Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Election Post-Mortem

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

I have many scattered thoughts on last night’s tumultuous election. Apologies if this is a bit incoherent. I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

I will not back down from my assessment of Trump as terrible candidate and poor human being. Now that he’s elected, I’m willing to give him a chance but I strongly suspect this will end poorly. But before we pull the plug on the American experiment, let’s consider a few points:

  • Elections are not really about “movements” and rarely about history. They are about candidates and parties. Trump will be the winner, but he will likely end up with fewer votes than McCain or Romney did when they lost. So the idea that he is bringing in new “Trump Republicans” or riding some wave of racial resentment is a bit much. The key difference here was that the Democrat turnout was terrible. Clinton drew ten million fewer votes than Obama did in 2008, six million fewer than in 2012. She lost this in the rust belt, not in the South. Clinton’s electoral history now includes winning a gifted Senate seat by 10 points in a state Gore won by 25, losing a gifted Presidential nomination to a half-term Senator with a funny name and almost losing a second to a 73-year-old socialist. Trump was a bad candidate, but Clinton was just as bad. The Democratic turnout tells you that. And the refusal of Democrats to understand this is a big reason they are full of despair today.
  • This was a cry against the establishment and, for all her pretenses, Clinton was absolutely the establishment: in Washington for 25 years, in politics for 40, feted by Wall Street interests, supported by the media and the political experts, extremely wealthy, a supporter of every war since Vietnam and advocating traditional Washington policies (such as a no-fly zone in Syria of all places). You can claim it’s sexism but remember: Jeb Bush lost for the same reasons. With all the establishment at his back and all the money in the world, he was even more soundly thrashed. Because as it turns out, Americans aren’t that fond of political dynasties. I believe that America is perfectly willing to elect a woman. They just weren’t interested in electing this woman.
  • I have no idea how Trump will govern and, frankly, neither does he. The best case scenario is that he’s a figurehead and Pence/Ryan really run the country. The worst case is that he’s serious about ending free trade, abandoning our alliances and making global warming worse. The early tell will be his cabinet appointments. If it’s a bunch of Trump sycophants (and early indications are that it will be), this could be a long four years. While I’m willing to give him a chance, I am very pessimistic and the danger of a real calamity — a World War or a Depression (or both) — is very real. For the first time in my life, I wonder if my kids will have it better than I did.
  • I know a lot of Democrats are depressed right now. And a lot of minorities are outright scared. I guess it’s easy to just write off half the nation as evil racist sexist monsters. But that would be a mistake. The same country that just elected Trump elected Obama. Twice. Instead of retreating even further into epistemic closure, find out why people really voted for Trump. It wasn’t because they hate black people. And it wasn’t because they hate women. Don’t close off. Don’t isolate. Don’t cut off your family members or friends who voted against you. Argue. Persuade.
  • You think Trump voters can’t be reasoned with? Garbage. Much of the Republican base has moved left on gay marriage and marijuana in just the last decade. Trump openly supported gays during the primary. Some of the loudest voices against mass incarceration are on the Right (although Trump may silence them for the time being). A lot of eyes have been opened to racism and sexism in our society, particularly in the last year or two. Trust me. I spend a lot of time on conservative blogs. Your voices are being heard and making a difference. It’s just an awfully awfully big hill to climb.
  • And don’t despair. There’s nothing Trump wants to do that hasn’t been done before. This country has long and ugly histories of protectionism, religious persecution, racial bias, anti-immigrant hysteria and environmental carelessness. We muddled through. The difference is that these policies were pursued by people who actually believed in them and were way more competent than Donald J. Trump. And if you think the country is going backward, look how far forward it has come. Gay marriage is legal and the GOP basically doesn’t care. Legal marijuana is spreading and the GOP is whistling in the dark. Our society … our society outside of politics … is more open and dynamic than it has ever been. 60 million votes can not turn back that tide.
  • Trust me, your conservative friends are not happy about this either. Trump is not a conservative, he’s a dim-bulb populist. At its best, conservatism is about restraint of government power and respect for existing institutions. My conservatism, such as it is, is the conservatism of Milton Friedman. Trump is against free trade, against small government, against civil liberties and for a massive powerful state. With him in charge, there is no conservative party anymore. Oh, the conservatives will try to cling to him. But in the end, they will be sacrificed on the populist altar.
  • We have, for the last decade or more, lived in an Culture of Outrage. We are constantly hearing about how some celebrity, some politician or even some random internet person has said something so ridiculously OUTRAGEOUS that they must be shunned from public life (and yes, conservative are just as eager to indulge in outrage culture as liberals). This anger is sometimes legit. But it has become so ubiquitous, so random and often so out of proportion that the public has become inured to it. As a result, Trump’s long string of outrageous statements stopped mattering. People stopped caring.
  • One question may be why the public ignored a very legitimate complaint about Trump — his terrible behavior with women. A big part of the problem was that the Democrats were, quite possibly, in the worst position to make a big deal out of it. The party that spent decades overlooking Ted Kennedy’s behavior and Chris Dodd’s behavior and Bill Clinton’s behavior, the party that saw Joe Biden’s tendency to get handsy with women as endearing had absolutely no leg to stand on with Republicans and independents. Trump bringing Bill Clinton’s accusers to the fore — derided as a stunt — actually worked. Because it reminded many voters that the Democrats rarely give a damn when their own politicians do everything Trump was accused of. Until you start calling out your own political allies, sexual harassment and abuse by politicians will be tolerated. That was as true this year as it was in 1998.
  • Just a random prediction here: Hillary Clinton will not be “locked up”. Ever. Almost all of the investigations into her behavior will be dropped. There’s no point in it now for Trump.
  • Finally, we should never let politics rule our lives. It has an important place. But regardless of which particular power-hungry idiot is sitting in the Oval Office, we must do what we always do: go to work, raise our kids, teach our students, try to get a little exercise, be kind to each other. We are better than our leaders and more powerful. They rule based on our good will. And if Trump (or anyone else) starts acting the tyrant, we must all fight against him. We must especially fight against him if that tyranny is indeed directed against Muslims or Latinos or whatever other group Trump has decided is the Enemy. If there is one silver lining to this awful election, it is this: maybe, going forward, we can remember our scared power to tell the government to get stuffed, to tell leaders to get bent, to stand up against the power of the state. And maybe we’ll give it a little less power to be abused in the first place.
  • Now is not the time to despair, whether you are a liberal or a conservative. And if you’re a Trump supporter, now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time for all of us to bend our shoulders to the wheel and push harder then ever. A lot of power was just given to Donald Trump. And only the combined and unrelenting pressure from all of us will keep him from abusing it.

    On Polls

    Saturday, November 5th, 2016

    Election season is upon us which means that poll-watching season is upon us. Back in 2012, I wrote a long post about the analysis of the polls. Specifically, I focused on the 2000 election in which Bush led the polls going in, Real Clear Politics projected a Bush landslide and … it ended in a massive recount and a popular-electoral split. I identified the factors that I thought contributed to this:

    In the end, I think it was all of the above: they overestimated Nader’s support, the polls shifted late and RCP had a bit of a bias. But I also think RCP was simply ahead of its time. In 2000, we simply did not have the relentless national and state level polls we have now. And we did not have the kind of information that can tease out the subtle biases and nuances that Nate Silver can.

    Of course, I wrote that on the eve of the 2012 election, where Obama significantly outperformed his polls, easily winning an election that, up until the last minute, looked close.

    The election is now three days away which means that everyone is obsessed with polls. But this year, a split has developed. Sam Wang is projecting a 98% chance of a Clinton win with Clinton pulling in about 312 electoral votes. HuffPo projects a 99% chance of Clinton winning the popular vote. Nate Silver, however, is his usual conservative self, currently giving Clinton only a 64% chance of winning. So who should we side with?

    To me, it’s obvious. I would definitely take Silver on this.

    Put aside everything you know about the candidates, the election and the polls. If someone offered you a 50-to-1 or a 100-to-1 bet on any major party candidate winning the election, would you take it? I certainly would. I would have bet $10 on Mondale in 1984 if it was a potential $1000 payoff. And he lost by 20 points.

    It seems a huge stretch to give 98 or 99% odds to Clinton, considering:

  • Clinton has never touched 50% in the poll aggregates.
  • There are still large numbers of undecideds and third party supporters who will doubtless vote for one of the two candidates (and Trump’s recent surge has come from fleeing Johnson voters).
  • We have fewer live interview polls now than we did in 2012.
  • As Nate Silver noted, the average difference between final polls and the election has been about two points.
  • Basically, I think Wang and HuffPo are not accounting enough for the possibility that the polls are significantly off. In the last 40 years, we’ve had one Presidential election (1980) where the polls were off by a whopping seven points. That’s enough for Trump to win easily (or for Clinton to win in a landslide).

    Moreover, Wang’s and HuffPo’s results seem in contradiction to each other. If Clinton really did have a 98% chance of winning, wouldn’t you think she’d get more than 312 electoral votes? That’s the kind of certainty I would expect with a pending landslide of 400 or 500 electoral votes. A 42-electoral vote margin of errors is *really* small. All you would need is for the polling to be wrong in two big states for Trump to eek out a win (note: there are more than two big battleground states).

    This brings me to another point. Pollsters and Democrats have been talking about Clinton’s “firewall” of supposedly safe states that guarantee a win in the electoral college. But that firewall is a fantasy. When Clinton dipped in the polls in September, suddenly numerous blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan were in play. And, in fact, Silver projects a bigger chance that Trump wins in an electoral-popular split than Clinton because many of his states are safer. The talk about a “firewall” is the result of people becoming drunk on state-level polling. We have 50 states in this country. Statistically, at least one should buck a 98% polling certainty. There are only twenty states that Real Clear Politics rates as “leans” or “tossup”. Statistically, at least a couple of those should buck the polling.

    Here’s another way of thinking about it. There have been 56 elections in American history. If Clinton really were a 98% or 99% favorite, a Trump would be the biggest upset in American electoral history. I find that claim to be absurd. Bigger than Dewey and Truman? Bigger than Polk’s election? Bigger than Kennedy’s? Bigger than Reagan turning a close race into a blowout?

    I should point out that having long tails of probability also means there is a greater chance of a Clinton landslide. That’s possible, I guess. But, admitting to my priors here, I find a Trump upset more likely than a Clinton landslide. Clinton is deeply unpopular with large parts of the country. She’s not popular with young people. Here in State College, Clinton signs and stickers are few and far between. This was not the case in 2008 and 2012, both of which were won handily by Obama. I really don’t see a Clinton landslide materializing, although I’ll cop to it if I’m wrong about that.

    Prediction is hard, especially about the future. I think a basic humility requires us to be open to the idea that we could be badly wrong. And 1-2% is way too small a value to assign to that. I think Clinton has the edge right now. But I would put her odds at more like 2-1 or 4-1. And I will not be shocked if Trump pulls this out.

    Because it may be a cliche. But there’s only poll that counts: the one taken on Tuesday.

    Update: One of my Twitter correspondents makes a good case that the variations in the polls are less reflective of changes in candidate support than in supporter enthusiasm. In the end, the election will come down to turnout — i.e., how likely the “likely” part of “likely voters” is.

    Trump Birtherism and 2012

    Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

    Now that Obama has released his long form birth certificate, will this silence the conspiracy theorists? Of course not. But it may turn the disturbing trend we’ve seen in recent polling data showing up to 47% of GOPers think Obama was not born in his country.

    The usual caveats to those polls apply. Most people are not political junkies and so haven’t followed the birther issue closely. Most Republicans don’t like Obama and so thinking he was born elsewhere is a good way of filing him into that “other” category. And many Democrats embraced the “Bush allowed 9/11” theory.

    But still, 47% is crazy. How did we get to that point?

    We got there because the mainstream GOP was playing footsie with the radical rump of the party. Everyone in the GOP power circles knew Obama was born in the US. But they were more than happy to let the issue fester — and occasionally poke it — because they knew it excited a small but motivated group of voters. They knew that stomping on the birther thing could split off some radicals. But most of all, it was a way to deligitimize Obama in the eyes of the voters. By not embracing but not rejecting birtherism — uttering such non-denials as “I take him at his word” — they kept the issue up, maintaining their ability to portray Obama as someone alien to America.

    And then it suddenly blew up in their faces. A shameless attention-whore reality-TV star came along and grabbed the issue with both hands. (Actually, now that I’m a fan of Maggie McNeil’s blog, I think it’s an insult to whores to compare Donald Trump to them.) Donald Trump didn’t embrace the birth certificate issue because he believed in it. He embraced it because it brought instant media attention. And suddenly the cancer of birtherism exploded all over the GOP. The environment became so toxic that no one who had political ambitions wanted to get in the pool.

    Don’t think so? Why are so many candidates reluctant to throw their hats into the 2012 ring? Even Palin is stalling and taking her time. Why is the presidential field so lackluster so far? Because none of the politicians wanted this on them. None of them wanted to run in a field where birtherism would be an issue and they’d end up at the head of a truly ugly campaign.

    The release of the birth certificate may turn the tide on this. Trump, of course, is claiming credit for the release of the BC and the vilest of the birthers are shouting, “why did it take so long” instead of “Boy, is our face red!” Trump is also moving on to more aggressively racist rhetoric such as telling Obama to stop playing basketball and implying he got into the Ivy League on affirmative action (because we all know how many AA guys become editors of the Law Review and graduate magna cum laude).

    But, personally, I don’t the GOP is going to get out of this that easily. They’ve been outfoxed, again, by the supposed amateur in the White House. They let the birther issue fester until Trump detonated it. And now that the birthers have been shown to be fools, the stink is going to cling to them for a long time.

    (Don’t think that I’m letting Obama off here. My understanding is that he could have done this at any time over the last two years. To drag it out this long hurt the country even though it hurt his opponents more. And, I’m sorry, when you apply for the job as President, you don’t get to hold back records like this.)

    Update: Thinking about this some more, the release of the BC is actually a huge political coup for Obama. The timing makes it seem (and it certainly being claimed) that Trump is the one who got this done. This cements Trump’s hold on the birther contingent and may even vault him — until the time comes to release his financial records — into front-runner status. And if THAT is the case, Obama just won the 2012 election. Because his opponent will either be Trump or a Republican maimed by Trump’s stupidity.

    Update: Several legal experts are pointing out that Obama could not release the certificate under Hawaiian law. While this is true, he clearly got an exemption now, according to the letter from his lawyer. That should not have taken two years.

    The Donald

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    I’ve already dumped on Trump on the other site, but he’s gotten even more repulsive since then. He’s jumped into the radical Republican pool with both feet, repeating long disproven myths about Barack Obama’s birth, stated on zero evidence that his Hawaii birth was faked to get welfare benefits, flipping on gay marriage and pretending to be pro Life.

    (Although I am moderately pro-choice, I have some respect for the genuinely pro-Life. I have none for panderers who seek to milk other’s deep-held moral and religious beliefs for selfish political gain.)

    Let’s be honest here — all three of us. Donald Trump doesn’t really care about our government, the Republican Party or the country. This is just the latest iteration of his endless self-promotion. This is why he is embracing such radical views — to grab attention. If he were ever elected to anything, he’s spend all his time having press conference and talking tough and no time actually governing.

    This candidacy is a sick joke. It’s reality TV come to politics. Time to do what the Donald hates more than anything — ignore him.