Critic's Notebook: One Final Political Push on the Sunday Morning Shows Before It's All Mercifully Over

The hosts, panelists and campaign representatives all seem to be suffering from combat fatigue.

The Sunday morning political talk shows — or as Donald Trump likes to call them, "the shows" — were in fever pitch two days before the presidential election. Watching Fox News Sunday, Meet the Press and Face the Nation back-to-back is not to be recommended to any but the most passionate political junkies, and even then, should only be undertaken in consultation with a therapist.

Fortunately for this viewer, the fourth network show, This Week, was preempted until later in the day because ABC instead covered the New York City Marathon, which is a race that people actually enjoy watching.

We're now in the home stretch of the campaign, and the candidates were in overdrive as the poll numbers tightened. Trump was racking up frequent flier miles crisscrossing the country. He took time out to grab and kiss a baby, only proving that when it comes to his groping, no one is too young. And during one of his rallies he was rushed offstage by Secret Service agents, which ironically only made him look more presidential.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, seemed to be on more of a concert tour than a campaign, cavorting onstage with the likes of Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Jay Z. Trump would have tried the same approach, only Ted Nugent and the Oak Ridge Boys weren't available. One of the weekend's biggest stories was the dramatic surge in early voting among Hispanics, who were apparently taking time off from raping and murdering to send Trump a message.

The programs all featured campaign representatives, with Fox News snaring an exclusive with Mike Pence and Tim Kaine appearing on CBS' Face the Nation. Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace pushed hard on Pence, who bizarrely denied that he was worried about the Hispanic vote by saying he had recently had a cup of Cuban coffee.

"Donald Trump is literally everywhere," Pence declared, which is certainly true if you include people's nightmares. "Our secret weapon is the American people, who are saying enough is enough," he boasted, although he left unclear what exactly "enough" means. Pressed about whether he and Trump would concede if they lost the election, he grudgingly admitted that they would, but only if there is a "clear outcome." As evidence of Clinton's travails, he pointed to a New York Post story about her Filipino maid printing out classified e-mails, which only goes to show, to quote the musical Hamilton, that immigrants get the job done.  

Speaking with Face the Nation's John Dickerson, Kaine repeated a variation of the phrase "We feel really good, but we're taking nothing for granted" three times. It basically meant that the Clinton campaign is confident, but aren't exactly feeling the need to take any laxatives. He spun FBI director James Comey's announcement about reopening the investigation into Clinton emails like a true politician, making the dubious argument that it had "generated energy" to the campaign.

Discussing the election on Fox News Sunday, Clinton strategist Joel Benenson declared, "It's not over until the fat lady sings."

"I want to ask you a question about the emails," Wallace then told him, which is a phrase that journalists should by now have printed on their t-shirts. Confronted with several damning quotes, Benenson ducked the questions, hewing to the well-practiced but slippery position that he wouldn't "authenticate" any emails that had been "hacked by Russians."  

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who seems to have aged 10 years since the campaign began, told Dickerson, "I don't think anyone can say that 2016 has been normal," which in terms of political analysis falls under the heading of "Duh!" Projecting the sort of confidence that only comes from endlessly practicing self-delusion, he painted a rosy picture of Trump's election chances, pointing to "the heck of a bad narrative" currently plaguing Clinton's campaign.

Both Wallace and NBC's Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd hosted their show from their networks' new "Election Headquarters," with Fox's so garish it made Las Vegas casinos seem drab by comparison. Their set also featured a "Data Deck" in which a numbers-crunching analyst delivered electoral scenarios using a touch screen. Todd used the same sort of device, with the giddy pleasure of someone who's seen Minority Report too many times. The most wonkish of all the hosts, Todd actually said at one point, "I've got counties that I'm watching," which is either a sign of diligent professionalism or that he has too much time on his hands. He also referred to Sunday's program as a "Special Edition," without making clear what exactly made it special.

Each of the shows featured their usual panel discussions, with most of the participants looking like they were in the final stage of the Bataan Death March. When Dickerson asked journalist John Heilemann what was going on in the race, he wearily responded, "It's almost over, John." Karl Rove presented Wallace with a sunny outlook on Trump's chances of being elected, which would be more credible if he hadn't famously insisted that Mitt Romney had won the last election.

Bob Woodward described the FBI's recent behavior as "extraordinary," saying it would take years to get to the bottom of it ... or, at least until he writes his next book. Tom Brokaw had a particularly dim outlook, pointing to the "tribal warfare" currently taking place and saying, "All over the country, there are people in fetal positions right now." Newt Gingrich was similarly apocalyptic about how the divided nation will fare after the election, although he ascribed all the blame to the "elite media" and "the Democrats and their unions."

You practically needed an advanced math degree to keep up with the facts and figures thrown around on all three shows by analysts parsing both the presidential and senatorial races. The general consensus seemed to be that Clinton has it in the bag, but not by so much that viewers should, heaven forbid, stop watching between now and Election Day.

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