What I Got Right and Wrong in 2020
But mostly what I got right, because 2020 was bad enough as it is, so take your wins where you can get them
Because I report on the past, not the future, I try to be parsimonious with predictions. This is particularly good professional practice when you cover the Middle East, as I do, because it has a way of making even the smartest prognosticators look like idiots.
That said, like many in my line of work, I often can’t resist playing the prophet. And so one of my resolutions after Trump won in 2016—when I thought he’d lose—was that while I’d be more careful with my predictions, I’d also be more self-critical about them. The idea was to figure out why I got stuff wrong so that I’d be less wrong in the future.
Fast-forward to the 2020 election and… it mostly worked! Below, I’ve cataloged some of my hits and misses. Now, I’m sure I’ll make some incredibly dumb claim in the months ahead that will utterly undermine all the good work I’ve done, so I’m going to spike the football while I can.
Joe Biden, the Predictable President
After getting 2016 so very wrong, I tried to reverse-engineer the mistake so I wouldn’t make it again. I came to the realization that I’d overvalued the opinion of elites and my peers on Twitter, while neglecting things like polls and other indicators of national mood. In 2020, I corrected course accordingly, and arrived at the early conclusion that Joe Biden was actually a very strong candidate who would probably win the primary and the presidency. At the time, I was one of approximately 6 people in the professional punditsphere willing to say this out loud—the Moses of this movement was New York magazine’s Josh Barro—though there were definitely more people who thought it but were afraid to say it.
Yair Rosenberg @Yair_RosenbergDon't quite get the Biden-Jeb Bush comparison, which seems mostly superficial. Biden is known for serving 8 years under the most popular living Democratic president. Jeb didn't even have a national brand beyond his last name, which was associated with an unpopular Republican one.
Javi Morgado @javimorgadoBreaking news: New CNN national poll shows @JoeBiden with a commanding lead over the Democratic field. 39% pick Biden as their top choice, @BernieSanders in second with 15%, @SenWarren in third with 8% and @PeteButtigieg with 7%.
(Replace “Hillary” with “Andrew Cuomo” and this one’s pretty spot-on.)
After Biden secured the nomination, I had some election predictions too, including some very specific claims about voting shares:
Yair Rosenberg @Yair_RosenbergA reminder: Biden isn't winning because of the coronavirus. His big lead predates the virus. Claims to the contrary are revisionist history, as any cursory glance at the polls reveals. Don't believe me? Take a look: https://t.co/cNeeYTNu4L
The Times of Israel @TimesofIsrael70% of Jews plan to vote Biden, Pew study finds https://t.co/JXnto6s5Ai
The Coronavirus Will Fundamentally Change Our Lives For a Year
This is one that I got right, but also wrong, because I really should have written it up as an article at the time, where it might have done some good, rather than firing it off as a dumb tweet. [My editor nods their head vigorously.]
Charlie Warzel @cwarzelSeeing a new thing bubble up online (& among some in my life) where people feel a bit betrayed because they thought flattening the curve was the end game (and are now realizing it isn't). This is a messaging problem. Some thoughts on how to fix it https://t.co/BHJzy0y392
Israeli Annexation Probably Won’t Happen Because the Sunni Arab States Don’t Want It To Happen
This one is a bit in the weeds for those who don’t follow the twists and turns of the Middle East, but in short: Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he would annex the West Bank, despite the strenuous opposition of the Palestinian people and the international community. At the time, many suggested that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan was designed to enable that annexation. But I argued that annexation would undermine America’s and Israel’s relationships with the Sunni Arab states, who’d been quietly burying the hatchet with Israel, and that those states would therefore be the deciding vote.
Eight months after that tweet, Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates—under the condition that annexation be halted.
Jury’s Still Out on This One, But I Like My Chances
I Got Stuff Wrong Too, I Was Just Mostly Smart Enough Not to Tweet It
I thought Benny Gantz, leader of Israel’s opposition Blue & White party, would probably beat Netanyahu in Israel’s third election of 2020. Instead, he ended up joining a unity government with Netanyahu (the Israeli equivalent of starting a land war in Asia) and now his party is shedding all its members.
I thought the Arab states would stop annexation, but did not think they’d openly normalize with Israel absent greater progress on the Palestinian front.
And the less said about this one from my Reddit AMA, the better:
Of course, the big thing I got wrong in 2020 was that I wasted all the good takes above on Twitter instead of turning them into articles. There’s always 2021. In any case…
Here’s to Small Victories
Happy New Year,
Want to tell me all the other things I got wrong? Feel free to reply to this email! If you liked what you’ve read, please do share the newsletter and tell your friends about it. Thank you all for your readership, feedback, and support over this last difficult year.