President Donald Trump rails against what he perceives to be unfair media coverage, but the press is actually doing him a favor, according to some veteran political journalists.
Reporters have gotten less shy about calling out his demonstrable lies and remain willing to quote off-the-record advisers complaints about his imperious behavior, but some campaign veterans say they're letting him off the hook in one important way, reported Politico.
“You’re not seeing as much overt coverage of desperation quite in the same way as in the past," said Rick Berke, a New York Times political reporter. "People, after four years ago, feel like they were burned and want to leave open the possibility that he could do it again. So I think reporters are second-guessing themselves and each other in how they cover this race, and they’re being extra-cautious, and it’s understandable because they’re a little bit spooked.”
Trump won an unlikely victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and many reporters and analysts are nervous about trusting polls that show Joe Biden with a formidable lead over the unpredictable incumbent.
“I think all of us — Democrats, the media, Republicans — I think all of us are suffering a severe PTSD from 2016 and have great fear of getting it very wrong again,” said Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s campaign manager in 2008.
That reluctance to call what seems to be a losing race actually gives Trump enough room to breathe life back into his narrative, campaign vets say.
“[It] helps Trump because he can hold out a sliver of hope for his supporters so they don’t give up the ship," said veteran Republican lawyer and operative Ben Greenburg. "Nobody likes a loser, you’re not going to admit you’re a loser.”
A losing narrative can prove fatal for any candidate, according to operatives who've been on the wrong end of those stories.
“When you have a losing cloud over you, it’s difficult to have the sun shine through,” said Scott Reed, campaign manager for Bob Dole's 1996 loss to Bill Clinton. “Just as if you’re tagged like you’re broke, you can never dig out of it, just like if your campaign is broke, it’s the same type of thing.”
However, that reluctance may be wearing off as Trump seems unable to cut into Biden's poll lead with less than two weeks to go.
“I think there’s been a shift," said longtime ABC News veteran Jeff Greenfield. "A lot of the stories are, ‘Trump in really bad shape.' There is a 'to-be-sure' paragraph, but it does seem we are getting a picture of Trump in pretty dire shape.”