Sunday Grab Bag: Bernie Blackout, Leadership, Iowa Poll, Carson’s Focus

Good morning readers! So that was an interesting week in American politics, huh? I’m not sure if I can remember anything quite like a presidential candidate proposing a complete ban on an entire religious group from entering the country. Every time we thought the 2016 election cycle has hit a new low… In fact, I’m sure Trump will roll out something in the next month that will make this week look tame in comparison. Anyway, here’s our quick(er) takes on some other stories from the week:

Bernie’s Media Blackout

This week Bernie Sanders’ campaign lambasted the media for their lack of coverage for his campaign. They pointed out that ABC’s World News Tonight has devoted 81 minutes to Donald Trump’s campaign, while only 20 seconds to Sanders’. They add that NBC Nightly News has only given them 2.9 minutes, while CBS has provided 6 minutes.

Sanders frames it as corporate media blocking out his message, but that’s not entirely accurate. Sanders’ political revolution has certainly gotten short-changed in the press, but it’s more a product of news cycles’ focus on conflict and the extreme than a big conspiracy to suppress Sanders’ populist message. Trump is simply going to dominate the coverage when he performs his made-for-TV antics from the stage, when he blasts his opponents in personal ways, and when he throws out insane ideas like Muslim bans. But other candidates have occasionally been able to cut through the Trump coverage in ways Sanders hasn’t.

The Sanders campaign can complain all they want about unfair press coverage, and they certainly have some valid points. But they could change up their strategy too. He has refused to criticize Hillary Clinton directly outside of the debates, even though he constantly hints at their many differences (although his campaign has started to run negative ads online against her). And recall at the second Democratic debate how Sanders only devoted one sentence in his opening statement to the Paris attacks, then transitioned right back into his economic inequality message. He has been hesitant to engage on the topic too much, and his press secretary got into trouble this week by telling reporters at an event in Baltimore to not ask questions about ISIS. Addressing the news of the day is not betraying your core principles on what you think the most important issue is. It’s simply doing what you’d have to do as President – respond to crisis. Read these two pieces from the Washington Post for a better study on Sanders’ media shortcomings.

They could also do considerably more as a campaign in their own press outreach. Since Sanders officially launched his campaign, his Iowa team has reached out to Iowa Starting Line, the most-read Democratic-leaning news site in the state, exactly zero times. Some of my loyal readers may notice that I write a little bit more about Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley than I do Sanders. That’s partially because Clinton and O’Malley’s press staff pitch me stories several times a week. I do my best to give all three Democrats relatively equal coverage, but sometimes when you’re really busy one week and don’t have time to think up of interesting angles for a story, you go with what a campaign offers you. And I’m not the only one who’s found Sanders’ press team difficult.

What Leadership Looks Like

On Friday Martin O’Malley spoke outside a mosque in Northern Virginia on Friday, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslim leaders and worshipers. There he blasted Donald Trump as a “hate preacher,” and tried to reassure people that American values are rooted in love and compassion. Good for him. It was a touching moment in the 2016 campaign, sure to get far less attention than Trump’s demagoguery, but it demonstrated real leadership that we should look for in our next President.

In Canada the new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, greeted Syrian refugees as they arrived off the plane to their new country. Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum joined him in the effort.

These are the types of moments we need more of from our elected leaders and candidates. It’s not that hard to think outside-the-box to come up with a meaningful event like this. Sure, it’s a symbolic gesture, but those are needed in these times. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why Barack Obama doesn’t do it more often.

A speech from behind a podium in the Oval Office is nice, but there’s more President Obama could do to reassure the Muslim community they are welcome in America. Visit a mosque. Welcome new immigrants. Travel to a city with a large Muslim population. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them and show them the leadership of their country supports them. A long-standing frustration I’ve had with this President is he too often seems trapped in the confines of the White House, unable to get out more into the country to seize the moment and the spotlight, and direct the national conversation back to sanity. I don’t understand it.

The Iowa Poll

It’s here! The long-awaited new installment of the Register’s Iowa Poll from respected pollster Ann Selzer dropped last night. And guess what? Starting Line was dead-on with our predictions of the Republican field from two weeks ago. You can read about the full details of the poll at the Register, but here’s the breakdown:

Cruz: 31
Trump: 21
Carson: 13
Rubio: 10
Bush: 6
Christie: 3
Huckabee: 3
Paul: 3

I could write a whole other post on these numbers, but I’ll just point out a few things. Cruz’s lead is no surprise to those of us watching developments on the ground in Iowa, but I’m a little surprised he’s so far ahead of Trump. When you add the recent endorsements from the leaders of Iowa’s social conservative organizations to Cruz’s side, he may only continue to rise. Carson’s fall is to be expected, and I’m guessing he’ll drop even more, with Cruz the likely beneficiary. Rubio’s 10% should be very concerning. He’s put minimal effort into Iowa and is now seeing the consequences. You have to win early states at some point, and it’s questionable where his will come from.

Carson’s Foreign Policy Focus

Many predicted the Paris terrorist attacks would refocus voters’ attention to the “serious,” more-experienced candidates. They were half-right. Ben Carson’s polling numbers dropped like a rock after multiple stories (like the damaging New York Times piece) and slip-ups (the infamous “hummus” pronunciation) cast doubt on his knowledge. Of course, you didn’t even need those instances to know Carson has no foreign policy experience.

Unlike Trump, whose polling survived the shift to terrorism focus, Carson seemed to not have a strong message to fall back onto. So instead Carson’s trying to burnish his foreign policy cred at the last minute by planning a trip to Israel and visiting a refugee camp in Jordan a few weeks ago.

I doubt this strategy will work. In fact, it will likely only keep the focus of news stories on Carson to his lack of experience on the topic. He’s not going to convince anyone that he suddenly knows how to be commander-in-chief because he took a few quick trips to the Middle East. These are the types of things he should have done in the summer or early fall. Instead he was taking weeks off from the campaign for a book tour.

Poll Picking

Two polls on the Republican field in Iowa came out on Monday. The first one from Monmouth, released early in the morning, showed Ted Cruz pulling into the lead, taking 24% to Trump’s 19%. A second one from CNN, released mid-day, found Trump still in the lead with 33% and Cruz at 20%.

For most of the morning the political chatter centered on Cruz’s rise, and it appeared the Texas Senator might lead the week’s news. Then Trump released his policy on banning Muslims from entering the country, and all hell broke loose.

At that point, it’s no surprise Cruz was robbed of his moment in the sun. What was fascinating, however, was that from that point forward, nearly everyone talked exclusively about the CNN poll (even though many analysts were highly skeptical of its sampling method). Democrats pointed to it to argue Republican voters had gotten too extreme. Republicans used CNN’s to warn the party that Trump has gotten too powerful. Some east coast pundits offered it up as proof that Iowans were dumb and backwards (despite Trump leading in national polls as well).

The disappearance of the Monmouth poll from public discussion must have been extremely frustrating for Cruz. It’s also aggravating to those of us who prefer a little nuance in our analysis. Jettisoning the Monmouth poll from consideration was a perfect demonstration of how quickly everyone will just use whatever poll fits their narrative, and ignore all the rest.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 12/13/15

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