Will the GOP Thank Big Media Over the Shutdown?

Okay, that’s a bit of a troll question, but I ask it as a prelude to other questions about the right’s loathe/hate relationship with establishment media.

I wasn’t going to write about the recently (perhaps temporarily) concluded government shutdown, insofar as shutdowns historically have little effect on the midterm elections.  In the past, the GOP had rebounded from longer shutdowns doing worse damage to public opinion of the party.

But I became a little intrigued with the exploding genre of punditry offering explanations for the GOP’s quick win, after losing so many past shutdown fights.  FTR, I think Ben Domenech and Politico both offer large pieces of that puzzle.

But if you want my forged-in-the-fires-of Mount-Doom take, Big Media also lent the GOP a hand, which is not something which the latter could have expected.

The first-impression framing of top tier outlets like the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg all put the blame for the shutdown on Senate Democrats.  The early reporting from CBS, NBC and ABC was more neutral than Republicans might have guessed, as were early stories from Reuters and the Washington Post (though comparing the WaPo story to its URL is fairly amusing).  There was a lot of coverage anticipating that the GOP would get most of the blame for the shutdown, but CNN’s headline was fairly anodyne (the story itself failed to highlight the immigration angle) and its poll indicating a majority of Americans favored keeping the government open turned out to be the more important insight.

Over the course of the weekend, you could see the network morning shows starting to carry water for the Dems.  But by then, the “mixed polling” already had vulnerable 2018 Dems looking for the exits.  The point is that the all-important first impression from the biggest and most influential establishment outlets was not in the tank for the Democrats.

In part, this could be the Democrats’ fault.  They were pushing the mixed messages that: (a) the shutdown was the fault of Trump and the GOP; and (b) it was worth shutting down the government to obtain an immediate deal regarding the immigration status of so-called “Dreamers.”  The Dems were advertising their role, which allowed the GOP branding of a “SchumerShutdown” to gain traction.

That said, the establishment media’s coverage could have been far worse.  Anyone who has been around politics awhile can point to the pattern by which Big Media covers failures as either the GOP’s fault or America’s fault.  In the face of the evidence that the Dems were largely to blame here, we nevertheless could have been treated to flood-the-zone propaganda asserting the shutdown was proof of how “the system is broken.”  That didn’t get a chance to develop, yet I suspect the GOP will not write a thank-you note to the Bigs for approximately doing their jobs (a feat even more extraordinary when one considers what the past year of often unhinged political coverage has looked like).

To the contrary, they’re likely going to let the shutdown win feed their perception of a general rebound in the fortunes of Trump and the party generally.  They won’t tell themselves they won by being the party that favored keeping Big Government open.  They will tell themselves the shutdown loss demoralized the Dems (forgetting the dynamic among the GOP in 2013-14).

They should be linking the GOP’s wins to fear of impeachment if the Dems win the House this year, just as they were when their polling was just a handful of points worse, reminding the GOP base that the good trends can all stop in a single election.  They should not count on Big Media allowing the GOP to make a good first impression in all the conflicts to come.

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