Media Off to the Races to Getting Everything Wrong in 2020

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After getting everything so spectacularly wrong in 2016, it's refreshing to see the media humble themselves, not buy too much into early polling, and take a subdued approach to the next presidential contest in 2020.

Certainly, polling hypothetical challengers to President Trump more than 1,000 days to Election Day is a great step toward this aim.

"If the 2020 election were held today, President Donald Trump would lose, convincingly, to three of the most-mentioned potential 2020 Democrats, according to a new CNN/SSRS poll," wrote Chris Cillizza on Jan. 23 … 2018.

Where have I heard this before?

Maybe it was the 85 percent chance the New York Times gave Hillary Clinton of winning on Election Day, with her "most likely" 322 electoral votes. The Times was in good company. FiveThirtyEight gave Hillary a 71 percent chance. The Huffington Post had her at 98. Princeton University gave Hillary a more than 99 percent chance of winning.

Of course Trump had zero chance of becoming president—but the media had to warn us the stock market would tank if he did. They didn't exactly predict the "incredible postelection surge" and the stock market's rise like a "runaway freight train," up 40 percent since Trump's victory.

After the dust settled, the humbling of the media lasted all but a day.

"How Did the Media—How Did We—Get This Wrong?" asked the New York Times on Nov. 9, 2016. The somber lede: "It's 3:30 a.m. in the newsroom, and we're in a state of shock."

"How did everyone get it so wrong?" asked Politico. And on and on it went.

"Most of the press and folks in D.C. were science deniers when it came to this election," Curt Anderson, a GOP operative, told Politico. "They all said that Trump had almost no chance. It was because they couldn't imagine it happening."

"They are in a bubble, and that bubble has just been burst."

But it didn't.

A year later, the media continues their fever pitch nonstop anti-Trump coverage, smug condescension, and wildly wrong predictions.

It took a month into the Trump presidency for the Washington Post to decide he was killing democracy, and they were the ones to save it. After a year of "sharply critical" coverage of the Trump presidency, the New York Times laments, "Not all readers have been persuaded."

And then there were the predictions. They predicted the tax cut bill wouldn't increase wages (it did), Jon Ossoff would be a referendum on Trump (he wasn't), global catastrophe after leaving the Paris climate accord (nope), and the Middle East would go up in flames by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (it didn't).

So let's leave it to the media to predict who will win the 2020 election at the start of 2018. Who better to ask than Cillizza, who a year and a half before the 2016 election said Trump had no path to the presidency, and a day before was using word clouds to explain Hillary's easy win.

At least Cillizza was honest that his reflection on getting everything wrong about 2016 would be brief.

"Anytime something that runs so counter to my expectations happens, I think it's instructive—and necessary—to sort through the assumptions I made that led me to conclude that in 95 percent of the cases in which this election is run, Clinton would win," he wrote a week after the election.

"This election is a reminder—yet again—that I (and most of us in the political world) have a tendency to overthink how voters make up their minds." You don't say. "They hated the status quo. They wanted something else. Trump was the something else."

"Lesson learned," Cillizza concluded. "Onward."

"Onward" for Cillizza after two years of covering a presidential campaign is naturally to look ahead to the next one. It took him less than three weeks after Nov. 8 to declare, "The race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is now open."

Before Trump was sworn in, he was upping 2020 female Democratic challengers. The only mention of Oprah was an interview she did with Michelle Obama, who was then the "the strongest potential female nominee" to Cillizza.

But speaking of Oprah, let's go back to those illuminating results from the new CNN poll. The billionaire television star would win by 15 points! Oprah, that is.

But Cillizza sees something deeper. "While 2020 polling in 2018 is of relatively limited value, a deeper dive into potential Trump head-to-head matchups with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Vice President Joe Biden and talk show host Oprah Winfrey reveals a major problem for Trump as he seeks to build a winning coalition in 2020: Women—across virtually every age, education and racial range—have moved against him in major numbers."

A poll that oversamples Democrats by 9 percentage points is very troubling for Trump, who Cillizza says must solve his crisis with women voters "if he wants to have any chance of winning a second term in 2020."

It might not be wise for the media to lecture anyone about his chances of winning an election (though that "sexist," "racist" word cloud sure hurt Trump last time).

I don't mean to single out Cillizza. He's not always wrong! And I'm no stranger to making wrong predictions, either.

But maybe there's a lesson or two to be learned from last time, like not hyperventilating over your own manufactured polling. But like Cillizza says, "[The media] keeps getting things wrong. And there's not much we can do about it."