Last July, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison threw an entire ABC News roundtable for a loop with just two lines: “People terrified of the possibility of President Trump better vote, better get active, better get involved,” he said. “Because this man has got some momentum, and we’d better be ready for the fact that he might be leading the Republican ticket.”
The laughter erupted before he could finish his prediction. George Stephanopoulos, the show’s host and a former Bill Clinton employee, let out a snort, chortling like a bemused, yet slightly exhausted, preschool dad. Maggie Haberman, a reporter for The New York Times, could barely keep it together.
“I’m sorry for laughing,” Haberman declared, struggling to crawl out of her pile of giggles.
“We know you don’t really believe that,” Stephanopoulos added blithely, moving on.
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Today, over in Trump Tower, someone else may be laughing, and it’s certainly not the raft of pundits and election “experts” — in other words, almost all of them, including yours truly — who underestimated the Trump campaign for months.
At this point, Trump has defeated all comers and has essentially clinched the Republican presidential nomination. And, amid increasingly muted cries of “It'll never happen” from a few well-oiled politicos, he’s surged in the polls. A Quinnipiac University survey, released Tuesday, showed Trump neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton in three key swing states; a Reuters poll, meanwhile, showed a remarkable surge in Trump support — 13 points up since the week before last — leaving him and Clinton in a virtual tie.
It’s still early, and polls can be unreliable; the Reuters poll, in particular, has been criticized for its methodology. But don’t kid yourself: Trump could very well win the presidency of the United States. That’s because 2016 is special. It reminds me of the old Seinfeld episode in which a fire breaks out at an idyllic child’s birthday party, and George Costanza runs for the exits in a wild panic, shoving all the little kids and performing clowns and tiny, tottering old ladies out of the way.
Luckily for all of us, 2016 also comes with its own set of goggles. Like beer goggles — you know, the alcohol-infused lenses that give users an uncanny ability to transform a dreadful roadside Star Wars bar filled with cobwebs and soggy paper cups into an evening at the swanky restaurant Cipriani with actor Chris Hemsworth — 2016 Goggles make the previously wacky and unthinkable slowly look sane, realistic and actually kind of normal.
So it is that in 2016, in all likelihood, we will have Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump in this year’s presidential contest — and Clinton is the No. 1 reason that Trump could win.
I’m sorry, Democrats, but Clinton is dreadful. I’d ask where you found her, but we all know, and no one wants to hear that story again. She is a government-expanding nightmare with a humorless cackle. She is under federal investigation. She lies almost as much as Trump does, but with less charm and aplomb. For some, in fact, with the help of 2016 Goggles, she makes Trump look like the political version of actor Hemsworth, hunk of the movie Thor.
Clinton also seems to quietly dislike (a) people, and (b) America, and you don’t need an advanced degree in election analytics to know this is not good. Sure, Trump has talked about how stupid people in Iowa are and how he wants to punch protesters in the face, and maybe sue a few journalists, and how he won’t leave nuking Europe off the table, but overall — and again, here are those magic 2016 Goggles working — he manages, like President Obama, to be a blank screen upon which his followers can project their hopes.
No one cares about policy when it comes to Trump, apparently not even Trump himself. Just as Obama fans ignored his wacky former pastor and Obama’s promise to control global sea levels, Trump fans ignore a multitude of his sins. To them, Trump projects “Team America,” even though we have no idea what Trump’s America might do. (Note: This should be mildly terrifying.)
Clinton, meanwhile, bless her cynical heart, desperately tries to project a team of some sort, but fails miserably every time. This is because, as noted before, she doesn’t seem to like you all that much, and for many Americans, the feeling is mutual.
Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin, Texas.
©2016 Chicago Tribune