Donald Trump’s campaign is drowning out media coverage of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDrug importation from other countries will save dollars and lives Sanders: Trump a 'pathological liar' Buttigieg endorsed by ex-treasurer in DNC race MORE, frustrating the liberal presidential contender and making it tougher for him to get attention.
Sanders has lashed out at the media over what his team refers to as a corporate news “blackout” of his campaign.
The complaint comes at a critical juncture for the Sanders campaign, which is struggling to build on its early momentum and needs a breakout moment to beat back the perception that Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFive big Trump narratives to watch NBC: Russia setting up dossier on Trump Chelsea Clinton attends Muslim solidarity rally in NYC MORE’s nomination is a foregone conclusion.
Sanders appears to have hit a plateau, with his support leveling off despite efforts to grow his base by reaching out to the minority voters who overwhelmingly support Clinton.
Democrats say Clinton benefits every day that the media remains focused on Trump and the Republican race.
“It’s not like Hillary is getting a hell of a lot more coverage than Bernie. She just doesn’t need it," said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. "All of the focus is on the Republican side, so she can effectively run out the clock.”
Sanders’s campaign argues that he regularly attracts thousands of people on the campaign trail, leads polls in New Hampshire, has raised tens of millions and often does better, according to polls, in head-to-head match-ups against Republicans than Clinton does.
“For the most part, those things have been completely ignored by the national television newscasts,” spokeswoman Symone Sanders told The Hill.
Democrats interviewed by The Hill weren’t overly sympathetic to Sanders’s plight.
While they readily admit his insurgent campaign isn’t getting any help from the national party, which has limited the number of debates, they argue that Sanders deserves some of the blame for repeatedly refusing to campaign in a way that might earn him more attention.
“The media won’t just come to him – he has to decide if he wants to engage in the kind of ways that can create new and interesting coverage of his campaign,” said Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman. “You have to give the media some of what it wants for them to give it back to you.”
Sanders is allergic to discussing campaign politics, preferring instead to run a campaign that is hyper-focused on the issues of income inequality and campaign finance reform.
Democrats note that while Sanders has drawn policy distinctions between himself and Clinton, he’s repeatedly declined to go on the attack in a way that would grab headlines or damage the front-runner in a meaningful way.
At the first Democratic debate, Sanders famously passed on the opportunity to criticize Clinton for using a private email account and server as secretary of State, declaring that Americans are sick of hearing about her “damn emails.”
Last week, the Sanders campaign pulled Internet ads running in early-voting states that portrayed Clinton as beholden to “big money interests,” saying they intend to run only positive ads focused on Sanders’ proposals.
“At several junctures where he’s had the opportunity to build on his momentum he’s poured cold water all over it,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “He deserves respect for that, but as a candidate you have to accept the consequences. Part of it is that the media is looking for conflict, and it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of it here.”
Sanders has also drawn criticism for hewing too closely to his core issues, focusing on economic inequality and campaign finance reform at the expense of terrorism and national security, which are drawing out-sized media coverage in the wake of terror attacks in France and California.
At the second Democratic presidential debate, which took place a day after terrorists killed and wounded hundreds in coordinated attacks across Paris, Sanders touched on the attacks only briefly in his opening remarks before launching into his standard stump speech on the economy.
Last week, the Sanders campaign instructed reporters not to ask about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or terrorism at a press conference because the campaign wanted to focus on his meeting with community leaders in the neighborhood where the death of Freddie Bray sparked widespread protests.
“If he wants more news coverage, his press secretary probably shouldn’t try to stop reporters from asking questions about ISIS, which is the number-one news story in the world,” said Democratic strategist Craig Varoga.
The Sanders campaign pushed back strongly at the notion that he’s running a one-note campaign.
“He’s always willing to discuss the news of the day and his foreign policy and ISIS, and he does so on the campaign trail and in his stump speeches,” said Symone Sanders. “Last week he held a 15-minute press gaggle just focused on ISIS. He’ll continue to talk about all the issues Americans care about, so the ideas that his message isn’t flexible, I totally disagree with that. He’s speaking about these issues but the mainstream media isn’t covering it.”
Sanders has been handicapped by a national party that some say is stacking the debate deck for Clinton.
On Saturday, the candidates will meet for the third of six planned debates. Like the second debate, this one will occur on a weekend, which will significantly cut into the possible viewership.
The Sanders camp says they don’t plan to change his media strategy. Their complaints are merely an expression of frustration.
“[Sanders] isn’t interested in learning Trump’s media playbook, he has skills that Trump doesn’t have,” said strategist Tad Devine. “He’s won elections by getting the support of a broad cross-section of voters. We’re not going to follow Trump’s tactics of saying outrageous things to get coverage.”
Democrats say the quickest path back to national coverage for Sanders is to make a race of it again.
While Sanders has a small lead in New Hampshire, Clinton is once again pulling away in Iowa, and she holds a huge lead in South Carolina. The RealClearPolitics average of national polls finds Clinton leading by 22 points.
“I remember all the coverage of the Bernie boom-let about him surging in the polls and how Clinton was in big trouble, but he hasn’t kept it going,” said Trippi.
“The reason the media is obsessed with the Republican race is because it’s weird and exciting. The reason they’re not obsessed with the Democratic race is because there isn’t much of one.”