Column: A possible 2016 repeat has liberals panicked

Early voters line up to cast 2020 ballots in Durham, N.C.
Early voters line up to cast 2020 ballots in Durham, N.C., last week. Liberals are panicked about a repeat of 2016, which may be what is sending so many of them to the polls before election day.
(Gerry Broome / Associated Press )

The 2016 election lives loudly in everybody right now.

On the Trumpian right, “the polls were wrong before” isn’t merely an observation, it’s a catechism.

And on the anti-Trumpian left, it’s a constant source of anxiety bordering on panic. It’s making a lot of folks a little crazy.

My friend John Podhoretz, conservative editor of Commentary magazine, was the first to point this out to me a couple months ago. He lives in New York City, surrounded by Upper West Side liberals prone to flights of jangly rage if you suggest that Joe Biden has the race in the bag.


“Don’t jinx it! That’s what people said in 2016!” they shout.

Since then, it’s only gotten worse. The fear that the country could reelect President Trump after so much muchness these last four years is almost an existential dread. And it’s manifesting itself in a lot of quick-tempered outrage at anyone or anything that might upset Biden’s trajectory.

It doesn’t help that Biden is running a defensive campaign, predicated on the assumption that the more Trump is the center of attention, the better it is for Biden. Add in the fact that while Biden has a reassuring personality, he’s not a reassuring campaigner. He’s not a senile basket case, as the Trump campaign foolishly tries to paint him. But he is very much a man showing his age. And, let us not forget, even as a young man Biden had a gift for shoving his foot in his mouth. Put it all together and there’s a dancing-on-a-razor’s-edge anxiety coloring every news cycle.

Trump’s support depends on his appeal to a cohort that thinks it has nothing to lose from self-destruction.

Oct. 16, 2020

For instance, Trump lost the first debate, badly. The reaction from liberals wasn’t, “Hooray, we’ve got two more debates to drive nails into Trump’s electoral coffin!” Rather, the call went out that Biden should refuse to debate Trump again. Some of this was no doubt revulsion at Trump’s debate demeanor. But some of it was clearly rooted in a fear that Biden dodged a bullet. Like Apollo Creed at the end of the first “Rocky” movie, the “there ain’t gonna be no rematch” feeling took over.

When the New York Post published a sketchy piece based on the alleged contents of Hunter Biden’s alleged hard drive, spoon-fed to it by Rudy Giuliani, the 2016 panic kicked in. Twitter foolishly tried to suppress it, giving the story more traction than it would have had on the merits. Even reporters who questioned or criticized its legitimacy were attacked by liberals for giving it oxygen.

And when NBC offered Trump a town hall opposite Biden’s last week, a FireChuckTodd hashtag lit up social media.

But this panic isn’t just a phenomenon of elected Democrats and blue checkmark liberal journalists and activists. It’s seeping into the electorate.


Among Trump supporters, there’s a widespread belief that “shy Trump voters” — i.e. people who were scared to admit their preference to pollsters — carried the day for Trump in 2016 and they’ll do it again. There’s little evidence for this theory. What looked like shy voters in 2016 were actually a surge in undecided voters breaking late for Trump. That could happen again, but the problem for Trump is that there are far fewer undecideds this time around, and the few that exist seem to be leaning for Biden.

True believers of both types place enormous weight on the fact that many voters say that they think other people in their community will vote for Trump. A recent Gallup poll found that, despite Biden’s consistent lead in the polls, 56% of Americans think Trump will win. That’s interesting. But how many of those people are liberals giving voice to their darkest fears?

A recent Fox News poll found that 49% of respondents think their neighbors will vote for Trump, compared with 38% who think their neighbors will vote for Biden.

But here’s the catch: The more liberal you are, the more likely you are to believe your neighbors aren’t. “Very liberal” respondents are nearly three times more likely to think there’s a Trump voter hiding under the bed next door.

The thing is, we know “very liberal voters” tend to live among very liberal voters. The odds they’re surrounded by secret Trump voters seems unlikely. Pollster Chris Anderson, who co-conducts the Fox News poll, chalks this finding up to “a combination of 2016 PTSD and liberal anxiety.”

This same anxiety is driving liberals to the polls in record numbers. Turnout, according to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, should be much higher than 2016, which is not good for a repeat of Trump’s narrow win in the electoral college. Indeed, nearly 30 million people have already voted — a fifth of the 2016 total. And, where partisan affiliation is reported, Democrats are outvoting Republicans more than 2 to 1. In other words, fear of a 2016 replay may be the reason we won’t have one. So maybe take a Xanax, everybody?