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Predicting the presidential race poorly

By Garin K. Hovannisian

Political prophets, God bless them. They put their reputations on the line to speak boldly—and often arrogantly—about a future the rest of us cannot see. When they succeed, you can bet they’ll toot their horns. When they fail, odds are you’ll never hear them own up to it. But this watchdog can’t help but bark. Enjoy this list of some of the magazine world’s worst predictions for the 2008 presidential elections.

Let us first honor the magazines that incorrectly predicted who would seek the nomination.

David A. Andelman at Forbes thought he had a scoop: “Look out, Hillary and Barack, here comes Mike. No, not Mike Huckabee (though he’d better watch out, too). Mike Bloomberg—Mayor Mike as millions of New Yorkers more or less affectionately call him. And this time it is for real. Folks close to New York City’s twice-elected mayor suggest that he’s made up his mind to end one of the city’s long-running rumors and become an Independent candidate for president.”—“President Mike?” (December 15, 2007)

At Slate, Christopher Hitchens wrote: “I am only guessing here, but I think that when Gore wakes up early and upset, he isn’t whimpering about the time that the Supreme Court finally ruled against him in 2000. He is whimpering about the time in 1992 when he left the field open to Bill Clinton, a man he secretly despised. Can he really stand to watch yet another Clinton walk away with a nomination that could have been, or could still be, his?”—“Run, Al, Run” (September 24, 2007)

Then there were the primaries. In March, the biggest one was in Texas.

New York magazine should’ve stuck to its home turf and killed the story titled “Texas Primary: Four Trends, All to Obama’s Advantage.” Peter Keating wrote: “Instead of Texas, perhaps the Clintons should have looked to another March 4 contest for bulwark support, to a state with an older population and a thoroughly machine-dominated Democratic state party. Hillary’s true firewall: Rhode Island.” Clinton won Texas and Rhode Island.—“Texas Primary” (February 27, 2008)

Smart Money, meanwhile, enlisted the help of the high-technology PredictoMobile (aka cell-phone polling) to determine the winner. The findings: “Just days before the high-stakes Texas Democratic Primary, mobile users of the PredictoMobile service predicted 64% to 36% that Barack Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election.” That landslide for Obama turned out to be a squeaker for Clinton.—“PredictoMobile Community Forecasts Obama as Winner of Texas Primary” (February 29, 2008)

But the most notable shattered predictions concerned the GOP nominee. At one point, Rudy was surely the one.

In a cover story for The New Republic, Thomas B. Edsall argued that Giuliani has chosen the “right moment to take his idiosyncratic brand of conservatism to the national stage” and that he “is plausibly positioned to capitalize on—and perhaps drive—the reconfiguration of the Republican Party.” The disastrous Florida primary reconfigured poor Rudy’s 2008 agenda.—“Party Boy” (May 15, 2007)

As we know, Senator John McCain, not Giuliani, ended up as the Republican candidate. There was a time, however, when that was inconceivable.

In Human Events, David Limbaugh explained why: “Regardless of whether liberals are willing to jump back in bed with McCain,” he argued, “it’s doubtful sufficient Republicans will fall for his act again. He was always, at best, a long shot for the GOP presidential nomination because of his regrettable advocacy of campaign finance reform, his unpredictable temperament, his social liberalism and his pronounced disdain for Christian conservatives.”—“McCain’s Machiavellian Miscalculation” (August 25, 2006)

GQ confidently wrote off McCain. The title: “The Unmaking of a President.” The teaser: “The nomination was his—or so it seemed—until a deadly storm of feuding counselors, overreaching promises, and uncontrolled rage brought everything crashing down. Robert Draper spent a year trailing John McCain’s closest adviser to uncover the causes behind one of the most sudden political collapses of our time.”—“The Unmaking of a President” (December 2006)

And finally, the magazine world was wrong even about being wrong.

At Reason, David Wiegel constructed a list similar to this one. Among the “botched” predictions: “John McCain is the GOP front-runner and the natural heir to Bush.” Wiegel chided Esquire for “casting his final run for the GOP as a hero’s quest,” and praised GQ’s Robert Draper for finally telling the true story of McCain’s “fall.” See above for the true story on that true story.—“The Year That Wasn’t” (December 11, 2007)


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