When 2016 dawned, it seemed like anything could happen. Now long-forgotten figures like Martin O’Malley and Carly Fiorina still roamed debate stages, Donald Trump was still a joke, Bernie Sanders had just stopped being one, and every voter could still dream of success for her favored candidate.
Still, even then, there were those warning voters against attempting to monkey with fate, against progressives delusional enough to believe they could create the future in whatever image they wanted. Hillary Clinton’s politics were the only feasible destiny, Paul Krugman warned Bernie Sanders admirers in his January editorial “How Change Happens.” If people failed to accept that, they would bring on disaster:
“Sorry, but there’s nothing noble about seeing your values defeated because you preferred happy dreams to hard thinking about means and ends. Don’t let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence.”
Krugman’s attitude would prove emblematic of the Paper of Record’s election coverage. As the months passed, the New York Times’ Hillary-boosting scribes would converge on a set of rhetorical strategies to defend hard thinking by squashing ideas that fell outside the bounds of pundit orthodoxy. The paper decided early on that 2016 was to be a coronation, and that all attempts to derail Hillary’s ascent to the presidency (or even to point out that it wasn’t going according to plan) would be mocked, ignored, or treated as failures to acknowledge Empirical Reality. The Times’ The Upshot” election predictor consistently held that Hillary was comfortably on her way to the presidency, regardless of what anyone else (e.g. voters) had to say about it. To read the Times in 2016 was to be told, in a tone of utmost certitude, that Hillary Clinton was inevitable and inescapable.
As the year opened, the big story was the success of the unconventional-seeming candidates whom David Brooks lumped together as “Trump, Sanders and Cruz….Cruz, Trump and Sanders.” Never mind that there is almost no political gap larger than that between Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. All of these candidates were deemed to be of dubious electability, and unified by their departure from acceptable Times-ian political orthodoxy.
The Times’ liberal columnists were particularly prone to fretting about Sanders. Nicholas Kristof would point to a Gallup poll showing that “Fifty percent of Americans said they would be unwilling to consider voting for a socialist,” failing to consider that it might actually be a step up for the Democrats to have only half of Americans totally unwilling to vote for the party.
One might have expected different from the nominally mildly-progressive Paul Krugman, who has previously rocked the world of economics by pondering aloud whether vast inequality is truly necessary (and received large sums of money to study the question professionally), as well as airing heterodox opinions on such questions as whether or not shrinking the budget deficit is the most important thing in the world. But he, too, would spend the election season amplifying the conventional wisdom and bashing everyone to his left.