Stop making assumptions about Trump
Anyone who thinks they know what Donald Trump will do is wrong
On Feb. 16, 2015, the owner of a line of Macy’s neckties decided that Entertainment Tonight host Leeza Gibbons had produced a better commercial than Geraldo Rivera. No one at the time would guess that this man would redefine American politics in a year’s time.
The story of the past year and a half is a litany of people making predictions about Donald Trump and then being proven completely wrong. And further, people never seem to learn.
Suffering from a lack of horse-race coverage after the midterms, the media dove into predictions of who would run for president. Spoiler alert: they didn’t see Trump coming. In December 2014, Chris Cillizza, the head political analyst at the Washington Post, predicted that Rand Paul was the most likely person to win the Republican nomination. Trump wasn’t even in the top ten. Voting happened, and Paul got two delegates. On Jan. 26, 2015, Time magazine announced in a headline that “Donald Trump [is] not running for President.” Four months later, he did.
And then there was the flood of pundits asserting that every single controversial statement Trump made was his death knell. After he mocked a disabled reporter, after the Megyn Kelly spat, after belittling John McCain’s military service, we were all sure he was over. Surely, this most recent remark was different than the last; this one was just too much. Even at the outset of his campaign, the commentators thought his speech about Mexican “rapists” and “criminals” would be his downfall, as Vox claimed on July 2, 2015. As late as November 2015, Nate Silver, patron saint of election polling, was convinced that Trump did not “[have] a chance.”
Of course, they were all wrong.
Next, the fashionable thought was that although Trump was a serious candidate, Republican voters would not let him win the nomination. Once they stepped into the voting booth, sanity would prevail. Nope. Washington Post writer Dana Milbank literally ate his own column on May 4 after Ted Cruz dropped out of the race.
Then there was the joke of a concept called the “Trump pivot.” Then there were murmurs of a contested convention. Then there was the thought of the GOP “dumping” Trump ex post facto. All false.
After months and months of this consistent pattern, people persist in making predictions about the Trump campaign. But as the events get more consequential, the hubris of false intuition gets more dangerous. For quite a good period of time after the conventions, pundits were certain that Clinton had the election locked up. By late August, the New York Times’ “Upshot” poll analysis page pegged Trump’s chances in the general election at less than 15 percent. Georgia was in play, Missouri was in play. Clinton could even win South Carolina. With those odds, why on Earth should disaffected Bernie supporters in Pennsylvania show up to the polls?
But then, plot twist: media predictions about Trumps turned out wrong. The Real Clear Politics average of polls has Clinton leading nationally by only 1 point. The same has Trump leading in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Arizona, Maine’s second Congressional district, North Carolina and Nevada. If the election were held today, Trump would need only win those states and New Hampshire to succeed Barack Obama. If Trump closes swing-state gaps in the next month as much as he has in the past month, he would win the Electoral College 288 - 250. The result of this election is far from clear.
This same logic that would encourage Democrats to stay vigilant urges all thinking Republicans to stop treating everything Trump says as bluster. Just as we were unable to predict his electoral path, we are unable to predict what actions he will take if his winning streak continues. The man has no voting record to speak of, and he has identified with a vast range of political parties — in fact, he ran for President in 2000 as a candidate of the Reform Party. Furthermore, he constantly proves himself capable of saying anything, regardless of societal norms or perhaps his own opinions. So any claim that he will — or more importantly, will not — do something is completely baseless.
For instance, would he actually ban Muslims from the country? Many of the talking heads say no, but why should we trust them? They’ve been wrong about everything else. Then consider his promises — however inconsistent — on leaving NATO, torturing prisoners of war, bombing certain bodily substances out of ISIS and ending birthright citizenship. They sound like false bravado, but why should we think so? Moving past his promised policies, what is the limit? Would he drop nuclear bombs on Europe? Would he use NSA metadata against political enemies, a la “House of Cards?” Would he pull an Andrew Jackson and openly defy Supreme Court orders? Who knows?
Simply stated, we don’t know anything about Donald Trump. We should stop pretending that we do.
Bobby Zitzmann is a freshman in the School of International Service.