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 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 the country could reelect President 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 Biden’s trajectory.
It doesn’t help Biden is running a defensive campaign, predicated on the assumption the more Trump is the center of attention, the better it is for Biden. Add in the fact that while 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, 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, Trump lost the first debate, badly. The reaction from liberals wasn’t, “Hooray, we’ve got two more debates to drive nails into Trump’s electoral coffin!” Rather, the call went out that Biden should refuse to debate Trump again. Some of this was no doubt revulsion at Trump’s debate demeanor. But some of it was clearly rooted in a fear Biden dodged a bullet. Like Apollo Creed at the end of the first “Rocky” movie, a “there ain’t gonna be no rematch” feeling took over.
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 Trump a town hall opposite 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 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 Trump. That could happen again, but the problem for Trump is there are far fewer undecideds this time around, and the few that exist seem to be leaning toward Biden.
Driving the shy Trump voter theory are polls showing people think their neighbors will vote for Trump. Gallup recently found, despite Biden’s consistent lead in the polls, 56 percent believe 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 49 percent of respondents believe their neighbors will vote for Trump; 38 percent think their neighbors will vote for 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 Trump’s narrow Electoral College victory difficult. Indeed, nearly 30 million people already have 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?
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.
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