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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trump's Fundraising

Pundits are once again claiming that Trump's campaign is on the ropes.  He has just over $1 million in the bank, compared to over $40 million for Clinton.  Further, Clinton spent $26 million on advertising last month, while Trump spent virtually nothing.

For many this indicates that Trump is either running an unprofessional campaign, incapable of raising the money, or that the wealth Republican donors are simply refusing to back him   In any other year, I might agree with this analysis.  But this is not an ordinary year.  Trump won the Republican nomination while raising and spending far less than his competitors.

Trump is the master of free media.  He has absolutely no trouble getting his message to the public without spending a dime.

Paid advertising is much like prostitution.  Anyone involved realizes there is a crass commercial motive behind it.  As a result, most of the public tends to ignore it.  Everyone knows that political operatives can spin facts in such a way as to make them sound far different than reality, without actually lying.  This means that few people give ads any credibility.

As a result, we are far more likely to pay attention to actual news articles or video clips that discuss issues.  When a candidate like Trump says something outrageous or off the wall, it gets far more coverage, and far more people see it.  There is no need to advertise.  If Trump is going to win this election, it will not be by playing Clinton's game of professional fundraising and paid political advertising. He is going to do it through free media.  Therefore, I don't see the fundraising gap as an indicator of success this year, even though it is a big indicator in many previous elections.

Meanwhile, Trump has made at least one concession to convention.  He has dumped his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, for Paul Manafort.  The Campaign originally hired Manafort to handle a possibly contested election, something Manafort has done many times before, going back to 1976 when he managed the convention for Ford against Reagan.  But since the Convention now seems to be settled, Manafort's skills were not really needed there.

Lewandowski really has no experience leading a national campaign like this.  Manafort is a more conventional choice for a campaign manager.  But since Trump is not running a conventional campaign, it remains to be seen if this is a good idea.  Manafort may end up a cross purposes with Trump if he tries to force Trump into a more conventional strategy.  On the other hand, more conventional leadership may help to bring on board the Republican money and organization that should help the campaign.

Meanwhile, Clinton has been on an advertising spending binge.  At first glance, spending money now when few people are paying attention to the campaign now that the primaries are over and before the convention, may seem like foolish timing.  But this is a good time to begin defining your opponent. Conventional wisdom is that you need to define your opponent before he can define himself. Typically, this means trying to turn an opponent's strength into a weakness.  We all remember how Bush went after Kerry's war record, or how Obama went after Romney's business practices.  Those attacks began in this same general period.  When the target refused to parry the attacks unsuccessfully, they followed him throughout the general election.

Clinton has begun challenging Trump's business acumen.  She is focusing on the fact that he has gone through multiple bankruptcies, refused to pay people who did work for him, and shown a willingness to treat employees like dirt.  Whether Trump can prevent any of this from sticking will be far more critical to his success than his ability to raise funds.



Friday, June 17, 2016

The Third Party Option

With the historically high negative numbers for both major party candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both need to worry about third party candidates.

Third party candidates rarely do well.  For the most part they take away from major party candidates to act as a spoiler.  The last major third party candidate was Ross Perot who ran against Clinton in 1992 and again in 1996.  He received almost 20% of the vote in 1992, but only 8% in 1996.  It was enough to let Clinton win with less than 50% of the popular vote. However, it is not clear that his entry would have changed the outcome as he drew votes from both major party candidates.

Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader often receives credit or blame for altering the outcome of the 2000 elections.  Although he received less than 3% of the vote, the margin that year was so tight that he may have affected the outcome.  People often point to Florida which was decided by less than 1000 votes and which decided the outcome of the election.  This is an argument you will hear Clinton make often to discourage liberal voters from abandoning the party this year.

Third party candidates mostly run as spoilers with little chance of actual victory.  To win any electoral votes, a candidate must in a majority in a State.  Candidates with strong support among a minority of voters end up with zero electoral votes, such as Perot who got 20% of the popular vote but zero electoral votes.  The last third party candidate to win an electoral vote was George Wallace, who won a few southern States in 1968, when southern Democrats still were not ready to support a Republican, but also rejected the liberal integrationist candidacy of Hubert Humphrey.

The notion that third party candidates cannot win tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Because people think they cannot win, most see a vote for them as a waste, meaning they pick the better of the two less desirable major party candidates.  Therefore, third party candidates have a difficult time attracting votes, even if voters tend to favor them.  They also tend to get far less media coverage, which is necessary to attract voters.

The last time a third party candidate won (indeed the only time) was when Abraham Lincoln beat three other major candidates in 1860.  That turned the Republican party into a major party for the first time.  Since then, the only third party ever to beat either major party was when former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive against Republican incumbent William Howard Taft.  Roosevelt beat Taft in terms of both popular and electoral votes.  But the two men divided support and handed the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Current rules now make it nearly impossible for a third party candidate.  First, unless a candidate gets at least 15% in the polls, he or she cannot participate in the debates.  Since most people haven't heard of the candidates, let alone what the stand for, it becomes impossible to reach 15%.  Further, candidates who have not reached certain thresholds in the prior election need to jump through more legal hoops to get their names on the ballot.  Unless a candidate has strong organization in place more than a year before the elections to file the necessary legal paperwork they will not show up on the ballot in most States.  Third party candidates also used to be at a disadvantage because they were ineligible for federal funding.  But since the major party candidates also now reject such funding, that disadvantage is largely moot.

In 2016, it looks like there will be only two parties that are on the ballots in enough States to win a majority of electoral votes.  The Libertarian Party may be able to get on ballots in all 50 States.  The Green Party may get on most but not all States.

The Libertarian Party has nominated Gary Johnson for President and William Weld for Vice President.  Both men are former Republican Governors from fairly liberal States (Johnson - New Mexico, Weld - Massachusetts).  Currently, the Libertarians seem to be reaching out to Sanders supporters by strongly promoting a liberal social agenda, touting their support of abortion rights and gay rights, as well as marijuana legalization  They also focus on their desire to reduce military spending and keep America out of foreign wars.  Traditionally, Libertarians tend to take their small percentage of votes from Republicans, because of support for lower taxes, and reduced spending on anti-poverty programs. But this year may be more of a wash.  If any third party has a chance of affecting the elections this year, it is the Libertarians.  Johnson is currently polling at over 10%.  If he can get that up to 15%, he might find himself in the debates, which would only increase his presence.

The Green Party's presumptive nominee is Jill Stein.  Stein has never won elective office before, despite running for various offices, including President, in past elections.  The Greens generally focus on the need for more environmental rules and regulations.  Stein has also called for many of the same issues promoted by Bernie Sanders: higher minimum wage, single payer healthcare, and free college tuition.  Stein also supports a much reduced military spending and much lower overall US involvement abroad.  Although the Green's have failed to crack 1/2 of 1% in prior elections, they could be a home for many disaffected Sanders supporters this year, perhaps reaching results well into the single digits.  Almost all Green votes would pull from Clinton's potential support.

With both major parties seemed to focus on playing up the negatives of their opponent, there is room for a third party candidate to win significant numbers this year.  If third party numbers improve in the polls, it may at least force the two major party candidates to explain why voters should vote for them, rather than simply why we should not vote for their opponent.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

DC Ends the Primary Season

DC held the final primary of the season yesterday, just days after Pittsburgh won the Stanley cup in hockey.  I mention that only because people pay even less attention to primaries this late in the season as they do to hockey in June.

Only the Democrats held a contest yesterday, since the DC Republicans picked their delegates months ago.  Hillary won nearly 80% of the vote.  This means little since she is already the presumptive nominee with a majority of delegates.  Still, she picked up another 16 delegates, while Sanders won another 4.

DC also has 26 superdelegates, 22 of whom are top officers of the DNC.

Sanders continues his campaign, presumably seeking to get concessions at the Convention in exchange for his endorsement.  The two candidates held a private meeting in DC last night for about 90 minutes.  No word on what was discussed,

With that, you would think the primary season is officially over.  But of course, nothing is ever really over.  Next Saturday is the Iowa State Convention, where delegates are chosen to attend the national convention next month.  The State Convention is the culmination of the process Iowa began back on Feb. 1 with its precinct caucuses.  There will also be State conventions in Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Texas.

With the season now over, Clinton has 2219 pledged delegates to Sanders' 1832.  With superdelegates who have promised support, Clinton has 2800 delegates to Sanders' 1881.  Only 2383 is needed for a majority at the Convention.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Clinton Goes Over The Top

Hillary Clinton finally has a majority of delegates.  There was no question that she would cross that threshold yesterday.  When California, New Jersey, and several other States awarded hundreds of delegates.  Some sources report that Clinton had the necessary majority before the day began with the support of several more unpledged superdelegates.

Clinton not only won the majority, she decisively defeated Sanders in the final major primary day. Clinton defeated Sanders by more than 10 points in California and 20 points in New Jersey.  She also won victories in New Mexico and South Dakota.  Sanders pulled out victories in North Dakota and a slim victory in North Dakota.

The current count shows Clinton with 2784 delegates, well above the 2383 needed for a majority at the convention.  By contrast, Sanders has only 1877.  Sanders claims he can still win by convincing the superdelegates, whose votes can change at any time, to support him rather than Clinton.  There is no reason to believe that this will happen.  Even only counting pledged delegates, Clinton has 2203 to Sanders' 1828.  Clinton needs only 180 of the 712 superdelegates to support her.  She currently has 589 pledged to her, compared to 59 for Sanders.  The only way Sanders can win would be to convince more than 400 of the superdelegates pledged to Clinton to switch their votes to him.

There is no way that would happen.  Even if something fundamentally drastic happened, like Clinton dropped dead or was indicted and dropped out of the race before the convention, the Party would likely find a new candidate to replace her, probably an establishment choice like Joe Biden. Democrats have pretty clearly rejected Sanders, who only just recently even registered as a Democrat and who has so many unexamined skeletons from his socialist past that he could never win a national election.

Even President Obama has now endorsed Clinton and is calling her the presumptive nominee.  So why does Sanders continue to fight?  Clearly he wants something out of this.  It could be the VP slot (unlikely) or at least some say in who it is.  He might want more party influence to change the rules for the 2020 elections.  Given his age though, it is highly unlikely he would ever run again.   He may simply want to change the party platform to promote his more liberal agenda.  That may be possible since no one much cares about the platform anyway.  A candidate is not bound to follow it.

There is still one more primary.  DC holds its democratic primary on Tuesday, June 14. with only 20 more pledged delegates up for grabs.  It will not change anything, but may be what Sanders is waiting for before conceding.  If he does really go to the Convention and fight the hopeless fight, it will only harm the party and annoy the establishment Democrats even more.

Both primaries are now done.



Monday, June 6, 2016

Clinton Wins Puerto Rico

Hillary Clinton finish the weekend with a victory in the Puerto Rico Primary.  With 67 delegates available, both sides made the effort to campaign in the larges US territory.  Clinton beat Sanders solidly by about 20 points.  She won 36 delegates to 24 for Sanders.  Clinton also already had six of the seven superdelegates pledged to her with one still remaining uncommitted.  Only about 60,000 voters turned out to vote.

The victory in Puerto Rico puts Clinton a mere 27 delegates away from an absolute majority.  With California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota poised to distribute 806 delegates on Tuesday, Sanders could win 95% of the vote in every State and still not prevent Clinton from reaching a majority.

Sanders is still pinning his hopes on the fact that Clinton's victory is dependent on superdelegates.  Without counting superdelegates, who can change their vote an any time, Clinton has only 1809 delegates.  Even if she wins 60% of the remaining delegates, she would still be short of an absolute majority counting only pledged delegates.

Sanders strategy seems to be to win California, which he may possibly do, but only by the most narrow of margins, that call on the superdelegates to change their votes since he is the most popular toward the end of the campaign.

This seems highly unrealistic for many reasons.  First, Clinton leads sanders by any popular measure.  She has won more pledged delegates, States, and total primary votes.  Second, she is the establishment candidate.  Third, these delegates already pledged to Clinton because they support her candidacy.  Sanders is asking the Democratic Party establishment to change their committed votes to support a non-establishment candidate who primary voters have rejected by any reasonable measure.  That will not happen.

Sanders' real card is the fact that he can still be a spoiler.  If he screams and shouts that the Democratic Party is unfair, and perhaps even endorses a third party like the Green Party candidate, he could siphon off enough of his supporters to kill Clinton's chances against Trump.  On the other hand, if he plays nice and tells his supporters that we must all come together to defeat Trump, that will go a long way toward uniting the party.

The only question is how high a price Sanders can exact for his support.  He could demand to be on the ticket as VP (highly unlikely).  He could insist Clinton choose a VP from a list of acceptable candidates. He could insist on changes to the Primary system for the next elections.  He could demand the appointment of a new acceptable DNC Chair, or he could just demand some control over the Party platform, which everyone pretty much ignores anyway.

There is no real path to prevent Clinton from obtaining a majority of delegates.  The only question now is whether Sanders can support her in a meaningful way.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Virgin Islands holds its Caucus

All eyes now are on June 7 when Hillary Clinton will almost certainly lock up the Democratic nomination.  Everyone is watching whether she can win California.  While this is important for optics, who actually wins California matters little.  If either candidate wins by a few percentage points, it means a handful more delegates.  Clinton will easily pick up the few dozen delegates she needs for a majority out of the more than 900 still at stake.

This weekend, however, has two other contests.  Saturday was the Virgin Islands Caucus, which has 12 delegates: 7 pledged and 5 super.  Clinton won the caucus overwhelmingly, with about 85% of the vote.  That was enough to collect all 7 of the pledged delegates in this proportional contest.  Some sources indicate Sanders may get 1 delegate. Clinton already had two superdelegates pledge support, with the remaining three still unpledged.  The Virgin Islands, therefore, brings Clinton that much closer to victory.

The Virgin Islands is not that significant in the scheme of things.   Voters in this territory cannot choose electors to select the President in the general election.  It's population of just over 100,000 is smaller than any State.  Just over 1500 people voted in the caucus, with just over 1300 supporting Clinton.

The Virgin Islands held a caucus, which have tended to favor Sanders, and was open, which has also tended to favor Sanders.  Clinton's victory in a relatively small jurisdiction that has been largely ignored by both campaigns shows that her support among Democrats remains high.  Sanders' claims that his is now the more popular candidate after Clinton ran up victories early in the season tends to ring hollow.

Today, Sunday, Puerto Rico holds its primary with 67 delegates at stake.  If Clinton won all of them, she would be just over the majority threshold.  More likely she will get achingly close to the number she needs, with the large contests on June 7 putting her over the top.  A win in Puerto Rico will provide momentum going into June 7 though.

As I said, Clinton will win her majority of delegates on June 7 because there is no way Sanders can win over 95% of the popular vote on Tuesday.  But if Sanders beats Clinton in California, the story will remain that Clinton is still weak, the party divided, and how the Democrats may not really get behind her to defeat Trump in November.

Clinton victories in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will help her with the notion that she is the more popular candidate and that Democrats need to start rallying around her if they want to defeat Trump in November.  Binding up wounds though, will likely have to take place with a VP pick and with the Convention.  Much of that will be up to Sanders.  He can either get behind the Clinton campaign in a major way, or can pout or demand too many concessions and leave the party divided.



Thursday, June 2, 2016

Is Trump the next Reagan?


I am increasingly accepting the idea that Donald Trump could be our next President.  The numbers indicate that he should be defeated terribly based on his ratings with women and Hispanics.  That may change though.

Trump also had high negatives among Republicans a year ago.  He has largely won them over.  A year ago, Trump held extremely high negatives among most Republicans and had support in the 20%-30% range.  Today, 87% of Republicans say they will support Trump.  Part of this is the Republican notion that they must "get in line" behind the nominee and be a good soldier.  Part of this is the almost irrational fear some Republicans seen to have of a Hillary Clinton Presidency.  Whatever the motive, Trump has unified the party far more than I ever thought he could.

Unifying Republicans is one thing though.  Winning the majority support of the country is quite another.  Many Americans not only see Trump as wrong headed.  They see him as dangerous, out of touch with reality, and without the background, experience, or temperament to run the country.

Many people said the same thing about Ronald Reagan in 1979-80.  Although Reagan had been Governor of California, he was primary known as an actor with little political experience.  His nearly irrational hatred of Communism might have led him to start a nuclear war.  His almost insanely unrealistic economic views, which a fellow Republican called "voodoo economics" could have possibly destroyed the economy.  Many Americans considered him extremely dangerous.

By the numbers, many would argue that Reagan's critics were right.  His tripling of the national debt was seen as the height of fiscal irresponsibility, even if it did provide short term economic boosts. His deregulation lead directly to the S&L crisis of the 1990's and other problems.  His decisions to provide weaponry to the Taliban in Afghanistan, to support Saddam Hussein with military aid, to sell military equipment to Iran, and to retreat in the face of a terrorist attack in Beirut all created problems for his successors.  His plan to lower taxes for the wealthiest while increasing payroll taxes for working people only increased the income disparity that remains an even larger problem today.

Despite all this, many people still consider the Reagan presidency a great success.  The economy was much better during his term in office than during the ones immediately prior and subsequent.  His actions are largely credited for contributing to the fall of the Soviet Union.  His penchant for deregulation was seen as a factor in unleashing the economic power of the United States.  Beyond that Reagan's speeches and actions made Americans feel proud and confident.

Many would argue that Trump is no Reagan.  His positions are erratic, he has no good grasp on the issues, and many of his speeches are divisive, if not outright racist.  The same sorts of things though were said about Reagan.  We look back at his presidency with the lens of history.  He did not start WW III.  His economic polices are generally now deemed a success (though there is still debate about whether Reagan's policies deserve all the credit for the economic improvements).  But at the time, in the 1980's, Reagan's critics strongly criticized his intelligence, knowledge of issues, grasp on reality, personal prejudices, and dangerous militarism  Many similar charges are now levied at Trump.

This does not mean that a President Trump would have the same perceived success of the Reagan Presidency.  It simply means that the establishment criticism do not necessarily spell doom.  Reagan had a hard time winning over establishment Republicans, but did so.  He had an even harder time winning over the public, bud did that too, winning two elections with overwhelming victories.

Reagan's gift as a politician was his ability to win over supporters without getting into the weeds on policy questions.  Most voters looked at him as someone who inspired confidence and had an abstract vision for a great America.  Trump seems to have a similar gift.  He is able to inspire voters to have confidence in him as a leader in the abstract.  He is able to draw voters to him without them having a clear idea of what policies he might implement.  In short, they trust him as a leader, regardless of what policies he might implement.

This is not to say Trump would necessarily have the same level of success as Reagan.  Wild cards are wild for a reason.  Things may fall into place for him and work out well.  But they could just as easily fall apart and his patina of confident leadership will be wiped away.  Think George W. Bush and Iraq.

Even if Trump can be compared to Reagan in terms of voter support, he faces a growing demographic problem.  In 1984, when Reagan won overwhelming reelection, he received only 9% of the Black vote, and 34% of the Hispanic vote.  Those anti-Reagan votes were not enough to overcome his overwhelming support with white voters, even in States like Florida and California or the entire Southwest.  Today the lack of minority support would be a much larger issue as the number of minority voters, particularly Hispanics, has grown considerably.  It is hard to imagine winning a great many states without significant Hispanic support at least in the mid-40s.  Black voters are also voting in much larger numbers than in the 1980's.  Reagan also won 58% of the women's vote, compared with 62% of men. Trump has strong negatives with women based on many of his comments.  His numbers with women are only around 33%.  He would need to get those  number up at least 10 points before it would not be fatal to an election win, even if he can get a strong majority of male support.

Demographic issues aside, it does seem unlikely based on historical contests that an establishment technocrat with little charisma could beat a flamboyant outsider who gets a sizable minority of the country so excited.  At this point, voters seem to be looking at Trump to see if they can live with him. If they can be convinced that he won't completely destroy the country they will give him their vote rather than the much hated opponent whom they also dislike.  Against that, Trump could convince enough Hillary haters to give him the victory.

Please don't think by my writing this that I will ever support Trump.  I absolutely will not.  But then, I did not support Reagan either.