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The 2016 Election Panic Blog

Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump was the ugliest election of our lifetimes. These were the finals days.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Real Panic Is Here

7:54 p.m. PT, November 8

It’s just past 10 on the East Coast, and Democrats are in a state of panic. Trump holds a small lead in Florida, where a loss would be survivable for Hillary. But he also seems to be overperforming in places like Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Rust Belt — all bricks in Hillary Clinton’s “firewall.” Ohio just went to Trump. The candidate with a narrow path to the presidency may be Clinton.

In case we’re all saying “Madame President” in a few hours, it seems worth preserving this moment of panic for history. To me, it’s driven by the number of tools we have to follow the election. Over at The New York Times The Upshot, you can see that Trump’s odds of winning have moved to 77 percent — almost where the site had Clinton’s odds this afternoon. It’s not just the number. The Upshot’s dials shake like a speedometer on a car doing 80 on the highway. It’s like we’re all careening into history together. Trump’s at 275 electoral votes — no, Clinton’s at 270! There’s a cop!

A similar tension can be felt on MSNBC, where Steve Kornacki is standing in front of a video screen with his shirt sleeves rolled up. Early on, Kornacki had good news for lefties. Clinton’s vaunted turnout operation was meeting its targets in big cities and left-leaning (a.k.a., blue) counties. But then the red counties began to come in — and come in big. Thanks to “clustering,” even a winning Democratic electoral map looks like it’s being eaten by a flesh-eating virus. Tonight, it seems worse.

If that wasn’t enough, you could glance at Nate Cohn’s Twitter account, where he said Clinton was in “serious danger” in Wisconsin and Michigan. Or flip over to Nate Silver’s account, where he was warning that Clinton’s odds of victory would “crash when/if Florida is called against her.”

The old methods of panic were available, too. Network TV correspondents were calling Clinton headquarters in New York and coming back with clichés: “We have a number of paths to 270.” There was old Clinton hand James Carville — the one who aphorized Bill Clinton’s case for the presidency in a way no one has for Hillary — slumped on the MSNBC set with a long face. “I was expecting to be in a better mood at this point than I am right now, to be honest with you,” he said.

On the other hand … Virginia just went to Clinton. Everybody take a deep breath.

The Florida Freakout

6:18 p.m. PT, November 8

Here at CNN, we can make a projection … Florida is really important! Wolf Blitzer’s yelling may be consistent across space, time, and electoral map. But the Florida freakout has become a cherished quadrennial tradition of the political media.

In 2000, of course, Florida became ground zero for political reporters when the networks first awarded it to Gore, then Bush, then pulled back it from both. “We don’t just have egg on our face,” Tom Brokaw said. “We have an omelette.” Election night birthed a whole collection of Dan Ratherisms: “The presidential election is crackling like a hickory fire here …” It also helped make careers of some of the biggest players in the political media. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza covered the recount for the New Republic. Jake Tapper, who you see frowning thoughtfully on CNN tonight, was the author of Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency.

The 2004 presidential race centered more on John Kerry’s failed bid to win Ohio. But Florida was back in 2008, when Hillary Clinton won the nonbinding primary over Barack Obama. (The win later became part of Clinton’s unsuccessful case for the nomination.) Obama himself won Florida in the 2008 general election and again, barely, in 2012 — at less than 1 percent, it was the closest state race in the election. This year, Donald Trump used a big Florida primary victory to knock Marco Rubio out of the race.

Tonight, we freak out again. Part of it’s the closeness of the race, which stands at 1.3 percent, in favor of Trump, as I type. Part of it is the sense washing over Democrats, as we creep toward 10 p.m. ET, that the race might not be a cakewalk.

But much of the Florida freakout owes something to technology. On CNN, Blitzer can look at the live vote totals coming in, turn to his colleague John King, and yell, “Hillary Clinton is in the lead!” A few moments later, he can say the same about Trump. It’s up to King to patiently explain how many votes have come in from what counties, and whether the “lead” is meaningful. For Blitzer, who likes nothing more than to tell viewers to “stand by,” and for whom major projections are always right around the corner, Florida allows him to realize a dream. He becomes a basketball announcer. As Twitter has decided, he’s the Gus Johnson of politics

All Politics News Is Local

4:21 p.m. PT, November 8

One of the interesting things Twitter and the internet did to the media is transform everyone into a national writer. Most journalists used to start in the minors and hope for a call-up; now, you’re taking swings in front of the world as a 22-year-old (or 19-year-old) rookie.

This has major advantages for readers, as anyone who grew up in the ’80s and lusted for national news remembers. But the vagaries of the Electoral College push us in the opposite direction. On election night, we need good local news — or, rather, statewide news.

I don’t insult The New York Times and Washington Post by saying they’ll never understand what’s happening in a Nevada election as well as Jon Ralston will. Ralston is a Nevada talk-show host and veteran of three state newspapers. He spent the last week chronicling and tabulating the early vote orchestrated by what he calls the “Harry Reid Machine.” If he wasn’t on the scene at places like the Cardenas Market, which saw a long, snaking line of Hispanic voters, he knew who was. Ralston’s verdict:

That was three days before the election. Tuesday, he was snarking about the Trump campaign’s unsuccessful court challenge of that same period of early voting.

Ralston has chronicled the crack-up of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which was purchased by Sheldon Adelson, the Nevada casino magnate and GOP superdonor, last December. Also, Ralston is really funny, in a fedora and plumes-of-cigar-smoke kind of way:

As the writer Alex Parker notes, you could say the same about’s Henry J. Gomez, who was writing about John Kasich’s post-Trump battle plan Tuesday afternoon, or Politico’s Marc Caputo, who was sifting through the vote tallies in Broward County, Florida. On election night, these are the people that know stuff.

Let Them Meme Cake

3:15 p.m. PT, November 8

Election Day is one of our great news vacuums. The political writers filed their “final hours with …” stories the night before, or over the weekend. There are bits of turnout news to collate. But mostly we wait, pre-write our results ledes, and talk about the Trump cake.

The story was apparently broken by ABC News’s Jason Volack, who got the assignment to stand outside Trump Tower. His first, on-the-scene tweet got no retweets and three likes. The cake tweet, which was quickly memed, was sitting at 2,200-plus retweets as of this afternoon. What does the cake say about the Trump campaign? That it was as tacky as Trump’s hotel properties; that it was baked by people whose business card might have said “campaign manager” but may not have been employed at that job at this high a level before.

But, mostly, there were jokes:

The cake’s only competition — besides inspiring seniors turning up to vote, George W. Bush’s presidential nonvote, and the line at Susan B. Anthony’s grave — was the shot of Trump peeking at his wife Melania’s ballot.

Some of the polls in the East and Midwest close at 7 p.m. ET.

Notes on Trump’s Concession Speech

11:19 a.m. PT, November 8

Let’s say Donald Trump loses the election tonight. [Pause for five minutes of wild applause.] And let’s say he doesn’t contest the results. [Pause for a long, democracy-affirming sigh of relief.] Trump will amble up to the podium and do his own riff on one of America’s great political rituals: the concession speech. What might a Trump concession look like?

There are certain rites to a concession. The losing candidate begins by saying “Thank you, my friends,” and then tries to quiet a crowd that’s cheering as if he had actually won the race. “The American people have spoken,” the candidate says. Often, they have spoken “loud and clear.” The candidate reports that he called and congratulated his opponent. At the mention of the victor’s name, the audience boos. The candidate shows his palms. “No, no,” he says. “No, no.”

The candidate thanks his tireless spouse. (Mitt Romney on Ann in 2012: “She would have been a wonderful first lady.”) He thanks his running mate. He assures the crowd he left it all on the field. (George H.W. Bush in 1992: “We have fought the good fight and we’ve kept the faith.”) The candidate notes that “what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside” (Al Gore in 2000) and promises, insincerely, that he will help the new president. He delivers an encomium to the cherished institutions of American democracy. He says that he only regrets not getting to serve. Finally, the candidate ventures a wan bit of self-deprecation. Bob Dole in 1996: “Tomorrow will be the first time in my life I don’t have anything to do.”

None of this — not the grace, not the quelling of boos, not the self-deprecation — sounds anything like Trump. Moreover, concessions tend to be brisk. After conceding one of the most contentious elections in recent history, a smiling Gore spoke for only seven minutes. Trump can ramble for more than an hour, while even his diehards sneak out the exits.

The concession speech signed off on by campaign manager Kellyanne Conway will almost certainly look like the ones in the “Great Political Speeches” books. What’ll be interesting is where Trump departs from the text. There’s a 100 percent chance he praises himself. He’ll probably use the phrase “Make America Great Again.” (Recycling catchphrases is rare during concessions, for all the obvious reasons.)

Trump will find a neutral way to salute Hillary Clinton. Calling her a “fighter,” as he did during the second debate, will probably do the trick, even if it contradicts Trump’s charge about her lack of stamina. If Trump goes in for the cliché about her running a “great campaign,” he might mention (as he did in the first debate) all the “not nice” things Clinton said about him during the campaign.

And what of unity? This is where it gets really interesting. Trump thinks of himself, not wrongly, as a brand distinct from the GOP. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg reported that by campaign’s end, Trump will have assembled a 12 million–to–14 million–name voter database, called “Project Alamo,” which could be worth millions of dollars.

Trump could use such a list to start a media company, sell more steaks, whatever. By urging Trumpites to unite behind Clinton, even ceremonially, Trump might think he’s giving away proprietary information. She’s gonna have to pay for that!

During the campaign, Trump has mused about failure. (“I think we’ll win, and if not, that’s OK, too,” he once said, according to Conway.) If he’s thinking about losing, he’s almost certainly thinking about his comeback. For what is Donald Trump’s career if not a series of terrible blunders, barely acknowledged, and glorious returns, endlessly bragged about?

With that in mind, there’s a chance Trump will work against type tonight. A graceful concession would touch the media’s Founding Father erogenous zones. It would make reporters forget, at least for a few minutes, the last year-plus of racism, religious bigotry, and misogyny.

If Trump goes that way, he’d be wise to channel Gore:

If Trump could force himself to say something like that, I think Chris Matthews’s head would explode.

Bill Belichick’s November Surprise

8:39 a.m. PT, November 8

Aside from the ground game, the single-most-lopsided thing about this presidential campaign has been its celebrity endorsers. In the final days of the campaign, Hillary Clinton produced Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, and LeBron James. Even in his biggest moments, Donald Trump settled for the likes of Fran Tarkenton and Scott Baio. But Monday night, as he tried to overcome a narrow deficit in New Hampshire, Trump unveiled a November surprise.

First, Trump told a cheering crowd, Tom Brady had voted for him. It was a mild surprise — Gisele Bündchen had said the opposite last week on Instagram — and a slightly bigger upset that Brady agreed to go public. “He said, ‘If you want to say it, you can say it …’” Trump announced. “That’s what a champ is all about.”

But Trump had another revelation in store. “Coach Belichick,” he said, savoring the words. He threw his hands out wide. Belichick had sent him “the most beautiful letter.” When Trump asked if he could read it at the New Hampshire rally, Belichick said he wanted to submit a second, cleaned-up letter for public consumption. Trump assumed he would “take all the good things out, right, like most gutless people do — gutless.”

Trump was floored when Belichick’s second letter was “much better.” Here’s the text, via Business Insider, as read by Trump:

It was the most significant piece of New Hampshire electoral mail since the Canuck letter. Tuesday morning, CSNNE confirmed the letter’s authenticity. But even without the Patriots letterhead, we can observe Belichick’s hand.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The bit about a slanted and negative media sounds a lot like Belichick. (If he were a pol, he would grimace at the media for their lack of wonky knowledge about the TPP.) On the other hand, Belichick saluting Trump for his “leadership” at the end of a chaotic and penalty-filled campaign seems kind of ridiculous. As a CEO and presidential candidate, Trump is the opposite of Belichick: flashy, noisy, and without real accomplishment. Compare, for example, how much effort each man has put into his haircut.

The letter had one unmissable mark of the master. Belichick’s ostensible endorsement didn’t actually endorse Trump. The letter merely saluted Trump for making it through the campaign intact. It’s the equivalent of the niceties coaches whisper to each other at midfield after a game. Hope you have a great season … That hedge will provide a nice fig leaf when the slanted and negative media asks Belichick about it at the next availability.

Not that any of that deterred Trump. After reading the letter Monday night, he practically glowed with Belichickian focus and resolve. He may have trailed in most polls, but he was going to give it his all. On to Michigan.

Where in the World Is Brian Williams?

10:55 p.m. PT, November 7

Last year, after Brian Williams was banished from the NBC Nightly News, it was revealed that Williams had once asked to host The Tonight Show. In a roundabout way, and via basic cable, he has finally achieved his goal. Williams’s The 11th Hour is a vehicle of lightly comic image rehabilitation — a yukfest that follows hours of earnest liberalism. Call it Evening Brian.
As Williams opened the election eve show, he was in a giddy mood. He called guest Eugene Robinson (age 62) a “young, promising columnist” at The Washington Post. Another guest, Michael Beschloss, was the “Mariano Rivera of presidential historians.” When MSNBC’s cameras cut to Ted Nugent warming up the crowd at a Trump rally, Williams yukked that Nugent is “hard to see because he admittedly is camouflaged.”

You are correct, sir! Jokes gave way to cozy, unchallenging chat. Williams’s guests are liberals or friendly Republicans — e.g., Nicolle Wallace, a former aide to George W. Bush, and Mike Murphy, a former John McCain aide. (Both are fierce critics of Donald Trump.) The other day, Williams got a Twitter ovation for nailing Game Change author Mark Halperin as a Trump toady. But his questioning is usually chummy.

“I’ll really put you on the spot,” he told Wallace on Monday night. Wallace laughed nervously. She’d been talking about how another Republican strategist had voted for Hillary Clinton — was she going to be asked to reveal her vote? Instead, Williams asked her what time viewers should tune in Tuesday night to see the shape of the election.
Though Williams ceded his NBC anchorship to Lester Holt after his tales of fabulism were revealed, a funny thing has happened. You could argue that on all but two nights of the election year — the first debate, which Holt moderated, and election night itself — Williams has had the more visible job. He is the face of MSNBC, an emissary sent from the network.
Williams still speaks the language of responsible anchorese. After unveiling an electoral map showing Clinton with a solid lead, he intoned, “It should not be predictive as to your vote. It should not be at all a factor in your vote. We want to stress that everyone needs to get out there.”
He also has an anchorman’s nerdy interest in the pageantry of democracy. In a segment called “Inside the Final Hours of a Presidential Campaign,” Williams said: “I was telling somebody today — podiums. Think about podiums! At the presidential level, there’s only so many of those, regionally around the country. They’ve got to get there. Planes, fuel, motel rooms. Somebody’s got to tell the media where you’re going. How does that start?”
A ragpicker could find a few references to Williams’s former, more glorious life. Williams told a panel that every Monday before an election, he has a meeting with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. Last time, he said, the meeting was held while playing dominoes and watching Monday Night Football — a.k.a. after the Nightly News. This year, it was held in Williams’s office. Williams had to work the late shift.
Later, Williams threw it to Jacob Soboroff — a J.J. Abrams–looking correspondent — in Philadelphia. “I called it, foolishly, like a rookie mistake, Downtown Philadelphia,” Williams said, correcting his own mistake. “It is Center City Philadelphia.” That is the mantra of a man who wants to be seen as getting things right.
Watching Williams isn’t heartbreaking, exactly. By pairing with Rachel Maddow and exiling Chris Matthews to a remote bunker, he has made MSNBC’s nightly election coverage a lot more watchable. What’s strange is how he has taken the ceremony and stilted humor of a news anchor and brought them intact to cable. It’s like Al Michaels getting reassigned to a permanent shift on PTI. If Williams is no longer a major anchor, he is still playing one on TV. “Fantastic conversation,” he told his panel at the end of a segment on Monday night. “Continued success.”

The Respectable Glenn Beck

3:30 p.m. PT, November 7

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle caught up with Glenn Beck this week, and found him saying things that were … kinda nice. “Obama made me a better man,” Beck said of the president he once accused of having a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” Beck praised Michelle Obama and Black Lives Matter. “There are things unique to the African-American experience that I cannot relate to,” he admitted.

There are a couple of ways to process this. One (which Schmidle is too smart to believe) is that there’s a “new” Beck. The second is that everyone who comes through the Fox News rendering plant is bound to have a moment of respectability. After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election, Sean Hannity “evolved” on immigration policy, before devolving to his present, Trumpian state. CNN cheered Chris Wallace’s “sterling performance” moderating the third presidential debate. Megyn Kelly has had several moments of new respectability, most recently after her tangles with Roger Ailes and Donald Trump. “Unnerving would-be leaders, blowhards, and didacts from both parties has become Kelly’s specialty,” Vanity Fair purred in a profile.

Such a transformation may indicate the presence of a newshound’s beating heart. (Wallace cut his teeth at NBC and ABC.) It may indicate, in Kelly’s case, a strategic tack just before entering a lucrative free-agency period. (Rupert Murdoch is reportedly offering her more than $20 million a year if she’ll hang around.) In Beck’s case, I’d guess the turnaround follows the same logic as the rise in Obama’s approval ratings, which began right before the primaries. As a lame duck, Obama is no longer much of a threat. There is absolutely no downside in praising now. In fact, by saying a nice thing or two as Obama exits the West Wing, Beck’s case against Hillary Clinton can be prosecuted from a position of profound disappointment. Gee, Beck will ask, as Clinton forays into taxes/immigration/health care, why couldn’t she be more like Obama?

By this afternoon, Beck’s PR had already offered a correction to the Huffington Post’s Nick Baumann: Beck does not, in fact, support Black Lives Matter. Message: I’m not that respectable!

The Moneyball Wars: Politics Edition

12:15 p.m. PT, November 7

Getty Images
Getty Images

If you’re old enough to remember the early 2000s, you remember that sportswriting was briefly cleaved into two factions. On one side: a new generation of data-conversant writers like Rob Neyer. On the other: old baseball writers who’d been haunting the clubhouse for years. Their battles were filed under the shorthand the Moneyball Wars. This week, a similar shooting match is eating political reporting.

On one side: Nate Silver, the majordomo of FiveThirtyEight. On the other: Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post. Over the weekend, Grim published a piece that accused Silver of “unskewing” the polls. Silver gives Hillary Clinton lower odds of winning the election — 68.5 percent as of this writing — than outfits like The New York Times’s The Upshot (which gave Clinton an 84 percent chance) or HuffPo Pollster (98 percent).

Grim’s particular beef was Silver’s “trend line adjustment” of the data, in which Silver compares different polls from the same outfit and then runs a calculation based on the candidate’s “adjusted” numbers. (Read his methodology here.) Grim’s bigger point was that Silver was morphing into a pundit, as Silver admitted he’d done while waving away Trump’s chances in the GOP primaries. “Punditry has been Silver’s go-to move this election cycle,” Grim wrote, “and it hasn’t served him well.” While the particulars may be different, the piece mirrored the angst of liberals who wondered why Silver was giving Trump such a big chance.

Silver fired back on Twitter, accusing Grim of having “no fucking idea” what he was talking about, calling him “unbelievably lazy,” and moaning: “The problem is that we’re doing this in a world where people — like @ryangrim — don’t actually give a shit about evidence and proof.” Silver finds himself getting the kind of noogie usually reserved for the likes of Fox’s Bret Baier. What’s happening?

Leave Grim aside for the moment. First, there’s a pretty strong correlation between how you view Silver and whether he’s bringing you good news. In 2012, Silver’s predictions were challenged by the Joe Morgan of politics, Dean Chambers of Chambers contended that there was a massive, left-leaning “bias” in the polls, and tacked on insults like calling Silver “thin and effeminate … a poster child for the New Castrati.” On election night, Chambers proved to be very wrong.

It seemed to confirm the idea that liberals love data while conservatives embrace magical thinking. After all, it was the Trump campaign cooing to The New York Times this weekend: “You can go to Pennsylvania. … You can feel it in the air there.” (This morning, Silver gave Trump a less than 1-in-4 chance of winning Pennsylvania.) But Silver also met an enormous backlash from Democrats in 2014 when he was accused of understating their odds in the midterms. Silver was right. Without drawing a false equivalence between the parties (see global warming, for example), you might conclude that much of the time partisans believe in data as long as data shows them that they’re winning.

Back in 2008, when Silver was forecasting the Democratic primaries under the nom de Internet “Poblano,” he seemed to be a singular oracle. Silver’s confidence was so high that he once told a pollster he thought was a goofus that he’d bet him $1,000 per state to see who could call the election correctly. According to New York magazine, the pollster dismissed him as a “lady down the street who will read your palm.”

These days, Silver is one oracle among many. If I’m shopping for better odds that Clinton will win, I can ride with the “Other Nate,” Cohn, at The Upshot or HuffPo Pollster. There are probably a handful of people who genuinely prefer those outfits’ methodology to Silver’s. Most of them probably just prefer the odds.

The final reason Silver has come under attack has a parallel to the old wars in sportswriting. Over the weekend, journalists like Jon Ralston documented early voting in states like Nevada. The pictures of massive lines at the Cardenas Market, and accompanying data about the Democrats’ nearly 73,000-ballot lead in Clark County, were great news for the Clinton campaign. But they went unreflected in Silver’s odds: FiveThirtyEight’s model doesn’t account for early voting.

Such heartwarming pictures may prove to be a mirage Silver was wise to ignore. Or just random data points that allow someone who’s already peeved at him to say, “Hey, what about this?” But it also sets up an interesting showdown, as The Atlantic’s James Fallows put it, between the models and the old eye test. It’s a journalistic value as much as an analytical one. Somewhere, there’s a crusty old baseball writer croaking, “See, kid, that’s why you gotta go to the locker room!”

2016 Was the Ratfucking Campaign

November 7, midnight PT

When a historian like Rick Perlstein writes a blow-by-blow of the 2016 election, I bet he’ll devote a substantial portion to dirty tricks, sabotage, and hoaxes — the dark arts known as “ratfucking.” Ratfucking became a term of art during the Nixon years. It has been documented in many elections since then. But it has reached its apotheosis during Donald Trump’s campaign, and, in large part, because of Donald Trump’s campaign.

The great ratfuck of 2016 was the hacking of Team Clinton’s emails, which was almost certainly carried out by Russians trying to tamper with the election. The hack is still generating annoying headlines for Clinton. As Dave Weigel pointed out the other day, it’s mind-blowing that one campaign would have its email opened up for public inspection while another would refuse to release the candidate’s income tax returns.

Alone, the hack would make ’16 a banner year for sabotage. But there was much more. One scam this week told Hillary Clinton voters they could “skip the line” at the polling station and vote for Clinton by text message. It was as if hoaxers took the crudest caricature of a lazy millennial and worked backward. Another bit of junk that surfed Facebook had Clinton canceling her home-stretch rallies in the face of a renewed FBI investigation. (She didn’t, and the renewed investigation came to nothing.)

Ratfucking often traffics in offensive stories the campaigns themselves won’t touch. During the 2000 Republican primaries, John McCain was accused in a robo-call of having an “illegitimate black child”; in 2008, there was supposed to be a Michelle Obama “whitey” tape. (Both stories were false.) Similarly, 2016 saw the revival of an old rumor that Bill Clinton had fathered a black child — one right-wing site, WorldNetDaily, called it the “bombshell that will rock Hillary’s campaign. (It didn’t.) Another rumor had Hillary Clinton telling Seventeen magazine back in 1995 that she’d be “disappointed” if Chelsea were to marry a black man. (Seventeen told the rumor-snuffing site Snopes that the story was, of course, a hoax.)

Right-wing muckraker James O’Keefe was back with a hidden-camera investigation last month. It revealed a Democratic operative, according to The Washington Post, “telling hidden-camera-toting journalists about how they have disrupted Republican events.” On that same note: Last week, CNN’s Brian Stelter reported on a phony story, purporting to be from ABC News, headlined “Donald Trump Protester Speaks Out: ‘I Was Paid $3,500 to Protest Trump’s Rally.’” The story was fake, but Eric Trump tweeted it.

There is surely more to come on election night, as pranksters and partisans try to spread false information at a moment when the public will be desperate for it. As one of the editors at Snopes told Politico, “It’s going to be a shit show.”

Why was 2016 so susceptible to ratfucking? Well, it’s no surprise the Trump campaign would attract misinformation artists. Not only is Trump a big league liar himself; he has advisers like Roger Stone, a former Nixon aide and self-described dabbler in the “black arts.” A Trump speech is essentially its own kind of ratfuck. On Friday night, he told his supporters that Obama had been “screaming” at a protester from the stage earlier that day. In fact, Obama had done the opposite, encouraging supporters to treat the protester with respect.

On other occasions, Trump has warned against a “rigged” election and said he might not accept the result. This gins up anger and confusion — even though it’s merely the (ludicrous) suggestion of dirty tricks. In fact, it’s Trump that has encouraged the Russians to do more hacking.

The second reason ratfuckers have had a great run is that it’s easier than ever to become one. The old victims of the trade were voters who had fliers placed on their car windshields or newspapers that got a phony letter to the editor. Now, a hoax site with a name like can reach anyone on Facebook. Robert Satiacum, the Democratic elector in Washington state who has said he won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, was found bathing himself in Facebook-friendly news.

Finally, ratfucking has been aided by the erosion of the mainstream media. Facebook “has centralized online news consumption in an unprecedented way,” The New York Times Magazine reported. Where Times editors and network news producers were once the gatekeepers of the news, it’s now that guy you remember from high school.

In a fascinating piece in BuzzFeed, Craig Silverman and Lawrence Alexander report that much of the fake Trump news filling your feed is produced by teenagers in Macedonia. The teens don’t actually want Trump to win, and don’t have any real interest in sowing chaos in America. They simply want hits. As the authors wrote, the trolls “learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.”

It’s the perfect coda for the 2016 campaign. A non-negligible portion of the electorate is so eager to see Hillary Clinton defeated that they are susceptible, or even eager, to be fooled by fake news. Their right-wing savior has turned into a Nigerian prince.