It was the writer’s equivalent of slamming into a brick wall at a hundred miles per hour. March 16, the date of my last post, marked my 26th straight day of writing. Dating back to January 25, I had taken only three days off, presumably to sleep and get to know my one-year-old son. (Turns out he’s awesome.) I knew it was an unsustainable pace, but my addictive personality didn’t let me slow down. I always knew how it was going to end: by hitting that brick wall and flying through the windshield. Across this brick wall was spray-painted “Beware the Ides of March.”
March 15 was a day of reckoning, bringing together my largest insecurities about the direction of the site, the combination of which, dating back weeks, had a deleterious effect on my motivation to continue it. For example:
1) Terrible big-picture predictions. Trump won the day while Marco Rubio, my pick for the Republican nomination, withdrew from the race. Months of predictions that assuaged readers and friends were throttled by the Lilliputian hands of Donald J. Trump. While my record of predicting finishes in the last day or two before specific contests remained pretty strong, my inability to read the larger tea leaves of the Republican Primary sapped my confidence. Why would anyone care what PPFA has to say if it couldn’t see this coming, even after months of Trump dominating the polls? Which brings us to…
2) Trump discouragement. It had become clear that I didn’t understand America or politics as well as I thought I did. This wasn’t how politics was supposed to work. Politicians didn’t get to insult their way up the polls while benefiting from gaffes that we assumed would doom campaigns. Republican candidates certainly weren’t expected to succeed by having unorthodox opinions away from the conservative mainstream. His petty feuds with anchors, politicians, and fellow candidates, laced with derogatory and profane remarks, seemed to boost his popularity, as if that’s what his supporters looked for in a president. He built his campaign on oversimplifying every issue, obtusely diagnosing America’s problems while rarely offering realistic solutions to fixing them. Indeed, these are often complaints about all politicians, but his supporters loved him because wasn’t like a politician, so it didn’t add up to me. His knowledge on just about every issue was painfully skin deep; Rubio and Cruz could go deeply into their issues with a multitude of examples, but press Trump on any issue and he would dodge, obfuscate, change the subject, or repeat his superficial response with a rearranged order of words.
It didn’t make sense, and not only was I discouraged that Americans were going for it, I was embarrassed that I didn’t get what they were going for. I heard them say it was about immigration and jobs and terror, but it still felt that Trump was the last candidate who could actually understand and tackle these nuanced issues. It was often pointed out that he matched the anger of his average supporter, but would we really want his average supporter running the country merely because of how good they were at conveying a particularly nasty emotion? I just didn’t get it, and my ignorance disheartened me.
3) Struggling readership. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t the first time I stopped cold. In fact, it had become a quadrennial tradition. I cut short the old blog well before the general elections in 2012 and 2008. In both cases, I was pretty discouraged with the website’s readership, which peaked around February and March before gradually falling as people lost interest. This primary cycle yielded my best numbers yet, but I felt like I was writing more on the presidential race than just about any single person in the country, yet the work being put in was not reflected in the numbers, and the slower period was about to start. I calculated to get out before the tumble.
It’s worth nothing that I do not blame my readers. I often can’t believe anyone at all comes back to read an island of amateurish ramblings in an ocean of professional writers. When I stopped writing, think of it as the classic, “It’s not you, it’s me” breakup speech, but unlike its deployment by the handful of girls I dated, in this case I actually meant it. I understand that to build readership I’d need to be either more entertaining, more insightful with bigger trends, or have a more impressive resume than, “Hey, I like to follow politics!” I know that the responsibility of readership falls squarely on PPFA’s broadband shoulders.
4) It felt like the beginning of the end for both primaries. Clinton swept the day. Trump won handily as all competitors seemed to lose their path to the nomination. It was time for the voters and parties to start rallying around the inevitable nominees, and that’s no fun to cover at all. Underscoring this development was the fact that these two candidates had record general election unfavorable ratings, and yet they were still going to win their party’s nomination and vie for the presidency. We were headed toward an election where the best argument to make for one of the major candidates was that they weren’t the other one. So depressing.
For what seems like the hundredth time, it has since become clear how wrong I was. I left this site when (and partially because!) he was at the height of his power. Now, after Wisconsin, he’s never seemed more vulnerable. Was I the Trump jinx? We might still get an open convention. AN OPEN CONVENTION! And what’s this? Bernie Sanders has won seven of the last eight contests and is pulling out the “not qualified” card about his opponent? Are we headed toward… TWO OPEN CONVENTIONS?!
No, I don’t think we are. Even on the Republican side, I think too many people are ignoring how Trump’s big win in New York will set up the rest of the calendar to get him to 1,237. That being said, the fact that conventions are in play this late in the primaries is a reason to start writing down my thoughts again, even if no one should trust me, Trump will win anyway, readership stays disheartening, and we end up with the country’s two most despised politicians as our nominees.
Moving forward, I don’t know what form the site will take. Short posts? Infrequent longer ones? We’ll see, but I need to find a way to avoid the next brick wall.
In the meantime, I’m back. Here’s hoping I’m not the Trump jinx.