One of the pleasures of being off of the television grid is not having to suffer blood pressure fluctuations as various media gasbags struggle to get me to see the world through their eyes. Generally I take my news from the internet in small, calm doses, and allow myself plenty of time to digest it sensibly so as not to cause undue heartburn.
This past weekend, by virtue of being away from home and in a household infested with cable service, I mainlined some television coverage of the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary. It was, at best, a disturbing experience.
Camps in both parties were playing the expectations game - with willing and eager complicity from the media. Bernie lost the Democratic caucuses in Nevada by around five points, but his team was busy trying to paint that as a victory because just months ago they had been trailing by forty points. To hear them tell it, Hillary lost by not winning big enough. Two points in defense of that surmise: first, they were right, and Bernie's team made up much lost ground against the inevitable Hillary - just not enough - and second, Bill Clinton was a master craftsman of the expectations game, so it is kind of fitting that it be used to minimize a Clinton victory. But, no matter what the expectation was, Hillary still won.
The most egregious assault on public sensibilities, however, came out of South Carolina with Marco Rubio's never-ending self-lauding for coming in second - well behind Donald Trump. Rubio looked and acted as though he had just won the Big Kahuna itself and would be moving into the White House just as soon as he and the Missus could get their stuff out of storage. He gave a flat-out victory speech with a stupid grin spread ear-to-ear, with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley standing (nearly dancing) center in his backup chorus line beaming like the Hatteras Light House. It was a complete spectacle of pomp, and glamour, and showmanship - and yet he lost.
There are only so many of these little "expectations" victories to be had before the final votes are tallied - and each one rings just a bit more hollow. The only way to win is ultimately to win - and candidates can't win by constantly coming in second. Bernie has one big win - New Hampshire - but he damned well better be focused on achieving several more. Marco has a pocket full of high-dollar endorsements, but he has yet to win squat.
The ability to claim victory over expectations diminishes with every contest. The race quickens - and very soon claiming victory will require victory.