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Sasha Issenberg: Trump’s Run as ‘Tribune of Conservative’s Against Washington Political Class’ Leaves Mark on Primary

From Sasha Issenberg writing at Bloomberg:

The so-called Summer of Trump has elevated a number of longstanding beefs into proper blood feuds: the Republican establishment against the conservative grassroots, for example, or the party’s nativist constituency against its globalist elites. Until Scott Walker’s withdrawal from the race on Monday, it was possible to look at one of those feuds—the tension between political scientists and the political press over what campaign developments are really worth our attention—and conclude that it was so nasty only because the stakes were so small.

The debate has long been over a question neatly crystallized in the title of Thomas M. Holbrook’s 1996 book Do Campaigns Matter? This is an open debate within the academy, but there is effective unanimity among political scientists that the press regularly exaggerate the extent to which campaigns do matter, and tend to look in the wrong places when they do. The political press mistake short-term blips like poll surges as evidence of durable changes, they argue. In so doing, journalists dangerously disregard structural factors that tend to bestow upon presidential elections a familiar architecture even as context shifts and the characters who inhabit them change every four years.

During the Summer of Trump, both sides played their roles perfectly. Journalists saw Trump’s poll numbers rise and started gaming out the prospects that he could end up the Republican nominee, or playing kingmaker at a brokered convention. Political scientists, along with sympathetic “data journalists” at places like FiveThirtyEight andVox, warned against irrational exuberance, invoking cautionary tales from 2011: episodes in which Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry had each been an ephemeral front-runner only to collapse weeks later. “Donald Trump’s surge in the polls has followed the classic pattern of a media-driven surge,” Nate Cohn of the New York Times blog The Upshot wrote on July 18, dutifully summarizing the academic literature about those patterns. “Now it will most likely follow the classic pattern of a party-backed decline.”

Read the rest of the story at Bloomberg.

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