Close presidential elections often turn on small seminal moments that matter. The moments that decided the two most recent presidential elections were not important matters of policy or qualifications, but emotional reactions to off-the-cuff remarks by the losing candidate. My friend and blogger extraordinaire Bill Hennessy has pointed out repeatedly that people make decisions on emotion, not facts; then they marshal together whatever facts support their decisions. This includes decisions on how to vote. This dynamic of human nature reelected Barack Obama and made Donald Trump his successor.
These emotional seminal moments produced a backlash of voters who felt the candidate was disrespecting them. The 2012 moment was Mitt Romney’s remark at his own fundraiser (secretly taped by Democrat operatives who had infiltrated the event) that people receiving government benefits (47% of all voters) were too dependent on government to vote for Republicans. Those 47%ers felt targeted and disrespected, any many of them who were considering Romney either stayed with Obama or (more likely) became discouraged and didn’t vote.
The 2016 seminal moment was supposed to be the release of the 11-year-old Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women. It actually was the seminal moment for politically correct suburban voters (especially the country club set) who either felt personally violated by Trump’s remarks or who didn’t want their friends and business colleagues to associate them with Trump.
Other voters got over it when concerns surfaced over the reopening of the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton. Many now conclude that the FBI caper was 2016’s real seminal moment.
While all of those matters impacted the 2016 election, I believe the real seminal moment for most voters had already occurred in early September with the release of Hillary’s off-the-cuff characterization of some Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Voters who even thought about supporting Trump felt that Hillary had called them “deplorable.” That’s not what Hillary literally said, but the impression stuck. Voter resentment was reinforced by Hillary’s media sycophants who doubled down on the idea that anyone who helps Trump advance what they called his “racial, religious and ethnic bigotry” is part of that bigotry. Tired of being maligned by a society that retroactively shamed old attitudes, equated matters of sincere religious faith with bigotry and otherwise demanded political correctness, voters rebelled against elites by voting for Trump.
I don’t doubt the accuracy of Hennessy’s observation about people making decisions based on emotion, but I do lament it. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the political outcomes of Obama’s reelection and Trump’s coming presidency, there should be serious concerns about momentous national elections turning on hurt feelings instead of issues. Maybe those collegiate “snowflakes” demanding “safe zones” to protect them from contrary opinions are just following the inadvertent mentorship of parents or other older acquaintances that they see making important decisions based on who did or didn’t hurt their feelings.
We gotta grow up!