One particular type of journalism has become so omnipresent and cliche in the last three years, it’s like a square on a bingo card.
The national media have dedicated significant resources to exploring the rise of Donald Trump from reality TV star to populist champion to 45th president. Since the election of Trump to that role, nearly every prominent national (and some international) print and online outlet has sent a reporter on a deep dive into the heartland, examining what compelled voters between the coasts to give the presidential mandate to someone unlike anyone else who has held that office since, perhaps, Andrew Johnson, the successor to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Some of those, including CNHI’s own “Pulse of the Voters” that The Daily Independent reporters contribute content for, are set in Kentucky.
Practitioners of the traditional American model of journalism are taught to leave personal biases and leanings out of their work, but many of these stories carry a heavily implied wink and a nod, as if to say, “we’re not sure why they did that either, but here we are” in a pandering to a readership that has become heavily left-leaning in today’s deeply divisive landscape.
In the process, such media haven’t gained an actual accurate understanding of what makes many of these places tick politically, including Kentucky.
That was painfully obvious Tuesday night. As Democrat Andy Beshear hung close to incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the early stages of vote-counting, the New York Times tweeted that that race had been “unexpectedly tight.”
This, of course, depends on who was doing said expecting and is not likely something anyone from Kentucky who was informed would have said. It was, rather, an indictment of the Times tweeter’s own expectations and perceptions of Kentucky as deeply red, likely (mis)informed by such “why Trump?” pieces that didn’t make a good-faith effort to understand the moving parts of Kentucky politics.
So, here is a friendly guide to the national media on how to interpret Tuesday’s Kentucky elections, in particular, the governor’s race:
1. Bevin’s apparent loss (which he has yet to concede as of this writing) was not a referendum on anything that is happening, has happened or might happen in Washington, including but not limited to Democrats’ pursuit of impeachment of Trump.
It was, rather, a referendum on what happened when the governor opened his mouth, and on what are perceived to be his behind-the-scenes machinations in the state teacher pension matter.
“Matt Bevin is kind of the antithesis of any politician I’ve ever been around in that he seems to get up every day and decides, ‘Well, who am I going to piss off today?’” Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth said, according to the Washington Post.
2. While Trump does not enjoy the sky-high approval ratings he did in Kentucky when he was elected, he remains popular enough that Tuesday’s results are no bellwether of anything that might happen next November.
It is the job of national pundits to have an opinion about everything, to try to be the first to find the nugget of insight, and to try to put happenings into context on the fly. It is an unenviable job under most circumstances, but that does not mean it cannot be done well, and assuming a Bevin loss to Beshear is related in any significant way to Trump’s battles in Washington is to ignore that members of his party won every other statewide race contested in the commonwealth on Tuesday, and to ignore that while Kentucky tends to vote red in national elections, it has long bled blue in state matters.
As it stands now, especially with the Democratic Party having so many candidates left with such widely differing platforms vying for the chance to take on Trump, it is the belief here he would win re-election in Kentucky by as much as he wanted if voting began tomorrow.
3. Beshear’s victory is not a major upset nor, frankly, a minor one.
Bevin was only the third Republican governor in Kentucky since 1947. Any interpretation of the governor’s results based solely on the “D” next to Beshear’s name and the “R” next to Bevin’s is nothing short of ignorant. Kentucky’s national perception as a conservative stronghold stands up, especially outside Louisville and Lexington, in large part because the values and stances of many Kentucky Democrats aren’t the same as prominent Democrats nationally, especially on social issues. Our own Rocky Adkins is a case study there.
It is a positive that national media are intrigued by what is going on here. It would be better if they did their homework to understand why.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.