Paul Krugman’s post-truth politics
© Getty Images

Paul Krugman is living in a post-truth world. In a recent New York Times op-ed, he suggests that the reason Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMueller's team asking Manafort about Roger Stone: report O'Rourke targets Cruz with several attack ads a day after debate GOP pollster says polls didn't pick up on movement in week before 2016 election MORE lost the 2016 race has to do with Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee emails and the controversial letter FBI Director James Comey released in late October.

"Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?"

Krugman concludes that the election is “tainted,” and “illegitimate in important ways.”

Yet Krugman provides no evidence at all that the purported interventions would have been weighty enough to swing the election.

As an economist — a Nobel Prize-winning economist. to boot — he should know that causality is often hard to establish in cases where there are so many possible confounding factors. At the very least, it behooves a serious social scientist to try to control for other factors before blithely asserting that the election was tainted.

Perhaps the reason he doesn’t try to do this is simple — his claim may not hold up to scrutiny.

According to Marcy Wheeler’s analysis, for example, it looks like Clinton’s drop in polls actually coincided with the news that ObamaCare premiums were about to surge. Ironically, Clinton’s average in the polls seems to rebound afterward, even as Comey pens his letter.

The evidence here is not decisive either way, but the possibility shouldn’t be surprising. The public knew about Hillary Clinton’s email issues well in advance of her candidacy for president. It’s natural to think that voters had already factored this in, to the extent that they perceived it as a problem. Moreover, Comey’s letter contained no new damning information. He merely said in the letter that the FBI had uncovered new emails that may or may not be significant.

The spike in ObamaCare premiums, on the other hand, would have hit voters much closer to home. Not that the polls were an extremely reliable indicator in this election, but the sudden drop in Clinton’s numbers seems much more likely to be a reaction to these premium hikes.

Top Democrats like Harry Reid and Bill Clinton have recently echoed Krugman’s comments, placing the blame squarely on Comey and/or Russian hacking (on which, by the way, the jury is still out). But what this means is that, by these Democrats’ own admission, the actions of Comey and Russia were enough to outweigh the significant advantages that they had running up to this election.

Let’s take stock of what those advantages were.

1) Clinton’s campaign had a roughly 2:1 advantage in terms of fundraising.

2) Democrats had a huge upper hand with respect to their ground game.

3) Many of the major media outlets were squarely on the former secretary of State’s side. Some journalists even suggested giving up the pretense of objectivity, as this widely circulated New York Times article illustrates. Clinton had the support of CNN, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and The Washington Post, among several others. Even the elite conservative journals like National Review and The Weekly Standard vehemently opposed Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE’s candidacy. What Trump had on his side were some Fox News anchors and Breitbart.

4) The overwhelming majority of the entertainment industry was cheerleading for Clinton. Top music artists from Katy Perry to Jay Z performed in concerts to help her campaign. Others made emotional appeals to the electorate on behalf of Clinton and against Trump. Others, like Lena Dunham, threatened to move to Canada if Trump was elected. “I know a lot of people have been threatening to do this, but I really will,” she said. Following the election results, she’s walked back on that promise.

5) Other classes of people who have an important role in shaping culture were also firmly on the pro-Clinton camp. This includes writers, academics and other cultural elites. Even numerous right-leaning scholars and writers opposed Trump in the clearest terms.

6) The macroeconomics was also favorable to Clinton. Moody’s Analytics, which bases its models on various prices (especially gas prices), economic indicators and presidential favorability polls, predicted a resounding 332-206 Clinton win.

Her supporters will respond that Clinton was indeed the better candidate and therefore deserved all this support. But what Krugman and Reid, et al., are implicitly admitting is that a letter from Comey suggesting the mere possibility of significant information in a new batch of emails, along with some leaked emails from John Podesta, were enough to sink the campaign. Never mind that prior to the election, many in the pro-Clinton media elite thought the WikiLeaks emails were boring.

Of course, to the extent that there is good evidence Russia tried to intervene in the U.S. election, appropriate steps ought to be taken that ensure it doesn’t happen again. But how much confidence can you have in your campaign message if you think that some boring emails can make up for a 2:1 fundraising advantage, macroeconomic tailwinds, and the full support of all the elite establishments?

It is one thing to disagree with Trump’s proposed agenda, or to be upset that Clinton lost. But by claiming that Russia and Comey were the reasons that she lost, Democrats are damaging their brand and basically admitting that they didn’t have a message that resonated with the electorate. Why not aim for a new, positive direction?


Hrishikesh Joshi is a postgraduate research associate; he writes on immigration, politics, and education policy. Follow him on Twitter.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.