Donald Trump has more social-media followers than the number of votes normally needed to be elected president of the United States.
It’s a statistic that Peter Canellos, Managing Editor of Politico, says helps to explain why the media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, and the election itself, is different from any other in history.
“These changes are themselves a major factor in the 2016 presidential campaign,” Canellos told more than 250 business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum this morning.
“We can’t establish the political dialog, as we did in the past, but we cannot ignore it.”
Recalling his work covering the 2002 presidential race when he was often the only reporter present when Bill Clinton and other candidates spoke, Canellos said that every word a candidate says today is recorded on a dozen iPhones, often held by representatives of the opposing campaigns, and posted online before any formal media outlet can post the story.
“Even if a news organization tries to exercise restraint, or tries to make decision about the news, the conversation is already galloping ahead without them,” said Canellos, who spent 26 years at the The Boston Globe before moving to Politico.
He acknowledged that many people were uncomfortable with the degree of control that “media mandarins” from The New York Times and other establishment publications once exerted over the narrative of presidential campaigns. The new reality of social media, he said, has recast the role of reporters to one of monitoring the veracity of campaign statements, tracking the connection between money and politics and looking at some of the issues “that candidates seek to avoid.”
Canellos believes the two major political parties will survive an election with two relatively unpopular nominees, but that each will change significantly.
“If you look at the history of the country the two parties’ positions have shifted dramatically. Who would have thought that the Democrats would be the party of Wall Street now? And the migration of working- class blue-collar voters to the Republican party seems to have accelerated strongly with the Trump nomination.”
The Democrats, according to Canellos, will have to sort out whether their future lies with the insurgent wing represented by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, or the establishment block led by Hillary Clinton.
“On the Republican side there will be quite an identity crisis. Even if Trump is elected, there will be questions within the Republican party about who they should be and what they should be,” he said.
Canellos said that early predictions that Democrats would regain control of the U.S. Senate appear to have been premature. Control of the Senate is now “a 50-50 proposition” as senators such as John McCain who trailed badly in the polls during the summer appear to be making up ground.
He believes the long-term legacy of the 2016 presidential election will be a sustained debate over the plight of middle-class workers, especially in traditional manufacturing areas now struggling to find new ways to grow.
“Trump has played a role in putting that constituency front and center...Even some of the Democratic proposals like free college tuition and retraining through community colleges are responding to that constituency."