The Power of Wishful Thinking

Always look for evidence.

Look, it is always easy to allow one’s preferences to guide one’s interpretation of political trends and information. This is especially true when looking towards elections. It is natural to want to sift out the news that is bad for your desired outcome and to emphasize the positive. Motivated reasoning is, after all, most definitively a thing.

So, it is with that in mind that I read a Politico piece, ‘We’re thinking landslide’: Beyond D.C., GOP officials see Trump on glide path to reelection. To be honest, when I first spied the headline only saw the first half and I thought the piece was about Republicans fretting about pending losses in November. But, as the second half of the headline indicates, this is not the case.

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.”

Well, then.

The most striking thing to me about this, however, is that these views do not seem especially undergirded with any actual evidence. It is all narrative, and that can be very dangerous for a campaign.

The Republican Party apparatus that Trump heads in 2020 is considerably different than the one that looked at him warily in 2016. At the state level, many chairs who were considered insufficiently committed to the president were ousted and replaced with loyalists. But their assessments would be easier to dismiss as spin if the perception of Trump’s durability did not reach so far beyond GOP officialdom.

One suspects that if top leadership is just basically talking to themselves about how great Trump is doing, well why not assume a landslide?

At the center of the disconnect between Trump loyalists’ assessment of the state of the race and the one based on public opinion polls is a distrust of polling itself. Republicans see an industry that maliciously oversamples Democrats or under-samples the white, non-college educated voters who are most likely to support Trump. They say it is hard to know who likely voters are this far from the election.And like many Democrats, they suspect Trump supporters disproportionately hang up on pollsters, under-counting his level of support.

Ted Lovdahl, chairman of the Republican Party in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, said he has friends who will tell pollsters “just exactly the opposite of what they feel.”

It is the unskewing business all over again.

If only it was so easy to ask one’s friends what they think. Consider the savings on pollsters!

Recalling that polls four years ago failed to predict the outcome, Jack Brill, acting chairman of the local Republican Party in Sarasota County, Fla., said, “I used to be an avid poll watcher until 2016 … Guess what? I’m not watching polls.”

But, of course, as I noted the other day, the polling wasn’t the problem in 2016. (And, further, one can be near-to-guaranteed that the state-level polling will be better this cycle).

But, it would appear that wishful thinking is the order of the day in some circles. John Hinderaker at PowerLine asks about The Landslide of 2020? which touts a new book on the subject by David Horowitz.

Hinderaker also provides an evidence-free assessment. (It is somehow like Nixon in 1972).

All of this is in the face of polling that clearly favors Biden. While no one should assume that they know what the outcome will be in November, if one is going to make an assessment, actual evidence is needed, not wishful thinking.

We know that Trump has consistently been unpopular.

We know he lost the popular vote in 2016.

We know his Electoral College victory was by small margins in three states that do not traditionally vote Republican.

We know that the fundamentals (i.e., economic variables) are not favorable to Trump at the moment.

We know that we are seeing national polls and some specific states poll (e.g., Iowa) that are bad signs for Trump.

Indeed, I am not so sure that seeing Trump supporters already going the wishful thinking route at this stage of the game to simply be more evidence that they actually know he is in trouble. Fact free argumentation is letting one’s emotions rule the day.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Hari Nair says:

    They’re setting themselves up to consider Biden an illegitimate president who stole the election with the help of the media. It fits in to their reality perfectly.

  2. Jon says:

    The most striking thing to me about this, however, is that these views do not seem especially undergirded with any actual evidence. It is all narrative …

    Modern GOP in a nutshell.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I think it’s more magical thinking than anything else. Trump surprised us all by winning last time, so he’s somehow going to do it again. No matter that it was largely a fluke last time and all the things that were in his favor last time are working against him, he’s got some magical power that defies the polls.

  4. Jen says:

    Not only did he surprise us by winning last time, a fairly substantial number of his supporters literally believe he’s on the side of God. If you’re already predisposed to accepting miracles and overcoming odds as part of a divine picture, it’s easy to slip into this thinking. “God won’t allow Trump to lose,” is probably a big component of this.

    This, not so incidentally, is *also* how they are treating coronavirus spread. At some point, you just have to step back and let them stick their hands in the flame to see if it’s hot.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    4 words: Tax cuts raise revenues.

  6. @James Joyner:

    I think it’s more magical thinking than anything else.

    Magical thinking is the better term, indeed.

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    These people also believe that there are huge numbers of illegal votes being cast, so any loss is going to be written off immediately as fraud by non-white people.

  8. Kylopod says:

    Americans are beginning to conclude that their lives are getting better, and that President Trump and Republican leadership are a part of that phenomenon.

    The result has been a collapse of the Democratic advantage in the generic ballot from a double-digit lead in December to some polls now showing Republicans on top. This is an enormous shift.

    I will keep reporting on election patterns as they unfold, but as of now, I feel pretty good about my assertion that we are more likely to see a red wave than a blue wave on Election Day Nov. 6.

    Newt Gingrich, June 7, 2018

  9. @Kylopod: Hmm. I wonder what Newt is smoking? It must be the good stuff.

  10. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner: Combine magical thinking with a steady diet of “alternative facts” and a cohort that collects assault rifles, have a lying provocateur stir, then bake in an environment of economic distress and social protest for 4 months. Looks like a recipe for something unsavory.

  11. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You get that was from 2018, right?

  12. CSK says:

    I have seen Trump fans claim that “God sent us Donald Trump” a number of times.

  13. Jen says:

    @CSK: And yet they fail to recognize they are worshiping the golden calf. Yes, I’ve seen it too. It’d be surreal if it weren’t so pathetic.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    I strongly encourage all Republican leaders and campaign managers to continue in this line of thinking. I also suggest that they continue to let Trump control the RNC campaign funds.

    That is all.

  15. Joe says:


    It’d be surreal if it weren’t so pathetic.

    Why are these alternatives?

  16. Kathy says:

    Keep in mind it is your civic duty to remind Republicans to vote on November 4th.

  17. sam says:

    I’ve often thought that one reason Trump won is that lots of Democrats just didn’t come out to vote thinking there was no way this overflowing sewer of a human being could win.

  18. charon says:

    Fox news has great production values, it can be very persuasive if that or AONN plus conservative media are your only access to information.

    They are high on their own supply, just repeating their indoctrination.

    And as Jen pointed out here


    most them are predisposed to believe that garbage.

  19. Kathy says:


    The Biblical god is more likely to send people as punishment than for any other purpose.

  20. Jay L Gischer says:

    I see this kind of thing less as “magical thinking” and more as “talking your book” to borrow a term from the financial world. They are talking up their chances, counting on how siloed the information landscape is for most people. They are worried about people bailing, staying home, turning against Trump and all R’s. Trump may be sunk, but state legislatures turn on this election, and thus districting for the next 10 years, since this is a census year.

    Really, this seems to me to be about districting.

  21. Michael Cain says:

    It is telling that the persons quoted in the Politico excerpts are all from rural areas. My in-laws in rural Kansas are living in the same sort of echo chamber. The swing voter, though, lives in the suburbs — which are now estimated to make up 52% of the US population. The Dems’ gains in the US House in 2018 were almost all suburban seats. It has to be the Republicans’ nightmare — if the suburbs swing Democratic the Republicans’ future is dim.

  22. CSK says:

    @Kathy: @Jen:
    Interestingly, these Bible-thumpers don’t appear to be terribly knowledgeable about the Bible.

  23. reid says:

    @Hari Nair: Or worse, I’m afraid they’re setting up a “surprise” victory for Trump, which would be based on voter fraud. I no longer put it past some of these people.

  24. Kathy says:


    Interestingly, these Bible-thumpers don’t appear to be terribly knowledgeable about the Bible.

    As Reverend Lovejoy said about it “Do you realize what is in this book? Technically we’re not allowed to go to the bathroom.”

  25. @Kylopod:

    You get that was from 2018, right?

    I totally overlooked that.

  26. CSK says:

    Well, that prohibition ought to do wonders to address the inconvenience of the toilet paper shortage for the Godly.

  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    Picture an IQ ladder. Picture the GOP losing its footing again and again, sliding ever further toward the bottom where Franklin Graham waits to welcome them.

  28. EddieInCA says:

    As I posted in the open thread, a poll out yesterday has Trump up two points in Arkansas.

    Two. Points.


  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    And today, Michigan for Biden by… 16!

  30. CSK says:

    @EddieInCA: @Michael Reynolds:

    Man, I would hate to be the poor sap who’s delegated to break this news to Trump. (What to do they do: draw straws?) Actually, I’d hate to be anyone in the West Wing when Trump gets this news.

  31. Barry says:

    @CSK: “Man, I would hate to be the poor sap who’s delegated to break this news to Trump.”

    That’s probably because you are either honest, or you fear Trump using his legendary business smarts to see through Fake (Good) News.

  32. CSK says:

    For a brief moment, I read this as “down 2 points” in Arkansas, and I had no trouble believing it. Give things another week or so…

  33. Kathy says:


    Well, wouldn’t you love to barge into the oval office and say loudly, “Hey, lard-ass! You’re up by two in Arkansas. Two measly points, down in deep-red, f***ng Arkansas. Great job, genius.”

  34. CSK says:

    In my dreams. Seriously. I would love to do that. Especially when I get to call him “Lardass.”

  35. Pylon says:


    TBF, he does like to send plagues and locusts and such.

  36. EddieInCA says:

    I’ve noticed a very real change over the last 24 hrs on the non-crazy conservative sites. A not insignificant number of conservatives are thoroughly dispirited by the SCOTUS ruling on the LGBTQ case. They’re truly demoralized. Not enough to vote for Biden, but very definitely enough to stay home. I expect Biden’s numbers to get better – just based on a certain segment of GOP voters choosing to stop being involved. That decision also makes moot the raison d’etre of “..but Gorsch” to vote GOP.

    If Arkansas is a really two point race on Nov 3, that would mean GA, IA, NC, FL, OH, MI, PA, WI, TX would all have a Dem lead on the night.

    Now is the time to really press the advantage.

  37. Jen says:

    @EddieInCA: I think I’d add AZ to that list…possibly. Maybe.

  38. CSK says:

    I just checked the pre-eminent conservative site for lunatic Trump worshipers, They have an interesting way of dealing with this. There are 3 articles about the issue. While all of the commenters are lamenting that this is the end of civilization as we know it, and the end of Christianity, not one single commenter is blaming Trump for appointing Gorsuch. Not one. Some of them are, however, excoriating Bush for nominating Roberts. But it’s as if Trump had absolutely nothing to do with Gorsuch being on the court. His name is not being mentioned in connection with this.

  39. mattbernius says:

    Frankly, I don’t care about any comments that are made to the press at this point.

    What I suggest everyone does is watch what Republican Secretaries of State do in “battleground” and “trending purple” states do around voting (and disenfranchisement). That will give us a far better understanding of where the pulse of the party is on the ground.

  40. Kathy says:


    Yesterday I said Gorsuch is kind of the bastard child of McConnell and Trump. The Orange Fat Calf might be beyond criticism, but McConnell is not.

    So this is far too cynical and, at best, amoral, but never-Trumpers could use this decision to attack McConnell as well as Trump.

    Imagine if Gorsuch’s legacy was doing something positive for the LGBTQ community and taking McConnell down.

  41. JohnMcC says:

    There is a subtle distinction drawn by my far-right-wing family folks between Mr Trump’s backers of the ‘tea-party’ flavor and those who are rather strictly ‘evangelicals’. I have no idea to what degree there is some meaning to this. But as far as this line can actually be drawn, the evangelicals will know who to blame for Mr Gorsuch.

  42. CSK says:

    I think Never Trumpers are okay with this SCOTUS decision, or at the very least don’t think it’s a hill worth dying on, so I’m not seeing how they’d use it to attack McConnell. I do think they’re laughing at Trump, who is probably saying: “Gorsuch? Name doesn’t ring a bell. Maybe I met him once.”

  43. CSK says:

    They probably won’t blame Trump. They’ll do what they usually do, which is pretend that Trump had no role in any of this.

  44. Kari Q says:


    If Arkansas is a really two point race on Nov 3, that would mean GA, IA, NC, FL, OH, MI, PA, WI, TX would all have a Dem lead on the night.

    On the one hand, I don’t actually believe that Arkansas poll. On the other hand, a PPP poll came out today showing Biden ahead by 2 in Georgia.

  45. Kathy says:


    It’s not how ok a group is with the decision, but which group has the credibility to attack McConnell, and Trump, among their base(s) with that decision. Talleyrand would approve, which only damns this line of attack more.

  46. Kylopod says:


    There is a subtle distinction drawn by my far-right-wing family folks between Mr Trump’s backers of the ‘tea-party’ flavor and those who are rather strictly ‘evangelicals’.

    I see the distinction as being primarily one of emphasis. Evangelicals are much likelier to be the ones saying things along the lines of “Run for your lives, the homos are coming for you.” Tea Partiers are less overtly homophobic, wrapping it up in complaints about activist judges legislating from the bench.

  47. CSK says:

    I’m not sure I follow. The Never-Trumpers, those stinking Commie elitists, have zero credibility with the base, if by the base you mean Cult45, so any attack on McConnell from them would be meaningless. And the base isn’t that enamored of McConnell anyway, on the grounds that he’s insufficiently deferential to Trump.

  48. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Kathy: A very astute observation. The Bible was written in such a way to troll people who approach it from the carnal, self-serving mindset. It is never, ever, a good thing to have God send a leader to you. It is either for a final warning to change course before punishment….or for the actual punishment.

    So the religious nuts that believe Donald Trump was “sent” aren’t in on the inside joke. If he wasn’t sent…you’ve been hustled. If he was, its not to punish your enemies…its to punish you.

  49. Barry says:

    @Jen: “I think I’d add AZ to that list…possibly. Maybe.”

    They are shooting up on COVID cases, and last I heard their gov was all ‘hey, we’re not full yet!’.

    The horrible magic of exponential growth will have its say….

  50. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @CSK: Solidarity has become a self-licking boot in that crowd. They know what they do to others that criticize Trump…so they don’t want to endure the same kind of treatment from their own team. Everyone is thinking this isn’t what winning looks like…but none wants to be the first to say it. Give it time.

  51. CSK says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    Well, at any criticism of Trump can get you cast into outer darkness, i.e. banned from the site. So, yes, they clearly don’t want to be banned from their community. It’s sad, really. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that they don’t realize how much Trump despises them.

  52. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: I have only the word of my sisters for this but they were tea-party activists and have a doctrinal dispute with the evangelicals (don’t ask — they are ‘5 point Calvinists’ and it’s clear to them).

    I tossed the possibility of a fissure (?schism) because evangelicals have a history of periods of active political involvement alternating with lengthy episodes of quietism. And if the Christian right wing leadership (falwell, graham) lose their ability to command the votes of their flock…
    well, the fat lady is singing dirges for Mr Trump.

  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: The current pattern among evangelicals that I know is to read what other people say about whatever topic it is as opposed to reading for yourself. Nobody reads the Bible; they read what some person at Patheos says or what some televangelists says. They know what they believe on the basis of what the pastor tells them they believe. They understand theology based on what their Sunday School teacher tells them that CS Lewis taught. I suspect that most Christians that I’ve known ever read anything longer or more complex than a daily devotional from Our Daily Bread or whatever other monthly pamphlet their denomination prefers.

    When I was growing up, we used to make fun of the Mormon kids at our high school because we’d ask them what the believed about something or another and they would reply that they’d have to ask the Bishop and get back to us. I had the same kind of kids at the Christian high school I worked at before I went to Korea. “What do you think?”/”I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my pastor.”

    The first year I taught there, I went to the area convention for the association my school belonged to. At the book fair in the room next to the main meeting room, Becca Books had a table where they offered that if “your students” are taught using our curriculum, they will grow up never challenging authority–as if that was a good thing. Yikes!

  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: @Kathy: On the other hand Orkunsore was where Clinton was governor. Maybe there’s something to that whole Lincolnesque “you can’t fool all of the people…” thing.

    @CSK: “No. I didn’t pick Gorsuch. Some people who claimed to know who would be good gave me a list. If you say Gorsuch, he must have been on the list. I don’t really know.”

  55. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Good God. So to speak.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Yep. That’s it.