We cats have nine lives, so we're old enough to remember the days when intrepid political journalists not only smoked and drank, but burrowed deeply into campaign organizations with good old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting. Writers like Jack Germond and David Broder would visit field offices, spend hours with organizers, and shadow canvassers as they knocked on doors — all to get a detailed sense of how well a campaign's "ground game" was going.
That's because those seasoned reporters knew that a good field operation could make the difference between winning by a point and winning by a few points — or, between winning or losing, period.
A lot has changed since then, but not that. Coverage of the ground game, however, is way, way different. It barely exists.
After all, how can today's political reporters take the time to embed themselves in field operations when they have to: 1) file something every day, 2) tweet constantly, 3) appear on whatever cable news network snags them for on-the-ground stand-ups, and 4) swing by the studios when they're in either Washington or New York for in-person punditry and prognostications?
They can't. So the kind of pound-the-pavement reporting that illuminates who's really got the organizational chops to win pretty much falls by the wayside in favor of the horse race — which too often devolves into foolish, frenetic blather that encourages nail-biting and Xanax-reaching. That's journalism, 2016-style.
Thanks to the interwebs, news cycles that hurtle at the speed of light and, frankly, the passage of time — Germond and Broder are no longer with us — America has lost some truly profound and valuable reporting. If journalists today could take three to four days to write a campaign story instead of just a few hours, the contours of today's Presidential race would be at once much more nuanced and a whole lot clearer. As in, that it's the Democrats' ground game that's going to win in the end.
(Some folks have tried to do that kind of old-school reporting — visiting, for example, alleged Trump offices in Florida and discovering that they're just PO boxes, or staffed by a single person, or not staffed at all. But the stories have generally been one-offs. It's a pity.)
Look, we cats will be the first to say we're wrong if we all wake up on November 9 to World Doomed. But every time we hear stuff about how the race has tightened, we keep going back to the ground game. It's not glamorous, and doesn't make for good TV or pithy tweets, but it will probably give us World Saved. Which will make us PURR.