In this populist environment, we hear a lot of discussion about how we must try to understand the voters. But there is more than one way to understand them and getting the mix right can be tricky.
Indeed, this was the subtext of something I wrote two weeks ago about the theory that alleged teen-loving Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy demonstrated the endpoint for conservative distrust of the media. I noted that the establishment media does not make a habit of listening to voters who might be outside their core audience and thus often lack insight into what makes them tick. But I also noted:
“On the issue of Moore’s candidacy and ongoing scandal, the media-as-villain is a sideshow. There are plenty of awful so-called conservatives taking the position that they don’t care whether the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore are true. That’s the tell here, repugnant as it may be.
The dismissal of the well-reported Washington Post story (and ensuing stories by other outlets) is simply a more palatable rationalization for some than arguing the misconduct can be condoned. If the media were not being attacked by this segment of Republicans, it would be the accusers themselves and the Democrats assuming the role of the big baddies.”
Since then, the dynamic has moved more in this direction.
As the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack wrote, based on the evidence to date: “To disbelieve that Roy Moore dated high-schoolers as a man in his 30s, you not only have to disbelieve all the women and some of their friends and mothers—you must essentially disbelieve Roy Moore.” And recall that Moore previously could not even convince a Hannity panel of his truthfulness. Yet, as McCormack reports, Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead has dismissed one of the accusers as a “problem child.” Moore himself is now claiming — contra his own prior statements and mounting evidence — that he didn’t know any of these women.
Accordingly, while 71% of Alabama Republicans say the allegations against Roy Moore are false, and those who believe this also overwhelmingly believe Democrats and the media are behind the allegations, this is not really about distrust of the media (after all, if Republicans cannot trust a Hannity panel…). Moore’s rivals tried to nail down these rumors and had they succeeded, the story would be about the evil GOP establishment trying to take down Moore.
This is the story of a party that wants to “fight” and “win” like Democrats trying to avoid the utilitarian morality that comes with that philosophy.
Similarly, when people on both sides suddenly shift the poll numbers on the Russian threat or the value of trade without any change in the fundamentals, we know what’s at work: partisanship. Partisans are really good at rationalization.
There’s a lot of value in listening to the voters. But it would be a mistake to believe that listening to the voters is always the same as understanding them.
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