The Republican presidential nominating contest is far from over. Donald Trump could still become the GOP standard-bearer and prove his media skeptics wrong.
But the billionaire’s defeat in Monday’s Iowa caucuses confirms what much of the press has been saying for months — that Trump might not be as strong as his poll numbers suggest.
As I wrote before voting began, this was a day of reckoning for the political media. And, well, I reckon the pundit class is feeling pretty good about itself. The doubters were right. And they’re going to make sure you know it.
The gloating and teasing began immediately:
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) February 2, 2016
I was hoping Donald Trump would just tweet his concession speech
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) February 2, 2016
What's the opposite of Yuge?
— David Gregory (@davidgregory) February 2, 2016
Trump's a loser, NBC says. https://t.co/5zgoMIgU7E
— andrew kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) February 2, 2016
— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) February 2, 2016
Iowa results demonstrate that the conservative movement & Reagan coalition are strong & poised to take back the... https://t.co/rxUPZqM7CX
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) February 2, 2016
Wonder if @realDonaldTrump is still going to spend ten minutes reading the polls at every rally?
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) February 2, 2016
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) February 2, 2016
Most journalists maintained their poker faces after the result, but many probably indulged in a mental fist pump or two. Trump hasn’t exactly engendered goodwill with his media-hating harangues.
Beyond that, however, Trump’s loss validates an essential media function. It is completely appropriate for the press to question whether a self-funded real estate magnate, who has never held elected office, who operates like no successful candidate in recent memory, can actually win. This is what journalists are supposed to do. They're supposed to look critically at what they see — polls, crowd sizes, Twitter followers — and wonder whether they're for real.
Trump's loss also supports something else that at least some in the media (cough, cough, The Fix) have insisted upon for a while: Volume of coverage does not equate to votes. The press has showered coverage on Trump because he is a political unicorn, but all that airtime and ink can't — and shouldn't — compel people to cast ballots for him. The attention paid to Trump is part of a vetting process. And maybe a bit of a ratings grab. It's supposed to help voters make up their own minds. They did; they didn't pick Trump.
Going forward into New Hampshire, where surveys indicate a commanding lead for the "Celebrity Apprentice" star, expect the press to treat him with renewed incredulity. He's won nothing yet.
Trump might yet pull off a big win, ride the momentum to the GOP nomination and turn Iowa into a distant memory. But the media, largely unconvinced of his true support, has been justified in taking a believe-it-when-we-see-it approach.
Get ready for the self-congratulations.