What has the press hyperventilating about Haley is not her relative rise in the national polls over the past month (about two percentage points), or the fact that she’s drawing even with DeSantis in Iowa. Nor is it the remote possibility that she’ll eclipse former President Trump. No, what’s causing the swoon is her uphill climb to defeat DeSantis for the meaningless position as the second-place finisher in the race. Her quest resembles the NFL’s Playoff Bowl, which started in 1960 and matched the second-place division finishers against one another for the useless crown as the third-place team in the league. The game, last contested in 1969 before it was retired in disgrace, was called “The Shit Bowl” by Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi — a “hinky-dink football game, held in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players.”
That the press seems to thrill at the prospect of a Playoff Bowl between Haley (9.8 percent in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average) and DeSantis (13.7 percent), when first-placer Donald Trump (61.6 percent) seems destined to face Joe Biden in the championship game, is not to paint reporters with hinky-dinkness, only to suggest it. News outlets run as fail-safe systems, designed to function even in the case of such reportorial emergencies as when a candidate leads by a margin that not even a deep trough of $70 million in Koch money can alter.
Heavy coverage of the Haley-DeSantis race by reporters can also be defended as insurance in case Trump fractures a hip and lingers in the ICU, is forced to put on an orange suit to match his orange sheen, chokes to death on a burnt steak at his country club, or otherwise vanishes from the scene. News organizations can’t very well recall their reporters from the hustings and declare a victor seven months before the Republican convention. Upsets can happen! The journalistic show must go on! Because political reporters, like sportswriters, hate blowouts as much as they relish tight contests, they are prepared to spill as much ink on the also-rans as is journalistically defensible. And as long as Haley continues rising in the polls and keeps harvesting Kochbucks, who can dispute the ink spilled?
What fortifies the Haley swoon in some newsrooms is the institutional memory of how Hillary Clinton led Barack Obama by 20 percentage points in the fall of 2007 and seemed the foreordained winner until Obama beat her in the January 2008 Iowa caucuses. After Iowa, he kept rising and rising and Clinton kept flatlining until he finally defeated her for the Democratic nomination, and then won the presidency. Better than the other candidates, Haley has led a campaign that seeks simultaneously to appeal to Trump supporters — she always compliments him as “the right president at the right time“ — and to never-Trump Republicans by insisting that he step off.
The lessons of the 2008 campaign haven’t been lost on the Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis. A month ago he wrote, “She is, as Pat Buchanan used to say, a better ‘political athlete.’” Lewis was brave enough then to chart her path to victory: beat Trump in Iowa, then New Hampshire, and then take her home base of South Carolina and swamp Trump with momentum. For Trump haters, it would be nice to think so. For journalists, it provides the promise of something to write about between now and the convention.
My second-rate Detroit Lions were victorious in all three of their Shit Bowls. Send Lions gossip to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. My X feed and Bluesky intend to meet in a Playoff Bowl in January. My dead RSS feed will do the color and the play-by-play.
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