Remember when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election? No, I don't just mean win the popular vote: Win it all and win big. FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's political projection site, had Clinton's chances of winning at 71.4 percent. Frank Luntz tweeted on Nov. 8, 2016, "Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States." One GOP insider declared that for Trump to win, "it would take video evidence of a smiling Hillary drowning a litter of puppies while terrorists surrounded her with chants of 'Death to America.'" Pundit after pundit, on the left and the right, joined the chorus of mainstream news outlets to declare that the election was Clinton's.
There was, however, one lone voice of dissent: Michael Moore. In July 2016, Moore wrote "Five Reasons Trump Will Be President." That article mostly went unnoticed by mainstream media after the election, when everyone finally realized Moore was right but it was way too late to make a difference.
Fast forward to the 2022 midterms and we find ourselves in a similar scenario, but turned upside down. Now the media is basically repeating again and again that Democrats will lose in November, while Moore is suggesting the opposite. Moore isn't just echoing the widespread notion that Democrats could hold the Senate while losing the House. He is suggesting that voters "are going to descend upon the polls en masse — a literal overwhelming, unprecedented tsunami of voters — and nonviolently, legally, and without mercy remove every last stinking traitor to our Democracy."
That prediction is likely to cause hyperventilation at all points of the political spectrum. Could he really be right?
To make his point, Moore is going beyond armchair punditry and sending out what he is calling a "tsunami of truth," where each day leading up to the election he offers one specific factual reason why he is right and why it makes sense to be optimistic.
If an 18-year-old high school student can beat a Republican incumbent in Boise, Idaho, Moore argues, something is happening that the media can't see.
In his second installment, he covered the story of the recent election for the Boise Board of Education, in which Republican Steve Schmidt, an incumbent, was up for re-election. Considering that Trump won Idaho's capital city with 73 percent of the vote, it made sense to assume Schmidt would win again. But as Moore explains, Schmidt had been endorsed by a far-right extremist group, the Idaho Liberty Dogs, that led a campaign against the local library, calling their LGBTQ+ and sex ed materials "smut-filled pornography." According to Moore, they even showed up at local Extinction Rebellion climate strikes brandishing AR-15 assault rifles.
So in a surprising turn of events, the Idaho Statesman, Boise's daily news paper, chose not to endorse Schmidt because he refused to denounce the Idaho Liberty Dogs. Instead, the paper endorsed his opponent, an 18-year-old high school senior and progressive activist, Shiva Rajbhandari, who was also co-founder of the Boise chapter of Extinction Rebellion.
Rajbhandari won. A teenager beat a Republican incumbent in a traditionally red city in one of the reddest states. Moore's point is that if these kinds of seismic shifts are happening at the polls in Boise, there's reason to think that this election won't follow traditional patterns. Voters, he believes, have had enough of the power of right-wing extremists and the threat they pose to democratic values.
In his next "tsunami of truth," Moore reminded readers that despite all the ways that the media tends to make the American right seem massively powerful, they're really just a big bunch of losers. Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the eight last elections. As Moore explains it, "Only because of the slave states' demand for the Electoral College — and the Republicans' #1 job of gerrymandering and voter suppression — do we even have to still deal with their misogyny, their destruction of Planet Earth, their love of guns and greed, and their laser-focused mission to bury our Democracy."
That leads to the next installment: Republicans will lose because this time around they are "running the biggest batch of nutters nationwide in American electoral history." He then promises to offer a list of the top 10 "biggest whackadoodles on the Republican side of the ballot."
No. 10 on Moore's list is Mathew DePerno, Republican candidate for attorney general in Michigan. Like nine other candidates in the 30 state attorney general races this fall, DePerno is an election denier. But he's not just a common, garden-variety election denier; he was allegedly personally involved in a voting system breach. That's right: the Republican candidate who hopes to become Michigan's top law enforcement official is under investigation by the current attorney general for "unauthorized access to voting equipment."
But that isn't the half of it. DePerno also thinks that the Plan B birth control pill is a "form of murder." Moore explains that DePerno "believes that 'life' doesn't begin at conception — he insists it begins BEFORE conception and it should be against the law for anyone to interrupt a sperm on its way to do its 'job.'" As if that weren't enough to categorize DePerno as batshit extreme, he has attacked his opponent with memes that include the white supremacist symbol of Pepe the Frog while comparing his campaign to delivering Michiganders a "really big red pill." Not a Plan B pill, which he likens to fentanyl.
Confirming Moore's view that DePerno's extremism will only going to appeal to a narrow Trumper base, the twitter replies to DePerno are uniformly critical and sarcastic. Like this: "I did nazi that coming. (actually, I did.)." Or this: "I want what you are smoking." Or this post, from @NeverTrumpTexan, "You could just say you were Nazi. It is much easier than what ever that is." Surveying the 50 most recent replies to his tweet, among which include one from Keith Olbermann, every single one is critical and sarcastic.
Moore's 45-day "tsunami of truth" is a clever way to tap into the energy he has described as "Roevember." Moore coined the term back in August, when a funny thing happened in Kansas. Six weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Kansas held an election, which included proposed amendment to the state constitution that could have allowed the legislature to ban abortion. In a surprising shift from typical voting demographics, turnout for the vote was massive, 60 percent higher than in 2018 — and Kansans overwhelmingly voted to reject the anti-abortion amendment.
And that was Kansas, another consistently red state in recent years.
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So if we're seeing a swing away from Trump-style Republicans in Kansas and Idaho, there is reason to believe that the combination of Trump fascist nutters on the ballot, the revelations from the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the various investigations into Trump and, last but definitely not least, the fact that the Supreme Court put abortion back on the ballot could lead to the type of voting tsunami Moore is predicting.
Which leads us to wonder why the media isn't covering that story, but is still offering the same stale script about Biden's low favorability and Republican chances of taking back both the House and the Senate. Even Jen Psaki, Biden's former White House press secretary turned MSNBC commentator, offered the downer view that the president wasn't helping his party win.
Media coverage matters. And the fact that the media is largely sticking to pre-established coverage patterns doesn't just mean that it's missing the story, as Moore claims, it also means it's likely influencing the outcome of the election — and not in a good way.
Scholars of media effects know that when news coverage focuses primarily on negative personality coverage, i.e., the "horse race," turnout is depressed. When media focuses on policy, however, including contentious issues like abortion, turnout improves. So all the attention to Biden's supposed unpopularity is not helping.
Further, if the news media tells you the results are a foregone conclusion, that also depresses turnout. I mean, if you are told over and over again that you are going to lose no matter what you do, why bother voting? Even more important, research shows that if the media suggests an election will be close, turnout increases. Some scholars have speculated that the fact that right-wing news outlets reported that the election was close in 2016 elevated the Trump vote, while smug reporting from more liberal outlets, assuming Clinton would win easily, depressed her vote.
Yet almost all news media in the weeks before a major election focuses on predicting the outcome, rather than debating the issues. What's more, the flurry of attention paid to polling, and all the hand-wringing over whether the polling is accurate, only exacerbate the problem. Obsessing over whether or not a given candidate or party will win does almost nothing to help energize voter turnout and engage citizens.
Moore suggests the media is "either too overworked or too lazy or too white and too male to open their eyes and see the liberal/ left/progressive/working class and female uprising that is right now underway."
But there's more. For decades, media scholars have described what they call the "protest paradigm." These are the predictable patterns journalists follow when covering protests. They include, for example, a habit of focusing on "small, inappropriate samples of individual protesters," which leads the audience to misunderstand the true nature of the larger movement. The protest paradigm also refers to the news media's habit of allowing elites to frame the story, which misses the positions of average citizens. Even worse, Indiana University professor Danielle Brown explains that this type of coverage "favors spectacle, conflict, disruption and official narratives over the substance of movements that challenge the status quo."
We can observe many of the same habits when the press covers elections. And given that this election in particular could be understood as a protest vote — protesting the assault on women's rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants' rights, democratic rights, etc. — it makes sense to think of this election more in terms of a mass movement than as an example of democracy as usual.
Framing the upcoming vote as a mass uprising of nonviolent civil resistance is exactly Moore's plan. As he explains, his goal isn't just to offer the public another version of the truth; it is also to call out the problems with media coverage. "Much of what many in the media are telling you is patently false and just plain wrong," he writes. "They are simply regurgitating old narratives and stale scripts. They are either too overworked or too lazy or too white and too male to open their eyes and see the liberal/ left/progressive/working class and female uprising that is right now underway."
Moore has a long history of questioning the status quo and bucking conventional thought patterns. Whether getting booed off the Academy Awards stage for opposing the war in Iraq or being the lone voice predicting that Trump would win, Moore has never shied away from disagreeing with the pundit class and political elites. But he doesn't just do it for shock value; he does it because he's paying attention to the political climate in ways the mainstream media tends not to.
Is Moore right that there will be a tsunami of voters determined to defeat the enemies of democracy? The only way to learn the answer is to stop trying to read the tea leaves and focus on making it happen.