A few days before the 1986 Vermont gubernatorial election, Bernie Sanders held a rally in downtown Burlington. Sanders, then the independent mayor of the state's largest city, was trailing badly in a three-way race with Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin, the state's first female chief executive, and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Smith, and he was running out of time.
So, as Kunin recounts in her 1994 memoir, Living a Political Life, Sanders leveled a tough attack against her. At that rally, Kunin wrote, Sanders declared that "he would be a better feminist than I." According to her account, Sanders shouted that Kunin had "done nothing for women." And, she recalled in her book, "When my husband, there as my surrogate (I was scheduled to speak elsewhere), rose to speak in my defense, he was booed by the crowd. Arthur's red-faced anger became the children's horror story of the campaign, which they embellished in the retelling—our private macabre joke." Kunin was already coming under attack from the right for her vocal support of the Equal Rights Amendment; now she was being hammered for not being feminist enough.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama visited a mosque for the first time as president, and offered perhaps the least controversial comment imaginable: "You're part of America too," he told his hosts. "You're not Muslim or American; you're Muslim and American."
Sen. Marco Rubio was not impressed, telling voters in New Hampshire:
I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done. Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today—he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.
To be clear: America discriminates against Muslims.
In 2012, Wiredreported that "[t]he FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that 'main stream" [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a 'cult leader'; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a 'funding mechanism for combat." That investigative series on federal law enforcement's prejudices against Muslims won a National Magazine Award. In 2011, the Associated Press reported on how the NYPD, with the help of the CIA, spied on America mosques and even infiltrated Muslim student associations. That series won a Pulitzer. Last week, Buzzfeed reported on the intense pressure applied by the federal government on Muslim immigrants who apply for citizenship. My colleague Kristina Rizga has reported on the pervasiveness of anti-Muslim bullying in schools. One of the candidates who beat Rubio last week literally proposed banning Muslims from entering the country; the other limited his ban to people from predominantly Muslim countries.
This is all pretty easy to find online, but in Rubio's defense, the Internet is pretty spotty in New Hampshire.
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Then you probably voted for Ted Cruz. Bloomberg's Sasha Issenberg has the most intriguing analysis of the Texas senator's victory in last night's Iowa caucuses, explaining how Chris Wilson, the Cruz campaign's pollster and director of analytics, carved up the state's eligible voters into 150 different categories with a borderline spooky precision. No issue was too small for the Cruz campaign—not even the legalization of fireworks sales, which are currently illegal in Iowa:
When there was no way that a segment could be rolled up into a larger universe, as was the case with the sixty Iowans who were expected to make a priority of fireworks reform, Cruz's volunteers would see the message reflected in the scripts they read from phone banks, adjusted to the expected profile of the listener. A Stoic Traditionalist would hear that "an arbitrary ban of this kind is infringing on liberty," as a messaging plan prepared by Cambridge Analytica put it, while Relaxed Leaders are "likely to enjoy parties and community celebrations, such as the 4th of July, and thus a fun-killing measure of this kind is unlikely to sit well with them."
But here's the best part:
Unlike most of his opponents, Cruz has put a voter-contact specialist in charge of his operation, and it shows in nearly every aspect of the campaign he has run thus far and intends to sustain through a long primary season. Cruz, it should be noted, had no public position on Iowa's fireworks law until his analysts identified sixty votes that could potentially be swayed because of it.
And it's true—fireworks reform might not be a big issue among Iowa voters, but it does look like a real pain to celebrate America's independence if you live in Des Moines, a healthy two-hour drive from the nearest place to purchase fireworks legally. If you didn't know what Iowa looked like, you could draw a near-perfect outline of the state just by connecting the dots of all the fireworks retailers on its borders seeking business from Hawkeye State fireworks enthusiasts:
The reasons why Cruz prevailed go well beyond his campaign's microtargeting. Maybe Trump should have considered spending real money, or investing in a better ground game himself, or—I'm reaching here—conducting his life in a way that didn't thoroughly alienate the evangelical voters who comprised two-thirds of the electorate. But Cruz has proven that he's a candidate who knows what he's doing.
For Achilles, it was the heel. For Samson, it was the hair. For Beast, twas' beauty. Donald Trump may appear impervious to the sharpest Republican barbs, but he has one proven weakness over the course of his four decades in overly public life: stubby fingers.
Trump has presumably had short fingers for as long as he's had fingers, but it wasn't until 1988 that anyone called attention to it. That year, Spy magazine began the practice of needling Trump at every opportunity by referring to him in virtually every story as a "short-fingered vulgarian." ("Queens-born casino profiteer" would also do.) Trump defended his honor in the New York Post, stating that "my fingers are long and beautiful, as, has been well-documented, are various other parts of my body."
In an essay last fall, former Spy editor Graydon Carter revealed how much this pissed Trump off: To this day, the Republican presidential front-runner continues to mail Carter photos of himself, and "[o]n all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers." The most recent one even included a message: "See, not so short!" On Friday, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska even joined in on the fun, responding to an insult from Trump by joking, "you'd think I asked Mr @realDonaldTrump abt the length of his fingers or something important like that."
So just what do Trump's Bart Simpson hands have to do with making America great again? According to Madame La Roux's 1993 treatise on palm reading, The Practice of Classical Palmistry, quite a lot!
Disdain for detail? Impulsive? Impetuous? Hot-headed? Pushy? Obsessed with doing "big" things like building enormous buildings?
This sounds like someone we know.
Now, I don't think Trump's baby-carrot fingers have any bearing on his presidential temperament. But then, I'm not the one who routinely cites the results of post-debate online surveys conducted by the Drudge Report as some kind of science and believes that the "concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." It's only a matter of time before this shocking revelation hits voters in New Hampshire.
The first candidate to useone of the most abused clichés in electoral politics at least had the facts on his side. Just before 5 p.m. on October 11, 1948, President Harry Truman pulled into the train station in Willard, Ohio, and addressed the crowd from the rear platform. In a brief speech that lasted no longer than 12 minutes, he accused his Republican challenger, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, of obsessing over public-opinion surveys, and then made a historic prediction. "I think he is going to get a shock on the second of November," Truman predicted. "He is going to get the results of one big poll that counts—that is the voice of the American people speaking at the ballot box."
And good for him. Four years after Gallup's preference for Republican candidates prompted congressional hearings, the preeminent polling firm predicted Dewey would win by five points. Truman won by 2 million votes. You've all seen the photo.
As candidates dealt with the increasing omnipresence of polls, Truman's mantra became a handy crutch. At first, the historical allusion was explicit. "In one respect I'm like Harry Truman about polls," Vice President Richard Nixon told the New York Times in 1959. "We share that in common, plus the fact that we both play the piano. I believe the only poll that counts is that on election day." As he prepared to face Sen. John F. Kennedy the next year, he told Democrats, "I can agree with the distinguished member of your party, Mr. Truman, when he said that the only poll that counts is the one on election day."
Nixon's habitual usage of the term helped usher it into the mainstream. In 1972, his daughter Tricia declared that "the only poll that really counts is the vote on election day." Four years later, Tricky Dick sent a private note of encouragement to his successor, President Gerald Ford: "Keep that confident, fighting spirit—and the only poll that matters will come out alright on November 2." Within two years, yet another president, Jimmy Carter, was quoting from the Book of Harry: "Look, the only poll that matters in politics is the poll that the people conduct on election day."
By 1980, when Carter was still holding out hope for the one true poll, the Times felt comfortable calling the use of the cliché a classic gesture of "politicians running behind." It has even traveled across the pond (as a corollary to the very British phrase, "Every jockey knows the fence that counts is the last one"), and found an ironic second life among college football fans.
The problem now is that it's no longer true, for wildly divergent reasons. The polls have been all over the place in 2016, and they're only getting worse because, as Jill Lepore explained in the New Yorker, the pool of people who participate in them is becoming smaller and less representative. But at the same time, the polls matter more than ever. For the first time in a party-nominating contest, they were used to split the Republican candidate field into two tiers of debates—more than a year before election day.
If the cliché is truly dead (it may be indestructible), then Donald Trump killed it. In a rebuke to the Nixons and Trumans—and basically everyone else—who came before him, he has decided that polls are, in fact, fantastic. He can rattle off the latest results off the top of his head; at the most recent debate, in South Carolina, he even corrected a moderator who misstated the size of his lead. And it's working. The effect has been to turn the polling industry into a political perpetual-motion machine; poll numbers beget media coverage about poll numbers, which beget even higher poll numbers.
After all this, maybe there's only one way this story can end: