The Press Promotes an Election Narrative with Little Evidence, But Serves to Conceal Possible Meddling

Screenshot from June 13 Morning Joe Sanford Loses Reelection Bid After Trump Hits Him in Tweet

Early yesterday morning, I turned on MSNBC to this chyron on Morning Joe: "Sanford Loses Re-Election Bid After Trump Hits Him in Tweet." Here is the tweet in question:

We are meant to believe that Trump swooped in nine hours after the polls opened, dropped a single critical tweet, and Sanford's challenger then won by a healthy 4-point margin. South Carolina mainstream media were certainly quick to promote that narrative. The Charleston Post and Courier framed Arrington's win as a "a monumental upset fueled by a Donald Trump tweet" and further opined that Sanford's defeat "carries national implications."

NBC News, CBS News, and CNN all framed Arrington's victory this way too. CNN claimed, "Support Trump and you have a better-than-average chance of winning in a Republican primary. Oppose him — even occasionally — and run the risk of losing for your apostasy."

Based on Arrington's win and that of white supremacist Virginia senate candidate Corey Stewart, the Washington Post declared, "Trump is the big winner in Tuesday's primaries," and added the strange observation that "It's overly simplistic to say that South Carolina GOP congressman Mark Sanford lost his primary Tuesday because of Trump. But Trump was definitely a factor in making Sanford the second House Republican in 2018 to lose a primary." So it's overly simplistic to credit Trump with Arrington's win, but they're going to do it anyway.

The Washington Post doubled down on this narrative two hours later in The Daily 202: "Mark Sanford's primary loss shows the peril of crossing Trump."

This unified theory of Arrington's win ignores other possible explanations, such as the strong performance of female candidates over the past year, and the trend favoring outsiders and newcomers.

Notice that Donald Trump himself was quick to adopt mainstream media framing. He took credit for Arrington's win, even claiming he bucked his advisors to seal the deal:

But I agree with Dan Lavoie, who tweeted of the Charleston Post and Courier article that it's "Pretty weird — and frankly irresponsible — to run a banner headline asserting facts not in evidence. Trump tweeted three hours before polls closed. Arrington won by 4 full points. It's virtually impossible Trump moved that many voters that late in the day."

This last-minute swoop followed by an upset reminds me of the time Paul Manafort encouraged Trump to go to Michigan on October 31st 2016, right before the presidential election. According to the conservative Weekly Standard, Trump then won Michigan by 0.2%, or roughly 10,700 votes (and he won Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by slim identical margins of 0.7% each).

There has been no audit of the 2016 vote in any state. We do not know if there was tampering with voter rolls, ballot counting, or vote totals. Meanwhile, California-based cybersecurity firm FireEye reports that "it is possible that [hackers] had the ability to modify or delete data" in 2016 and that "U.S. election systems are increasingly at risk for cyberattacks."

Furthermore, The State reported last month [H/T to Shaker Aphra_Behn] that "South Carolina will need a lot more money to secure its elections," adding:
"Securing voter data has been a major focus since the 2016 election, when South Carolina recorded 150,000 attempts to hack into its voter-registration system on Election Day alone. Those were among several attempts to penetrate voting systems reported ahead of the last national election."
So there is evidence that our election systems are not adequately secured.

Additionally, there is remarkably little evidence that Trump has suddenly become so popular that even mild criticism of him is a sure career-ender. He is roughly as popular with the Republican base as he was fifteen months ago, when Republican constituents were lecturing Chuck Grassley about death panels and getting up in Dave Brat's grill wherever he went. Quinnipiac had Trump at 91% approval with GOP voters back then (March 2017) and 82% now (May 10, 2018).

Furthermore, the Washington Post reports that "People who say they're most eager to vote strongly disapprove of Trump." And while Corey Stewart won in Virginia last night, Trump's endorsement didn't pull Ed Gillespie over the line in the governor's race last December, even with the interference of race-baiting bots.

Given Trump's relatively flat approval numbers and the vulnerabilities of our elections systems, we must recognize the possibility that local elections may be fudged and then Trump's intervention invoked as a last-minute game-changer to conceal said fudging.

This possibility is alarming for a host of reasons, not least of which is the Department of Homeland Security's conclusion that "convincing voters that their ballots are secure" is their top ongoing challenge. Why bother to vote if you don't trust that your vote will count?

The Morning Joe segment which opened this post provides one explanation of the puzzling narrative that Trump is too popular to criticize. Joe Scarborough says that "The primary voters in the Republican party have devolved into a Trumpist cult." But on his June 12th show, before any SC primary votes were cast, Scarborough was already setting up this narrative. He told the following anecdote about an unnamed GOP congressman (Morning Joe does not provide transcripts, but the relevant part is at 1:13:27 of the podcast):
I was talking to a Republican that I've known since I first came to Congress in 1994 and he said it was surreal, going around his district having people angry at him for talking about free trade, for talking about the need to balance budgets…and getting on him for suggesting that the president not lie about payoffs to porn stars. He said it is surreal: "People are coming up to me angry in my district because I'm saying the exact same things I've been saying for 25 years."
Scarborough blames primary voters, but his information comes from one old friend in the House, not voters at town halls nationwide.

And on Monday's Morning Joe, Heidi Pryzbyla talked to voters in Michigan who were primarily concerned with health care (1:09:05). An alternative thesis might be that Republican members of congress are afraid of the usual midterm losses for the party in power (or worse). So they preemptively blame their own constituents. I'm sure there are credible stories of cultish constituents, but cable and print news selectively amplify them in unison.

The press is powerful, and right now they run the risk of handing Trump perfect cover for ongoing election interference.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus