Saturday, July 23, 2016

Surprising Sabbatical Mission: Reassuring Folks About Trump

I don't know how I have found myself with a new sabbatical assignment, but it seems to be the case.  What is it?  Reassuring folks--friends, acquaintances, people I meet in Europe and Canada, etc--that Trump will not win. 

Last night, I spoke at a synagogue as one of my colleagues had recommended me to his Rabbi.  The theme of the talk was: the Rise and Inevitable Fall of Donald Trump.  The keys to the argument were that the primaries and the general elections are two different processes, and what it takes to win the former may not be all that helpful to win the latter.  I also made arguments about the weakness of the opposition in the primary, which facilitated the ethnic outbidding that worked for Trump, and the strengths of the Clinton campaign.  Much of this should be familiar to Spew readers. 

After my talk, folks came up mostly to argue about my answer* to the Netanhayu and HRC question (will the relations be better? Yes, but not much since US and Israel have some real differences and the Dems have a multiethnic constituency that includes Jews and Muslims and pro-Palestinian folks), but several wanted to get more reassurance about Trump.  The problem is that Trump has created two sorts of fear--that whites are under assault in the US and that Trump might win.  Obviously, two different audiences are feeling these kinds of fears. 

I do think the second set of fears might be productive--getting folks to vote (including some American ex-pats in Canada who have not voted recently in the US).  Folks worry about complacency--that people are taking for granted that Hillary will win and will not vote or they can vote for a third or fourth party candidate. Um, have you talked to anyone lately?  Lots of panic.  I think concern is productive, but not sure panic is.  The good news is that Brexit happened (sorry, UK), which will do much to encourage people (yo, young folks!) to vote and not to waste votes for protest candidates.  The stakes are, indeed, mighty high.

Indeed, I started my talk by suggesting what the stakes are this time: that Trump's promises include defaulting on the debt (hellooooooo depression), breaking NATO, ripping up NAFTA, sucking up to Russia (goodbye to generations of European stability), and on and on.   I also read a key quote that references the Holocaust as Trump is, indeed, the closest thing to Hitler the US has had.  Sorry, Godwin.

But as I keep saying: HRC has a smart, disciplined, organized, funded, learning campaign, with the electoral college and demographics on her side.  What does Trump have on his side?  White supremacists, Putin, and ?

Why do I feel it is my role to reassure folks about Trump's inevitable defeat?  I am not exactly sure.  I guess I just don't want people to be so stressed out for the next four months.  Anyhow, don't take my word for it.  Just keep an eye on the fundamentals--not just the absence of major war and the presence of low inflation/low unemployment, but also that the Democrats are united and have their stars out fighting for Clinton while the Republicans are divided and sending the D team out.

*  I learned at my second job talk a long, long time ago that I should never speak in public about Israel as I do not research/study it while everyone who cares thinks they are an expert.  Does not lead to productive conversations.


Anonymous said...

Trump's defeat is likely; it's not inevitable. He has spent a year now saying and doing things that we all thought were disqualifying. Nevertheless, he rather easily wrapped up the nomination against a fairly strong Republican field (sure, losers always look like losers in retrospect, but this really was the "A" team).

The objective economic indicators are reasonably good, yet people say the country is on the wrong track by a 2-1 margin (though they weren't great in 2012 either, and Obama still won). There is a real sense of hopelessness out there among middle aged and older white voters, the sort that propelled the Democratic routs in 2010 and 2014. Add that to nativism, bigotry, and generalized fear and you end up somewhere between 1968 and 1980. Granted, Trump lacks Reagan's sunny charisma and Nixon's strategic genius, but he is a compelling performer and he has an uncanny instinct for knowing just where to twist the knife. (I thought the convention speech was weak; it was too practiced and lacked the usual Trump humor and "charm".)

So how does Donald win? His campaign persuades voters that Hillary is an equally odious choice, a congenital liar and an incompetent, out-of-touch ball of ambition whose entire career is mortgaged to Wall Street. If enough Obama voters stay home (young people, African Americans), if Trump can turn around the last remaining blue collar Democratic strongholds in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, if enough Americans want to enjoy the show, then he's got a shot. He won't get 300 EVs, but 270 isn't out of the question.

Nate Silver gives him roughly a 1 in 3 or 4 chance of winning. That makes him a longshot, but 1 in 4 chances come in all the time. To put it another way, if 3 out of every four planes landed safely, nobody would ever fly again.

I think he'll lose. But I never thought he'd make it this far to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough, your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs undercut your argument. "Wrong track" polling is a really bad indicator of how Americans perceive the state of the country (due to partisan skews, decline of public confidence with government since Watergate; see And regards to your take on the psychology of middle-aged and older whites, do you even know how the Democrats lost both midterms? ( The United States, both on a socio-economic level and by the composition of its political coalitions, is a very different country than 1968 or 1980.

If you think Trump has been running a competent campaign, and if you think he has the rhetorical ability and instincts to unify the GOP/win 270 electoral votes, it's time to read back on this past year of politics.

Anonymous said...

The point is that there is a level of unhappiness out there that is inconsistent with the objective indicators. Right track/wrong track is obviously not a perfect measure of that, but its fluctuations are meaningful. And incumbent parties can lose even when objective indicators are obviously improving (see 1976 and 1992; and, yes, I know the stories are more complicated than that).

Do I "even know" how the Dems got stuffed in 2010 and 2016? Yes, turnout was low and white voters participated in disproportionately high numbers. Presidential year turnout and midterm turnout differ, so nobody's suggesting that 2016 will be anything like 2014. It doesn't have to be; knock a few points off African American and youth turnout and it's possible that two or three states could flip. That's really all I was saying.

And *of course* America "is a very different country than 1968 or 1980" (and 1968 and 1980 were different from each other). It was an analogy. Like 1968 and 1980, this is a volatile election year in which fear and dissatisfaction seem unusually high. I remember people in 1979 reassuring their European friends that there was no way the American people would ever put Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Do I think Trump has been running a competent campaign? Up to this point--and only up to this point--the answer is obviously yes. He won the freaking nomination, which is, if I recall Poli Sci 101 correctly, the whole point of all those primaries and caucuses. Will that skill set translate to the general election campaign? I have my doubts, but I've had my doubts about this guy from Day 1 and he's proven me--and almost everyone else--wrong so far.

This is not 1972 or 1984. There IS a pathway to victory here. I'd bet against it, probably with a sizable bankroll. But I wouldn't bet my house on it.

That's all I was trying to say. Thanks for the condescension, nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Second para should read "2010 and "2014".