The Media Do Scarlett

ENLARGE

Donald Trump speaks as moderator Chris Wallace gestures during the third U.S. presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 19. Photo: Bloomberg News

Quick, someone get the smelling salts for the media. Ever since that dastardly Donald Trump told Chris Wallace, “I’ll keep you in suspense” about recognizing the election result, we haven’t seen so much swooning and fainting since Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.”

Starting with the 2000 election, it became Democratic writ that election outcomes could be questioned and contested. To this day many Democrats have convinced themselves, via repetition, that George W. Bush stole the 2000 election in Florida.

In fact, Mr. Bush won the original count and the mandatory mini-recount. Virtually all serious attempts to finalize the Florida vote came to the same conclusion. Mr. Bush won. It was Al Gore who pushed the result into the courts of Florida in an effort to have the initial result overturned. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that enough was enough.

Opinion Journal Video

Editorial Page Assistant Editor James Freeman on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s highlights and lowlights in the final presidential debate. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Florida recount fight made for great melodrama, but it was a media circus, and a destructive one. The partisan divide created by that sensational event is responsible in part for the divisions that endure to this day.

Four years later, Democrats again argued extensively that George Bush stole the election from John Kerry because the President’s campaign surrogates engineered the vote in Ohio against John Kerry. Mr. Kerry conceded the election, and it must be noted that he kept his own qualms private for many years.

Both parties have since created a cottage industry dedicated to bird-dogging future election results in precincts around the country. And that’s fine. Keep the politicians honest.

Now comes Donald Trump, with his usual rank amateur flair, suggesting that if he loses it will be because the entire U.S. electoral system—presumably encompassing all 50 states—was fixed against him. As always, it fell to post-debate surrogates to make the distinctions he himself is incapable of making between discrete events—Illinois in 1960, Florida in 2000—and the legitimacy of the entire system.

For failing to make any such distinction, Mr. Trump once again reaps a media whirlwind that blows his candidacy off Hillary Clinton’s manifest vulnerabilities.

None of that excuses the American media’s faux fainting spell over this episode. We know that the normal cynicism of the media class hasn’t been displaced by an endemic naivete about politics. The extraordinary overweighting of Mr. Trump’s ham-handed and self-defeating remark will only feed the widespread public impression that the media are trying to preordain the election’s outcome.

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