The View From Here | Blowing a Fourth-Quarter Lead

Donald Trump speaking at a rally
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

In their account of the Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl appearance, Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons share an interesting exchange between the team’s then-owner, Leonard Tose, and the city’s then-archbishop, John Cardinal Krol, before the Jan. 25, 1981 game at the Louisiana Superdome.

“The cardinal told Tose he prayed for an Eagles victory,” they write in the Super Bowl XV entry in The Eagles Encyclopedia, which was just updated for the release of the “Champions Edition” by Temple University Press (a book I heartily recommend). “Tose was not a religious man — although he attended Notre Dame, he was Jewish, not Catholic — but he was heartened by the thought of such a holy man praying for a win.”

After the Eagles’ miserable loss to the Oakland Raiders, 27-10, Tose was incredulous.

“I thought God was supposed to answer our prayers,” he said to the cardinal.

Last week, after the Eagles’ crushing defeat of the New York Giants, 94 WIP-FM morning show host Angelo Cataldi and his crew were having a discussion about divine influence in last year’s historic championship season. Similarly, on the afternoon of Oct. 21, I’m sure there were hundreds of thousands of silent prayers being uttered throughout the Delaware Valley in the closing minutes of the Eagles’ utterly deflating loss to the Carolina Panthers, 21-17.

But I am not one to attribute either a win or a loss to the hands of the Almighty. No, the Eagles blew their 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter — and dropped to 3-4 — all on their own. Despite the cries of many, there was nothing supernatural in the turnaround — just as there was nothing mystical in their quashing of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Heaven has a hand in everything, but the choice of what we do with what we’re given is entirely our doing; no one but Doug Pederson made him call passes 13 of 14 times as the clock wound down at the Linc.

If polls are to be believed, Democrats are in danger of doing exactly what the Eagles did in Week 7: blow a fourth-quarter lead in a game — the 2018 midterm elections — virtually everyone had predicted was theirs for the taking.

On Oct. 23, The Washington Post released a poll indicating that Democrats’ leads in suburban swing districts was “statistically insignificant.” Last week, prognosticators of various stripes had written off their once-plausible chances of taking over the Senate. And with reports this week indicating that Republican voters appear to be outnumbering Democratic ones in pre-Election Day voting, it is a distinct possibility that not only will the “blue wave” not happen, but that none of the levers of political power on Capitol Hill will change hands come next month.

Like sports fans, some will want to blame outside forces — maybe China, or the Senate Judiciary Committee or President Donald Trump — for Democrats’ anemic sprint to the finish line. But just as Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves if Democrats are able to pull out a win, Democrats need to look inward to explain why so much of the American political map has changed so much in just a couple of weeks.

Just like the Republican Party in 2008, the Democratic Party has failed to appreciate the importance of speaking the language of the average American. The last few days, Trump has invoked the image of a migrant caravan snaking its way through Central America — numbering in the thousands, it seems to have gotten larger by the day — to stoke fear amongst a broad swath of Middle America. And he’s laid blame for the mass of humanity heading to the U.S. border on the Democrats, accusing them of organizing the caravan by, among other things, paying protesters to join it.

The promulgation of such a conspiracy theory has largely gone unanswered by the other side, which has instead chosen to focus on a broken immigration system that has resulted in children being unfairly separated from their parents. The injustice of our nation’s approach to immigrants is certainly an issue, but gone unsaid has been the fact that as the caravan has moved north, Trump’s approval ratings and Republicans’ overall poll numbers have been climbing.

With the caravan scheduled to arrive at the border incredibly close to Election Day, Republicans have more to gain by promoting such a protest than do Democrats.

I’m not suggesting that dark forces in Washington allied with the White House are behind the march. Indeed, there is no conspiracy on either side. But if the president’s conspiracy theory is believable by right-leaning voters, then the idea of Republicans engineering a protest to induce xenophobic fears in the heartland is just as plausible — if not more so. And yet, Democrats appear unwilling to counter the president at his own game.

Instead of engaging in a debate party leaders no doubt consider too beneath them to even acknowledge, Democrats have chosen to speak the language of patrician elites. Instead of answering the irrational but nevertheless very real fears of middle-class swing voters — which they could do, for example, by showing how the nation’s new trade policies are beginning to threaten jobs and wallets more than any influx of refugees ever could — they’ve by-and-large opted for blanket appeals to shared humanity.

It’s not a wrong approach, but it’s liable to come across as tone deaf to a broad swath of the electorate. And that’s not how you win elections.

At the end of the day, we all have to accept responsibilities for the choices we make, whether we’re calling plays or running campaigns. In a democracy, as on the football field, no one forces the outcome.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]


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