The final counting: As Pa. goes . . . ?

Nov 7, 2016

On the weekend before Election Day, final thoughts from Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney.


Novak: I have to begin by amending my previous statement that we know how this story is going to end. We don’t! Things have changed in terms of momentum and perceptions. There is a scenario where Donald Trump could win. In this past week, Trump’s campaign and his message were confident. Watching Hillary Clinton, she was almost exclusively attacking Trump. For her to be giving speeches at this point in the campaign about why people shouldn’t vote for Trump, as opposed to why they should vote for her, tells me she is on the defensive. That’s not a great place to be right before an election.

Rooney: Oh, the satisfaction that Trump is finally making Republican dreams come true! I am not here to analyze the social dynamics of this election, but what has struck me throughout this campaign is how normal, rational people who typically get along can look at this train wreck and see two completely different realities. Alan is my friend and I couldn’t disagree with what he said more. When I see Trump, I don’t see someone who is capable of being president. I see someone who literally scares me in terms of what he’s capable of doing. Yet, people of good conscience see this so differently. I am sure Clinton wishes that FBI Director James Comey didn’t break with decades of precedent and cast further doubt on her 12 days before an election, but I do think that this election still sets up extraordinarily well for Clinton. Pennsylvania is more reflective of the nation than it’s not, and she is going to win a decisive victory here.
Novak: Within my own family there is tremendous division over this election where there hasn’t been in the past. There are just so many “what-ifs.” T.J.’s “what-if” is the real question about whether Trump is capable of being president. Then there is the “what-if” in the trust problem that has hung over Clinton from the beginning. To do what the Clintons did with the private server, how they used the State Department, and that private conversation between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, I am sure they would do it differently if they could do it over again. But it’s out there and it’s open to speculation without limits. Nobody believes Clinton and Lynch were talking about family and golf. Nobody. We are at a point now where the only action that can disqualify Clinton is the voters. The most recent polling shows Trump with almost a double-digit lead over Clinton in trust. That could be it. Late momentum is good momentum and right now Trump has it.

Rooney: Part of the reason the trust number is down and part of what boils over in our public discourse, at rallies and other places, is this incredible frustration. I choose to believe as a nation we have more in common than what divides us. Yet, here we are, looking at the same set of circumstances and coming to two diametrically, completely polar opposite conclusions. Alan, I respectfully disagree with you when you said that nobody thinks that Clinton met with Lynch and didn’t talk about the things they said they talked about. I do believe that they talked about golf and family!

What people have a hard time with is the double standard. This goes for both Democrats and Republicans. I know a lot of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who believe profoundly in the rule of law, meaning that, if there is an accusation, the prosecutor or the agency with jurisdiction has a duty to look into it and determine if there is enough evidence to prosecute a crime. The frustration for a lot of people is that Clinton has been tried and convicted of crimes in the court of public opinion that have already been investigated in the appropriate legal jurisdictions, yet it is never a good enough answer for some. You know even on his deathbed, Trump is incapable of representing the truth. The things that he says about Clinton, even when he is delivering what is considered to be a good speech, are oftentimes completely, unabashedly untrue.

The problem is where do we go from here? We are not all just going to wake up on Nov. 9 and forget what has happened. All of these lingering ill feelings impose a problem.

Novak: I am with you on this. You would hope there would be lessons learned regardless of the outcome. Maybe the lesson learned is you can’t out-game the system without at some point the system coming back to bite you.

At the very beginning of the primary season, my wife and I were in Virginia Beach having lunch at a little bar. We were sitting next to a couple who said they didn’t know who they were for, but that it was time for some people who had been on the stage for a long time to leave. They didn’t want a Bush or a Clinton. Well, they got the no-more-Bush part of it, but they didn’t get to the no more Clintons. Remembering that made me think about how so many people around the Clintons end up damaged or have compromised reputations. Somehow they survive, but the people who work for them, or try to stop them, don’t. It’s the weirdest Survivor game ever, but now I think about that couple from Virginia and I think voters just want something new that gets past the rancor and polarization and gets the country back to governing again.

Rooney: One thing is certain. Once the election is over, everybody’s voice doesn’t get shut off. What about a Clinton win? It’s not a license to disregard everybody else who shares a different perspective. If the Republicans maintain control in the House of Representatives, it’s not good enough to say that Democrat voices don’t matter and don’t count. We have to change how we govern and both sides have to give. It gets to the notion that we have to get stuff done. The fighting gets old. I am always the happy optimist, but we are going to need a lot of attitude adjustments in order for us to get to that place.

Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney are principals of RooneyNovak Group Bipartisan Solutions and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and debate policy. Contact them at and

Note: This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer Currents section on November 6, 2016.

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