One office water cooler. Five women.
“You don’t have to answer but here’s your choice,” he says.
They look awkwardly at one another.
“Hillary or Trump?” he asks.
One by one, and quickly, they say: “Trump.”
“And, hey, what about you,” one of them asks?
He says he likes Kasich.
“Whoa,” says another of the women, “you didn’t offer another choice to us.”
That’s because you won’t have one, he says, and he expresses surprise that not one of the five businesswomen, ages 40 to probably mid-fifties, will vote for Hillary. The pollsters say these women are supposed to be part of her base.
“They have had their chance for the last eight years,” says one. “I’ve had enough.”
You’ll rarely find a better presidential preference poll than an unscientific survey conducted around the office water cooler or coffee machine.
The first time I witnessed this phenomenon was in 1992, a few weeks before Bill Clinton beat President George H.W. Bush. I’ve seen it several times since – a small group of co-workers correctly predicting the outcome of an election, sometimes in contradiction of political “experts” and public-opinion polls.
At this point in the most unpredictable presidential primary season in memory, there are plenty of voters who say they don’t like Clinton or Trump but there are legions of folks voting for them.
Clinton seems more certain to have a lock on the Democratic nomination – barring an indictment or other catastrophic fallout from the FBI’s investigation of her State Department emails – but Trump will hold most if not all the cards at the Republican convention, despite many party power brokers’ misgivings about him.
Like the so-called Republican “establishment” – national and state leaders who once wielded enormous influence in determining the party’s presidential nominees – the news media has so far not fared well in this political cycle. Pundits, analysts and assorted commentators, in particular, have been wrong at every turn, especially in their incessant predictions that Trump’s campaign would crash and burn, or simply fade away.
The news side, meanwhile, has failed miserably in its responsibility to hold candidates accountable for their words and actions – past and present.
But the press – perhaps not including the punditocracy, which is making an art form of guessing wrong – can redeem itself. The need for journalists to fight for information, to keep the light shining on those who govern and want to govern, has never been greater.
Hillary Clinton, like her ex-president husband Bill, is devious and deceptive. She must not be allowed to get away with ducking the tough questions, with dodging serious scrutiny of her public and private dealings.
And Trump? The outspoken billionaire has had a field day bashing his opponents, the political and cultural establishments and, especially, the press. He has managed to skitter away from tough questions on a daily basis and he has put the news media on the defensive. In his post-primary victory speech on March 15, he closed out what had been, for him, relatively statesmanlike remarks by taking a swipe at journalists, referring to reporters as “disgusting.”
I’ve known a few disgusting reporters in my time and I have often annoyed colleagues by pointing out the failings of journalists who place personal or political agendas ahead of accuracy and fairness. But Trump does not save his wrath for reporters who are unfair; he is equally critical of those who ask him fair questions that he would rather avoid.
Trump – and his followers – must learn that asking candidates hard questions is what reporters are paid to do, and what the public – the people who will choose the next president of the United States – depend on them to do.
At the moment, it looks as though the next president will be either Clinton or Trump. The candidates – and even some voters – may not like it, but the press needs to keep these would-be presidents honest.
Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.