Moderates, not progressives, won November's midterm elections, a New York Times columnist said at a talk alongside two other panelists Saturday.
Much of the discussion at the John Fisher Zeidman Memorial Colloquium on Politics and the Press was focused on the recent midterm elections and the future of politics in America. Bruni and two other journalists, Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour White House correspondent and Katherine Miller, an editor at BuzzFeed News, discussed whether the midterms, in which the Democratic Party captured the House of Representatives but failed to retake the Senate, represented a victory for liberal Democrats.
When viewing the elections through a campaign lens, Bruni argued that moderates were the victors. He said that in areas with close races and in traditionally Republican districts that Democrats captured, voters did not want candidates to emulate President Donald Trump’s contentious style.
“I think if there’s one message that voters sent above all others, or one lesson, it’s that most American voters want the temperature turned down a lot in this country,” Bruni said.
Miller contended that the midterms were a victory for progressives in terms of policy. She said that Georgia governor candidate Stacy Abrams and Texas Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke's failed campaigns were losses, but not evidence that Democrats should avoid running as “true-blue progressives.”
Bruni argued that Democrats should focus on calmly governing over the next two years in order to win voters, and Alcindor said that candidates' strength will influence the outcome, regardless of the parties’ specific platforms.
However, both Bruni and Miller said that it is difficult to make predictions in politics.
“When [Donald Trump] came down that escalator,” Bruni said, recalling the moment the future president announced his candidacy, “Anyone who tells you, ‘oh, I knew this was gonna happen’ is lying. No one really took it that seriously.”
The panelists discussed the news media's role in a time in which the president frequently attacks the press, and in which the media landscape is increasingly dominated by personalized feeds. Trump's relationship with the press became even more contentious than usual after he revoked the press pass of Jim Acosta, chief White House correspondent for CNN, earlier this month.
“[The media landscape] is just fracturing in terms of what you’re actually consuming, and it’s very tough to know what someone else is consuming,” Miller said.
She argued that a so-called "filter-bubble" can be good thing in many ways, as minority groups and younger readers can find content that appeals to them. But she said that it can also make it hard for many people to keep up with national news.
Alcindor also recalled a recent White House press briefing in which Donald Trump called one of her questions, about whether Trump was contributing to the rise of white nationalism in America, “a racist question.” She said that her training as a journalist compelled her to keep pressing the President until he answered the question, but that it also led her to continue asking standard questions after the exchange was over.
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“I felt proud of myself for just being like, I can get through this and ask [a follow-up] question without feeling like I need to be in the ring fighting the President,” Alcindor said amidst applause from the audience.
Both Bruni and Miller said that the press devotes too much space to covering the Trump administration.
Nevertheless, Miller said that the media cannot ignore the President’s actions. She compared Trump to an asteroid strike and said that the press is obligated to cover any event of such great magnitude.
“You have to acknowledge that life has changed since the asteroid hit Earth,” Miller said.