Archive for October, 2016

Can Trump Still Win?

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The coronation of Hillary Clinton may be premature, despite the fact she won all three debates and has run a much better campaign than that of Donald Trump.

But first – why people are ready to call the election:  Clinton’s polling in swing states is very strong.  She not only leads by a significant amount in enough states to give her 270 electoral votes and the election, but she leads in many others, and has a fighting chance in Arizona, Georgia and even Texas.   This suggests that the battle is being fought on Trump territory, which is never good for a candidate late in an election cycle.

Given the polls, the fact Clinton has a lot more money for a late ad blitz, and she has a much better get out the vote operation, it’s possible that this could even be a Democratic wave, sweeping in a majority in the Senate and threatening Republican control of the House.

Or maybe not.

Politico has a story that quotes Republican operatives as believing there is a “secret Trump vote” out there, as people don’t want to admit to pollsters that they’re voting for the controversial media baron.  That is unlikely, however there are reasons to give such a theory credence:

  1.  The polls that are most kind to Trump are on line or automated polls – polls where one does not have to admit to a live person that they are voting Trump;
  2. The Demographics of the rust belt swing states – Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – are similar.  If there is an error in one, it probably affects them all since pollsters use similar methods.  In other words, if the polling errors were idiosyncratic to each state, the odds of them being wrong in all three (or others) would be high.  But really, if there is an error, it’ll impact all states.
  3. This is an odd election.  Trump was predicted to be all but dead long ago.  He keeps coming back like an Energizer Bunny.  So predictions of his demise are risky, even given current polling; and finally
  4. The race is tightening.  How much is a matter of question.  Nate Silver’s website, fivethirtyeight.com, currently gives Clinton an 81.2% chance of winning.  Earlier this week it hit 88% (this is in the polls only model).   She still has the odds on her side, but her strength is eroding.   Trump having a 1 in 4 shot of winning is not good odds – but if you were given a one in four shot to win the lottery, you’d snatch it up!
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This report of Trump’s demise is from February 2016. It turned out to be at the very least premature.

If Trump loses, it’s on him.  If he had come in to the first debate prepared and Presidential, he might have convinced a lot of moderates and educated women to vote for him.  If he hadn’t convened a forum of Bill Clinton’s former accusers and gone on an aggressive defensive attack of his own accusers, he could have handled the controversy with more grace.  He would likely be in a position to win, perhaps easily.  Moreover, his lack of a ground game and poor organization also are likely to cost him.  So if the polls are right, Trump has only himself to blame for the potential loss.

Trump is comparing the polls to the Brexit vote.   Those polls showed the race neck and neck going into the final phase, with the “stay” vote slightly in the lead.  The “Go” side won by four points.   A four point polling error here would definitely make it a very competitive race.   For team Clinton, the next eleven days promise to be the longest 11 day stretch of their lives.

I still predict a Clinton win – the polls are rarely so far off, Clinton does have a state of the art ground game, and the Trump campaign seems inept.   Moreover, Trump’s claims could be much like the “skewed polls” claim of 2012 – a desperate attempt to convince supporters there is still a chance.   Every political science indicator I can imagine points to a Clinton win.

But this year is an election cycle like no other.   We could be shocked by a Trump victory, or amazed by a Democratic take over of the House.  Most likely is a Clinton victory, Democratic take over of the Senate, and GOP hold of the House.  But in 2016 anything can happen.   Hold on, it’s going to be a wild ride.

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Hillary’s Fading Chances

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Just over three weeks before the election, Kasich and Rubio have a 77% chance of winning, according to Nate Silver’s analysis

(Thinks to an unexpected rift in the space-time continuum I was able to access this blog entry from an alternate universe.)

Just over three weeks until the election renewed Wikileaks e-mail dumps and on going concern about Hillary Clinton’s past have catapulted  John Kasich into a small, but potentially durable lead in the polls.   .

For Hillary supporters, there is still hope.  “We have the best campaign organization,” said John Podesta, “We have financial resources, and the Secretary is the most qualified candidate for President in recent history.  We believe that the final debate will help us convince the American people to entrust President Obama’s legacy to her.”

“The country is tired of the Clintons, just as they are tired of the Bush name,” said one Democratic operator who asked that I not use her name.

Last April it looked like the bombastic Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, but concerned party leaders staged a coordinated effort to stymie Trump’s campaign, and in a divided convention, Kasich won in the most dramatic convention floor battle since 1976.

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When the Republican establishment united against Trump he warned that the party would collapse. That isn’t happening.

Kasich was upbeat about his chances on Meet the Press, noting that his, “we need to work together” campaign was winning over many Democrats and that he would be committed to “cooperative problem solving” with Congress should he win.   Marco Rubio’s outreach to Latino communities benefits from his thorough repudiation of Trump last year just when it looked like the controversial business man might grab the nomination.  “We are the party of diversity for the 21st Century,” Rubio said.  Experts expect Republicans to make inroads with black voters this year.

To be sure, some angry Trump supporters still haven’t forgiven the “establishment,” saying that Kasich is just another insider.   “We had the one man who could shake things up, and the establishment torpedoed him.  I’ll never vote for Kay-Sick,” one former Trump supporter spat.

But many have come around, like former Trump campaign worker Dorothy Snugglebutz.  “I am not happy, but Kasich is the lesser of two evils.  I’ll never forgive Rubio’s betrayal of Donald, however.  But if it’s Kasich or Hillary, the answer is clear.”

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As a weary Hillary Clinton fights the last weeks of what could be her final campaign; the oval office remains elusive.

Clinton bested Vermont independent Bernie Sanders is the primaries, and though he is campaigning for Clinton, his eyes are on 2018 and 2020.   “We started a movement,” he said, “the movement will grow regardless of who is elected President.”

Time is running out for Clinton.  Kasich has already formed the nucleus of a transition team, which will be run by former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice.

“The public wants change,” Political Science guru Jim Melcher from the University of Maine at Farmington stated.  “The Republicans have kept the heat on Clinton and she’s not been able to control the narrative.  Still, the election isn’t over yet.”

Republican National Commission Chair Reince Preibus remains upbeat.   “Can you imagine where we’d be if Donald Trump were the nominee” Priebus mused, recalling Trump’s angry and at times incoherent behavior at the Republican national convention.  “It could have been an utter disaster, he was out of control!  But the party was up to the challenge and now control of both the Presidency and Congress are in reach.”

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A Very Disturbing Election

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When I teach Comparative Politics I point out that democracies are hard to create, and very difficult to maintain.   Without a strong civil society and a culture supportive of democracy, systems fail.  A culture of democracy requires people to recognize that disagreement is good and to listen to other opinions.  You cannot see opponents as evil, but an ‘essential opposition.’  It needs to be OK to lose an election, respecting the institutions and rule of law as more important than political power.

This current election campaign reflects a democracy in trouble.    Many Trump supporters see themselves as part of a movement, with the “left” and “Hitllary” being not just the opponent, but evil.  Trump even called the Democrats “devils,” and said Hillary should be in jail.  In fact, prosecuting and jailing his opponent is one of his most popular lines.

What’s happening?   It started seeming like a joke.  Donald Trump running for President?   Trump has been around for decades, Bloom County made fun of him in the 80s (famously having Trump’s brain placed in Bill the Cat’s body).  He was always the same – a narcissistic con man whose businesses spiraled into bankruptcy while he managed to extricate himself in order to run another con.  His last memorable act on the political stage was to claim he had hired an investigator who found “shocking things” proving Obama was born in Kenya.

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Trump supporters see him as a savior to an America gone astray.

The latest controversy – Trump saying yet another thing proving he disrespects women and is at heart a narcissistic bully – isn’t especially telling.  His response to the uproar is.  As always he doubles down, goes on the attack, and shows no remorse.

Back in September before the first debate he was drawing even with Hillary in the polls.  He had won over the right wing nationalist crowd, and now to get into the oval office he had one task – keep the Republican party united, and show himself to be Presidential.  He had a couple good weeks, taking the media focus off him and allowing negative stories of Hillary to spread.

He knew that debate one would be watched by 100 million people and probably be the biggest event of the campaign.  He could have prepared well, determined to show the country a man they could trust as President.  If he had pulled that off, this campaign would be in very different territory, and the pussy tape would not have done as much harm.

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Clinton ended Trump’s momentum and surged in the polls following her resounding victory in debate one.

He couldn’t.  He refused to take time to prepare, preferring to hold as many rallies as possible.  He was undisciplined, off message and had the worst Presidential debate in history.  There have been gaffes and poor performances before, but given the stakes, it was amazing to see Trump so ill prepared.

The next four weeks will be less like a traditional campaign and more like World Wide Wrestling.  Trump’s attacks on Bill Clinton are pure ego on his part.   When those scandals were fresh they couldn’t stop Bill from elected elected twice as President, and the public didn’t find his accusers especially convincing.   To use him against Hillary?  There are no new votes in that territory, he’s simply trying to make himself look better by saying, “hey, he’s bad too.”

The election is disturbing because it is what it is.  Someone like Trump should not even be close to winning.

Trump is not a real Republican.  He’s a con man.  Many Americans are fearful about the way the world is changing.   The change isn’t Obama’s or Bush’s fault, or Bush’s fault.  Globalization and the information revolution are reshaping society and rendering old political and social structures obsolete.  People sense that what we have isn’t working; out of fear they look to find someone who can set it right – a strong leader who can “fix things.”   In Political Science we call that “Bonapartism” – after Napoleon who rose as such leader in the wake of the French revolution.

It’s also the strategy Adolf Hitler used to grab power in Germany during the Great depression.  Not every Bonapartist is a Hitler – I don’t think Trump has a real agenda, he’s just a narcissist – buta threat to democracy, especially when the emotions of the movement push people to see politics as good vs. evil, demonizing the other side.   That concern is why so many Republicans are refusing to support Trump.

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Jill Stein (Greens) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian) tried to offer an alternative, but the partisan electoral system makes such a challenge quixotic.

This brings to the forefront very ugly aspects of American culture – showing the real extent of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that remains hidden as many people self-censor, not wanting to show others their inner hates and fears.  By being bombastically open about them, Trump says it’s OK – and the result is a torrent of hateful speech and actions.

It also shows that our democracy, while resilient, isn’t magic.  It can fail. If politics remain more reality show than thoughtful process, if we continue to yell more than listen, then our Republic will fray at the edges and be vulnerable when the next crisis comes.

There is no easy way out.  We are living in one of the most important and consequential times in history (which is why I started this blog eight years ago).  The pace of change will only increase, the pressure on economic, political and social structures will grow.  If we can’t find a way to work together to make meaningful reform, the future could be bleak. .

This is not just a bizarre election, it’s an omen – a warning shot.  Yes, defeat Trump – I think the American people are up to that.  But if we don’t fix the larger problems, it’s just the first act of a democracy in crisis.

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