Friday, September 16, 2016

Looks Like She Blew It

Trump up 44.6% to Clinton's 44.5% in TPM's tracking poll together. Electoral college split 254-242 for Clinton, 42 "tossup" (need 270 to win). I tweeted:

Hillary Clinton trailing in TPM tracking poll today. Wasn't her campaign's whole premise inevitable victory? How'd she blow this? Trump?

I also replied to myself:

Maybe because she spent all last month schmoozing with the real "deplorables": rich donors and neocon warmongers?

Was tempted to add something to the effect that maybe Bernie Sanders could rescue her campaign. We saw him with Seth Myers last night and he made a totally coherent, credible pitch for Clinton, based not at all on personal characteristics but on real political issues and commitments made in the Democratic Party platform.

Still, my gut reaction was to swear off politics until November, then vote for Clinton so I could say "don't look at me" when Trump wins. The silver lining is that Clinton losing to Trump is pretty sure to destroy both major political parties, at least in the sense of discrediting their old controllers. Clinton's loss would be the end of her family control of the Democratic Party, creating a huge opening for new leaders to emerge, and those leaders would define themselves by how effective they are in opposing a certainly disastrous Trump regime.

As for the Republicans, the only thing that breathed life into the GOP these past eight years was rage against an administration that they scarcely bothered to understand, instead taking its very existence as some sort of personal affront. With Trump winning they will lose their drive. Rather, they'll be forced to backpeddle and make excuses for an administration that is virtually certain to make one stupid mistake after another, not least temporary "successes" because at this point all Republican agendas are based on defective ideology.

Sure, Trump winning will hurt lots of people -- in the long run I'd even say everyone -- and that's reason enough to vote against him. But if people can't see that now -- and it's really glaringly obvious, isn't it? -- then maybe they'll have to learn the hard way.

Laura retweeted this from Connor Kilpatrick:

Hillary Clinton: the safe bet. Good thing we didn't go with the socialist. Trump might've called him a "commie"!

On the other hand, Trump would have been hard pressed to charge that Sanders is crooked and a liar, which are the charges that are doing the real damage to Clinton -- even though, sure, she's a piker in both respects compared to Trump. Her own aura of culpability -- all those irresponsible innuendos about "shadows" and "questions raised" that major media never seem to get around to disposing of -- evidently makes it that much harder for her to challenge Trump on those same grounds. But Sanders suffers from no such taint, which would have made him a clear contrast to Trump.

I think that if there is any one thing that the American people overwhelmingly agree on -- much, much more than their "representative" politicians do (or more tellingly, are willing to do anything about) -- it's that Washington is a cesspool of corruption. Trump is tapping into that by claiming to be an outsider, a contrast that consummate insiders like the Clintons make easy, even for someone who freely admits to having bought influence (including from the Clintons -- recall the old joke that we know Iraq has WMD because we still have the receipts?) -- which should make him as big a part of the problem as the politicians (but, as with sex, we tend to go easier on those who buy than those who sell).

On the other hand, if Trump had to run against Sanders, sure he'd try to paint him as some far-out wild-eyed radical -- and no doubt Trump's more rabid supporters would add "Commie" to the charges, but red-baiting like that seems to have lost much of its punch (not least from overuse against Obama, although pre-Cold War it was also ineffective against FDR). That isn't to deny that such charges would resonate among the donor class: Trump would have a clear money advantage against Sanders that he doesn't have against Clinton. But turning the contest into a referendum on the 1% vs. the 99% won't necessarily work in the billionaire's favor. (And if Bloomberg entered, as he threatened, wouldn't that just have split the 1% vote?)

I got a response to my initial tweet from Robert Christgau:

Who said inevitable? Said better than the socialist Jew who lost big to HRC w/o one attack ad. Also, blow's your word not TPM's.

First point: "inevitable." Hillary Clinton locked up the Democratic Party donor money so early that no mainstream Democrat dared to run against her. OK, O'Malley, but he started on the assumption that she wouldn't run and tried to pass his lame campaign off as a fallback, in case, you know, she got sick and incapacitated, or got indicted, or ran afoul of those "2nd Amendment People." Sanders, on the other hand, had issues to run on, and wound up totally bypassing the party's donor network. But Biden, for instance, gave up a huge structural advantage -- the last four sitting VP's who ran (Nixon, Humphrey, Bush, Gore[1]) easily won their party's nomination -- rather than oppose Clinton. Maybe this inevitability wasn't explicit -- and, sure, it never extended to a guaranteed win over any Republican -- but before the Sanders campaign kicked in as a real possibility even I was pretty much reconciled to Hillary being the nominee. The clincher for me was reading that she expected to raise more than a billion dollars for the race. Not even the Kochs were promising that much.

I don't know what Bob's second sentence means -- seems like a victim of Twitter compression. I disagree that Sanders "lost big." Clinton won a solid 56% of the votes, a surprisingly lame showing given her initial advantages in recognition, money, and party organization, and over time she had to move notably toward Sanders' positions to stay competitive. As for attack ads, sure, neither candidate waged a scorched earth campaign, with Sanders being especially generous in waving off any concerns about her email controversy. Clearly, neither candidate wanted to split or weaken the party against the Republican nominee, but also both realized that the sort of gross slanders the Republicans use were unlikely to gain any traction among Democratic voters.

Still, I don't see any point about the general election one can draw from this. We don't know whether Sanders would have been buried under a full-throated "red smear" attack, but we do know that Clinton has suffered a great deal from endlessly repeated attacks on her honesty and integrity, and that those issues have made it harder for her to gain from Trump's same (in many ways more blatant) faults. Back during the primaries many Clinton supporters argued that she was more electable than Sanders -- that she had been "vetted," having withstood the very worst the Republicans could do to her -- whereas they feared that Sanders would be ground to dust like Henry Wallace in 1948. All Sanders supporters could counter with were actual polls showing him doing better against most Republicans (but especially Trump) than she would do. All I can say is that she's turned out to be more compromised and more vulnerable than any of us expected.

Sure, "blow" is my word, and true, she's only blown her lead (about 5-6 points at post-convention peak), not the whole race. Even today she might still win, and there's still way too much time left until votes are cast. She's sitting on a lot of money, which has yet to blanket the airwaves, and perhaps more importantly organize that "ground game." The election will ultimately hinge on how many people (and who) show up and vote. Obama excelled at that in 2012, while he let the Democrats flail in 2010 and 2014 -- an instance of selfishness at the top of the ticket that her husband practically invented.

But what's different this time is Americans' Distaste for Both Trump and Clinton Is Record-Breaking. Motivation to vote this year largely hinges on who you detest the most. As the chart shows, back in March/April Trump was significantly more disliked than Clinton (looks like about 54% vs. 37%, the two highest figures going back to 1980). In The race is tightening for a painfully simple reason, Matthew Yglesias notes that her favorable/unfavorable poll split is now 42-56% ("truly, freakishly bad" -- chart here). Sure, Trump's is even worse, 38-59% (chart here), but has been relatively steady while her ratings have dipped, and being the "hate" candidate he's uniquely positioned to take advantage of her disapproval.

Still, steering the campaign toward personal character issues isn't very smart when only 3% of the electorate view you less unfavorably. Of course, they're doing it because they realize how shady and shabby a candidate Trump is, but also because they don't understand how exposed Clinton appears to an electorate that is so sick of and disgusted by Washington's culture of corrupt insider favors. If they keep going down this path they're going to wind up reprising Edwin Edwards' winning campaign slogan when he ran for governor of Louisiana and was fortunate enough to draw KKK honcho David Duke as his opponent: "Elect the crook. It's important."

But there is an alternative, which is to refocus the campaign on left-right economic issues, and appeal to the vast majority's sense of economic justice (and pocketbooks). There's so much mud in the water people will believe whatever they want about character issues, but there's no way to spin Trump's policies into something that helps a popular majority. Still, more important than persuade the occasional Trump fan to switch sides is to convince everyone else that they have much more at stake than stroking Hillary's vanity.

FiveThirtyEight still gives Hillary a 60% chance of winning, wtih slim leads both in popular vote (46.5-44.3%) and electoral votes (289-249). They show Trump having gained the lead in four states that had previously been in the Democratic column: Florida (51.6%), North Carolina (54.6%), Ohio (57.6%), and Iowa (61.8%). Trump would have to hang on to those four, plus pick up Nevada (48.5%) and/or New Hampshire (36.1%) to win. Trump's next closest states are Colorado (34.5%), Pennsylvania (30.6%) and Wisconsin (30.4%). The actual percentage spreads are much closer, with Clinton leading by 3.7% in Wisconsin, 3.4% in Pennsylvania, 2.8% in Colorado, 2.8% in New Hampshire, and 0.3% in Nevada, whereas Trump leads by 0.2% in Florida, 0.7% in North Carolina, 1.3% in Ohio, and 2.2% in Iowa.

It's also worth noting that she runs worse in four-way polls (i.e., the real world) than head-to-head against Trump, which is to say that when restricted to an either-or choice, more people who dislike both see Trump as the lesser evil. Johnson is polling about 9%, and Stein 2.7% -- as Yglesias notes Stein is actually doing better than Nader did in 2000. Clinton has had a problem all year long in that even when she had a big lead she was never able to crack 50% nationwide.

[1] Before Biden, the only sitting VP since 1952 who didn't run for his party's nomination under the circumstances was Cheney, who took a rather perverse pride in his unelectability, and whose favorable ratings as the 2008 election approached were down around 9%, about half of Bush's. (In 1952 Truman VP Alben Barkley briefly ran, but withdrew due to considerations about his age [74] and failing health.) Sure, three of the four lost, but by very close margins. Offhand, I can't recall an open Democratic primary with less than five candidates. This year, the Republicans came up with sixteen -- evidently nearly every billionaire in the party felt entitled to field his own jockey, with Trump somehow gaining extra street cred for running himself. The Democratic Party may be at a disadvantage, but they're not that short of billionaires, but they all made a calculated decision not to cross the Clintons -- even though they saw eight years ago that she could be beat, and should have known that she'd be even more vulnerable this time.

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