First Things First

posted in: 2016 Election | 0

The shock of yesterday’s election will linger for some time, and the reality of what happened will dawn in stages as we move closer to the inauguration of the new president. I have never missed an election outcome as badly as I missed this one. I read the data and looked at how the campaigns were modeling the electorate. Nothing pointed to white rural and exurban turnout at the levels we saw, and although Clinton seemed to be hitting her turnout numbers in key states, she underperformed with the emerging electorate relative to Obama in 08 and 12. And that was always the key to the election: Hillary had more voters but she had to turn them out. She turned out enough to win the popular vote but not the election. I strongly suspect apathy will not be a problem next time.

There is a lot to be said about what this means and what it portends for our politics, and I will have more to say about that when I get some sleep and have more time to reflect. But first, to everyone who feared a Trump presidency, let me offer a word of support. I have talked to many people today who share a sense of shock and despair. This is normal, and one of the sad facts of yesterday’s election is that regardless of the outcome about half the electorate was going to experience it. To those invested in Hillary’s vision of America the significance of this loss goes well beyond the loss of a normal election. I don’t think it’s possible to move on without first coming to terms with what happened. That can take time. Remember, countless tens of millions are going through this right now. And there is strength in numbers.


A Moment To Reflect

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Tomorrow, barring the biggest polling failure in history, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be elected President of the United States.

This interminable, hideous campaign will be over and our attention will turn to the frightening prospect of addressing the irreconcilable rifts it has revealed. It may be coincidence that the first female nominee of a major political party drew as her opponent a cartoonish buffoon who embodies every imaginable sexist trope, but it is not by chance that the elevation of a woman to the most important office in the world unleashed so much bile and ugliness from those who do not want to see the world change. Nothing of this magnitude happens without dislocation.

Regardless of what you think of Clinton’s character or politics, she merits enormous respect for staring down an opponent who belittled her, physically stalked her around a debate stage, and threatened to put her in prison for the crime of pretending to be worthy of the office she seeks, and she did it with gritty determination and almost superhuman strength. Like Barack Obama before her, she kept her cool when most ordinary people would have exploded in anger at the things being said about her. She had to if she was going to convince enough people to do something they never had done before, to make real the impossible. In 2008, Barack Obama won the electoral votes of Virginia, a state where his parents’ biracial marriage was illegal when he was a little boy. His soon-to-be successor is the daughter of a woman born in 1919 into a world where women were disenfranchised in most states. Tomorrow’s vote may have been almost a century in the making, but that is merely a heartbeat in human history.

A number of my college students do not sense the historic nature of what is about to occur. Ever since they have been cognizant of the larger world, a black man has been president. It only makes sense to them that a woman will be, too. They do not remember a time when if you were female your professional opportunities ranged from secretary to school Read More

Almost There

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So here we are, in the closing hours of this abnormal and abysmal election, moving inexorably toward a zero-sum decision about our future. The magnitude of the stakes has generated a level of anxiety and concern that feels unmatched in recent times. People can’t sleep or concentrate. I don’t recall this level of fear about a McCain or Romney presidency, as odious as those prospects may have been to Obama supporters, and for good reason. It is almost impossible to imagine the scope of damage a Trump presidency would do to the nation and the world. Yet to core Trump supporters the stakes are just as irreversible. The America they long for is disappearing and if the candidate who has disingenuously promised to bring it back is defeated by the candidate who believes we are stronger together, what options will be left to them to roll back the social and economic changes of the 21st century by ordinary political means?

The anxiety level among Clinton supporters spiked after the Comey story broke and the media abandoned the narrative of certain Clinton victory. It defies logic that a nation as polarized as ours could lurch from a potential Democratic landslide to a possible Trump victory in less than a week, but in the emotional realm where we experience elections anything short of certainty is terrifying. The prospect of a Trump presidency is so frightening that just entertaining the possibility is enough to cause sleepless nights.

So let’s get back to basics. I have always contended that this election boils down to the simple observation that there are more Clinton voters than Trump voters, where the key unknown is whether they will turn out. We now have ample evidence that they will. We don’t have to wait for Election Day to know this, because they already are.

Look at North Carolina, where the New York Times suggests Clinton holds a strong lead in early voting built on the ballots of new or infrequent voters. Or look at Florida, where Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said early voting was up 52% over 2012 as of Friday, with Latino participation up 120%, Asian-American participation up 90%, Millennial Read More

Three Scenarios

posted in: 2016 Election | 0

As I write, the 2016 election is well underway, with 12.6 million votes already cast as of yesterday and with the prospect of perhaps 40 million being cast before November 8. For these millions of voters, the election is over. But even for those who still could be influenced by events yet to unfold, we have reached the point where attitudes have settled and the remaining uncertainty surrounds who will show up to vote.

The electorate is now like a molten chocolate cake, hardened on the outside with a soft center of undecided voters and weak supporters. The final margins of the contest will depend on what these voters decide to do, but so much is baked into the electorate that it is hard to see how their decisions overwhelm the constants I wrote about earlier. Some of these undecided voters will no doubt decide that staying home makes more sense or is less stressful than making a choice between two unacceptable options. Others will vote for the candidate they have been leaning towards all along. Unless something happens to upset the underlying parameters of the election, few will change their mind at this point.

Here are three possible scenarios for how things will play out:

Landslide. Before the Comey email revelation, this is where things were heading. Clinton was expanding the map into Arizona, Georgia, Utah and even Texas, a luxury she could afford because she had essentially locked up enough electoral votes to win. Riding a median national lead in the 6-8 point range, she could afford to allocate resources to traditionally red states where Trump is underperforming. With Trump being written off by national Republicans and in media narratives, he faced the prospect of losing support on Election Day if his campaign came to be viewed as a lost cause. And talking about the election being rigged didn’t help matters. This scenario, which is still reflected in our State of the Race electoral map, would give Democrats an excellent chance to take back the Senate. If the spiral Read More

The Structure of the Race

posted in: 2016 Election | 0

The news cycle today is being dominated by FBI Director James Comey’s decision to announce his intention to investigate emails uncovered from the Anthony Weiner probe which were neither sent nor received by Hillary Clinton, may or may not contain classified information, and may or may not be duplicates of email already reviewed by the agency. As of this hour, the story appears to be moving toward questions about Comey’s judgment in making the email investigation public, but within moments of the first Breaking News banner it was clear the political media viewed this as a horserace matter rather than a substantive question of Hillary Clinton’s culpability in mishandling sensitive material. The Clinton email narrative is so well established that even as reporters acknowledged that Comey’s announcement doesn’t implicate the candidate, they began speculating about what it would mean to Clinton’s chances now that all they would want to talk about is her emails. The New York Times headline today read: “Emails Found in Weiner Inquiry Jolt Race.” Indeed.

The problem for the Clinton campaign is now that the email bell has been rung, subsequent details will not matter to voters for whom the phrase “Clinton email” is synonymous with mistrust and deception. The campaign can try to pressure Comey to release a clarifying statement or raise doubts about his professionalism but they will still be talking about emails, which means Clinton will remain on defense. Now, if history is a reasonable guide, Donald Trump will soon insist we start talking about him, and without any additional email revelations the press may move on to another shiny object. But in the event this story is the final turn of the 2016 campaign, it might be a good time to answer the question being raised by political reporters and consider what difference it is likely to make.

Every election has a structure. The constants in this election include surprisingly encouraging economic figures and (not coincidently) an appreciable improvement in President Obama’s political standing, along with growing diversity in the electorate reflected in an Electoral College map with an increasingly strong Democratic tilt. These constants boost the nominee of the incumbent party, but they are balanced by the difficult task of the incumbent party seeking a Read More

Electoral Map 10/24: Texas?

posted in: Electoral College | 0

forecastmap_2016_10_24The Wolves and Sheep electoral college map looks much as it did last week with one big exception: Texas is now a toss-up on the strength of three recent polls showing Donald Trump with a slim 3-4 point lead over Hillary Clinton. I’m not suggesting that Clinton will win Texas, which is a large, expensive and complicated state where no Democrat has won statewide office since Ann Richards was governor during Bill Clinton’s administration. Instead, I see the closeness of the race in Texas—where Clinton has been steadily catching up to Trump over the past few weeks—as emblematic of how the presidential race appears to be slipping away from the Republican nominee. Along with Arizona, Georgia and Utah—all tossups—Clinton is systematically expanding the electoral map in the election’s final weeks by contesting traditional red states where Trump is underperforming.

This week should bring an avalanche of national and statewide polling that reflects the state of the race following the third and final debate, and I will update the map to reflect these results when they become available.

Ego Over Country

posted in: Debates | 0

We now have confirmation that Donald Trump may not accept the outcome of the election. When given the opportunity to say what should be automatic for any presidential contender, that he will of course concede the election if he loses, Trump instead told America to stay tuned. And so the Republican nominee for president effectively disqualified himself in front of the nation at the third and mercifully final debate of this election year.

Often contentious, at times surprisingly substantive, tonight’s bout featured a preternaturally composed Hillary Clinton alternately offering a vision for her administration and goading her opponent into fits of rage. If Donald Trump were capable of taking political advice, he would have controlled his body language, modulated his tone and trained his message on the doubts voters have about his opponent.

But Trump’s campaign has never been an exercise in rationality so much as a vehicle for channeling grievance. Trump won the nomination in part because of his ability to project a seemingly limitless capacity for feeling slighted onto a Republican electorate hungry for someone to acknowledge their anger. This characteristic has not worked with a general electorate looking for a candidate to articulate a positive vision for changing the country, and he has not been able to turn it off because it fundamentally reflects who he is.

As Trump’s campaign has gone into a tailspin these past weeks he has resorted to acting out in a desperate effort to assert his dominance. His behavior cannot be understood in terms of strategy or tactics because his words and actions make no sense if his objective is to appeal to voting groups he needs to win. As he loses voters he escalates his rhetoric, and as he escalates his rhetoric he loses more voters. So now he has talked himself into a corner where he has to consider rejecting the outcome because he cannot accept a loss of any kind. His campaign now is little more than a reflection of his ego.

Like an episode of a reality TV show that’s gone on too long, tonight’s debate left a weary nation ready to move on to the final episode where they get to vote the belligerent contestant off the island. For the sake of the republic, let’s hope he goes.

Electoral Map

posted in: Electoral College | 0


For the final weeks of the campaign, we’re adding a feature courtesy of our graphics designer Sharon Machlis. It’s the “tilegram” electoral map displayed on the left, portraying the state of the Electoral College based on aggregate state polling. I will update the map regularly and display it in the right sidebar, where you can click on the figure to see a full-page version. Expect polling to increase in volume as the election nears, and as we approach Election Day we should be able to project the likely outcome with increasing certainty.

The tiles reflect the number of electoral votes awarded to each state, allowing a clear visual representation of the state of the race without the distorting effect of geography. A glance at the map makes it clear, for instance, that the combined electoral value of the five interior states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho—all Trump strongholds—is equivalent to the value of Georgia, which is historically a Republican state but this year is too close to call. Mouse over the states in the enlarged version to find the percentage of the popular vote won by Obama in 2008, the last time there was an open seat.

The map depicts the regions where each candidate is strong: Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of New England, the Acela corridor, the upper Midwest and the Pacific Rim; Trump in Appalachia, the deep South, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West. Clinton’s base regions are more populated, so she has more tiles (and is more likely to be elected). The map also shows how Trump is underperforming in traditional Republican regions and in swing states. Ohio and Iowa are his best bets to win states carried by Obama, but this is offset by weaknesses in Georgia, Arizona and Utah (where he is deeply unpopular with the large Mormon population), and in the swing states of Florida, North Carolina and Nevada, where recent polling puts him at a disadvantage. And keep an eye on the states shaded light red (South Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Alaska). If the election were held today Trump would win them narrowly, but we are one Access Hollywood video away from moving them to the contested category.

It’s Still A Change Election

I’d like to take a break from the ongoing Trump implosion and refocus for a minute on the fundamental forces shaping this election. Although the closing arguments of the campaign will be dominated by questions of basic human decency, we should remember that the primary political driver since early last year has been a cry for change. Dissatisfaction and disgust with politics as usual fueled the unexpected rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, this cycle’s two defining figures. Even if the electorate elevates a consummate insider to the presidency, the desire to shake up the political process will assert itself strongly after her inauguration. How she addresses it will determine the fate of the governing majority we elect on November 8 and quite possibly the fate of the nation.

The requirements of those crying out for change would be difficult to navigate under the best of circumstances, but the destructive quality of the presidential campaign will leave the winner with the political equivalent of the policy apocalypse that Barack Obama inherited in 2008. With Donald Trump dragging the country through a cesspool of conspiracy theories which threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the election, the next administration is going to lack buy-in from a large chunk of the country. Angry voters from across the political spectrum will make varied and incompatible demands. Left-leaning populists identify different problems and call for different solutions than right-leaning populists. There are racial, cultural and economic layers to the change mantra, all of which need attention. The next administration will inherit all of this.

If Democrats win, they would be wise to remember Bernie Sanders’ core critique of the economic and political process as favoring the interests of the super-rich, and Sanders’ followers would be advised to keep the pressure on a Democratic administration to do something about it. For all the multi-layered problems marking this political moment, Read More

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Reporters this week discovered a full-fledged Republican civil war. They are several years late. It should surprise precisely no one that Donald Trump is directing his rage at Paul Ryan for instructing members of the House Republican caucus to oppose the nominee if it will help them hold their seats. The self-described unshackled Donald Trump now taking aim at party leaders is the same candidate who rose to prominence by giving voice to Republican voter anger at party elites, which for years had been expressed in Congress by the rump “Freedom Caucus” that checkmated Ryan and his predecessor John Boehner. What we see now is an emotionally unstable candidate escalating his rhetoric against those elites in order to construct a defense against his own failures as his campaign falters. But his supporters have long been furious with party leadership, so they are willing consumers of his rage. Coming as it is during the final weeks of a national campaign, Trump’s assault is putting excruciating pressure on fault lines years in the making.

Wolves and Sheep readers know that my Premise A about this political moment is the Republican Party has long been two incompatible parties living under one roof: a traditional conservative party and a radicalized reactionary party. This represents an unhealthy change in the Republican coalition of the Reagan and Bush years because the two groups want opposite things. As a general rule, conservatives wish to preserve while radicals want to destroy. In the current context, Ryan and his caucus would like to preserve their House majority. Trump and his angry followers are more than willing to tear it down.

This portends an all-out party split if the result of the election is total defeat up and down the ballot. But what would such a split look like? The winner-take-all nature of the American electoral system argues against the long-term viability of multiple parties. The Republican Party minus its radical faction would be too small to compete nationally and in many states, while a reactionary party would be even smaller and unable to expand its appeal. A three-party arrangement would cede tremendous political territory to the Democrats and over time would generate intense pressure for reunification. But it would have to be reunification on terms other than what we see today because the two Read More

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