The horse race thing

One of the most annoying things the media does is focus on the horse-race aspect of politics. Who’s the front-runner? Has Candidate A’s “gaffe” affected their chances? Has the president/senator/governor’s new policy hurt him with the voters? Never mind whether the policy is good or bad, helps or hurts. Don’t worry about whether the gaffe indicates deep-seated racism rather than just a fumblemouth. What matters is strictly how it affects the polls. Or how it might affect the polls.

It was the late 1990s when it first sunk in how useless this was. I forget the specifics, but there was a major news article about whether Texas Gov. George W Bush’s recent initiative meant he was no longer the front runner for the Republican nomination. Despite the fact he hadn’t even announced his run. Despite the fact it was more than a year, IIRC, before the election. Which made the article meaningless. But way easier than detailing the effects of the policy. Writing about government takes work; writing about the horse race or personality conflicts is relatively easy and doesn’t take much research. And if your predictions are wrong, hey, nobody’s going to be too pissed.

The past year or so, I’ve noticed something equivalent on the left-wing blogs I follow. To wit, endless speculation about where this country is headed and how bad it’s going to get. It’s more serious than handicapping the elections, but I’m starting to think most of it is just as vacuous. In the past few months I read posts speculating Trump might quit before the election, might quit after he lost, might just retire to Mar-a-Lago to sulk, might simply sit in the White House and refuse to leave, might proclaim martial law. Or that Biden and the Democrats would eagerly try to reach across the aisles and let Republicans block them at every turn.

Now I’m seeing speculation about Marjorie Taylor Greene and whether she’ll run in 2024 and whether she could win if she ran. I’ve heard the same speculation about Trump’s kids. I’ve read (and linked to) lots of speculation about where the Republicans will go post-Trump (and where Trump will go post-presidency) It’s beginning to feel less like “we need to prepare for the next coup attempt” (we certainly do) than a reflexive “aaah, what’s going wrong next?” kind of panic reaction. It’s understandable; the past four years have been all about the U.S. going in horrifyingly unexpected directions, as W did 20 years ago (I don’t think anyone predicted the U.S. president would claim the power to detain any individual indefinitely without trial, based on his personal assertion, and that the government would largely let him get away with it). But I’m not sure speculating about who the Republican front runner will be in 2024 actually prepares us.


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