It’s time for us to do another column of hard-hitting punditry about the evils of big money in politics. So let’s focus in depth on the outrage we all just witnessed in Tuesday’s New York presidential primaries.
And, to save time, I'll give you just the basic facts. Then you can piece them together any way you wish to proclaim the outrage you feel about the way big money manipulators are buying our elections and sabotaging our democracy.
Here are the basic facts of New York’s Republican primary election and delegate results (with 99 percent of precincts tabulated):
▪ Multibillionaire Donald Trump won with 60.4 percent of the vote — and earned an estimated 89 delegates to the Republican convention.
▪ Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished a distant second with 25.1 percent — and earned an estimated four delegates.
▪ Sen. Ted Cruz came in a distant third with 14.5 percent — and got no delegates.
Here are the basics of New York’s Democratic primary election and delegate results:
▪ Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won with 58.0 percent of the vote — and earned an estimated 139 delegates.
▪ Sen. Bernie Sanders finished a distant second with 42.0 percent and earned an estimated 106 delegates.
And finally, here are the basics on the money each candidate spent on TV and radio advertising for the contests. (The figures, published on the Center for Public Integrity website, were originally provided by The Tracking Firm, a Washington-based nonpartisan media tracking company.):
▪ $5.6 million
▪ $3.8 million
▪ $0 (spent on TV ads), $67,000 (spent on radio)
Let me know when you’ve written your punditry, so we can — oh-oh, is my face red! — I see I’ve omitted a minor detail. I forgot to mention which candidates spent which sums to capture your minds, or at least, your votes. Here are the missing facts:
▪ $5.6 million — that’s what Sanders spent in his losing effort.
▪ $3.8 million — that’s what Clinton spent to defeat Sanders by a landslide.
▪ $837,605 — that’s what Cruz (and an independent pro-Cruz political action committee) spent, only to be buried by a landslide.
▪ $361,221 — that’s what Kasich (and two pro-Kasich PACs) spent to finish way back (but at least beat Cruz).
▪ $0 — yes, Trump didn’t spend a dime on TV ads in New York; and spent just $67,000 (a billionaire’s version of pocket change) on a few radio ads as he overwhelmed his opponents.
As the author of a book (titled The Great American Video Game) about presidential politics in the television age, and another (Speaking Freely) on how politicians conceded they legally solicit campaign money from lobbyists whose special interests they oversee, it’s clear I’ve got more work to do. We need to update and revise our thinking and legislating to equip us for politics in the age of social media. Trump, unencumbered by such hindrances as propriety, civility and decency, has mastered politics in the age of indecency.
But there is more. Trump has shown veteran politicos and strategists (and, yes, busloads of pundits) how power politics has changed in the 21st century, when news-reporting is just another cost-center competing for the eyeballs of fickle folks. But perhaps most important is the lesson that America’s TV network executives should have learned from the way they have allowed themselves to be shamefully manipulated by the political neophyte mogul. For they permitted Trump to virtually install himself as de facto executive producer/CEO of virtually all TV networks — while he was running for president.
Trump made himself into a ratings-boosting commodity and every TV booker’s hot “get.” For most of a year, he was on virtually every TV network news-talk show, whenever he chose. Often he competed with himself on multiple daily morning shows, weekend shows and late night shows. He was rarely questioned in depth about the political records he set for uttering the most false or misleading statements ever recorded by media fact-checkers.
And lo, it came to pass that, even in the world’s media capital, New York City, Trump realized he didn’t need to spend a nickel on a TV ad. He just frequented network news parlors as if they were establishments that are legal only in Nevada. And, as we’ve just learned, he didn’t even pay for his pleasure.
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.