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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Good Morning President-Elect Trump

I am writing this on the morning after election day, before I've had much opportunity to digest what just happened.  All I can say is ... wow!

Unconventional Victory

Donald Trump defied expectations all along the way.  When he announced his candidacy, no one saw him as the ultimate winner.  There is even good evidence that Trump himself never expected to win even the nomination when he first announced.  He simply wanted publicity.

He defied all predictions when he won the Republican nomination over many more credible opponents who had much better traditional credentials.  He managed to defy all conventional wisdom to win the primaries, only to face the conventional wisdom that such a divisive candidate, who could not even unify his own party, could never win the election.

Trump never received the endorsements of most leading Republican politicians.  Those he did get were usually qualified and half-hearted.  All former Republican Presidents and Presidential candidates boycotted his convention, with the single exception of Robert Dole (who did not even speak a the convention).  Candidate Trump had an ongoing open feud with Republican Speaker Ryan.  Senate Leader McConnell mostly stayed quiet.  Leading Conservative Pundits supported Clinton, some (like George Will) even quit the party over Trump's nomination.

Trump never got massive contributions, raising only a little over $100 million in individual contributions.  He contributed another $50 million himself.  By comparison, Clinton raised over $350 million in individual contributions.  When you consider outside PACs, Clinton had over $200 million spend on her behalf while Trump had only around $60 billion.  Final numbers are not in yet, so these may shift somewhat.  But it is clear that Clinton outspent Trump by more than 2 to 1.  Once again this proves that money is not decisive in politics.

I must admit that I personally scoffed and the Trump campaign's inability to work with the RNC, to do professional poll tracking, or to put together any serious "get out the vote" campaign machinery.

Trump continued to remain behind in the polls on election day.  Yet as they received actual voting results, it quickly became clear that Trump was doing much better than expected.  Florida and North Carolina, which had been trending Clinton, went for Trump.  Virginia, which had been solidly Clinton in all polls, almost went for Trump.  Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which had been solidly pro-Clinton in all polls did go for Trump.  New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota are still too close to call, but it appears Trump may win at least two of those States, which polls all indicated for Clinton.  Minnesota is the only State in the Union to have voted consistently Democratic for forty years.

The question that campaign professionals and pundits will be asking for years is how did Trump do it?  How did his unconventional campaign lead to victory?

Clinton Could not Unite America

Part of the reason has to be a weak opponent.  Hillary Clinton came out of a divided primary, contested up until the Convention.  More importantly though, Clinton has been under attack by the "vast right wing conspiracy" for over thirty years.  Some will argue the attacks are justified, some not, but there is no doubt that the attacks have had their impact on her reputation.  Even many Clinton supporters see her as a deeply flawed candidate.

More than that though, Trump had the ability to motivate white working class voters in a way that no Presidential candidate has since Ronald Reagan.  I think when we look closer at the numbers, we will see that this demographic turned out in record numbers, blowing away old state by state models for victory.  Personally, I find it ironic that both Reagan and Trump won this group in part based on a message of tax cuts for the rich, meaning the working classes would pay a higher percentage of taxes overall.  That said, they seemed to connect with this group on both an emotional level as well as a policy level.  Trump's promise to bring back jobs by renegotiating trade deals and expelling immigrants seems to have resonated particularly well in the mid-west, the most important swing-region in modern elections.

October Surprises

Some will credit or blame the victory on October surprises.  This election certainly saw its share of those.  Wikileaks released information about Clinton's speeches to Wall Street, unflattering strategy emails about the campaign, and other information that further soured voters.  Probably most devastating though was the ill timed decision of FBI Directory Comey to announce he had re-opened the investigation into Clinton's private email server.  Even though he also announced that he was  closing it again a week later, days before the election, it forced the discussion of the final week to be about an issue that had been dragging down Clinton for months.

Trump, of course, overcame October surprises of his own, including the recording where he talked about molesting women, and the numerous women who came forward to confirm his activities.  That seemed to have some impact on his campaign, but clearly not a fatal one.  Once again, Americans had made clear they just don't care if their President sleeps around.

Long Term Trends

It is too early to assess exactly what factors most contributed to Trump's victory.  US voters have consistently rejected leaving either party in office too long.  Since WWII, voters have consistently changed the party in the White House every eight years except one (1980).  If you exclude Presidents who took office following the death of their predecessor, no Democrat has followed a two term Democrat since Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson way back in 1837.  Voters like change and Trump was the change candidate.

A Trump Presidency

Democrats are understandably stunned and some terrified at the notion of a Trump Presidency.  I say one has to keep these things in perspective.  Historically, much of the country thought the nation was coming to an end when Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan were elected.  All of those presidencies worked out well for the country.  Many of those presidents did things that the opposition hated, but the nation as a whole continued to grow and thrive.  Presidents have a way of rising to the occasion, even if we did not expect it from their earlier behavior.

Sure, there will be some changes that Democrats don't like.  Obamacare will almost certainly be repealed and replaced with something (I'm not sure what will replace it, but we're told it's going to be just amazing).  There may be some crazy tax cuts for the rich.  In the end though, a powerful and stable democracy like the United States will remain much the same.  President Trump will lead one branch of government.  He still has to work with Congress.  Even though there are Republican majorities in both houses, men like Speaker Ryan will serve as a check on any of President Trump's crazier notions.  A Supreme Court will also hold back any attempted end runs around the Constitution.

I congratulate President-elect Trump on his surprise victory.  May you continue to defy the pundits and have a Presidency worth of our great country.

Monday, November 7, 2016

How to Watch Election Night

As a political junkie, I look forward to election night the way some people look forward to the World Series.  I stay up all night, watching returns, listening to the commentary and waiting to see when we can predict the final outcome.  Of course, there are lots of sub-plots involving who will win the House, Senate, or various Governors' races.   The big show every four years is the Presidency.

The interesting thing is to see what early States may show the who will win the night.  Sometimes its pretty much over by 8 PM.  Other times it goes well into the night.

Since the 2000 elections, news organizations have been reluctant to make any State predictions prior to the closing of any polls.  Otherwise, they get accused of suppressing voter turnout by declaring a winner before all the voters of a State get a chance to vote.

As a result, most of the evening is filler - commentary from all the talking heads, with all the action happening at the top of the hour when polls close in certain States.  As soon as the polls close, most news organizations will announce the predicted winner, unless it remains too close to call.

If you like to watch the returns come in live, the key is knowing when polls close and what State really matter.  Some states are not an issue.  I could tell you last month, or last year that Clinton would win New Jersey and California, and that Trump would win Texas and Kentucky.  Some States are just a given for one party or another.  Its the swing States that decide who goes over the top.

Popular vote does not matter.  Electoral votes decide the Presidency. Almost all States are "winner take all" meaning the candidate with the most votes get all the electoral votes for any given State. The only two exceptions are Nebraska and Maine, which award one electoral vote for each Congressional District won, plus the two state-wide electoral votes to the State winner overall.

With many States now too close to call, many of the most critical swing states may remain too close to call for hours after the polls close.  Here is what you should be watching though - all times are listed in eastern standard time.

7:00 PM

Polls close in Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky

South Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky should be easy wins for Trump.

Clinton once thought Georgia was winnable, but not appears strongly Trump.  If Georgia is still too close to call at 7PM, that is very bad news for Trump.

Vermont it the only easy win for Clinton at 7PM

The only interesting State is Virginia, where Clinton is favored by a good five points.  If Trump does well there, or too close to call at 7PM, that is very bad news for Clinton.

7:30 PM

North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia close at 7:30.

West Virginia is an easy Trump win.  Ohio seems to be leaning for Trump, with North Carolina also leaning but a little less so.  If Clinton wins either State, a Trump victory is probably impossible.

8:00 PM

Most east coast states close at 8:00.

Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Illinois should all be easy Clinton wins.

Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas should all be easy Trump wins.

Michigan is a pretty Clinton-leaning State.  If Michigan is too close to call or going for Trump, Clinton is in real trouble.

New Hampshire also leans Clinton but is much closer.  New Hampshire may be too close to call.  If Clinton wins there, the math starts to get very difficult for Trump.  Clinton is still very much alive though, even if Trump wins there.  The night just becomes more of a nail biter.

Pennsylvania is a State where both candidates campaigned hard.  Clinton seems to have had an edge there for most of the campaign.  I see Pennsylvania as a must-win for Clinton.  If she loses Pennsylvania, she will need to make a great many votes in other toss up States where she is farther behind if she has any chance of winning.

Maine is an easy win for Clinton, but has one Congressional district with an electoral vote that may go for Trump.  Losing that also makes Clinton's math a little harder.

Also closing at 8:00 PM is Florida.  This is by far the biggest swing State.  It will almost certainly be too close to call.  If Clinton wins, there is probably no path for a Trump victory at all.  If Trump wins, Clinton's road to victory looks very rocky.

8:30 PM

Arkansas is the only state closing at 8:30.  Despite the fact that Clinton lived there for years as first lady, it is expected to be an easy Trump win.

9:00 PM

At 9:00 PM most of the remaining eastern and central States close their polls.

New York, home state to both candidates, should be an easy Clinton win.  New Mexico is also pretty reliably Clinton.

Louisiana, Nebraska, Arizona, Kansas South Dakota Texas, and Wyoming should all be easy Trump wins.  Clinton made a push for Arizona at one point, but seems to have given up there.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are both pretty solidly Clinton as well.  But Trump targeted some time in both states for his last few days, hoping for a flip somewhere.  If Trump can take any of these, he could very well pull off a victory.  Expect them to go to Clinton though.

The biggest question mark for the 9:00 hour is Colorado.  This has remained pretty consistently for Clinton in the polls, but never by very much.  Clinton is favored here.  If she wins Colorado, she is likely to win the whole thing.  If Trump has won most of the tossups up until then, Colorado could be Clinton's last stand.

10:00 PM

If the race is still up in the air by 10:00, there are some key States in play.

Montana is an easy win for Trump.  Iowa should be for Trump as well.  That is another must-win for Trump.

Utah is certainly not going to go for Clinton. However, Independent Candidate Evan McMullin has been polling very well there.  He could possibly deny those electoral votes to Trump, which could make it nearly impossible for Trump to reach the 270 majority.

Nevada is the biggest bell weather at 10:00.  It is leaning for Trump and is another State he really needs if he wants to remain in the fight.  Trump will likely win, but a Clinton upset there could be the final nail in Trump's coffin.

11:00 PM

Until 11:00, Trump will likely lead in all electoral vote counts.

At 11:00 he will also pick up wins in North Dakota, and Idaho.

However, Clinton's numbers will surge with what should be easy wins in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and the giant: California.

None of these States are in serious contention.

1:00 AM

Finally, polls close in Alaska at 1:00 AM eastern time.  Trump will almost certainly win there, but by then no one will care.  The election should be over.  If Alaska's three electoral votes would make the difference, Trump will be President.

My Predictions:

In my opinion, this race has come down to four States: Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada.  These are the States that I think are most up in the air.  If Clinton wins any one of them, she should become President.  Trump must either win all four, or pull an upset somewhere like Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Colorado.  I predict Trump may win Nevada, but will lose narrowly in New Hampshire Florida and North Carolina.  As a result, we will see a comfortable electoral Clinton victory:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Will Colorado Decide the Election?

The late announcement that the FBI has reopened the investigation into Clinton's emails has focused attention for the last week on that subject.  As a result, Clinton's seemingly insurmountable lead over Trump has dwindled.

Clinton still seems to hold an electoral advantage.  As I've pointed out in several recent posts, Trump has to win not only all of the toss up States, but also at least one decently sized State that has been leaning Clinton in order to win.

As I see it, the toss up States are, in order of size:

North Carolina

Now I know that some prediction sites have a larger "toss up" list, but at this point, I think Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado and New Hampshire are going to go Clinton.  Each of them have consistently shown Clinton leads in all polls, usually outside the margin of error. Similarly, Georgia, Arizona, and Utah are going to go for Trump (with the possible exception that Utah goes for Evan McMullan.  Clinton made a few ties in those States when riding high, but her recent fall has made them likely red States.

Assuming, therefore, that it comes down to the five States I've listed as real toss ups, Clinton wins. Clinton can lose Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, and Ohio and still win.  That's the good news for Clinton.  The good news for Trump is that he seems to have the edge in all five of those States. He could very well take all of them.  North Carolina seems to be his most tenuous advantage at the moment, and could go for Clinton.  But for the sake of argument, let's say Trump sweeps all of them.

A Trump victory, therefore, requires that he also win all those tossups, plus at least one state that I just said was still leaning Clinton.   Pennsylvania and Virginia have throughout the campaign shown Clinton with at least a 3-5 point advantage.  Some polls have been close, but have never swung Trump's way.  I don't see either of those as a good option for him.  Similarly, Wisconsin is pretty consistently showing Clinton with a 5 point lead.  That leaves us with New Hampshire and Colorado.  New Hampshire has one poll showing a Trump one point lead, but all other polls in the last week show Clinton ahead by at least three points.

Colorado though, seems to remain just barely out of Trump's reach. Clinton maintains a pretty consistent 1-3 point advantage in most polls.  If Trump can overcome that advantage, and sweep the rest of the toss-ups, he has 275 electoral votes (270 needed to win).  Another path if he loses Colorado is to win New Hampshire and one Congressional district in Maine, getting Trump to 270. Those are really the only two scenarios for Trump to win.

By contrast, Clinton has many paths to victory simply by winning any of the five tossups I mentioned (and all really could still go either way) to have a margin for error.  But again, even if she loses all five tossups, she need only hang on where she has remained consistently, albeit slightly, in the lead.

Trump does seem to have momentum.  On the other hand, he also does not have any get out the vote campaigns set up. That can easily cost a candidate 1-2 points, possibly more where there is early voting and get out the vote people have longer to work.

It continues to look as if Clinton will win, but every day I seem to say that with a little less certainty.

Monday, October 31, 2016

October Surprise: Clinton has more emails

FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress on Friday.  The letter said that the FBI had found another source of emails that might be relevant to the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton violated laws handling classified materials.

The letter did not indicate whether the new source might actually find any emails that proved a violation of the law, only that another pile of emails exists that the FBI needs to examine.  The emails exist on a computer owned by Anthony Weiner, being investigated for sending pornographic messages to a minor.  His wife, Huma Abedin is a top staffer for Clinton, both in the State Department, and now in the campaign.

Comey's letter itself is really nothing.  He gave no indication that he has any reason to believe this new source will show anything new.  He is obligated to inform the House Committee investigating Clinton's emails if he finds any new potential evidence.  This is what he did.  Of course, the timing, less than two weeks before the election has everyone up in arms.

The Republicans immediately pounced on the letter as somehow being proof that Clinton is guilty of a crime.  They are using the issue to pummel Clinton over the continuing email scandal.  There is, of course, no evidence that there will be anything new in these emails.  The FBI has not even examined the contents of the emails yet, as they only received a warrant to review them late Sunday night.  But the final days of a campaign are no time for calm and reasoned analysis.  Republicans are focused on the FBI's continued investigation as evidence of Clinton's guilt.  Trump immediately seized on the letter as proof of Clinton's criminal corruption.

Some Republicans think if they can revive this scandal right before election day, it might have some impact on the election.  Certainly, it takes coverage off of Trump's many scandals and puts them back on Clinton's scandals.  That cannot be good for the Clinton campaign, but with Clinton so far ahead and with no smoking gun, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on voters.

The Democrat reaction to letter is also overblown.  Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid and others are accusing Comey of a crime for sending his letter to the House.  Reid argues this violates the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their government positions to interfere with an election.  To be a crime, Comey would have to have done this for no reason other than with the goal of throwing the election to Trump.  Reid argues that the timing of this announcement somehow proves that was the goal.

This is an absurd accusation.  There is no evidence that Comey, a Democratic appointee, is attempting to subvert the election.  The timing is based on the fact that the FBI only came into this information a few weeks ago and needed time to decide how to react.  If Comey had waited until after the election, especially if some damning evidence does show up in the emails, the Republicans would be accusing Comey of a criminal cover up.

Still, the Democratic accusation against Comey is a way to deflect attention away from Clinton and put it on the FBI.   The media and voters start talking more about whether or not Comey committed a crime and less about whether Clinton created a crime.  It is the same "blame the messenger" deflection that they have been using against Wikileaks.

The whole blow up has created a little more uncertainty.  Sadly this seems to bring out the worst on both sides.  Few want to get to the truth.  Both sides are looking to spin any story they can if it works to their advantage.  The resulting public disenchantment and distrust only makes governing harder for whoever wins.

How this may impact the election is still a question.  It may work slightly to Trump's advantage, but probably not enough to change things.

Early voting is already underway in many States.  Early voters, though, tend to be solid Republicans or Democrats,  Undecideds tend to wait.  Those are the same people likely to be swayed by last minute issues.

Even a small shift in Trump's favor may swing a few important States.  Trump has had tenuous leads in Arizona and Ohio.  This last minute issue may help Trump nail down those States in his favor. Similarly, Florida which has been a virtual tie for months may swing in Trump's favor.  If Trump wins all of those, we would still have to win all of the other Clinton leaning toss up States: Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina, to win the election.

I just don't see that happening.  I think Colorado, has remained in the Clinton camp by at least several points in every poll since the Conventions.  North Carolina may be a little more likely than Colorado to flip, but even North Carolina has shown a consistent 2-3 point advantage for Clinton for months now.

Even if Trump wins all of these states, Independent candidate Evan McMullin appears to be ahead in the polls in Utah.  If Trump wins all of the swing States mentioned above, but loses Utah, he would be one vote short of a majority, thus throwing the election to the House of Representatives.  If that happened though, it is quite likely that the Republican majority there would give the Presidency to Trump.

In short, there is a path to victory for Trump, but it seems like long odds.  Nate Silver puts the odds of a Trump victory at 21%.  I would argue less than that, maybe 5%.  But again, Trump has defied conventional wisdom before.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Entering the Home Stretch

The general election is less that two weeks away.  The third and final debate did not seem to have much of any impact on polls.  The state by state predictions based on current polling show no states have flipped since last week.  Clinton remains in a decisive lead over Trump, 333 to 205.  That is a huge cushion for Clinton.

Trump has been campaigning heavily in Florida, which is a must win for him.  It is not a must win for Clinton. Even if Trump wins Florida, and three or four other swing States, Clinton still has the necessary 270 vote majority.

Third party candidates have faded quickly.  Jill Stein with the Green Party never seemed to catch on with Sanders supporters.  The Clinton campaign did a great job discrediting her with a few of her fringe issues, like vaccinations.  Gary Johnson got a look and will win significant double digit percentages in some States, but is not likely to win any electoral votes.  His epic fails on foreign policy questions seem to have turned off many voters looking for a viable alternative.

There is one candidate, independent Evan McMullin, who seems to be making waves now.  He is running on a traditionally conservative platform, that seems to resonate with voters who cannot stand Clinton and are appalled by Trump.  Some polls have McMullin winning Utah.  He seems to be doing well in Idaho as well. Although only on the ballot in eleven States, he may end up acting as a spoiler, and possibly may win a few electoral votes.

Even so, none of the third parties seem to have a meaningful impact on Clinton's decisive lead over Trump. Even if McMullin wins one or two states, those come from Trump's column anyway.  They would only make his defeat larger.  Numbers seem to be solidifying at this point.  Absent some massive surprise, it seems over.

Early voting has already started in 31 States.  Even if something radically changes voter positions, many have already locked in their votes.  Candidates are focused on getting their voters to the polls.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump took time off from campaigning this morning to attend the ribbon cutting of his new hotel in Washington, DC.  Possible reasons for doing so:

  • he thinks this will get more publicity for him than yet another political speech,
  • it focuses voters on his work as a private property entrepreneur,
  • he realizes, he is going to lose the election and needs to focus on business, or 
  • it is a sign that his entire campaign has been one long publicity stunt and that he cares much more about his real estate business.
Like any good movie super villain, even after you think he is dead, he rises once more to make that final strike.  Trump's final strike may be is "the election is rigged" gambit.  No, it won't help him win, but it will sow discord and distrust for years to come.  

The notion that he will not accept the results of the election is more pathetic than horrifying.  It would be horrifying if he had an army behind him to overthrow the election results.  But the US military is not likely to overthrow the elected leader, even if the top officers may not be happy with the newly elected Commander in Chief.  Trump may throw a temper tantrum, but their is zero chance it will have any impact on the transition of power.

That said, stirring up millions of disappointed voters and encouraging them to believe that the elections were stolen, rather than the fact that a majority of their fellow Americans really do disagree with them, is a dangerous notion.  It may lead to some violence.  It will poison any attempts to get the parties to work together over the next few years.  

Trump seems to hold to the notion that any publicity is good publicity.  If he really did this for publicity, I have a hard time seeing how to will work to his personal benefit.  Trump's main customer base for his luxury hotels and real estate has been upper income college educated elites.  Most of those people have soured on Trump based on his antics during this election season.  I would think this would impact negatively, any desire to buy Trump products or stay at Trump properties.  On the other hand, perhaps most of his income now comes from his reality TV shows.  If he returns to those, his candidacy may increase his audience among his white working class base, who knows?

But I digress.  My main point to make today is that the Presidential election is essentially over.  The campaigns will continue to get out the vote for the next two weeks.  Clinton has a stronger ground game. Although she cannot turn out black voters the way Obama did, she has a solid get out the vote campaign. With a weak and highly negative opponent, and the failure of any third party to catch fire, Clinton's path to victory seems assured.

The big question now is how the Presidential race will affect Congress.  Clinton seems focused now on getting more Senators and members of Congress elected.  She knows that a Republican majority in the House and Senate will mean her agenda hits a brick wall.  Overcoming substantial majorities in both houses is still a difficult task.

Six years ago, two years into Obama's first term, the Republicans won a landslide victory in Congress. As such, most of the Senators up for reelection this year are Republicans.  No incumbent Democrats seem to have any chance of losing this year, though the open seat in Nevada (currently held by retiring Harry Reid) is in serious contention.  At least two seats seem likely to flip from Republican to Democrat (Wisconsin and Illinois). Republican seats in Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Florida seem up for grabs this year.  Of those, Democrats are on track to pick up another two: New Hampshire and Illinois.  They may also win an open seat in Indiana currently under Republican control.  If they can win those and keep Nevada, they get 50 Senators, with VP Tim Kaine breaking ties.  It is a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless.  Even so, Republicans can tie up things as a minority with more than 40 votes.  It remains a recipe for gridlock.

The House of Representatives is much more likely to remain in Republican hands.  Currently, the Republicans hold 247 seats, 27 seats above the 218 majority.  There are only 21 seats considered toss ups at this point, 17 of which are Republican incumbent seats.  Even if all those go to the Democrats (unlikely) Republicans would still hold a 10 seat majority.  Therefore, President Clinton can expect to have at least one half of the Congress in Republican hands.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On the eve of the third debate

Ok, technically, I'm not posting this on the eve of the last Presidential debate.  I'm posting it on the morning of the debate.  I wanted to establish where things are before the candidates give their last high profile pitch.

Unsurprisingly, after Trump's denial that he actually did the things he bragged about to Billy Bush, at least a half dozen women have come forward to say that Trump did those things to them.  This does not seem to have hurt Trump's numbers since the initial crash following the release of the tape.

Even so, if the election were held today, Clinton would almost certainly win.

Shockingly, Arizona is now trending blue, with Georgia and Utah also in contention.  Clinton is even running some ads in Texas, although I think that is a dream.

Ohio has moved back into the red category.  However, I expect Clinton to win there.  Ohio, which started early voting a couple of weeks ago, gives a benefit to a candidate with a strong get out the vote (GOTV) campaign.  Clinton has one, Trump has none, literally none.  He has made no effort to establish a GOTV operation in any state.  On top of that Trump recently attacked the Ohio Republican Chair, meaning any independent party GOTV effort is likely off the table as well.  As a result, Clinton may have an advantage in Ohio of 2-3% beyond what the polls indicate.  Since Trump is only up by less than 1%, Clinton could win there.

But even if Trump can win Ohio, and Arizona, and North Carolina, and Nevada, and Florida, he still loses.  Here is another map without giving Clinton any states still in serious contention:

The only two States I've listed as blue here that there is really any debate about are New Hampshire and Wisconsin.  These are both reliably Blue States in the last six elections and where Clinton is up in most polls by a good five points.  As such, I don't really consider them in contention.

Even if Trump won all the gray states, Clinton still has the electoral votes for a victory.  Absent some massive October surprise, there is no realistic path to victory for Trump.

Speaking of October surprises, the Trump campaign seemed to be banking on the Wikileaks releases to turn things around.  Unfortunately, the releases, mostly emails from party insiders, have created little outrage.  Yes, Democratic partisan professionals often have a poor view of Republicans and sometimes make fun of people in emails. Yes, Hillary gave speeches to Wall Street Executives where she pandered to them in generalities while committing to nothing -- yawn.  There is no smoking gun showing illegal activity, nor would I expect one given the level of scrutiny that all her behavior has already received.

In the meantime, Trump's Grope-gate had taken up most of the air time.  People seem far more focused on that for now.

It could be that Wikileaks has more shoes to drop, but the Ecuador Embassy has cut off Assange. Whether that will prevent or slow any releases remains to be seen.  Ironically for me, cutting off Assange annoys me more than anything he might release.  It seems clear to me that the block was made under pressure, most likely from the US Government.  Why hasn't Watergate, and numerous scandals since, taught politicians that the cover up is usually worse than the crime?  Let the releases come and let the voters yawn at them.

Numerous pundits have pointed out they hypocrisy of conservatives who support Trump after condemning Bill Clinton for his escapades.  I find it hypocritical too, though I also find the reverse to be hypocritical: former Clinton supporters saying Trump is ineligible based on his wandering hands (or tongue, or whatever -- ew!).

Personally, I think Bill Clinton was one of the better Presidents we have had in recent years, even though I also disagreed with many of his policies.  Despite his personal issues he kept the Country in better condition than his predecessor or successor (not that that is a very high bar).  If I had a daughter, I would not want her alone in a room with Clinton, but I also would not mind him as President again.

I would make the similar argument for Trump, except for the fact that there are numerous other issues that I think make him ineligible as a serious leader.  In short, if this was the only thing that people had against Trump, and he supported all the policy positions I liked, it would not prevent me from voting for him.  I'm sorry, but a personally flawed candidate with the right policy positions and abilities is better than a personally pure candidate that does not have the ability nor the right policy positions.

All that said, I think Trump has numerous character flaws of which his treatment of women is only one small part.  His callousness toward refugees, his tendency to categorize and treat people based on race, religion, or ethnicity, (as well as sex) all contribute to my view that he would be a horrible leader.

But like most of America, I don't see Hillary Clinton as a much better alternative.  Much of that for me is policy.  She wants a larger domestic bureaucracy.  She does not seem motivated to try any new or different solutions, just more money into the same programs that accomplish nothing.  Her main motivation seems to be pandering to interest groups.  She reminds me a lot of Walter Mondale.  On foreign policy, I am convinced she will get the US into a war, almost certainly in the mid-east, but possibly also with China or Russia as they continue to push the US.  Since it appears she will win, I hope I am wrong about this, but cannot in good conscience support her.

In many of my posts, I look at polls and comment "if the election were held today..."  The reality is the election has already begun. Many States have early voting.  Many people have already submitted their ballots.  Even small polling changes at this point may not have as large an impact in States where early voting is well underway.

The one remaining issue that brings uncertainty is voter fraud.  I'm not talking about the nonsense that Trump is spouting, but the ability of hackers to sow confusion on election day by messing with registered voter rolls, or possibly even change results.  I know there are numerous protections that prevent this, but if some states are called for Trump, then backup tapes show fraud and prove the Clinton actually won, imagine the discord that such an outcome would create.  Hopefully, these fears will be allayed.  But trusting in government competence rarely works out well.

Tonight's debate will likely solidify everyone's existing views.  Traditionally the final 2-3 weeks focus on energizing supporters and getting out the vote.  Trump can energize his supporters, but I think Clinton will do a better job in turning out people to vote.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Second Clinton-Trump Debate

The Second Presidential Debate:

Last night Clinton and Trump met again in their "town meeting" style debate, where voters get to ask questions directly to the candidates.  The format itself is rather silly since the moderators know the questions each person asks ahead of time.  They simply call on the person they want to ask the question they think should go next.

Also, the audience was supposed to be comprised of undecided voters.  Anyone really think the Muslim woman was still undecided?  I can't imagine that was the case.

Bragging about Sex:

Of course, the big issue for the night was how Trump would handle the revelation of an audio recording (I'm not sure why the media keeps calling it a video) bragging about his sexual exploits, perhaps even a sexual assault, on an unnamed married woman.

Trump finally seems to have decided that the theory of "any publicity is good publicity" has its limits, and for the first time apologized.  He also denied actually doing those things he bragged about doing in the recording. It will be interesting to see if anyone can find the actual victim and get her to weigh in.

Anyone who is shocked or even surprised to discover that Trump is an adulterer who objectifies women must already have some serious head-in-sand issues already.  There is ample evidence even before this recording became public.  Still, the recording does seem to impact Trump's numbers, which continue to plummet.  I think Trump handled the issue as well as anyone could, which is to say this is simply not an issue that can be spun or avoided.

Clinton Wall Street Speeches

One issue took a secondary role was the release of Clinton's comments to Wall Street firms in private speeches she had given.  Wikileaks revealed the information on Friday based on emails hacked from Clinton confidant, John Podesta.  Clinton's blatant hypocrisy between what she was telling Wall Street and what she was saying to Sanders supporters is classic Clinton double-speak.  It could have hurt her hard had not the Trump sex recording been released the next day.  That really smells to me like the Clinton campaign must have been holding that recording in their pocket, waiting for just such an occasion to use it.  Some reporters have looked into that possibility, but so far it appears that the Clinton campaign has no trail leading back to them over the release.  If the campaign did have any role, I give them kudos for pulling it off without it leading back to them.  It gives me confidence that the political operation is not a bunch of bumbling amateurs like the other side.

Clinton did get a question about her speeches.  I think the parried it well, going into a talk about how she was referring to something Lincoln did as portrayed in the Spielberg movie about his presidency.  She successfully ignored her blatant hypocrisy over assuring Wall Street that she had their back while talking up anti-Wall Street reforms in public.  But the story is classic Clinton.  She did not actually make any explicit promises to each group that conflicted with one another.  Rather, she used vague language to imply to each that she was on their side, without actually committing to anything.

Such behavior is frustrating to voters, which is probably why Trump's blunt speaking style during the primaries got so much support.  But in the end, Clinton's vague innuendos in her public and private speeches are not nearly as interesting as Trump discussing his sexual assaults on women.  Trump tried to condemn Clinton for bringing Lincoln into her answer.  But since she really was referencing Lincoln in her Wall Street speech, Trump's attack during the debate just seemed pathetic.

Send Hillary to Jail

Trump also decided to double down on the "lock her up" theme from the Convention.  He promised a special prosecutor to go after Clinton once he was elected.  Presumably, the special prosecutor would go after Clinton's use of a private email server for confidential documents, or who knows what.

First, a special prosecutor is normally used to investigate one's own administration to avoid a conflict of interest.  Using one to go after a political opponent, when you have a perfectly good Department of Justice just sitting there, seems kind of pointless.

Beyond that though, as I've said before, imprisoning one's political opponents is something we seen in pseudo-democracies in the mid-east or Latin America.  It is a REALLY bad precedent, even if the opponent did violate the law.  It's one reasons many countries have limited immunity for elected officials.  If an official can go to jail after losing power, it encourages them to stay in power by any means necessary, even trashing the Democratic institutions that run the country.  We really don't want that.  It is one reason why President Obama did not pursue charges against Bush and Chaney for their use of torture.  Prosecuting political opponents is not just bad form, it threatens our system of democracy.  That Trump still does not get this point is reason enough to run from his candidacy.

Trump Sets off Bimbo Eruptions

Trump did seem much more subdued at the debate last night, which probably made sense for him.  He did lash out at Clinton for her husband's affairs.  Trump's decision to bring Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathy Shelton to the debate seemed rather ham handed.  The first three women allegedly had affairs with her husband Bill. Broaddrick belatedly accused Bill Clinton of rape.  The fourth woman, Shelton was the victim of a rape by a third party whom Hillary Clinton represented at trial when she had a private law practice.

It seems to me that if sexual assault is the issue on which you are going to vote, you must decide whether you want a presidential spouse who has done such things, or the the President himself.  Sadly those seem to be our choices, unless you are like me and voting for a third party.  Personally, I think Bill Clinton was generally a good President.  If I had a daughter, I would not want her in a room alone with him.  But if a second Clinton Administration is much like the first: a balanced the budget, a booming economy, free trade, and keeping out of foreign wars, I'll take it.

As for Hillary defending a man accused of rape, that is what attorneys do.  Providing legal services for a person accused of a crime does not mean one thinks the accused behavior is acceptable.  Anyone who things otherwise has no understanding of our legal system.

Trump v. Pence

Also disturbing last night was Trump's disagreement with his own VP candidate Mike Pence.  Pence had indicated last week that he would consider essentially going to war with Russia over Syria.  Trump said he had not discussed Syria with Pence and disagreed.  Now I'm sure Presidents and Vice Presidents disagree all the time on matters of policy.  But that is simply not something that gets discussed in public.  For me it was just another sign of how amateurish and uncoordinated the Trump Campaign is.

Also, I still have no idea what a Trump Administration would do in the mid-East.  Trump has said that he would crush ISIS, but that he would not get involved in a war there.  I'm not sure how that works.  He has criticized Obama and Clinton for their decisions to get involved militarily in some mid-east disputes, but has also criticized them for pulling out troops.  Trump seems to have adopted the Republican Congressional position that anything a Democrat does is bad, even if it agrees with something I liked last week.  It's hard to judge then, what they will do if they are in charge.


Trump also attacked Clinton for failing to reform the tax code during her eight years in the Senate.  Clinton tried to point out that a junior Democratic Senator who was in the minority for most of her tenure, and who served with an Republican President, cannot set tax policy.  I think that is right.  Trump's attack shows that he is either incredibly ignorant about how government works, or more likely assumes the voters are.  Either way, it is pathetic.

Trump did actually mention one item of substance, saying he would repeal the carried interest rule.  While I applaud that, it seemed odd.  The rule allows many investors to pay a top rate of 20% on their income rather than the top rate of nearly 40% on regular income.  But Trump also said he wanted to reduce tax rates to 15%, which would make the carried interest rule rate irrelevant, not to mention bankrupt the government. Clinton also said she wanted to get rid of the carried interest rule, so maybe there is some chance of that happening under either administration.  I doubt it though.

Trump Still Falling

Overall, I don't think the debate changed much.  Trump's recorded sex comments seem only to continue his downward slide.  There is no sign of a turn-around.  The electoral map continues to look bad for Trump. Once again, this is what the map would look like if the election were today and all polls were accurate:

The big change from last week is that Ohio has moved from Red to Blue.  Polling is not as up to date in some other States.  I suspect that Arizona, Iowa, and Georgia are places where Trump may have a fight on his hands as well.  Of course, many of those in Blue are also close and could swing back if there is some revelation that hurts Clinton.  Looking at this current map, Trump must win back Florida and North Carolina to have any chance. Even if he can do that, and flip back Ohio, he would still be about 10 votes short of victory.  He needs to win either another big state like Pennsylvania or Virginia, both of which seem highly unlikely at this point, or a couple of smaller States, say Nevada and Colorado, both of which seem pretty solidly blue at this point.  Absent another major October surprise that benefits Trump, I just don't see any path to a Republican win.

Republicans Won't Dump Trump

Republican leaders, when confronted with Trump's personal life thus far have mostly responded by shutting their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and shouting LA-LA-LA-LA-LA until the person stops talking. Now finally, they are being forced to address the issue because of the recording.  Many Republican members of the House and Senate are doing everything they can to disassociate themselves with Trump and condemning him.  Many have even called for him to step down as the candidate.

Of course, even if Trump wanted to step down, it is too late.  Most State deadlines for any ballot changes are over.  Some States have already begun early voting.  There is no way to make a change at this late date. I suppose it might be possible if you have an insane State Supreme Court that is willing to ignore the written law and change the ballot anyway.  The NJ Supreme Court did this in 2002 after the Democratic nominee for the Senate imploded and gave up.  I really don't see that happening here though.  Republicans will go to the polls with the Donald heading their ticket.

If I were a Republican strategist, I would start pushing the notion that we need to elect a Republican Congress and Senate to counteract the liberal agenda that the Hillary Clinton administration will inevitably push when in office.  I think that is a strong argument given that so many people disagree with, or downright hate Clinton.  For those people, the notion that the Democrats take back the White House, Congress, and appoint at least one new Justice off the bat, is a frightening prospect.  As a Clinton win looks stronger, Republicans will need to play their last card - that they will divide the government and prevent an unimpeded liberal Democratic wave of changes.

If I were a Democratic strategist, I would of course keep doing what is already happening - continue to show Trump for the narcissistic, boorish, greedy, sex addicted jerk that he is and hold him up to all and say this is the Republican party.  This is the guy your Republican Congressman or Senator is backing.  Do you really want to stand with that?

In short, a Clinton win is looking inevitable.  The only question is whether the Republican Congress will go down with Trump or appeal to the voters as a check on the unpopular President Clinton.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Vice Presidential Debate

Vice Presidential debates rarely influence a campaign very much.  Even when one candidate dominates the debate, it does not affect the outcome (think Lloyd Bentsen destroying Dan Quayle in 1988).  It mostly gives viewers a chance to meet to people they don't know very well, especially in a year like this one when neither VP candidate participated in the primaries.

For me, I mostly got annoyed by Tim Kaine's repeated interruptions and going off topic.  I have been a fan of Pence in the past, and last year had wished he had run for President.  So I may be biased when I say he did well.  He kept his composure in the face of repeated attacks and interruption.

I really wish both could have been knocked off of their talking points more.  Since neither paid much attention to the questions being asked, they talked about whatever topics they liked.  The one moment they did get knocked off was the question about their faith.

The Democrats evidently thought Trump's taxes were a game changing issue. Kaine seemed to go back to that continually.  Personally, I consider it rather pathetic to question one's patriotism if one takes legitimate tax deductions.  There are a great many reasons I don't like Trump.  The fact that he made legal use of tax deductions available to him, under a tax code written by others, only makes good sense to me.  That said, the issue seems to be moving the poll numbers, so expect the Democrats to keep hammering away on that issue.

Pence focused on this administration's foreign policy failures, including the Russian invasion of Crimea and the nuclear treaty with Iran.  The problem with both of those examples, was that they happened after Clinton left the State Department.  Kaine exacerbated the problem by giving Clinton credit for the Iran deal.

I think Pence scored some good points over the continued violence in the mid-east.  Did "feckless" show up on his word-a-day calendar recently?  He seemed to use that a lot.  He argued that the Administration's decision to leave Iraq created a vacuum for ISIS and that we should have stayed the course.

I guess that is a valid policy criticism, but for me not a winning one.  Yes, the US could have kept hundreds of thousands of US soldiers on the ground in Iraq, and could have moved them into eastern Syria as well.  That, however, would only make the US a greater target for extremist attacks.  It would have led to thousands more American lives lost and perhaps another $1 trillion or so in military costs to do almost nothing.  Perhaps ISIS would not hold real estate, but those same people would almost certainly be engaged in terrorism, with many more US targets rather than going after locals.  If voting Republican means putting more US military in the mid-East, you can count me out.  I get that others feel differently.  Perhaps those arguments will work on them.

Kaine will probably be seen as the winner since he kept Pence on the defensive.  Pence seemed to have some trouble defending everything Trump has said during the campaign and earlier, but who wouldn't?  That means Kaine succeeded in reminding voters that Trump is dangerous and unstable.  As I said at the outset though, VP debates have little impact on voters, even when there is a knockout.  In this case, there was no decisive blow, even if Kaine wins on points.  Pence may get credit for style, since he kept his composure despite Kaine's incessant interrupting.  But style points count for little in the long run.

The polls do seem to be swinging back in favor of Clinton-Kaine.  Before the first debate last week, the electoral map was almost dead even.  If the election were held today and all polling is accurate, the map would swing back clearly in favor of the Democrats.

Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada have swung back from Red to Blue.  Ohio seems to be pulling more red these days.  Clinton, however, can lose Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada and still win the electoral college.  In addition to those four, Trump needs to pull another State like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Colorado.  So far, those remain polling consistently blue.

I don't think the VP Debates will have any impact on the poll numbers, which continue to favor Clinton-Kaine.  Trump-Pence will need to do something to change the conversation or disrupt the contest in some other way via an "October Surprise" if they want to win this thing.  That can happen.  It would not take more than a few percentage points to swing quite a number of States.  Trump is a master of PR.

One other interesting note: The first Presidential debate saw a record 84 million viewers.  However, 88 million have viewed the debates on Youtube.  Personally, I did both.  Yes, I actually sat through it a second time.

The next debate is scheduled for this Sunday, Oct. 9 in St. Louis.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First Clinton Trump Debate

Many of my blogs talk about polls and other relatively neutral data.  Today I will be discussing my personal impressions and opinions about the debate.

Like most Americans, I dislike both candidates.  Unlike most, I plan to vote for a third party, Gary Johnson.  But today I'll confine my comments to the choice between the two candidate in the debate.

Hillary Clinton reminded me why I dislike her in her opening statement.  He listed a host of liberal democratic domestic agenda policies which will harm the economy, increase bureaucracy, and continue to push business out of this country.  She offered no new ideas to solve national problems.  Rather, we go the same proposals we heard from Democrats 40 years ago.

Fortunately for Clinton, Trump spoke next.  Trump launched into the issue that helped drive him to win the nomination: protectionism. Trump wants to tax imports and put up other barriers to other countries trading with the US, i.e. end free trade.  Free trade, of course, typically has been a Republican issue, one with which many conservative and moderate Democrats agree.  I fail to understand the appeal of protectionism.  It increases inflation and the cost of living for most Americans, for the benefit of a few who can take advantage of the reduced foreign competition.  I think protectionism will greatly damage this country.  Clinton has supported free trade in the past, but now seems to be pandering to voters by obfuscating that support.

Where does Trump get the number of "30 years" for Clinton to make changes to national policy? Thirty years ago, Clinton was a private attorney in Arkansas.  Even if you consider her role as First Lady as involvement in policy making, that was 23 years ago.  Add to his time impairments, Trump's accusation that Clinton has been fighting ISIS her entire adult life without success.  That seems to conflict with his accusation that Obama and Clinton created ISIS, unless he thinks Clinton is about 25 years old.

Throughout most of the debate, I think Clinton kept Trump on the ropes, going after him for business practices and other nonsense that he has spouted during the earlier campaign.  Trump seemed surprisingly unable to counter punch.  He did not bring up Bengazi.  He made a few references to her email server.  For the most part, I think Trump remained on the defensive for most of the debate.

The one issue that might resonate with a few voters is the Trump's apparent admission that he paid no income taxes.  That may turn off some of the few remaining undecideds.  Trump did not seem to want to defend it other than saying that not paying taxes was "smart."  It seems that the better defense is that, as a businessman, he uses the loopholes in the convoluted tax system to avoid paying any, and that he is going to change that.  But he did not really say that in the debate.

I would say that Clinton won the debate.  Of course, that may not change many minds.  If one opposes traditional Democratic solutions to policy problems, one is likely not persuaded by debate tactics.  Trump said nothing particularly embarrassing, which I think remained his primary goal for the evening.

Ncxt week the Vice Presidential Candidates debate.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trump Evens Up the Race Before First Debate

At the end of the Conventions, Hillary Clinton soared ahead of Donald Trump.  If the election had been held just after the two conventions, and the candidates had won everything based on polling, Clinton would have won in a landslide with 357 electoral votes, more than President Obama won in 2012.

Since that time though, Clinton's support has steadily eroded while Trump has continued to gain support.  Below is what the electoral map would look like today if candidates won in every State where the polls indicate a victory:

Clinton still has the lead, but only by the narrowest of margins.  If Trump could turn one more State: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, even tiny New Hampshire, he would win in this scenario.

Of course, Trump's lead in several of these states is extremely tenuous.  Polling shows Trump 0.1% ahead of Clinton in critical Florida, well within the margin of error.  North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada also remain seriously in contention.

Since the end of the conventions, the momentum has moved steadily in Trump's favor.  Trump seems to be convincing voters, or voters are convincing themselves, that he is not so bad or dangerous.   That is pretty much all Trump needs to do to pull a majority of voters, who already hate Clinton.

All of this will likely change on Monday night after the first televised debate.  Clinton seems to have the more difficult task since voters have known her record for longer and generally don't like what they see.  The left wing of the Democratic Party still wishes they could have Bernie Sanders. Moderates find her too partisan.  Even if she says all the right things, the majority of the country does not trust what she says.

By contrast, Trump finds himself in the enviable position that Ronald Reagan found himself in 1980. That year, voters were sick and tired of Jimmy Carter, but were afraid that Reagan was a loose canon, out of touch with reality and ready to start a war.  Reagan did not have to prove he was superior to Carter in his grasp of the issues.  He only had to show he was barely competent and would not push the button on day one.  He passed that bar and won overwhelmingly.  If Trump can do the same thing, he could very well see a path to victory.

Whether Trump can meet that low bar is very much open to question.  He has no debate experience, and by all accounts is not doing much of any traditional preparation.  He did well in primary debates with large numbers of participants because he only had time for a few one liners and a couple of attention grabbing statements.  At this point, outrageous statements are likely to hurt rather than help. If we only hear name calling and lines like "it will be great, trust me" he is likely to fail.

Clinton will almost certain go on the attack, pressing Trump to release his taxes, talk about the Trump Foundation, past business practices, etc.  Trump will likely also attack, going after the Clinton Foundation, express concerns about her health, etc.  We may see some policy arguments over tax policies, ISIS, and security.  Almost certainly the recent police shootings and demonstrations will be an issue, though I don't think either candidate has a good answer to that.

What makes the debates most interesting is what is not predictable.  Either candidate could make a gaff, which seriously harms his or her standing with the voters.  Trump is more likely to have trouble here, but is also more likely to get off surprising one liners that stick with voters.

Sadly, none of the third parties have risen to the occasion in a year when both major party candidates have such strong negatives.  Libertarian Gary Johnson has only polled in the 5% - 10% range, well short of the 15% needed for debate participation.  Johnson had been gaining until his well publicized gaff about not knowing what Aleppo was.  The gaff itself probably would not be a big deal if it did not come just when America was getting to know him.  If voters' first impressions are that this guy is clueless, they are likely not to give him a second look.

Jill Stein of the Green Party is doing even worse, polling in the 2% - 4% range.  While Johnson seems to pull support from both Democrats and Republicans, with a domestic policy favored by Republicans and foreign policy favored by Democrats, Stein's support comes almost exclusively from what would otherwise be Democratic votes.  Her ultra left views may attract some Sanders supporters and other liberal Democrats.  Without getting any initial groundswell, most potential Green voters will see that vote as a waste that only helps Trump.

It would have been nice to have a third party candidate in the debates.  In a two person race, both candidates simply need to criticize the other rather than explain why they would be good for the country themselves.  In a three person race, each candidate would have to speak more positively.  It seems, however, that we will be stuck with the two person dynamic in the debates.

So, we await the Monday night debates to see how it might change the course of the campaign. While most voters have made their decisions already, in this close elections the small number of undecideds becomes critical to victory.  Monday night is the key to winning that group.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Clinton Surges Trump Crashes

Following the two Conventions, Hillary Clinton has surged into a solid lead against Donald Trump. Nationally, Clinton is up nearly 7% over Trump.  Several prominent Republicans have endorsed Clinton, fearing the disaster that is the Trump Campaign.

Trump's big stumbling block for the last week has been his attacks on gold star parents.the Khans who criticized Trump at the Democratic Convention.  Trump has come along way by attacking anyone who dares to criticize him and by never apologizing.  So perhaps he is surprised that this strategy is beginning to cause problems.  That said, attacking the parents of a fallen war hero seems to be a bridge too far for even some of his strongest supporters.

Trump has also taken heat for reports that he asked military advisers why the US should not use nuclear weapons.  Now normally a provocative question like that could be taken as a way of just going over the reasons why the use of nukes are a bad idea.  But the comments fit so well into the narrative of Trump as a foreign policy neophyte and a dangerously unstable person, that he is not going to get any slack on this.

In addition Trump has failed to unify the Republican establishment.  Several have endorsed Clinton, including Meg Whitman of California, Former Bush Treasury Sec. Hank Paulson, and Con. Richard Hanna (R-NY).  Major Republican fundraisers like the Koch brothers are refusing to spend on the Trump campaign.  Even Sheldon Adelson, who backed Trump during the primary season, seems to be hesitating on spending more money now.

Of course, all the political pundits (and me) thought Trump would never win the nomination with his lack of organization, endorsements, and funding.  He proved us all wrong on that one.  Now we are saying the same thing about the general election.  Trump certainly has his hard core supporters who as the candidate himself said, would continue to support him even if he gunned down someone in the street.

Polls however are showing that what worked for Trump in the primaries may not work for him in the General Election.  Clinton is surging ahead.  If the election were held today, based on state by state polling, this is what the outcome would look like.

Of course, there is still plenty of time for things to change.  Clinton's negatives remain high.  If Trump can just convince people that he is relatively sane, things could change quickly.  Even so, even if we only give Clinton every State where she is up by 5% or more, and say Trump can win back those other swing states, Clinton would still win the electoral college by a slight margin:

Earlier in the race, it looked as if Trump might have a chance at turning Pennsylvania.  The state is full of socially conservative working class whites who support protectionism and seemed ripe for Trump's message.  But Clinton is now nearly 10 points ahead of Trump in that State.

Everything appears to be going Clinton's way at this point.  But as we saw during the Primaries, Trump has a way of turning things around when we least expect it.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Thoughts on the Democratic Convention

My attempts to view the Democratic Convention last week were limited by a family vacation.  I ended up having to watch most of the speeches after the fact on Youtube.  For some reason, my wife and teen-aged sons did not want to spend hours watching live speeches in the hotel.  For that reason, I'm not going to go in day by day order like I did with the Republicans, but rather just discuss the individual speakers.


Of course, the Democrats had a scandal before the Convention even opened.  DNC emails showed that the Party Chair and other staff members were biased in favor of Clinton. They worked to hurt Sanders' efforts during the campaign. To me this was a non-issue.  Telling me the party bosses supported the establishment candidate during the primary campaign is a bit like saying that the grass is green.  Of course they backed Clinton.  They are not judges that have to remain ethically impartial. They try to maintain a minimal facade of neutrality.  But anyone who did not know a year ago that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was backing Clinton just was not paying attention.  Of course the issue was timed to be a distraction and to be one more kick in the nuts to the already angry Sanders supporters attending the Convention.

Cory Booker

Overall, I found the speeches, as long as they remained vague, to be much more positive and uplifting than the Republican speeches.  I was intrigued by Sen. Cory Booker's speech, which was not the normal political babble.  He went into a discussion about how it was important that we not just tolerate one another but actually love one another.  My first reaction was a cynical notion that this is just a liberal politician's way of justifying massive welfare programs.  But the more I thought about it, he was really stating my own religious principles as a Christian (and one that fits the moral principles of many other religions as well) without actually putting it in an overtly religious context.  It was a far more compelling speech on morality that I ever hear from the religious right.  The fact that it was generally "off-theme" tells me it was something that really came from his heart.

Michelle Obama

Michelle always gives a great speech.  As First Lady she knows not to veer into even remotely controversial political issues, but speaks as a wife and mother about the importance of values.  She does so without sounding too domestic or lightweight.  It is a difficult balancing act that she does with finesse.  Her comment about living in a house built by slaves set off some right wing pundits a little.  But that only made their protests in apparent defense of slavery look pathetic.  Overall, it was a good solid uplifting speech that reminded everyone why a majority of Americans sent the Obamas to the White House, even if we do not agree on every policy issue they hold.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders was the potential wild card speech.  He continues to push Hillary to the left on a great many issues.  This may hurt her with moderates.  However, she is good at threading that needle with purposely vague and evasive statements that can please anyone until something actually needs to be enacted.  Sanders gave a speech outlining his hard left positions but at the same time saying he thought Clinton had come around on most of them and that he was pleased to support her.

One rather minor issue that the press seemed to ignore: typically the losing candidate ends the roll call vote and calls for the selection of the winning candidate by acclamation.  Sanders performed this roll but did not call for acclamation.  His exact words were:

I move that the convention suspend the procedural rules. I move that all votes, all votes cast by delegates be reflected in the official record, and I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States,

There was no call for unanimous selection or acclamation, just that she be selected.  In other words, he gave grudging acceptance that she had more votes than him and that he had to accept that fact.  It was a subtle difference, nothing compared to Cruz's "FU Donald" speech or the fact that other primary opponents skipped the Republican Convention altogether.  But Sanders' well considered lines clearly did not want to call on his delegates to vote for Clinton at the Convention.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren was clearly the designated attack dog for the Convention.  She went after Trump on a wide range of issues, from his business practices and bankruptcies, to his lack of any substantive policy positions. It was typical red meat for hard core Convention delegates, but I don't think it did much else. I have liked Warren even before she became a Senator because she understood how Wall Street needs to be contained more. But attacking Trump for wanting to buy cheap real estate after the crash just sounds pathetic.  Of course businessmen want to buy low.  Criticizing that only makes you sound like you do not understand how business works.  Of course Warren does understand that.  So she is just demagogueing the issue.

Joe Biden

Biden gave a pretty forgettable speech.  He tried to address the personal side of Clinton and how she would work to help working people.  He attacked Trump, but not nearly as savagely as Warren did. He did what a good Vice President does: say nothing to that takes things off message or distracts from the main speaker.  Most of what I remember from the speech is some guy in the audience banging on a cowbell during the speech.  It just kept reminding me of the Saturday Night Live cowbell sketch.

Bill Clinton

Bill is always good for an effective speech.  What struck me most though is how he has aged.  There seemed to be a tremble in his voice and a shake in his hand that I had not noticed before.  It just sucks to get old I guess.

His speech itself though was classic Clinton.  I think he did a wonderful job of trying to humanize Hillary, talking about her life growing up and her passion for helping children.  Hillary needs to be humanized more as many voters see her as a political machine fueled by polls and focus groups and unwilling to speak out to her passions.  Bill's speech helped with that.

Tim Kane

Clinton's new Vice Presidential nominee also gave a relatively forgettable speech.  As a conservative (for a Democrat) choice his job on the ticket is clearly to appeal to moderates or conservative leaning Democrats and moderates.  He opened with a nod to his active duty military son to show that yes, Democrats do like the military.  He also got to speak a few lines in Spanish, to show off that skill.  He introduced himself to the public with a mix of self-deprecation and humor.  I was not impressed with Kane's choice of ties.  I only mention that so I could comment on the fashion choices of a male speaker without commenting on anything any of the woman speakers.

Barack Obama

Obama had a prominent role on Wednesday evening to give his speech.  The fact that he and Michelle and Biden all had prominent speeches shows that Clinton will associate herself strongly with the current Administration, not making the same mistake of Al Gore in 2000.  While I disagree with many of Obama's policies, I have always admired his ability to speak intelligently and to place things in proper perspective.  I think he did that effectively on Wednesday, providing an optimistic view of America, in marked contrast to the Republicans who tried to paint today's America as a post-apocalyptic dystopia needing a strong man to restore order.  Obama gave a great speech, while giving a great push for the new candidate. He did not ignore their past rivalries, but held them up as an example of why she should be the next President.

Chelsea Clinton

Since Trump had his daughter Ivanka introduce him, Clinton decided it was appropriate to have her daughter Chelsea introduce her.  There's nothing inherently wrong with that, although Ivanka really had more of a role it her father's campaign than did Chelsea.  Ivanka made news by suggesting her father would pursue policy positions that he had never discussed on the campaign either before or since.

By contrast, Chelsea mostly spoke about Clinton as a loving mother and grandmother.  It was not directly about advocacy of her positions, though she seems to share those, but more humanizing stories about Clinton: her love of her family as well as her passion for helping people.  The speech was mostly forgettable, other than to help add to the week's theme of convincing people that Clinton is a real human being and not a political machine.

Hillary Clinton

As expected, Clinton spent much of her speech on non-controversial matters like praising other speakers and thanking folks who had some role in the campaign.  It made her sound gracious and considerate, challenging the image of her that conservative pundits have painted.  She went after Trump in general terms, criticizing the notion that Trump alone could solve the nation's problems. That vesting such power in one person was not only unrealistic, but also dangerous and unconstitutional.  It is one of the main reasons I object so strongly to Trump.

She talked about her working class upbringing and her family.  Other than that, she spoke in aspirations and vague terms: we need safe communities, we need to give working people a raise, we need comprehensive immigration reform, we need to oppose unfair trade deals, we need to defeat terrorism, etc.  Statements which, on their face, no one could disagree, but which we might very much disagree on the means by which we achieve those goals.

That's probably best.  When she started referring core Democratic issues like the right to kill unborn babies, compelling private citizens to participate in homosexual weddings, compelling private employers to pay the price of artificially increased wages and benefits, imposing "common sense" gun control, and censoring political speech by overruling Citizens United I was only reminded about why I don't want to vote Democrat.  In terms of tone, imagery, and being in touch with reality, I have to give the clear win to the Democrats.

A few other random thoughts:

Flag Creep

The right-wing whiners jumped on the fact that there were no American flags visible on the stage on Monday night.  The next day, there were about eight flags, four on either side of the stage.  The next day, in addition to those flags, we started seeing flag iconography on the video screens.  On Wednesday, the video screens with flag iconography sat right behind the speaker so that it would be in the shot during the speech. By the time of Clinton's speech on the final night, there were hundreds of delegates waving American flags, as well as flags attached to the bottom of each State delegation sign.  Not sure how the lack of flags got missed on the first night, but there was definite scrambling in later days to make up for that.


I remember in 2008, there was almost zero discussion of Obama being the first black President until minutes after the polls closed in November.  I have to think the campaign deliberately asked reporters and pundits to keep a lid on that during the election. Everyone knew he would be the first black President if elected.  But the campaign did not want to make that part of the conversation.  In contrast, we are already seeing numerous discussions about Hillary being the first woman President.  Again, everyone already knows that, but I think the discussion during the election hurts her more than it helps.

After President Obama completed his speech, Hillary Clinton came on stage to embrace him to the applause of the Convention.  It was a great image of the current and future administration working together toward the common goal of progress in America.  Yet, as a student of history, I could not help but think how much that embrace said about the progress of race relations in America.  Less than 50 years ago, the first interracial televised kiss on Star Trek set off a firestorm of complaints. Democratic conventions still had all white State delegations back then.  A black man embracing a white woman in that very could very well have ended in a lynching. Probably the only reason it even occurred to me was that I had been reading an account of the murder of Emmett Till recently.  I am proud of the fact that such an interracial embrace today does not even raise an eyebrow or evince a comment from right wing pundits.  That silence is a statement to me on how far race relations have advanced in this country over only a few decades.

Upcoming Campaign Themes

A convention regularly introduces themes that the campaigns will use between now and November. We will see attacks on Trump's America First position by pointing out that all of his goods are produced overseas.  We will probably see commercials interviewing "real Americans" who were scammed out of money by Trump University, or whose businesses have suffered as a result of Trump's bankruptcies or debt refinance demands.  Muslim citizens with US military service, or their families seem to be an effective attack as well.

Hillary has also decided to jump on the Sanders (and Trump) bandwagon of protectionism.  I am hopeful that she only speaks in vague generalities: "I will oppose bad trade deals".  Of course no one wants a "bad" deal, but what exactly constitutes "bad"?  You will hear this and similar lines, particularly in the Mid-west where Clinton must win protectionist votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The Campaign will also focus on national security, with the theme that Clinton is the adult in the room and Trump is dangerous, unstable egomaniac who will get us into war.  They will use his own words to paint him as a bully, demagogue and potential tyrant.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Republican Convention - Final Thoughts

Now that the Republican convention has wrapped up, Trump-Pence and launch its General Election swing.

Overall, I found the convention rather confused and disjointed.  As noted in my last post, many of the speakers seemed entirely out of touch with reality.

Day One

The theme for day one was "Make America Safe Again."  The Obama Administration is still having trouble wrapping up the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that does not seem to be what the Republicans meant.  Rather, most of the speakers who spoke on theme that night at lest implied that the US should get more involved in mid-East wars.  Somehow that would put an end to the few random attacks by US citizens that foreign terrorist groups have been able to inspire in the US.

Crime was also a big issue.  Crime rates overall continue to fall during this administration.  Murder rates are at a decades long low.  Republicans seem to want to cherry pick a few statistics, such as murder rates higher in Chicago this year, and add in a few anecdotal incidents to imply that the US is in great peril from crime.  The reality is that crime is lower.  Despite the Donald's promise that on January 20th "peace will be restored" they did not offer much detail on what that meant or how it would happen.  If it happens on January 20th the day he takes office, I assume that he must be crediting President Obama's work in restoring safety to the country.  In truth, if Trump was elected, America might feel safer because the Republicans would change their tone, regardless of any underlying statistics, and would stop trying to raise a panic.

Day Two

The theme of Day 2 was "Make America Work Again."  Presumably this means they are promising to reduce unemployment and put people back to work.  In 2009, the year Obama took office, unemployment hit 10%.  Today it is 4.9%.  The average unemployment rate over the last 50 years is around 6.2%, so we are actually doing pretty well right now.  But you would not guess that from the Republican speeches.  Perhaps they have a plan to reduce unemployment further by cutting taxes and regulations or through Trump's negotiation of phenomenal new trade deals, but I don't see it.  Tax cuts can create temporary job stimulation, but little else.  Trade deals that enforce a protectionist policy to bring jobs home will only create massive inflation as costs to produce the goods we consume will become much more expensive.  Maybe the Republicans can make this work.  But I remember the two disasters of the last two Republican Presidencies and the great cleanup work done by the last two Democratic Presidencies.  I personally don't trust the Republicans with the economy.

Day Three

The theme of Day three was "Make America First Again".  I'm not sure exactly what this was supposed to mean.  Maybe it means that the government will put US interests ahead of those of other countries, something Trump has accused Obama of doing.  Maybe it means that they would make America number 1 again.  The US is number one by many measures, although we now have the second largest economy, after China. Maybe Trump plans to change that.

It's hard to say though, because the night's speakers really made no attempt to discuss the theme.  Many of the speakers were former Trump opponents: Rubio, Walker, and Cruz.  None seemed particularly convincing in their support of Trump. Cruz, as widely noted refused to endorse Trump and was booed as a result.  The Hosting State Governor and Trump opponent Kasich did not speak and is among the many prominent Republicans not attending the Convention.

VP nominee Mike Pence also spoke on Wednesday, giving his introductory speech.  He gave a good forgettable speech, which is what you usually want from a VP.  It does not distract from the Presidential candidate's message and moved things along.  Pence's speech says that we can do better that the current administration.  He said a Clinton Administration would be a third Obama Administration.  Maybe he meant that she would also be able to cut the unemployment rate in half  or that she would also reduce the deficit by more than two-thirds, or that she would continue to reduce the crime rate, but he probably did not mean those things.  My cynicism aside, I think it was a good speech: red meat for the convention, a broad discussion of general Republican principles on issues such as crime, jobs, education, military, etc.  I suppose that will make America First again if they could really pull it off.

Day Four

The final night's theme was, apparently, not ironically, "Make American One Again".  Supposedly making the point that President Trump will unify the country.  In that Candidate Trump cannot even unify the Republican Party, I'll have to remain skeptical on that one.

Ivanka Trump gave the introductory address.  I was honestly surprised by the content of her speech. It was not simply a sop to a wonderful father.  She touched on some very real policy issues, and some rather controversial ones in the Republican Party.  She began by saying honestly that she was not a solid Republican supporter and tended to vote for candidates of both parties based on issues.  She talked about the problem of continuing pay disparities for women, and pointed out that the largest disparities were primarily for women with children.  She then talked about how her father's administration would do more to end that disparity by providing better child care services for working mothers.  It was something that I would have expected to hear from the Democrats. Yet she received applause for it.  It could be that she was laying the groundwork for a pivot in the general election to her father's more liberal positions. It was an interesting speech.

Donald Trump's main speech, however, was not as ambitious.  Although he gave the longest acceptance speech in modern history, he said almost nothing of substance.  He gave a great many cherry picked statistics to show what a disaster the country was right now.  Mostly the speech was critical of the Obama Administration and Clinton's role in that administration.  Normally, one would expect the VP to handle that attack dog role, so the Presidential candidate can be more positive.  But Trump is strong on attack and weak on a positive vision.  Sure, he can tell us in vague terms that things will be just great in his administration, but not why they will be great or what policies will make them great.  We just have to trust him on those details.

Convention Results

Despite the absence of a great many prominent Republicans from the Convention, and a few minor plagiarism squabbles, the Convention seemed to cause little controversy and gave America a week to focus on the Republicans.  Typically, a Party will see a polling bump after its convention.  While polls have not been taken everywhere since the Convention finished, we have seen that Florida has gone from a fraction of a percentage in the lead for Hillary to a fraction of a percentage point in favor of Trump.  That is actually within the polling margin of error, but for now puts Florida in the Trump column.  Even so, based on current polls, if the election were held today, Clinton would win easily   Here is what the electoral map would look like:

As  you can see, even giving Florida to Trump gives Clinton a big win.  Even though post convention is often a high water make for a candidate, that may not be the case this year.  Trump is an effective campaigner, and there are also big questions on demographic turnout that could swing a number of States.  Since many people tend to be voting against a candidate this year rather then for one, Candidate coverage may actually hurt a campaign.

If Trump could also win North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, all of which are very close right now, he would have an electoral majority.  It will be interesting to see some polls after the Democrats complete their convention next week.