Drawing a crowd of 500 Tuesday, CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger unpacked the media’s post-election soul searching as it struggles to rediscover the national pulse and adjust to a paradigm shift in presidential coverage.
“There were two elections going on in this country,” Borger said at Trinity University’s Policymaker Breakfast at the DoubleTree by Hilton San Antonio Airport. “There was the one I was covering, and there was the real one.”
What mattered on the ground, she explained, wasn’t “insults, boorish behavior, non-disclosure of tax returns, (or) building a wall,” but the hollowed out middle class. Facing the two least popular presidential candidates in generations and a 5% Congressional approval rating, dismantling the political establishment trumped all other issues – even for groups targeted in the President-elect’s rhetoric.
Meanwhile identity politics, assumed to be a thorn in the Republican Party’s side since 2008, faded into the background. Donald Trump fared 2% better among Latino voters than Mitt Romney, while Hillary Clinton’s lead among women was narrower than President Obama’s.
The most interesting voting figure to come out of the election, Borger said, was that of white working-class women, who voted for Trump by a margin of 28%.
“You want to talk about a gender gap?” she said. “It was stunning to me, and I realized, wait a minute, this wasn’t about gender. This was about the economy.”
Rather than ruin his campaign, Trump’s continuous scandals and insults may have instead contributed to the stunning failure of polling this election by discouraging candid responses among his supporters. In one post-election survey, Borger said 36% of Trump voters admitted they had been reluctant to share their voting intentions with pollsters, while 42% of women said they lied.
Perhaps equally responsible for the media’s failure is its continuous contraction.
“The resources are not there,” Borger explained. “We would love to have people on the ground everywhere like the good old days. We would love to have a reporter … understanding what happened in the state of Wisconsin.”
The retrenchment of local newsrooms in particular has led to a less textured understanding of national trends.
“We read everything,” Borger told the Rivard Report. “And if there’s a story that you’ve uncovered here in San Antonio that’s important, we’re going to pay attention to it.”
With a President-elect who has “challenged every norm” since his candidacy began, journalists – and the nation as a whole – face an uncertain future. Unlike the media, Trump supporters often assume his extreme and rapidly shifting rhetoric is not to be taken literally. But as president, every word will matter.
White House correspondents have already found themselves in a “whole new world” of presidential coverage, with the President-elect replacing the standard media pool with Apprentice-style cabinet selection process in his Fifth Avenue skyscraper, where the Secret Service rents a floor from his corporation.
Though many analysts have portrayed Trump’s animosity toward the media as deeply concerning, Borger characterized the adversarial relationship between presidents and journalists as normal.
“I talk to the people in the Trump transition, and they’re fine,” Borger told the Rivard Report. “I think we as members (of) the media have to figure out a way to come to some agreement about what is required for us to do our jobs.”
Collaboration among pre-election rivals is another promising sign, especially in the “new bromance” between Trump and President Obama.
“What is stunning is that Trump calls Obama now and asks for advice,” she said. “So we are living in an alternative universe, because this is the man who spent five years saying that Barack Obama was not a legitimate president.”
As Trump reaches out to arch-enemy Mitt Romney and meets with Democrats like Al Gore, the transition appears to be healing wounds from a vitriolic election season.
“Maybe something different is going on in Washington,” Borger proposed hesitantly. “And all I can say is, it’s about time.”