Well before Michael Moore put out his surprise-release movie, Michael Moore in Trumpland last month, he put out something much smaller in scope that turned out to be more prescient, too: a de facto blog post, of all things, called 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win. Granted, he did follow it up with a later post about how he thought Trump could be beat, and that surprise film endeavoring to make a more active case for Hillary Clinton, but reading Moore's original list of reasons is now downright chilling, because he kicks it off with exactly the surprise that seemed to be eluding pollsters and analysts for the past few months. Reason number one: "Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit."
Moore goes on to explain that while Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin have traditionally gone blue in presidential elections, they are volatile enough, and have enough working-class voters, to swing Trump's way if he focuses his energy there. If anything, this now seems too optimistic, because the post talks about how Trump doesn't need Florida, a state he wound up taking even more handily (in terms of how quickly it was called) than Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Indeed, those three states were instrumental in Clinton's historic defeat last night.
Moore's other points, about angry white men and a national distrust of Hillary Clinton, about Trump's outsider effect and the lack of same when Bernie Sanders left the race, all stand reasonably well. But it's that first bit that hits home, especially given Moore's highlighting of it in his post and in Trumpland, which, rather than one of his usual documentaries (it would be easy to picture Moore doing his deadpan-quasi-naif-interview thing with all manners of Trump supporters) is actually just a filmed performance, culled from a two-night stand in Ohio just over a month ago. It's not much of a movie, assembled hurriedly and with some visible seams, but it's an interesting document. The purported idea was for Moore to perform deep in Trump territory, in front of an audience that wouldn't just be the converted to which he's often accused of preaching. He purposefully recruited Trump-leaning voters, disgruntled Bernie fans, and potential third-party voters alongside Hillary supporters.
When I saw the film last month, I admit I puzzled slightly over Moore's choice of Ohio. The polls there looked close, of course, but it seemed to me that the "real "Trumpland would be a deep-red state where Clinton had no real shot — or even the kind of traditionally red state that's been inching blueward, like Arizona or Texas. Even Michigan, while less of a focal point in other recent presidential elections, seemed to make more sense, being Moore's home state. Ohio just didn't seem that far afield to me, and when Moore appeared at my screening for an intro and Q&A, I wondered if he was basing too much on anecdotal evidence, rather than polling. He described seeing so many Trump/Pence lawn signs, and how he didn't trust polling, even engaging a Moore-ish fudge, claiming that all of the optimistic predictions about Clinton's chances were looking at national polls, not the electoral college (come on: what popular polling site doesn't consider the electoral college these days?).
I'm sad to admit that I thought he sounded paranoid, even as he made an eloquent case for Hillary during and after the film itself. His claim that Trump supporters were more fired up than Clinton supporters also felt suspicious to me. Why were his anecdotal lawn signs supposed to be stronger evidence than the fact that the vast majority of my peers were not reluctant Clinton supporters or borderline third-party voters, but actual enthusiastic Hillary proponents? I appreciated his message that her supporters should not get complacent — hell, I kicked in another campaign donation later in October — but also felt pretty confident, after Trump admitting to and then attempting to downplay a history of sexual assault, tanking three debates, and spending a crazy amount of time stoking doubts in the electoral system itself, that he was on a downward slope (not to mention those polls that rarely showed Trump with a commanding lead even during his upswings).
It's not so strange on its own that Moore turned out to be right and I turned out to be wrong. He's a smart and insightful guy, much as those qualities have sometimes been lost in his grandstanding. I have my left-wing New Yorker bubble, where even my Facebook feed doesn't have too many rabid Trump fans. What does feel eerie, and sad, and infuriating is that Moore got there using the same line of thinking that seems to animate a lot of Trump supporters. He wasn't looking to facts, polls, or experts. Apart from his addition of 64 electoral votes in those four crucial states and his observation about some Republican governors, Moore was looking at his feelings about the race — his sense of what other people were and are feeling, his suspicion that this would be the American version of the Brexit disaster.
Obviously, this was more informed truthiness than Trump's constant stream of self-propelling lies. But it still wasn't really, in the end, based more on feelings than facts. And Moore was, it seems, entirely correct. On some level, in some universe, it might feel comforting knowing that a big-time lefty filmmaker read this situation so accurately — that not everyone was completely in the dark. But it's more than a little unnerving to realize that it's not detailed analysis or endless refreshing of Nate Silver's website giving us a heads — it's just another bunch of rotten gut feelings about the worst that could happen.