In my previous post, I compared the political climate to an intense storm and suggested that it has been building for years. The frontal boundary is the place where the portion of the electorate that supported Hillary Clinton is pushing against the portion that supported Donald Trump. The Clinton electorate—young, multicultural, progressive and connected to the 21st century economy—has been building in size and political influence. The Trump electorate—white, older, conservative and connected to the 20th century economy—is shrinking in size and losing its political and cultural dominance. The Obama administration marked a noteworthy shift away from the rightward impulses of the Reagan coalition but it was held in check by the resiliency of a political system not quite weak enough to be repudiated and by a progressive coalition not quite strong enough to do the repudiating.
In this respect, the Obama administration resembles Richard Nixon’s attempt to move the country away from the New Deal. Just as Nixon’s rightward lean drew resistance from the press, the bureaucracy and an opposition legislature, Obama was squeezed by the Democratic Party’s allegiance to monied interests and the Republican Party’s institutional ability to resist his more liberal impulses. Like Nixon, Obama spoke to future leaders who might eventually change the country’s direction should they figure out a way to expand their coalition, as Reagan would several years later. And like Nixon, Obama was correctly viewed as a threat to the status quo and generated intense resistance from the other side. So while Obama was unable to establish a lasting progressive governing coalition, he did advance the interests and sensibilities of the emerging electorate, generating resistance from corners of the population where those interests are not shared. This contributed to the reaction that was Trump’s election.
Our political moment is precarious because both groups can claim a large number of adherents but neither has been able to establish a functioning majority. Our political disputes are intense because each group fears the loss of something fundamental if the other succeeds. This is intensified by the (correct) perception by the right that they are Read More
Let’s return to the fundamental premise of this cycle: it was a change election. During the campaign, I wrote extensively about the irony that, according to available public polling, voters clamoring for a new direction were going to ratify the status quo by electing a Democratic president and a Republican congress. Even when a Democratic wave appeared to be building several weeks ago, Democrats were highly unlikely to win enough House seats to end divided government, and even if they could, Hillary Clinton was not a credible change agent. This is why, as I wrote during the campaign, she was a bad fit to the cycle. But her opponent, a boorish, bigoted, unqualified loudmouth, was a bad fit to the electorate, and this bolstered Clinton’s chances. In a change year, Clinton appeared to have gotten lucky by drawing an opponent who was even more disliked than she. By all accounts, the second most disliked candidate in polling history was going to comfortably defeat the most disliked candidate because the Republican Party had nominated someone who was fundamentally unacceptable to too many people.
If there were clues to the strength of the reactionary sentiment roiling the electorate they could have been found in the countless times we heard pundits say that (fill in the appalling Trump news) would have ended any other candidacy. He was almost derailed by the visceral Access Hollywood tape, which vividly confirmed what was already known about Trump’s attitudes and behaviors, but he survived and was ultimately elected despite it, a testament to how badly Read More
At the Democratic Convention this summer, a respected political operative told me that Hillary Clinton would win the election because Democrats have a structural advantage in the Electoral College, enough to make up for whatever weaknesses she had as a candidate. Demography drives this advantage, which remains in place despite the uprising of rural and suburban white voters that changed the electoral math on Tuesday. Democrats are powered by a large and growing coalition of young, female and ethnically diverse voters in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Pacific Rim and portions of the South and Southwest where the information economy has taken hold. This is the so-called “blue wall” that Donald Trump breached by turning out record numbers of white voters attached to the old demography and the old economy, the voters who supported Trump because he promised to blow up a political system that no longer works for them and, in turn, re-establish their lost place in the economic and social order. They were angry, and they voted in large enough numbers to deny Clinton the Rust Belt states she was depending on to win.
These economic, social and cultural divides are responsible for the zero-sum character of our politics, and turnout differences between the two groups have prevented either side from forging a lasting political coalition. The Democratic coalition powered Obama’s two victories but didn’t show up in the off years, giving Republicans control of congress and Read More
With a few days to reflect and some unsettled sleep, I’ve been able to put together a few observations about how I think we can understand what happened in Tuesday’s election and what it may mean for our politics in the near and long term. Starting tomorrow and over the next several days, I will share my thoughts in a series of five posts:
- Sorting It Out looks at how a white backlash that was only partially captured by the polls may have been a necessary step on the road to breaking our political stalemate
- Change explores how the fundamental dynamics of the election were reflected in the outcome, even though the result was so surprising
- The Hard Path gets into the reasons why any political realignment to emerge from our present politics is going to first require a tumultuous period of uncertainty and risk
- Donald Trump as Jimmy Carter employs a little social science to suggest why Trump’s election looks like the final chapter in the Reagan regime rather than the start of a new and lasting political alignment
- New Traffic Patterns Ahead is a very long post explaining what I believe will be the contours of political conflict post-Trump, and why scrambling the status quo could be a very good thing.
The thread running through these posts is uncertainty and opportunity. For those finding it hard to come to terms with what happened, I offer a long-term perspective with hopeful possibilities. And while no one knows how things are going to play out, it may be reassuring to know that history suggests there are encouraging scenarios that may seem unlikely today.
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.
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
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
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 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
The 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.