In an old episode of the political show “The West Wing,” fictional President Jed Bartlett is days away from his only debate with Florida Gov. Rob Ritchie. Bartlett was seen by pundits and commentators as a “know it all,” the professorial type that could prove that he did actually know all of the facts on all of the issues. Ritchie, by contrast, was seen as the plain-spoken, country boy, ill-equipped to hold the highest office in the land.
If this dynamic sounds familiar it might be because we’ve seen this episode several times. When writer and creator Aaron Sorkin penned the episode he based the fictional candidates on former Vice President Al Gore, who many still claim is one of the most experienced candidates ever to run for the office, and George W. Bush, who many saw as the lesser of the Bush family.
“I’m absolutely terrified we’re going to lose the expectations game,” fake press secretary C.J. Cregg tells her colleagues. “You can’t believe how many times I get asked what would be a win in the debates. At this point I feel like if and only if Ritchie accidentally lights his podium on fire does the President have a fighting chance.”
If you’re watching cable news today you might notice that this pattern is repeating once again. The expectations for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are sky high while her Republican counterpart need only show up and not set his podium on fire to win tonight.
Activists on Twitter have noticed it as well and are taking out their anger on the unfair expectations game to the feed. Some are also bringing up the consistent thread in the Clinton campaign, that more is required of overqualified Clinton as a female candidate than of underqualified Trump.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski angrily discussed the unfair requirements by comparing it to a job interview.
“Guys walk in there, they bluster, they lie, they’re totally confident,” she said. “I mean, they, seriously, are very use to saying much more about themselves than what actually exists. They go on, and on, and on, and on, and on about. They make up stuff and then they get the job because the woman comes in, she’s all prepared. Her resume is 25 pages long and she thinks everybody is going to just notice her hard work.”
The women on “The View” noticed it too. “The bar is set so low for Trump as long as he doesn’t belch in her face he’ll win,” Joy Behar told the ladies as the audience laughed.
Headlines did the same thing too. The Washington Examiner: “Clinton’s advantage tonight: Being a woman.” Contrast that with The New Republic: “Playing the Expectations Game With Trump Is Irresponsible Journalism.”
Here’s how others are expressing their anger:
Just posting these together so future gender studies professors don’t have to go looking for separate tweets. pic.twitter.com/EhNQBIA4xL
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 26, 2016
Both Bloomberg and Q polls show about 9% more people expect Clinton to win debate. Not a majority in either case. Diff than media.
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) September 26, 2016
Greg Sargent responded to that with this:
This is a key point. There is zero justification for claiming “expectations” are “low” for Trump. Media themselves are setting bar low. https://t.co/uzm1sZmXcE — Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) September 26, 2016
The expectations for Trump are so low that the press is prepared to declare him the winner if he does this fewer than 11 times. pic.twitter.com/CaZloKBjKR
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) September 26, 2016
If someone beats expectations it doesn’t mean they did great, it means the ones doing the expecting didn’t know what they were talking about — Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) September 26, 2016
U ever wonder who sets these “expectations” by which media will declare winner/loser in debate? Create the bar, judge by the bar we create.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 25, 2016
… reality is, if ur informed — with REAL info, not bias confirmation — u know more than the reporters. Don’t fall 4 expectations game. — Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 25, 2016
— Geoff Ninecow (@geoff9cow) September 26, 2016
A journo just said of HRC: “She can come off as pompous bc she’s so experienced.” An experienced man is wise; a woman, pompous.
— AJ McAninch (@jmcaninch68) September 26, 2016
Trump will be declared the winner if… — Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) September 26, 2016
If Trump doesn’t take a dump on the stage, cable news pundits will say he was presidential. #debatenight
— Harold Itzkowitz (@HaroldItz) September 26, 2016
If Trump doesn’t act like a schizophrenic chimpanzee, the media will declare him the winner. — (((Todd))) (@NciszivaTk) September 26, 2016
If Trump doesn’t drool, pitch a hissy fit or wet himself media will declare him the winner despite his ignorance & mendacity. Count on it! https://t.co/hyVe2loz0w
— DonaldIsDeplorable (@BJHare) September 23, 2016
DEBATE EXPECTATIONS: As long as @realDonaldTrump avoids acting like this, our “brilliant” pundits will applaud him.#DemandFairDebates pic.twitter.com/PkBP0YjPTk — Peter Daou (@peterdaou) September 25, 2016
Fox & Friends host suggests that Donald Trump just needs to “control himself” to win the debate https://t.co/JUA4OYEgyU
— Media Matters (@mmfa) September 26, 2016
Finally, a moment of Zen from Greg Sargent:
It’s deeply strange to see people un-self-consciously talk about “expectations” without realizing that *they* are the ones setting them.
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) September 26, 2016
Anyone who judges Trump against “low expectations” is making an active *choice* that helps him politically:https://t.co/UE2Te3vQEJ pic.twitter.com/rZPHrR9psT — Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) September 25, 2016