Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the press corps is said to abhor a boring campaign. It is thus widely assumed in elite political circles that at some point in the coming four weeks Donald Trump will benefit from a “comeback” narrative, in which reporters and pundits will cite narrowing polls or less erratic behavior to suggest we have a real race on our hands.
This goes a long way toward explaining why after the second presidential debate Sunday night, cable news talking heads concluded that Trump had “stopped the bleeding” or “won on points,” when most regular viewers saw no such thing.
But it is worth noting there has not been a single true presidential election blowout in the modern media age. Barack Obama defeated John McCain by just over seven points in 2008, a “blowout” by modern standards, but a close enough race that McCain took a lead in the polls after the Republican National Convention. Liberals, traumatized by eight years of the Bush presidency, were nervous about the outcome until the very end.
With the bottom falling out of Trump’s campaign, it is feasible to imagine a true blowout on November 8. And if polls suggest that’s where we’re headed, it isn’t clear to me that the press won’t find that a novel, juicy, dramatic story in its own right.
<sports metaphor>Consider: Most baseball fans will agree that the best games to watch are pitchers’ duels (or other closely contested games) and huge blowouts. In-between they can be a bit of a slog. The 2012 election was that kind of game; President Obama led Mitt Romney by a modest but steady margin basically the whole time, and won by a modest but healthy margin on Election Day. The impulse to manufacture a horse race out of contest like that was very hard for reporters to overcome. Most didn’t even try. But if Clinton appears poised to win the popular vote by 10, 11, 12 points, not only would contriving a horse race narrative seem ridiculous, it wouldn’t make the race more “interesting” in any meaningful way. Like a baseball blowout, simply watching a contestant get pummeled can be pretty interesting.</sports metaphor>
Especially because a true blowout would be historic in modern times—and even more especially because it would come at the expense of the most loathsome political figures in modern American history.