Events of the past week have taught the United States that the polls in advance of the Nov. 8 presidential election misread America. “We were wrong. The entire pundit industry, the entire polling industry, the entire analyst industry,” said political analyst Larry Sabato the morning after the election. “We plugged hundreds of surveys into our system and over 90 percent were wrong and they managed to miss almost entirely this tremendous turnout in rural America.”
One detail: Hillary Clinton lost statewide votes in North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, even though she led in state polling. Of course, those states aren’t pivotal electoral prizes or anything.
Our collective certainty about the lousy polling wasn’t in place on the afternoon of Aug. 17. That’s when Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump, appeared on CNN for a discussion with host Brianna Keilar. The news peg for the interview was an ostensible campaign shakeup in which Breitbart News executive Stephen K. Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway came in to rescue a troubled and unstable outfit. In some slightly heated back and forth, Cohen protested that the campaign hadn’t, in fact, gone through a shakeup — it was just adding some “winners” to the existing framework.
Keilar: You say it’s not a shakeup but you guys are down.
Cohen: Says who?
Keilar: Polls, most of them. All of them?
Cohen: Says who?
Keilar: Polls, I just told you. I answered your question.
Cohen: Okay, which polls?
Keilar: All of them.
Cohen: Okay, and your question is?
The Erik Wemple Blog wrote up that clash under the headline “CNN host totally owns Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.” The topic and tone were by no means an Erik Wemple Blog Exclusive. Behold:
Daily Wire: “CNN’s Brianna Keilar Wipes The Floor With Trump’s Lawyer In Hilarious Exchange”
Vox: “CNN tells Trump adviser he’s losing: ‘Says who?’ ‘Polls.’ ‘Which polls?’ ‘All of them.’ ”
PoliticsUSA: “CNN Drops A Reality Bomb On Trump Surrogate Who Refuses To Believe Trump Is Losing.”
Mother Jones: “One of Donald Trump’s Top Advisers Just Lost It on CNN—and the Video Is Hilarious” (here’s the URL of that Mother Jones story: http://www.motherjones.com/contributor/2016/08/this-is-so-good)
Quartz: “ ‘Says who?’: The anatomy of a perfect political meme”
Media Matters: “CNN Anchor Has To Tell Trump’s Lawyer That All The Polls Show Him Losing”
Mashable: “Trump staffer shut down in extremely awkward CNN interview”
TVNewser: “‘Pretty Sure Brianna Keilar Deserves a Glass of Wine Tonight’”
TPM: “That Awkward Moment When CNN Reminds Trump’s Lawyer He’s Losing”
Mic: “CNN Anchor Brianna Keilar Destroys Donald Trump’s Lawyer on Live TV”
Pajiba: “A Trump Aide’s Response to His Baffling CNN Interview Is Even More Bewildering than the Interview Itself”
That’s an incomplete rundown of this cable-news moment’s Internet traction.
On Tuesday, a reader of the Erik Wemple Blog emailed us to ask if we’d apologized to Cohen. Truth be told, we’d forgotten about the story altogether. So we Googled a bit, called a number and got Cohen right on the line. Then we apologized for having participated in this arrogant act of groupthink. “I accept your apology and I truly appreciate the call,” said Cohen.
On the substance of the exchange with Keilar, Cohen said he’d known Trump was ahead “all along and that’s what had made me as angry as I was.” Asked whether he’d reached that conclusion based on gut instinct or on data, he said “both.” At the first presidential debate at Hofstra University, he ran into Keilar and they “laughed about the entire episode,” he recalls. Did he have any idea how famous he was in mid-August? “Are you joking? I was trending on Twitter for almost 36 hours,” he says.
On the polling nitty-gritty, Cohen says, “I believe the polls were off once he became the nominee.” Why would polling outfits make that mistake? “Because they wanted to,” replies Cohen. “There was a concerted effort by the liberal mainstream media to disparage Mr. Trump at every turn. Despite their attempts, the American people saw through their ploy and elected the person that they knew would put America first.”
Though Cohen gained fame for saying “Says who?” perhaps he now deserves to be known for a bit of commentary that he laid down in another part of his interview with Keilar — when they were discussing polling numbers for minority groups. Here’s what he said: “My statement to you is I don’t care about those poll numbers. I have some very deep relationships into the African-American community as an example. And trust me, he’s doing a whole lot better than 1 percent. And the same pundits that are giving you this answer are going to be surprised the same way they were when Donald Trump ran away with the nomination for the — at the primaries. You’re going to all be very surprised when he polls substantially higher than what any of you are giving him credit for.”