Commentary: ‘Conventional wisdom’ may skip this election cycle too

By Reid K. Beveridge

The political version of “conventional wisdom” doesn’t work very well in the age of Donald J. Trump. Nearly everything we thought we knew as political reporters pretty much went out the window when The Donald came down that escalator at Trump Tower in 2015.

Back then, almost no one thought Trump would get the Republican presidential nomination. The conventional wisdom held that the field was full of qualified Republicans. They were numerous: Jeb Bush of the Bush family dynasty was the favorite. And there was Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Dr. Ben Carson. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. And former Hewlett Packard CEO Carli Fiorina. Others, too.

Early, they all were on the debate stage together. The conventional wisdom also was that Trump had a “ceiling” of support that ranged from the mid-20 percent to a top of 30 percent. Trump then lost the Iowa caucuses to Cruz, although narrowly. But against all conventional wisdom, Trump went on to win the nomination.

Reid K. Beveridge

Then the conventional wisdom held that Hillary Clinton, who had had a bit of a challenge to eject Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont from that race, would easily defeat Trump. It would be a landslide, right? The polls predicted a Clinton victory of from 5 to 9 percent. One idea was that a lot of American voters would vote for the first woman president the same way they voted for Barak Obama to be the first black president.

Didn’t work out according to conventional wisdom, which also held that Trump was such an odious human being that no sane American would think of voting for him. Indeed, this was one of the flaws of polling then, and perhaps still is. A lot of people who voted for Trump in 2016 and who quite likely will vote for him again won’t talk to a pollster. They may not even admit this to their best friends. They can’t even admit it to their children at Thanksgiving dinner.

In particular, a large segment of the conventional political wisdom can’t believe that anyone would vote for Donald J. Trump. This is because of all the “ists:” Racist, misogynist, rapist. Not to mention homophobe. It is simply unthinkable to them. How could they? How dare you?

So this year we have the Democratic Party’s gaggle of candidates. On the debate stage, we had four senators, two former mayors and one former vice president who served 36 years in the Senate. Originally, there were 23, or was it 24. The winnowing process has been ongoing.

Early on, Sen. Kamala Harris of California was thought to be a strong candidate. She wasn’t. Early on, former U.S. Rep. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke of Texas was thought to be a strong candidate, this based on his defeat by Cruz. He wasn’t, either.

Now, we have former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg as a late entry. He brings something to the race no other candidate has (other than Trump, to a much lesser degree, believe it or not): Billions of dollars. Bloomberg has already spent nearly $400 million on television advertising, and he hasn’t even been on the ballot yet and won’t be until next month.

And it’s working.

What’s not working, though, at least according to the conventional wisdom, is Bloomberg’s campaigning. He seemingly was a disaster in the Nevada debate last week. He appeared unprepared for the attacks he got from other candidates, and they were many. In fact, if you were watching, Bloomberg appeared almost disconnected from the rest of the debaters. He looked straight ahead while others were criticizing him. He didn’t really defend himself, much at least. He rarely raised his hand to speak unless questioned by the moderators.

And most of all, he didn’t really articulate any good reason why he should be elected. Sanders, who calls himself a socialist, you don’t even have to accuse him of it, at least tells you what he’s going to try to do if elected.

But advertising works. Bloomberg is trying to do something that never has worked in the past. That is stay out of the first four contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, and then enter all the 14 primaries on “Super Tuesday” in early March.

Super Tuesday is more like the national primary that some advocate. Because it is spread out across the continent and because it includes some really big states like California and Texas, it is a place where the small-town, retail campaigning that is required in places like Iowa and New Hampshire is impossible both because it is coast-to-coast and also because you just can’t do that in California and Texas, not to mention the other states.

This is why advertising works. Especially in the volume Bloomberg is buying since he has unlimited money.

Finally, let’s get one thing straight. Three of these six candidates are often labeled “moderate” by the mainstream media. Wrong. None is. In all his many years representing Delaware, I don’t recall anyone seriously asserting Joe Biden is a moderate Democrat. He always was a proud liberal. True, Bloomberg was first elected mayor as a Republican. But you have to understand what New York Republicans are like, mostly at least. They aren’t conservative. Neither is former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttegieg.

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats will have to nominate one of these three “moderates” to have a chance against President Trump. How is it, then, that they deny the nomination to Sanders when he almost surely will have the most delegates when the Democratic National Convention convenes in Milwaukee this summer?

Reid Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He now resides at Paynter’s Mill. He can be reached at beveridgeeileenreid@gmail.com.