On Friday, I almost assaulted a fan of my work. I was in the Philadelphia International Airport, and a man who recognized me from one of my appearances on a television news show approached. He thanked me for the investigative reporting I had done about Donald Trump before the election, expressed his outrage that the Republican nominee had won and then told me quite gruffly, “Get back to work.” Something about his arrogance struck me, so I asked, “Who did you vote for?”
He replied, “Well, Stein, but—” I interrupted him and said, “You’re lucky it’s illegal for me to punch you in the face.” Then, after telling him to have sex with himself—but with a much cruder term—I turned and walked away.
A certain kind of liberal makes me sick. These people traffic in false equivalencies, always pretending that both nominees are the same, justifying their apathy and not voting or preening about their narcissistic purity as they cast their ballot for a person they know cannot win. I have no problem with anyone who voted for Trump, because they wanted a Trump presidency. I have an enormous problem with anyone who voted for Trump or Stein or Johnson—or who didn’t vote at all—and who now expresses horror about the outcome of this election. If you don’t like the consequences of your own actions, shut the hell up.
Let me explain this as clearly as I can: In reporting on Trump and his campaign, my job has never been to promote or oppose his election. I believed the media was letting him slide toward Election Day without conducting the normal examination performed on all presidential candidates, while instead wasting time on idiotic spectacles like Trump’s appearance on The Dr. Oz Show. So I dug in, working full-time from July up to election eve, without weekends off, missing family events. In exchange, my family and I received multiple death threats and endured many online attacks. Yet we stayed committed to my work so that the public could have as much information as possible before they cast their ballot on who should the leader of the free world.
That was the only job for everyone else: vote. They wouldn’t have to miss parents’ day at their kids’ schools; they wouldn’t have to skip weekend events; they wouldn’t have to neglect their spouses. All they had to do was recognize that governance is not a game, and that their choices matter. Again, if they supported Trump or truly didn’t care who won after acquiring a real understanding of both candidates’ positions—rather than spouting some self-indulgent, bumper-sticker logic—I have no complaints. If they opposed Trump while refusing to do what they could to keep him out of office—that is, vote for the only other candidate who could win—then they need to go perform sex with themselves. And I mean that in much cruder terms.
The problem this election season has been that liberal Democrats—just like too many Republicans—have been consumed by provably false conspiracy theories. They have trafficked in them on Facebook and Twitter, they have read only websites that confirm what they want to believe, and they have, in the past few months, unknowingly gulped down Russian propaganda with delight. In other words, just like the conservatives they belittle, they have been inside a media bubble that blocked them from reality. So before proceeding, let’s address a few fantasies about this campaign:
1. The Myth of the All-Powerful Democratic National Committee
Easily the most ridiculous argument this year was that the DNC was some sort of monolith that orchestrated the nomination of Hillary Clinton against the will of “the people.” This was immensely popular with the Bernie-or-Busters, those who declared themselves unwilling to vote for Clinton under any circumstances because the Democratic primary had been rigged (and how many of these people laughed when Trump started moaning about election rigging?). The notion that the fix was in was stupid, as were the people who believed it.
Start with this: The DNC, just like the Republican National Committee, is an impotent organization with very little power. It is composed of the chair and vice chair of the Democratic parties of each state, along with over 200 members elected by Democrats. What it does is fundraise, organize the Democratic National Convention and put together the party platform. It handles some organizational activity but tries to hold down its expenditures during the primaries; it has no authority to coordinate spending with any candidate until the party’s nominee is selected. This was why then-President Richard Nixon reacted with incredulity when he heard that some of his people had ordered a break-in at the DNC offices at the Watergate; he couldn’t figure out what information anyone would want out of such a toothless organization.
The first big criticism this year was that the DNC had sponsored “only” six debates between Clinton and Bernie Sanders in some sort of conspiracy to impede the Vermont senator. This rage was built on ignorance: The DNC at first announced it would sponsor six debates in 2016, just as it had in 2008 and 2004. (In 2012, Barack Obama was running for re-election. Plus, while the DNC announced it would sponsor six debates in 2008, only five took place.) Debates cost money, and the more spent on debates, the less available for the nominee in the general election. Plus, there is a reasonable belief among political experts that allowing the nominees to tear each other down over and over undermines their chances in the general election, which is exactly what happened with the Republicans in 2012.
Still, in the face of rage by Sanders supporters, the number of DNC-sponsored debates went up to nine—more than have been held in almost 30 years. Plans for a 10th one, scheduled for May 24, were abandoned after it became mathematically impossible for Sanders to win the nomination.
Notice that these were only DNC-sponsored debates. There were also 13 forums, sponsored by other organizations. So that’s 22 debates and forums, of which 14 were only for two candidates, Clinton and Sanders. Compare that with 2008: there were 17 debates and forums with between six and eight candidates; only six with two candidates, less than half the number in 2016. This was a big deal why?
The next conspiracy theory embraced by Bernie-or-Busters was that the DNC-sponsored debates were all held on nights no one would watch. Two took place on a Saturday, two on Sunday, three on a Thursday, one on a Tuesday and one on a Wednesday. In 2008, the DNC scheduled two on a Monday (one was canceled), and one each on a Sunday, Wednesday, Tuesday and Thursday. Not including any of the 2016 forums, there were 72 million viewers for the DNC-sponsored debates, almost the same amount—75 million viewers—as there were for every debate in 2008, including those sponsored by other organizations. And those Saturday debates, which Sanders fans howled no one would watch, were the third- and fifth-most watched debates (one of them was 3 percent away from being the fourth-most watched).
In other words, the argument that the DNC rigged the debates is, by any rational analysis, garbage. For those who still believe it, hats made of tin foil are available on Amazon.
Next, the infamous hack of DNC emails that “proved” the organization had its thumb on the scale for Clinton. Perhaps nothing has been more frustrating for people in the politics business to address, because the conspiracy is based on ignorance.
Almost every email that set off the “rigged” accusations was from May 2016. (One was in late April; I’ll address that below.) Even in the most ridiculous of dream worlds, Sanders could not have possibly won the nomination after May 3—at that point, he needed 984 more pledged delegates, but there were only 933 available in the remaining contests. And political pros could tell by the delegate math that the race was over on April 19, since a victory would require him to win almost every single delegate after that, something no rational person could believe.
Sanders voters proclaimed that superdelegates, elected officials and party regulars who controlled thousands of votes, could flip their support and instead vote for the candidate with the fewest votes. In other words, they wanted the party to overthrow the will of the majority of voters. That Sanders fans were wishing for an establishment overthrow of the electorate more common in banana republics or dictatorships is obscene. (One side note: Sanders supporters also made a big deal out of the fact that many of the superdelegates had expressed support for Clinton early in the campaign. They did the same thing in 2008, then switched to Obama when he won the most pledged delegates. Same thing would have happened with Sanders if he had persuaded more people to vote for him.)
This is important because it shows Sanders supporters were tricked into believing a false narrative. Once only one candidate can win the nomination, of course the DNC gets to work on that person’s behalf. Of course emails from that time would reflect support for the person who would clearly be the nominee. And given that their jobs are to elect Democrats, of course DNC officials were annoyed that Sanders would not tell his followers he could not possibly be the nominee. Battling for the sake of battling gave his supporters a false belief that they could still win—something that added to their increasingly embittered feelings.
According to a Western European intelligence source, Russian hackers, using a series of go-betweens, transmitted the DNC emails to WikiLeaks with the intent of having them released on the verge of the Democratic Convention in hopes of sowing chaos. And that’s what happened—just a couple of days before Democrats gathered in Philadelphia, the emails came out, and suddenly the media was loaded with stories about trauma in the party. Crews of Russian propagandists—working through an array of Twitter accounts and websites, started spreading the story that the DNC had stolen the election from Sanders. (An analysis provided to Newsweek by independent internet and computer specialists using a series of algorithms show that this kind of propaganda, using the same words, went from Russian disinformation sources to comment sections on more than 200 sites catering to liberals, conservatives, white supremacists, nutritionists and an amazing assortment of other interest groups.) The fact that the dates of the most controversial emails—May 3, May 4, May 5, May 9, May 16, May 17, May 18, May 21—were after it was impossible for Sanders to win was almost never mentioned, and was certainly ignored by the propagandists trying to sell the “primaries were rigged” narrative. (Yes, one of them said something inappropriate about his religious beliefs. So a guy inside the DNC was a jerk; that didn’t change the outcome.) Two other emails—one from April 24 and May 1—were statements of fact. In the first, responding to Sanders saying he would push for a contested convention (even though he would not have the delegates to do so), a DNC official wrote, “So much for a traditional presumptive nominee.” Yeah, no kidding. The second stated that Sanders didn’t know what the DNC’s job actually was—which he didn’t, apparently because he had not ever been a Democrat before his run.
Bottom line: The “scandalous” DNC emails were hacked by people working with the Kremlin, then misrepresented online by Russian propagandists to gullible fools who never checked the dates of the documents. And the media, which in the flurry of breathless stories about the emails would occasionally mention that they were all dated after any rational person knew the nomination was Clinton’s, fed into the misinformation.
In the real world, here is what happened: Clinton got 16.9 million votes in the primaries, compared with 13.2 million for Sanders. The rules were never changed to stop him, even though Sanders supporters started calling for them to be changed as his losses piled up.
2. The Myth That Sanders Would Have Won Against Trump
It is impossible to say what would have happened under a fictional scenario, but Sanders supporters often dangle polls from early summer showing he would have performed better than Clinton against Trump. They ignored the fact that Sanders had not yet faced a real campaign against him. Clinton was in the delicate position of dealing with a large portion of voters who treated Sanders more like the Messiah than just another candidate. She was playing the long game—attacking Sanders strongly enough to win, but gently enough to avoid alienating his supporters. Given her overwhelming support from communities of color—for example, about 70 percent of African-American voters cast their ballot for her—Clinton had a firewall that would be difficult for Sanders to breach.
When Sanders promoted free college tuition—a primary part of his platform that attracted young people—that didn’t mean much for almost half of all Democrats, who don’t attend—or even plan to attend—plan to attend a secondary school. In fact, Sanders was basically telling the working poor and middle class who never planned to go beyond high school that college students—the people with even greater opportunities in life—were at the top of his priority list.
So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.
Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.
Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.
Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”
The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.
Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.
Which leads back to the main point: Awash in false conspiracy theories and petulant immaturity, liberals put Trump in the White House. Trump won slightly fewer votes than Romney did in 2012—60.5 million compared with 60.9 million. On the other hand, almost 5 million Obama voters either stayed home or cast their votes for someone else. More than twice as many millennials—a group heavily invested in the “Sanders was cheated out of the nomination” fantasy—voted third-party. The laughably unqualified Jill Stein of the Green Party got 1.3 million votes; those voters almost certainly opposed Trump; if just the Stein voters in Michigan had cast their ballot for Clinton, she probably would have won the state. And there is no telling how many disaffected Sanders voters cast their ballot for Trump.
Of course, there will still be those voters who snarl, “She didn’t earn my vote,” as if somehow their narcissism should override all other considerations in the election. That, however, is not what an election is about. Voters are charged with choosing the best person to lead the country, not the one who appeals the most to their egos.
If you voted for Trump because you supported him, congratulations on your candidate’s victory. But if you didn’t vote for the only person who could defeat him and are now protesting a Trump presidency, may I suggest you shut up and go home. Adults now need to start fixing the damage you have done.