Liberals are scared that Trump could win just like in 2016. But this isn’t 2016. | COMMENTARY
By Jonah Goldberg
For The Baltimore Sun|
Oct 23, 2020 at 5:25 AM
The 2016 election lives loudly in everybody right now.
On the Trumpian right, “the polls were wrong before” isn’t merely an observation, it’s a catechism.
And on the anti-Trumpian left, it’s a constant source of anxiety bordering on panic. It’s making a lot of folks a little crazy.
My friend John Podhoretz, conservative editor of Commentary Magazine, pointed this out to me a few months ago. He lives in New York City, surrounded by Upper West Side liberals prone to flights of jangly rage if you suggest that Joe Biden has the race in the bag.
“Don’t jinx it! That’s what people said in 2016!” they shout.
Since then, it’s only gotten worse. The fear that the country could reelect President Donald Trump after so much muchness these last four years is almost an existential dread, manifesting as quick-tempered outrage at anyone or anything that might upset Mr. Biden’s trajectory.
It doesn’t help that Mr. Biden is running a defensive campaign, predicated on the assumption that the more Mr. Trump is the center of attention, the better it is for Mr. Biden. Add in the fact that while Mr. Biden has a reassuring personality, he’s not a reassuring campaigner. He’s not a senile basket case, as the Trump campaign foolishly tries to paint him. But he is very much a man showing his age. And even as a young man, Mr. Biden had a gift for shoving his foot in his mouth. Put it all together and there’s dancing-on-a-razor’s-edge anxiety coloring every news cycle.
For instance, Mr. Trump lost the first debate, badly. The reaction from liberals wasn’t, “Hooray, we’ve got two more debates to drive nails into Mr. Trump’s electoral coffin!” Rather, the call went out that Mr. Biden should refuse to debate Mr. Trump again. Some of this was no doubt revulsion at Mr. Trump’s debate demeanor. But some of it was clearly rooted in a fear that Mr. Biden dodged a bullet.
When the New York Post published a sketchy piece based on the alleged contents of Hunter Biden’s alleged hard drive, spoon-fed to it by Rudy Giuliani, the 2016 panic kicked in. Twitter foolishly tried to suppress the story, giving it more traction than it would have had on the merits. Even reporters who questioned its legitimacy were attacked by liberals for giving it oxygen.
When NBC offered Mr. Trump a town hall opposite Mr. Biden’s last week, a FireChuckTodd hashtag lit up social media.
This panic isn’t just a phenomenon of elected Democrats and blue checkmark liberal journalists and activists. It’s seeping into the electorate.
Among Trump supporters, there’s a widespread belief that “shy Trump voters” — i.e., people who didn’t want to admit their preference to pollsters — carried the day for Mr. Trump in 2016 and will do it again. There’s little evidence for this theory. What looked like shy voters in 2016 were actually a surge of undecided voters breaking late for Mr. Trump. That could happen again, but the problem for Mr. Trump is that there are far fewer undecideds this time around, and the few that exist seem to be leaning toward Mr. Biden.
Driving the shy Trump voter theory are polls showing people think their neighbors will vote for Mr. Trump. Gallup recently found that, despite Mr. Biden’s consistent lead in the polls, 56% believe Mr. Trump will win. That’s interesting. But how many of those people are liberals giving voice to their darkest fears?
A recent Fox News poll found that 49% of respondents believe their neighbors will vote for Mr. Trump; 38% think their neighbors will vote for Mr. Biden.
Here’s the catch: The more liberal you are, the more likely you are to believe your neighbors aren’t. “Very liberal” respondents are nearly three times more likely to think there’s a Trump voter next door.
The thing is, we know “very liberal” voters tend to live among very liberal voters, not secret Republicans. Pollster Chris Anderson, who co-conducts the Fox News poll, chalks this finding up to “a combination of 2016 PTSD and liberal anxiety.”
This same anxiety is driving liberals to the polls in record numbers. Turnout is on track to dwarf 2016 levels, which makes a repeat of Mr. Trump’s narrow Electoral College victory difficult. Indeed, nearly 30 million people have already voted. And where partisan affiliation is reported, Democrats are outvoting Republicans more than 2 to 1. In other words, fear of a 2016 replay may be the reason we won’t have one. So maybe take a Xanax, everybody?