Turnout!

Why does anyone watch pregame shows?

Just after 6 p.m. Monday on MSNBC, political junkie Steve Kornacki took to the cable new channel’s digital screen to talk about the centrality of turnout in the Iowa caucuses. On the Republican side, Kornacki noted, big crowds would do wonders for real estate mogul Donald Trump. Using data supplied by Monmouth University, Kornacki said, “It’s the biggest cliche in politics, right: It all comes down to turnout. It is totally true tonight. If you want to know who’s going to win either one of these contests, you just need to know how many people are actually going to show up.”

The analyst went on to note that high turnouts would help Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his plucky challenge to onetime consensus favorite Hillary Clinton.

On the Republican side of the ball, Kornacki continued, a high turnout would vault Donald Trump to a rout.

Later in the night, ABC News came up with a projection that the Republican caucus turnout would mark a new record and exceed 180,000 — just the zone, that is, that would launch a big victory for Trump. But no: Cruz beat Trump by 4 percent.

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No, Kornacki wasn’t the only fellow out there repeating this wisdom about high turnout favoring Trump. National Review clocked in with this take: “If turnout exceeds 135,000 this year, GOP insiders agree, it will be an indication that Donald Trump has attracted a significant number of new voters to the caucuses. And if the increase is even more drastic — say, upwards of 150,000, which some Republicans believe is possible — then Trump will likely win.” CBS News wrote a piece on this turnout theory. The Huffington Post did it, too. In looking back at the turnout chatter, the New York Times said “many pundits” glommed onto it.

CNN’s Jake Tapper took that evaluation one step further. After the numbers came streaming in late Monday night, he noted, “Once again, all the pundits were wrong about Donald Trump. But this time, they were overestimating him. There was record turnout … and yet they weren’t turning out for him.”

The point here is that pre-caucus coverage in politics is about as valuable as pre-game coverage of sporting events. You’re better off teaching yourself to knit.

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On background, we tried our best

Just how completely has the culture of anonymity enveloped political reporting? See the tweet above from BuzzFeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro. He showcases a comment from the campaign of Martin O’Malley — a boast that the candidate hustled in Iowa. Nothing controversial there; no one would take issue with it. So there are a couple of reasons why this source should have just gone on the record. There’s another one, too, and that’s that the O’Malley campaign was in the midst of suspending itself.

The drama series at CNN

Cable news outlets have trouble differentiating themselves on a night like Monday. They’re all chasing the same stuff. That same stuff is released at the same time. And all the pundits have essentially the same talking points about that same stuff. As a measure of differentiation, CNN adds a bit of drama here and there.

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To wit:

When it came time to announce the projection of Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) as the winner of the Iowa caucuses, Brian Williams of MSNBC was listening to correspondent Katy Tur breaking down the politics. “Katy, let me interrupt you because … this is germane to your beat. We are projecting that when it’s all said and done, based on all available numbers, Ted Cruz is your projected winner of the Iowa first-in-the-nation caucuses.”

Simple as that.

When it came time to announce the projection of Cruz as the winner of the Iowa caucuses, Megyn Kelly of Fox News said, “And we have some breaking news for you now. Fox News can now project that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has won Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses.”

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Simple as that.

And when it came time to announce the projection of Cruz as the winner of the Iowa caucuses, Wolf Blitzer of CNN revved the network’s engines. “Okay, we’ve got a major projection that we’re about to make. A major projection on the Republican side.” At that point, the screen looked like this:

Then CNN flipped to a new screen, the “projection” screen:

Then, just like that, a new screen appears along with dramatic election tunes:

And Blitzer intones, “And CNN projects Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, will win the Iowa caucuses …. a major win for Ted Cruz.”

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The CNN drama was overkill because 1) the other cable news nets had already announced their Cruz projections; 2) the coverage all night made it clear that Cruz had a decent-enough lead to warrant this projection, whereas the Clinton-Sanders contest was too close; and 3) there were only two races being covered.

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Karl Rove maintains Fox News cred

Fox News’s Karl Rove sustained what appeared to be a serious bruise to his election-analytical skills back in 2012. He was on the Fox News desk during the vote-counting in the contest between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. He famously melted down when Fox News called Ohio for Obama, insisting the decision was premature. Host Megyn Kelly made her much-publicized walk back to the election data hub to consult on the matter. Rove turned out to be wrong.

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That was nearly four years ago. Now he’s back, refreshed and ready to geek out on counties and voting trends. At one point in Fox News’s Iowa coverage, Rove agreed with fellow analyst Joe Trippi that based on the county breakdowns, Clinton would get away with a squeaker victory. “If you look at it where [Sanders’s] got votes out are in places like Woodbury, out in far western Iowa and a little bit in Linn County, which is Cedar Rapids. But yeah, Des Moines, Polk County, is 82 percent out. She’s winning it 54-45 and it looks to me like her margin of three tenths of one percent is a not a lot, but it’s enough.”

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