The A-Team: Pundits Who DID SEE Trump Coming
Sure, it’s Fun To Beat Up On the Pundits Who Totally Missed Trump. (They Richly Deserve It.)
That even includes the smarmy Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, who is trying to spin his promise to eat the column he said he’d eat if Trump won the nod into what he clearly hopes will be a huuuuge social media media event. He’s even put out a made-for-Facebook video.
Har-de-har, Dude. Ham it up & have your fun; just don’t think this will persuade us to take you seriously again. Maybe a food critic gig might be more promising for your next career move?? (But would I even trust his judgment about pico de gallo? Hmmmm.)
But What About The Ones Who DID See Trump Coming? They not only exist, turns out they’ve done some mighty good work.
Here Are Two. (Hint: Follow These Guys.)
First is Norman Ornstein, who is with the rightist American Enterprise Institute. In 2012 he broke ranks with that outfit and joined with Thomas Mann, a scholar at the “mainstream liberal” Brookings Institution to publish a book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which decisively broke with the standard BS Beltway frame of “both parties are essentially the same” and said, Nope: the Dems are much like what they were; but the GOP has gone NUTS. (That’s the very short version, but accurate.)
The book got some attention in the smarter media; Ornstein is known around town as a serious, well-informed guy (Mann too; but he gets short shrift here. for space reasons).
But the book emphatically did not budge the beltway Conventional Wisdom. And that’s the Karma that just got run over by the Trump Dogma.
Ornstein gloats in an understated, classy way too. Here’s how he answered one of those penitents who got it wrong, from Vox:
Andrew Prokop: Let’s go back to last year. When did you first start to think, wow, this guy, Donald Trump, might be for real after all?
Norm Ornstein: I would say it was probably in May. And I was still a little uncertain. But I had focused for so long on the growing dysfunction inside the Republican Party, and I believed that its leaders had generated an awful lot of the anger out there. And eventually, I combined that with the set of polls that we began to see that showed 60 to 70 percent support for outsiders and insurgents.
I put that together and thought that this conventional wisdom that, of course it would be just the way it’s always been — that these flavors of the month would emerge but then fade, and the voters would eventually fall back on an establishment figure — it just didn’t ring true to me.
And then when I began to look at who the outsider and insurgent candidates were, it just seemed to me that Trump and Cruz were the two most likely to emerge. Because they both tapped into different elements of this anger out there.”
That is, Ornstein actually paid attention to the numbers, rather the rumbling buzz of the herd; what a concept. (Read the whole thing; lots more nutritious than kale.)
Andrew Prokop: So where, exactly, do you think this anger within the Republican Party electorate has come from, and why do you think it’s so powerful?
Norm Ornstein: When you look at populism over the longer course of both American history and other countries that have suffered economic traumas as a result of financial collapse, you’re gonna get the emergence of some leaders who exploit nativism, protectionism, and isolationism. They’re components — sometimes greater, sometimes lesser — that are baked into the process. So you’ve got a bit of that.
But if you forced me to pick one factor explaining what’s happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.
Over many years, they’ve adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.
And add to that, they’ve delegitimized President Obama, but they’ve failed to succeed with any of the promises they’ve made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, “what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you’re going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?”
“What made them think that”? Groupthink and the Beltway Bubble, that’s what. Which meant willing refusal to believe what was happening right under their noses. Ornstein lives inside the Beltway, but somehow he can see beyond the Potomac. (Like I said: superhero. Maybe it’s in those glasses?)
The other guy here is one who read Ornstein, and was just wonkish enough to take him and his work seriously, plus brash enough to tell it straight. Yes, it’s our old reliable Nobel Prize winner who can actually write, Paul Krugman.
For Krugman, it was not so much about making bold predictions, as –there’s that telltale sign again — paying attention to good data over commentariat chatter. Here’s his take from ages ago — last August:
But are Trumpists being hoodwinked? Are they members of the suffering working class who don’t understand why they’re hurting? OK, here’s my guess: they look a lot like Tea Party supporters. And we do know a fair bit about that group.
First of all, Tea Party supporters are for the most part not working-class, at least in the senses that group is often defined. They’re relatively affluent, and not especially lacking in college degrees.
So what is distinctive about them? Alan Abramowitz:
“While conservatism is by far the strongest predictor of support for the Tea Party movement, racial hostility also has a significant impact on support.”
So maybe Trump’s base is angry, fairly affluent white racists — sort of like The Donald himself, only not as rich? And maybe they’re not being hoodwinked?
Now, you might ask why angry racists are busting out of the channels the GOP constructed to direct their rage. But there, surely, we have to take account of two things: the real changes in America, which is becoming more socially and culturally diverse, plus the Fox News effect, which has created an angry white guy feedback loop.
Again, this is just guesswork until we have a real profile of typical Trump supporter. But for what it’s worth, I think the Trump phenomenon is much more grounded in fundamentals than the commentariat yet grasps.
“Grounded in fundamentals” translates into: not gonna disappear in a few weeks, which disappearance his colleague Ross “Dodo” Douthat was regularly announcing in the same Times Op-Ed columns with all the certainty of a papal encyclical.
Yesterday Krugman mused about this history in his blog, asking:
“So why did most of the commentariat get it so wrong for so long?
The basic answer, surely — but one a lot of my media colleagues still won’t accept — is that Norm Ornstein was right all along, that the modern Republican party was no longer a normal political party, that it was an extremist sect that had fed its supporters’ rage, and in so doing had created a Frankenstein’s monster. And most pundits, in refusing to see this, also blinded themselves to the way the party had become ripe for Trumpism. . . .
Of course, now everyone who got it all wrong is busy making up new narratives, equally ungrounded in evidence. Will nobody stop these heads from talking?”
Almost certainly not. But as they chatter their way through the fall, you and I don’t have to follow them. We can do better; Ornstein & Krugman, and those who pay attention to the work they do, can help us. (Not that they’re perfect; I’m particularly peeved by Krugman’s nonstop attack pieces on Bernie; but maybe he wants to be HRC’s Fed Chair. Whatever. that doesn’t diminish the acuity of his tracking of Trump and his ism.)
What, by the way is Ornstein now predicting about the general election, given polls that many Dems are insisting point to a blowout for HRC?
He agrees the numbers look good right now. BUT–
he notes that we’re only one or at most two unplanned events away from a complete turnaround.
What kind of disasters? I’ll let you go to the piece and see what he says for yourself.
Hillary ahead? Yes, for now. A slam dunk? Not bloody likely.
How to keep up? Read these guys. And the others who pay attention to them. The others? Good for laughs; if you can chuckle about Armageddon.