Benjamin Wachs: Primary results leave ‘the experts’ in tears

Benjamin Wachs

It was the “Tear that Won New Hampshire?” Are you kidding me?

“The Obama campaign calculated that they had the women’s vote over the weekend but watched it slip away in the track of her tears,” wrote New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

“Hillary, not Clinton, prevailed in New Hampshire,” said liberal blogger Paul Hogarth of the influential “BeyondChron.”

“I was not unreasonable – though a bit cocky – to gloat that the Clintons were history,” said the normally very astute analyst. “Instead, what happened was 17 percent of New Hampshire voters made up their minds on Election Day. And Hillary Clinton’s huge gender gap suggests that the last-minute media attacks on her ‘crying’ swayed women to her side.”

Former Democratic Party official Bruce Reed wrote for Slate: “In New Hampshire, she found her voice, and her cause, in the indelible bond she forged with the people who stood by her when she promised to stand up for them.”

Having absurdly decided that Hillary must be out of the race because she lost Iowa, the media is now coming up with equally absurd explanations for why she won New Hampshire. Her tears are just one of many floating out there as the chattering classes try to come to terms with the fact that the American people, once again, did something that reporters didn’t expect them to. 

People made up their own minds without telling the media about it? What a stunning phenomenon!

Conservative pundit Mickey Kaus titled his blog post “Hillary Stuns” and offered theories as to why, including racism on the part of voters (would he have considered it misogyny if Obama had won?); chivalry, because voters hated to see a bunch of male candidates gang up on a girl (then why didn’t the debates help her more?); and Hillary’s tears coming right as voters were making up their minds (because apparently, if the last thing running through your mind before you enter the voting booth is Hillary Clinton crying, you’re going to vote for her).

As explanations pile on top of each other it behooves us to wonder if maybe the problem isn’t the explanation, but the explainers. 

Political reporters follow polls obsessively, but polls don’t win elections: A politician can be behind by 17 points, as Clinton was, and still win the election if more of her voters go to the polls. 

Similarly, while talking heads like to focus on the minutia of the moment – Did Hillary cry?  Did she go on the attack? Did she leave a big enough tip? – those kind of “I’ve got 24 hours of news coverage to fill” moments usually only matter to people who are trying to figure out how other people are going to vote. They’re easy for reporters to talk about, but they mostly only matter to people in the punditry business.

Yes, many “real people” vote on impressions, but they “really” don’t have time for this crap. Three things win elections:

One is policy proposals. Since Clinton and Obama are a hair’s breath apart on what they’d do as president, we’ll call that a draw.

Then there’s likability.

Ah hah, pundits say, Obama is so much more likable than Hillary, except that she cried! Yeah, about that. Hillary may have likability problems among all voters, but it’s been pretty clearly established that Democrats do like her – and this is a Democratic primary.

I’m sure somebody in Granite City or Nashua voted for the “Weeping Idol.” But a 20 percent shift? One-fifth of Democratic voters in New Hampshire made up their mind based on one clip in a diner? Nah. People don’t vote for someone they already don’t like just because they cry; the fact is they already liked Hillary.

And so we come to our third factor, the ground game.

If your supporters don’t make it to the polls, none of this matter. And that’s where Hillary’s big advantage came in. Obama’s no slouch – every Chicago politician knows the importance of working the streets. 

But the Clintons have the Democratic machine on their side – they built it – and they know New Hampshire. They’ve campaigned here before, they’ve connected before, and they have an organization that works fast and efficiently. 

Hillary didn’t win because of the tears. She won because she did the work. She laid out her plans, meticulously built her organization, and followed through. And if she wants to keep winning she’ll have to do it state by state. 

That’s politics, people, not a phenomenon. 

The phenomenon is all the time that journalists waste: Imagine if instead of trying to predict what voters were thinking, political reporters covered the candidates’ policies. What if we were doing that now?   

Benjamin Wachs writes weekly for Messenger Post Newspapers.