The late, great David Broder of The Washington Post used to write an annual column admitting to all the mistakes he’d made the previous year. Seems sensible, so here are mine in the political sphere:
First, I misjudged the potential and prospects of all, or nearly all, the Republican candidates for President. (I have a history of this; in 1980, I opined on live television that the American people would never choose a B-movie actor for President, even if he had been governor of California.)
Donald Trump: I predicted, with great confidence, would never go anywhere. I was certain that his act would get old, that the public would tire of his bluster and bragging, that his lies and exaggerations would trip him up, that the media would finally stop giving him free airtime and that his callous, crude appeal to our worst instincts would eventually, surely, erode his standing in the polls. Well, as editors used to say, I’m still exclusive with that one.
My revised, 2016 prediction: Trump will go all the way to the GOP convention. He will accumulate delegates, especially in states that are not winner-take-all, even if he slips in Iowa, courtesy of the evangelicals there, and stumbles in New Hampshire. Unless I’m wrong — again — Trump will be a factor when the Republicans gather in Cleveland, but I still find it hard to envision him as the nominee.
Ben Carson: I never understood his appeal, other than as a soft-spoken contrast to his fellow candidates. Since I don’t consider the presidency to be a starter office, I could not understand how a surgeon, no matter how able, could be taken seriously as a commander-in-chief. And yet, he rose in the polls; my forecast of his demise seemed hollow… until it didn’t.
Ted Cruz: I wrote that he was too hard-edged, too angry and too unpopular with his fellow Republican Senators. The more I said that, the faster he rose in the polls, especially in Iowa. (These guys should hire me to criticize them.) My 2016 view: Cruz clearly appeals to a certain, angry base that somehow accepts him as an outsider. He will be a major factor in Cleveland.
Marco Rubio: despite his youth and inexperience and the fact that he doesn’t seem to like being in the Senate, and despite my skepticism, he is clearly positioning himself as a smoother, more modulated conservative.
Jeb Bush: I wrote repeatedly that he would emerge as the more moderate, consensus, establishment choice, even if he was George W.’s brother and even after he selected as his foreign policy advisors some of the same, lame, misguided neo-cons who brought us the senseless, unjustified war in Iraq. Well, I am still hanging out there with that one, and my prospects of being right seem as dim as Jeb’s of being the nominee, unless he really scores in New Hampshire.
Chris Christie: I could never see him as the nominee, even before Bridgegate, even before he threatened in one debate to take us to war with both Russia and China, and yet he has improved his standing in New Hampshire, so who knows?
The others? Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindall, Lindsay Graham and George Pataki dropped out before I got a chance to be wrong about them in print. John Kasich seemed to me like the kind of experienced, Jack Kemp-style Republican who might attract a following, but his debate performances apparently turned people off. He may revive in New Hampshire… or not.
Carly Fiorina clearly helped herself in the debates. She could emerge as a vice presidential choice if the GOP decides it needs a woman on the ticket, but I doubt it. The other candidates from the undercard debates seem destined to remain in the low single digits.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton at first seemed off-stride to me as a candidate: short-tempered, impatient, visibly annoyed with the press. But her confident, informed performances in the debates convinced me that she is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination.
But the caucuses and primaries lie ahead, so I have many opportunities to be wrong in 2016.