President Trump has been telling audiences at his rallies to “pretend I’m on the ballot” on Election Day and to vote as though his own political future is at stake. Asking people to pretend something that is obviously not true sounds ridiculous until you realize that, for the past two years, Trump’s supporters have been pretending everything he says is true, and so why wouldn’t they be able to fantasize he’s on the ballot in 2018 and just vote for him again? Fox News is working closely with the president to spread a similar message by telling its viewers that Tuesday’s midterm elections are an urgent affirmation of everything Trump stands for.
As for all of you MSNBC and CNN watchers who sit in your safe-space bubbles congratulating one another on your own midterms enthusiasm — taking warm comfort in that big “blue wave” that’s going to wash away your worries — I have an announcement for you: YOU’RE LIVING IN A DREAM WORLD. In the latest ratings period, Fox News had twice the viewers of CNN and MSNBC combined. Sean Hannity has for months been telling his millions of viewers that the November midterms are “the most important elections in our lifetime.” You may say, “Aw, Hannity is just one nut-job on one show on an old-fogey network.” But remember that it’s mostly older voters who turn out reliably for any election, and that is particularly true of midterms. Hannity and his prime-time enemies of the people Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham use their top-rated Fox shows to constantly urge voters to the polls, and they are doing a splendid job of turning out the vote in their awful favor.
Meanwhile, what are they doing over at MSNBC? Hosting panels in which one big-city media insider after another confidently, smugly, smirkily forecasts the takeover of the House, if not also the Senate. There is nothing that makes me more sure of Democrat defeat than seeing MSNBC’s Chris Matthews confidently predict Democratic victory. Hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow keep themselves busy warning their audiences of the ongoing dangers of the Trump presidency by offering closely reasoned deep-dives into the ways in which the Republicans are steadily dismantling much of the social safety nets and progressive legislation of the past half century. Maddow and Hayes believe that it is enough to simply demonstrate the horribleness of the current situation. Unlike Fox prime-time hosts, Maddow and Hayes are not, by nature, haranguers or alarmists — they trust that most Americans are sensible people who will do the right thing. They are, I fear, wrong. Over the weekend, Saturday Night Live made me laugh for the first time in ages with its mock ad for Dems’ nervous optimism:
These days, the majority of Americans want to receive their news in pre-digested morsels followed by instructions on how to consume it. Fox understands this and hammers home the same message — vote, vote, vote — with admirable insistence and clarity. As it is, I think too many citizens who would vote Democratic won’t bother to go to the polls for one of two reasons: Either they think the Dems are going to win, and therefore it’s not necessary to make the effort, or they think the Dems are going to lose, and their one lousy vote isn’t going to stem the opposing “red wave.” Either way, apathy paves the way for a Republican victory, helped enormously by Fox News’ campaigning for the president and the candidates he endorses. Fox News is spending its day doing softball interviews with the Republican candidates in close states. And I mean they’re doing this all day, including every one of its supposedly straight-news daytime shows, with the exception of Shepard Smith’s relatively sane afternoon hour. The result is millions of dollars of free Republican advertising disguised as news, aimed at Fox’s easily aroused audience.
If there were really going to be a blue wave, it would be showing up in the polls, but what’s apparent instead is that there are scores of very tight races. Polling in the Trump era is almost pointless, because of two factors: Trump has sown such contempt for the media among conservative older voters, they don’t answer pollster questions, or when they do answer, they lie about voting for Trump and his agenda, because they have the decency to be ashamed of voting for such an awful set of positions and personalities. You can’t get reliable data from an electorate that feels data gatherers are working against their interests. Oh, and one more thing: Polls are meaningless when there’s significant voter suppression.
So believe what you want about that blue wave, and I hope I’m wrong about everything I have posited above. Me, I’ll be watching the run-up to the midterms, seeing how effectively top-rated Fox News is inspiring its audience to hasten out to their polling places, even as CNN and MSNBC continue to put one smug commentator after another on-camera predicting a Democratic landslide. That’s what happened in 2016, and there’s no reason it won’t happen again in 2018.
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