If you operate under the assumption that helium is heavier than the air around you, you’re going to lose your balloon. If you’re smart, you won’t lose many balloons before you change your assumption. If you don’t change your assumption, you’re going to keep losing balloons and start to look pretty stupid in the process.
But it looks like you can’t teach old pundits new paradigms. After presidential candidate Donald Trump finished in second in the Iowa Republican caucus, the media went straight to work picking out a coffin for his campaign, battling it out to see who could write the most definitive obituary. After months of being wrong about Trump, something finally happened to make them look right: All the Iowa polls were wrong — Trump lost! Sure, he scored more Iowa votes than anyone ever — excepting Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), who won Iowa — but he lost. Trump is a loser and this proves it.It’s hard to blame them for trying to spike the ball in Trump’s face. You’ve seen it before. Your favorite NFL team is down by 50 points. The team finally gets a first down, and the halfback celebrates like he just won the Super Bowl. Everyone except him just laughs and shakes their head. That’s what opinion writers like David Brooks — who wrote a piece declaring that “Donald Trump Isn’t Real” in the aftermath of Iowa — looked like last week. CNN ran a piece by Michael D’Antonio headlined “Donald Trump is a loser.” And the list of similar sentiments is long.
The pressure of being wrong about Trump over and over was building, so when it appeared they were finally right about something, the release was earthshaking.
Last July, I asked a political science professor at an Ivy League university how Trump would appeal to the electorate in a general election. He told me that “It’s a moot point” because “Trump has no chance of surviving the primaries.”
I predicted Trump’s demise more than once myself since last summer. The difference between me and the rest of them is that I threw out my broken election assumptions and started holding tight to the string of my balloon. For anyone interested, below is a guide on how to be right about Trump next time. It all starts with rejecting the bad assumptions and embracing the good ones.
Bad assumption: Manners are of the utmost importance. Every time Trump utters a naughty word, the media go nuts. The story was everywhere on Tuesday (you know the one; he repeated an audience member’s use of the word “pussy”). I heard more than one talking head predict that Trump would lose the New Hampshire primary when voters found out. Didn’t happen; never will. Trump doesn’t do manners, and his supporters don’t want him to.
Good Assumption: Every time Trump says something that no other politician ever would, he scores points. Politicians are well-mannered in front of voters and employ others to do their dirty work. Take former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), for instance. He talks a big game about the president being mature and the presidency as being above Trump’s behavior. Sounds nice, but then consider the truth lurking behind Bush. According to Larry Sabato, “Jeb Bush is Meaner Than He Looks.” Or recall former presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) lecturing us on maturity during the same debate where his communications director, Sergio Gor, tweeted a copy of Carly Fiorina’s closing statement that had been left in the hotel copier.
Bad assumption: An ideological misstep will dissolve Trump’s support. Most Republican voters despise eminent domain. I despise eminent domain. In Saturday night’s debate, Trump defended eminent domain. He didn’t try to “Rubio” his way out of it with prepared sound bites. He didn’t try to muddy the water and make people question whether he actually supported it. He was totally straight about it.
Good assumption: Honesty transcends ideology. Voters would rather disagree with a straight-shooter than agree with a political wind-tester. We’ve seen too many politicians run as conservatives and then prove not to be. Voters have become suspect of politicians with ideologies that try too hard to match the electorate.
Bad assumption: Trump is unelectable in November. Uh-huh. Just like he could never win the primaries. Every time a pundit says Trump is unelectable in November, there’s a good chance he or she also wrote him off in the GOP primary a few months ago and at every step along the way. Repeating something over and over doesn’t make it true. Just ask Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Good assumption: Trump is a winner.
Zipperer is assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College.