I frequently make use of this space to fact-check, rebut, mock and otherwise shame pundits and political commentators who, in my view, say and write some very silly things. The world of political punditry is, after all, a target-rich environment that is populated with inexplicably influential people who maintain their status and authority as media figures despite being frequently and catastrophically wrong. Punditry suffers from a criminal lack of accountability, and I do what small part I can to correct what needs correcting and lay bare some of its more egregious abuses.
But, of course, pundit accountability can’t be a one-way street. I am just as vulnerable to inaccuracy and just as worthy of criticism as any person who makes his or her living writing about politics. So in the interest of promoting accountability and balancing my own ledger as 2015 comes to a close, I feel it’s necessary to lay out what I got wrong this year. And it’s embarrassing and humbling for me to say it, but I blew it on one of the most important political stories of the year.
I was wrong about Donald Trump.
Not only was I wrong about Trump, I was wrong from literally day one. On Jan. 1, I published a piece laying out my irrational hopes for the year, and one of them was my fervent wish that the media would ignore Trump’s posturing about a presidential run because, in my view, it was obviously fake. “He’s not going to run. He’s never going to run. He revels in the attention and is using you to feed his already bloated, disgusting, combed-over ego,” I wrote, incorrectly. And even as Trump started making moves toward actually setting up a campaign, like hiring staffers and forming committees, I still refused to believe it would happen. “There’s still no actual reason to pay attention to Trump because he’s not – and never will be – a serious contender for the presidency,” I wrote in late April, quite wrongly.
Up to that point, I suppose I could be forgiven for unrelenting skepticism, given Trump’s long history of teasing, and then abandoning, presidential runs. But even as the reality of Trump 2016 stared me in the face, I refused to recognize it. The day Trump announced his candidacy, I speculated that he was still pulling a con, and suggested that he wouldn’t follow through with the paperwork required to participate in the primary debates. “He can pretend-run for president for a couple of months, get excluded from the debates because he hasn’t met the eligibility threshold, and then quit the race because he’s not being treated fairly by the Republican Party,” I wrote, sketching together a scenario that was completely divorced from reality. After Trump did file a statement of candidacy with the FEC, I acknowledged having to “eat just a smidge of crow” but still suggested, despite every indicator to the contrary, that he still might not be serious about this because he hadn’t filed his financial disclosure forms.
He filed them, and he’s been leading in the polls ever since. Please excuse me while I cram the rest of that crow down my gullet.
So, now that I’ve laid out what I got wrong, let’s examine why, exactly, I was so off-base. The simple answer is that I succumbed to a fallacy that afflicts so many of the pundits that I criticize: rather than observe what was happening in the world and forming my opinion based on that, I formed an opinion and then tried to make the world conform to it.
That doesn’t work. It never works, and it always leads to embarrassment. I’d convinced myself that Trump would never run for president, and owing to a combination of pride and near-sightedness, I refused to back down from that position, which I believed to be obviously correct in spite of all the evidence telling me it was not. If I’d taken a moment to step back and actually grapple with the possibility that Trump, who was preaching anti-immigrant xenophobia well before he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” in his announcement speech, might actually find a receptive audience within the Republican electorate, I might have reconsidered my skepticism. But I didn’t. I was wrong, and I stayed wrong because I desperately wanted my wrong opinion to be right.
And I apologize for that. Not to Trump, because he’s a ruptured carbuncle on the body politic, but to the people who click on my links and expect me to tell them something that is, at a bare minimum, accurate. I have a weird job that lets me formulate opinions about politics in exchange for money. I get to read the news and watch campaign speeches and pick apart policy papers so I can tell you what I think about them. “Having an opinion” isn’t a terribly unique skill, so I do my damnedest to be funny or interesting or insightful in ways that are unexpected but still faithful to the facts. The worst thing I (or any commentator) can do is assume that my opinions are correct or important simply because they’re my opinions. A lot of pundits fall into that trap, and I fell into it with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. I blew it. I’m sorry.