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The pundit’s fallacy on steroids


Matt Yglesias coined the term “pundit’s fallacy” a decade ago, to describe this:

The pundit’s fallacy is that belief that what a politician needs to do to improve his or her political standing is do what the pundit wants substantively.

The 2020 presidential election seems to be eliciting this fallacy in particularly florid forms. See, for example, this hysterical outburst from James Carville. A typical sample:

I want to give you an example of the problem here. A few weeks ago, Binyamin Appelbaum, an economics writer for the New York Times, posted a snarky tweet about how LSU canceled classes for the National Championship game. And then he said, do the “Warren/Sanders free public college proposals include LSU, or would it only apply to actual schools?”

You know how fucking patronizing that is to people in the South or in the middle of the country? First, LSU has an unusually high graduation rate, but that’s not the point. It’s the goddamn smugness. This is from a guy who lives in New York and serves on the Times editorial board and there’s not a single person he knows that doesn’t pat him on the back for that kind of tweet. He’s so fucking smart.

Appelbaum doesn’t speak for the Democratic Party, but he does represent the urbanist mindset. We can’t win the Senate by looking down at people. The Democratic Party has to drive a narrative that doesn’t give off vapors that we’re smarter than everyone or culturally arrogant.

It’s easy to make fun of Carville, and I encourage doing so, but plenty of our best commenters here at LGM sound exactly like him when they start contemplating the possibility of Sanders, or Buttigieg, or Bloomberg, or Biden, winning the nomination.

Warren doesn’t get this reaction at LGM much because “everybody” wants Warren to get the nomination. Therefore she’s the perfect candidate to beat Trump. QED. (Warren is my preferred candidate too, but come on).

Chris’s post references the possibility that Sanders gets the nomination and loses the general, and what an intra-party meltdown that would cause. It certainly would, but pretty much exactly the same thing would happen if any of the other viable candidates for the nomination loses the general. I mean if, say, Bloomberg is the eventual candidate and loses, what do you think the “lesson” will be from that? The leftists would see the nomination itself as a total betrayal of left principles, which led to people not voting because of that betrayal, while the moderates would see this as a classic betrayal from the left, who didn’t come out and vote as a result (it should be unnecessary to add that the actual post-election facts of the matter in regard to who voted etc. will have approximately zero effect on any of these narratives).

But of course the narrative will be exactly identical, in mirror form, if Sanders gets the nomination and then loses. Leftists will blame the center, the center will blame the left, and either case nascent fascism will win, except that by the end of a second Trump term that rough beast won’t be nascent any more.

“Electability” is a bogus concept, because the two most important factors driving it — turnout by unambiguous partisans, and persuading squishy swing voters — are in exact and eternal opposition. There’s no way to square that circle, and there’s no way to know, ex ante, which will prove to be more important in any particular election (You would think the election of Donald Trump would have sobered people up a little in regard to their confidence about predicting American presidential elections in 2020, but no of course not.)

The only thing we know for sure is that Trump’s re-election would be the biggest catastrophe in the history of our political system since at least the defeat of Reconstruction by the ideological and often literal ancestors of the same people who are now trying to get Trump re-elected. There’s no magic bullet or red pill or Johnny Unbeatable to keep that from happening. There’s only us, here, now.

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