John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Confirmation Bias

Posted on December 19, 2017


According to Wikipedia: “Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.”

Donald Trump’s election and subsequent first year in office have been one huge laboratory experiment in the science of confirmation bias.

It is easy to look through the prism of American politics and see who supported Trump during the campaign and those who thought he was evil incarnate.

Those who hate Trump still hate Trump, even when he enacts policies that they would have supported in previous years. This is especially the case with the so-called Never Trumpers, those Republicans who bet the House that Trump was going to lose and did everything in their power to make sure that happened.

Bill Kristol is the most vocal of those Trump critics. He likened the Republican tax cut, a plan he surely would have supported had it been introduced by his pal Sarah Palin, to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. He acknowledged on Twitter that his positions are changing rapidly in the Trump era: “The GOP tax bill’s bringing out my inner socialist. The sex scandals are bringing out my inner feminist. Donald Trump and Roy Moore are bringing out my inner liberal,” Kristol tweeted, adding, “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”

What is happening is confirmation bias, in extremis.

Kristol is not the only one.

Jennifer Rubin, who once wrote “of course, Jerusalem is the capital. It was declared so in 1948. The Knesset is there,” in 2012 when praising Mitt Romney’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy there, changed her mind rather dramatically when Trump fulfilled Romney’s promise.

In a recent article she quoted Robert Kagan, the noted neo-conservative and bitter critic of the President: “My Post colleague Robert Kagan, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, agrees that ‘this isn’t foreign policy.’ He says, ‘It’s pandering. ’ ”

Rubin too suffers from confirmation bias.  Her hatred of Trump has led to a similar hatred of the Republican Party she used to defend with regularity before Trump came aboard.

In a recent article she penned for The Washington Post, titled “The GOP can’t be rebranded.  Let’s junk it,” she concluded, “In short, the GOP, I think, is kaput.”

This is the political party that controls the House, Senate, the White House and the vast majority of governorships and state legislative bodies. She wants it ended, not mended.

George Will agrees with Rubin. He left the party after it became clear that the Trump juggernaut was unstoppable in the summer of 2016. He told ABC News that he hoped that Trump would lose in a landslide so the party could be remade in an image that he found more palatable. Of course, that didn’t end up happening.

Will recently called Trump the worst president in history for his endorsement of a losing candidate in Alabama.

But I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, given his confirmation bias.

I acknowledge that I, too, suffer from confirmation bias.  I went out on a limb and endorsed candidate Trump before most others in the establishment could or would.

I liked the fact that he was going to shake up the political class. I like his pro-business approach to government regulations. Of course, I had some real problems with some of the things he has said or tweeted, and he hasn’t made things easy for any of his supporters.

But I definitely preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton. And now that he is president, I want him to be successful because his success means America’s success.

I want a growing American economy. I want higher wages for the working class. I want a fixed immigration system. I want a pro-growth tax code. I want fewer government regulations. I want a more conservative judiciary. I wanted Islamic State in Syria and Iraq destroyed. (Is it too early to say mission accomplished?) I want a more robust American foreign policy, where we are on offense, not apologizing for everything.

I don’t have an inner socialist just trying to be free. But that is just my confirmation bias talking.

Feehery is partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).