There was angst among the five national political journalist who gathered on Oct. 6 in Johnson Chapel to share their insights into the presidential campaign.

"Is this the end?” asked moderator Tim Murphy of Mother Jones after introducing the panel. “Is this the craziest election we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes or is this just the beginning and the new normal?"

The panel’s answers to those questions—for what President Biddy Martin also described as “at the very least, an unusual presidential election season”—focused on what the journalists perceived as a complete overturn of traditional politics and a resulting gap between experts and the electorate.

With 33 days to go before the election, all five panelists agreed that the current political cycle signals a sea change in the U.S. political landscape.

Julia Ioffe of Politico Magazine, Abby Phillip of The Washington Post, Jessica Taylor of National Public Radio and Byron Tau of The Wall Street Journal pointed variously to divisive partisanship, traditional media caught flat-footed by electoral changes, and a campaign by Donald Trump that Ioffe likened to the avant-garde Dada movement. [continue reading]

Tales from the Trail: Journalists' Insights from the 2016 Campaign

October 10, 2016

Five well-known political journalists -- Julia Ioffe, Politico Magazine, Abby Phillip, The Washington Post, Jessica Taylor, National Public Radio, Byron Tau, The Wall Street Journal -- take a break from the campaign trail to share insights with the Amherst community. Moderated by Tim Murphy of Mother Jones.

“I keep hoping we’ll wake up on Nov. 9 and find out that this was performance art,” she said, “and we were just unwitting participants in an elaborate performance piece that holds a mirror up to our society and shows us we don’t need a political class."

Hers was one of several references to the “bad dream” of the election. Ioffe also drew parallels between Trump’s support and recent right-wing victories in the Philippines, Greece, Poland, Germany and England.

“I think we’re in the beginning stages of a global, not just national, change,” she said. “We’re not waking up any time soon.”

“There’s an inexorable movement toward diversity and change that’s leaving a lot of people in this country in the lurch,” agreed Phillip. “It’s been a long time coming in us as a society dealing with that.” 

Taylor pointed to Trump’s veer away from the traditional ways political campaigns have been managed in the past, with candidates attempting to avoid controversial and sensitive topics.

"When he's losing the media oxygen, he knows to say something. … Donald Trump sees all press as good press." Taylor said. “As the media it is our responsibility to cover candidates when they make news—and Trump makes a lot of news, good or bad.” 

For Tau, the ability of the Trump campaign to harness a rising tide of populism and overturn the wishes of the political elite marks a political shift, one that the Republican party will have to address going forward.

“The party is asking itself a lot of fundamental questions about who they are and what they stand for,” Tau said of the Republicans. "Trump is here to stay in a lot of ways.”