During this past election cycle, the media did their best to Akinize Donald Trump in Senate and House races across the country. Every time Trump said something outrageous or offensive — and Trump did provide plenty of that material — media outlets would challenge Republicans to repudiate Trump. The assumption was that, as happened in 2012 with Todd Akin in Missouri, Trump would become a boat anchor for the GOP and lead to massive down-ballot losses.
How’d that work out in 2016? Paul Kane at the Washington Post astutely sums up the mistaken assumption by assigning the boat-anchor award to Hillary Clinton:
It’s now clear that Democratic strategists and the media spent too much time focused on the wrong question, asking how Republicans would separate themselves from their unpopular nominee, President-elect Donald Trump.
Instead of Trump being a drag on Republicans, Clinton became the anchor to which Democratic candidates willingly attached themselves. Despite her deep unpopularity throughout the campaign, no Democratic candidate for Senate ever tried to separate themselves from Clinton in any meaningful way.
The results are stunning in their consistency.
Clinton lost Pennsylvania, the first Democratic presidential nominee to lose the state since 1988, with 47.6 percent and a little more than 2.8 million votes. McGinty lost too, by almost the exact same margin, with 47.2 percent and about 50,000 fewer votes than Clinton. Clinton lost Wisconsin, with 46.9 percent, as did former senator Russ Feingold (D) in the Senate race, with 46.8 percent and 1,800 fewer votes than Clinton.
There has been some post-election debate as to whether down-ballot Republicans like Marco Rubio, Toomey, and Johnson helped out Trump or vice-versa. The Hill’s Reid Wilson told me on Tuesday’s TEMS that it’s all but certain that Trump had coattails in these states rather than the other way around, but the extent of it is still uncertain. Pennsylvania is a good case in point. The results in the presidential and Senate race were nearly identical, but Toomey won in districts and counties where Trump trailed, and Trump soared where Toomey struggled. The closeness of their results was almost coincidental.
Either way, Kane hits the nail on the head and makes a point that the media has so far avoided. They focused almost entirely on one unlikeable candidate without addressing the impact of the other unlikeable candidate. Hillary’s favorables were almost as bad as Trump’s and her numbers on trustworthiness were worse, but almost no one asked whether these Democrats should do more to distance themselves from their party’s nominee.
Why? They assumed that most voters shared their perspective that Trump was much more unacceptable than Hillary to the point where it looked like the very thought that it might be the other way around was simply inconceivable. Rather than treat both candidates equally and pepper their down-ballot partners even-handedly about the presidential nominees, the media ran the Akin Plan on Trump and just assumed it was working. That assumption blinded them to the mood of the electorate outside their bubble, and, well … we’ve seen the result over the past two weeks of hysterics and paranoia.
Kane’s analysis also makes another point, one that Kane himself doesn’t make but is clear in the data. Trump’s election was no fluke; voters around the country rejected Hillary and the Democrats who were With Her in no uncertain fashion. Hillary might lead in the popular vote, but that’s an artifact of wide margins in California and New York. Democrats lost in nearly every swing state and even in states where their status seemed assured — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. All of the handwringing over the popular vote ignores that reality, and will likely perpetuate the blindness shared by Democrats and the media over what happened in the 2016 cycle.