Accuracy in Media

Before the results of the midterm elections were known, the Washington Post determined who would win and how President Trump would spin the results.

“The GOP’s looming spin about the 2018 election is a fallacy,” reads the headline on Aaron Blake’s story Tuesday.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the election, but we’ve got a pretty good idea how it’s likely to be spun,” Blake wrote. “With Republicans probably losing the House, they (and President Trump, in particular) have focused on the Senate. And if they hold it or even gain some seats, you can guarantee they’ll cite it as a win, and probably even a split decision overall.

“This will be false.”

Blake wrote that Republicans have begun to make the case for this narrative, quoting Kellyanne Conway saying, “Think about that. That’s historic,” for a president to pick up seats in either house of Congress in his first midterm election.

“That’s all they talk about,” he quoted a Trump campaign adviser as saying, although Blake doesn’t point out exactly what they’re all talking about. “Trump has acknowledged difficulty in the House,” Blake writes, “but said, ‘I think we’re doing really extraordinarily well in the Senate.”

The Wall Street Journal, Blake wrote, ran a story suggesting a Democrat takeover of the House with Republican gains in the Senate would constitute “a mixed verdict” on Trump’s first two years.

That story “is nuanced and well worth a read, but we’d do well to be careful about regarding such a result as anything amounting to a split decision or mixed result,” Blake wrote.

“Yes, Republicans would technically be improving their lot in the Senate, while Democrats would be surging in the House. And Conway is right that it’s rare for a president’s party to gain Senate seats; it’s happened only three times since World War II.

“But it would also owe almost completely to some highly unusual circumstances – for which there is very little historical precedent – and it wouldn’t exactly indicate an evenly split electorate.”

His theory is that several campaigns that should not have been close turned out to be at least somewhat close, so even sound victories by Ted Cruz in Texas and Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee should not be viewed as significant despite the millions of dollars spent against Cruz and Blackburn’s opponent being a popular former governor.

“The idea that Democrats even have a shot at winning the Senate is not something we were able to say for a good portion of the 2018 election cycle,” Blake wrote.

They needed two seats after Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in Alabama last December, and their most obvious opportunities were Arizona and Nevada – one of which is trending blue and the other of which went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Yet Blake argues the opposite.

“The reason Republicans might gain seats is pretty simple: The map is distorted.”

If Republicans gain seats, he wrote, “it’s almost definitely going to be in territory Trump won by double digits. These are states they should be winning; they just happen to be held by Democrats because 2006 and 2012 – the last time these seats were up – were both good Democratic years.”

Obama narrowly defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, but other than that, it was more a push than a good year for Democrats.  

Then Blake provided his spin:

“The point is that if we had anything amounting to a neutral map, we’d almost definitely be talking about a Senate takeover by Democrats. And even if they keep things close, they will be setting themselves up well for 2020 and especially for 2022, when they have more opportunities and less tough defense to play.”

Even if Democrats don’t win, Blake wrote, “defending these red states in a good year for Democrats might be the best thing that could have happened for them … because they were actually hold-able under these circumstances.”

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