‘They came in the same old way’: In the midterms, echoes of 2016
The 2018 US midterm elections are shaping up to be not just a rematch of the 2016 presidential race but a rerun, as Democrats and the media seem determined to repeat the same mistakes that produced the presidency of Donald Trump.
Just look at the headlines, the polls, and the talking heads on television. Doesn’t this remind you of 2016? Once again, celebrities and late-night show hosts are beseeching their fans to vote, while newspapers pen fawning pieces about Democrats “making history,” the inevitability of the “Blue Wave,” and the racist, racist, RACIST nature of every Republican ever, especially Trump.
Vote like the authoritarian president is a racist sexual predator who colluded with Russia and won't show his taxes and violates the emoluments clause and incites nazi terrorism but the GOP is complicit and the media is distracted so it's up to us to save the god damn country.
— Adam Best (@adamcbest) November 5, 2018
The only thing that has changed is that most media outlets – which had overwhelmingly endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 – don’t even bother hiding their preferences. Everything is out in the open now, stripped of all pretense and posturing. Ironically, that is one of the effects of the Trump presidency.
Much like the armies that are always studying how to re-fight the last war, US politicians appear to be obsessed with re-fighting the last election. Both major parties see the 2018 midterms as a rematch of 2016, but for different reasons. Democrats are hoping that Trump’s victory was a fluke, a glitch in the matrix, and that their inevitable march to power will be put back on track. Trump’s Republicans, however, believe that 2016 was a revolution in political affairs and that their tactics will work once again.
The “most important election ever” is a worn-out cliche, but these midterms are not your usual election. That’s evidenced by the sheer amount of money spent on them, a record $5 billion. Yet it is worth recalling that in 2016, Clinton both out-raised and outspent Trump, to no avail.
“They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing,” is a quote attributed to a famous diplomat from over 200 years ago, about a French royal dynasty. It applies just as well to the American political dynasties – the Clintons and the Bushes – and their coteries, deposed by Trump in 2016.
What they did not realize then, and do not appear to realize even now, is that their tried-and-tested tricks simply didn’t work against Trump, who is not a professional politician and doesn’t react like one. Love him or hate him, agree with his policies or not, this is a fact. Rather than recognize that fact and deal with it accordingly, Trump’s critics just stuffed more wool into their ears and continued screaming “RACIST,” as if that invocation was somehow magical.
It is this sort of magical thinking that doomed the Democrats in 2016. It wasn’t just bad data, or a terrible job interpreting it, but the fact that both the media and the Clinton campaign wanted to believe their own hype. Instead of reporting reality, the media thought they could create it. So they pretended the railroading of Bernie Sanders did not happen, and confidently predicted Clinton would crush Trump. Then came the night of November 8 and the shocked, stunned long faces in TV studios and at the Javits Center.
That right there was the perfect moment for self-reflection, understanding what went wrong and where, and learning from it. Instead, Clinton blamed Russia, and the media quickly followed suit. The alternative would have been admitting they had made a mistake, after all.
Today, they argue that history shows the ruling party always loses the first midterms. Fair enough, but history also shows the incumbent party going strong when the economy is good – and by the standards accepted by the media, that’s observably the case.
So what we get are headlines along the lines of “Economy has never been better; This is why it’s bad and also Trump’s fault.”
Remember it was Hillary Clinton who first used the phrase “fake news”? Yet it was Trump who flipped the script, so to say, associating the phrase mainly with CNN and other mainstream outlets, to their perpetual frustration. It’s not the first or only attack that’s backfired.
Who can forget Hillary Clinton dismissing Trump supporters as the “basket of deplorables… racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic – Islamophobic – you name it”and “irredeemable”? She also insisted that “they are not America.” That worked out so well, didn’t it?
Who, now, remembers “Russiagate”? Yet in the months after the 2016 election, the media spoke of little else, giving airtime and column space to every grifter who pitched a narrative about “evil Kremlins” subverting “our democracy” with Twitter ads, or something. As details emerged about the origins of the Steele Dossier, its role in the spying on Trump’s campaign and the text messages between FBI lovebirds entrusted with the task… well, notice how the “Russia” story has been conspicuously absent of late?
Desperate to deny reality, Democrats and the media latched onto pipe dreams: the “Hamilton electors” will fix it and vote for Clinton (they didn’t); Trump will be impeached over “emoluments”(what?); the FBI will find “Russian collusion” (it didn’t); special counsel Robert Mueller will force Trump’s closest associates to “flip” on the president and Nixon the Orange Man right out of the White House… Nope, nope, nope. Didn’t happen.
Instead of criticizing Trump’s policies – and there is plenty there to pick a fight with – his critics settled into the mantra of “Orange Man Bad.” Though it failed in 2016, they’re betting the bank it will work this time.
“They came in the same old way, and we saw them off in the same old way,” is a quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington after defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. As best as I can tell, it’s apocryphal. The actual Wellington described the battle as “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” Which will the 2018 midterms more closely resemble? We’re about to find out.