PHOENIX — Tuesday’s surprise win by Donald Trump hearkens back to the election of one of the Republican Party’s iconic members, an Arizona State University professor said.
ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism professor Leonard Downie Jr., who supervised election coverage at the Washington Post for more than 20 years, compared Trump’s win to that of Ronald Reagan.
“In 1980, I saw coverage of an incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, and an insurgent outsider, Ronald Reagan,” he said. “[Reagan] was not taken seriously by the Eastern elites and by the media. Both the polling and the coverage led us to believe it was either going to be a very close election or Carter would win.
“Ronald Reagan won by a landslide.”
Downie said one Washington Post columnist, Haynes Johnson, knew the election would go to Reagan.
“[He had] not traveled with a single candidate, not talked to a single focus group,” Downie said. “(Johnson) just visited people in their homes and at their workplaces … and told the story of a country that was very unhappy and angry. Almost identical to what we see today, except for different reasons and a different time.”
But the similarities don’t stop at the media failing to predict a Republican upset.
Both Trump and Reagan had a career in entertainment and other fields prior to beginning their political careers.
However, Reagan first tested the waters as a governor — he led the state of California from 1967-1975 — before he made a run for the White House. Trump, though he considered several runs at office, had not fully entered a political race prior to this year.
KTAR’s Carter Nacke contributed to this report.
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