What Did Dave Weigel Get Wrong in 2013?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 25 2013 11:52 PM

Everything I Got Wrong This Year

What I did and didn’t see coming.

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Ken Cuccinelli, not the next Virginia governor.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

At the close of my previous annual Pundit Audit, I made a prediction for 2013. Combing through a year’s worth of articles and blog posts and typos (I left “butb” in a headline?) is a real jackhammer to the ego, and I needed something to feel perspicacious about. So I confidently guessed that 2013 would be marked by “constant fiscal showdowns” and that “Democrats might reform the filibuster.”

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Hey, not bad! Neither risky nor wrong. This was a year full of good-enough, easy-10 calls, thanks in large part to a Congress and president that didn’t change much after 2012. The main lesson I took from the 2012 election was that data was mostly immune to the tempests that the media obsessed over. The main lesson I took from 2011 was that the most likely outcome in any congressional negotiation or legislative push was “nothing.”

And so, Democrats undid part of the filibuster because they worried more about courts undoing their legislation than about a Senate race turning on something as obscure as cloture rules. Immigration reform and gun safety sputtered because John Boehner’s Republicans saw no upside in passing them. Had I spent 2013 robotically repeating those truths, I’d have been fine. Instead, I said all this.

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Jan. 3: The new Congress will be more reasonable than old one. Look, I hate to invoke the Context Fairy this early, but this prediction wasn’t totally wrong. The first stories about the new members of Congress focused disproportionately on the Ted Yohos and Ted Cruzes, the most ideologically rigid and most quotable. I pointed out that most of the incoming class actually had more experience than the median Class of 2010 member. “Congress’s less conservative Republicans sounded optimistic,” I wrote—and they did! They also largely went along with the first government shutdown in 17 years. But when they collapsed, they collapsed—they went along with a budget deal that punted on the entitlement reform that the more conservative members had wanted for years.

Feb. 14: Ken Cuccinelli will probably become governor of Virginia. Man cannot live on data alone. I surmised that Cuccinelli, the state’s right-wing attorney general who’d alienated scores of moderates in his party, was still likely to beat Terry McAuliffe. “The party that holds the White House typically loses the off-year elections,” I wrote. Never do that, kids! History does not prescribe any outcome in a changing state. My less-risible argument was that an off-year election would see a drop-off on nonwhite votes, hurting the Democrats. That happened, but at a far lower rate than had happened in previous off-year races.

My mind changed about Cuccinelli a few months later. He’d planned to run down McAuliffe on ethics. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s unexpected gifts scandal shattered that plan; Cuccinelli never came up with a better one. As soon as the Republicans started releasing fake polls to make fun of all the surveys that showed them losing, I assumed they’d lose. Then the campaign ended, and I dramatically overestimated how much McAuliffe would win by. Oh, well.

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