It’s my job to talk to politicians and staffers. By last week the vote was unanimous on both sides of the aisle, Recall in California was dead. The polls showed it, the history showed it, even Recall insiders privately admitted it. But one group who didn’t believe it? Republican and conservative true believers. They had fallen victim, again, to the insidious sin of confirmation bias.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it describes people who believe what they want to happen will truly happen, regardless of factual evidence. They want it so bad they have turned their desire into analysis, to usually horrible outcomes.
This is not to say political advocates should not fight hard until the end. But they should also fight in a realistic environment, not one solely populated by their wishes. It is historically reminiscent of the scene in the last days of the fuhrerbunker, when Hitler was sure of success as he moved around non-existent armies on a map.
One might pull for a junior high school football team to beat the last Super Bowl champions. But one does not actually believe it will happen. In California, some did.
I spoke to various volunteers on the ground in California over the course of the last week of the Recall campaign. They were convinced of success. Even Larry Elder publicly, one doubts privately, predicted a win. When I asked, given the evidence, what was the cause of their optimism, I was treated to made up numbers and conspiracy theories. This has got to change. To win and to plan to win the next time, reality always beats fantasy.
Republicans aren’t the only group who indulge in confirmation bias. On election day 2016, by the afternoon, when trends were clearly favoring Trump, major news outlets and smug Democrats thought they had it in the bag. Hence the scenes of tearful surprise that night at the Javits Center. Is that an example to follow?
That was followed by the “Red Tsunami” of 2018, confidently spoken of by the Republican and Trump base. It not only didn’t materialize, Republicans lost big and handed the Congress to Democrats. History and research said that was the likelihood. But some would not listen.
We’re coming up to 2022 and 2024. The 2022 zeitgeist and history favor Republicans. But overconfidence could turn that around. Political wisdom says to always run like you’re 2 points behind. That’s what makes victories. A useful aphorism for 2024, this one by William F. Buckley, Jr., recommends supporting the most electable conservative.
Republicans need to look long and hard past their sentiments and emotions and ask themselves: What candidate will alienate less people? What candidate does not have a ton of baggage? What candidate does not draw a near hysterical response even from some swing voters? If and when they do that it will lead to victory. The other path leads to the result of the California recall election.