by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of American Reporter Correspondents
January 7, 2016
THE 2016 ELECTION STARTS GETTING SERIOUS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The calendar has flipped to 2016, and we are just a few weeks away from the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary and that final mad dash toward picking two candidates for president.
And the two biggest surprises in American politics remain Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump - Sanders, because he still has a shot a winning the Democratic nomination, and Trump, because he remains the Republican front-runner.
Conventional political journalism, with its "both sides do it" narratives and its penchant for creating false equivalencies where none exist, has failed miserably in predicting these two candidates would have such resonance with large numbers of voters.
And, they have, without fail, over-covered Trump and under-covered Sanders.
According to the Tydall Report, which has been monitoring the content of the nightly newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC for nearly 50 years, between January and November of 2015 the network newscasts had 234 minutes of Trump coverage - and less than 10 minutes for Sanders.
One could blame the natural tendency of corporate media to ignore left-of-center viewpoints. For all the noise you hear from right-wingers about the "liberal" media, journalism in the United States tends to support the status quo. If you want to keep your job, don't ever question the divinity of capitalism, challenge the existence of corporate oligarchy, or object to seeing imperialism abroad and squalor at home.
Sanders is a vigorous critic of capitalism, and an equally vigorous critic of runaway military spending at the expense of our domestic needs. He is drawing large crowds from coast-to-coast, and few are scared off by his democratic socialism.
In fact, he ended 2015 by shattering President Barack Obama's 2011 record of 2.2 million online campaign donations. Sanders garnered 2.5 million online donations in 2015 and raised more than $33 million in the final quarter for a total of $73 million - without a dime of super PAC money.
Of course, Trump doesn't have to worry about campaign donations. He's largely funding his campaign out of his own pocket, and has gotten so much free media coverage that he has spent almost nothing on political ads.
But while Trump's nativist politics have locked up the votes of elderly, angry, and lightly-educated white people, you can easily argue that his celebrity has attracted a large number of supporters. After all, millions of people watched his reality TV show "The Apprentice" and followed his exploits in the gossip columns.
The people who watch reality TV and follow the online gossip sites are not necessarily the same people who listen to talk radio and watch Fox News Channel. But combine the pissed-off American community with the clueless American community, and you have Trump's base of support.
And the corporate media loves it. Trump plays to the cameras, says outrageous things, and watches his poll numbers soar among Republican voters. And even the Koch brothers and their billionaire friends, who thought they could buy themselves a president, have been powerless so far to stop him.
Conflict, celebrity, and politics that the media owners are comfortable with: That's a recipe for saturation coverage. And, if lots of people are watching as a result, why spoil things with facts?
Then again, perhaps they don't want to face this fact: Sanders, and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, would decisively defeat Trump in a autumnal-election match-up. How decisive? According to a Quinnipiac University poll from late last month, Sanders would beat Trump, 51-38, while Clinton would win over Trump, 47-40.
Further, the national poll found 61 percent of Americans say Trump "does not share their values," 58 percent say he "is not honest and trustworthy," and 57 percent say he "does not care about their needs and problems."
How real are these numbers? It is hard to say. I'd like to think that Trump supporters are just a noisy minority whose numbers are magnified by the over-coverage he's been getting in the corporate media.
But I think all bets are off in this election year.
Polls show that the bulk of Trump's support comes from less-educated, lower-income white voters. However, this is the segment of the population that is less likely to vote. Statistically, the more educated and more affluent you are, the more likely you are to vote.
So, for Trump to win, the Republicans would have to do something that they are not known for doing - encouraging lower-income, less-educated white voters to get to the polls.
Considering how hard the GOP has worked to make voting more difficult by cutting back on early-voting options - something that has hurt Democratic turnout in recent elections - it would be quite an about-face for Republicans to encourage more people to vote. If Trump's last-minute get-out-the-vote operation gets wound up, though, he could be tough to beat in the early Republican primaries. He's such a volatile character that it's hard to predict beyond them; it's very possible his outrageous statements could wear people out on his presidential appeal.
As for Sanders, he has put a big dent in the idea that Clinton is the presumptive nominee. And he knows the electoral math.
"If there is a large voter turnout, Democrats will do well," Sanders told Democratic National Committee members last fall.
"If there is a small voter turnout, Republicans do well." Sanders warned that the party won't be successful "unless we generate excitement and enthusiasm and produce a huge voter turnout," something that "will not happen with politics as usual."
And this is not a time for politics as usual.
Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is a noisy demagogue who revels in the politics of division, fear, and hatred and has whipped the GOP base into a frenzy.
Democrats will have plenty to vote against, but will they have anything to vote for?
Hillary Clinton has the support of the party big-wigs. but generates little enthusiasm with the grassroots of the party.
Sanders has drawn the bigger crowds, and has done a record amount of fundraising without resorting to super-PACs. He has generated not just passion, but serious discussions on important issues. And he is getting attention despite being virtually ignored by the corporate press.
Americans want something different, which is why Trump and Sanders have substantial support and are still doing well in their respective races.
I'd like to think that there are still Americans out there that aren't racists, misogynists, or gratuitously cruel. But how many are there, and are there enough of them to defeat Trump?
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.