Thursday, November 3, 2016

A warning on what hindsight will say about FBI Director Comey on November 9

Election day is five days away.  That means we are almost done with this monstrosity of an election.  Maybe.  I hope I get to vote on one of these.  But, let's take yet another trip down memory lane.  Remember 2000?  I do.  The post-2000 narrative explained the result as follows:  George W. Bush was a relatable guy-- the kind of guy you wanted to have a beer with.  The kind of guy who ended sentences with prepositions.  The kind of guy who didn't even use complete sentences.  There was, of course, the problem that he was a reformed alcoholic, so his beer would be one of those fake beers, but hey, you get the point.  Gore, on the other hand, was so phony and sneering and condescending and kind of a stiff.  And not really honest.  So, Bush won, and Gore lost.  That was the conventional narrative in hindsight.

There was, of course, the problem that the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County gave the presidency to Bush, but even accepting/excepting that (see what I did there?), the final tally in Florida gave Bush the state by a margin of 537 votes.  Flip a few hundred people, and Gore would have been president.  What would the narrative have been?

Maybe it would have been about an October surprise!  Maybe it would have been about a late-breaking story about a drunk driving incident from Dubya's past.  Anyone remember that?  I do.  Hey, at least he didn't kill anyone, like Ted Kennedy.  Or, maybe just a narrative about the continuation of the 90's economic boom (even though it was over), or people not trusting Bush's intelligence, or something like that.

In a close election, it is easy to construct a narrative around anyone's victory or loss, particularly when there is an October surprise.  See where I'm going with this?

Comey gave us an October surprise.  The race is close.  Comey's announcement, strange though it was, moved the polls more than I expected, although the polls and betting markets overall still favor Clinton by a smaller amount.  If Clinton still wins, will we forget about Comey the way some forgot about the Bush drunk driving thing?  Not likely, since there will still be another announcement when the FBI reveals what was on the computer, and the Republicans will never stop talking about the emails, but in terms of campaign narratives, it could be easy to forget amid the Trump scandals like pussygate.  If Trump wins, though, we will certainly, and perhaps rightly attribute it to Comey.  That's an asymmetry, though, and we should be aware of the asymmetry because it is intrinsic to how we construct campaign narratives-- something that I am generally loathe to do.

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