February 27, 2016

1172 words 6 mins read

I'm trying to write the truth

I was a pretender.

In 2012, I pretended I believed Mitt Romney would win. But I knew better. I just didn’t have the heart to tell the truth to the volunteers banging doors and working call lists from our election office in South County.

But I knew Romney would lose. I suspected the GOP would not regain the Senate.

When some of our hardest workers showed up to help break down the office and move our belongings, I couldn’t look at them. Nor could I look at them at the election night watch party. I sat in the back room blogging, but I could hear them yelling at the TV as one key state after another fell to Obama. “You’re wrong! They’ve only counted three percent of the votes!”

After that, I told myself “never again.” I’m done encouraging magical thinking. And, though I sometimes get the facts wrong, I try to tell the truth when it’s important.

Which is why you’ve been reading a lot about Donald Trump on this blog.

Last summer, I was firmly in the anti-Trump camp with posts like:

Trump: Good, Bad, and Ugly <–The most important

We Deserve Better

Trump: The Final Nail in the Conservative Coffin?

The fact that most people expected Trump to win told me I should stop writing him off, but in August and September I still thought he’d fade.

Then came the terrorist attacks in France and San Bernardino. Those events led me to believe Trump would win. I wasn’t happy about it, but my gut said ‘it’s over."

In December, I did a lot of critical thinking. I challenged my own beliefs about Donald Trump. Some beliefs changed, some were dropped, many survived. In the process, I gained some new beliefs, too. For instance, I learned that Trump is a master of persuasion. Since one of my titles is Persuasive Design Director, I should have recognized this skill sooner. But my professional judgment was clouded by my personal animosity. Confirmation bias blinded me to many of Trump’s good or useful qualities.

I wasn’t sure how to present my revelation to the world. So I avoided the subject as much as possible. I was afraid writing or speaking the truth as I saw it would anger my friends who still hated Trump or believed Ted Cruz was divinely anointed to be our 45th president. I was afraid that telling the truth would sound like an endorsement to the deep parts of their brains where powerful feelings and emotions lurk. I was afraid I’d be called a “sell-out” just for telling the truth as I saw it. Brave, I know.

Then I started seeing so many people trapped in self-imposed confirmation bias loops, or affinity bubbles. Just like I was last summer. In the conservative echo chamber, Trump became a larger-than-life monster bent on destroying America.

So I decided to write.

It’s Time to Choose

Party Like It’s 1992

I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s vote; I was trying to prepare them for what I believed was inevitable. And I was trying to get people to critically examine their beliefs of the likeliest results and likeliest consequences of the nominating process. I wanted to caution people against making promises they couldn’t keep or predictions they wouldn’t want repeated.

I particularly wanted Cruz supporters to realize his Evangelical strategy was flawed. It was based on bad interpretation of data from 2012 and 2008. The analysts who came up with the strategy failed to measure all the variables that were available to them. If they had, they’d have discovered that the missing voters of 2012 were not conservative Evangelicals but Ross Perot voters and Reagan Democrats. Here’s what Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics wrote:

What Cruz is really talking about doing is something akin to what Barack Obama did in 2008, when he turned a sizeable number of non-voting African-Americans into voters. Cruz is hoping that evangelicals and conservatives who have traditionally just not voted will opt to vote for him. It’s a tough haul, since the National Election Study suggests turnout among born-again Christians is around 80 percent to begin with. But stranger things have happened (I suppose).

The candidate who actually fits the profile of a “missing white voter” candidate is Donald Trump. As I noted Wednesday, he fits in the mold of the Nixon-Perot-Huckabee-Santorum populist strain of Republicanism.

In other words, Cruz’s plan was get his top-performing segment to performer even better. Every motivation designer knows that’s very difficult and very expensive and runs the risk of frustrating your best supporters. (Remember, I do persuasion and motivation for a living.)

At this point I had three strong data points suggesting Trump would probably win the nomination:

*1. Trump has remarkable persuasion skills. *2. Voters expect Trump to win, and voter expectations are far more accurate at predicting winners than voter preference polls (because voters lie). *3. Cruz’s Evangelical strategy was flawed, but Donald Trump was designed for the “missing white voter.”

So when National Review, Glenn Beck, and others lost their minds in January, I felt I had to step up my game. They were actually helping Trump, not hurting him. And a lot of people now hate me for it. For telling the truth as I saw it.

Since then, Trump has won three straight primaries and caucuses, and he’s expected to sweep or nearly sweep Super Tuesday. He picked up two endorsements from sitting governors yesterday, and Newt Gingrich believes the nomination is over.

Some readers might think it’s my fault for not doing more for Cruz. Well Cruz was never my first choice. I like all of his policies, but that’s not enough. Cruz’s policies are not popular with Congressional Republicans. Congress will not rubber-stamp whatever a President Cruz sends up the hill. (If he couldn’t get the bills through the Senate as a Senator, why would he be able to do it as President?) To be effective, a president must be persuasive. If Ted Cruz can’t persuade a majority of Evangelicals to vote for him in South Carolina or Nevada, how will he persuade Congress to pass his flat tax? But, most of all, I never saw a path to the White House for Cruz. His general election strategy was too flawed, as I’ve said many times already.

I am not trying to influence the election. I’m just trying to tell people what I think will happen. And I’m encouraging people to have a useful contingency plan in case I’m right. I do this knowing you might not want to hear it from me. But I know that hearing it early from me will make the realization less painful.

I’ve learned that writing the truth is a lot harder than encouraging people’s fantasies. It hurts me to know my honesty pains some readers, but I think it’s my job as a blogger. And if the truth as I see it is too painful, you don’t have to read my posts. But I’m glad you do.

Thanks for reading.