The FBI letter is probably too little too late

The presidential race will likely tighten as we approach Election Day. Trump is coming out of a terrible stretch of losing debates and the release of rapey videos, so a natural regression back to the pre-debates state of the race was inevitable. The FBI letter to Congress reopening an investigation into State Department emails handled through Hillary Clinton’s private server will definitely expedite that regression.

It’s really hard to know what is happening when polls predictably fluctuate depending on the daily news cycle, but most likely these differences represent long-time Republican and Democratic voters being more or less enthusiastic about voting depending on how embarrassing Donald Trump’s behavior is or how untrustworthy Clinton appears to be. Pollsters try to gauge likelihood of voting along with candidate support, and enthusiasm is known to fluctuate more easily than the voter’s party ID.

It’s been clear for some time that Trump cannot win as many votes as Romney or McCain (~60 million votes each). There are simply too many Republicans with college degrees to earn all of their support again, and too few Democrats without college degrees that he hasn’t racially or sexually offended. The Trump Gambit is to reduce turnout across the board, and hope his hardcore supporters carry him over the top with something closer to 55 million votes.

If that sounds like a Hail Mary, that’s because it is, and the FBI letter won’t fundamentally change the state of the race. Clinton’s emails have become a post-cognitive battle cry like the word Benghazi, which holds more emotion than reasoned criticism. Ask Trump supporters what Clinton actually did with her email account while head of the State Department, and why it was careless. Most have no idea, or at least have no ability to articulate their concerns. Unfortunately for Trump and for anyone else who is legitimately concerned about handling of classified information, his own over-the-top rhetoric about the emails has inoculated the electorate from any news regarding Clinton’s emails.

However, the coverage will affect the race. This week was going to be the Feel Good First Woman President Week for the Clinton Campaign. There has been surprisingly little emphasis, especially in comparison to Obama 8 years ago, to the historic nature of this campaign in the context of women’s rights. Most women couldn’t even vote 100 years ago. Clinton was prepared to ignore Trump for the next week and a half, and focus on the feel goods, try and build a mandate to govern, and turn the country blue.

Not anymore. Now she’s back in the trenches deflecting and counter attacking. Whatever ammo they have left on Trump will come Tuesday, just in time to fill the rest of the week’s coverage with a Trumped-up scandal, which Donald will make even worse as he always manages to do. Or there’s nothing left in Clinton’s arsenal, in which case it’s going to be a long 10 days for Democrats, watching the polls.

So, Trump is losing big league (bigly?), but what would a Trump comeback look like?

Trump hasn’t led a single day in our Election Model, so it’s not even clear in which states he has the most elasticity. In fact, a lack of elasticity is Trump’s central problem; he’s never had a campaign that appealed to a majority of voters. Trump has been trailing badly since the conventions, which became the turning point in the election as he insulted a Gold Star family and seemed to attack their faith. Since then, Trump has not risen above a 12% chance of winning, and has spent most of the last few months in the single digits. SAD!

If Trump goes into Election Day with a 1 or 2 % chance of victory, it will likely be an early night, but of course that does mean there is a way, albeit tight, that he could squeeze out an electoral win. Here is his path:

Trump has to win all the Romney States.

It’s actually hard to believe that this is going to be difficult for Trump, but it is. He’s currently losing in North Carolina and Arizona, and he might lose Utah to a third party candidate. These states probably won’t determine the winner of the election, but not having them locked up months ago means Trump has to play defense and spend resources outside of the “tipping point” states.

Trump has to hold his small leads in Iowa and Ohio without significant campaigning.

He simply doesn’t have time to camp out in the states; he has other problems to worry about. What makes life even worse for Trump is that forces are conspiring against him in Ohio. There’s a senate race in Ohio this year that Democrats at one point thought they might compete for, but soon after the conventions it became clear that Rob Portman would likely win reelection. The Democrats saw an opportunity to pull out of Ohio, so that the RNC wouldn’t have to get out the vote for Portman. Of course, they’ll have to get out the vote for Trump, right? Well, several RNC officials have hinted that may or may not happen, and there was an open revolt with the Ohio GOP after the “Grab them by the P*ssy” video came out. If Trump is stabbed in the back on Election Day, it will happen in Ohio as red doors across the southern plains of the Buckeye State go conspicuously unknocked.

Finally, he has to steal Florida, Nevada, and a state to be named later.

Ok, despite the significant increase in registered Bad Hombres in both Florida and Nevada since 2012, let’s just say Trump wins both of the states. He still has to win somewhere else, and there are no good options. Maybe New Hampshire? That would lock the Electoral College at 269 a piece, and likely send the election to the House of Representatives and the country into something not unlike a civil war. Pennsylvania? Colorado? It’s pretty remarkable how much Virginia swinging blue over the last decade has completely changed the map for Republicans. Winning the Medicare vote in Ohio and Florida just isn’t enough anymore. Don’t get me wrong, those states are still important and competitive, but now they’re must win states for only Republicans, not Democrats.

Will he do it? Unlikely, but possible. It would require a host of things going wrong for Clinton between now and Election Day, as well as a systematic error in polling across a panoply of firms with extremely diverse polling methods. But possible.

From the day Donald Trump announced he was running for President I’ve wondered how he would try and wiggle out of being labeled a loser when the day came that he lost. He’s not one to walk away with his tail between his legs. He’s the kind of person that if thrown to the dungeons would conspire with the mice against the cat rather than not conspire at all. So, pre-arguments of a rigged election, while asking his supporters to poll watch and perform their own unscientific exit polls (those are almost guaranteed to make my election night) are not surprising, but have made the end of the election an unrecognizable spectacle. Elections are usually about two or more different but positive visions for the country. They’re supposed to appeal to the better angels of our nature, inspire us to work together to improve our society. To ask what we together can do, not what everyone else can do for you. To prove to the world that men and women are capable of governing themselves.

Not T-shirts that say “Trump That Bitch.” Or a candidate that threatens to jail his opponent when he wins. Maybe that’s all this ever was, Trump’s greatest reality TV show, where all of us were forced to wake up to his self-absorbed narci-cast every single morning. I don’t think he knows; I certainly never will. I don’t know anyone who loves politics more than I do, and this election will be written about for as long as the country survives, but I for one am ready to forget it forever.

The race will hold until the debates

In 2004 the GOP convention in late August completely halted John Kerry’s momentum and sowed the seed that would eventually carry the election for George W. Bush: most Americans just wanted someone they could trust. It’s probably too early to write the history of the 2016 conventions, but the turbulent and bombastic RNC was completely overshadowed by the Democratic lineup of speakers, including two presidents, a vice president, and a popular first lady. All living former Republican presidential nominees were conspicuously absent from Trump’s convention, and one of them (Romney) is actively campaigning against him.

Conventions are all about unity, and the bounces in the polls that conventions elicit are closely associated with party identification. Meaning, more party members support the nominee than before, and more independent-leaners formally associate themselves with the party. Clinton’s bounce from the convention is substantial. It erased Trump’s 3-5% bounce and increased pre-convention lead by about 4%. Not all of that came from a well-run DNC, and some of the Clinton bounce came from Trump having the worst week of any presidential Nominee in over 40 years.

The Olympic games will probably act to temporarily harden Clinton’s current 7-point lead, as politics falls from the radar of most Americans. The Olympics plays directly counter to the Trump narrative, since it’s a concrete example that America, diverse in makeup and background, in fact does still win. A lot. Additionally, Clinton leads Trump on handling foreign policy, and anything that reminds people that the world is diverse and complex, and that America is the superpower, will make Trump appear ridiculous, small, and most dreaded of all, weak! Going into Labor Day, Americans’ opinion of the country will be higher and Clinton will look unbeatable.

She is not.

The biggest obstacle will be a press that feels she is not being properly vetted, since they consider her opponent a buffoon. Come the fall she will occupy a very dangerous space in politics: the choice few people want, but seemingly the only qualified candidate.

It’s dangerous because Trump will likely win the first debate. Trump is already playing the expectations game by driving the perception that he may skip the debates on grounds they conflict with his football watching schedule. Rumors are spreading that Trump is afraid to debate someone as knowledgeable as Clinton, and if he does will be shown to have no grasp of the issues. Democrats, journalists, and Trump himself are setting the bar so low for the candidate, the mere fact that he will know his name and 2 or 3 prepackaged statistics will make him look like Super Trump, and he will be declared the overwhelming winner. In fact, it’s very likely that Trump will purposely try to appear more calm and cordial than Clinton, even if less knowledgeable.

The real question is how many traditionally Republican voters Trump can bring home to the party. These voters, appalled by Trump, but unable to vote for Hillary, would probably not vote in an election held today. In an election where the winner will likely not receive a majority of the vote, turning out these voters will be key to Trump’s slim chances.

Hillary will lose some Democrats for different reasons. Berners under 30, too young to have made the mistake in 2000, are poised to boldly repeat the errors of the past by voting for the Green Party. They rationalize their #JillNotHill stance and departure from the Democratic Party as a nuanced position favoring someone marginally more progressive on a short list of positions, yet they cannot articulate their desired political outcome by supporting someone they admit will lose. Of course, the reason is because their decision is not a rational one at all, but an emotional one. Secretary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders, and they hate her for that.

It’s becoming likely that Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) will cumulatively win >5% of the vote come November, and the next president will have the support of a plurality of the electorate, itself not even a majority of adults of voting age in the country. On top of that, a Clinton victory by <5% will probably lead to cries of election stealing by Donald Trump, incapable of understanding that most people don’t like him and caring only about the stability of our democratic system insofar as it strokes his malignant ego.

Currently, the Election Model has Clinton with a >98% chance of winning the election. But the model projects error based on previous elections at this point in the race, and no candidate has done as poorly as Trump is doing now in the polling era. One thing we know is that Trump can’t afford to skip all the debates. It’s his only chance.

What we learned from the RNC

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Talking with people about the presidential race often elicits a deep disappointment about today’s politics. This is certainly the case with Clinton and Trump, but it was also true for Romney and Obama four years ago. A typical sentiment voiced is a longing for the presidents of old, such as Jefferson and Lincoln. Of course, in his time Jefferson was seen by many as an academic and hypocritical ideologue, whose handshake was so cold that anyone who grasped it was said to walk away a Federalist.

Lincoln was loathed by a majority of the country. His election, which he won with less than 40% of the vote and for which he was publicly burned in effigy around the country, initiated a four-year civil war. His re-election required throwing disagreeable journalists in prison, allowing only Republicans to vote in some Confederate states, and the new states of Nevada and West Virginia to be brought quickly into the Union for a handful of free electoral votes. After which he was murdered by Americans. This, probably the country’s best president.

These are the stories I tell people when they say there’s no good choice for president. Romney would have been a fine president, as Obama clearly is. They have their separate flaws, and they would have set different courses for the direction of the country. But the electorate was given a choice between two qualified individuals to manage the executive branch. It was a choice of direction, not competency or character.

That is not true this year.

The Republican National Convention was a four day infomercial for why the GOP is not ready to manage the country. The ridiculous episode of plagiarism isn’t the problem, but how poorly it was handled by Trump and his team after it happened: The cover up, the denial, and then the North Korean-style written apology to Mr. Trump by an previously unknown speechwriter the following day. The very public rebuke by Kasich and Cruz underscored that Trump’s immature and petulant personality will prevent him from uniting his party, let alone governing the country. Trump couldn’t even get through his own convention without stating that he would break America’s promise to defend other NATO countries, inducing an immediate rebuttal from Mitch McConnell and led George W. Bush to openly wonder if he’ll be the last Republican president.

This year’s RNC was so fundamentally different in ideology from any since the Progressive Era that it was a surreal thing to watch. Gone is the idea that government needs to get out of the way and that individuals can take care of themselves. Enter the era of Big Trump, where all of your problems, real or perceived, will be solved by a new and stronger Federal Government, led by the only man that can distill your prejudices into policy cloaked in the slogans of false patriotism.

One can and should take issue with Hillary Clinton’s record. Her decision to support the Iraq war, her insistence on the invasion of Libya, and her imprudence in taking large checks from financial institutions before running for president, just to name a few. But she has a record of public service to criticize. She is “the man [sic] in the arena.” And only the most recalcitrant of Republicans would argue that Secretary Clinton has not had a successful career in public life, or that she lacks the temperament to be president.

In Federalist No. 10, Madison argues that the structure of the new constitution will naturally bring about political factions. Madison was speaking mainly of regional factions, rather than today’s ideological ones, but his basic thesis was that these factions would function to produce a majority voice. I doubt he imagined that factions would become so institutionalized that a minority of a party could control the whole.

Party identity is not just influenced by politics, but individual identity. Many Republicans will vote for Trump because he is a Republican, even though they think he is unfit to be president. That is their team, either because of personal history or ancestry. The fact that Trump holds few traditional Republican beliefs is simply unfortunate. It’s the same reason I root for Alex Rodriguez because I’m a Yankees fan, despite the fact that his career is a monument to dishonesty, ego, and greed.

But this is not baseball.

The End Has No End

Bernie Supporters unwilling to back Clinton because of her connections to big banks while falling in love with Alexander Hamilton because of a musical sums up the Democratic Primary right now.

#BigIsBadUnlessItRhymes #ItWasClintonOnTheGrassyKnollAtWeehawken #PresidentForLife? #Democracy?

The Senate Model

Senate16 May 25thAs the primary season wraps up, we are beginning to get our first look at the 2016 Senate races. It may be hard to remember, but most of these seats last came up for election during the Republican / Tea Party wave of 2010. Back when Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck had dueling National Mall rallies to support and oppose sanity. Both Stewart and Beck are off the air, but many of the Senators elected that year are still stalking the hallways of the Capitol. Because so many Republicans won in 2010, the GOP has to defend an impressive 24 seats to 10 seats for the Democrats. To make it worse, many of these races are in typically Democratic states during general election years, such as Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. It is likely that the Democrats will gain seats in the Senate, but it is not clear how many they’ll be able to peal back into the blue column or whether Donald Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket will start a Democratic wave election down ballot.

Currently, there are 46 Democratic Senators. Given the state of the Presidential contest, it looks like Democratic Senate candidates will be competitive in 6 GOP held seats (WI, PA, NH, OH, FL, and IL). Ohio is the biggest stretch for the Democrats, where the incumbent Rob Portman appears to be in a tough reelection fight. It’s not entirely clear whether being picked to be Trump’s VP would help or hurt Portman in Ohio, but I guarantee that he’s been contacted by Trump and is getting a lot of unsolicited and contradictory advice on the matter. Potentially, if the Trump candidacy collapses under the weight of its own hairspray and gold spray-painted facade, McCain in Arizona, Burr in North Carolina, and even Chuck Grassley of Iowa might be vulnerable. However, we’re not in a position to say that yet.

We’ll be updating the Senate Model as polling trickles in over the early summer. The model is a combination of Senate polling and party performance in the Presidential Election Model. Typically, we would put favorable weight on incumbency, since incumbents historically perform well in reelection campaigns, but this year’s turbulent and anti-establishment environment has dissuaded us from putting our thumbs on the scale in that way.