I have had a number of complaints, online and off, that I have not been living up to my punditious* responsibilities in 2016, and to that I plead guilty. I have spent far less time talking about this dreadful election than I have in previous cycles, but, ironically, far more time talking about it than I would like. But now, on the eve of inevitable disaster, I thought I’d sum up where I am and what I’m thinking. I don’t have a grand plan here, so I may wander into all kinds of tangents and minefields as I try to make sense out of a senseless situation.
First off, I’m not going to tell you who’s going to win. I stuck my neck out in 2012 and insisted that the polls were all flawed and that Romney was going to walk away with it. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate how stupid it is for anyone to presume they know any more about these things than anyone else. With regard to this election, you have the same information I do, and you’re perfectly capable of making as accurate an assessment of the electoral landscape as any of mine. All you need to know is that a psychic Scottish goat has predicted a Hillary victory. So, you know, there’s that.
I will say that this election has conclusively demonstrated that television advertising is all but useless and will have no real impact on the final vote totals. Trump cruised to the nomination with virtually no television advertising, and Jeb Bush and his SuperPACs spent tens of millions and got nowhere. Hillary has outspent Trump by an outrageous factor with regard to her media blitz – I don’t remember what the actual number is, and I’m too lazy to look it up – and, really, I don’t think it will make the slightest bit of difference.
The fact is that people just don’t watch TV ads anymore, so ads don’t move the needle. Social media is changing the nature of the public conversation, and non-professionals become pundits to their friends by forwarding amateur videos that none of the campaigns have created and which they really can’t control. I think the “Hillary Lying for 13 Minutes Straight” video packed more of a punch than anything the Trump campaign put out, and it was produced by a bunch of nobodies. In contrast, can you think of a single ad from either candidate that drove the discussion in any significant way? Me neither.
It makes me think that the whole “ground game” buzz is irrelevant, too. Much has been made of the fact that Hillary has organized a big ground game to get her voters to the polls, and Trump has not. That may prove to be relevant. It may also prove to be an antiquated relic of campaigns past, given that social media, not a phone call, provides the more potent means to mobilize voters. I suspect the latter, but I’m probably wrong.
I do think the “Shy Trump” effect is a thing, although I only have anecdotal evidence to back that up. I have no idea how big it is or if it will provide any surprises in the vote totals. I only know I have several friends unwilling to admit their support for Trump, given that they are largely disgusted with him and don’t want to appear to be in league with Trump’s vocal legion of racists and bullies. The shy folk are good people who have nowhere else to go, and they’re especially worried about the Supreme Court, and they’re willing to back a loathsome man like Trump in the hopes of preventing SCOTUS from devolving into the extraconstitutional Superlegislature the Left so desperately wants it to be.
At the same time, I wonder how much more damage the Court can really do. I’m amazed at how many people think that a repeal of Roe v. Wade is the most pressing problem facing the nation. The fact is that a repeal of that rancid decision is ridiculously unlikely, regardless of what new appointments are made, and, in policy terms, little or nothing would change if it were repealed, given how many of Roe’s principles have been reinforced by a host of state and federal laws. If it were repealed, abortion would remain legal in all fifty states.
And, not to get too abortion-tangential on you, but I really wonder why Mormons are so eager to throw in with a movement that wants to criminalize all abortion from the moment of conception. Our church teaches that in cases of rape, incest, or a serious threat to the mother, abortion can be morally justified. How do you codify that position into law? If you legislate that abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, how does a woman prove she’s been raped? What kind of intrusive legal apparatus would be necessary to make that determination? Wouldn’t that just inspire every woman seeking an abortion to claim she’s a rape victim? Do you really want to turn doctors and nurses into narcs?
The reason abortion is not illegal, and extremely unlikely ever to be made illegal, is that the majority of Americans do not see it as immoral, particularly in the cases where the LDS Church makes exceptions. If they were convinced that it is moral to compel a woman to carry a rapist’s child to term, the law would reflect that. Absent any clear moral consensus, abortion will not be criminalized, and single-issue voters who focus solely on reproductive rights are largely wasting their time.
Still, that one issue is one of the few still animating the GOP faithful, many of whom now find themselves members of a party that can’t figure out what the hell it’s supposed to be. That problem will persist even if, or perhaps especially if, Trump somehow manages to win. Last night, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law who sells computer cables. He’s as rock-ribbed a conservative as it is possible to be, and he’s terrified that if Trump were to succeed in starting a trade war with China, he’d be out of business. Now that the Republicans are the Party of Trump, isolationism and protectionism are the banner headline issues of a party that used to champion free and open markets. What the hell does it mean to be a Republican, anyway? I don’t think anyone can answer that question, and I think the answer will become even more muddled if a vapid buffoon like Trump is given the keys to the party’s ideological bus.
I think one thing most everyone can agree on is that Ted Cruz is a whiny and opportunistic jerk. Mitt Romney and John Kasich couldn’t, in good conscience, support Trump, so when Trump’s convention coronation rolled around, they stayed home when Ted decided to take a dump in the Trump throne room. And then Ted jumped on the Trump bandwagon late in the game for completely unprincipled reasons, leaving Cruzer losers like Glenn Beck to apologize for ever thinking he was a man of integrity. If there’s any silver lining in this debacle, and it’s a thin lining indeed, it’s that Cruz will not be the one the party turns to as it digs through the ashes of its disgrace to try to rebuild itself.
As for me, I can think of no outcome, barring a miraculous surge from Gary Johnson, that will lift my spirits after the polls close tomorrow. I will say that I won’t enjoy seeing either candidate win, but I would really enjoy watching Hillary Clinton lose and seeing the corruption of Clintonism finally broomed off the national stage. I would get an evening’s worth of a schadenfreude sugar rush out of that before falling into despair over the prospect of President Trump. Even typing those two words in such close proximity gives me bowel trouble.
I doubt I’ll have much more to say as the returns come in, unless something truly unexpected happens. In the meantime, I’m going to start listening to Christmas music, which serves as a welcome reminder that we live in a universe that is not defined by the squalor of politics.
- I define “punditious” as “of or pertaining to punditry; punditioulous.”