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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: I was wrong in 2016, but the advice is still good

Nov. 20, 2020 Updated Fri., Nov. 20, 2020 at 10:05 p.m.

Four years ago about this time, I passed along advice to readers I’d picked up over the years covering politics. It raised a few hackles.

To strong Hillary Clinton supporters distraught by the 2016 election results, I suggested they own their grief and take some time to work through it.

To strong Donald Trump supporters ecstatic by those results, I said they had a right to their joy at proving the national media wrong and should take some time to enjoy it.

But, I cautioned relying on 40 years of covering politics, both groups should realize that every candidate whom you couldn’t stand during the campaign was bound to do something that will pleasantly surprise you once they get into office. And every candidate in whom you put your full faith and trust during the campaign is bound to disappoint you by not doing something they promised on the stump.

In this case, I was wrong. Really wrong. Clinton supporters likely can point to nothing in the last four years that Trump did that was even a mildly pleasant surprise. Trump supporters probably don’t have much to complain about short of people not letting Trump be Trump.

To everyone who called or emailed to say I was a hopeless optimist – and to the majority who called me something worse – you win. So let’s move on.

Now the situations are reversed. Joe Biden is the president-elect and Trump on the short end of both the popular vote and the Electoral College. I’m going out on a limb to say my advice for the next four years is the pretty much the same.

Biden is going to disappoint progressive Democrats some days and moderate Democrats on others and both of them from time to time. It’s important that the people who voted for him, particularly the new voters and those who cast their first ballot in years, give him a chance.

In politics, the perfect is the enemy of the good. No one ever gets everything, but getting something always beats getting nothing.

He will pleasantly surprise Republicans from time to time, and may even have faithful Trump supporters allowing as how he made a less-than-terrible choice on rare occasions. It’s important they remember a good idea doesn’t stop being good because you don’t like the person proposing it.

Young people who poured their hearts into their first campaign and lost shouldn’t hang their heads, decide everything is rotten and quit. There are other battles that can be fought and won. Young people who gave their all to their first campaign and won shouldn’t decide all’s right with the world, everything’s fixed and they can go home. Other battles can be lost.

I also passed along two bits of wisdom from experienced politicians much smarter than I’ll ever be. Tom Foley, a Democrat who was House majority leader for much of Ronald Reagan’s second term and House speaker for nearly all of George H.W. Bush’s term, said America has one president at a time and he deserves respect even when you disagree with him.

U.S. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, who spent nearly half a century “delivering the goods” for Washington state before being ousted in 1980, still managed to keep a positive outlook. In the summer of 1988, he sat down for an interview a couple months after recovering from a mild heart attack and a few years after losing part of a foot to diabetes. Asked for a prediction on the presidential race, he just smiled and said “Son, the country’s going to be all right, regardless of who wins.”

I still think Foley and Magnuson were right over all and the last four years don’t change that.

Unless of course, President Trump and his legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani manage to block some states from certifying their votes, maneuver the election out of the Electoral College and into the House of Representatives.

I don’t think that’s going to happen but if it does, forget everything I just said. In that case all bets are off and I’d be a fool to offer any advice for dealing with what’s ahead.

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