This Is No Way to Nominate a Candidate, Part 2

More reflections on how the nomination process is terminally screwy. Molly Jong-Fast writes at WaPo, about Joe Biden:

To run on electability, one should demonstrate the ability to be elected. And that’s shown by — stick with me here — winning elections. …

…Biden has distorted the whole 2020 primary cycle: He sat on top of the polls as the default front-runner for months, and in the process he sucked up endorsements (five senators, more than two dozen House members, state-level elected officials all over the place) and cash (though perhaps not enough of it) that could have gone to other candidates who, instead, had to drop out for lack of money and establishment support. And then he lost the first two elections. It’s only since his front-runner status started to slip that other centrist candidates have had much of a chance. … Biden took up the space that could have been occupied by an Amy Klobuchar or a Pete Buttigieg or a Cory Booker or a Kamala D. Harris.

And of course, Joe Biden sat at the top of the polls because of name recognition. People knew who he was. Most people who are not politics nerds had barely heard of Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Booker, or Harris. Any sensible person looking at those polls should have known that. Sensible people would not have attached a great deal of importance to polls taken weeks and even months before serious campaigning had begun. But media needed stuff to report on, so Much Was Made of Mighty Joe, the Front Runner.

I go back to what Paul Waldman wrote last week:

After a year or so of campaigning without any actual voting, we in the media are desperate for something concrete we can report on. And we want to write a story that changes, with a narrative momentum to it. That’s why we wind up getting influenced by how one or another candidate has performed relative to expectations, which when you think about it is utterly ludicrous.

Whose expectations are we talking about, after all? Those of journalists and pundits themselves. If someone exceeded expectations or fell short of expectations, it just means we inaccurately predicted how well they’d do in one state. And why should our mistaken assessment mean that in any objective way they did well or poorly?

News media on the whole have been irresponsible in their reporting on the nomination process. (I am calling it the “nomination process” because, of course, there is a lot more to it than just primaries.) Perhaps they don’t consciously intend to — or maybe they do — but media really do shape how people understand the candidates and make their choices, and not in a good way.

Instead of providing background on candidates and issues to help us understand them, we get the horse race. We get endless yammering about who is “electable.” Who is up or down in the polls. We get debates in which candidates are not allowed to discuss anything in depth but instead are goaded into attacking each other or being tripped into saying something controversial.

So we get told over and over again that Joe Biden is the front runner, so a lot of people decide on Biden because, you know, he’s supposed to be the front runner. And he’s a nice man, and we know who he is. His debate performances may have been tepid, and he hasn’t been making as many public and media appearances as other candidates. And he has trouble raising money. But those polls!

But it’s not just news media. There has been more reporting on the Iowa debacle that paints both the state Democratic party and the DNC to be remarkably clueless and cavalier about problems with the Iowa Caucus.

… the episode has called into question the broader credibility of a process whose importance in determining American presidents has taken on epic significance since assuming the first-in-the-nation status in 1972. Multiple people with years-long involvement in the caucuses said the mathematical irregularities exposed by new transparency rules point to problems that have often been present but quietly glossed over by party leaders before final results were announced.

Exactly what is it that the DNC does? The state party tried to get some assistance from the national group as it planned to make the caucus more transparent. The DNC, which should have had the technical expertise to steer the state Dems, instead appears to have given them only cursory attention until a few hours before the caucuses began. And after that its primary focus was to be sure the state party got the blame for the screwup.

We’ve got another caucus coming up in Nevada. There are already news stories about another meltdown:

Anxiety is rising over the possibility of another tech-induced meltdown at the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday.

In interviews, three caucus volunteers described serious concerns about rushed preparations for the Feb. 22 election, including insufficient training for a newly-adopted electronic vote-tally system and confusing instructions on how to administer the caucuses. There are also unanswered questions about the security of Internet connections at some 2,000 precinct sites that will transmit results to a central “war room” set up by the Nevada Democratic Party.

We may need divine intevention.

George Caleb Bingham, Stump Speaking, ca. 1953-54. Oil on canvas. St. Louis Art Museum.