Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

The Thinker

How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

 
The Thinker

Election 2016 postmortem

I owe Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) an apology based on recently lampooning him. So sorry Scott, and congratulation on being one of only a handful of the few pundits who correctly called Donald Trump’s win last night. In retrospect his reasoning was sound although counter-intuitive: voters voted their fears, and not their aspirations. Like in Dilbert he sees humans as fundamentally flawed and easily led astray. Point taken last night.

Trump’s win was nothing short of astounding and flew in the face of conventional wisdom and polling science. Trump turned out his supporters, not that Clinton did not, just not in the way Trump did. And that made the difference in state after state, giving him narrow wins in one swing state after another, and not so narrow wins in states that had fewer hues of the rainbow among its populace. (Ohio, I’m looking at you.)

If Trump has a talent, it’s in instinctively knowing what people want to hear and then pandering to it. Married with an ability to make the news by being outrageous, he proved it was an effective model for winning the presidency. And so here we are on the day after trying to figure out what this means. It sure doesn’t look good.

It is tempting to blame Hillary Clinton, a flawed candidate in the opinion of a majority of Americans, but actually far less flawed than Donald Trump. Perhaps I’m naive, but I think that if Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic nomination, he and Democrats would be the big winners this morning. One of the amazing things about yesterday’s election is that Trump triumphed in spite of polls of his own supporters that said he was terribly flawed candidate. But he was different, an anti-politician and that apparently was all that mattered. He pushed their buttons because he knows how to do that so well. They don’t seem to care that his policies if enacted will probably depress their standard of living, as it is already doing with world markets. They don’t care about deficits and unemployment his policies will create, and that more of their income will go to people like him. And they sure don’t care about the impact on global climate change, if he follows through on withdrawing us from these compacts.

And so we have very likely the least qualified candidate ever as our president elect, an impetuous, vain, spiteful and frankly deeply evil human being, lofted to this position principally by people who approve of these moral failures. They want someone to be their champion. If Trump’s experience is any guide, he will be the last person to be a champion of the white middle class.

Democracy is very scary at times. I think it’s fair to say except with the election of Abraham Lincoln which started the Civil War, no election will be of more consequence to our country or is more likely to explode in our faces. Politically though it was very successful. Republicans retained a lock on Congress, Democrats picked up only two Senate seats and we’ll get another very conservative jurist on the Supreme Court. It’s quite the surprise ending, only it feels more like a horror show, except this is no show but real life. And it was accomplished by pandering to the worst about us, rather than the best.

I sit here in the deeply red state of Tennessee which voted roughly two to one for Trump, despite the churches pretty much on every street corner. Tennessee though like most red states is full of contradictions. Here in Nashville sin is rampant and easy to acquire, along with temporary salvation when you fail. You can buy moonshine in the liquor stores, I found a “gentlemen’s club” (titty bar) across the street from my hotel and the cars tend to be large and very noisy. I return home to Massachusetts today where I am hoping the wreckage of last night and the natural world around me can help wipe this foul taste from my mouth.

And I’d like to sleep again.

 
The Thinker

Clinton’s Halloween electoral surprise

Yes, it was pretty surprising last Friday when FBI Director James Comey seemed to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Agents apparently found emails on a device used by former congressman Anthony Weiner, you know Mr. Sexting that may be related to the FBI’s probe of Clinton’s private email server. It surprised me on many levels:

  • That Comey thought this was worthy of announcing. None of the emails were actually from Clinton or originated on her server.
  • That they were found on Weiner’s device. My guess is that his wife at the time, close Clinton confidant Huma Abedin needed to do some remote office stuff, and borrowed his computer.
  • That Comey went ahead and made the announcement in spite of being warned by many in the Justice Department and from people on his own staff not to do so.
  • That he was apparently unmindful, or did not care, that doing so would open him to a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from interfering with elections.

In any event, it was a well-timed Halloween surprise, and maybe that October surprise against Clinton that apparently Wikileaks didn’t get around to. It managed to dominate the news all weekend. It predictably had Republicans both outraged and cheering an anticipated political effect. A poll suggested that Trump was now leading Clinton in the crucial swing state of Florida. And of course Donald Trump was busy making false comparisons, ludicrously saying this was “worse than Watergate”. Umm, in what universe is the possibility that there might be some unknown and classified email related to the Clinton email investigation remotely similar to a constitutional crisis? It isn’t of course, but it does feed the Republican narrative that the secretive Hillary Clinton recklessly propagated classified email on insecure servers.

The real question is whether this will affect the election in eight days. Some polls show a tightening of the race. If you look at the polls though the tightening is easily explained: Republicans who had qualms about Donald Trump are coming home. The same is true with Democrats, which is why Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s modest numbers are also dropping. So the polls are now showing Clinton with a 3 to 5 percent advantage over Trump, kind of where we were six months ago.

Undoubtedly there are some truly undecided voters out there and this may push them closer toward Trump and away from Clinton. There are so few of these though that it really makes little difference and by themselves they can’t sway this election. It does make some swing states less swingy, possibly erasing Clinton’s advantages in Ohio and Florida. What it doesn’t look likely to do is fundamentally change the dynamics of the race. To change it a whole lot of Democrats have to dump Hillary and that’s unlikely to happen. And that’s unlikely because this is a national election and turnout is likely to be high.

Trump can hope this demoralizes Democrats so they don’t vote but more likely it will enthuse the anti-Clinton Republicans who otherwise can’t stomach Trump and were planning to sit this one out. He’s also pretty clearly hoping that he can get his people to show up in minority neighborhoods to intimidate Democratic voters. BTW, by openly calling for this a federal judge may keep in place a consent decree against the Republican National Committee in place since the early 1980s when Republicans last tried this tactic. It is scheduled to expire next year.

So there is small chance that this will do much to change Hillary’s election, but it may make the electoral win smaller. It may energize Republicans and demoralize Democrats, suppressing the vote in legal ways, which could have some bad consequences for Democrats, perhaps not winning the Senate and making fewer gains in House races. This would make it much harder for President Hillary Clinton to govern.

However, all the absentee and early voting already underway mitigates this. By some estimates 20% of voters have already voted. If you are worried about intimidation at the polls, early voting is the way to avoid it, as many minority voters are discovering. Comparing early voting patterns this year with 2012 generally shows more Democrats are voting early than Republicans. Among them: me. I voted last Tuesday because I will be traveling on Election Day.

Clinton was always unlikely to trigger a wave election. A week ago it was looking that way because Trump kept digging his hole further, leaving him with only core supporters voting for him. A wave may still happen, but now it’s looking more like a 5-8 point Clinton win, still very impressive, assuming there are no more newsworthy events to rock either campaign. Clinton should easily top 300 electoral votes. I suspect she will be closer to 350 than 300. We’ll see soon enough.

 
The Thinker

There is little about this election that is amusing, but there is Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the force behind the phenomenally popular comic strip Dilbert has a blog and too much time on his hands. One thing I like about Scott is his Machiavellian detachment, which comes across in his comic strip, principally in the character Dilbert. Dilbert sees the systems around him for what they are: full of chaotic forces that make little sense and are frequently evil. Dilbert is rarely shown with a mouth in the comic strip, but he sure has one. He feels free to say whatever is on his mind. These are usually thoughts that you would not utter in the workplace. They are also frequently contrary to conventional opinion.

Scott claims to be apolitical and doesn’t plan to vote in the upcoming election. However, this hasn’t kept him from “endorsing” candidates for president. First he endorsed Donald Trump, a man he obviously greatly admires. I suspect his admiration for Trump comes from (like Dilbert) Trump feeling free to tell people what he really thinks, even if it comes off as crazy and abrasive most of the time. When you have Trump’s fortune and lawyers you have pretty much free speech without consequence, as long as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scott’s fortune is smaller than Trump’s, but he is obviously very successful and likely has a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Scott can say what he thinks too without much fear of consequence.

Scott of course has a right to his opinions. If he wants to support Donald Trump, more power to him. He discovered in the Bay area where he lives that it has some downsides, as in he is losing friends. So some months back he unendorsed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton instead. He did so because (as he said) he fears for his personal safety, not because he actually likes Clinton or her policies. The Bay area is obviously a liberal hotbed. Maybe he imagines hordes of liberals coming at him with hot pitch and pitchforks. While he was “endorsing” Clinton though he continued to plug for Trump, praising him as a “master persuader”. Based on his attending a hypnosis course, he was noting what he perceived to be Trump’s meta-messages that were persuading our hidden brains somehow. He felt certain that Trump would win the election. At one point he gave Trump’s odds of winning at 99%.

But as I noted back in June he seemed to have grasped the reality of Trump’s situation and conceded that Clinton was likely to win. And then there came the presidential debates. Most of us saw an unhinged Donald Trump but Scott saw a master persuader at work. Against conventional wisdom he said that Trump had “won” the first debate because of Trump’s master persuader power. It would be like a snowball going downhill and turn into a Trump avalanche at the end. Also around this time he decided that maybe he could endure the pitch and pitchforks and he decided to endorse Trump again. Those of us reading his blog breathed a sigh of relief. It was obvious that his endorsement of Clinton was insincere and that he was very much rooting for Trump, just not officially.

So Trump the master persuader continued to spin his magic by going completely off the rails by insulting pretty much anyone who was not a white male, leaving Scott to figure out whether to continue to support Trump’s losing campaign or unendorse him again before his face was completely covered in egg. Shortly after the first debate and particularly as the Alicia Machado debacle unfolded, Scott’s Machiavellian brain reasserted itself. However much a “master persuader” Trump was, it apparently was only with his base. Trump obviously had no clue how to persuade the rest of us, plus he ran the most ineffective and unorthodox campaign ever, eclipsing even George Wallace’s veiled-racist 1968 campaign. Woken to cold reality again, Scott withdrew his endorsement and endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson instead. Yes, that Gary Johnson who when asked did not know what Aleppo was and could not think of any foreign leaders that he admired. (At least Trump knows and admires Vladimir Putin.)

And so it will go probably through the remainder of this strange campaign. But with Scott you never know for sure whom he will endorse next, not that it matters in the least because no one is persuaded by his arguments. You do know though whom he would vote for, if he elected to vote and it would be Donald Trump. It’s transparent to all of us.

Meanwhile, to get away from all the flack he is receiving, he had “temporarily disabled” comments on his blog. Scott is at least consistent in being unorthodox. It does come at a price though since his income from paid speeches is declining, even though he gets the occasional TV interview to talk about Trump and his “master persuader” thesis.

While I am not surprised by Scott’s choice, I do think he would be better served by staying away from politics altogether. It’s not easy to be taken seriously in this arena. Even the highly polarized ones are at least wonkish policy nerds steeped in this subject. He would be much more persuasive if he had a degree in political science.

Scott’s opinions don’t matter at all as he is persuading no one at all. He is needlessly pissing people off who might like other stuff he blogs about and undercutting his brand. Since he already made his fortune, maybe it doesn’t matter. Stepping so forcefully out in an area where his knowledge is keenly lacking though is kind of amusing and sometimes hilarious. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck so sometimes you just have to look away.

I hope Scott changes his mind and actually votes. If he does I’m sure he’ll be voting for Trump, not Johnson. As appalling as Trump is he is at least better informed than Gary Johnson, although not by much. Trump needs all the votes he can get in California, and it won’t be many. Meanwhile, I can at least take some schadenfreude observing the way Scott so badly and repeatedly misses the mark.

 
The Thinker

2016 Presidential Debate #3

Generally I look forward to presidential debates. They only happen every four years, they matter tremendously and you get to see candidates confront one another and try to respond coherently to questions live in front of millions. It’s very high stakes stuff and excellent theater. Not this year. The first debate made me nervous. The second debate made me physically sick. Last night’s debate made me glad they were over.

Perhaps it was something of an improvement over the second debate. Donald Trump was still nasty of course (at one point by calling Hillary Clinton “nasty”) but was kept behind a podium instead of wandering the stage and using his bulk to intimidate Clinton. For the first thirty minutes or so, Trump managed to look sober and didn’t interrupt. You knew though that it would not last, and as it winded on and as moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News got into the more inflammatory questions it quickly became pass the Pepto Bismol time.

What made the headlines of course was Trump’s assertion that he would not automatically accept the results of the election. Both Clinton and Chris Wallace called him out, citing numerous authorities that our election system worked well and accurately reported results. Of course Trump would not back down. He just said he’ll see. If he loses and does not concede defeat it would make him the first candidate since 1860 to question the results of a presidential election. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln’s election led to the Civil War. His remarks put Republican candidates in even bigger jeopardy, as everyone now wants to know if they agree with Trump.

Clinton was cool, confident and returned volley for volley, which likely triggered Trump’s “wicked” remark about Hillary. Mostly she smiled and looked great; doubtless the campaign is paying for an excellent makeup artist. Perhaps it was just her seemingly uppity attitude that set Trump off. Apparently in his mind women aren’t allowed to be uppity and he clearly doesn’t like being challenged.

Clinton was also coherent whereas Trump frequently made factual errors. Overall though he seemed better informed than the first debate, suggesting he at least did a little preparation. It was excruciatingly hard to parse through his thoughts as he rarely completed sentences. Rather they stretched on and on with miscellaneous thoughts coming in an ad hoc manner in the middle of them. And what debate with Donald Trump would be complete without packs of lies that are easily fact checked and in fact were reused from previous debates? In short he was hardly anymore convincing in this debate than he was during the other debates. If he convinced any new voters, they were likely only a handful. Instead, he catered to his core supporters and he can’t win an election with just them.

So basically no minds were changed which made the debate kind of pointless, unless you were there to hear more about what Hillary Clinton would do for the country. Chris Wallace asked her to talk about her husband’s infidelity but she deftly dodged the issue and used her two minutes to question Trump’s instead and to highlight his sexist attitudes toward women. She leaned left on many issues in the debate, particularly in the areas of abortion rights and supporting Planned Parenthood. She refused to be characterized as anti-gun, while supporting modest, common sense laws prohibiting or limiting gun purchases for narrowly targeted people. She knew all she really needed to do was show up, sound coherent and act presidential. She had to goof up to change the dynamics of the race, but did use opportunities to bait Trump so he would fall into his own traps.

Anyhow, thank goodness it’s over. I’m hoping four years from now I can look forward to these debates again. I had to force myself to watch them, which is unusual to say the least. I noticed that for all his bravado after the debate Trump’s shoulders were slumped, a nonverbal admission perhaps that his denouement had already started and he knew he was beaten.

 
The Thinker

It looks like the Republican Party looks might Bull Moose itself again

And so it has begun. The conventional wisdom was that following Donald Trump’s defeat November 9 along with the likely loss of the Senate and possibly the House, the Republican Party would thrash and moan as they tried and likely failed to pick up the pieces and become an effective political party again. If you read me regularly you will have read this post where I tried to figure out whether this election would cause the Republican Party to just buckle or fall apart altogether.

What I did not expect when I wrote that post was that this would happen well before the actual election. Yes, the Republican Party is already disintegrating and of course you can thank Donald J. Trump for this. He spent most of the day lashing out at establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain. Ryan won’t campaign with Trump anymore (while not rescinding his endorsement of him) but authorized any Republican member of the House to tack away from Trump where it makes sense. McCain is just one of the more prominent Republicans in Congress to say he won’t be voting for Trump. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the easily wounded and vainglorious Trump would lash out against these Republicans today. In his usual way-over-the-top tweets, he said these Republicans were actually worse than “Crooked Hillary”.

Ryan’s actions are entirely logical, at least for someone who is trying to maintain the Republican majority in the House. Ryan may be an ardent Republican but he knows how to add up the political math: Clinton will be the president elect, Democrats are likely to retake the Senate and if Clinton wins by seven percent or more the odds are Democrats will retake the House too. If Republicans lose the House, it means he won’t be speaker and given that the Tea Party will form the bulk of the diminished Republican minority he’ll be lucky to end up as minority leader. Being out of power really sucks so it makes complete sense for Republicans to cut their losses if it’s not too late.

Trump though does not operate logically. His feelings are hurt and he is in denial about his impending loss. People in denial go through predictable phases and he’s in the “lash out at anyone who dares to speak the truth” phase, which ironically will make not only his loss worse but aggravate it for all Republicans up for election.

It’s not too hard to predict what will happen the day after Election Day too. Trump is unlikely to concede but he is likely to call the election fraudulent. There may be civil unrest from Trump supporters, as I also blogged about. I do expect on Election Day that Trump “observers” will try to prevent voting or harass voters, at least in precincts with heavily minority communities. While Trump is unlikely to accept defeat, he can’t change the outcome. But what he can do instead is lash out at the Republican Party for not sufficiently falling in behind him. He will make establishment Republicans take the blame for his loss. Why is this not only likely but also almost certain? It’s because Trump never takes the blame for anything.

Clearly Trump commands a lot of loyal followers. They shout themselves hoarse at his rallies when they are not beating up on journalists and Trump protestors. He is the poster child for non-college educated whites. Since he lives for attention he’ll have every incentive in the world to become their champion. And since the Republican Party has failed him, he is likely to “fix” the Republican Party by taking his followers with him. In short, I think he’s likely to go full Bull Moose on Republicans after the election.

If so, this won’t be the first time the Republican Party has nearly cracked up. In 1912 former president Teddy Roosevelt (a Republican) joined the then relatively nascent Progressive Party. His endorsed Republican successor (and running mate) William Howard Taft proved insufficiently progressive after winning the presidency. The Progressive Party became the Bull Moose Party and Teddy became its nominee for president. The result 104 years ago was that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won instead, with Teddy a distant second and Republican Taft getting just eight electoral votes. Teddy got even with Taft, but lost the election in the process.

If this scenario plays out again after this election, Democrats will get yet another gift. It’s not hard to see Trump running again in 2020 but under his own party label, leaving whatever traditional Republicans are left to nominate their own candidate. If this happens Republicans will be in the trenches fighting other former Republicans instead of opposing Democrats, making Democrats hands on favorites in most races to win. The 2020 election might result in a Congress that would look familiar to Tip O’Neill when he was speaker in the 1980s; he commanded a huge majority of House Democrats. It also bodes well for Democrats in 2020 senate races too. This would be good for them because they will be defending more seats than Republicans that year.

The likely outcome of all this probably won’t fatally fracture the Republican Party. New parties face daunting odds and Republicans will still have an infrastructure in place for nominating, supporting and winning races, which is what the Bull Moose Party eventually figured out when they slowly came back to the Republican Party. This infrastructure is not easily duplicated. Given Trump’s poor management skills he would be uniquely ill suited to try to create a winning party under his own brand. While Republican chaos reigns, and particularly if Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Congress can institute real change, Democrats have the opportunity to profit handsomely from the chaos. Given the Democratic Party’s history, their odds are slim, but Democrats now lean far more to the left than they did eight years ago. It’s not out of the question.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The next few years could be glorious ones for Democrats, reset the rules of Washington and actually bring about the end to gridlock that Americans want. If so, it will be the Republican Party’s implosion that will make it possible.

Thanks in advance, Donald.

 
The Thinker

2016 Presidential Debate #2

I want my money back.

Oh wait, I didn’t actually pay any money to watch this second presidential “town hall” debate from St. Louis last night. But I was hoping there might at least be something of a debate, you know where issues are discussed and we voters might be able to contrast the positions of the candidates and make an informed decision. Granted that in this case anyone truly informed is running away from Donald Trump and is likely voting for Hillary Clinton instead, but still! Why did this debate have to be Clash of the Titans instead? Why does it have to be so puerile, nasty and pointy fingery?

Watchers can be forgiven if they decided to quickly turn the channel because it was virtually all smoke and no light. Even Hillary Clinton couldn’t feign a smile at this debate and I can’t say I blame her. It was ninety minutes of fingernails on a chalkboard. So if you missed it, then good for you. Who won? Well, I’d say everyone lost. Most importantly the public lost an opportunity to see a real debate. This wasn’t a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s for sure.

The so-called “town hall” format was anything but. Moderators found it hard not to let their own questions overtake those from uncommitted voters invited onto the debate stage. There was no back and forth between the questioner and the candidate; they had to read their question from a card. Issues like our policy toward Syria were discussed and answers were muddled at best. Donald Trump seems to think that Mosul is in Syria and had no idea that we were supporting coalition troops on the grounds there who make the decisions, not waging the war. Syria is a huge mess and it’s everyone’s fault and the United States can take some of the blame. When you have a bunch of actors who are immovable, the wreckage there is wholly understandable.

Sadly, it’s not that (for the most part) the American people care about Syria. To the extent anyone “scored” on the issue it was Clinton who said she would not introduce American ground troops in the conflict. Syria makes Americans’ eyes glaze over. Could we debate a domestic issue please? The moderators tried with the Affordable Care Act. Clinton said she would improve it. Trump said it needed to be wholly replaced but could not articulate how he would replace it or what would happen to the twenty million people covered by the law. Clinton certainly won this one on points but it was perhaps the only issue discussed.

What we saw turned out to be far more important than what we heard. We heard Trump dismiss his 2005 off the record chat with Brian Bush as locker room talk and claimed he never engaged in any of those actions, although his history of sexual harassment lawsuits against him says otherwise. He then said Bill Clinton was guilty of far worse, although we have only one out of court settlement in his case plus Bill is not running, it’s Hillary so why is this germane? As rocky as the Clinton’s marriage got in the 1990s they are still together. Can’t say that about Trump who is on marriage #3 and who we know has cheated on spouses #1 and #2. Just ask spouses #2 and #3, who were willing participants.

Anyhow, the images were bad for Trump, particularly those images of him towering and lurking just behind Clinton in the camera’s frame when she replied to questions (not to mention more of his sniffing, like in the last debate). It’s a classic bullying tactic, as were his interruptions (18 for him, 1 for Hillary). His sole change from the first debate was to sound less shrill; he really worked on speaking calmly. But body language was everything and he looked like The Hulk instantly ready to start beating heads.

Unable to smile much, Hillary looked like she really wanted to be somewhere else. If she was rattled by the presence of some of her husband’s ex-paramours that Trump had invited (solely to rattle her of course, a classic bullying tactic) it was not evident but certainly spoke to the vile human being that he is.

Neither Trump nor Clinton changed any minds in this debate but it was successful in that Trump probably slowed the exit of his supporters. While I found the lack of debate annoying, Trump’s supporters got the red meat they wanted. He said he would put Hillary in jail, something a president can’t do. Okay, he said he’d have a special prosecutor look into her emails and he’d put her in jail, as if this hasn’t already been looked into in excruciating detail. Can’t do that either. He clearly slept through civics class and demonstrated yet again how appallingly ignorant he is about what the job of president entails.

At best the debate was a draw but as I said it was all smoke and no light. If you missed it, consider yourself lucky. In retrospect, I wish I had. It left a bad feeling in my stomach that deterred sleep and made me restless all night.

November 9 can’t come soon enough for me.

 
The Thinker

2016 Presidential Debate #1

I won’t lie and claim I wasn’t nervous about yesterday’s first presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Perhaps on some level I believed that Trump could pull a Houdini act: act reasonably, look professional and presidential, and sound informed. Granted that it had never happened before but in the pit of my stomach was this fear that even calmly examining the facts could not assuage.

Why was I so nervous? Because of the stakes. This election has no parallel that I can think of in American politics. Trump’s election would likely be catastrophic for the country due to his constant lies, frequently shifting positions, stunning ignorance on global and national affairs and his infamous temperament. This is a man who when he got a national security briefing about our nuclear weapons wanted to know whey we didn’t use them proactively. This should make any sane person start to sweat, and it certainly made me sweat. Not being the praying sort, I confess I briefly prayed for Hillary to find a way to decisively trounce Trump. It’s not necessarily that our country deserves this gift of grace from the Almighty. The United States is long overdue for a cosmic kick in the ass, and Trump seemed the ideal vehicle to get it.

So I fiddled with a toy during the debate, willing to hear it but finding it hard to watch it. I needed distraction. However it quickly became clear to me that my worries were specious. By the time it was over I had chilled and found myself grinning as Hillary Clinton deftly and expertly pressed all of Donald Trump’s buttons, leading to his self implosion.

Does this mean the debate changed the shape of the election? No. As I noted in my last post, the dynamics of this election are baked into our polarized country. I do expect Clinton to win, hope for a landslide, but expect it will be a win by a few percentage points. If there is one vanishing species in our country, it’s the undecided voter. While there are plenty of erstwhile independents, in fact most of them usually vote for the same party. Our states have naturally polarized over these last few decades between the “me” (red) states and the “we” (blue) states. Demographics favor “we” states in national elections, providing Democrats come out to vote.

It turned out that Hillary’s decades of being reviled provided her with plenty of experience to neuter and frustrate Donald Trump. This is not exactly unfamiliar territory for Hillary so she has learned how to turn it to her advantage. It meant smiling confidently while continuously pushing Trump’s buttons. This predictably allowed Trump to showcase his worst side, and it got worse as the debate progressed due to all the friendly fire. In most of the attacks, Trump joined in digging himself into a deeper hole. For example, he alluded that he really hadn’t paid much in the way of income taxes, as if this was a good thing.

Hillary pointed to numerous positions that Trump repeatedly pointlessly denied. Even his supporters didn’t believe him; they knew him too well and certainly didn’t care. Her attacks on his character were deftly done, but none more so than calling him on his misogyny and fat shaming of women, made more hilarious because Trump is obese. Trump being Trump doubled down on this again today, simply proving Hillary’s point.

It was pretty much a perfect strike for Hillary, with at best a wayward pin wobbling for a bit before eventually tumbling. It changed few minds, but it certainly cemented opinions about Trump. Those who were wavering on voting for Trump had no grounds to now support him. Moreover, Hillary rallied her own base, particularly women who are strongly behind her. Since this is a turnout election, she gave tepid Trump supporters plenty of reasons to stay home instead of vote, and plenty of red meat for Democrats to vote come hell or high water.

The funniest thing is that Trump, the master bully, really didn’t understand that he had been masterfully played. Bullies suffer from cognitive dissonance. Those of you that have read my 2012 essay on political bullying will see that Clinton followed the playbook for dealing with them. Bullies can’t be silenced but their forces can be redirected in counterproductive ways that can cause them to trip over their own feet. That is what Clinton accomplished last night: showing that this would be emperor had no clothes and that he was incoherent at best and dangerous at worst. Her smiling showed that nothing he could say would stick. Her unwillingness to respond to every interruption he caused showed she was civilized and statesmanlike.

So maybe my prayer was answered but more likely I was simply too nervous. The lies, misstatements and sheer incoherence of Trump’s statements were breathtaking. Much of it made no sense whatsoever, and even his claims changed within the same sentences. Hillary raised the red flag, let the bully act true to form and he fell into the lion’s den.

Let’s hope she can keep this up for the next two debates. Perhaps Trump will learn from his mistakes, but for someone who admits to no mistakes it’s likely his personal carnage will continue in the next debates. Stay tuned.

 
The Thinker

The bane of bad and ineffective political fundraising

I once wrote about how most proselytizers are morons. I can add to that list the fundraisers for candidates running for political office, at least the ones that write me. And write me they do, constantly! Lately my email inbox overflows with fifty or more of these pitches a day all of which boil down to ohmigod the world is going to come to end right now if you don’t empty your bank account and send all of it immediately to my candidate!

Thankfully Gmail seems to recognize a lot of this garbage and throws it into a spam folder, which is good except that means I’d be seeing more than fifty of these a day if it weren’t. There may be a Can Spam Act but it doesn’t apply to solicitations for public office. This means there is no penalty for campaigns contacting me and so they do, over and over again.

Occasionally I do click on the unsubscribe link. Sometimes it actually works, but most of the time it doesn’t last for long. Sometimes I get more emails from the candidate later that same day, even after receiving an email telling me I was unsubscribed from future mailings. I went through a period of several months where I religiously clicked on unsubscribe links for the stuff that did come in my inbox. It rarely worked for long. There is no penalty for candidates swapping email lists. Candidates selling their lists to other candidates appear to be one of the principle ways they make money. The result is there is no way to turn it off.

Proactive contributors know what to do: create an email specifically for this crap and give that to these campaigns. This works fine if you are consistent about it. However, give out your primary email address just once and you are doomed. Your only choice is to abandon that email address for another one. Since almost everyone I care about knows my real email address and it is tied to more businesses and websites than I can count, that’s not an option.

I actually try to read some of this fundraising spam from time to time. Like Craigslist casual encounters postings that I review monthly, it can be amusing. In fact, I could make it a feature of my blog to highlight the sheer inanity of it all, as I actually have done before. Only unlike Craigslist casual encounters, which I assume most people don’t regularly visit, most of you are also getting this crap, so it’s probably not that amusing.

Nonetheless, they occasionally tickle my funny bone. I got one recently from “Vice President Joe Biden” but doubtless some low level staffer at the DSCC or DCCC instead. Joe told me he was personally reaching out to me. He even called me by name (as they all do, as they have harvested your name.) The inanity of it though was funny because there was nothing the least bit personal about it, other than substituting my first name into an email template, which they all do. Since Joe likely has my snail mail address, if he wants to personally reach out to me, he can knock on my door. There’s a good chance I won’t open the door but since he’s vice president I might. And I might give the DSCC, DCCC or whatever group he is soliciting for $50. So come on over, Joe.

Quarterly FEC fundraising deadlines, but now new made-up end of month “deadlines” seem to ratchet up the emails as the month ends. These days any poll that shows a candidate down a few points, or a poll suggesting they are close to beating an incumbent, will stimulate requests for money. It often feels though like they are simply making up stuff. In any event these pitchmen make used car salesmen took ethical. In the process they treat their potential contributors like morons, which probably means they don’t deserve a contribution.

In fact, most of the money given to candidates is wasted. Hillary Clinton of course is taking in heaping piles of money right now. I get not just email but snail mail regularly from her campaign asking me to send $100 or more now! How is she spending it? It’s being spent mostly to buy TV and radio time. This is a complete waste of money. I can find better ways to spend that money on something actually useful.

Why is it a waste of time? It’s because the number of us who are persuadable is vanishingly small. Look at Clinton and Trump’s polling numbers over the past six months. They have fluctuated a bit but their percentages are pretty much where they were six months ago, and Clinton still has the lead. And that’s because six months ago people already knew whom they were going to vote for — yes, our political opinions are that hardened. The vast amounts of the money Clinton is spending now is going for TV and radio ads and it’s pretty much all wasted.

If Clinton wanted to persuade me to send her money, her staff might document that they are spending it wisely. Campaign ads even in swing states aren’t going to move the needle. At this point in the campaign only one-thing matters: turnout. So I want to see a treasurer’s report showing 80% or more of contributions are going to fund turnout efforts. And I want to see evidence that this door knocking and phone banking is working. I want to read about the fleets of buses that will help minorities get to polling stations that are too far away; that they are helping poor people get voter IDs or that they’ve prepaid for a taxi to take these people to the polls who otherwise could not make it. Then I might cough up some more money. But to see it wasted on TV and radio advertising tells me the campaign is run by a bunch of hacks. I’m not spending my hard earned money to prop up the profits of Clear Channel, which owns so many of our nation’s radio stations.

The most effective time to spend money is at the start of a campaign, not its end. At its start the candidate is relatively unknown and needs introduction. Even this is a pretty poor use of campaign money. What we really need are candidates that speak to us; a candidate we can relate to. When that happens we become naturally enthusiastic and the money part tends to take care of itself. Witness Bernie Sanders nearly successful campaign this year as evidence. I gave him money when I saw real potential in the candidate. No one needed to prompt me.

Money is also well spent early in the campaign when memes are set. Obama did in Mitt Romney in June and July 2012 when his campaign brilliantly aired those “47% will never vote for me” ads, showing Romney’s disdain for the working class. Romney would have had a tough campaign regardless, but doing it then when voters were forming impressions about Romney as a genial guy was brilliant, but also fortuitous for the Obama campaign.

With a few exceptions like the Sanders campaign, campaigns in general seem tone deaf to what really works and how to spend and raise money effectively. I can tell the candidates worth supporting by their smart management and the way their candidate naturally connects with voters. The rest of them, including the Hillary Clinton campaign, don’t deserve my support until they demonstrate to me that they will use my hard-earned money wisely. It’s clear from these shrill solicitations in my inbox that the descendants of P.T. Barnum are running their fundraising and that’s a bad sign.

 
The Thinker

The folly of voting third-party for president

It’s post Labor Day and it’s a presidential election year. You know what that means. According to our press, it means people are now starting to seriously pay attention to the upcoming election.

I find this hard to believe. Granted that I am something of a political junkie but it must be a very, very remote corner of Appalachia that hasn’t heard the endless thoughts spewing from the mouth and Twitter feed of Donald J. Trump. He’s the mouth that has roared for over a year now. And Hillary Clinton has spent decades in the public spotlight. We all have firmly baked opinions about her.

Perhaps to stir up some excitement, the press is agog about tightening polls showing Hillary Clinton’s lead dropping. It’s still a rare poll that shows her numbers below Trump’s, at least nationally but polls are generally showing her numbers moving to within margin of error numbers. It’s clear that large majorities of Americans don’t particularly like either Clinton or Trump and wants someone else to vote for. Unsurprisingly some are looking at third party candidates instead: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Those voters who follow through seem to want to make a statement.

And they will make a statement if they don’t mind shooting themselves in the foot. This happened to me in 1980 when I voted for John Anderson for president. I hate to say our electoral system is rigged but when it comes to the presidential vote it certain is and it’s by design. This is because an Electoral College actually votes a president into office and because 48 of the fifty states have laws that whichever candidate wins a plurality of the votes in the presidential race gets all of the state’s electoral delegates.

This means the system is rigged so as to make it virtually impossible for any candidate not in a major party to win. But it also means that if you are voting third party, you are throwing away your vote. The only exception is if your third party candidate wins a plurality of the votes in your state. And while that may garner some electoral votes for your third party candidate, a whole lot of other states have to do the same for your candidate to actually win. In short, you have to bet that both the Democratic and Republican party candidates are so dysfunctional that a wholesale national voting rebellion is going to happen, something that has never happened in our country as best I can tell and probably can’t happen now in our polarized political environment.

In practical terms, this means to a Massachusetts resident like me that if I would have otherwise voted for Hillary Clinton and I vote for Jill Stein instead, I am effectively voting for Donald Trump since it will bump up his share of the votes as a percent of the state’s votes. And if I am a non-racist Alabaman that normally votes Republican but I am so disgusted by Trump’s racism that I vote for Gary Johnson instead, I am helping elect Hillary Clinton.

In my case in 1980 as a 23-year-old voting for third party candidate John Anderson, I was effectively voting for Ronald Reagan, the last candidate I would have voted for. Fortunately in the blue-state of Maryland, it didn’t matter as Maryland’s electoral votes went for Jimmy Carter. Nationwide though John Anderson took 6.6% of the popular vote. Conceivably had Anderson not run and those votes had gone to Carter instead (as research suggests) then that election would at least have been a lot closer. Carter lost by nearly 10% of the popular vote but where it matters, he received only 49 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Reagan’s election was a landslide by any standards, thanks probably to John Anderson’s spoiler effect. As bad as that was the 1984 election was worse. Walter Mondale garnered only 13 electoral votes (his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C.) Reagan got the rest (525) and that was with no serious third party opposition. For a more recent event that shows the folly of voting third party, look at the 2000 election. Had the Green Party votes in Florida gone to Al Gore, there would have been no President George W. Bush.

Trump is right that the presidential voting system is rigged, but it’s always been that way. The Electoral College mess was designed by our founding fathers to get a commitment from southern states at the time the constitution was ratified. Without it, southern states would have probably never been able to elect a president. With slaves counting as 2/3 of a free person for a state’s share of electoral votes, with a few exceptions (like John Adams) for decades it made it virtually impossible for a non-southerner to become president.

So hopefully I’ve convinced you not to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. If still not convinced, consider that the Green Party and Libertarian Party are minority parties because their views are simply not mainstream views. I find a lot to admire about the Green Party but it’s a party of ideologues, not a party of pragmatists. For example, GMO foods are not going away and it’s folly at this time to try. Libertarians are easy to dismiss because it is wholly unworkable. Imagine selling all our roads, sewers and schools. Imagine no laws against pollution. It would be an unmanageable nightmare.

Which leaves you dear voter ultimately holding your nose while you vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (I realize there are some voters, particularly Trump voters who are actually enthusiastic about their candidate. Weird.) The other option is not to vote, but not voting is effectively the same as voting third party. You will effectively give more power to those that do vote.

So suck it up for democracy. Democracy ain’t pretty sometimes and it won’t be in this election. However, you have a duty to perform so do it mindful that the system is not perfect and your candidate won’t be either. If you really want the Green or Libertarian parties to grow, you have to do it the hard way by getting local and state candidates elected. With enough of them they may become a majority party in your state. Then you will have leverage, at least on the state level. Or you can work for a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Electoral College and make it based on actual votes.

Oh, and those polls? I’m still not worried. I think Clinton is still going to win based on state polls, which are the only ones that matter. With a majority of Americans saying they will never vote for Trump, the only way that Trump wins is if a lot of those voters stay home or vote third party instead of voting for Hillary. It’s unlikely but it can happen, and it could happen this year if you don’t vote with the left side of your brain instead of the right side.

I’ll be using the left side and voting for the imperfect Hillary Clinton.

 

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