I fell away from my educational responsibilities and didn’t give out the final grade. Earlier I gave Will Rahn of CBS News an A+ for his soul-searching as a journalist, reflecting on how they had condescended to Trump supporters. I also gave Scott Sumner a B, since he admitted explicitly in several posts (both at his blog and at EconLog) that he had been totally wrong about Trump, but then I detected him backtracking a bit in a way that didn’t really work.
Today I called up the Registrar and let her know that I am assigning an “F” to George Will. His utter refusal to admit error, despite being devastatingly wrong, is something to behold.
I don’t want to belabor what is (perhaps) an inconsequential point, but let me give just a taste of Will’s #NeverTrump stance before the election.
==> In April, Will had already made it clear that he detested Trump and had been telling conservatives they should have nothing to do with the guy. But Will made a broader appeal to the GOP, saying that Trump was so radioactive that he would hurt Republicans in other races too:
Donald Trump’s damage to the Republican Party, although already extensive, has barely begun….
Trump would be the most unpopular nominee ever, unable to even come close to Mitt Romney’s insufficient support among women, minorities and young people. In losing disastrously, Trump probably would create down-ballot carnage sufficient to end even Republican control of the House…
At least half a dozen Republican senators seeking reelection and Senate aspirants can hope to win if the person at the top of the Republican ticket loses their state by, say, only four points, but not if he loses by 10. A Democratic Senate probably would guarantee a Supreme Court with a liberal cast for a generation…
Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states — condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation’s civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible.
==> Months later, after Trump had secured the nomination, Will hadn’t changed his tune. Here is his assessment from October 26–a little less than two weeks before the election:
Much ink and indignation has been spilled concerning whether Donald (“I am much more humble than you would understand”) Trump will “accept” the election’s outcome. The nation, like the universe of which it is the nicest part, will persevere even without the election result being accepted by the fellow who probably will be the first major-party presidential nominee in 20 years to receive less — probably a lot less — than 45 percent of the vote.
…This year’s winner is unlikely to become just the fourth nominee of the world’s oldest party (following Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson) to win more than 53 percent. The loser, however, could plunge close to the 37.4 percent that George H.W. Bush received in 1992 when Ross Perot took 18.9 percent of the vote.
This year’s winner probably will be the first Democrat since Grover Cleveland to become president without enjoying Democratic control of both houses of Congress….This year will be the fourth of a particular kind of Republican disappointment since World War II. In 1946, 1994, 2010 and 2014 Republicans won huge victories in off-year elections but two years later lost the presidential election…
The last Democrat directly elected (that is, not counting Truman or Johnson, who were elected after inheriting the office) to succeed a Democrat was James Buchanan, arguably the worst president ever. One hundred and sixty years later, Republicans fearing four Clinton years can reasonably hope there will be no more than four: The likelihood of Democrats winning a fourth consecutive presidential term will be reduced if the Republican Party reverts to its practice, adhered to since it chose John C. Fremont in 1856, of nominating a Republican.
Well, things didn’t work out exactly as George Will had warned, did they? Trump won about 47.2% of the popular vote, whereas Will had predicted he’d get “probably a lot less” than 45 percent. Trump not only won, but he did better with blacks and Hispanics than Romney did in 2012. Now in fairness, that might be an unfair comparison because Obama was black and Hillary Clinton is white, but still, Will said Trump wouldn’t be able to “even come close” to Romney’s support among women, minorities, and young people. (Romney got 44% of women voters whereas Trump only got 42%, but again Hillary Clinton being a woman is relevant here. In any event, McCain only get 43% of female voters himself, so Trump’s result is not completely disastrous here.)
The Democratic margin among young voters was smaller this cycle than in the past two, thought it’s partially because Clinton got fewer young voters than Obama had done. In terms of absolute performance, McCain won 32% of young voters (age 18-29), Romney won 36%, and Trump won 37%.
So Will was totally wrong about Trump’s performance. What about his warnings of Trump destroying the GOP’s power in the rest of the federal government? Here’s how the New York Times–not noted for being a Trump mouthpiece–summarized the results of the election the day after:
Republicans kept their grip on the House of Representatives on Tuesday, overcoming months of efforts by Democrats to tarnish them by association with Donald J. Trump in what proved to be a grave miscalculation.
With a handful of races outstanding Wednesday morning, Democrats had a net gain of just five seats and were expected to remain in the minority, a position they have occupied since Republicans swept to power in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party fervor.
In the few districts that changed hands, it was not perennially endangered Republicans in typical swing districts who were falling, but rather some incumbents who had been comfortably re-elected in the past.
…As it became clear that Republicans could not only hold both chambers but also claim the presidency, Republicans who had braced to lose all but the House began entertaining notions of a sweep. That would open the possibility of the passage of the party’s long-stalled agenda, Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said Tuesday night.
Now to be sure, #NeverTrumpers like Will could still say, “We think Trump will make an awful president and Republicans will rue the day they nominated him.” But you would think after doing everything in his power to hurt Trump, and for him still to perform as he did and now have the GOP in complete control, that Will would have the decency to admit to Republicans that he had given them horrible political and strategic advice.
With that context, let us see how George Will addresses the issue in the first (that I could find?) column he wrote, after the elections:
At dawn Tuesday in West Quoddy Head, Maine, the easternmost point of the United States, it was certain that by midnight in Cape Wrangell, Alaska, the westernmost fringe, there would be a loser who deserved to lose and a winner who did not deserve to win. The surprise is that Barack Obama must have immediately seen his legacy, a compound of stylistic and substantive arrogance, disappearing, as though written on water in ink of vapor.
OK, it takes you a second to figure out what the hell Will is even talking about, but it’s certainly not, “Oh my gosh you guys, I am SO SORRY for giving such horrible analysis.” (And incidentally, the fact that he starts out his column with the above paragraph, is exactly why George Will was so clueless about Trump’s electoral chances.)
In case you’re curious, here is how Will explains what happened:
The simultaneous sickness of both parties surely reveals a crisis of the U.S. regime. The GOP was easily captured, and then quickly normalized, by history’s most unpleasant and unprepared candidate, whose campaign was a Niagara of mendacities. And the world’s oldest party contrived to nominate someone who lost to him.
OK, that’s fine, but Will was unaware of Trump’s mendacities two weeks before the election? George Will–who can (and will) tell us what knot William Jennings Bryan used in his neckties–didn’t know that the U.S. regime was in crisis until after watching CNN on November 8?
And here’s the best part:
Americans perennially complain about Washington gridlock, but for seven decades they have regularly produced gridlock’s prerequisite: divided government. From 1944 through 2016, 22 of 37 elections gave at least one house of Congress to the party not holding the presidency; since 1954, 21 of 32 did; since 1994, eight of 12. Republicans now lack excuses: If 40 Democratic senators block repeal of Obamacare (or Supreme Court nominees), the Republicans’ populist base will demand Democratic behavior — revision of Senate rules to make this body more majoritarian.
So again: Rather than saying, “Holy crap you guys, I am SO SORRY for being SO TOTALLY WRONG about the fate of the GOP if Trump wins the nomination!” Will is now saying, “Republicans now lack excuses.”
And yet, Will seems to be full of them. My grade? F.