24 Mar 2016 at 14:41 ET
Mark my words: We’re going to face a very ugly few weeks on social media. The nastiness will begin this weekend and last through April 26, when five states will hold primaries with a big delegate haul in the balance.
Here’s why: We have five states coming up in which Bernie Sanders will probably do very, very well. It’s not inconceivable that he could sweep them all. But even a sweep won’t change the structure of the race in any way. Three of the five (Hawaii, Wyoming and Alaska) are states with relatively few delegates. The Democratic contests are all proportional, so Hillary Clinton will get a share of delegates even if she gets shut out.
Political reporters know that all five of these contests, combined, will account for fewer delegates (286) than will New York alone on April 19 (291). Clinton is up by 48 points in the latest poll of New York, and by 33 points in 538’s weighted polling average. Things may change, but it’s looking like a blowout at this point.
Then, one week after New York goes, 462 delegates will be awarded in five mid-Atlantic states. Clinton is the favorite in four of them, and one, Rhode Island (which has a tiny delegate count), is essentially a toss-up.
So we have 286 delegates that will be awarded in prime Sanders territory between this Saturday and April 9, followed by a 10-day pause, and then 753 more delegates will be awarded in a two-week period in what’s looking, at this point, like solid Clinton country.
This stretch of primaries is going to set off a war-of-words between Sanders supporters – and liberal media outlets that back the Vermont Senator — and more neutral political reporters, especially data-based journalists who keep an eye on the delegate count and the calendar. That’s because there’s going to be a natural disconnect between what appears to be a lot of momentum on Sanders’ side, and the way the mainstream media will characterize the race.
Serious reporters know that the next five contests will shave some delegates off of Clinton’s healthy lead – she’s currently up by 303 pledged delegates according to Real Clear Politics‘ count – which still leaves her well ahead as the fight for the nomination moves to friendlier ground for the Clinton campaign.
Journalists with knowledge of the calendar won’t report that Sanders is turning the race on its head. They won’t report that it’s a whole new ballgame, or that a win in Alaska predicts a victory in Maryland. They won’t report that Sanders is surging.
A lot of Sanders supporters will want them to cover these victories in sweeping terms, and write that the momentum has shifted, but they won’t. They won’t report these things because they aren’t true, or at least because there will be no reason to expect them to prove true at the time (one never knows what might happen in the future). If Sanders had swept five early contests and gained a lead in the delegate count, it might have caused primary voters in later states who leaned toward Clinton to re-evaluate their choice. But we’re more than halfway through the campaign, opinions are becoming set and when the candidates get to New York, Clinton will still be up by at least a couple of hundred pledged delegates.
A lot of Sanders supporters have been primed by progressive media outlets that support the candidate – and various Facebook memes – to see these things through the prism of a conspiracy by the “establishment” media to keep Sanders down. So while the reporting will be factual and responsible — and based on the delegate math – we can expect our social media feeds to fill up with a million pissed off posts complaining that Sanders’ big win in Wyoming (18 delegates) wasn’t front-page news, or demanding to know why the media refuse to report the obvious fact that these next five contests are game-changers that will surely propel Sanders to a glorious victory over Hitlery Killton.
And a legion of pro-Sanders writers at The Huffington Post and Salon and US UNCUT will stoke their fury by telling them what they want to hear. They will confidently write that Sanders’ win in the Washington Caucuses makes him the clear front-runner in the race for the nomination. They will accuse the mainstream media of covering up what they’ll see as an obvious reality.
So hang on, the next month of the Democratic primaries are going to be a bumpy ride. The only way this scenario doesn’t come to pass is if Clinton out-performs expectations over the next few weeks.