Thursday

February 23rd, 2017

Insight

How could everybody get it so wrong?

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published March 4, 2016

The list of "experts," "analysts," self-appointed "strategists" and other know-it-alls who were wrong about Donald Trump is a long one, and nobody is as ignorant of why the Donald has had such an appeal and such staying power as the pundit who is paid to know everything, and never does.

Once upon a time a man or woman put in the early years on the Springfield Republican or the Log Cabin Democrat or the Bloomington Pantagraph, covering spats between aldermen or obscure state legislators, learning the trade along with something about the nature of humanity and acquiring a little familiarity with the body politic, and finally arriving in the city with knowledge, insight and a little learned humility. He was a hard man to fool.

But we're all at the mercy now of progress, and columnists, commentators and pundits go straight from graduate school to a column, a microphone with a camera, certified like a CPA as a fully fledged doctor of humbuggery. This leaves them at the mercy of the flimflam artist, with no understanding of why and how an audience laps it up.

David Remnick, the editor of the precious and erudite New Yorker magazine, told his readers last summer that Mr. Trump was such an ignoramus, who knew nothing about politics, that his "whole con might end well before the first snows in Sioux City and Manchester."

They're still shoveling snow in New Hampshire — the last of it is expected to melt in time for the Fourth of July parade — and Mr. Remnick is still puzzled about why and how it happened.

He told Politico, the political daily, that he was shocked and sad. What he sees now, with the Donald well on his way to the Republican nomination, is "beyond belief" to a man of tender experience and training, and reflects an "ugliness" that appeals to "every worst instinct" of the nation beyond the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Mr. Remnick has a lot of distinguished company, even if most of it has not learned a lot from the experience. The smart set discounts experience, valuing only theory. Politico surveyed several of his colleagues, who have mostly taken to fainting couches in recovery rooms across the precincts of the mainstream media, so called.

James Fallows, who has spent three decades as national correspondent of Atlantic magazine, was even more confident than Mr. Remnick when he wrote early in the campaign cycle that "Donald Trump will not be the 45thpresident of the United States. Nor the 46th, nor any other number you might name. The chance of his winning the nomination and election is exactly zero."

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post was certain as early as last July that "Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. Nate Silver, who successfully applied higher math to presidential politics four years ago and made a name for himself as the guru who got it right, told his colleagues in November to "stop freaking out" about the Donald's poll numbers. He wasn't going anywhere.

Everyone "knew" that the Donald didn't have "a ground game" (every political correspondent regrets that he is not a sportswriter in the toy department of the newspaper), and he would finally say something to attract the fire of the Gaffe Patrol and down he would go in flames. What few of the pundits could get their heads around was why Mr. Trump found such a receptive audience, how he could please so many conflicting parts of that audience. How on earth could he, a hard-cussin' much-married man of vulgar worldly tastes, become such a hero of the evangelicals, usually so quick to disown one of their own for stepping out of line?

The lions of the legacy media have never understood the barely controlled rage of the Bible-believing unwashed at being scorned, disdained and despised, and along comes a man with a club and an eye for someone to hit with it. Grandma Grundy would forgive him a little cussin'. Some of the lions pretend to have learned a lesson, but it's not that they were wrong, it was the people who were wrong and stubbornly unwilling to be educated. Some of the pundits are clinging to the hope that the Donald will be stopped and punditry will be redeemed.

Chris Wallace of Fox News is one of the truly contrite. "I think one of the things you learn is that you don't know as much as you think you know, that for anyone foolish enough to think they're an opinion maker or opinion shaper, this has been a lesson that the American people will make their own decision for themselves." Now that hurts.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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