Private moment that could see Trump win
In politics there is a big difference between what you want to happen and what will happen. This is self-evident to anyone with half a brain but in the world of political discourse that requirement is hardly a threshold to entry.
And so there is a remarkable amount of commentary from pundits and punters alike that Trump cannot possibly win the US election, when in fact what they mean is that they really don't want him to.
Given it is precisely this sort of complacency that led to his victory last time, it is difficult to see what precisely these commentators are expecting to achieve but of course this is precisely the point. The commentary - much like the activism which surrounds it - does not contemplate what is effective, it merely seeks to communicate ever more stridently what the activists and commentators desire.
And as usual it cuts both ways. Last week I wrote that Joe Biden's path to victory would come not from the endorsement of past presidents, nor from the firebrand woke starpower of Kamala Harris, but from traditional working-class voters in Middle America who dramatically swung from Obama to Trump in 2016 and who - despite their history-making role in electing America's first black president - were derided as ignorant racists as a result.
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I expected a backlash from the usual identity ideologues but it was barely a ripple. Instead the tsunami of objection came from pro-Trumpers who - overwhelmingly politely - assured me the Donald would win in a landslide that would put 2016 in the dust.
Wishful thinking? Absolutely. Are they wrong? Not necessarily.
I made another prediction last week on the US election podcast called, perhaps appropriately, I'm Usually More Professional.
This time I declared that Trump's path to the White House would rest on progressive middle-class females. I mimicked a dramatic ad in which a woman sits alone in her house as it's broken into by a shadowy intruder. Terrified, she calls 911 but nobody answers - the Democrats have defunded the police!
As it turns out I was quickly embarrassed by this prediction - not because it was ridiculously over the top but because the Trump campaign was already running the exact same ad.
This brings us to another golden rule of politics: There is a difference between what people say and what people do.
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Again, this ought to be self-evident but it is constantly forgotten. This is the massive disconnect between polling results on everything from Trump to Brexit to the 2019 Australian election and the real world results that actually followed. Voters will tell people - even strangers on the other end of a phone line - that they support nice ideas like Black Lives Matter or European integration or fairer taxes. But in the privacy of the polling booth, alone with their fears, they tell a very different story.
An old mate who works for one of the best private polling companies in the world was shaking his head at this as we ate steak and chips at the pub last week.
"Every single time there's a shock result," he sighed. "And every single time people are still shocked."
And so the vast majority of Americans will of course say they support the Black Lives Matter movement - who could oppose it? - while quietly banking their anxieties about the chaos and violence perpetuated in its name. How that anxiety breaks on election day is anybody's guess but only a fool would bet against the bloke promising to end it all.
A similar phenomenon is also possibly occurring in the crisis-laden state of Victoria, where a recent poll found overwhelming support for the unprecedented lockdown measures required after the hotel quarantine outbreak.
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Perhaps, given the absence of an effective contact-tracing capability, Victorians truly do accept the inevitability of their fate. Perhaps many do still have faith in their leader's judgment. Or perhaps they just know that to voice any opposition to any supposedly life-saving measure - no matter how draconian - is to invite damnation.
"Yes of course," they will stoically say to anyone who asks, "We all have to do whatever it takes!" It is only with a quiet pencil that they will decide whether what has been asked is too much.
Once more extreme and public pressure is applied to political debate and the nervous dissenters or cautiously unsure fall silent and retreat into the shadows.
I suspect the turning point of these US elections was when rabid protesters surrounded a woman sitting outside a restaurant in Washington DC and demanded she raise her arm to prove she was with them. She refused.
We don't know that woman's politics, we only know that she was sitting in one of the capital's most diverse and gentrified neighbourhoods being screamed at for being racist. I would torch a thousand national polls to find out how she plans to vote on November 3.
And so we have a political culture teeming with froth and bubble on the surface and a deep subterranean well swelling beneath which few political elites seem to be able to divine. The left is obsessed with scolding the masses for not thinking the way they're supposed to while the right is content to stoke their fears.
If either side genuinely listened to ordinary people instead of dictating to them it would rule for a thousand years. But the major parties in both the US and Australia are still moored to the vocal activists on their fringes and their talking points are shots across the bow to the activists on the other side.
Meanwhile, the great sea in the middle rages on. And rest assured she is a cruel mistress.
Joe Hildebrand is the co-host of the US election podcast I'm Usually More Professional and Studio 10, 8am-12pm weekdays on Channel 10.
Originally published as Private moment that could see Trump win