One of the hardest things to do in our lives is to let go of what we want to happen or think should happen, in order to see clearly what is happening.
So many times in my own life, and in the lives of many of my friends, I found it to be very difficult to hold simultaneously the paradox of my idealism about what was in front of me and looking clearly as a realist of what was actually going on. It is why we get into, or stay in, dysfunctional relationships far too long. We so badly want to believe how a person should be or what we want them to be that we can't look through the fog of our optimistic (or denial) heart.
We suffer long through endeavors and people we shouldn't because the idea of accepting that our initial judgment might have been wrong and based on what we wanted it to be as opposed to what is intolerable. It is easier for us to make judgments in our lives based on what we think someone should be or how we want something to turn out, then it is to lay the shoulds and wants temporarily down to be able to see with clear eyes what is happening directly in front of us. It is why the first step in every addiction program is to admit the truth.
And this same misadventure occurs often in politics, especially among the media and campaign operatives who have a strong story line of what they would like to happen or what they think should happen. We might not like a certain candidate, so we judge everything as problematic or damaging to them, when that actually may not be what is occurring. We like or want a certain candidate to win, so we judge events through that prism and we misread problems ahead. In psychological parlance this is called denial, or as I prefer to confuse our wants with what is. This is exactly why many GOP pundits (and Romney staffers) predicted a Mitt Romney victory in 2012 when all available data pointed to a big victory for President Obama. They wanted Romney to win, so they couldn't see the data right in front of them. The same was true in 2004 when Democrats convinced themselves Kerry would win when all data showed a Bush victory ahead by Election Day.
So many observers of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and others have operated from this should vantage point. The GOP establishment has taken far too long to get to the point where they can even begin accepting that Trump may be the nominee, because they couldn't read the signs as their "should" got in the way. Democrats supporting Hillary have also been in denial not accepting her vulnerability and the warning signals along the way because they so badly want everything to be alright. And with Jeb, people so bought into the money he raised as significant and thought he was dominant that they had a hard time seeing this story line was a bit of a myth.
The media is complicit in all this as well. They start from an assumption that what has always happened will keep happening, that money still matters a huge amount, that policy positions decide elections, that people vote with their head not their heart, and that in the end each party will nominate the heir apparent in the process. They neglected to see that right in front of them was an electorate who desired disruption from the status quo, and wanted something very different from the duopoly partisan situation as is.
My fear is that even the advent of Trump will soon fall into a misreading of what is going on in America by the media and operatives from both sides of the aisle. Because they want the rules of engagement in politics to be right that the media have always discussed in the last 25 years, they will misread the lessons of either a Trump loss or a Trump victory. These pundits will look at either result from a prism of what their original story was, and not for what actually just happened.
If Trump were to win they will say it was because of latent racism in the country, or that Jeb ran a bad campaign, or that people really liked name calling and mean spiritedness, or that the establishment was too divided. Yes, some of these will be part of reality, but all of these come from a lens of how the media already had bought into this. When in reality a Trump victory in GOP primaries (highly possible, not highly probable) will mean he was the only "big" strong voice in the race speaking to people's hopes, fears and frustrations, and made voters feel like America could again be the shining city on a hill.
And if Trump is to lose it won't be because of racism, or that he didn't have endorsements of elected officials or staff in certain states, or he wasn't conservative enough on policy positions. As I have said tactics matter little in presidential races, and folks aren't supporting Trump because of policy, they want him because of persona. And the biggest worries of Trump supporters today is "is his ego just too big" and "he may say something really bad." So what will beat Trump is that voters begin to see confidence as narcissism and that he is only in this race for himself -- running as an extension of his ego.
Regardless of the outcome going forward, the status quo is forever changed and if we set down our "shoulds" and wants we will begin to see that truth. And then make the right decisions going forward on what to do and what Americans really want. And as we need in our own lives, we need leaders who can blend a combination of idealism and realism. Who hold a positive optimistic hopeful unifying values driven vision in their hearts but approach our country and the world stage seeing clearly and realistically what is going on. That combination in our personal lives will make us great, and in politics make us great again as a country. I am still waiting for that leader to emerge in this campaign.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.