The media can’t help themselves when it comes to presidential politics, and that’s never been more in evidence than in the current Republican nomination battle. For the press, campaign season is its Olympics, the time when reporters’ bosses open their wallets to send them to far off places like Dixville Notch, New Hampshire and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and correspondents can make a career on how well they report on the race. Except this year, there is no race. Mitt Romney will be the nominee, and that’s been clear for months.
Yet here’s the lead from today’s Wall Street Journal recap of yesterday’s New Hampshire primary: “Mitt Romney is a long way from claiming the Republican nomination, but he leaves New Hampshire with significant advantages in a field where no single opponent seems well-positioned to stop him or become the obvious alternative to him.” While the reporter may merely be acknowledging the mathematics of the delegates Romney still has to win in primaries across the country, the hedging on Romney’s inevitable victory, to anyone who follows the day-to-day stories in the campaign, rings hollow at best.
With Gingrich, then Santorum, and Bachmann and Cain before them, news stories always turned to polls to explain the latest in the “anyone but Romney” vote. But the story the media should be telling is that polls during campaign seasons historically change the most and matter the least. Flawed methodology and small sample sizes make even the most rigorous polling little more than a one-day snapshot of popular sentiment, yet poll results are often reported as if they were all but recorded in the county clerk’s election rolls.
What we should be reading about when it comes to the nomination are things like the size of each candidate’s ground force, the number of committed staff, an ongoing endorsement tally–in other words, the true measures of a candidate’s strength. By these measures, Romney has an overwhelming advantage and has for months. But for some reason such metrics are mentioned only in passing, if at all, or are left to weekend feature stories, as if the day-to-day news about Romney walking down a street in Manchester to knock on doors had anything to do with his viability as a national candidate.
Part of the problem, albeit unspoken, may be that the media haven’t really warmed to the often robotic and sometimes aloof Romney, and because of that, they are holding back on anointing him as the nominee. They therefore highlight those qualities in him and cite the failure of the Tea Party and evangelicals to coalesce around him, even though Romney has been carrying a majority of the overall support of the party, again, for many months now.