“Nobody knows anything.”
That’s the first line in “Adventures In the Screen Trade,” William Goldman’s excellent book about writing scripts for Hollywood films. He continues:
“Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
Goldman’s assessment of the movie business could as well apply to the November elections. The educated guess — in that particular performance venue — is that Republicans will take control of both House and Senate this year. In normal times, the party that loses the presidential election bounces back in the off-year vote. But these are not normal times.
The Supreme Court’s scuttling of Roe v. Wade has women registering to vote in unusually high numbers. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill to set a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks has unsettled his colleagues. In Republican Kansas, a ban on abortions was overwhelming rejected by voters. Could that one issue change the odds?
After two years of trying to reason with two holdouts, the Democratic Party was finally able to pass President Biden’s signature bill to deal with climate change and address economic and healthcare issues. It was a steep drop from the initial plan, further weakened by the need to make concessions to Senate holdouts, Krystal Sinema and Joe Manchin. Messy, but politics often is.
Those two actions have somewhat clouded early, confident election forecasts. The usual assumption may not be a certainty.
Aware of changing circumstances, GOP activists across the country are doing everything they can to snarl the electoral process. The 2020 election may have been accurate and error-free, but we can’t be sure about the one some seven weeks away.
Most Republican-dominated states have enacted laws to discourage or limit voting. Citizen volunteers have been organized to visit county clerks to make a variety of strange demands (which they seem not to understand themselves) and to threaten lawsuits. A flood of Freedom of Information requests is being made across the country to tie up employees in an effort to impede election preparations.
The Washington Post recently reported that David Clements, a New Mexico business school teacher who lost his job for refusing to wear a mask, is on a mission to convince rural audiences that Trump’s big lie is actually true. Last June, he aroused enough people in his native state to delay the certification of primary votes. Since then, he has been visiting other communities, spreading discord.
Not much is being said about what role the most radical elements of the Trump coalition will play, But you can presume the White Nationalists, QAnon fanatics, and Proud Boys (who aren’t in jail) will be harassing voting lines on election day.
Few of these discontents seem to know much about how elections are actually conducted. Those of us who have been through the process understand that it would take a massive collaboration between workers of both parties across the land to corrupt an election. Representatives of both parties are always present, carefully checking to be sure things are proceeding in order. It would take an official in charge of the overall process to mess it up. And a number of zealots are running for such posts this year to do exactly that.
Goldman is the author of another quote that is more familiar than the one first cited. It comes from his Oscar-winning script for “All The President’s Men.” It doesn’t appear in the book on which the movie was based. It’s his own inspired phrase:
“Follow the money.”
If you follow the money that is awash in politics this year, you will note the huge increase in dark money focused on a Republican victory. Democrats have been accumulating funds, too, but huge chunks are coming from the narrow top of our economic pyramid, anxious to preserve the three enormous tax breaks received since 1980 from Republican administrations.
One that came to light this week was a $1.6 billion gift from Chicago electronics company executive Barre Said to the little-known Marble Freedom Trust. That’s double the amount raised by Donald Trump in his 2020 campaign.
Marble is a non-profit led by Leopold Leo, co-chair of the Federalist Society and the man who dictated Trump’s supreme court choices, turning the country’s higher court into a right-wing hammer. Leo is as deeply invested in dark money groups as Charles Koch.
Who knows where that enormous amount will be expended? If you can find a way to follow that money, I doubt you will see it invested in feeding the poor.
It appears the wherewithal to shape voters’ thinking is heavily tilted to the right. Yet, there is this feeling that the odds are evener than the pundits suspect. It may well be true that, in politics this year, “nobody knows anything” for sure.
Don Wooten is a former Illinois state senator and a regular columnist. Email him at: [email protected].