call me on it.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Yes, that’s right. Certainly by early November the Clinton campaign knew there was something wrong in the Rust Belt.

    • Harkov311

      When Democrats win it was because of what they did. When Democrats lose it is because of what they did. The default assumption is that Republicans gonna Republican and it is not just the job, but the responsibility, of the Democrats to deal with their sociopathy. And if the Democrats fail to do so it isn’t the fault of the Republicans for being sociopaths but the Democrats for not managing their meds right and for just making those darn Republicans so angry and for making them lash out.

      This bugs the hell out of me, too. It almost feels like they consider the Republicans to be the “default” party. You need a reason to vote Democratic, but not Republican, for some reason.

      • CP

        They (the media) do consider Republicans the default party. They wholly buy into the post-Reagan narrative about that. They as good as said it out loud when in 2008, after the worst shellacking the party had taken in decades, they were all very loud in pre-emptively scolding Obama lest he get so uppity as to imagine he had a mandate, and sternly reminding him that “this is a center right country.”

      • nemdam

        Totally agree. The logical conclusion of this analysis is that the Democratic party is the only responsible party that can actually be held to any kind of standard. And if this is the case, then the Democrats should have a permanent hold on governing until the Republicans can get their shit together.

    • Origami Isopod
  • humanoid.panda

    The most annoying part of this that even if you are really curious about campaign tactics and their effects, books like this are useless. Michigan and Wisconsin are irrelevant, as Scott notes, but there are interesting questions to ask about Pennsylvania: why did turnout in Philadelphia fell short of expectations? Was division of resources within state optimal? Was the ground game working well, from the nuts and bolts POV (I had couple bad experiences..). But none of those questions can be answered by gossipy sources.

  • Peterr

    It’s deeper than just a post-election thing. The DC media likes to think of itself as separate from the electoral process and the governing institutions, but in reality they are enmeshed in both. Good reporters and media folks understand this; bad ones (and they are legion) pretend otherwise.

    One of the examples that comes to mind for me is John Harwood and Gerald Seib’s book Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power, which came out in 2009. Back then, I hosted a book salon chat with them, which after a discussion at the top of the set-up post of what was in the book, included this:

    Missing from the book, though, was even a single profile representing one of the major groups of backroom power players in DC: the members of the Washington press corps. Just in the past few days, for instance, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward has revealed yet another one of his “you give me access, and I’ll write your story” books on the front page of the Post, raising again questions of who Woodward is serving — his employers at the Post, the readers of the Post, the Bush administration, or those who purchase his book. Whoever he is serving, the backroom power arrangements that allow him to write his books are surely a part of the story of Pennsylvania Avenue.

    But perhaps the late Tim Russert best exemplifies need to include the DC media’s in any collection of DC “profiles in backroom power.” On the day after Tim Russert testified in the Scooter Libby trial, WashingtonPost.com’s Dan Froomkin wrote:

    If you’re a journalist, and a very senior White House official calls you up on the phone, what do you do? Do you try to get the official to address issues of urgent concern so that you can then relate that information to the public?

    Not if you’re NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. . .

    And get this: According to Russert’s testimony yesterday at Libby’s trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.

    That’s not reporting, that’s enabling. . .

    Many things are “on trial” at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse right now. Libby is the only one facing a jail sentence — and Russert’s testimony, firmly contradicting the central claim of Libby’s defense, may just end up putting him there.

    But Libby’s boss, along with the whole Bush White House, for that matter, is being held up to public scrutiny as well.

    And the behavior of elite members of Washington’s press corps — sometimes appearing more interested in protecting themselves and their cozy “sources” than in informing the public — is also being exposed for all the world to see.

    DC is a city built around power, and as Pennsylvania Avenue accurately notes, much of it is developed, nurtured, exercised, and protected not in broad daylight, but in the backrooms.

    The comments are instructive in how the media does not like to see themselves as part of the system.

    • Joe_JP

      I also repeatedly see people in the media speaking about “the media” as if they aren’t part of it. It’s something “out there.”

      ETA: This is one reason I like Chris Hayes’ new book. He fits himself into the narrative.

      • CP

        I also repeatedly see people in the media speaking about “the media” as if they aren’t part of it. It’s something “out there.”

        I’ve always found it fascinating how often comments hectoring “the liberal media” for its liberal biases and for being out of touch with middle America and whatnot tend to come from pundits within… the “liberal” media.

        Sort of the media version of politicians who run against “Washington,” as if somehow they weren’t “Washington.”

    • DrDick

      They like to see themselves as “above it all” and not subject to partisan prejudices.

      • efgoldman

        They like to see themselves as “above it all” and not subject to partisan prejudices.

        They like to tell lots of other jokes, too.

        • DrDick

          I thought they were the joke?

    • Lurking Canadian

      This is one of the reasons I was always somewhat skeptical of the Nate Silver data-driven stuff.

      It makes perfect sense in baseball. Joe Morgan can say whatever he wants about momentum and locker room leadership: it’s not going to affect what happens when the pitch gets to the plate.

      The same thing is not true of political reporting. They can make a story matter, just by talking about it, or make a story not matter, just by not talking about it. You can’t factor that out.

      • Aaron Morrow

        That’s one reason why Silver uses polls-based models instead of a purely fundamentals-based model. Polls capture the effect of punditry on the voters, as Lemieux has noted in his arguments.

    • Norrin Radd

      Tim Russert was a grizzly bear in his interviews. He positively tortured guests showing their flip flops over the years and questioning their assumptions. He wasn’t a reporter surfacing stories for watchers he was a master debater skewering his guests. In all my years watching Meet The Press I don’t recall him breaking a single story.

      I don’t see his cultivating intell by granting people anonymity as a problem. Quite the contrary it probably made him that much better a skewerer–he knew where the soft spots were.

      • Peterr

        Russert was a DC bureau chief who testified under oath in federal court that his default position in dealing with powerful DC sources like Cheney was that everything they said was off-the-record.

        That’s not cultivating intel — that’s abdicating your job and giving your sources a veto over damn near everything you might want to write.

        • Norrin Radd

          How much writing did he do though?

          And its not as if he couldn’t report on what he’d been told. He probably wouldn’t have gotten the gossip got without keeping sources secret.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        Tim Russert was a grizzly bear in his interviews

        If by this you mean he sprung mostly inane and irrelevant “gotcha” questions on Democrats in an effort to simultaneously make himself look like a hardass and them look unprepared and unqualified, then sure. He was a “grizzly bear.”

    • keta

      The comments are instructive in how the media does not like to see themselves as part of the system.

      Actually, it’s the complete reverse of this. A very large part of The Media very much sees itself as part of the system, an intrinsic part. The obscene amounts of money now in play, coupled with social media,

      have provided all these people with heretofore unimaginable influence. “Suddenly,” Leibovich writes, “anyone without facial warts could call themselves a ‘strategist’ and get on TV. Or start an e-mail newsletter, Web site or, later, blog, Facebook page or Twitter following — in other words, become Famous for Washington.”

      It has also enabled journalists to turn themselves into pundits, with all the glittery and greasy emoluments of that lower trade. “Punditry,” he writes, “has replaced reporting as journalism’s highest calling, accompanied by a mad dash of ‘self-branding,’ to borrow a term that had now fully infested the city: everyone now hellbent on branding themselves in the marketplace, like Cheetos (Russert was the local Coca-Cola). They gather, all the brands, at . . . self-­reverential festivals, like the April White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, whose buffet of ‘pre-parties’ and ‘after-parties’ now numbers more than two dozen — because a single banquet, it is clear, cannot properly celebrate the full achievements of the People Who Run Your Country.” Tom Brokaw, current wearer of the mantles of Walter Cronkite and Tim Russert, has now publicly declared he’s over and out and done with the damn thing, which has become a grotesque, narcissistic self-parody.

      If you’re “not reporting” but rather “enabling,” then you’re definitely in the system, not apart from it.

  • Cheerfull

    The treatment of Bill Clinton is symptomatic. He was wrong when he delivered “what one aide called “an ass-chewing” tirade on a conference call with senior campaign staff about their supposed failure to articulate the campaign’s message and bury the email scandal.” because Hillary should have done a better job of confronting the email problem directly, but at the same time it was wrong to muzzle Bill and prevent him from doing more to reach out to white working class audiences because he has a great ability to read their concerns but also at the same time it was terrible when he wandered over to talk to Attorney General Lynch.

    So a year ago, what would have made more sense, put a leash on Bill or let him roam free?

    Hillary made plenty of mistakes and so did the people around her. But trying to find some foundational principle in those mistakes that aren’t just synonyms for – pick a different candidate – are hard to come up with. And of course that different candidate would make a raft of different mistakes.

    Though having said all that I still think she was unnecessarily blind to the image created by taking those speech fees from bankers, and I said so at the time (or maybe I just thought it) and so did others here. But in the end, it was part of her personality to either not see the problem, or not believe it was important. And really, now, who can say whether it was an 80,000 vote mistake?

    • nemdam

      Given that her opponent was infinitely more corrupt both substantively and in appearance, I think her image had little to do with her actions. IOW, she would’ve been just as corrupt had she not done the speeches.

      The media created a predetermined story they wanted to tell about Hillary and if there’s something she could’ve done to change it, especially with Russia helping, it would’ve taken an extraordinary level of talent to do so. To the extent this was fixable, there were no easy solutions in no small part because no candidate had ever faced such an extreme double standard before.

      • CP

        Honestly, the only thing I can think of that she could’ve done that she actually had control over is literally “be an exceptionally charismatic politician on the once-in-a-generation scale of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.” Which… good luck finding one of those. Bernie Sanders sure as hell wasn’t it, and off the top of my head I can’t think of one who is.

        • Norrin Radd

          You haven’t heard Warren speak guess. I love that woman.

          • nemdam

            Considering the one race Warren ran she did significantly worse than Obama, I’m not holding my breath.

            • TopsyJane

              You haven’t heard Warren speak guess. I love that woman.

              I like her fine, but her speech at the convention didn’t sweep anyone away.

          • sam

            I love Warren, but she got the exact same misogynist bullshit treatment when she was running for Senator, and BARELY won in deep blue MASSACHUSETTS – she squeaked by in a race where she was running on the same ticket as Obama.

            Take a look back at contemporary coverage of her “screechy” voice and how people just didn’t like how she “lectured” them all the time.

            She’ll clearly get better coverage this time around, because she’s now got streetfigher cred and a voting record, but don’t assume the coverage won’t turn on a dime. It does that, particularly with women.

            • CP

              Well, at least with Democratic women. Sarah Palin got the worst case of kids’ gloves treatment I’d ever seen for a major politician in the media until… well, Trump.

              • Eh. Did she, though? I remember “All of them, Katie” becoming a punchline almost immediately. A lot of observers have suggested that her quickly revealing herself to be incompetent after media questioning was a major factor in McCain’s loss, and she certainly got mercilessly mocked by comedy shows (SNL in particular).

                That said, I don’t think as much of it was misogyny in Palin’s case; I do suspect much of the reason the shitgibbon was covered less critically was because news channels felt he was ratings catnip, which may simply be due to his having political talents that Palin lacked.

                • CP

                  But was she mocked because the media made her a laughingstock, or was she mocked because, like Trump, she was so incredibly and forcefully stupid that there was no way for the media to cover for her?

                • The media were somehow able to cover for the shitgibbon, so I’m not exactly sure what your question is intended to ask.

                • CP

                  My point was that in both cases, the narrative of Palin/Trump as a punchline and a laughingstock set in not because the media was out to get them, but because the way they behaved in public made it impossible for that impression not to form in the public mind.

                  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be enough to actually sink the candidacy. Though even with Trump, the impression that he was an idiot clearly took with a majority of voters.

                  Palin: yeah, sure, “all of them Katie!” became a punchline almost immediately. But not only is that not the MSM’s fault, it’s not equivalent to “emails!” or “Benghazi!” or any number of the Lady Macbeth narratives about Clinton. It’s something she did to herself. As is virtually everything about Palin’s image as the village idiot. There’s no equivalent to the thirty-year-long work of spinning something out of nothing that was done for Clinton.

                • Yeah, fair enough. I guess I’d say that I don’t really think the media started out covering Palin any differently than they’d have covered any other politician, but when it became apparent how out of her depth she was, they did start covering her more critically. I’m not sure I observed the same thing ever happen with the shitgibbon. And obviously, as you pointed out, their coverage of Clinton was a national disgrace.

            • nemdam

              Assume coverage will turn on a dime. Warren will get ripped to shreds if she ever becomes a serious candidate. It will be the 2012 election on steroids.

              For those that don’t know, Warren was a shrill elitist professor who lectured too much instead of connecting with people and was untrustworthy because of the use of her Native American background. And it should go without saying that she was a lot less “likable” then Scott Brown.

              Learning about how Warren was treated in her campaign was a big reason how I figured out that the coverage of Clinton was at a minimum driven as much by the fact she was a woman than Hillary herself. If Warren runs against Trump, the “Pocahontas” stuff will become a MAJOR strike against her to prove how calculating, dishonest, and untrustworthy she is.

      • Your first sentence is key in any discussion of the Clinton campaign’s flaws. There is almost nothing that Clinton was accused of doing, personally or politically, whether fairly or not, that you couldn’t turn around and find Trump doing, as well, except more blatantly and grotesquely.

        • Dilan Esper

          One thing to consider about the speeches is that each party has significant issues that cut its way. For instance, Republicans have their branding on tax cuts and military spending. So if taxes or national security are big issues, Republicans have an advantage. Democrats have an advantage on domestic spending, so if funding FEMA is an issue it helps the Dems.

          One of the Democrats’ advantages is on the issue of taking on corporate misbehavior. And that has some salience given people still remember what the banks got away with in 2008.

          Giving the speeches didn’t make Trump better, but it did help negate what should be a natural advantage that the party should have on that issue.

          • nemdam

            Of all the nonsense in the campaign, the speeches were a non-factor in the general. And if a Democrat taking money from big corporations negates one of their advantages, then Democrats don’t actually have that advantage since all Democrats take money from big corporations.

            • Dilan Esper

              Think more specifically about high finance as a political issue.

              • I can see the argument, but it was barely a blip in the mainstream media at all. Since events frequently have multiple causes, it can still have been decisive independently, but it was only really a major focus in ‘leftist’ sites, and compared to Comey or the execrable media coverage in general, it seems fairly minor.

                Furthermore, the content of those speeches was almost entirely anodyne and certainly didn’t suggest the cosy relationship with finance she was frequently accused of having. It’s possible that refusing to release them was a mistake in retrospect, because it made her look like she had something to hide, but at the same time I understand the principle that lead the campaign to think releasing them was a bad idea: she was being held to a far higher standard than other candidates were, and it was almost inevitable that specific lines within the speeches would be taken out of context (as indeed they were).

                In short, I can see it being an influence over a certain segment of the electorate (mostly Stein voters and write-in Sanders voters), so it probably was one of several factors that were each decisive, but I’d place it at around a 1% factor, while things like Comey’s October Surprise or the media coverage would be at the 40-50% level.

              • nemdam

                It’s a non-factor outside the left. Trump is from the same elite circles as high finance types, ran on a platform to deregulate Wall Street, raised money from Wall Street, and filled both his campaign team and White House with Wall Street types. His base doesn’t give a shit. If even Trump and Russia didn’t smear Hillary with this, no one cared.

  • waspuppet

    The ability to believe that not making sufficient trips to Wisconsin was critical AND that a yearlong stream of fake news (including from Comey) was trivial — is there a coherent thesis on how voters make decisions that connects these two beliefs? Because I don’t see it.

    • cleek

      i just love the idea that there are a bunch of people who would’ve voted for Clinton if only she’d made a few more stops in their local war memorial hockey rink.

      “oh gee whiz. i’m really on the fence here. if only i could hear her give a rote stump speech through a shitty PA system, i could decide between her and the guy who says his own daughter is fuckable! why has she forsaken me?”

      • wjts

        I wonder about this a little bit. Clinton made two campaign stops in Pittsburgh immediately before the election: one on Friday the 4th and one on Monday the 7th. She never visited Erie, the other major Democratic center in Western PA, at all. She got 367,617 votes in Allegheny County and that man got 259,480. For comparison, Obama got 352,687 votes and Romney got 262,039. Third-party votes went from a little over 7,000 to 23,000: 5,000 for Stein, 16,000 for Johnson, 2,000 for the Constitution Party. In Erie County, she got 58,112 votes; that man got 60,069. In 2012, it was 68,036 for Obama, 58,112 for Romney. Third-party votes went from about 1,500 to around 5,500: a little over 1,000 for Stein and a little under 4,000 for Johnson. Would a visit to Erie have done anything to stop ~10,000 votes from switching from D to R? I can’t imagine it would have stopped it, but it might have stanched the bleed a little. People do like it when other people pay attention to them.

        • humanoid.panda

          Right. A visit means x more volunteers, which means x more doors knocked, etc. And I think that if there is a fair criticism of the campaign is that while it had literally x2 resources than the opposition, it made the strategic decision to squeeze out the margins in her strongest areas, instead of trying to agressively stem bleeding in areas where Trump was surging.

          • Dilan Esper

            I hate all the Hillary blame because I think she did so much well during the campaign, especially in the debates. But if I were to join in the criticism of the campaign, it would be on this issue. Never try to “run up the score” is a good lesson to learn from her campaign.

            • Spider-Dan

              I object to the framing of “run up the score,” which makes it sound like an exercise in ego fulfillment. An “optimized” (and prescient) operation in which Hillary campaigns only in the states that she needs to reach exactly 270 EVs is one where Democrats have much worse representation in Congress.

              In other words, she wasn’t campaigning in reddish-purple states to try to embarrass Trump; she was trying to energize Democrats and demoralize Republicans.

              • Dilan Esper

                Honestly I think there’s a lot more ego in it than you might think, though it is strategist ego, not candidate ego. Rove used to do it too and there’s an argument that this hurt W in 2000.

            • ForkyMcSpoon

              But running up the score can bring downballot Democrats with you. Running up your score could mean also running up Deborah Ross’s score, or Jason Kander’s score, etc. etc. and that isn’t obviously a stupid thing to do.

              • Dilan Esper

                There is not a shred of evidence that fhis is true, and even if it was, the presidency is 400 times as important.

                • ForkyMcSpoon

                  There’s a strong correlation between presidential results and results in downballot open races (that has been getting stronger over time).

                  And my point was only that expanding the map is not purely about ego-stroking, not that it ended up being the right decision.

                • Dilan Esper

                  That doesn’t mean that presidential campaign tactics influence lower level elections, only that there are more straight ticket voters.

  • The Comey letter (which almost certainly changed the outcome of the campaign) and Russian interference (which might have, but the impact is much harder to measure) are given the usual yadda-yadda graf that makes no effort to determine how important they were and is written in a matter that suggests that even bringing them up is whining.

    Please don’t ignore the way that the role of misogyny is reduced to “Clinton said so”. That’s a classic tactic for dismissing these kinds of claims, because what are we going to do, actually believe women when they tell us about their experiences with sexism?

    • CP

      The mainstream media’s determination to explain Hillary Clinton’s defeat in terms of everything but sexism…

      … is matched only by their determination to explain Donald Trump’s victory in terms of everything but racism.

      • Caepan


      • Indeed.

        (Though, you know, not just the mainstream media.)

      • This is a very good point. I don’t really have any further comment right now, but I suspect I’ll fit it into a larger pattern soon.

    • Vance Maverick

      “Nussbaum claims that the media downplay misogyny” — am I doing it right? (grr)

      • efgoldman

        am I doing it right? (grr)

        You probably should have used the sarcasm font for clarity.

      • Bruce B.

        Possibly "Nussbaum lashes out, disregarding media support for women's progress" instead.

    • EliHawk

      It’s pointed out elsewhere on Twitter, but naming the book “Shattered” as in “Ha! Ha! The Glass Ceiling broke you instead, bitch!” just makes me want give an extra FUCCCCCCCCCK YOUUUUUUUUU to the authors.

      • I think the most infuriating thing is that, in any society that wasn’t horrifically pervaded by misogyny at every level, Clinton’s loss would be taken as a clear sign of that society’s misogyny, because Clinton was incredibly qualified in every important aspect for the position, and the shitgibbon was incredibly unqualified in every important aspect for the position. The fact that he didn’t lose by fifty points should be objective proof of society’s misogyny.

        Instead we get shit like this. Unbelievable.

  • It follows that those in the media who were obsessed with her emails would hold her responsible for the coverage of the emails. In their minds, there is no question that this was an important issue that she brought upon herself, so their obsessive coverage and any damage resulting to her campaign are her fault.

  • kped

    Pierce, as usual, is also good on this same topic:

    The Comey story broke on a day in late October while I was driving through New Hampshire between a Trump event in Manchester and another one way out in the boonies, and I can tell you that the story blotted out the sun. By the time he got to the small mill town, everybody in the gym at the little Christian school knew so much about the Comey letter that Trump only had to make a head-fake toward it to get the crowd to bringing the roof down.

    That moment turned the campaign for good. There’s no point in denying it. For more than 25 years now, it was the Times that wrote the Clinton Rules and brought them down the mountain as surely as Charlton Heston brought the tablets of the law down Mount Horeb. This is a great newspaper with people who do great work, but one that somehow leaves its greatness between the cushions of the sofa when it comes to dealing with one family in our politics. It’s truly weird.


    • Srsly Dad Y

      This is a great newspaper with people who do great work

      Oh no we can’t admit that here. Bad Paper! Bad! What do you smack its nose with?

      • Origami Isopod

        Do you have relatives who work at the NYT or something? You’re peculiarly sensitive any time it’s suggested that it’s not, in fact, the bestest paper in the whole wide world.

        • Srsly Dad Y

          Nope. And I am in fact the biggest complainer about the NYT in my small household. I have met and worked with some of the writers and editors in the fairly distant past.

          I think you have the entire valence of the LGM commentariat on NYT wrong.

          I started speaking up only because there are continual voices here claiming the NYT is an awful newspaper, which, at the same time, they don’t read. They claim it is run by Republicans. Those views are just truly nuts. The Times makes huge mistakes and has huge strengths. No one has to love it. But judged on its weekly output on all topics, in all sections, there isn’t a newspaper in the U.S. that compares, and not one that I know of in the English language, and yes, I’m a Guardian member and can talk knowledgeably about it. Fuck the op-ed page, I don’t even look at it. Fuck the whole A section if you insist, it’s a big paper and a big world.

          • lhartmann

            *I* read the NYT, and given their recent hiring of Stephens am thinking about giving it a pass next year. Meanwhile, the WaPo under Marty Baron is giving the Times a run for their money.

            • Srsly Dad Y

              Not even remotely close on business, tech, science, performing arts, the Sunday magazine……

    • smott999

      They put petty jealousy and getting scalps ahead of country,
      No better than GOP in that regard.

  • smott999

    Not sure if there is a Hell but if there is, Chris Cillizza is ahead of me in line.

    This guy destroys my faith not just in the press but in humanity. It’s not just that he’s stupid, it’s that he thinks this is all a game.
    I would monthly send an email to WaPo subscriptions with a link to his latest moronic email idiocy, telling them I would NEVER renew my subscription as long as he was employed there.
    And it worked!

    Now he’s on CNN.

    • humanoid.panda

      Right. What gets me about Cilizza that unlike people like Fournier who think they are being deep and profound, Cilizza openly revels in his idiocy.

  • Buggy Ding Dong

    Al Gore is still waiting for the media to reflect on how they covered a campaign. He and Mike Dukakis were sharing a drink.

    • smott999

      Truly mind boggling.
      After Gore and his sighs and beta-male earth tones which were more important than GWs complete absence of fitness, we got Judy Miller and the cheerleading into war on false pretenses.
      Did we get any self-examination?
      Hyping a WAR which destroyed a country, killed hundreds of thousands, and oh BTW spawned ISIS.
      Nope, no reflection from our famously free press.
      And it continued down its predictable path to Trump.
      Next might be nukes in Korea.

      But hey Chris Cillizza thinks it’s all a game.

      • Buggy Ding Dong

        I had a major Texas reporter apologize to me in 2004 about George W. Bush. I had been banging on Bush and Rove in the 98 Gov re-elect, 99 session and 2000 campaign. Told me “wow, you were dead on with how he would govern as president.”

        That reporter still disagrees with me on every political action Republicans take today, then wonders later how they got the dynamics of GOP politics so wrong on issue X.

        It IS a game, but the media is looking at a completely different set of rules and objectives. The Calvin Ball analogy works perfectly because the GOP plays one way, but the press doesn’t hold them to “the rules” nor understands the goal of the game. Then they attack Democrats for actually abiding by the rules the media thinks should cover this game and lauds the GOP for “breaking convention”. It is infuriating, of course, but the damage that is done to real people in service of some flat-out evil fucking folks makes me want to break things.

        PS: Still seen no mainstream coverage of the Nazi Berkeley blitzkreig. They still choose not to admit what is staring them in the face. But they will lecture Democrats on “the tone.”

    • q-tip

      He and Mike Dukakis were sharing a drink.

      Tangent alert: I am reminded of a Dukakis anecdote (probably apocryphal) from a Hendrix Hertzberg column.

      Dukakis is meeting with a couple of union reps at his home. Asks them “would you guys like a beer?” They say sure.

      Dukakis disappears into the kitchen, returns with one open beer – and two glasses.

  • Chris Mealy

    I think it’s incredibly rude, lazy, and stuck up to write, “Blah blah blah. Period.” Oh they said period! Well that settles it!

  • cleek

    including Russian meddling in the election to help elect Trump

    you don’t say?


  • Mutombo

    Blaming “the media” is a waste of effort. As a politician, it is part of your job to control the narrative. It’s your fault if you can’t, not the media’s.

    I see people singling out the New York Times, but they’re just adapting like most other outlets. The number of eyeballs on your articles means more than balancing coverage of issues. The media gives people what they want. I suspect that the public wanted a lot of coverage of Donald Trump because he was interesting and most people were more interested in negative coverage of Hillary Clinton than positive because she was boring.

    • How exactly is a politician supposed to control the narrative when none of the media will actually report any of their policy proposals? Clinton spent the entire election talking with conviction and in great depth about political issues. Almost none of the coverage discussed issues. NBC, CBS, and ABC, in their primetime news broadcasts through the end of October 2016, discussed issues for 32 minutes combined. That’s a mean of ten minutes per network for almost the entire campaign.

      There is nothing Clinton could have done that would have changed the narrative. The media already had the narrative that they wanted to run, and they were sticking it to it completely regardless of any pesky facts.

      • Mutombo

        I agree. She couldn’t. She was boring. When you run against a Michael Bay movie in human form like Trump, you can’t be boring.

        • She isn’t boring, as everyone who’s met her in person will tell you. The fact that every single time she received unfiltered media access, her poll numbers rose by several points is also revealing. When people got to see the real Hillary Clinton, they liked her a lot.

          But the media had their narrative and they weren’t going to cede it for any reason. This is partially CDS and partially misogyny. Every single female candidate for office has faced this problem to a certain extent: they are always more popular in office than they are as candidates. Remember, she had a roughly 70% approval rating as Secretary of State and she has been voted the most admired woman in the country more often than any other person, including Eleanor Roosevelt, often by staggering margins. A large part of this tendency seems to be due to media coverage. As soon as she announced she was running for president, the media dutifully started fucking the EMAILS! chicken, and her poll numbers began sinking.

          But sure. She’s “boring”. That doesn’t look like misogyny at all.

        • Mutombo

          How many viewers of TV news want coverage of policy positions and how is TV a good forum for a discussion of policies? Look at the audiences for the Sunday shows. They’re tiny.

          • If I’m not mistaken, last year’s presidential debates received record ratings. That’s a rather large problem for your thesis that voters weren’t interested in policy, because Clinton spent them talking almost entirely about policy, and her poll numbers improved substantially after each debate.

            An alternative hypothesis is that people simply don’t watch the Sunday shows because they suck. That’s certainly the reason I don’t watch them. On the other hand, comedians like Stephen Colbert and John Oliver also talk about policy all the time, and they get great ratings.

            • Mutombo

              The debates did receive record ratings, because of Donald Trump. Debates aren’t about policy. They’re about drama, competition, and gaffes. You can’t debate the relative merits of policies in 2 minute chunks. That’s why a lot of the answers were “go look at my website.”

              • Your argument has a fatal flaw: when given an unfiltered look at Clinton’s factually detailed, coherently crafted policy statements and the shitgibbon’s word salad, voters preferred Clinton by a mile, and it wasn’t even close. This is entirely despite the fact that the shitgibbon’s wrestling heel persona was being contrasted with Clinton’s disciplined, measured approach within the debates. Voters still preferred Clinton. And they continued watching the debates despite all the policy discussion.

                If the media had continued covering the candidates’ discussions of issues honestly, people would still have watched the news. The proof is that they watched the debates. There was plenty of policy discussion in the debates. People still watched them.

                But the news made a conscious choice to talk about EMAILS! instead. There is no possible way this was done in the interest of ratings, because the EMAILS! story was fucking boring, and no one understood it, not even the ‘journalists’ covering it (Podesta’s emails were completely unrelated to Clinton’s server, and these were constantly conflated). It was a boring story. They covered it because they wanted to cover it.

                As I said, discussions of policy can get superb ratings. Colbert has been the highest-rated late night talk show host for weeks if not months, and he talks about policy all the time. Yes, he also talks about the shitgibbon’s incompetence, but a lot of that is wrapped up with discussions of policy. Oliver structures his entire segments around discussions of policy, and several have been among the most-watched segments in HBO’s entire history. People still watch discussions of policy. They just have to be interesting.

                To be clear, to cover policy well, you have to understand it, and there’s no sign that many journalists do possess such an understanding. But lacking an understanding of technology didn’t stop them from covering EMAILS! all the time, either.

                Regardless, the problem stands that the media barely discussed issues, and it wasn’t because of ratings. It was a conscious choice they made. You can handwave this away all you want, but the fact remains that Clinton proved she could talk about issues in a captivating way that resonated with voters if given the chance to do so. She was just almost never given the chance to do so. The media chose to do that. They chose the presentation they gave her. This has nothing to do with Clinton being “boring”. It was the media’s decision. It was CDS and misogyny.

          • Mutombo

            It’s misogyny to compare a traditional politician who happens to be female with a billionaire weirdo who people of all political stripes wanted to watch to see if he would do or say something crazy?

            For most viewers, it was like a choice between a kale salad and McDonald’s food.

            • It’s misogyny to dismiss the structural factors that make it extremely difficult for women candidates for office in general to control the narrative. I outlined them above, and you’ve completely ignored them. I’ve also provided plenty of evidence that TV audiences do care about policy when it’s presented the right way, which you’ve also ignored.

              • Mutombo

                I don’t dismiss the existence of misogyny, but I don’t think it matters because it is baked into the cake and has always been baked into the cake. The media mostly gives consumers what they want.

                John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and all of the other comedians were doing what they were doing all through the campaign. If you go back and watch again, you will note that they especially covered Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton. They loved covering and riffing on Trump because he was interesting.

                • This is entirely wrong. Oliver flat-out said in his first segment on the shitgibbon that he’d flat-out avoided covering him at all until he became too dangerous to ignore. Oliver didn’t want to cover him at all, and repeatedly said as much both in interviews and in his own show, but external circumstances left him with no other choice. Oliver still complains that he has to spend so much time covering the shitgibbon; he often highlights other stories that he’d prefer to spend more time covering, but because of the sheer existential threat the shitgibbon poses the country, he has to focus on the threats.

                  And he did cover Clinton as well; see here for example. He also aired a roughly twenty-minute segment on the Democratic convention. But, as he put it, if scandals in candidates are like raisins in cookies, Clinton may have a few more than is desirable, but the shitgibbon was a “fucking raisin monsoon”.

                  To be fair, Colbert does take glee in how fun the shitgibbon is to mock, and has done so ever since his first episode with The Late Show. But Oliver doesn’t, at all. Your post here gives off every sign that you’ve barely watched his show, or if you have, you haven’t paid close attention to what he’s actually been saying. (And for that matter, Samantha Bee has pushed back hard against the idea that the shitgibbon makes for easy comedy: “Jokes don’t write themselves; Jews write jokes, and they’re all scared shitless.”)

                • Mutombo

                  I watched just about every episode of John Oliver’s show. He has said that he was reluctant to cover Donald Trump. Despite this, he did cover Trump more than Clinton. He recognized the problem, but he couldn’t avoid it. He had no choice because Donald Trump was a genuine cultural phenomenon and Hillary Clinton was just a political candidate.

                • Or, alternatively, the shitgibbon is an existential threat to the country, and Clinton would have been essentially Barack Obama’s third term. (Which is exactly the reasoning Oliver has given.) I guess we’ll just never know which the case is!

                  There were, by the way, a very large number of extremely enthusiastic Clinton voters. I had become one of them roughly by the time of the debates. The media never actually covered us. There were, in fact, more of us than there were of enthusiastic Trump voters. But the media chose to cover the shitgibbon far more than they chose to cover Clinton, and his voters far more than they chose to cover hers, because they had their narrative, and goddammit, they weren’t letting any pesky facts get in their way.

                • UserGoogol

                  At the end of the day, nothing matters. Everything is baked into the cake, because the actions people make are themselves determined by structural forces.

      • John F

        Clinton spent the entire election talking with conviction and in great depth about political issues.

        Run ads, I saw a lot of HRC ads, and I don’t recall any that discussed policy proposals, the vast majority had basically one message, “Trump is pig”- well I knew that already, everyone knew that already, and for some it was a feature not a bug.

        Just about the only good Hillary Ad I saw was also about Trump- it was footage from an old interview of Trump PRAISING Hillary, but it still didn’t discuss policy proposals.

        HRC had a lot more in the way of TV and radio Ads- but I don’t think they moved the needle at all, her ads spoke to people who were already voting for her.

        • I mean, yes, in retrospect, we can say that maybe her ads could’ve been more effective. But there was a reason she focused on that kind of ad: it was the only kind of ad she made that actually got her any media attention. I’m almost certain she’d run several different policy ads, and none ever got any media coverage. Her ads attacking the shitgibbon actually did get coverage, so I can see why she continued making them: it was one of the only ways she’d found to get her message out in any meaningful respect. The weakness in retrospect seems to be that they may have motivated some people to vote for the shitgibbon. I’m not entirely sure how easy that would’ve been to predict in advance, though. It looks like the focus groups’ responses to the ads had been extremely positive for Clinton.

          The problem remains: when Clinton discussed policy, she got no coverage (apart from the convention and the debates). She tried to fix it throughout the campaign, and she never found a tactic that managed to do that. Blaming the candidate for that when the media consciously chose to cover things that were as or more boring seems rather perverse.

          • Davis X. Machina

            But there was a reason she focused on that kind of ad: it was the only kind of ad she made that actually got her any media attention.

            So she tried to control the narrative, yet didn’t try to control the narrative.

            Get the box. I’m worried about how the cat inside is doing….

            • You do realise that her constant policy discussions were also attempts to control the narrative, right? They just didn’t move the needle.

              When you try to control the narrative in several different fashions, and the media only responds to one of those fashions, that doesn’t mean you’re not also trying to control the narrative in those other fashions. It just means you’re not doing it successfully in those fashions.

              I don’t know what the solution to that problem is. It’s a problem women candidates for office repeatedly face, as I’ve said; they are almost never given honest coverage, and they are almost always less popular as candidates than they are in office. It looks to me like a symptom of deep-seated misogyny in American society, and the only thing that can end it entirely is fixing the misogyny.

              But again, blaming candidates because some parts of their messaging get coverage from the media and other parts don’t seems absolutely perverse when the media are making conscious choices about what parts to cover. The media have agency here too, and ‘analyses’ like this elide it.

              • Mutombo

                “The media” is a group of hundreds of thousands of people. Blaming the media is about as productive as blaming the electorate. While the media sucks as a whole as gatekeepers of fair and balanced coverage, it doesn’t give politicians any lessons for the future other than to be more interesting.

                • Because, again, EMAILS! was such a fascinating, riveting story. The media are certainly concerned about providing the most interesting content at all times, and it’s entirely impossible for other factors to contribute to their coverage at all.

                • Mutombo

                  Most scandal stories are not all that fascinating or riveting, but there is a built in audience for them in all of the detractors of the politician at issue. It’s an easy way to get eyeballs. Dirt motivates media consumers a lot more than competing vague visions for the future.

                • And, again, the shitgibbon was a fucking raisin monsoon. It’s strange, then, that the media spent so much time focusing on one particular raisin when there were so many other raisins that could have drawn eyeballs – particularly given the salaciousness of some of them (the Access Hollywood tape and the shitgibbon’s attacks on Alicia Machado in particular) when contrasted with the sheer boredom of EMAILS! It’s almost as if they had a different priority than what they thought would draw the most eyeballs.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  And, again, the shitgibbon was a fucking raisin monsoon. It’s strange, then, that the media spent so much time focusing on one particular raisin when there were so many other raisins that could have drawn eyeballs – particularly given the salaciousness of some of them (the Access Hollywood tape and the shitgibbon’s attacks on Alicia Machado in particular) when contrasted with the sheer boredom of EMAILS! It’s almost as if they had a different priority than what they thought would draw the most eyeballs.

                  Thank you. The idea that the media was obsessed with EMAILS! over and above many actual Trump scandals because it was ratings gold is fucking absurd.

                • You’re welcome. It is one of many ridiculous narratives about 2016 that refuses to die. I suspect I’ll still be hearing it on my deathbed.

                • PunditusMaximus

                  The recent missilehumping in which our media worships Tr45 for committing literally any violence whatsoever should clear any belief that our media is exclusively driven by ratings.

                  They have their own value system, and it is deep warped.

        • nemdam

          I love this idea that TV ads were decisive. I also love this idea that Hillary’s team didn’t extensively focus test ads to see which were most effective. I have no data, but I have a feeling the “Trump is awful” was the most powerful message they tested that could be conveyed in 30 seconds.

          And given how desperate the media was to normalize Trump, voters needed to be reminded of his numerous transgressions. Besides, if “Trump is awful” hit diminishing returns, then why didn’t the same happen for “Crooked Hillary”?

        • cleek

          I don’t recall any that discussed policy proposals

          i saw dozens

    • ForkyMcSpoon

      Blaming “the media” is a waste of effort. As a politician, it is part of your job to control the narrative. It’s your fault if you can’t, not the media’s.

      You realize that criticizing the media’s performance in 2016 could be seen as an attempt to affect their future behavior, right?

  • Brad Nailer

    Front-cover blurb by Entertainment Weekly. Instant gravitas!

  • socialistdan

    I had about 3 weeks to do an incredibly easy 5 page essay assignment. Since I’m a marvellous writer, I left it for the last two days. On those days, my house was robbed, my mother had a stroke and I was told by my doctor I may have cancer.

    Yes, I had 3 weeks to do the assignment. But those last few days were really fucked up and I had no time to complete the essay.

    My dick of a professor didn’t give me an extension. I will appeal this and go straight to the Dean if I have to. It’s incredibly frustrating when such injustice is placed against you.

    • Did those external factors that occurred to you within the final few days of the three-week period change the work that would have been necessary for you to complete the assignment successfully? Because if they didn’t, then your analogy completely falls apart.

      Clinton had done large amounts of the work necessary for the assignment throughout the entire campaign. For your analogy to function correctly, you would need to have been 90% done with the assignment three days out, then the entire basis of the assignment would need to have been changed, and you still wouldn’t have been given an extension, despite the fact that all the work you’d already done was now useless. Moreover, the change in the basis of the assignment would need to have been entirely unpredictable for the first two weeks and four days of the assignment period.

      This is a bad analogy. Clinton and the rest of her team worked their asses off throughout the entire campaign. You, in your terrible analogy, didn’t. They ran a campaign based on reasonable assumptions about what external factors they were facing, then an entirely unpredictable and historically unprecedented factor was added to the mix that completely changed the shape of the campaign. In short, they were given one assignment, which they worked on diligently throughout, and then, at the last minute, they were told that the assignment actually had completely different parameters. Your analogy doesn’t account for that. But sure, other than that, it’s exactly the same.

    • Scott Lemieux

      incredibly easy 5 page essay assignment

      Well, there’s the assumption that makes the analogy worthless.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        you would think by now people would understand trump had a lot more going for him than we realized going into the thing but apparently no

      • Yeah, that too. Not sure why I bothered writing all that other stuff when I could’ve just said that.

  • Nick056

    I read this review last night. Only thing to ad to this excellent post is a link to Somerby, years ago, when he knew how to kick ass.

    [Maslin] doesn’t make the slightest attempt to say what’s wrong with Blumenthal’s statement. More specifically, what is supposed to be “acrobatic” or “protective” about calling Whitewater “empty?” Clearly, we’re supposed to gasp at this fawning remark; we’re supposed to see that Blumenthal’s loyalty extends to the point where he’ll even say that. But by now, almost everyone surely knows that Whitewater did turn out a hoax, even if Maslin doesn’t know, or is willing to pretend that she doesn’t. (The matter is thoroughly explained in the book, and Maslin keeps saying she read it.) By December 1995, for example, the RTC’s “Pillsbury” commission had filed a lengthy official report which exonerated the Clintons of wrongdoing in Whitewater. But exoneration didn’t cut it with Maslin’s slick crowd; on December 22 of that year, the Post’s Howard Kurtz wrote a detailed piece, noting that “the New York Times and USA Today have not run a word about the final report.” Others had kept you clueless, too. The Washington Post “mentioned the findings Saturday in the 11th paragraph of a front-page story about a Whitewater subpoena battle,” Kurtz wrote. “The Los Angeles Times, Washington Times and Chicago Tribune ran 400 or fewer words of the AP story on inside pages.” Guess what? Your “press corps” didn’t want you to know that the Clintons had been absolved of these charges (charges in which the corps had long reveled), and to all appearances, the vacuous Maslin doesn’t want you to know it today. She simpers about the Village tale—and pretends that Blumenthal is faking on Whitewater. But then, the fact that Maslin’s own paper drove the Whitewater hoax is one of the problems this book explores. And you should never expect her corrupt, faker class to cooperate in its defrocking.

    Somerby’s sexism has aged poorly, but his blog post is a too-perfect reminder that the press has always not merely loved to promote facile stories about Clinton, they have repeatedly said that any defenses of Clinton require “protective acrobatics” and they resent any account of Clinton’s public career that analyzes press behavior. The tawdry details of the Clinton investigations, staff infighting, and marital discontent are always in huge letters at the top of the eye chart, and the reasons for exonerating the Clintons are always way down at the bottom.

    It is actually vertigo inducing to know that in many respects 2014-2016 was the exact same cycle as 1998-2000 in terms of press behavior. Benghazi and Whitewater as the phony triggers, emails and Lewinsky as the jackpot where there was plausibly some bad behavior, leaned on heavily and absurdly as disqualifying for office and representative of incalculable dishonesty and corruption. Meanwhile far worse candidates win close victories, ending successful incumbencies.

    • PunditusMaximus

      I have enormous difficulty characterizing Obama’s term as “successful”. Willing to consider it for Clinton’s.

      Separately, picking Holy Joe for VP wasn’t a campaign decision, it was a cry for help. Sometimes people are responsible for their own failures.

      • Dude, if you’re going to pretend to be a left-wing ultra, being soft on Bill Clinton is not the way. I have never met one who is willing to say that Obama is worse than Clinton, even if they argue that in general the Democrats have been trending right. You’re doing a pretty bad job, honestly.

        • PunditusMaximus

          Clinton didn’t sign W’s tax cuts into permanent law, and he didn’t preside over a recovery from a recession so anemic that it has literally redefined the word “recovery” in the economic literature.

          And picking Holy Joe was still a cry for help.

  • PunditusMaximus

    HRC was hobbled in the general by something she exploited to great effect in the primary — Bernie couldn’t criticize Obama because of his popularity, but Obama’s hard-right economic policies of brutal austerity combined with an utter refusal to address massive financial sector corruption were enormously destructive to working- and middle-class Americans under his Administration. So Bernie was forced to do all these oblique talkarounds that weren’t nearly as persuasive, and HRC definitely benefitted enormously from being Obama’s picked successor.

    But as a general candidate, HRC then became the standardbearer for those exact policies, the effects of which were (of course) enormously unpopular. The spectacle of watching HRC oppose the TPP while Obama put out his full-court press for it was probably the exemplar of this dynamic.

    (Standard disclaimer: if you voted for Tr45, you are either a Duke-level white supremacist or a Wahabbist-level misogynist, possibly both. Yes, everyone.)

    • EliHawk

      HRC was hobbled in the general by something she exploited to great effect in the primary — Bernie couldn’t criticize Obama because of his popularity

      But as a general candidate, HRC then became the standardbearer for those exact policies, the effects of which were (of course) enormously unpopular.

      Why yes, everyone hated the policies of the guy with a 53-43 job approval on election day. The entire electorate thought he was a hard right, corrupt neoliberal that destroyed the economy, but also that he was too beloved to attack, which is why Bernie lost. This argument totally checks out.

      • Yeah, I’m calling Poe. That’s just too precious.

      • PunditusMaximus

        Yay, reading comprehension.

        1) Obama is personally beloved by the Dems, even on this blog, even though if you drill down, they actually kinda hate most of his policies, once it’s explained that he’s actually doing them. Most Dems aren’t in favor of mass incarceration, the “deporter in chief”, austerity as a response to recession, torture impunity, mass white collar crime impunity, or most Obama policies. The usual circle-squaring is that “Republicans made him do it!” even on stuff that was Executive Branch only. It’s a thing.

        2) Outside of a small subset of hobbyist Dems, most people don’t think in terms of “policy”. They think in terms of, “How is my life?” Obama might have a pretty decent approval rating, especially in comparison to Tr45, but folks know that the local economy is trashed and never getting better, and they’ll either stay home and not waste their energy electing Obama’s successor or (if they’re racist enough to consider voting GOP) vote for volatility and hope.

    • ForkyMcSpoon

      I know I shouldn’t feed the troll but…

      Obama’s hard-right economic policies of brutal austerity combined with an utter refusal to address massive financial sector corruption

      Please Google the following:
      SAFRA act
      auto bailout
      DOL fiduciary

      • When it comes to the “stupid or evil” question, I’m leaning toward the latter with this one. I feel like the combination of baseless ultra blather and caricature-level bellowing about white people indicates a troll, not a simple moron.

        • PunditusMaximus

          I’m always amused when people who were wrong about things I was right about call me a moron or a troll. Were you surprised when Tr45 won the nomination or the Presidency? I wasn’t.

        • Q.E.Dumbass

          He at least doesn’t drop in here just to insult commenters or flat-out lie about how nobody on LGMthinks Comey’s nomination was a terrible idea.

          • PunditusMaximus

            I give people a lot of material; you don’t have to mischaracterize what I said. The opinion that Obama’s appointment of Comey was vile is simply not common among the dismissive HRC supporters, even if a few folks on this blog got that far.

            In a general sense, the idea that HRC paid for Obama’s sins is still verboten, though. Here’s a hint: hiring a bunch of Republican daddies wasn’t a deviation from Obama’s overall governing philosophy.

      • PunditusMaximus



        Obama does get partial points for blowing off his female expert on recessions in order to pre-negotiate the ARRA down so it was guaranteed not to work. Thanks, Larry Summers! Who hired that sexist choad who has failed every institution he has served?

        Oh right, Republican daddies might be a subset of daddies in general.

        • ForkyMcSpoon

          The filibuster didn’t exist and the GOP and blue dog Democrats had no agency independent of Obama’s will.

          At any rate, even if we accept the premise that Obama could’ve imposed his will on Congress and thus done far more, it does not follow that his policies were “hard right” and “brutal austerity”, nor does it follow that Dodd-Frank and the CFPB represent “an utter refusal” to address financial sector corruption.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Obama’s hard-right economic policies

      Troll, or utter dumbshit? The answer, of course, is both.

      • PunditusMaximus

        I think Dems literally have no idea what actual even moderate economic policy would look like. We’ve been utterly beaten down.

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        Like I said, I really shouldn’t have…

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