Stu in Review: Dumb Stuff I Wrote This Year

by Stuart Rothenberg December 17, 2015 · 11:52 AM EST

When you write dozens of columns each year, as I have been doing for a long time (some people think far too long), you look back at some of them with embarrassment.

Sure, there are plenty of columns of which I remain proud and that look thoughtful, even prescient (“prescient” is a word I try to use at least once each year to show that I did study my SAT words many decades ago) months and years after I penned them. But that doesn’t excuse the clunkers.

Well, now is the time to acknowledge those errors over the past year and try to explain what went wrong with my thinking.

I break out in cold sweats every time I think of my April 28 column, “Hillary Rodham Romney? Keep an Eye on O’Malley.

The premise — that Clinton would face a challenge from someone in her party who could run against the establishment and as a candidate of change and progressivism — was not half bad. In fact, it was correct. But it was when I dismissed Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and identified former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as a potential alternative to Clinton that I jumped the shark.

In fact, Sanders emerged as the alternative to Clinton, and I’m still waiting for O’Malley to do something — anything. O’Malley did eventually get into the race, of course, and immediately disappeared.

Why did I get it so wrong? I think O’Malley waited too long to get into the race, allowing Sanders to coalesce skeptics of the former secretary of State. Sanders’ Larry David-like imitation of himself — his accent, hair, passion and progressivism — caught fire, if only for a few months. He became weirdly hip — even compared with the much younger O’Malley, who oozes political ambition and calculation out of every pore of his skin.

Just a few weeks later, on May 12, I penned another humdinger of a column titled “Why it’s a Mistake to Dismiss Bobby Jindal.” Oy vey.

I argued that while the Louisiana governor was not showing well in early polls, he was worth watching because of his potential in Iowa, a state where evangelicals constitute a crucial voting group during the Iowa caucuses. Yes, I expressed plenty of doubts about Jindal in the column, but given what eventually happened, that column now looks like a ridiculous over-estimation of his chances.

If I didn’t throw Jindal to the wolves early enough, I was too dismissive of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz initially.

In my April 21 column — I was clearly out of sorts in the spring, suggesting I suffer some sort of inverse Seasonal Affective Disorder that may actually be covered by the Affordable Care Act — I seriously underestimated where Cruz would be at the end of the year.

It isn’t clear, I wrote, that “the Texas senator can attract much more than the hard core tea party and movement conservative crowd, which, while an important segment of the GOP, isn’t large enough to select the party’s presidential nominee.”

Well, maybe that was and is true, and maybe it isn’t. But Cruz clearly has found a lane in the Republican race, including support from the party’s important evangelical contingent, that could well take him to the nomination finals, pitting him against a more pragmatic opponent. (I finally wrote about my reassessment of Cruz’s prospects in late October, here.)

Not convinced that I’m an idiot, yet? Well my March 17 column (yes, as spring was about to bloom), titled “The Fearsome Foursome: Bush, Paul, Walker and Rubio,” should seal the deal.

The piece argued that Jeb Bush and Rand Paul should have the resources to stay in the GOP for a long time, while Scott Walker and Marco Rubio also seemed to have the qualities and resources to play with the big boys. No, I didn’t think Paul was a serious contender for the nomination, but I believed he would be a very visible presence in the race.

Well, one of those four dropped out early, and Bush and Paul aren’t exactly scaring any of the other candidates still in the Republican race. Only Rubio now looks like a top-tier contender.

Of course, the entire Republican nominating contest has been bizarre.

While I continue to agree with my friend Charlie Cook that it is unlikely the Republican Party will nominate for president one of the candidates who has never held elective office (see my Nov. 16 column), I clearly underestimated the appeal of Donald Trump.

Indeed, on Sept. 9, I devoted an entire column to my changed view of the Republican race, concluding that “Donald Trump isn’t going to go away anytime soon,” and suggesting he could win a considerable number of delegates, starting in Iowa, and possibly even put himself in a position to demand a speaking slot at the Cleveland convention.

It’s been a long, strange year. And just imagine how strange next year could be. Maybe Chris Christie will be a factor longer than Jeb Bush. Or maybe Donald Trump will be …  Oh, wait. It isn’t going to be that strange, is it?