How Republicans Convinced Themselves That Trump Will Win in a Landslide

Delusional thinking often goes unchallenged when you’re living inside a cocoon.

One of the reasons Trump lies so often is that he lives in a delusional world of his own making. This is the guy who thinks he is a “stable genius” who marched into the White House on the heels of a historic election victory and has done more to make American great again than any president in our history.

But for Republicans, being delusional didn’t start with Donald Trump. I would remind you that Mitt Romney apparently didn’t prepare a concession speech in 2012 because conservatives convinced themselves that the polls showing an Obama victory were skewed. Columnist Peggy Noonan preferred to count the number of Romney lawn signs in Ohio and Florida, while Karl Rove became unglued on Fox News as the election results were being reported.

More recently, Trump sent a “cease and desist” letter to CNN claiming that their poll showing Biden with a 14 point lead nationally was “fake news.”

In the letter to Zucker, the Trump campaign argued that the CNN poll is “designed to mislead American voters through a biased questionnaire and skewed sampling.”

“It’s a stunt and a phony poll to cause voter suppression, stifle momentum and enthusiasm for the President, and present a false view generally of the actual support across America for the President,” read the letter, signed by the Trump campaign’s senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis and chief operating officer Michael Glassner.

But as CNN reporters documented, it’s not just their poll.

[S]everal other polls released over the past few weeks — including polls by ABC News/Washington Post, Monmouth University, NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist College, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Quinnipiac University and Fox News — also show Biden well ahead of Trump. These polls, averaged with the CNN poll, find Biden up by double digits, a result well outside any margin of error.

That provides some context for a recent article at Politico about how Republicans continue to assume that Trump will win in November by a landslide.

Interviews with more than 50 state, district and county Republican Party chairs depict a version of the electoral landscape that is no worse for Trump than six months ago — and possibly even slightly better. According to this view, the coronavirus is on its way out and the economy is coming back. Polls are unreliable, Joe Biden is too frail to last, and the media still doesn’t get it….

“The more bad things happen in the country, it just solidifies support for Trump,” said Phillip Stephens, GOP chairman in Robeson County, N.C., one of several rural counties in that swing state that shifted from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. “We’re calling him ‘Teflon Trump.’ Nothing’s going to stick, because if anything, it’s getting more exciting than it was in 2016.”

This year, Stephens said, “We’re thinking landslide.”

It isn’t just local party officials who are buying into the delusion. The authors at the PowerLine blog, who think of themselves as members of the intellectual right,  have bought into the landslide fever because they’re convinced that voters won’t support Democrats, who are “against America.” They also point to a book by David Horowitz titled, “Blitz: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win.” When it comes to being delusional (and hateful), here’s the kind of thing Horowitz was saying back in 2014.

Obama is an anti-American radical and I’m actually sure he’s a Muslim, he certainly isn’t a Christian. He’s a pretend Christian in the same way he’s a pretend American. It really is disgraceful. He’s inviting the terrorists to behead more Americans when he should be attacking them with our military. His whole agenda in office has been to defeat America, he lost the war in Iraq deliberately, he created a vacuum which ISIS has filled.

The truth is that we don’t know what’s going to happen in November. But according to the polls, if the election were held today, Biden would win. Those are the facts. So how did Republicans become so delusional? The answer can be found in what Andrew Levison wrote about “the three level conservative ideological cocoon.”

The first level is indeed the increasingly extremist messaging of the conservative national media and the official GOP communications apparatus…

This national effort…was reinforced by more local sources of information: Sinclair TV stations, regional talk radio, and local hometown editorial pages…

Finally, and most importantly, it is the network of personal relationships between neighbors and friends that works to validate and confirm the broader messages…The result makes support for the Republican Party seem not just dominant but unanimous.

What Levison calls the ideological cocoon, Julian Sanchez referred to as epistemic closure.

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted.

Living inside that cocoon means always hearing what a wonderful job Trump is doing and interacting only with those who support his re-election. On the other hand, it means being constantly bombarded with messages about how Democrats are evil and the polls can’t be trusted because they are part of fake news. That is how delusions are created and sustained.

You would think that a party based on that kind of delusional thinking would pay a price. But when the media engages in its “both sides” obsession, they give equal weight to facts and delusion, which is why Ornstein and Mann warned us about that back in 2012.

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Come November, the delusion about Trump winning in a landslide is very likely to be tested. In a perfect world, that would create some cognitive dissonance for Republicans. But reality very rarely breaks through delusions that have been so firmly established. How Republicans respond at that moment will tell us a lot about where their party is headed.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.