On the afternoon of Election Day 2016, I was doing an Election Day panel with my old friend Bob Shrum, with whom I’ve won some and lost some, and who I have respected for decades. He was comfortable. Morley Winograd, the longtime and much-respected head of the Democratic Party of Michigan, assured me that Michigan would be fine. I emailed another old friend, former Bill Clinton pollster Doug Schoen, and while he and Bob and I are all inherently anxious, he, too, was comfortable. As for me, I was not comfortable. I had canceled my class the day before because I didn’t want to tell my students that Hillary Clinton would win, but I didn’t want to tell them that she would lose.
No one knows more about Michigan than I do, but Bob and Doug know way more about polling than I do, so I would never claim to be smarter than my friends. Part of my insight came from remembering how hard it had always been for Democrats to win the votes of white males; but most of it, I fear, came from being a woman and having done endless research on how voters react to Hillary Clinton. That and spending months on the road in 2006 promoting a book called “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” and being attacked wherever I went. It felt like people had confused me with Clinton, and it wasn’t fun.
So, excuse my learned pessimism. Winning presidential elections is hard if you are a Democrat. That former President Barack Obama made it look easy is a measure of not only changing demographics but also his ability to cross boundaries — against a candidate who never played the kind of race politics Donald Trump has already, even before Democratic nominee Joe Biden chose Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice president. The electoral map tends to favor Republicans, and history tends to favor incumbents.
The polls show a close election, not a landslide. A bunch of states that it would be nice if Joe Biden had locked up are still in play. Florida is still a tossup. Michigan is leaning, far from certain. Two weeks past Labor Day, there’s no lock there.
And we all know Trump will stop at nothing. And that only a clean win will avoid weeks of counting.
Many otherwise-smart Democrats simply cannot understand how anyone could be undecided in this race, much less planning to vote for Donald Trump, without being a full-blown racist, sexist or idiot. Oh, yes, or a billionaire who has more money than he can spend and only cares about taxes. This is a big handicap — for Democrats.
And as for being undecided, what universe could they possibly be in? There are Trump people asking the same question. Really? Even with 200,000 dead this year while the president was “downplaying the threat” and walking around maskless; with the economy in utter collapse and states writing checks they will never repay; with the western states burning and the southeast flooding and the president denying global warming, you really haven’t decided?
Yup. Some people really haven’t, and it does us no good to mock them.
If you’re following the news outlets I do, it, frankly, is hard to believe. But there’s an alternative world out there, on channels that look like mine but portray American cities in flames, men and women in blue under assault, and, of course, immigrant criminals storming our borders and murdering in our streets. If that were really happening in cities across America, you might be scared, too. It isn’t; it’s “fake news.” But how do you call “fake news” on a president who has turned the very name into a joke? It doesn’t matter how outrageous his tweets are because he has surely tweeted worse. But if you’re retweeting memes of the far right, only to be caught when one appears on the program of the party, you are bound to contribute to a world that does not exist.
This is not one of those elections where we need a president as good as his people, although we surely do. We need people who will be smarter than their president and their favorite news anchor give them credit for.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.