One of the things I’m most fascinated with at the moment is just how much of the political commentariat’s conventional wisdom has been completely and utterly voided by the election of Donald Trump.
Off the top of my head, the following tried and true talking points of political pundits has been rendered total nonsense:
- Political experience matters;
- Candidates must “appear presidential”;
- Political ground games and GOTV efforts matter;
- Endorsements matter;
- Polling trends matter;
- Staying “on message” matters;
- Policy positions, as opposed to broad slogans matter;
- Fundraising matters;
- Gaffes matter;
Those are just the ones which immediately come to mind. I’m sure there are more.
Now, obviously, Donald Trump got away with a lot of things other candidates would not have gotten away with. Indeed, we’ll see a lot of people trying to ape his formula, such as it was, in the coming years and fail miserably at it. Trump had a lot of things going for him that were, to say the least, unique. Trump did not break politics completely, I don’t think, as much as he surfed a perfect storm in a way a lot of people couldn’t and in a why no one which no one thought anyone ever could.
Nevertheless, I do think – and I do hope – that Trump broke the punditry. A punditry whose authority has always been based on their alleged experience. Or, more importantly, on their ability to spit out those bits of conventional wisdom on camera or on deadline, graft the current race onto them and come off sounding vaguely smart. A lot of us become “experts” in these matters in election years and then go back to our lives. The pundit class never really leaves and thus seems oh-so-much smarter than everyone else once candidates start skulking around New Hampshire two years out and they begin to spout the political CW anew.
But now it’s all moot. Or should be. And media outlets should never again give a platform to the people who have relied on the political cliches as a crutch for so long.
If, say, Julian Castro runs for president in 2020, and some George Will or Rachel Maddow type goes on about his “lack of experience” or “gravitas” we now know that they’ll be saying literally nothing of importance. If Curt Schilling runs for Senate in 2018 and Mark Halperin walks us through his sordid history of ugly social media posts and claims that to be disqualifying, he’ll be an utter fool or else he’ll be counting on us to be fools. Those factors have been proven to be utterly non-dispositive. Other factors will matter more.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the 2016 election and we’ll be learning them for a long time. But the first one applicable to my area of quasi-expertise – the media – is that anyone who looks at an election as the latest in a pattern of similar events over which they have expertise, as opposed to something sui generis, will be trafficking in more bullshit than usual and doing a grave disservice to their readers and viewers.