Posted Saturday afternoon, October 29, 2016. Significantly revised Sunday evening, October 30. See the second editor's note at the bottom of the post.
The GOP’s “Deep Bench” moocheling and footcheling around at one of the Republican debates back in the summer of 2015. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk, courtesy of Reuters, via CNN.
[Editor's note: The phrase "Squeekpips and notmuchers" in the title of this post is borrowed from from Roald Dahl's The BFG. For some reason it keeps coming back to me whenever I think about Donald Trump's challengers for the Republican nomination. I wonder why.]
Come Wednesday morning, November 9th, a lot people in print, online, and on TV are going to get suddenly very smart in hindsight. I mean that two ways. Some people writing and reporting about politics will be revealed to have been right all along. Some---a lot more, I expect---will discover that they knew it all along, never mind what they wrote or reported back on November 7th and before.
The focus, naturally, will be on how she done done it. Much of it. Much of it, as much if not more, will be on how he done blew it. Republicans and conservatives are going to want to talk more about how their side lost and the political media will still be addicted to Trump for the ratings and clickbait. Then there’s the matter that talking about how she won requires treating her as not just the winner but a winner.
I expect that a lot of what gets said, whichever way people are demonstrating how smart they were in hindsight, will have as a theme: Yes, she won, but she shouldn’t have. She was a terrible candidate and it should have been a Republican year. She was lucky she got to run against Trump.
A good Republican candidate would’ve thrashed her.
I expect this because I’ve seen it already going on.
Among the Republicans a good deal of what they’re saying, writing, and twittering amounts to “Wait till next year!” Losers of all stripes and in all endeavors have a habit of consoling themselves with the all too human perversely self-denigrating “They didn’t win. We lost.” Better for the ego to think of ourselves as having screwed up than having been beaten or, worse, having to admit the other team was just better.
But the mainstream media analysis is sure to be tainted with the sexism that along with racism, has tainted and skewed the coverage the whole campaign season long.
The press corps is still a bastion of white male privilege. They cannot let go of the idea that the United States is a white nation and that white male voters are the only real voters, the only ones who matter, at any rate. That was part of how they were able to cover Trump for so long as if he wasn’t Donald Trump but some hero of the working class of the likes of, well, no Republican who’s run for President has ever been . He had the white male vote therefore he was the candidate of regular Americans or what Sarah Palin calls the Real America. It’s debatable as to whether the sexism was more or less overt, but it was definitely there. A president is a man. A leader is a man. Therefore, Hillary couldn’t be a leader. She could only be and talk too loudly and shrilly. Plus, the political hacks didn’t like her, so they couldn’t believe anybody else did. The biases----biases? Hell. Prejudices!---pro-white, pro-male, anti-Hillary---combined to close their eyes and ears to what was going on. They didn’t hear the voices of all the millions of people who not only liked her but loved her because so many of those voices were female and non-white and they habitually don’t listen to those voices. Those voices aren’t the voices of real America. When the political media hear America singing it’s still the Mitch Miller Singers, an all-male chorus. And all-white.
This would explain something about this professor's prediction that it's still a Republican year and Trump will win. Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, has come up with a series of true/false questions---he calls them keys---whose totaled answers have correctly predicted the results of every presidential election over the past 32 years, going back to Reagan versus Mondale in 1984. That, by the way, covers only eight election, a very small sample size that includes only three elections that match up with this one in having no incumbent in the running, which makes the sampling even smaller. Never mind. One of Lichtman's determining factors is whether or not the parties have nominated candidates who are "charismatic" or national heroes. Lichtman accepts the notion that Hillary Clinton is not charismatic. "Not Franklin Roosevelt," he says. He doesn't say why he thinks she's not charismatic but I would guess it's based on her favorability ratings in the polls and the conventional wisdom of the journalists covering her that she is charmless and unlikable (because she doesn't charm them and they generally don't like her.) Trouble is the polls can’t (or don't) take into account sexist bias of male voters or the enthusiasm of female voters and the journalists can't (or won't) admit to their own sexism and hostility. It doesn't seem to occur to Lichtman that charisma is in the eyes of the beholder or that Hillary Clinton is a national hero to a great many people. He hedges his prediction by noting that his keys are based on history and that Trump is a historical first. There's never been a major party candidate as unsuited to the job for as many reasons as Donald Trump. But he doesn't note that Clinton is a historical first too and in a way that resonates powerfully and positively with millions of women and men. I suspect he doesn't note it because the coverage of the election has pretty much failed to not it or, at any rate, many of the "analysts" in the press corps have failed to take it into account. You would think, though, that a history professor wouldn't take his cues on this from journalists.
On the whole, though, the conviction that this would have been a Republican year if only the GOP had nominated someone more appealing than Trump is based on the fanciful notion that the Republicans had someone more appealing than Trump to nominate and that they could have nominated that someone.
There wasn’t an appealing alternative to Trump. There couldn’t have been. The base didn’t want one.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written that Trump wasn’t saying anything the other candidates weren’t saying. He was just saying it with more passion, more force, more anger, and more style.
The Republican base wanted an angry, racist, loudmouthed demagogue promising to bully and punish everybody the base believes is taking from them their due, a group that includes immigrants and refugees generally and Mexicans and Muslims particularly, Hispanics, African-Americans, women of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, LGBT people, smart people, successful people, liberals, journalists, the disabled, and, as we’ve learned lately, Jews. So, pretty much every American who isn’t a white, reactionary, racist Republican.
None of the other candidates could channel so much anger and hate.
They tried, but for most of them, their hearts weren’t in it.
Only one of Trump’s rivals had established himself as a champion and activist on behalf of the angry, hateful, bigoted, know-nothing base.
Go ahead. Argue he’d have been a more “appealing” candidate than Donald Trump.
But here’s another thing about Cruz.
He was also the only one of Trump’s rivals who had the discipline, organization, money, base---Right Wing Evangelicals may be the only people in America who actually like Ted Cruz---and intelligence, that is, brains plus political savvy, to have won the nomination if Trump hadn’t run.
Hard to swallow, I know, if you’re a liberal. But we don’t like him.
He was, however, and he was, like I said, the only other one who sounded like he meant what he said, because he did.
The only other one with half a chance, I should say.
Mike Huckabee might have meant it. It’s hard to tell with him since he’s a more shameless con man than Trump.
The point is that it was unlikely to the point of impossible that the Republican nominee would have been more appealing than Donald Trump because it was unlikely they would have nominated anybody other than Trump except Cruz.
That's one thing. The other thing is that the idea this should have been a Republican year isn't just based on the supposition that the GOP could have nominate someone other than Trump. It's also based on the supposing the party could have nominated someone other than any of the other sixteen Republicans who were running.
I'm not sure the analysts and pundits doing the supposing know that that's what they're supposing. I think they're still operating under the conventional wisdom that the Republicans entered this election with a "deep bench." That was the Republicans boasting, of course, but the punditocracy accepted it. That "deep bench" meant that more than a handful of the crowd would make strong candidates, strong enough to beat Hillary Clinton, who, of course, was a terrible candidate.
But even if there was a chance the base would have gone for one of them, the fact is that not one of them, except Cruz, wasn’t either an empty suit, a lightweight, or a boob. Most of them were all three.
And here’s another way the media is responsible for Trump.
I should qualify. Nobody is responsible for Trump except Trump himself and the Republican base who embrace him and the Republican establishment who created and empowered that base in order to manipulate and exploit it and then lost control and now can’t summon the courage or principle to reject them, Trump and that base.
But the media have played their part.
The many ways they’ve done it have been addressed by more experienced and wiser heads, but here’s my two-cents.
Trump won partly because the media kept portraying him as a WINNER! He defeated any and all challengers with practically just a wave of his hand and a playground insult. Wow! What a fighter!
Except this image was based on the idea that he faced some really tough challengers.
And this idea was based, like I said, on the media’s accepting the Republicans’ boast that they had a “deep bench.”
Just look at all the potential presidents they could muster!
Really, you might very well have asked, and who are they?
Jeb Bush? Rick Perry? Scott Walker? Bobby Jindal? Rand Paul. Chris Christie? Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz?
I’m not going to bother with Ben Carson, nobody really did. He was just a novelty act, good for ratings and clicks. But at one point there were Very Serious People who took Carly Fiorina seriously.
These are the people the pundits and analysts think Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate compared to?
All those people the media saw as not just having what it takes, but having a real chance. Even after it became clear Trump was going to win it with only Cruz presenting him any challenge.
As late as January, pundits were touting Chris Christie’s chances, seeing him climbing back into the race (as if he was ever really in it. How many debates had him relegated to the kids’ table?) by winning or at least putting up a good showing in the New Hampshire primary that no poll showed him anywhere near be able to do.
This is another sign of the political media’s failures not just this campaign season but over the last eight years. Many pundits and journalists didn’t just see Chris Christie as a potential president. They thought he’d make a good one.
As they fell by the wayside one by one, political reporters simply moved on to their next favorite, not just oblivious to their previous favorite's failure to appeal to the base---that is to the people who’d be doing the actual voting--and their own failure to identify (or admit) who the base was, but failing to take note of the fact that the challengers were chumps.
Jeb never wanted to run and campaigned, as much as he can be said to have campaigned, as if he couldn’t wait to be beaten, leaving him free to go home to his cozy new cottage in Maine. Perry did not grow suddenly twenty-five IQ points smarter when he started wearing glasses. Walker was never more than a tool of the Koch brothers. Jindal was a failure as governor of Louisiana and besides had shown himself up as a lightweight with his rebuttal to the State of the Union way back in 2009. Rand Paul is a flake. Chris Christie is Chris Christie. The conventional wisdom had it that Marco Rubio was the Republican Barack Obama but that was pure racism of the most patronizing kind. Look, he's a young, handsome non-white Senator too. Why, he's just like Obama! But beside that, Rubio showed himself up as lightweight with his State of the Union rebuttal in 2013. He’s also craven, hypocritical, unprincipled, and, frankly, lazy. The emptiest of empty suits. Oh, and another rich man’s tool.
John Kasich’s appeal has always been overestimated. He’s mean and he’s prone to showing it. But even putting that aside, he’s actually the exception that proves the rule. He’s smart, he’s been a competent governor, he’s popular at home and home is an important swing state, the one a Republican has to win to have a chance of garnering 270 electoral votes. He was the type of appealing, establishment, supposedly moderate candidate who could have beaten Clinton. Polls even showed him doing it. And he got nowhere.
He didn’t hate enough people for the base to take to him. Why, he’d even gone and given health insurance to poor people. Poor people! Never mind how awful he is on issues of women’s rights and health. That's not being mean enough! He wouldn’t let poor people die from not being able to afford to see a doctor!
Then he had the temerity to say it was because he didn’t want to go to hell when he died. The implication wasn’t lost on an important segment of the base.
You don’t tell Right Wing “Christians” you think they’re going to hell.
What it all boils down to is that the media enabled Donald Trump by helping him sell himself as the Winner and Champion of the World or at least of the political scene by having sold all his opponents as worthy challengers.
The truth was he beat a pack of bums.
Or as the BFG might put it, a bunch of squeekpips and notmuchers moocheling and footchelling around.
[Sunday night's editor's note: We try to do our homework here at the Mannionville Blog Shoppe and Wonkery but I goofed up here. I wrote my first draft without going back to re-read the Washington Post interview with Allan Lichtman, thinking I remembered it pretty well and that I would in fact re-read it before I posted. One thing led to another, though, and I posted the draft without doing the re-read. Never blog from memory, folks. I've since re-read the interview and the result is that I've significantly revised the paragraph on Lichtman and his prediction and revised several of the paragraphs that followed it and deleted a couple of others.]
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