Donald Trump

The Perils of Political Forecasting

How to misread an election


The perils of Voxvoice

Like everything else in politics, the rise of Donald Trump will look perfectly predictable in retrospect. Right now we're still in a rough patch, with many pundits still smarting from the shame of getting so many forecasts wrong, but once that passes we'll all be able to discuss this with the certainty that comes when you're talking about things that have already happened. If you could turn back the clock to last June, knowing what we know now, it wouldn't be hard to spin a story making the case that this crazy man on an escalator is actually on track to win the nomination. Why, it's all perfectly obvious!

Look, you could say. We all know there's a deep well of discontent in the Republican grassroots right now. That anti-establishment sentiment comes in many flavors and it can move people in different directions, but at a backlashy time like today it's easy to see it taking the shape of the nationalism that Trump is espousing. No, he's not a conventional candidate, but history surely shows that pop-culture figures are often able to leverage their fame into political success. And yes, the party leadership won't like it, but have you looked at Congress lately? The party leadership can't control squat anymore. They haven't even settled on a candidate of their own yet. Just watch. You'll see.

Sounds plausible now, because we know that's what happened. But you'll notice I didn't write anything like that when it really was June. I don't remember anyone writing that in June, though by summer's end there were reporters who recognized which way things were heading.

Full disclosure: I wasn't one of them. I'm pretty sure I avoided any foolishly public predictions about what was going to happen—the occasional Twitter wisecrack aside—but if you talk to any of the friends and relations who've asked me over the last year who I thought would win the party's nod, they'll tell you the only thing I said that panned out was the six-word warning I always inserted at the beginning: "I'm no good at political predictions." I made two mistakes early on that made me doubt Trump could clinch the nomination, and while I dropped the first one fairly quickly, I held onto the other for far too long.

The first mistake was pretty simple: Because I've always thought of Trump as a goofy blowhard, I carelessly assumed that almost everyone else did too. Then he zoomed up in the polls, and I saw that my impression of the man wasn't as widely shared as I thought. OK, out with that idea; I guess this guy can channel that grassroots discontent after all.

We have met the enemy and we can't stop him.
Walt Kelly

Mistake #2: I thought the party gatekeepers would be able to deny the nomination to someone they so disliked. Yes, the establishment had been having trouble keeping the base in line lately, but the presidential nomination process was its home turf, and I figured those fogies would be able to defend it. (Just look at how badly they routed the Tea Party insurgents four years ago.) Instead, as we all know, the old guard wasn't able to coalesce around a candidate until very late in the game—and not even then, really. And even if they had managed to pick someone as their champion early on (call him Jebscott Christio), it's not obvious to me now that this mystery candidate could've beaten Trump this year. For me, the biggest lesson of this primary season is just how weak the traditional centers of Republican power have become.

Well, now we know better: We really do live in a world where the alpha-male antihero of a post-Sopranos cable drama can be the GOP's presumptive nominee. If you predicted that future, I congratulate you. But not too heartily—you have to live in this timeline too.

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  1. Well, Suderman told us that Trump’s nomination guarantees Hillary’s victory. So clearly you are wrong.

    1. I think Suderman is going to be proven wrong. Not only can Trump win, but I think it has the potential to be a landslide. Trump could potential pull a lot of non-GOP voters to his side, and change the face of the electoral map.

      Honestly and I hate to sayit, but I think it’s more likely for some nutter to assassinate the man then for him to lose to Hillary.

      1. I don’t know that a Trump win is likely. But I am certain he’s the best option they had available amongst the clown car of 17-18 absurdly mediocre candidates this primary cycle.

        1. Upon reflection, I think Kasich might’ve been a reasonable option (not for ‘conservative’ bonafides, but for actually winning a general election). But by the time anyone noticed him, Trump had already annihilated the field and the #NeverTrump cultists were too busy drooling over Cruz.

      2. I saw several uncles at a funeral last month. They, like most of my mom’s family, are union Democrats, even if they agree with my conservative opinions on most anything not having to do with labor issues.

        My one uncle from the state of Indiana lamented that he couldn’t vote in the Indiana Republican primary, because, not only had the time to switch parties passed, but he was also the chairman of his Democratic precinct.

        They all agreed that they didn’t like Cruz, but they detested Obama, Clinton and Sanders. They were all eager Democrats for Trump.

        They are just your normal white guys who worked a union job and went home to drink beer. My Democratic committeeman uncle grew up a cola miner’s son in Pa, wearing ripped clothes to elementary school – but now has Bernie Sanders saying my uncle doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor, and the rest of their chosen party telling them, to check their cis-hetero-white privilege at the door.

        Meanwhile Republicans like me get tired of electing guys to go to DC who end up being pussies in front of the press. “How does it feel to be a racist?”

        That female student of UMass-Amherst, who pumped her flabby arms while screaming in protest of Christina Hoff Somers – she created Donald Trump.

        Democrats, Republicans and Independents gathered around someone who had enough balls to tell the Social Warriors, “Shut The Fuck Up!”

        (and I’m a Cruz guy who doesn’t like Trump but will vote fro him in November)

    2. The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of Nate Silver’s mind to correlate all its contents.

      1. *sustained applause*

      2. Way back when Nate and I were both baseball guys. In 2006 I was working on a system of aggregating pools do do probabilistic models of elections. Then the Dems had a late surge, swept into the House and Senate, and I got depressed and gave it up.

        Nate developed a very similar system for 2008 and became famous. However, my baseball analysis is better than his.

    3. Doesn’t matter. Hillary’s still not going to be the nominee. It’ll be Biden, probably.

  2. Most of the Trump-hate is coming from the fact that people had no way of predicting this. So he must be a monster.

    1. Yeah, I feel like I’m one of the few that are actually seeing through the never ending torrent of partisan hacks. I don’t agree with Trump on a lot, but when you build such an absurd strawman – as the media has been dead set on – a minute amount of research reveals how wrong it is, leading to more people supporting Trump.

  3. You know who else made bold claims that didn’t pan out?

    1. Lord Kelvin?

    2. Paul R. Ehrlich?

    3. Thomas Malthus?

    4. Ryan Kessler (again, probably)?

      1. I read that as Ralph Kramden?

      2. That’s pretty random, but still better than Kirk Cameron.

        1. What’s James Cameron, chopped liver?

  4. I first read the headline as “The Penis of Political Forecasting,” actual article not nearly as exciting…

    1. Glad I’m not the only one who saw that.

    2. It’s Yuge!

  5. Because I’ve always thought of Trump as a goofy blowhard, I carelessly assumed that almost everyone else did too.

    No, you carelessly assumed that a lotta guys wouldn’t want a goofy blowhard for president.

    1. I think the mistake was thinking “goofy” instead of “very very rich”.

    2. I think the mistake was assuming that any of Trump’s on-air personae give you much insight into the Trump itself.

  6. President Donald Trump.

    Rolls so easily off the tongue doesn’t it?

    1. Eventually you’ll get used to it.

      1. Crusty’s prison cellmate told him the same thing.

        1. I think you got that backwards.

      2. I said a couple of months ago, before Trump locked up the nomination, that I had come to terms with a President Trump.

        I don’t think Hillary can beat any Republican in the election. So Trump it is then.

  7. Like everything else in politics, the rise of Donald Trump will look perfectly predictable in retrospect.

    I’m told that David Brooks will start hanging out with the hoi polloi so he can see the next one coming.

    1. Well there goes the neighborhood

  8. Anyone here know the details of the Libertarian Party nomination/selection by-laws?

    I’m wondering if it’s feasible for the disaffected GOP members to hijack the LP. Is it too late to nominate someone on the LP ticket for president? If not is there anything stopping a mass influx of GOP from nominating Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio and then voting to make them the LP candidate?

    There was a mass migration immediately after Trump won and at this point the only realistic way to have a candidate on all 50 state ballots is via the LP ticket. The LP convention is in late May so if this is possible there may still be enough time.

    Granted doing this would likely hand the election to Clinton and also potentially make the LP a contender in future elections so maybe they’d just be better off staying home.

    1. I’m wondering if it’s feasible for the disaffected GOP members to hijack the LP.

      That would be like Hamas hijacking a tricycle.

      1. Which is comical but possible.

    2. The mass migration was 99 new LP memberships on the day after Cruz dropped out compared to 46 on the day he did drop out. Not exactly massive.

      1. Yeah. That’s daily and there aren’t that many members. The convention is in FL so a concerted effort could probably alter the landscape significantly.

    3. Lol. A doubling from 46 to 99 applications.

      1. The rate of growth is incredible.

    4. There was a mass migration immediately

      Yes, they went from 40 some applications to 90 some. In a country of 320,000,000 people.

    5. The problem with the LP is “libertarian” has five syllables. The country is dumbing down. People vote Democrat because 3 syllables is easier than the 4 syllables of Republican. Liberal = 3 syllables, Conservative = 4 syllables. Socialist = 3 syllables, Capitalist = 4 syllables.

      The Greens never get much traction because “environmentalist” is even more of a mouthful than “libertarian”.

      We need 3 two-syllable words to describe “libertarian” in order for the LP to advance.

      “Freedom” is one. Any others?

    6. So it turns out that pretty much anyone that joins the LP and meets the requirements for POTUS can become a candidate at the convention. It looks like you must be a LP member for more than a year to be a delegate allowed to vote to select the candidate.

      1. The main thing is I think all the states have had their conventions to choose delegates & alternates. But I think the delegation can still fill vacancies with alternate alternates.

  9. The rise of Trump wasn’t that hard to predict. His message is basically a nationalist one, and I believe that return to Nationalism is going to be the direction many western countries are going to start moving towards. Nationalist parties are winning in Europe, Putin rose to power in Russia on essentially a nationalist Russia first platform. The great globalism experiment is slowly unraveling.

    And you know what it’s probably going to result in a more peaceful world. Contrary to most people’s perception, a more isolationist foreign policy and staying in your sphere of influence is in most nations national interest, and is more likely to result in peace then nations whose foreign policys are based on ridiculous concepts like spreading democracy, or maintaining international law.

    Yes I would much rather live in a world ruled by Nationalists, then Progressive shitheads.

    1. Yes I would much rather live in a world ruled by Nationalists, then Progressive shitheads.


      1. Right. I mean it might not sound noble for an American president to say I’m going to look out for America’s interests, or a Russian president to say I’m looking out for Russia first. But hey the one thing that both presidents would understand is that it isn’t in either country’s best interest to start shooting at each other.

        Would a Progressive, or Neocon backing some half baked U.N. resolution, or looking out for global interests reach that conclusion?

        I understand libertarians knee-jerk rejection of Nationalism, it is a somewhat collectivist way of thinking after all, and I’m not saying people should completely embrace the Nationalist message. All I’m saying is at least when it comes to foreign policy, it might lead to a far more peaceful world.

    2. The great globalism experiment as you call it is responsible for a period of global peace unprecedented in human history. This is in large part due to increasingly free trade relationships, which libertarians, if they weren’t idiots, would embrace as an ideological victory.

      Unless you can point to all the great successes of isolationist nationalism in history.

      1. Isolationist nationalism has never started a war.

        Its when isolationist nationalism gets cast aside that wars get started.

      2. It’s truly inspiring, the way Europeans learned to stop slaughtering each other by the millions once every so often, isn’t it?

    3. You may be right, but the problem is that for the US to become nationalist, it is the one military on the planet that would have to shrink.

  10. At some point on these threads I said I think Trump has a chance, but that was mostly due to the fact that I think the majority of Americans are crazy people.

    1. The pundit media calls Trump crazy but not his voters. They only called Paul voters crazy.

  11. I think The Intercept did the best roundup of the examples of “all the people who declared Trump dead”

    There are like 100 articles dating from the past week out there titled “How I Was Wrong About Trump”. All for the purpose of getting people to tsk tsk tsk and then swallow wholesale the NEW crop of bullshit they’re preparing for the coming general election.

    But the above Intercept piece is worth reading.

    1. Yet you still have plenty of idiots that are saying that Clinton is a shoe-in.

      1. I admit to being one of those idiots, provided she stays healthy. Any Democrat – even one as awful as Hillary – is effectively starting with so many electoral votes, I think Trump is very unlikely to beat her.

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