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The Pundits Are Almost Always Wrong

Jim Newell at Salon.com has an article about the volumes and volumes of nonsense that issues forth from political pundits, especially leading up to and during campaign season. He goes back and quotes “expert” after “expert” as they predicted that each and every potential candidate — Giuliani, Trump, Palin, Huckabee — was serious about the race and was a real challenger to Mitt Romney.

I was especially amused by those who were sure Sarah Palin was going to jump into the race. I must have said a hundred times over the last year or so that Sarah Palin not only wasn’t going to run for president, but that she never had any intention at all of doing so despite her very public campaign to maintain the illusion that she was giving it serious thought (something she isn’t capable of in the first place). And the reason seemed absolutely obvious to me: Running for president is work. It’s really hard work. It’s 16 or 18 hour days on the campaign trail, rushing from one event to another, frantic phone calls with advisers filling up the time on the bus in between. And actually being president is even more work yet, with unbelievable amounts of stress. Sarah Palin doesn’t want that life. She wants the life she has, with fame and wealth and no need to actually do something to get it. That’s why she quit as governor of Alaska in the first place. And anyone who didn’t get that was just kidding themselves.

And guess which pundit is the most often wrong? The man who, more than anyone else, is responsible for Palin’s emergence on the national stage and eventual nomination by McCain: Bill Kristol.

Bill Kristol, the publisher of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, is the most notoriously wrong-all-the-time political commentator in America. The vocal advocate behind such hits as “the Iraq war will go swimmingly” and “Sarah Palin would be a great vice presidential candidate” typically spent most of this campaign season incorrectly speculating, or “reporting,” on which candidates would join the race. In a way, this made Kristol useful. We knew, for example, that a Rudy Giuliani for President 2012 campaign — however unlikely that ever was — would definitely never materialize after Bill Kristol wrote this on June 8, 2011: “I’m told by two reliable sources that Rudy Giuliani intends to run for the GOP nomination for president in 2012. He may throw his hat in the ring soon.”

Hey, I fell victim to some of this myself when I predicted that Michele Bachmann, while she had no chance of actually getting elected, could become the major not-Romney in the race, his primary conservative challenger. Then I said the same thing about Rick Perry. In my defense, I just didn’t realize how incredibly stupid Rick Perry is and how obvious that would become once he hit the national stage. The man would need a promotion to get to be an idiot.

Comments

  1. dogmeat says

    Ed,

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, who would have believed for a minute that Rick “I want win reelection in my own state” Santorum or Newt “3rd wife’s a charm” Gingrich wouldn’t have been laughed off of the primary ballots? The idea that Gingrich, with his shady past, vile personality, and overpowering dishonesty would make it more than a week, or that Santorum would be anything but a footnote on a single page of a very large book, is quite surprising. The “Not Romney” of the week was an interesting and amusing melodrama while it lasted. The actual ’12 election cycle is going to be truly ugly in comparison.

  2. The Lorax says

    Aside from a brief moment when I feared Rick Perry would do well, only because of how Bush managed to score two terms, I knew it was going to be Romney all the way. Everyone else was just too far away from reality to even be considered.

    The GOP clown car is driving away, and the last clown standing now needs to prove to the audience that he’s a lion tamer. Everyone got their popcorn? This is gonna be good.

  3. John Hinkle says

    Kristol wrote this on June 8, 2011: “I’m told by two reliable sources that Rudy Giuliani intends to run for the GOP nomination for president in 2012. He may throw his hat in the ring soon.”

    We now know that Kristol has at least two voices in his head.

  4. Michael Heath says

    I’m remain comfortable continuing to stake out the position that, contra Ed, Palin’s not smart enough to realize the amount of work going into campaigning and governing and such work would apply to her as well, in spite of already running on one presidential ticket and being a governor given she worked part-time. I think her fantasy includes being president and still living the life Ed describes. However it was always clear she had no viable traditional path to being nominated by the GOP to run for president; her hope was that God would instead clear an unprecedented path that allowed her to glide into the White House. The creation of the Tea Party parallel to her own ascendancy only amplified her fantasy such a path would open – that she was going to ride a wave of morons and Christianists who do identify with her.

    In fact I think my perception of what Palin fantasizes is funnier than all the others who claimed God called them to run. When Ms. Palin announced she wasn’t running back when the deadlines for filing in the major states was near last October, she demonstrated that she was genuinely perturbed. I think for two reasons: 1) God didn’t provide that fantasized path while feeding her delusion by dangling the chance by way of the Tea Party, and 2) Because she was able to perceive it would be harder to get median attention much needed for her to live the life Ed and I think she wants and had been enjoying up until then. It wasn’t hard to predict she’d fall off the map after announcing she wouldn’t run and instead start praying for a brokered convention.

    I concede the type of life Ed describes Palin wanting is true, in fact she enjoyed such for several months after she quit as governor, published her first book, and flirted with running. However I think she delusional enough to believe God will provide her a path to conflate the life Ed describes with being president. So I think Ed overestimates her intelligence and underestimates her delusion.

  5. lofgren says

    Of course the pundits are almost always wrong. The pundit game is rigged to reward wrongness over rightness. Look:

    1. There is no penalty to being wrong. You won’t lose your job, your standing, have your paycheck docked, or any of the other reprisals that normal penalize acute repeated wrongness in every other field.

    2. Success is determined not by rightness or wrongness, but by clicks, ratings, views, commenter responses, and general noise.

    3. There is no way to be successful by making sound predictions based on clear data – or even anecdata. If you say that Mitt Romney will probably win the nomination, nobody is going to care. Everybody already thinks that Mitt Romney will probably win the nomination. If you say that the fiberglass Big Boy statue down the street is probably going to win the election, you’ll get 50 million page views by tomorrow morning.

    4. Failure only occurs if you make too many insane predictions. Predictions that fall too far outside the conventional wisdom are inevitably offensive to somebody. If you do it enough times, you’ll offend enough people that advertisers will shun you, and then you get relegated to internet purgatory. Unless you were already on the internet exclusively. In that case you might as well crank up the weirdness and carve yourself a niche of fellow insane people.

    5. If, by some chance, one of your insane predictions comes true, you can reap the rewards for years in the form of cocktail parties and guest-host slots on Sunday morning TV shows.

    So what ends up happening is that the pundits take turns saying sane, unremarkable things that nobody cares about so that one of their colleagues can make a “shocking” prediction that falls just inside the curve of possibility. Some people play big and say things like “Herman Cain is the man to beat!” Some people are more conservative and they say things like “Newt Gingrich is going to give Romney a run for his money.” But if you refuse to bet at all, you might find yourself consistently right… but you’ll also fade into obscurity because nobody will give a shit.

    Being right is for professors and statisticians. For pundits, the money is in being just zany enough.

  6. Scott Simmons says

    “In my defense, I just didn’t realize how incredibly stupid Rick Perry is and how obvious that would become once he hit the national stage. The man would need a promotion to get to be an idiot.”
    That’s what you get for not living in Texas. The biggest nightmare for us when G.W. Bush was elected to the White House was not that Bush was President; it was that Lt. Gov. Perry got a free promotion. I’ve never been able to understand why we keep re-electing him. Maybe heat stroke from these ridiculous Texas summers has caused widespread brain damage.

  7. Michael Heath says

    dogmeat writes:

    . . . who would have believed for a minute that Rick “I want win reelection in my own state” Santorum or Newt “3rd wife’s a charm” Gingrich wouldn’t have been laughed off of the primary ballots? The idea that Gingrich, with his shady past, vile personality, and overpowering dishonesty would make it more than a week, or that Santorum would be anything but a footnote on a single page of a very large book, is quite surprising. The “Not Romney” of the week was an interesting and amusing melodrama while it lasted. The actual ’12 election cycle is going to be truly ugly in comparison.

    I disagree. I think what’s played out is what we should have expected. We know that the Republican party is now dominated by conservatives and that conservatism now relies solely on: talking points which don’t work, avoiding reality and experts, working exclusively for the financial benefit of a mere handful of business sectors, promotes a Christianist agenda, and hates and fears ‘the other’ more than working in the national interest.

    The fact Romney has done all the traditional things to make himself the person to be beat is no surprise, history teaches us this. However we also knew that Romney’s record doesn’t meet the criteria of what conservatives now want from their politicians, where again, there is no other competing ideology within the GOP. So we should have expected challengers to at least do initially well given the perception that Romney is not a trusted conservative.

    These candidates rose because they had a [failed] record and rhetoric which was pretty consistent with what modern-day conservatives desire. But they also validated that while the GOP and conservatism is rapidly evolving, spurred on by enjoying their own media and the rise of the Internet, the traditional factor of needing money from financial constituents is still a requirement within the Republican party. Some day I think it’s possible we might be surprised someone could rise up without the traditional financial support structure the GOP relies on now, especially if theconservative media jumps on their bandwagon. But at least for now that remains infeasible. The fact Fox News and Matt Drudge promoted Romney while Limbaugh made a Huckabee run infeasible is a key factor why a demagogue still needs a lot of money. If these three media entities had gotten on another’s band wagon then even that traditional factor might no longer always be true.

    Another consideration which made this play-out in a pretty probable manner was that Romney’s feasible chance is this year, he had to run. But other more viable candidates had no upside to running this year except for Jon Huntsman, precisely because the odds favor Obama winning. So I think we’ll see a more viable crew competing in ’16, though I certainly do not predict the old rules which were still in play this year will still be the primary factors then. That’s because conservatism and conservative media is so rapidly mutating.

  8. chilidog99 says

    “Big Boy” for President!

    It has a nice ring to it.

    He’d at least have more personality than Romney.

  9. fastlane says

    I think lofgren pretty much nails the reasons why the system works how it does.

    I’m not the least surprised that Kristol is the most wrong pundit on TV. He was even famously asked by Jon Stewart “Don’t you ever get tired of being wrong?” That was a classic episode.

  10. lofgren says

    But other more viable candidates had no upside to running this year except for Jon Huntsman, precisely because the odds favor Obama winning.

    This is something I have been saying all season to my friends who seemed to be treating the (then-)current candidates as the cream of the Republican crop. Of course there were only crazy people and Romney. Anybody capable of rationally assessing the field and seeing themselves with a chance at victory would hold off for a time when they don’t have to face an incumbent. Meanwhile Romney is looking at that same crop of people – the rational ones with a chance – and realizing that he wouldn’t have a glimmer of hope against them, so running against a sitting president while fending off nutcases and praying for some economic disaster between now and November is really the best shot he’ll ever have. The same dynamic was in play in 2004. The only reason Kerry ran was because he was the old white dude who drew the short straw and didn’t get to wait around to try his old white stuff against the second coming of Clinton.

    What really bugs me though is that I never hear this talked about in the media. The assumption always seems to be that candidates make decisions in a vacuum, with chances of winning or general impact on their image being irrelevant or afterthoughts. I know that the pundits are not this foolish. Many of them have worked on campaigns, some of them have run for office themselves, so what prevents them from talking about this aspect of the campaign?

    Or maybe I just listen to the wrong shows. All I know is that the media spent six months pretending that anybody besides Romney had an actual shot at the nomination despite the painfully obvious fact that every not-Romney was just another opportunity to say Fuck you to the man before the final hour gut-check made most voters, especially the least socially conservative, throw the switch for the guy who acted least like a schizophrenic with command hallucinations, and never once did I hear somebody just come out and say, “Look, anybody with a better chance than Romney is just going to wait four years and do this right, not throw it away when the deck is stacked against them.”

  11. slc1 says

    Look, the priority of the lame stream media is to sell newspapers/magazines/TV advertising. By pumping up a non-existent primary race as if there were serious contenders to Romney, the “race” was prolonged and more eyeballs for the advertisers was generated. The fact is that Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, and Bachmann were jokes and should not have been taken seriously. Perry is a slightly different story as it was not clear until he fell on his face that he too was a joke; after all he had been elected 3 times as Governor of Texas.

  12. says

    lofgren “If you say that the fiberglass Big Boy statue down the street is probably going to win the election, you’ll get 50 million page views by tomorrow morning.”
    Now you’re just being ridiculous. The fiberglass Big Boy statue down the street is sitting out until 2016.

  13. Michael Heath says

    lofgren writes:

    What really bugs me though is that I never hear this talked about in the media. The assumption always seems to be that candidates make decisions in a vacuum, with chances of winning or general impact on their image being irrelevant or afterthoughts. I know that the pundits are not this foolish. Many of them have worked on campaigns, some of them have run for office themselves, so what prevents them from talking about this aspect of the campaign?

    I think Andrew Sullivan does an excellent job rounding up analyses which do consider these factors. Couple that with his incorporating Nate Silver and other’s excellent crunching of the numbers and I think his readers have a good sense of how to predict certain presidential campaign outcomes and understand events as they play-out.

  14. dogmeat says

    I disagree. I think what’s played out is what we should have expected. We know that the Republican party is now dominated by conservatives and that conservatism now relies solely on: talking points which don’t work, avoiding reality and experts, working exclusively for the financial benefit of a mere handful of business sectors, promotes a Christianist agenda, and hates and fears ‘the other’ more than working in the national interest.

    I will concede Santorum, he fits very well within the current mindset, but Gingrich’s history should have prohibited him from all but the looniest fringe support. Also, what I find strange is that I don’t see Santorum as being much brighter than either Bachmann or Perry which leaves me somewhat at a loss as to why he was able to squiggle along so long after the others imploded. Some of that can be attributed to the others being gone when he rose to the notRomney of the month chosen spot, but they all strike me as rather dim in addition to being nutty as fruitcakes.

  15. Michael Heath says

    dogmeat:

    Gingrich’s history should have prohibited him from all but the looniest fringe support.

    Secular conservatives like him because of his Contract with America. Like nearly all conservatives, they have no memory of Gingrich’s history plus they ignore social issues – they don’t give a shit about others – and therefore aren’t even aware of Gingrich’s demagoguery on these matters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gingrich beat all the other candidates in the race in getting the least loony voters with the exception of Mitt Romney.

  16. says

    dogmeat “Some of that can be attributed to the others being gone when he rose to the notRomney of the month chosen spot, but they all strike me as rather dim in addition to being nutty as fruitcakes.”
    He was the Last NotRomney. The Final NotRomney. The last chance to avoid ActualRomney. It was like the Kmart, with each roving pack of grannies scattered about the store eventually all rushing simultaneously to the Blue Light Special near the back. He was that Blue Light Special. He was that giant bin of six-pack, box misprinted (size unknown), miscellaneous colours, factory-second lady’s underwear for $2.99. Sure, he wasn’t what they were looking for, but the rest of the place had already be rummaged through quite severely, leaving just the bin of him and the mannequin by the front door that was just standing there for them, waiting.

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