Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Was Far too Dismissive of the Those Telling Me Trump Could Win

"Having eaten a batch of crow, sufficiently humbled, and strongly sorry, I will learn valuable lessons from my errors." Matthew Dowd

A lot of folks are eating crow after the election of Donald Trump. Nearly all of the "experts" got the election so wrong.

I'll offer my own mea culpa, I underestimated Trump and I often dismissed those who believed he would win. I was way too certain of my knowledge of American politics. On more than one occasion I prefaced my comments with "I've written two books on American politics, I think I know what's going on." There was a time when I swore I would never use my resume' as a justification for dismissing another's argument. I'm embarrassed to have done so. Perhaps worse, I ignored a central argument in my first book which suggested that a candidate like Trump - an outsider populist - was a perfect fit for a growing number of voters. I was convinced that a candidate like Trump (I never liked him, and still don't) would never be able to outperform Mitt Romney - a candidate that I considered to have been superior in qualifications, temperament, and appeal. So I could never get his Electoral Vote total above 260. Why? Because I couldn't fathom that he'd be able the flip PA, WI, or MI - how could he do what Bush and Romney could not? I believed that Trump had been nominated by folks who hated Hillary Clinton and that his supporters mistakenly assumed that a majority of voters shared their disdain.

I especially owe an apology to my Dad, Larry Eberly . He saw this end coming. He reminded me of my own words from a few years ago - that we need more plumbers, carpenters, and waitresses in government. Trump certainly isn't one of those folks, but as an outsider he connected with them in a way no establishment candidate could. While I couldn't help but focus on the damning things that Trump said, Dad understood that his supporters were looking past that for nothing could be more damning than being part of the establishment. And though I was raised in a working class family I became too comfortable in my secure middle class life and couldn't see the world through the eyes of folks who wondered what kind of future their children or grandchildren would have as they saw factories shut down, jobs leaving, and wages stagnating.

Dad understood that many folks didn't like Trump or Clinton, but that only Trump was speaking to them. As a self employed home builder and a past president of the PA Builders Association Dad knew how truly weak the recovery was. Simply stated, if housing isn't recovering the economy isn't recovering. As a member of the Builders Association he had also worked with the PA legislature and understood the politics of the state - clearly better than I did.

So while I was focused on polls and my dislike of Trump I dismissed a lot of anecdotal evidence that Trump had broader appeal than I realized. And there were larger and more obvious hints. Trump was far ahead in Iowa, but was supposedly far behind in its demographically similar neighbor Wisconsin. He was clearly ahead in Ohio, but supposedly way behind in neighbor PA - even though Ohio and PA are often indistinguishable west of Philadelphia.

So I apologize to my Dad and to others who tried to tell me that I was wrong. None of this changes my opinion of Trump, only Trump and his future words and actions could do that. But I will change my willingness to listen to folks living in the battleground states. I'll be better about checking my own preferences, ego, and biases regarding a candidate. And, I'll remember that there's a reason why I seek and listen to my Dad's advice on so many other things and expand the list to include politics.