Archive for the ‘USA: politics’ Category

Democrats: panic time?


[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below]

No. Not yet, at any rate. Anyone who’s followed me on this knows that I have been dismissive of Trump’s chances in November, e.g. pronouncing him “all but toast” after the DNC and asserting numerous times over the months that Hillary Clinton will definitely win, period. And going back to late February, I confidently pronounced on social media that “[a]t some point this year—in two weeks or eight months—Trump is going to crash and burn. It *will* happen— this is a certainty—and be a sight to behold…”

Je suis allé un peu vite en besogne. Peut-être. He still has another seven weeks to crash and burn but I am less certain it will happen, for the simple reason that what will look like crashing and burning to those who are appalled by Trump and terrified by the prospect of him winning will not necessarily look that way to those who welcome that prospect. Trump really was right when he bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose his voters. One of the many depressing things about this campaign is realizing the extent to which people in the same society have—thanks in large part to the Internet, social media, cable TV news (i.e. Fox), and AM talk radio—come to inhabit such different cognitive universes, with totally different sources of information and which they process and comprehend in totally different ways. This is not news—we’ve known it for a while—but it’s hitting us over the head in a big way in this campaign. If the 213 crazy or outrageous things that Trump has said or done to date, any one of which would have sunk any other candidate—or the 258 people, places, and things he has publicly, unpresidentially insulted—have not caused a significant number of his supporters to abandon him, then likely nothing will.

I am still reasonably confident Hillary will win but, along with just about everyone I know, am unsettled, indeed nervous, about the latest change in the race, particularly when situating it in the larger context of the right-wing populism, illiberalism, and nationalism that is sweeping the Western world. The Brexit vote was a huge shock—for me and all my pro-Remain relatives and friends in the UK. And then there’s the lurch to the right in France—with Marine Le Pen striving to look presidential and Nicolas Sarkozy adopting the Front National’s positions on immigration, Islam, and identity lock, stock, and barrel—the unprecedented scores of the Alternative für Deutschland in recent Länder elections (including in Berlin on Sunday), the surge of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, the rise of right-wing populist parties in the Scandinavian countries, Law and Justice in Poland, et j’en passe. And lest one forget, there’s Vladimir Putin, who won a smashing victory on Sunday; Tayyip Erdoğan entrenching his quasi dictatorship; and Bibi Netanyahu and his hard-right coalition being quasi unbeatable… The political climate in Europe is worrisome—not to mention in states on its periphery—and there is no a priori reason why it should not be likewise in the United States, as the situation there is similar in so many ways to the one here in France. E.g. a couple of weeks ago I attended a speaking event (excellent) on the Front National’s voters, with three top academic specialists and a leading pollster on the panel. The FN’s voters, such as they were described, are identical—in sociological profile, political outlook, and general world-view—to Trump-supporting Americans. They are carbon copies. I already knew this but was marveling at it nonetheless during the event (where Trump’s name was not mentioned once). And the FN is now a permanent fixture in French politics and will aggregate a sizable chunk of the electorate for years to come.

On the Brexit referendum and the parallel with Trump, if a majority of the British electorate can vote for a measure with such objectively calamitous consequences and that is so objectively inimical to both the interests and standing of their country—and swallow the lies of the demagogic politicians and media organs that promoted this—a similar type outcome in the United States can, objectively speaking, not be excluded.

À propos, see the article in Vox (September 19th) by Zack Beauchamp, “White riot: How racism and immigration gave us Trump, Brexit, and a whole new kind of politics.” (h/t Bob B.)

On Hillary’s problems, what is preoccupying is the marked lack of enthusiasm for her among millennials, Latinos, and blacks (and particularly younger black voters). And all those tens of millions of $$ spent on ads over the summer in battleground states down the drain. And then there’s her doggedly high unpopularity, with her present favorable/unfavorable number being –13, which about what it’s been for most of the year. I was confident that her favorables would rise after the DNC, that she could maybe halve that number by now, but that has not happened. For reasons I do not comprehend, a very large number of people out there simply cannot stand her. Trump’s negative spread is wider, as it has been all along, but at a current –19 he’s closing the gap. His appalling increase in popularity is entirely due to Republican voters “coming home.” It has been my operating assumption that there would be far more Republican defections from Trump than Democratic ones from Clinton, but the gap is, at present, not that significant, with #NeverTrump Republicans—university educated, women—being at least partly cancelled out by working class Dem voters going for Trump. Heretofore recalcitrant Republican voters who still don’t like Trump—and even see him as temperamentally unfit to be president—will vote for him nonetheless, as (a) they dislike Clinton and the Democrats even more, (b) Supreme Court nominations override everything, (c) he’ll sign whatever bills the GOP-controlled Congress sends his way, (d) they assume he’ll be hemmed in by Congress, military, and other institutional actors, who will make sure he doesn’t do crazy shit, (e) like the vast majority of voters everywhere, they aren’t aware of how their country may be perceived abroad, what Trump will mean for America’s standing in the world, and don’t care, and (f) maybe he won’t be so bad in office after all.

But if Trump sticks to form and tries to rule as a caudillo, that will be fine with many of his voters too, as that’s what lots of Republicans want, and particularly the new voters he’s attracting. It is pretty clear that a certain number of Trump supporters did not vote in past elections, which is making me nervous about the polls and the accuracy of their likely voter screens. On this score, I am recalling an episode of the PBS MacNeil-Lehrer Report from the early-mid 1980s, with John Judis and Curtis Gans sur le plateau, the subject being some aspect of American electoral politics. Explaining the Democratic Party’s electoral problems of the time, Judis argued that there was a “hole” in the American electorate, that the low voter turnout rate in the US compared to Western Europe was due to the high rate of abstention by lower class Americans—the kind of voters who were the base of left-wing parties in Europe and would, if they participated in American elections, presumably vote Democratic in their large majority (and pull the party to the left on economic issues in the process). Gans countered this by evoking the “Mussolini factor,” saying that if large numbers of habitual non-voters entered the system, it would likely be in positive response to a knight-on-a-white-horse candidate, i.e. a potential strongman with an anti-elitist rhetoric who promised to kick ass in Washington and solve their problems. And make America great again while doing so.

Continuing in this vein, I am also recalling a political science type article I read some fifteen years ago on the structure of voter abstention in the US—constituting half the electorate at the time in presidential elections—in which the author (whose name I cannot recall; it may have been Gans or Samuel Popkin) divided non-voters into three broad categories: (a) the apathetic, representing some 40% of abstainers, who were not interested in politics, didn’t read newspapers, and knew little about public affairs; (b) the disaffected, representing 25 to 30% of abstainers, who did follow politics, had voted in the past but didn’t feel the two major parties or its current candidates spoke to them or addressed their concerns, and (c) the alienated, also some 25 to 30%, who were angry at the system and its politicians, whom they saw as corrupt (tous pourris), beholden to special interests, and in no way represented people like themselves. The author submitted that, in our increasingly atomized society, there was not much to be done about persons in category (a)—who in the past may have been brought to the polls by family members or institutions they were a part of (e.g. trade unions)—but that (b) and (c) could suddenly enter, or reenter, the system in response to a fresh, new, different type of candidate.

That candidate doesn’t necessarily have to be a Mussolini-type strongman: e.g. Obama, with his 69.5 million votes in 2008, manifestly attracted large numbers of habitual abstainers, notably Afro-Americans. But the one outsider candidate in the present era—until this election—who most clearly fit this bill—who was not necessarily a potential caudillo but promised to unilaterally clean things up in Washington—was Ross Perot in 1992, whose candidacy (independent, self-financed) caused turnout to increase five points over that of 1988, from 53 to 58% of the eligible electorate, with 13 million more voters casting ballots (104.5 million, up from 91.5 million in ’88; in 1996 it dropped to 96 million). The New York Times exit poll in 1992 revealed that 30% of Perot’s voters would have stayed home had he not been on the ballot (the rest splitting evenly between Clinton and Bush).

One other thing. Perot won 19% of the popular vote, which was five points over what the final polls projected. No one had him going this high. And Perot’s voters were not mobilized by a sophisticated GOTV operation or lots of campaign workers at the grassroots. Moreover, Perot didn’t even have a political party. It was all media and the force of his personality. Trump’s candidacy is, needless to say, a much bigger juggernaut—media and otherwise—than was Perot’s. Which is why I am nervous about this election and will remain so through November 8th. Repeating myself, I do think Hillary will win—there are too many structural factors working in her favor—but the new voters Trump is attracting and the mobilization problems in the Democratic electorate are making this election, as a well-known emeritus Harvard Law School professor wrote last week (h/t Marty K.), almost impossible to predict.

Final points:

  • The election all comes down to Pennsylvania. Whoever wins PA wins the nation. If Trump wins PA, it will necessarily mean that he has also won Florida and Ohio, plus held on to North Carolina, putting him over 270 EVs. If Hillary takes PA, she wins, as Trump has no realistic path to victory without it. FWIW, the most recent poll out of PA, released yesterday, has Hillary leading Trump by 9% head-to-head (pour l’info, it was conducted by Morning Call/Muhlenberg College, whose polls earn a grade of A in FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings).
  • The favorable/unfavorable ratings are essential. If Hillary’s remains less negative than Trump’s and by at least several percentage points aggregate, it is exceedingly difficult to see how she can lose. In the nightmarish event that his negatives become less so than hers, she’s toast.
  • If Obama’s job approval rating remains what it is today—50% aggregate—it is hard to see how Hillary loses. If it suddenly goes below 48%, then that won’t be good at all for her.
  • The debates will be critical (duh). Hillary can only lose them by having a physical malaise on stage.
  • Prediction: Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will do nowhere near as well as current polls have it. Johnson will not reach John Anderson’s 1980 score (6.6%) and Stein will not surpass Ralph Nader’s in 2000 (2.7%). This will benefit Hillary.
  • The Democrats need to take back the Senate. It is essential. If Hillary ekes out a narrow win but the Senate remains GOP, her victory will be Pyrrhic, as she won’t be able to do a thing in office, including get any SCOTUS nominations approved. And the Repubs will be sure to make gains in the 2018 midterms.
  • Borrowing from my August 7th post, if the race is still neck-and-neck into October, America’s “Deep State”—notably the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishments—will pull out all the stops to tear down Trump, e.g. leaking his tax returns or other seriously damaging information. The American ruling elite will do all it can to ensure Trump’s defeat. And it will have the media on its side.
  • The best sites to follow the numbers are Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium—N.B. its “Clinton Nov. win probability” up top—and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

À suivre.

UPDATE: On the uncertainty of polls, Nate Cohn has a post today (September 20th) in the NYT’s The Upshot page, “We gave four good pollsters the same raw data. They had four different results.”

2nd UPDATE: Paul Waldman captures the current political Zeitgeist in a commentary (September 19th) in The American Prospect, “The presidential campaign has descended into madness.” The lede: “As the birther controversy illustrates, Donald Trump seems to be dangerously immune from charges of hypocrisy, incompetence, or corruption.”

3rd UPDATE: John Judis, whom I referred to above, has a pertinent piece (September 20th) in TPM on “Two myths about American elections: Bigoted voters and Red vs. Blue states.”

4th UPDATE: My friend Stathis Kalyvas—who teaches political science at Yale and is one of the most brilliant social scientists I know, not to mention one of the top specialists of Greek politics in the world—left the following comment on my Facebook page in response to this post:

Despite the differences and the stakes, I have to say that the Greek crisis taught me a lot that I am reliving now…

I asked him to elaborate, so he replied:

I should write something thoughtful, but to summarize I would underline the social contagiousness of crazy theories, the impossibility of countering populists with reasoning and facts, the strength of the “fuck you” vote, the fact that people with grievances but comfortable lives are perversely willing to challenge social foundations because they feel safe enough to do so. All these makes bad outcomes almost a foregone conclusion…


5th UPDATE: Rolling Stone contributing editor Janet Reitman has a must-read article (September 20th) on the violent, irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton, “Hillary vs. the hate machine: How Clinton became a vessel for America’s fury.” The lede: “Decades of right-wing attacks turned a crusader of women’s rights into a major target of hate.” Three comments: (1) The article focuses on the Hillary hatred of the right but this is, as we know, very much present on the left as well—and which I continue to see almost daily on social media. (2) If the United States had French-style libel laws—not to mention British—many of the best-selling Hillary hate books would be hit with lawsuits and likely taken off the market. (3) The Hillary hate increases my sympathy for her and wish—independent of Trump—that she wins and decisively. The rage of the Hillary haters will fill me with great satisfaction.

6th UPDATE: Venezuelan writer Alberto Barrera Tyszka, writing in the NYT (September 20th), explains “What Hugo Chávez tells us about Donald Trump.”

7th UPDATE: I am taking the liberty of posting the Facebook status update (September 23rd) of an old friend from my Chicago days (1980s)—who has had a long career as a progressive political and labor activist and consultant (and holds a doctorate in political science to boot)—and who is my go-to person for analysis and insight on American electoral politics:

I am still confident. I ignore horse races. In the last two GOOD polls within two days Trump’s unfavorable rating has crept up, while even with her public illness, the emails and “deplorables,” her unfavorables have stayed the same. It is a race as to who ends the campaign as the least disliked by undecided voters, and if she is “less unpopular” undecideds should break her way. Can she win without OH and FL? Yes, as long as undecideds in the other leaning blue states break her way. The electoral map just stinks for Trump. Without gerrymandering we would have a Democratic House. It is still blue, and if those who were blue for Obama, or even 90% of them, vote again and stay blue, plus good turn out from newly registered Latinos and Puerto Ricans in the southwest and Florida, she wins. Peoples’ fave/unfave is becoming more settled, moving only a little, so she should seal the deal if she comes out of the debate as less of a liar than he is a jerk. She will be more informed; all she has to do is be reasonably likable, like she was on Jimmy Fallon, a recent high point.

I agree. The latest polls are upticking for Hillary. And Trump does indeed have a ceiling in the low 40s. Barring debacle (most unlikely) in the debates or some unpleasant October surprise, she should, as my friend says, be able to seal the deal.

8th UPDATE: The Washington Post’s “most read” article today (September 24th) is an interview with historian Allan Lichtman—who conceived the famous 13 “Keys to the White House” (which I had a post on during the 2012 election campaign)—who appears to think Trump may win (the headline of the article is misleading, in fact). In Lichtman’s surefire formula—it has apparently never failed—if 6 of the 13 keys are false, then the incumbent candidate, or candidate of the incumbent president’s party, loses the election. So far 5 of the keys are false, with one hanging in the balance; if that one ends up proving false, Hillary is doomed and Trump wins. The key in question is nº 4: “There is no significant third party or independent campaign”—with Lichtman adding, in the WaPo interview, that the third candidate must be anticipated to receive at least 5% of the vote. Lichtman says that Gary Johnson looks to be there, as his highest polling numbers have been 12 to 14%; Lichtman’s rule of thumb is that that such a poll number at this stage be cut in half, signifying that Johnson will get 6 to 7% in the end. Thus the 6th fatal key.

Three comments. First, Johnson’s average poll number is presently 8.5% at RCP and 8.6% at HuffPost Pollster. Divide either in two and Johnson is under 5%. Moreover, at no point has RCP had Johnson at even 10%; he briefly reached 12% at HuffPost in August but dropped back down. So Lichtman is off on this. Second, a question: should Johnson even be considered a “significant” candidate? The significant independent candidates in recent decades have been George Wallace in 1968, John Anderson in 1980, and Ross Perot in 1992 and ’96. Wallace was, of course, a major political figure of the time. Anderson was high-profile throughout the ’80 campaign and whose poll numbers were sufficient to qualify him for the debates. And we know about Perot (see above), who also qualified for the debates (in ’92). Johnson has nowhere near the stature or media attention of the three aforementioned men. He’s the nominee of a political party that always runs a presidential candidate and who qualifies for the ballot in most, if not all, states. Johnson—who could walk through a busy shopping mall unrecognized anywhere in America outside New Mexico—is only polling well due to the peculiar, exceptional nature of this campaign. Which leads to the third comment, which is that Johnson is mainly drawing potential votes from the challenger party candidate, not the incumbent party’s: his support is coming heavily from Republicans horrified by Trump, not Democrats defecting from Clinton. So his notable polling performance should in no way be seen as a problem for the latter.

Conclusion: Lichtman’s 4th key is not false. At five false keys, Hillary Clinton wins.

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Will she win?

Hillary Clinton_DNC_July 28 2016_Ali Shaker Voice of America_via Wikimedia Commons

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Yes, of course she will. Her post-convention “bounce” has been significant, as everyone knows, and while the numbers may possibly dip in the coming weeks—or, more likely, may not—it is more than unlikely that Trump could turn it into a horse race, let alone take the lead, barring some mega-revelation about Hillary. And even then. One has likely seen the latest poll from Georgia, that has Hillary leading Trump by four points. If this is at all accurate and the numbers hold—i.e. if Georgia is in play—then this thing is over. The only question is the scale of the landslide.

To know that Trump is all but toast—that he is, in the words of a top aide to Mitt Romney in 2012, “a neutron bomb that has gone off in the Republican Party“—one may merely read the latest commentaries by conservative pundits, most decades-long Hillary-haters, e.g. Peggy Noonan in the WSJ (August 4th), on “The week they decided Donald Trump was crazy.” Money quote

Here is a truth of life. When you act as if you’re insane, people are liable to think you’re insane. That’s what happened this week. People started to become convinced he was nuts, a total flake.

WaPo’s Charles Krauthammer said much the same in his column (August 4th), “Donald Trump and the fitness threshold

This is beyond narcissism. I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied. He lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value — indeed exists — only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.

Krauthammer’s equally right-wing colleague, George F. Will, has been on anti-Trump tear of late. In his column (August 3rd), “Trump’s shallowness runs deep,” he makes this pertinent observation

[Trump’s] speeches are, of course, syntactical train wrecks, but there might be a method to his madness. He rarely finishes a sentence (“Believe me!” does not count), but perhaps he is not the scatterbrain he has so successfully contrived to appear. Maybe he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.

He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui. So, for example, while the nation has been considering his interesting decision to try to expand his appeal by attacking Gold Star parents, little attention has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea has escaped Trump’s notice.

Trump’s words on geopolitics, and particularly on America’s NATO allies, prompted the Trump-loathing Über-conservative blogger-commentator Erick Erickson to fire off an incendiary broadside, aimed at Trump-supporting fellow conservatives, on his website The Resurgent (August 4th), “Donald Trump can go to hell and if you defend his statement, so can you.” Aïe!

And then there’s David Brooks’s latest (August 5th) on the GOP’s “70-year-old man-child” candidate, which is worth quoting at length

Trump has shown that he is not a normal candidate. He is a political rampage charging ever more wildly out of control. And no, he cannot be changed.

He cannot be contained because he is psychologically off the chain. With each passing week he displays the classic symptoms of medium-grade mania in more disturbing forms: inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, impulsivity, aggression and a compulsion to offer advice on subjects he knows nothing about.

His speech patterns are like something straight out of a psychiatric textbook. Manics display something called “flight of ideas.” It’s a formal thought disorder in which ideas tumble forth through a disordered chain of associations. One word sparks another, which sparks another, and they’re off to the races. As one trained psychiatrist said to me, compare Donald Trump’s speaking patterns to a Robin Williams monologue, but with insults instead of jokes.

Trump insults Paul Ryan, undermines NATO and raises the specter of nuclear war. Advisers can’t control Trump’s brain because Trump can’t control it himself.

He also cannot be contained because he lacks the inner equipment that makes decent behavior possible. So many of our daily social interactions depend on a basic capacity for empathy. But Trump displays an absence of this quality.

He looks at the grieving mother of a war hero and is unable to recognize her pain. He hears a crying baby and is unable to recognize the infant’s emotion or the mother’s discomfort. He is told of women being sexually harassed at Fox News and is unable to recognize their trauma.

The same blindness that makes him impervious to global outrage makes it impossible for him to make empathetic connection. Fear is his only bond.

Some people compare Trump to the great authoritarians of history, but that’s wrong. They were generally disciplined men with grandiose plans. Trump is underdeveloped and unregulated.

He is a slave to his own pride, compelled by a childlike impulse to lash out at anything that threatens his fragile identity. He appears to have no ability to experience reverence, which is the foundation for any capacity to admire or serve anything bigger than self, to want to learn about anything beyond self, to want to know and deeply honor the people around you.

N.B. These are the assessments of conservative, Republican-voting commentators. The bottom line: there is no way—not a snowball’s chance in hell—that the American electorate will send a man to the White House who is manifestly mentally ill. That Trump is this is obvious to anyone who doesn’t get 100% of his or her information from Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and/or the American Internet réacosphère.

On sources of information, writer George Saunders, in his long, must read article in The New Yorker last month, “Who are all these Trump supporters?,” had this observation

Where is all this anger coming from? It’s viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the other only “Game of Thrones.” What is the meaning, to the collective “we,” of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a “dove” and a “hawk,” say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional. (As a proud knight of LeftLand, I was interested to find that, in RightLand, Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed “way to the left” by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim. I expect that my interviewees found some of my core beliefs equally jaw-dropping.)

Not that there’s symmetry between LeftLand and RightLand. One is delusional and unhinged, the other is not. No need to specify which is which.

As for Trump’s fans, certain observers have said that we need to listen to them, to hear them out, try to understand where they’re coming from, maybe feel their pain, alienation, and anger. Right. I’ve done that, with Saunders’s piece and others. And I’ve had enough of reading about those people. The NYT video of the crowds at Trump’s rallies, which everyone has seen by now, was it. These people are politically and morally depraved. Erick Erickson, referenced above, did well in telling them to go to hell, as did Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce in so many words, in a July 14th tirade, in which he correctly asserted that “anyone who supports Donald Trump is a traitor to the American idea.” Allen Clifton—a Texas-based blogger and co-founder of the Forward Progressives website, both unknown to me before today—has a commentary (August 5th) that gets it exactly right. It begins

When it comes to Donald Trump’s campaign, I’ve honestly reached a point where I have to remind myself that this is a legitimate Republican presidential candidate who may very well become our next president. This whole circus has become so outrageously bizarre that it’s hard for me to mentally grasp the reality that tens of millions of people are actually supporting this buffoon.

Before this election, I typically avoided calling people “stupid” for supporting a particular presidential candidate. In 2012, I might have thought Mitt Romney had no business being president, but I didn’t feel as if someone had to be mentally unhinged to support him.

However, when it comes to Trump supporters, I have no qualms in saying I completely believe that someone has to be an absolute imbecile to think he should be our next president. I’ve never seen a candidate blatantly treat his supporters like bumbling idiots — yet they love him for it.

His entire campaign has been a joke. I’ve often said that Donald Trump is what the comments section of a right-wing blog would look and sound like if it could run for president. All he’s done his entire campaign is tell his hostile, rabid and ignorant supporters exactly what they want to hear, even if most of what he’s been telling them hasn’t contained a shred of truth.

Though I feel a tweet he sent out late Thursday evening perfectly exemplifies how factually devoid and delusional his entire campaign has been:

To read that tweet and the rest of Clifton’s spot-on piece, go here.

Précision: We’re talking here about Trump’s die-hard fans, who will stick with him even if he literally shoots someone on Fifth Avenue. But a certain number of his supporters, even in the famous white working class, have been soft and are now falling away. Not everyone who voted Trump in the primaries was an idiot. Some of these voters are realizing—if they haven’t already—that they’ve been played by Trump, that his promises on trade and the economy are worthless, that he is not a credible messenger for his populist discourse. Perhaps some knew it all along but were consciously casting a protest vote. Sending a message to the Republican and Democratic Party establishments alike, something like that. I am reminded here of a poll that was taken in France after the 2002 presidential election—the one that saw Jean-Marie Le Pen, in a shocker, overtake Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round to square off against President Jacques Chirac in the second ballot two weeks later—in which fully half of Le Pen’s voters said that they would not have voted for him had they thought he had any chance of actually being elected (Chirac won with 82%). One may hypothesize that some of Trump’s dropping numbers may be attributed to this, to some of his voters getting cold feet when they saw him running neck-and-neck with Hillary in the polls after the RNC.

Now, for the sake of argument, what would happen if, by some crazy turn of events, Trump pulled even with Hillary in the final stretch of the campaign—and despite bailing out of the debates, which I consider likely (as he knows she’ll shred him into little pieces)—and looked like he had a serious chance of winning? At the risk of provoking the paranoia of Trump and his supporters, one may be sure that America’s Deep State—particularly in the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishments—will pull out all the stops to prevent this, beginning with the leak of his tax returns to Julian Assange—or, if he’s in cahoots with Trump, to another outlet. And if that doesn’t do the trick in sinking Trump, the “Deep State” will come up with something else. They will do all they can to insure his defeat. And if it comes down to that, I wish the powers-that-be well in their efforts.

To push it further, what would happen in the unthinkable, utterly unlikely event that Trump pulled off his three state strategy (FL-OH-PA) and won a 273-265 Electoral College victory? Answer: chaos and unprecedented constitutional crisis. First, his narrow EC victory would certainly be accompanied by a decisive defeat in the popular vote. Seriously: it is beyond inconceivable that Trump could possibly overtake Hillary Clinton in the popular vote in what will certainly be a high turnout election, with over 130 million voters going to the polls. 65 million Americans—or even 60—are not going to vote for Donald Trump. The legitimacy of a narrow Trump EC victory would be rejected by a very sizable portion of American society, and would more than likely prompt a sufficient number of Trump electors—it would just take three or four—to break the faith when the Electoral College meets on December 19th and throw the election to the House—which would generate a legitimacy crisis of its own. The shock in the UK and among British elites after the Brexit vote—and consequent fallout in financial markets—would pale in comparison to what the US would experience in such an event.

Secondly, Trump would not be able to govern. Another comparison with France and the 2002 election: a few months after that one, I advanced a hypothesis to a haut fonctionnaire—specifically, a member of the Cour des Comptes—with whom I was acquainted that if Le Pen had won the presidential election, the grand corps de l’État—the men and women who run the French state and are seconded to ministerial staffs—would decline to collaborate with his administration, the shameful experience of the Vichy regime—and disgrace of the French state—very much in mind. He agreed, saying that he would not serve or collaborate with a Le Pen presidency, nor would his other colleagues, so he believed. Such would certainly be the case with Trump in the White House. With the American “Deep State,” indeed the entire Washington establishment—civil service, media, think tanks, you name it—hostile to him, Trump wouldn’t be able to do a thing. He would issue executive orders and throw temper tantrums but nothing would happen. One can barely even imagine him trying to fill the six thousand vacancies in the top echelons of the federal government. It would be crazy and impossible. The Banana-Republicification of the United States.

But this is politique-fiction, as it’s not going to happen.

All sorts of people have been wondering about the reaction of Trump’s supporters if he denounces his inevitable election loss as the product of fraud and rigging, fretting over the prospect of civil unrest, or worse. GMAB. When Trump gets pummeled on November 8th and denounces fraud and rigging— though without a shred of evidence—what, pray, are his brigades of dead-ender yahoo supporters going to do? Riot in the streets of Oklahoma City and Chattanooga? Launch an armed insurrection? N’importe quoi! The most they’ll do is unleash a torrent of incendiary tweets. The institutions of American democracy will withstand that.

So what’s a Republican voter appalled by Trump to do? Borrowing again from the French experience, there are two options. One: do what left voters did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election, which was to vote en masse for the right-wing Chirac—whom left voters had long despised, even calling him an outright fascist in the early years of his political career—to bar the route to Le Pen. Left voters went to their polling stations and just did it. GOP voters can just do it too: vote Hillary. Option two: do what many left voters—myself included—may well end up doing in round two of the presidential election next May, which is to vote blanc, i.e. drop an empty envelope into the ballot box. Not vote for anyone. In the US, that would mean passing on the presidential race and voting only down-ballot. Or, alternatively, voting for Gary Johnson. Le choix est clair.

Readers who are still with me will note that, after 2,700 words, I have hardly discussed Hillary. This has been all about Trump. It’s been all Trump all the time. Trump’s ability to monopolize media coverage is simply breathtaking. Since the end of the DNC nine days ago the US politics posts on my social media news feeds have been 95% Trump, with Hillary barely an afterthought. E.g. the bizarre New York Post cover photos of Melania in the nude, which were clearly authorized by Trump: the only manifest purpose was to keep the focus on Trump and divert attention from Hillary, even if the photos would not be well-received on the right.

The sharp anthropologist Sarah Kendzior has a fine essay in Foreign Policy (August 3rd) on how, win or lose in November, Trump’s “toxic legacy will live on.” And that toxic legacy will include the unabated rise of white extremist and hate groups, the linking of economic discontent with white populism and ressentiment, and the continued debasement of the media, for whom Trump has been so lucrative to their declining bottom lines. As Kendzior says

When the Trump train grinds to a halt, mainstream outlets will see more lost funding and more layoffs, leading to poor coverage of the new administration and an even more fractured political discourse. The media has learned that the exploitation of violence, riots, and bigotry brings clicks and cash. This is not a new lesson — as the old saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads” — but the 2016 campaign has shown the mainstreaming of extremism to be uniquely lucrative.

On Hillary: in addition to dominating Trump in the polls, her personal popularity numbers are now in the mid 40s (RCP presently has it at+43/-53, with Trump at +33.8/-60.8). As Bernie Sanders voters continue to coalesce around Hillary—and with Bernie issuing strong statements supporting her—her numbers are sure to rise a few points more. A certain number of Hillary haters will cease hating (and regardless of clumsy responses she gives to time-wasting questions from reporters on the irrelevant email business, which will be a non-issue by the fall).

Let me recommend just two articles, both by Vox’s Ezra Klein: “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician” (June 7th) and “Understanding Hillary: Why the Clinton America sees isn’t the Clinton colleagues know” (July 11th). The latter one is particularly worth reading. I do believe that Hillary Clinton, in the uncertain event she obtains a working majority in Congress, has the potential to be a great president.

And in case one missed it, see these two pieces from June: “The most thorough, profound and moving defense of Hillary Clinton I have ever seen,” by a writer named Michael Arnowitz, and “I was one of the most ardent Hillary haters on the planet…until I read her emails,” by Karoli Kuns, managing editor of the Crooks and Liars website.

Three final links. Do check out writer David Auerbach’s lengthy but most interesting essay (July 26th) in the academic blog Crooked Timber, “Donald Trump: Moosbrugger for President.” And definitely don’t miss the piece in Vox (July 18th) by the indispensable Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, “The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.” And if one has not seen Jane Mayer’s amazing article in the July 25th issue of The New Yorker, “Donald Trump’s ghostwriter tells all,” read it. Now.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who teaches at UC-Berkeley, had a must read piece in HuffPost, dated July 22nd, on “Understanding Trump,” or, more specifically, on understanding Trump’s supporters. Hint: it’s about the authoritarian personality.

2nd UPDATE: If one is still interested in the Hillary email affair and wants to read just one piece on it, then see Fred Kaplan’s in Slate (July 6th), “The Hillary Clinton email scandal was totally overblown.”

If one wants another piece, go to Eli Lake’s Bloomberg View column (July 5th), “The conservative case for letting Clinton skate.”

3rd UPDATE: A friend has sent me a post, dated July 31st, on Slate’s language blog Lexicon Valley, devoted to a single sentence Donald Trump uttered in a speech in South Carolina ten days earlier. Watch or read it and marvel. Sarah Palin is almost Demosthenes in comparison.

4th UPDATE: Reihan Salam, the youthful, thinking-outside-the-box conservative intellectual, has a column in Slate (August 4th) on one possible upside to the Trump phenomenon, which is how “Donald Trump is liberating the GOP from its most deeply held beliefs.” The lede: “He’s against the Iraq war. He’s for big government spending. He’s anti–Wall Street.”

I’m dubious, though, as Trump is against (or for) something one day, then for (or against) it the next. He has no fixed beliefs or positions on anything. And it’s rather unlikely that the GOP will modify its tenacious positions on issues like taxes and “small government” just because of Trump—and particularly if he suffers decisive defeat in November.

5th UPDATE: Vox’s Matthew Yglesias had a piece on July 28th, before Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, observing that she “is bad at speeches for the exact reasons she’d be a good president.” Among the factors that make her not a great orator, but would an effective president, is the value she attaches to collaborative work. Interesting argument, and no doubt valid.

6th UPDATE: New York magazine writer-at-large Rebecca Traister had a good article, dated May 30th, that I missed at the time, “Hillary Clinton vs. Herself: There’s nothing simple about this candidacy—or candidate.”

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Can he win?

Trump RNC Cleveland 07-21-2016

It’s day 4 of the DNC, which, after some early bad humor by a handful of Bernie dead-enders, has been going swimmingly—with, as I read, one good to excellent speech after another (so far I’ve only watched Michelle Obama’s from beginning to end)—contrasting with the disgrace of the shambolic Trump convention last week, which I did not watch at all, save for a brief YouTube or two (e.g. Laura Ingraham’s boilerplate red meat harangue, which was said to crystallize the Trump Weltanschauung). I decided to watch Trump’s acceptance speech three days after the fact but stopped after 13 minutes. Pure, raw, fascist fear-mongering demagoguery—at the most fascist and populist convention in memory, as historian Federico Finchelstein called it—and terrifying to hear in America from a major party presidential candidate. But this is a banal reaction and that has been made by countless pundits and commentators, including numerous Republicans (and conservative ones, not just “moderates”). When the Über-mainstream, centrist, neocon-friendly Washington Post Editorial Board proclaims that “Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy,” well, ça veut dire ce que ça veut dire. Quoting Matthew Yglesias, so much has been written and said about Donald Trump’s manifest unfitness for office—and the fear the mere prospect of his victory arouses—that at this point there’s hardly any reason to dwell further on it. Except to emphasize that the problem is not merely Trump but the Republican Party as a whole, including its putatively mainstream, moderate personalities.

Canadian author Terry Glavin, writing on how “America faces a banana republic moment,” nicely summed up the RNC

The Republican Party is gone. Its national convention in Cleveland was a four-day carnival of shrieking vulgarity, a meticulously stage-managed incitement of the lowest and ugliest impulses in the American political character. Its climax was something almost unimaginable only a year or so ago. The Republican nominee for the Office of the President of the United States of America is the loudmouth caudillo Donald Trump.

On Trump’s fascism (small f), or caudilloishness, the parallel with Mussolini has been made by many, including historians way out on the right, but these sorts of assertions are futile and sterile, as Trump is a sui generis, very American phenomenon—among other things, he’s much more of a philistine and overall intellectual idiot than any strongman he could be compared to—and who wouldn’t be able to rule like a fascist dictator even if he could somehow get around the US constitution. As Slate’s Michelle Goldberg put it after Trump’s mess of a convention

All of this bodes ill for Trump’s ability to govern a country. Nevertheless, we should be glad for his indiscipline, because the one thing standing between Trumpism and full-blown fascism is Trump’s lack of organizational skills. He has no cadres or shock troops. There’s just him, a few lackeys, and the mob of atomized voters who’ve elevated him.

The most obvious contemporary comparison of Trump is with Silvio Berlusconi, made most recently by the FT’s Edward Luce, in a good column dated July 17th, “Trump leads the west’s flight from dignity: The most troubling aspect of his rise is how he is licensing society’s darkest instincts.” Money quote

Comparisons between Mr Trump and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi are far more apt. A leading Italian scholar, Luigi Zingales, recalls an event at which the country’s former prime minister taunted an embarrassed young woman by making repeated schoolboyish puns about orgasms. The shocking part was not Mr Berlusconi’s boorishness but the audience’s wild applause.

“Such approval would have been unimaginable before the rise of Berlusconi,” said Mr Zingales. “There is no way of measuring the degree to which he has debased public life in Italy.” The same applies to the Trump effect.

Here in France I’ve compared Trump to Jean-Marie Le Pen—with a little Sarkozy and Bernard Tapie mixed in—though this falls short, as, entre autres, JMLP is far more cultivated and erudite than is the Donald. But one comparison that is 100% accurate is that of the Trump phenomenon—of the discourse and those attracted to it—and Le Pen’s Front National. I’ve been saying since last year that the rhetoric and world-view of Trump supporters translated into French is precisely that of FN voters, as one may see, e.g., in this Frank Luntz focus group. In France, these good Americans are FN voters to a tee.

Another striking parallel between Trump and FN voters: I’ve been reading of late about a new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by Marine Corps veteran and recent Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance, who hails from a poor family in southern Ohio (see the excerpt in WaPo). Rod Dreher—senior editor of The American Conservative—has a must-read interview with Vance (h/t Laurie Lewis) dated July 22nd, “Trump: Tribune of poor white people,” which he prefaces with this

The book is an American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read…  for Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.

When Trump said in his convention speech “I am your voice,” he was speaking directly to the poor Appalachian whites Vance speaks about:

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.

Further down, Vance says

To me…condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.  He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad.  I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion.  Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of [my grandmother’s] feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.  The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders.  If nothing else, Trump does that.  

This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.”  No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump.  But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way.  He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud.  This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!  So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone.  Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior.  People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.

Je dis tout haut ce que vous pensez tout bas (translation here), as populist demagogue extraordinaire Le Pen père would tell his adoring fans. The way Vance presents it, this sizable cohort of Trump voters will be impervious to any and all attempts by the Democrats or anyone else to tear down their candidate, as the election is finally about more than him. Reading Vance, I thought of working class voters in the dying industrial towns of northern and eastern France, who are a core constituency of the Front National. The FN can say just about anything and run candidates for office whom no one has heard of, but it doesn’t matter to its voters, for whom the Le Pen name and FN label is one big projectile to be hurled at the elites—political and cultural, and of both left and right—who run France, and whom FN voters despise.

So can Trump channel the alienation and anger to defeat Hillary? Numerous friends and stateside family members and relatives have been in near panic mode the past week, with the post RNC polls showing Trump taking the lead and, in particular, over an apocalyptic July 21st post by Michael Moore on his website, “5 reasons why Trump will win,” which has people freaking out. More on that below. As for the polls, the RCP average of the eight taken during and after the RNC have Trump up by 0.9% over HRC. As far as post-convention “bumps” go, this is not too impressive. It’s comparable to Romney’s ephemeral one in 2012 and less consequential than McCain’s in 2008; in the latter, the 12 polls taken after the Palin pick had McCain leading in seven—by 2 to 10%—and tied in three, with Obama retaking the lead after two weeks (and before the Lehman Brothers collapse). Unless Hillary’s speech tonight is a dud, she will necessarily get a bump—maybe even a big bounce—in next week’s polls. And unless there’s a damaging revelation or story about her—which, in view of Russian dirty tricks, is not to be totally excluded—she won’t be looking back.

As for Michael Moore’s “5 reasons,” let’s go through them one by one:

1. “Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit.” Moore believes that Trump is going to go all out to win four Midwestern states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, thus giving him a razor-thin 270 Electoral College majority (though any bets on how many of his electors break the faith and vote for HRC, especially if she wins the popular vote?). Before seeing Moore’s piece I was thinking much the same thing, that Trump’s path to victory—his only realistic one—would be to launch a full-throttle assault to pick off Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—plus holding 2012 red state North Carolina—that would give him a 273-265 majority in the EC. It’s theoretically possible but, in point of fact, not too likely. Here’s what the polls say:

Ohio: The two post-RNC polls have Trump and Hillary in a tie, with the current RCP spread at +0.8 for HRC. Of the 16 polls taken this year, Trump has led in 2, HRC in 9, and with 5 a dead heat. If HRC regains her national lead next week and maintains it, it stands to reason that she will widen her lead in Ohio, not lose ground there.

Pennsylvania: People have been fixated on PA as low-hanging fruit for Trump, even though the GOP has not won the state in a presidential election since 1988. The current RCP spread—there have been no polls in the state for almost three weeks—has HRC at +3.2. Of the 14 polls taken there this year, Trump has had the lead in exactly one (by 2%). This is not a sign of strength. And if he launches an ad blitz in the state, one may be sure that the HRC campaign will respond in kind and then some.

Michigan: Like PA, MI has not gone GOP since 1988. In 2012 Obama won it with an almost 10 point margin. In the 9 polls taken this year, HRC has led in all (by 3 to 16%). Her current RCP spread is 5.2%. There is no objective reason to believe that Trump can put MI into play. If he does and then wins it, it will be in the context of a larger national victory, in which he wins a slew of blue states. Dream on.

Wisconsin: Ditto. WI has not voted Republican since the ’84 Reagan landslide. It looked to be trending GOP in 2000 and 2004 but trended back Dem in the Obama elections. All 11 polls taken this year have had HRC in the decisive lead (4 to 14%). Her current RCP spread is 5.6%. Bottom line: Trump is not going to win Wisconsin. Jamais de la vie.

As for Florida, the ultimate swing state: The current RCP spread has Trump at +0.3, i.e. a dead heat. Of the 18 polls taken this year, HRC led in 11 and Trump in 6. FL is a demographically dynamic state, so its electorate this year won’t be the same as in 2012. But one may be sure that Hispanics/Latinos there—whose proportion of the FL electorate has not declined—will vote for HRC in greater numbers than they did for Obama. And then there are all those Jewish retirees, who are certain to vote Trump in far fewer numbers than they did Romney (who received around 30% of the Jewish vote nationally; Trump won’t get anywhere near that). If Trump is going to win FL, he’ll have to go all out to do so, with a sophisticated ground game and tons of $$ for TV—and which the HRC campaign will be doing too. Anyone think Trump is capable of that and outdoing Hillary’s effort while he’s at it?

And North Carolina: The current RCP spread has HRC at +2.0. Of the 13 polls taken in the state this year, HRC has led in 6 (including the last three) and Trump in 6 as well. Obama lost NC by 2% in 2012. HRC has an excellent chance of winning the state. In fact, she will win the state.

Conclusion: On his reason #1, Michael Moore did not make his case.

2. “The Last Stand of the Angry White Man.” Yes, there are lots of angry white men out there, particularly those without college degrees. This is the Trump electorate. Problem for him, it’s his only electorate (apart from conservative Republicans who will vote for their party’ candidate no matter what). As every minimally informed person knows, Trump is being massacred in almost every other demographic, e.g. white men with college degrees, women with degrees or not, Hispanics/Latinos, blacks, Catholics, Jews, Asian-Americans, poor people… Now it is indeed the case that white men without college degrees are a sizable demographic and it is not inconceivable that Trump may do better among them than did Romney in 2012. But given the certain defection of Republican-leaning voters in the other demographics, Trump will have to rack up unprecedented numbers of these white men in order to have a chance of winning. To do this, his campaign will need a sophisticated GOTV operation, plus an organization to identify all those lower-class men—particularly those J.D. Vance talks about—who may not be registered to vote, and then get them registered in time for the election. Needless to say, Trump does not have that organization in place and there is no sign at this late date that he’ll be able to.

Conclusion: There are not enough angry white men out there to swing this election to Trump.

3. “The Hillary Problem.” Yes, she is very unpopular. We know that. Lots of people out there simply despise her. I have long been mystified by the Hillary-hatred but it’s a fact. C’est comme ça. And it is indeed a problem. Three things. First, the HuffPost Pollster has HRC’s popularity at +39.3/-55.4 (and with the portion of the negatives who strongly dislike her very high). But this is the worst it’s ever been for her. Until the email affair broke in March 2015 HRC’s numbers had been been positive and since 2009. And she took an additional hit with the conclusion of the FBI report earlier this month. Barring anything new, her numbers are sure to rise, particularly if she gives a good speech tonight and gets that post-convention “bounce.”

Second, the HuffPost Pollster aggregate of Trump’s current popularity is +37.8/-56.9, which approaches Hillary’s but is still worse. And it’s his highest, or least bad, number ever. One may wager that with his increasingly unhinged behavior and the borderline treason regarding Russia—and all sorts of things yet to come that we can’t imagine—that his numbers won’t be going higher. In short, this is as good as it gets for him.

Third, Democratic and left voters who dislike Hillary will hold their noses and vote for her nonetheless—and particularly in swing states—as they will be, to a man and woman, terrified by the prospect of a Trump victory. Many Republican voters who dislike Trump will likewise hold their noses and vote for him nonetheless, as they simply hate Hillary and the Democrats. But a certain number of Republican voters are so appalled by Trump—and while disliking Hillary, are not terrified by her—that they will sit out the election, vote for Gary Johnson, or even go for HRC. I have no numbers to back this up but am certain that more Republican voters will defect from Trump than Democratic voters from Hillary. On France Inter this morning a French-speaking nitwit American reporter in Philadelphia opined that Jill Stein could attract herds of Bernie dead-enders and get up to 11% of the vote. Bollocks! N’importe quoi!

Conclusion: So long as HRC is less unpopular than Trump, her bad poll numbers won’t undermine her on November 8th.

4. “The Depressed Bernie Vote.” Moore concedes that Bernie voters will, out of Trump fear, go out and vote Hillary—and they will indeed—but that they will do so without enthusiasm, and that the lack of this will depress turnout among young people. If the election had suddenly been held last weekend this would have likely been the case. But the election is happening in three months, during which time presently dejected Bernie supporters will have had time to focus on the actual choice on November 8th. A few big rallies with Hillary, Bernie, and maybe even Obama (Barack or Michelle) in Madison WI, Ann Arbor MI, Boulder CO, Cleveland, maybe Chapel Hill NC, and the young people will be sufficiently fired up come election day, c’est sûr et certain.

Conclusion: Young voters will vote in the same proportion as in 2012.

5. “The Jesse Ventura Effect.” Moore says that we should not “discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth” and that voters sometimes like to play a “good practical joke on a sick political system.” Perhaps, but this is an election for the President of the United States and leader of the Free World, not governor of a state in l’Amérique profonde. And while Jesse Ventura was a colorful personality and an unlikely candidate for executive office, he was not an unhinged, mentally unstable, rabble-rousing, racist demagogue. Come on, Michael.

Conclusion: The will be no “Jesse Ventura effect.” Not in this election.

A couple more things. First, President Obama’s job approval rating is presently around 50-51%. This is hugely important for Hillary’s chances. If Obama were unpopular, this would be a serious, even fatal, problem for any Democratic nominee. But the Democratic POTUS only gets more popular by the month. By the time he leaves office, even Republicans will be regretting him. Second, the unemployment rate is 5.5%. Sure, wages have been stagnant (for over three decades now), the workplace participation rate is dropping, and there are all the other problems. But the objective conditions are simply not there at this historical moment for the American electorate to put a populist demagogue in the White House.

I have a lot more to say on all this. La prochaine fois.

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Trump (what else?)

(Credit: Ian Bremmer)

(Credit: Ian Bremmer)

[update below]

Everyone’s seen his Cinco de Mayo tweet of last Thursday. Looking at it slightly agape, I proceed to do something I had heretofore not done, which was to go through The Donald’s Twitter feed. It’s a spectacle to behold. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Click here, scroll down, and then keep scrolling. One is simply amazed that these are the public words of the presumptive presidential nominee of one of the two major parties—that a hypothetical president of the United States can trash talk this way and with political impunity—but one is riveted to them nonetheless. There’s something brilliant about the way Trump has mastered the new media platforms (not to mention older ones, like television). I shudder to imagine what Jean-Marie Le Pen would have done with Twitter and other social media has these existed in the 1980s and ’90s.

On the Cinco de Mayo tweet, Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum thought everyone was “badly misinterpreting” it; it was, Drum insisted, “really a genius tweet,” showing that “Trump is playing this game at a higher level than most of his critics.”

One critic who looks to be playing the game at Trump’s level is Elizabeth Warren, who’s been tweetstorming him back, giving as good as she gets. Way to go, Madame la Sénatrice!

Vox’s Andrew Prokop has a must-read interview (May 6th) with Norm Ornstein, “[t]he political scientist who saw Trump’s rise coming.” As I mentioned in the preceding post, I began to take Trump seriously after reading Ornstein last August. Lots of good stuff in the interview, e.g. this response to Prokop’s question on where Ornstein thinks the anger within the Republican Party electorate has come from and why it’s so powerful

When you look at populism over the longer course of both American history and other countries that have suffered economic traumas as a result of financial collapse, you’re gonna get the emergence of some leaders who exploit nativism, protectionism, and isolationism. They’re components — sometimes greater, sometimes lesser — that are baked into the process. So you’ve got a bit of that.

But if you forced me to pick one factor explaining what’s happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.

Over many years, they’ve adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.

And add to that, they’ve delegitimized President Obama, but they’ve failed to succeed with any of the promises they’ve made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, “what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you’re going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?”

Trump clearly had a brilliant capacity to channel that discontent among Republican voters — to figure out the issues that’ll work, like immigration, and the ways in which populist anger and partisan tribalism can be exploited. So of course, to me, he became a logical contender.

On how the Republican Party has gotten to where it is today, with Trump as its presumptive nominee

Back in 1978, when I first came to AEI, Tom Mann and I set up a series of small, off the record dinners with some new members of Congress. And one of them, Newt Gingrich, stood out right away. As a brand new member of the House, he had a full-blown theory of how Republicans could break out of their seemingly permanent minority, and build a majority.

And over the next 16 years, he put that plan into action. He delegitimized the Congress and the Democratic leadership, convincing people that they were arrogant and corrupt and that the process was so bad that anything would be better than this. He tribalized the political process. He went out and recruited the candidates, and gave them the language to use about how disgusting and despicable and horrible and immoral and unpatriotic the Democrats were. That swept in the Republican majority in 1994.

The problem is that all the people he recruited to come in really believed that shit. They all came in believing that Washington was a cesspool. So what followed has been a very deliberate attempt to blow up and delegitimize government, not just the president but the actions of government itself in Washington.

And Republican leaders, like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor, were complicit in this. I think when Republicans had their stunning victory in 2010, Cantor et al thought they could now co-opt these people. Instead, they were co-opted themselves.

As for Trump’s chances in the general election, the temperamentally prudent Ornstein offers this

I think if we’re laying the odds here, I still think it is more like 80/20 that he loses. There are a lot of reasons to think that he is not gonna be able to expand this message to a much larger group of people once you move beyond trying to impress a Republican Party audience.

(…) Having said that, I would not discount entirely the possibility that he could win, for the following set of reasons.

One, tribalism is still a dominant force. We do know that straight-ticket voting has increased dramatically. This to me suggests we’re not gonna have a 45-state blowout like Goldwater faced, or a 49-state one like Mondale or McGovern had. You’re gonna start with some states and you’re gonna start with 45 percent of the votes. Most Republicans are gonna come back into the fold.

And then, what if Brexit happens and you get turmoil in the global economy? And it affects the US? What if ISIS decides that a Trump presidency would be wonderful, so let’s stage a couple of showy, Paris-type attacks in the US in October?

When you have an election and history is not to be completely discounted, we know that elections that occur after eight years of a two-term president focus around how much change you want. And Hillary Clinton still has that hurdle to overcome that she’s not exactly a candidate of change. And if events occur that create more of a desire for change, then people might roll the dice with Trump.

So I don’t discount it entirely. And I think 20 percent sounds like not much, but is quite tangible.

Correct. In my reckoning, the probability of Trump defeating Hillary in November is roughly that of Marine Le Pen winning the French presidential election next May, which is not going to happen. Except that one can come up with not totally outlandish scenarios in which it does…

To read the Ornstein interview in its entirety—which is well worth the while—go here.

For more on this aspect of the Trump story, see the article in the NYT (May 7th), “Republican Party unravels over Donald Trump’s takeover,” by Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin. Money quote

[Trump] has amplified his independent, outsider message in real time, using social media and cable news interviews — and his own celebrity and highly attuned ear for what resonates — to rally voters to his side, using communication strategies similar to those deployed in the Arab Spring uprising or in the attempts by liberals and students to foment a similar revolution in Iran.

“Trump leveraged a perfect storm,” said Steve Case, the founder of AOL, in an email message. “A combo of social media (big following), brand (celebrity figure), creativity (pithy tweets), speed/timeliness (dominating news cycles).”

Mr. Trump is an unlikely spokesman for the grievances of financially struggling, alienated Americans: a high-living Manhattan billionaire who erects skyscrapers for the wealthy and can easily get politicians on the phone. But as a shrewd business tactician, he understood the Republican Party’s customers better than its leaders did and sensed that his brand of populist, pugilistic, anti-establishment politics would meet their needs.

After seething at Washington for so long, hundreds or thousands of miles from the capital, many of these voters now see Mr. Trump as a kind of savior. Even if he does not detail his policies, even if his language strikes them as harsh sometimes, his supporters thrill more to his plain-spoken slogans like “Make America Great Again” than to what they see as the cautious and poll-tested policy speeches of Mr. Ryan and other Washington Republicans.

On Hillary Clinton and whether or not she should now move to the center—to attract moderate Republicans—or tack left to win over skeptical Bernie supporters, David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, not surprisingly argues for the former. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias rightly counters, however, that “Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to choose between a reassuring campaign and progressive policies.”

Check out this anti-Trump ad currently airing in Arkansas, which is “a preview of Democratic attacks to come.”

So how many self-identified Republican voters will decline to vote for Trump in November? With all the dissension and tumult in the GOP, it’s hard to see him getting anywhere near the 93% who voted Romney in 2012 (whereas one does not imagine Hillary getting much less than the 92% of Democrats who voted Obama). One voter who will definitely not be casting his ballot for Trump is the NYT’s moderate rightist intello columnist Ross Douthat, who laid out yesterday “The conservative case against Trump.” And then there’s a Trumpophobic right-of-center friend of mine, who categorically informed me in an email today

I’ll probably vote for Hillary or vote Libertarian unless the GOP manages to choke out a reasonable Third Party candidate. It’s important that the Trump wing not only lose, but be savagely thrashed, to the point that Trumpism is comprehensively discredited. Sadly, I don’t know if even a devastating loss in the election will achieve that. To eradicate that political impulse in Germany, the place had to be firebombed, leveled, occupied, and divided for half a century — and the surviving leaders of the movement had to be hanged.

On the bright side, Trump has united my friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Like Pauline Kael, I don’t know anyone who’s going to vote for him.

I somehow doubt that my friend will reconsider her position as the campaign moves into the summer and fall…

On the matter of an anti-Trump, conservative-compatible third party candidate, historian Josh Zeitz, harking back to Jimmy Carter’s insurgent 1976 candidacy, writes in Politico (May 3rd) that this is “The worst way to stop a front-runner,” explaining what the #NeverTrump people can learn from the establishment Democratic Party’s last-ditch “Anybody But Carter” effort forty years back (was it that long ago?! that was my first presidential election as a voter…).

For a spot on commentary, see Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYT, “The making of an ignoramus.” The lede: “Trump’s bad ideas are largely a bombastic version of what many in his party have been saying.”

In case one missed it, social scientists Stefan Pfattheicher and Simon Schindler have a research article entitled “Misperceiving bullshit as profound is associated with favorable views of Cruz, Rubio, Trump and conservatism,” published April 29th in the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal PLoS ONE. I thought at first that this was a parody à la Alan Sokal but ascertained that it was indeed legit, as Messrs Pfattheicher and Schindler are veritable legit professors, at Universität Ulm and Universität Kassel respectively. Asheley R. Landrum—Howard Deshong Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania—was, however, not impressed with their argument or use of data, riposting on her blog (May 5th), “When studies studying bullshit are themselves bullshit...” She begins

We have a problem with PLoS publishing bullshit studies.

One has no doubt not missed the two recent profiles of hypothetical future First Lady Melania Trump, one by Julia Ioffe in GQ—which earned her a torrent of abuse from Trumpistas focusing on her ethno-confessional identity—the other by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker. Michelle she’s not, ça c’est sûr.

À suivre, évidemment.

UPDATE: Political scientist Shadi Hamid, who is based at the Brookings Institution, has an excellent, must-read article (May 6th) in The Atlantic, “Donald Trump and the authoritarian temptation.” The lede: “The candidate has exposed the tension between democracy and liberal values—just like the Arab Spring did.”

Also see the piece (May 3rd) by political analyst Cliston Brown in the New York Observer, “No amount of working-class whites can win Trump the White House.” The lede: “Here’s the truth: There just aren’t enough ‘angry white men’.” As it happens, the publisher of the Observer, Jared Kushner, is Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

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(photo credit: AP)

(photo credit: AP)

[update below]

The short answer: no. The long answer: no, he can’t, and he won’t. I’ve already laid out my argument on this, e.g. here, and am not going to do so again, except to make a couple of points—that I’ve been arguing on social media since yesterday—and link to good analyses and commentaries since Indiana for those who are interested. E.g. in one exchange yesterday on a third-party thread, I responded to a comment by a knowledgeable French observer, who submitted that both Trump and Cruz could possibly defeat Hillary, with this

I respectfully disagree… The polls have showed Clinton beating both Trump and Cruz by similar margins (the latest poll has HRC at +13 over Trump, +10 over Cruz). There is, in any case, no way Trump will win the election (or that Cruz could have had he stayed in the race and gone on to win the nomination). If one wishes to argue that these two Republicans could win in November, I’d like to hear how they do it: what 2012 Obama states they would flip to get over 270 EVs and what the demographics of their victorious coalition would be, i.e. what Obama voters they would attract? I’m sorry but I do not see it.

He replied by bringing up working class voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. My rejoinder

So you think white working class voters in WI and PA who went for Obama in 2012 and ’08—and for Kerry and Gore against Bush, and for Bill Clinton both times—will, for some mysterious reason, suddenly defect to Trump in 2016? But why would this happen? Pour mémoire, PA has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988 and WI since ’84. There is, in any case, no polling data to suggest that Trump can flip these two states, or OH for that matter. It doesn’t make sense. As for IN, this is normally a Republican state (’08 was an aberration), but in which Hillary and Bernie together received more votes than did Trump yesterday (and I assure you, hardly any of those Bernie voters will go for Trump this November). And whatever new WC votes Trump picks up in November will be more than offset by moderate Republicans—and, above all, women—who will defect to Hillary.

In any case, the white WC vote is neither monolithic nor significant enough to move national election outcomes. And any white WC voters inclined to vote Trump have already been voting R for years now.

For more on this, see Nate Silver on “The mythology of Trump’s ‘working class’ support,” in which he informs us that “[Trump’s] voters are better off economically compared with most Americans.”

As for other good analyses and commentaries:

President Trump? Not likely,” by Drake University law professor Anthony J. Gaughan, in The Conversation. The lede: “The GOP nomination may be Trump’s, but the general election is another story.”

Donald Trump’s victory proves Republican voters want resentful nationalism, not principled conservatism,” by Vox’s Ezra Klein. Make sure to watch the six-minute video between nº 8 and 9, where Klein—who absolutely, totally nails it—explains why Trump cannot suddenly decide to become a “moderate”—and, ergo, why it is hard to take his chances in November seriously.

Republicans have a massive electoral map problem that has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” by WaPo’s Chris Cillizza. See also, from last August: “Electoral map: How Hispanic and Asian voters could change the Electoral College.”

The great Trump reshuffle,” by NYT contributor Thomas B. Edsall. The lede: “The 2016 election will deepen the division between those who support the social and cultural revolutions of the past five decades and those who remain in opposition.” Edsall, always sober in his analyses, offers this

The nomination of Donald Trump will sharpen and deepen the Republican Party’s core problems. Trump gains the party ground among declining segments of the population — less well educated, less well off whites — and loses ground with the growing constituencies: single women, well-educated men and women, minorities, the affluent and professionals.

Trump begins in a massive hole,” by Politico’s Steven Shepard. The lede: “The presumptive GOP nominee trails Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by polling margins not seen in a generation.”

In the same vein: “Donald Trump isn’t going to be president,” by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. The lede: He’d have to win unprecedented shares of the very kinds of voters who hate him: blacks, Latinos, and women.”

Also in this vein, see the remarkable post by the très conservateur blogger Erick Erickson, who is a major voice on that end of the political spectrum, “Indiana Republicans hand Hillary Clinton the White House.”

Another conservative blogger, Ben Howe, had a widely-remarked upon post on the hard-right Red State blog Tuesday night, slamming Trump and fellow conservatives who support him: “I lied to myself for years about who my allies were. No more.” He later followed up with this tweet to his 46K followers: #ImWithHer. Wow.

Glenn Greenwald—who, while often right, is invariably an insufferable jerk—has a self-satisfied piece, co-authored with Zaid Jilani, in which he gives his fellow journalists a hard time, “Beyond Schadenfreude, the spectacular pundit failure on Trump is worth remembering.” Indeed. Quant à moi, I went along with the pundit crowd—notably Nate Silver—in a post last August 9th, in which I dismissed Trump’s chances, but—following Norm Ornstein—changed my tune two weeks later, when I started to take Trump more seriously.

It really is quite stunning, isn’t it? Who could have possibly imagined that, as of May 2nd, Trump would be the only Republican candidate left standing? He’s vanquished them all. There will be no contested or brokered convention after all. C’est vraiment incroyable.

Any idea of who his Veep pick may be? I can’t imagine what fool would want to run that errand. Marco Rubio is one name that’s floating. If that happens, all I will say is ‘oy vey!’

Hillary’s attack ads have now begun. And the first one’s a good one. Bring it on! The more the merrier.

UPDATE: Bernie supporters on social media continue to harp on about Hillary’s putative vulnerabilities against Trump, with many suggesting that she could lose. But they do not consider “what a Republican attack on Bernie Sanders would look like,” as Michelle Goldberg speculates on in Slate (May 2nd), asserting, rightly so IMO, that “Sanders’ ‘superior electability’ is still a myth.” See also William Saletan’s Slate piece (April 26th), “Polls say Bernie is more electable than Hillary. Don’t believe them.”

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Clinton vs Trump projection_Screenshot by Ryan Witt

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update]

Nice-looking map, though is not for real—at least not yet. It’s a projection of the outcome of a hypothetical Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump general election match-up based on polls taken in May and June of last year, which were worth what they were worth. I’m dubious about some of it—e.g. I really don’t see Wyoming voting Democratic under any circumstances and it is not out of the question that Texas could go blue—but am nonetheless confident that this is pretty much how the map will look on the night of November 8th in the now likely event that we do get that Clinton-Trump contest.

Continuing from my post of yesterday, in which I touched on the eventual legacy of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, a likely one—that one hopes for, at any rate—is that it will push the Democratic Party to the left on issues relating to economic inequality, with the Dems advocating increased government action to reduce this. Bernie supporters are quite certain that such will not happen with Hillary in the White House but blogger-political science professor Scott Lemieux begs to differ. In a piece in TNR (April 29th) he explains, convincingly IMO, “Why Hillary will govern more like Bernie than people think,” arguing that if the Dems as a whole move left, Hillary will too, as, “in the end, parties matter just as much as individuals.” If Hillary is to govern from the left, though, it will be important that Bernie’s supporters stay mobilized and work within the Democratic Party, so Markos Moulitsas—founder-editor of the Über-partisan Daily Kos—exhorted them to do in a commentary after last Tuesday’s primaries.

Foreign policy is sure to be an issue in the campaign, particularly in view of what Trump has had to say on the subject, notably in his speech last Wednesday, which analyst Fred Kaplan trenchantly called “the most senseless, self-contradicting foreign policy speech by any major party’s presidential nominee in modern history” and “even more incoherent than his impromptu ramblings.” The Donald’s speech, needless to say, got low marks across the political spectrum (the NYT editorial on the speech has this great line: “When one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when one’s experience is limited to real estate deals, everything looks like a lease negotiation.”).

Hillary, ça va de soi, has no such credibility problem when it comes to foreign policy, though lefties have been denouncing her as a neocon warmonger for years. And more grist was added to the left’s Hillary hysteria mill with the NYT Magazine’s widely read article last week on “How Hillary Clinton became a hawk,” with author Mark Landler observing that “[t]hroughout her career [Hillary Clinton] has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama—and most Democrats.” Landler’s piece—an excerpt of his newly published book, which looks most interesting—quite literally struck terror into one well-known Hillary-hating Bernie Bro academic political science friend—otherwise a smart guy but who has a severe case of Clinton Derangement Syndrome—who asserted on social media that “I really do fear for what she would do as president.” He and other lefties have indeed been of the intimate conviction that Hillary, the day she takes office, will look around for a war to start, that she will order the Pentagon to attack some country, probably in the Middle East but maybe anywhere. And why will she do this? Because she likes war. And she’s Hillary Clinton. C’est tout.

People need to get a grip. Landler’s piece did indeed reveal Hillary’s deep respect for the men and women of the US military, her internationalism, and greater propensity than President Obama to advocate the use of force in situations where the option is seriously on the table. In this, she may be a little more hawkish than other establishment Democrats but, I would venture, no more so than her husband was, or than Al Gore or John Kerry likely would have been had they been elected POTUS. Her 2002 Iraq vote is a big stain—and that lefties do not forgive her for (though it wasn’t redhibitory for them in John Kerry’s case in ’04)—but would she have attacked Iraq had she been in the Oval Office at the time? I doubt it. Really.

Hillary is also being pilloried by lefties for the Libya intervention—for which she was the leading proponent in the administration—and particularly for the failure to adequately anticipate and deal with the aftermath. Personally, I thought Libya was a close call but tilted toward intervention; and once Obama made the decision, I was 100% gung-ho. As for the post-regime change planning, sure, this didn’t happen the way it should have, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. And I don’t recall any of today’s Monday morning Cassandra quarterbacks warning of it back then. Syria: Hillary was the most interventionist actor in the Obama administration through 2012. I didn’t share her viewpoint. But the Syria policy she advocated was not beyond the pale among Democrats—and was indeed that of certain Syria specialists whose analyses I respect. And Israel and her AIPAC speech? Ouf. So what? What difference does it make?

In short, Hillary is getting a bum rap from the left on foreign policy. In point of fact, she is an establishment Democrat and mainstream Hamiltonian—in the Walter Russell Mead sense—in her foreign policy positioning. Though I have largely sided with Obama in his foreign policy decisions, I don’t have a problem with Hillary in this domain. And Hillary’s “toughness”—how I hate that word—on foreign policy will likely draw Republican defectors in November—who will discount her progressive positions on domestic issues (banking on the GOP holding the House and thereby acting as a brake). And the more Republican defectors, the wider her margin of victory will be and, consequently, the better Democratic candidates down-ballot are likely to perform. So let’s keep our eyes on the big picture.

But “[i]s Hillary Clinton really the foreign policy super-hawk she is portrayed to be?” so asks Vox’s Max Fisher? Answer: it’s a complicated question but, in short, no, she is, in fact, not; and she is far more dovish than any of the remaining Republican candidates. And, pour mémoire, she wholeheartedly supported the Iran deal and secretly pushed for normalization with Cuba for years before it finally happened.

All this being said, though, I still feel more comfortable with Bernie’s foreign policy vision as spelled out by UMass Amherst political science professor and informal Bernie adviser Charli Carpenter, in a post (April 27th) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog.

On the subject of foreign policy, did one see Obama’s speech in Hannover last Monday, in which he spoke about Europe? If not, watch it here. He’s excellent, comme d’hab’.

Some have expressed concern about Hillary being indicted for the email business, which would put a serious crimp in her candidacy indeed. But in point of fact, she most likely won’t be indicted and shouldn’t be, as Richard O. Lempert—the Eric Stein Distinguished University Professor of Law and Sociology emeritus at the University of Michigan—explained in an “objective legal analysis” in The American Prospect (March 20th), asserting that “[t]here is no reason to think that Clinton committed any crimes with respect to the use of her email server.” And how likely is it that the Obama administration’s Justice Department will legally pursue Hillary over this?

As for the emails, The Guardian’s political columnist Jill Abramson read through them, leading her to assert (March 28th) that “[t]his may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest,” adding that “I investigated Hillary and know she likes a ‘zone of privacy’ around her[; t]his lack of transparency, rather than any actual corruption, is her greatest flaw.” And then, FWIW, there’s the témoignage by an anonymous activist, who wrote that “[she] was one of the most ardent Hillary haters on the planet…until [she] read her emails.”

And Hillary’s speeches at Goldman Sachs and her stonewalling on releasing the transcripts? MoJo’s Kevin Drum is pretty sure there’s nothing there—that, as an issue, it’s one big nothing—and that “[e]veryone knows why [she] won’t release her Goldman Sachs speeches.”

And then there was Charles Koch saying that he could just possibly vote for Hillary in November, which prompted an “aha!” from Hillary-hating gauchistes on social media (which I saw with my own eyes). But The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who has written the most important book out there on the Koch brothers and their malevolent influence in the GOP—and in American politics more generally—dismissed that out of hand (April 26th), saying “Koch for Clinton? Not a chance.”

On the Republicans, just four points. First, though I am not displeased by the prospect of Trump’s nomination—in view of the debacle it will bring about for the GOP in November—I nonetheless adhere to Slate columnist Jamelle Bouie’s sentiment (April 27th) on Trump’s apparent triumph, which is “Don’t ever get used to it: This is unprecedented and terrifying.” Second, in case one missed it, read Paul Krugman’s April 25th column on the “The 8 A.M. Call,” on how we would really not want to have Trump or Ted Cruz at the helm in the event of a sudden global financial meltdown. Third, Trumpism is the likely future of the Republican Party—and Clintonism of the Democrats—as Michael Lind argued (April 16th) in the NYT. Fourth, as Politico reports (April 29th), both Dem and GOP insiders are convinced that “Clinton [will] crush Trump in November.” Voilà.

UPDATE: There have actually been a few analyses of Trump’s foreign policy speech by serious persons that have been less dismissive of it than those of most mainstream commentators. E.g. Jacob Heillbrun—editor of The National Interest—explained in Politico (April 27th) “Why [he] hosted Trump’s foreign policy speech.” Writing in TPM (April 28th), John Judis asserted that “Trump’s foreign policy speech should be discussed not dismissed.” Salon’s foreign affairs columnist Patrick L. Smith submitted (April 28th) that “Trump opposed Iraq, Hillary voted for war: Let’s take his foreign policy vision seriously,” further opining that “Trump gets some things very wrong, but [the] speech was still daring, spot on and [an] important contrast with Hillary.” And the Financial Times’s Edward Luce weighed in on the speech in a column (May 1st) entitled “Donald Trump’s war with best and brightest,” in which he asserted that “[Trump’s] confused foreign policy still offers a legitimate contrast to Clinton’s.”

John Judis has another column on Trump in TPM (May 1st), BTW, this on his economic vision: “Trumponomics explained – sort of.”

2nd UPDATE: NYT columnist Ross Douthat has had a couple of good pieces of late. One, “The idea of Trump’s electability,” examines the intriguing question of why Republican primary voters are about to deliver the nomination to a candidate who is manifestly one of the most unelectable of the 22 or however many it was who entered the race, when electability has always been an important criteria for voters in primaries. In the other, “Give us a king!,” Douthat discusses the increasing support in the American electorate for a strong presidency, or what he calls “executive branch Caesarism.” Money quote: “That clamor [for a strong executive] is loudest from the Trumpistas and their dear leader. Donald Trump is clearly running to be an American caudillo, not the president of a constitutional republic, and his entire campaign is a cult of personality in the style of (the pro-Trump) Vladimir Putin.”

3rd UPDATE: University of Nebraska political science profs John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse have a must-read post (May 2nd) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “A surprising number of Americans dislike how messy democracy is. They like Trump.” According to their data, the “surprising number of Americans [who] feel dismissive about such core features of democratic government as deliberation, compromise and decision-making by elected, accountable officials” are far more Republican than Democrat.

In this vein, Andrew Sullivan has a pessimistic, almost alarmist article in the May 2nd issue of New York magazine on—what else?—the Trump phenomenon: “Democracies end when they are too democratic: And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.” Money quote (one among a number):

And so those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that. Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands. That it will fall to Clinton to temper her party’s ambitions will be uncomfortable to watch, since her willingness to compromise and equivocate is precisely what many Americans find so distrustful. And yet she may soon be all we have left to counter the threat. She needs to grasp the lethality of her foe, moderate the kind of identity politics that unwittingly empowers him, make an unapologetic case that experience and moderation are not vices, address much more directly the anxieties of the white working class—and Democrats must listen.

And the concluding paragraph

For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

Sullivan’s article is long—almost 8,000 words—but is worth the read.

4th UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has reposted on his Facebook page his thoughts (here) on Trump’s candidacy dated last August 30th. They were prescient and worth rereading today.

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The state of the race

cruz kasich trump clinton sanders

I vowed to myself earlier this month that I wouldn’t do another blog post on the US election campaign until the conventions in July, or unless something really big and important happened before then, as it has been clear since Super Tuesday III six weeks ago that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic party nominee and that, for the GOP, we probably wouldn’t know until Cleveland. But in the wake of the Acela primaries—and as various friends, fans, and family are asking what I think—an état des lieux is in order.

On the Democratic side, which is my principal interest, even hardline Bernie Bros now know that it will be Hillary. Good. I’ve been liking Bernie Sanders comme tout le monde but his act was beginning to wear thin. He was not wearing well. And I have not been alone in my sentiment on this. A number of initially well-disposed liberal-lefties have indeed modified their attitude toward him, one being lawyer-blogger Robin Alperstein, who laid it out in an overly long, occasionally excessive but nonetheless well-argued essay dated April 17th on how and why she was becoming anti-Bernie. And Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum, in a post yesterday, explained why he “never warmed up to Bernie Sanders.” He begins

With the Democratic primary basically over, I want to step back a bit and explain the big-picture reason that I never warmed up to Bernie Sanders. It’s not so much that he’s all that far to my left, nor that he’s been pretty skimpy on details about all the programs he proposes. That’s hardly uncommon in presidential campaigns. Rather, it’s the fact that I think he’s basically running a con, and one with the potential to cause distinct damage to the progressive cause.

I mean this as a provocation—but I also mean it. So if you’re provoked, mission accomplished! Here’s my argument.

And here Drum’s argument is.

However valid the critiques, Bernie’s candidacy, it must be said, has been important and salutary. On this, the smart and insightful Duke University law professor Jedediah Purdy laid out the argument in an essay in Dissent dated April 21st, “A World to Make: Eleven Theses for the Bernie Sanders Generation.” The introduction:

The Sanders campaign has always been about more than Bernie Sanders. It has also been about more than winning states and delegates (although it has turned out to be a serious and remarkably effective effort at exactly that). The larger potential of the campaign is that a rising political generation has come to see it as a vehicle for doing something that, a few years ago, seemed impossible: advancing a vision of democratic political and economic life much more radical than that advanced by the Democratic Party of the 1990s and perhaps as expansive as the programs of the 1930s.

As for Purdy’s Eleven Theses for the Bernie Generation, they are

1. The economy is about power
2. Expertise is not legitimacy
3. You’re allowed to want economic security
4. You are more than human capital
5. Solidarity is different from hope
6. Democracy is more than voting
7. Not everything has to be earned
8. Equal treatment is not enough
9. We need a fight to make peace with the planet
10. We have in common what we decide to have in common
11. We have a world to make

Purdy elaborates on each thesis in the essay, with the last one being short and to the point:

Previous Democratic political campaigns have worked to navigate this world of inequality, insecurity, and so-called meritocracy, and to humanize it around the edges. The point, however, is to change it.

Some of us call that point democratic socialism.


One of Bernie’s signature issues—which seems like radical pie-in-the-sky—is single-payer health insurance. But while there is no chance single-payer will be enacted in the US anytime soon—if ever—certain components of it can, so argues journalist Jonathan Cohn—who has written extensively on health care policy—in the Huff Post a week ago, and that Bernie and his movement—if it lasts—should focus on this after the election.

The imperative of radically reforming the existing order, not just humanizing it around the edges, is the implicit takeaway from two important articles in The New York Times, both dated April 27th. In one, “How the other fifth lives,” Thomas B. Edsall examines how “the self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system.” The other article, by journalist Annie Lowrey, (rhetorically) asks “Where did the government jobs go?” Public sector employment has been the entrée into stable middle class life for large numbers of Americans—and particularly Afro-Americans—since the 1930s but, with privatization and budget slashing, those jobs have been disappearing, and with the consequence that increasing numbers of Americans—mainly Afro—have been tumbling out of the middle class. If that sizable slice of the population is to regain middle class status, those public sector jobs will have to come back, as the private sector is not going to do it.

Both these articles are highly recommended, particularly for certain friends who, blindsided by the Trump and Sanders phenomena, have confessed to having a “Pauline Kael moment” and admitted to living in a “Belmont bubble.” Pas moi.

To be continued (as there’s more)…

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