House Dems Gun Sit-in Probably Cost Them the House: Trump Or No Trump

isThe Democratic base is excited that Congressional Democrats staged their sit-in last week in the House Chambers.  The rest of America, not so much.  But there is another group that should be not just not excited, but annoyed.  These are the Democrats running in red to purple swing districts nationwide.

The Congressional map facing Democrats this cycle is daunting.  Anti-Trump wave or not, Democrats have to net 30 seats to take back the House.  They have low hanging fruit in Nevada, Illinois, Iowa and NY State.  But even if they took every single competitive race in those 4 states they would only net 10 seats.  This daunting map has always ensured that Democrats would have to take purple to red Congressional districts to regain the majority.

Now, Democrats have benefited from court ordered redistricting plans in Virginia and Florida.  They will get a new majority-minority district in Virginia and they are set to gain 1-2 seats in Florida.  That still leaves them with over 15 seats to take the majority.

This path to the majority runs through the Rust-belt, the West and the South in suburban and rural districts.  These districts are unique and distinctive but they tend to be culturally and fiscally conservative making Democrats path to taking these seats with Clinton atop the ticket tricky.

Initially, Democrats were banking on the anti-Trump wave carrying many of their candidates to victory.  These candidates would be free to distance themselves from the liberal national party.  But, that has gotten harder as Clinton has doubled down on driving out her base for the general election.  In other words, instead of pivoting, the Clinton campaign has become increasingly liberal in its policy positions.

Obviously looking to benefit from recent events the party quickly turned the Orlando terrorist attack into a debate over guns (Democrats lose in national security and terrorism debates).  Looking forward to November, even liberal stalwarts such as Pelosi and Hoyer dropped fighting for an assault weapons ban and instead endorsed the more popular ideas of expanding background checks and denying people on the No Fly List from purchasing a firearm (due process be damned).

The electoral motivations mattered little to the party’s Congregational ideologues and led by Representative John Lewis, a number of House Democrats staged a sit-in of Congress last week.  When Republicans tried to regain control of the Chamber they were shouted down.  Don’t expect Republicans to forget this. Or their constituents.

There is just one problem with Democrats move.  It destroyed the chances of the party regaining the House Chamber this cycle.  It made the base happy and brought in donations to the Clinton campaign and DNC but it seriously hampered the chances of Democratic candidates running in the kinds of districts Democrats need to capture.

Now, endangered Republican incumbents in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin can run ads tying their opponents to Democratic leadership and the ideologues that want to take not just your guns but rights away.  This is a particularly damaging argument for Democrats running in the Rust-Belt.

The region is culturally conservative by nature but has a predilection to vote Democratic at the Presidential level.  While many voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota tend to be pro-gun, they still vote Democratic suggesting they are either fiscally liberal or struggle to fit into the GOP’s modern fiscal/socially conservative coalition.

Well, Republicans have just been given a gift.  The Democrat’s most ideological members indicating they want their party to shift hard left on firearms and ban not just assault weapons but the very popular AR-15 as well.  Not surprisingly, the move is unlikely to sit well with many of the region’s swing voters.

Further complicating the Democrats path to the majority is the about face of the Obama administration on firearms.  Contrary to the claims of many conservatives and Republicans, the Obama administration has preferred to work with gun manufacturers to develop gun legislation.  That has changed.

In a press conference held last week by Attorney General Loretta Lynch she made clear the White House was willing to go to bat over the issue.  Probably because the Clinton camp had shown they were going to make it a major campaign issue and the White House needed to be on the same page.

Still, it is unlikely Clinton would do well in many of these districts.  Trump’s appeal is strong in many of these areas and Clinton is toxic.  Democratic candidates would have to emphasize their independence and conservative bonafides to voters to outrun her.  They could do this because they could vow to return to their Congressional Caucus and fight for gun owners.  It is harder to convince voters of that when your opponent is reminding voters that you are likely to be one of a lonely few in the ranks of an anti-gun party.

 

 

Heidi Heitkamp’s and Jon Tester’s Blueprint For Victory For GOP Senators In 2016

46659277.cachedHeidi Heitkamp is the junior Senator from North Dakota and Jon Tester the senior Senator from Montana.  Heitkamp first squeaked out a victory in 2012 when he state was solidly voting for Mitt Romney while Jon Tester bested a well-known House member to retain his seat.

Both Montana and North Dakota are solidly red at the Presidential level.  When Tester won his race with 49 percent Obama was only carrying 42 percent to the vote.  Heitkamp arguably had a steeper hill to climb.  While she won with 50.02 percent of the vote the President walked away with barely 39 percent.  Apparently split ticket voting is not completely dead in our era of hyper-polarization.

But, context is important.  Both Heitkamp and Tester have a long history in their states.  Tester served in the Montana State Senate from 1997-2007 before being elected in 2006.  Heitkamp served as Attorney General for 8 years before running unsuccessfully for Governor in 2000.  Before that she served as the state Tax Commissioner.  After her loss, she served as Director of the Dakota Gasification Company’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant.

Both Tester and Heitkamp are down to earth and speak to the sensibilities of their states and voters.  Heitkamp and Tester both cultivated an image of being down-home and folksy and were excellent in one-on-one interactions with their constituents.

Republicans in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Illinois should take note.  As bad as the Senate map looks for the GOP many of these Senators have a leg up on Tester and Heitkamp.  They are running in light blue to blue states as opposed to a deeply red Montana or North Dakota.

Who challenged Heitkamp and Tester was important.  In North Dakota, then Congressman Rick Berg ran against Heitkamp.  Berg, who co-founded successful real estate firm Goldmark Property Management, served in the legislature for 2 decades before defeating Democratic Congressman Earl Pomeroy in 2010.  That race was incredibly bitter and Berg entered his freshman year with low likability scores.

In Montana, Tester matched up against 5 term Congressman Denny Rehburg. Rehburg had served as the state’s Lt. Governor from 1991-1997 and lost a close Senate race in 1996 to Max Baucus.  When Rehburg gave up his safe House seat to run against Tester it was seen as a major coup.  But Rehburg, embroiled in a scandal of his own making, was hardly a strong candidate.

In Montana Tester ran against the President and his party on energy and the environment and successfully sidestepped the Obamacare debate.  In North Dakota, Heitkamp distanced herself from the President on energy, taxes and the Keystone Pipeline.

In both cases tactics mattered.  Berg aired ads in February and March to burnish his image but went dark due to cash issues until June.  Meanwhile Heitkamp aired ads between March and June which helped innoculate her from later attacks.  Democrats successfully attacked Berg for his management of his real estate firm, Goldmark, which had numerous complaints and allegations of violations from its tenants.

In Montana, the story was largely the same.  While Rehburg never went dark during the campaign his team struggled to craft an effective message.  Meanwhile, Tester’s spots were positive and painted a populist tone even conservatives could get behind.  More importantly, he drove up Rehburg’s negatives and thus drove a large majority of the 6 percent of the vote to the Libertarian candidate in the race.

Republicans assumed it would be easy to tie Heitkamp and Tester to Obama.  But they little ammo on either and were stuck with flawed candidates.  The assumption undecided voters would go their way in the end was flawed.  This was probably because Democrats painted Rehburg and Berg as unethical and uncaring.

Now, it should be mentioned, North Dakota and Montana are small states.  This made it easier for the individual strength of both candidates to become manifest and the weaknesses of their opponents to shine through.  Tester was a relatively young Senator and Heitkamp did not have a voting record to attack.

For blue-state Republicans this cycle, they may be as young in their tenures as Tester was, but their states are much larger.  One-one-one contact is thus much harder to obtain.

Fortunately, these Republicans are facing opponents of with extensive voting records.  Additionally, none of these blue-state Republicans had easy races in 2010 meaning they know how to run good campaigns.

Even better, almost every candidate has an issue to differentiate themselves from their party on.  In Illinois, it is abortion and gay marriage.  In Wisconsin, it is national security.  In Pennsylvania it is guns and in New Hampshire it is on limiting carbon emissions.  These stances allow Republicans to show their independence from the party to some degree.

The one thing these Republican Senators cannot control is how well Donald Trump does at the top of the ticket.  The worse he does the harder their job becomes.  But, the better he does the more likely they are to survive.

Elections can be won and lost at the margins so anything Republicans glean from Heitkamp and Tester will help.  The question is whether it will be enough?

 

 

 

Marco Rubio Is Running For Reelection

20-rubio.w529.h352Not long after his defeat in the Florida Presidential Primary on March 15, Rubio announced the end of his campaign for President and reiterated that he was looking forward to becoming a private citizen in January.  Not long afterward, politics became involved.

Republicans ringing their hands over Trump began to quietly urge Rubio to run for reelection.  Rubio, in his Presidential announcement speech, said he was foregoing keeping his Senate seat to focus all his energy on the Presidential contest.  Despite the pressure, he initially kept saying no.  In fact, he went so far as to endorse one of the Republicans vying to replace him, Lt. Governor Lopez Cantera, in the hopes it would boost his friend.  It didn’t.

The Democrats two main contenders, Congressmen Allen Grayson and Patrick Murphy, led the entire/most of the GOP field for months.  Fundraising for all the GOP primary candidates was anemic and none showed the financial health to run in a state the size of a small country.

Then June 12th happened.  A Muslim gunman killed 49 people and wounded scores more at a downtown Orlando LBGT nightclub.  The result, by all accounts, had a serious impact on Rubio.  It also led to the man Rubio endorsed, Cantera, urging Rubio to run for reelection.  Not surprisingly, this deeply impacted Rubio’s thinking.

Then, late last week, Congressman David Jolly announced he was stepping out of the GOP contest to replace Rubio to run for reelection in his heavily Democratic district because signs pointed to Rubio running.  According to Politico, the final straw was a Quinnipiac University poll showing Rubio ahead by 7 and 8 points in Florida.  The same poll found Trump down 8 in the state.

His announcement telegraphed his reelection theme.  Despite endorsing Trump, Rubio said in an interview on Fox News unprompted after his announcement, “It’s been well-documented that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump on his failure to articulate policies and many of the things that he has said, especially about women and minorities.  And so I’m prepared to be a senator that will encourage him to make the right decisions, but also stand up to the bad decisions and the bad policies if he’s elected president.”

Additionally, Rubio added, “All I can tell you is that they’re not comments that I agree with. They went beyond the pale. I think that that judge is fully American whose experience is not unlike mine.  Rubio’s comments were in reference to Trump’s attacks on the Hispanic judge overseeing the Trump University fraud case.  Still, Rubio made clear who he views as the greatest concern this cycle. ““He’s not running against George Washington,” in reference to Hillary Clinton.

The announcement is a boon for Republicans even though Rubio still has to navigate a primary against wealthy Cuban-American businessman Carlos Beruff.  Odds are decent the primary will be nasty with Berloff calling Rubio the choice of DC power-brokers and Rubio responding that Berloff backed Crist as an Independent in 2010.  Cantera has formally withdrawn from the race.

The move is notable because it says something about Rubio.  He is ambitious.  When Rubio ran for President and announced early on he was leaving his Senate Seat open it was to curry favor with the party.  Ted Cruz, who never followed a similar theme, never tried to curry favor with the establishment.

Of course, Rubio is ambitious and his run for President after 5 years in office made that clear.  But the about face Rubio has made in deciding to attempt to get reelected is indicative he still has his eyes on the Presidency.  It also may illuminate Rubio’s thinking further down the road.

It goes something like this.  I win a tough race in Florida and help preserve my party’s Senate Majority.  I remain a major player in the party process.  I still am relevant when the Presidential race comes around in 2020.

This makes sense.  If Trump wins, it is likely Rubio is reelected and he still remains relevant in the Senate for many years to come.  If Trump loses and Rubio wins he will be positioned to become the party standard-bearer in 2020 against Clinton.

The big gamble with this strategy is that it assumes the GOP faithful will learn from nominating Trump and be attracted to a young, smart nominee with a little more political experience.  It also assumes that a Ted Cruz or Scott Walker can be defeated in a future GOP Presidential nominating contest.

Further, it begs the question why Rubio did not wait until 2018 to run for Governor?  His Senate seat might have been lost which would ensure his party loses their majority but he would ensure that his resume is bolstered with Executive experience.  Plus, the Senate map of 2020 would be filled with red-state Senators unlikely to be impacted by a Rubio loss.  This is indicative of just how much Rubio realizes he needs establishment support to ever run for President again.

For the party at large, regardless of their coupe in re-recruiting Rubio, it’s a sign they hold little hope of Trump winning the Presidency.  He might be able to take a Rust-belt state or 2 but when it comes to diverse states like Florida and Virginia they do not see him having the cross-over racial support he needs.

But, if he can be competitive, Rubio can run ahead of Trump in Southern Florida and win a narrow contest.  Assuming all goes well elsewhere the party could retain a slim Senate majority or even hold 50 seats and only lose control due to the VP breaking ties.

The move is fairly surprising to me.  I thought Rubio would say no and decide the big checks on the speaking circuit and via lobbying would be to beneficial to turn down.  The extra time he could spend with his young kids would also be to big to ignore  But, apparently not.

In the next few days I will have a more in-depth analysis of the Senator’s chances.

 

 

 

The Polls Are Likely Underestimating Trump’s Support

1-TrumpFor a brief shining moment last month it looked like Donald Trump had a shot at the White House.  A series of polls showed Trump ahead, tied or within the margin of error against Hillary Clinton.  The Clinton camp was struggling to put away Bernie Sanders and Trump had locked up the GOP nomination.

Then Trump attacked the judge overseeing the Trump University case for his Hispanic heritage and it all came down.  Polls now show Clinton ahead by anywhere from 3-12 points nationally.  In the states, there is a lack of polling to show significant movement either way.  Pundits and analysts are yet again predicting the Trump’s demise.  They would be wise not to.

Why?

Because the polls are likely underestimating Trump’s support.  During the GOP primaries, when Trump led since early August this was not assumed to be much of an issue.  In fact, it was assumed the opposite was occurring.  In Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Trump polled 5 to 10 percent better than he finished.

But as the field shrunk (and Trump became more bombastic) it became clear the polls were underestimating Trump’s support.  Take Trump’s finish in Florida for instance.  The RCP compilation of polls had Trump winning around 43 percent of the vote.  He won 45 percent.  A whole 2 percent might not seem like much but in a close race it could make a difference.

This theme had been building since September of last year (before anybody voted).  Harry Enten noted in December that there was a “yuge” difference between Trump’s standing in live surveys (interviewed over the phone) and non-live surveys (automated and online) to the tune of almost 6 percent.  His ultimate prediction the live telephone surveys would turn out to be more predictive in the primary were, well, wrong.  In May, Enten doubled down on his theory.

But there is significant evidence, at least among Republicans, that Trump is under-performing in live polls.  Morning Consult, a Pennsylvania based survey company, surveyed 2,397 Republicans and found ” that Trump performs about 6 percentage points better online than via live telephone interviewing.”  Specifically, 10 points better among respondents with college degrees when they were given an online survey, and more than 10 points better in the online survey among those with some college education.

So what gives?  The survey does not say this but it might have to do with social desirability bias.  Voters might not be willing to admit to another person, especially one they do not know personally, they support Trump.  But they will back him in the privacy of the ballot box.

There is precedent for voters lying to pollsters.  It is called the Bradley Effect.  In 1982, LA Mayor Tom Bradley, running for Governor against a white candidate was ahead in the polls.  He lost.  The Bradley Effect used to just explain racial polling differences.  Now, we could actually be seeing an inverse Bradley Effect with Trump.

Parsing national polls is difficult of course.  Every surveyor from NBC to PPP (D) to Rasmussen to ABC all have different samples and assumptions about what the electorate will look like on many fronts.  For example, the latest Bloomberg poll anticipates an electorate that is 25 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic and 37 percent Independent (that is an electorate more left leaning than 2012).  No wonder Trump trails in that survey by 12 percent.  On the other hand, a Fox News survey anticipates a more Republican electorate and Trump only trails by 3 percent in that poll.

In 2012, state polls were more predictive than national polls.  But, so far, all we have are mostly national polls.  In 2012,  the RCP average of national polls had Obama up by a squeaky .7 percent.  He won by almost 4 points.  Yet, in the individual battleground states, Obama was consistently ahead (minus North Carolina).

The lack of state polls has made it difficult to assess this election.  While national polls tell us this race could be a blowout (most pundits think it will be), the few state poll available tell us differently.

In Virginia, a state that is growing demographically and politically friendlier to Democrats, Gravis and PPP find 3 and 4 point leads for Clinton.  Ohio tells a similar story.  In polls since April, Clinton has led by 3 and 5 points.  Trump has led by 4.  Florida, a state where we are told Trump’s weakness among Hispanics dooms him, led in the latest survey.  Pennsylvania, part of the Democratic Firewall in the Midwest, has seen ties  in 2 of the last 4 surveys.  Romney, barely campaigning there in 2012, only lost the state by 5 percent.

The 2012 campaign as well as the 2014 campaign featured a worrying trend in polling.  As polls have struggled to adapt and compensate for the increased mobility of the electorate a new trend toward “herding” has occurred.

Essentially, if a poll finds a large divergence from similar surveys, the data is massaged to make it appear closer to the norm.  In the analogy, the data is the flock and the pollster is the shepard.

An analysis of the 2012 election showed polls herding towards the norm.  That go-round, the state polls were actually fairly accurate.  But, 2014 was significantly different.

An analysis by Fivethirtyeight found that as election day approached the polls converged significantly.  In other words, pollsters started massaging the data.  The result nationally was polls significantly underestimating GOP support in red states like Arkansas, North Carolina and elsewhere.

This is worrisome for a few reasons.  First, it means pollsters are forgetting the scientific nature of random samples.  Second, it makes an election appear close or out of reach.  Witness Gravis and Hampton University not even releasing their Senate surveya in Virginia for this very reason.  Lastly, it creates a built-in bias as pollsters can basically manipulate public perception of any race (thanks PPP).

None of this is to say that Trump will win in November.  Indeed, I peg his chances at no better than 20 percent.  Clinton’s massive cash, infrastructure and demographic advantage is primarily why she is such a heavy favorite.

But, her unfavorable numbers are on par with Trump and like Trump she is a known political commodity.  We also have no idea how Brexit and the terrorist attack in Orlando will swing the race.  Obama’s approval might be increasing but the number of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track is not decreasing.

Polls in the next month should tell us a lot about the state of the race.  If Clinton’s massive spending in swing states starts to increase her favorable numbers (which should translate to bigger leads) and makes Trump look even worse before the summer the Trump’s chances will decrease significantly, regardless of whether the polls underestimate his support or not.  But, if the spending doesn’t, and the race is close, the polls underestimation of Trump’s support could be the difference in those oh so crucial swing states.

 

 

 

The Donald’s Trump Card: More White Voters

TeaPartyvotesOne of the big assumptions about the 2016 election is Donald Trump cannot win due to the diversity of the country.  Indeed, this author has already seen a plethora of articles suggesting CO and NV are out of reach for the GOP nominee and how AZ, GA and NC could flip this cycle with increased minority turnout.

Many prominent GOP strategists worry that Trump cannot win without increasing Mitt Romney’s share of the minority vote.  Joe Scarborough, the token conservativeish pundit for MSNBC put it thusly, “There are not enough white voters in America for Donald Trump to win while getting routed among minorities.”  But, maybe there are!

An analysis conducted by Nate Cohn at the Upshot suggests millions more white voters participated in 2012 and that, contrary to the popular themes of 2012, it was Northern whites who put Obama over the top.

The most popular theme of the 2012 election was that Romney lost because he did so poorly among  non-white voters.  This is largely what drove many GOP strategists to conclude the party needed to expand its racial reach after 2012 and win larger shares of Hispanics and Asians.  But, these conclusions were based on exit polls.  The same exit polls that in 2010 overestimated GOP support and underestimated it in 2014.

The data from the Upshot gathered from the Census Bureau, voter registration files, polls and the finalized results suggest that Obama actually ran better among whites outside the South than both Al Gore and John Kerry.  It was his weakness among Southern whites that gave Romney a 20 point lead among whites on election night.  Put simply, Obama would have been reelected even if the electorate resembled 2004.

This makes sense if you think about it more.  In the key swing states of Ohio and Colorado (to name 2 examples), Bush carried Araphoe and Jefferson Counties by the mid-single digits and he carried Hamilton County, Ohio by a similar margin.  Obama basically flipped these margins in 2012.

Obviously, this benefited Obama in 2012 and it portends good things for Mr. Trump in November if he plays his cards right.  The downside is that in appealing Northern whites Mr. Trump may hurt himself with college-educated voters and women.

Exit polls obviously play a clear part in the GOP’s worries about its appeal to a diversifying electorate.  When tens of thousands of voters in precincts across the country report their vote it is hard to ignore.  But, exit polls are imperfect instruments.  They rely on self-reporting in many cases.  Further, perhaps due to this self-reporting and the fact pollsters massage the data to account for missing variables, the electorate appears more educated and diverse than it really is.

The Census and registered voter files paint a different picture of the electorate than exit polls do.  The Current Population Survey, used by the Census Bureau to report unemployment numbers also asks individuals if they had voted in the last election.

Registered voter files, a compilation of local voting records, are used by both parties to gauge turnout and results.  They tend to be less biased due to their reliance on what the data tells them.  Using Catalist, a Democratic firm that offers an academic subscription, the UpShot found white turnout increased from 1 to 3 percent in 2012 compared to exit poll results.  Those without college degrees increased their share of the electorate from 4 to 10 percent and the share of the electorate over 45 increased by almost 10 percent.

This has profound implications if true.  First-off, it shows how inaccurate exit polls are.  Secondly, how difficult it is to ensure they are accurate.  Lastly, that major disagreements are fought over data from voter files or CPS data.  Indeed, the Voter ID law up for debate in North Carolina is being fought in the courts using voter file data.

One can take examples from battleground states to illustrate exit polls woes.  In Ohio, exit polls showed an electorate that was 15 percent black.  This means 250,000 more black voters showed up in Ohio than in 2008 despite overall turnout in the state dropping.  In North Carolina, exit polls showed more Hispanics voted with college degrees than actually live in the state (according to Census data).

This runs flat against the narrative the Democratic coalition is dependent on the young, minorities and women.  While Democrats cannot win without these groups they still need the support of white working class voters.

This is illustrated by the 2014 Colorado Senate contest.  In 2008, Senator Mark Udall carried 62 percent of white women and 58 percent of white men.  But, in 2014, after running a campaign targeting only women, his share among white men dropped to 42 percent and dropped by 4 points among white women.  County-wise, he lost ground in the populous Denver suburbs and conservative Northern Colorado.

Relating to 2012, Obama carried 34 percent of whites without a college degree compared to the 25 percent shown by exit polls.  His margins among these whites increased in almost every state outside the South (minus  a few conservative Western states, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts).  In every battleground state in 2012 minus Iowa, the CPS and voter file data indicates Obama ran better among whites than exit polls showed.

This plays down the theory that Hispanics cost Romney the election.  In Florida, you can bet they did with his weakness in Cuban-American dominated Southern Florida and the heavily Puerto-Rican Osceola and Orange counties.  But, in Virginia and elsewhere, Hispanics played a marginal role in giving Obama his wins.

If this is the case Republicans should be happy and worried.  They should be happy because it suggests non-whites are not a baked-in wing of the Democratic coalition.  But, it also suggests Northern whites backed Obama for a reason.

I disagree with Cohn the auto bailout and painting Romney as a plutocrat did not play a large part in the election.  If they didn’t, it is true they drifted to Obama over cultural issues.  But, an extraordinary number of polls have shown white, non-college educated voters agree on many issues with Trump.  Trump, rarely agrees with Obama on anything culturally.

Another theory this new data runs against is the theory of the “Missing White Voter.”  In 2012, due to exit polls, it was assumed fewer whites voted than past elections.  Yet, voter registration files suggest many of these voters were registered Democrats.  Indeed, the CPS data suggests turnout among Republicans 60 and older increased in 2012 relative to 2008.  It is also unclear whether these voters were young and older.  Regardless, they were not in the battleground states that decided the election.

So can Trump really pull this off?  A compilation of polls show he is beating Clinton among whites without a college degree 58 percent to 31 percent nationally.  That is better than Romney did in polls but it is unclear whether these gains are coming in battleground states or not.

The same polls showing Trump doing better among non-college educated whites also show him losing college educated whites to Clinton.  Just for reference, even McCain did not lose college educated whites to Obama in 2008.  So, if Trump loses college educated whites he would need astronomic margins among non-college educated whites to win.

Now, it’s possible the polls could be underestimating Trump’s support.  Voters can feel uncomfortable admitting to a stranger over the phone they support Trump (especially with the media going overboard calling him a racist and women-hater).  They may also suffer from social desirability bias.  In a test of over 2,300 Republicans last year it was found in online surveys Trump did 6-10 points better among voters along education lines.

Even if so, the dearth of polls in battleground states makes dissecting the individual results in national polls difficult.  But, if Cohn is right, Trump does have a shot this cycle, contrary to the narrative of a diversifying electorate automatically carrying Clinton to victory.

 

 

 

The Media Really Has No Idea What the Public Wants After Orlando

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Friends and family of the victims of The Pulse Massacre mourn.

Sunday morning, most Americans woke up (myself included) to hearing about a gunman opening fire on a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando.  The death toll currently stands at 49.  Not content to merely slaughter members of the community, the gunman took hostages and held out for 3 hours until he was killed by SWAT members.

The gunman, positively identified as Omar Mateen,was college educated, an American citizen and Muslim.  He had twice been investigated by the FBI for having terrorist ties but both times was deemed no threat.  The firearms he used, a pistol and a semi-auto AR-15 (the media thinks any rifle is a full-auto) were both purchased legally and he passed background checks with flying colors.

By all accounts, Mateen was clearly radicalized at some point (his father disagrees).  He made a call to the Islamic State during the attack and posted supportive posts of ISIS on Twitter and Facebook before the attack.  It has come out he visited Saudi Arabia twice before the attack.

Such a heinous attack could not be left alone by talking heads or politicians and sure enough the two biggest headliners of 2016, Clinton and Trump, waded in.  Clinton took to issuing a statement of condolence and waiting for more of the facts to come out.  Trump, well, he was Trump.

Trump used his Twitter to congratulate himself on the fact he was right that terror attacks by Muslims will continue.  Soon after though, he issued several follow-up tweets focused on sounding tough on national security and terrorism.  Ironically, the President agrees with Trump for once and said, “Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate and as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”

Unsurprisingly, the media condemned Trump’s self-congratulatory comments and came down on the side of Clinton.  Trump’s lack of empathy seemed to be many outlets primary concern.  They appreciated Clinton’s nuanced statements vs. the Donald’s “reckless” calls for banning Muslims and saying the President should resign for not saying this attack was due to Radical Islam.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t think the media has the faintest clue what the public wants or how it will react.  They can read polls and interview people until they are blue in the face but there is limited precedent for what the public will do or how it feels.

However, some observations can be gleaned.  More likely than not the public will gravitate towards the candidate that sounds tougher on terror and Radical Islam (Trump wins there).  A cool and calm approach, manifested over and over by Obama, has been praised by the media but rarely has the public given him high marks on handling a crisis.

This is not an assumption made in a vacuum.  Political scientists have studied the impacts of terrorist attacks on elections and discovered it makes the public act in 3 relevant ways.  First, the public becomes less trusting of each other.  Second, they rally around a sitting executive (witness Bush and 9/11 and Clinton and the Oklahoma City Bombing).  Lastly, they tend to become more hawkish at the expense of civil liberties.

This should benefit the bombastic Trump despite the overwhelmingly negative perception of the media regarding his response.  Empathy is great and all, but empathy does not keep the public safe from external threats.  Nor does it make the threats go away.

Another observation, perhaps more obvious than the first, is that the tragedy will be used as a political tool by both pro-gun and pro-gun control groups.  The Daily Mail, New York’s hometown newspaper, printed a paper with the headline, “Thanks NRA.  Because of your continued opposition to an assault rifle ban, terrorists like this Lunatic can legally buy a killing machine and perpetrate the worst mass shooting in US history.”  Never-mind, he passed background checks and used a semi-automatic rifle, not a full out assault rifle making the Mail’s rant of an article irrelevant.

Pro-gun advocates have not been as stupid in their responses and have kept a low profile since the incident.  At least as of yet they have not blamed the nightclub being a gun-free zone as the culprit.

The Daily Mail is not widely representative of the media but combined with the responses of the many media elites (like Chris Cillizza here) it does form a pattern.  A pattern where their personal opinions bias their responses and their judgement.  In turn, they show they have no idea what the public thinks, will do, or respond when the time comes to vote due to tragedies like Orlando.  As I said before, empathy is great and voters want their leaders to have it, but they also want their leaders to be strong and able to defend them and their loves ones.

 

 

 

How Intellectual Conservatives Have Failed The Average Conservative

Panel left to right:  Margaret Hoover - Political Contributor, CNN, Author, American Individualism, President, American Unity Fund; Bill Kristol - Founder/Editor, The Weekly Standard, Contributor, ABC News;
In this image released by HBO, host Bill Maher, right, talks with Margaret Hoover, left, and Bill Kristol, center, during “Real Time With Bill Maher,” in Los Angeles Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham)

It’s hard not to notice the level of vitriol from conservative think-tanks, pundits and white-collar conservatives, directed at Trump supporters.  I mean, how can you support such a big government, socially liberal, build a wall, tariff supporting candidate?

Well, the answer is pretty simple.  Trump supporters can because all those think-tanks, conservative media types and white-collar conservatives have failed to make their lives better.  For the purposes of this article the individuals in these groups are what I characterize as the “intellectual conservative” movement.

It is perhaps the ultimate irony that the intellectual conservative movement, the movement that so despises Trump, actively fueled his rise.  Their lack of understanding of not just the issues, but also the very voters who kept them in the halls of power, is personified by Trump’s rise.

Trump’s entire candidacy represents their failure and his success is their shame.  The failure of intellectual conservatives is so complete that conservative voters did not just fall for a moderate to liberal nominee pedaling nationalism but also a nominee who barely put together a single, complete policy (minus build a wall and supporting tariffs against Mexico and Russia).  In fact, Trump ran roughshod over Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, arguably the 2 candidates with the most detailed policy positions.

Indeed, the entire intellectual conservative moment, which was arguably founded by William F. Buckley, was based on  on making the lives of the average American better.  From Buckey’s original pieces to the writings of modern day Grand Masters like Charles Krauthammer, Pete Wehner and David Harsanyi, their ideas are centered around making the ideas of the average American better.  Yet, none of their ideas have become reality.

But let’s back up for a second.  Pundits and talking heads don’t have the power to enact policy.  Like everybody else they can vote in the people they want and write their leaders, but they do not set policy nor direct it.  But think-tanks can.

In the 60’s conservative think-tanks proliferated.  Indeed, they fueled the rise of the right in the early 70’s and through the 1980’s.  These think-tanks, some most cherished like the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, formed ideas of economic growth through deregulation and a robust investment in infrastructure.  Voters responded by giving Reagan 2 terms and HW Bush a single term.

Fast-forward to today and you are forced to ponder what any of these thinks have done of late.  Not even of late, but since the new millennium.  Wages have been stagnant since Y2K, economic inequality has risen, fewer people of working age as a percentage are employed than at any time in history, Medicare and Social Security are unsustainable, health insurance premiums climb year over year and the debt is increasing every second of every day of every year.  For all the laws that have been passed since 2000, none have solved any of these issues.

In answer to these vexing issues what has the intellectual conservative movement offered as a solution (crickets)?  Nothing.  While they may have ideas they do not seem to have a clue how to get them enacted.  Indeed, when a conservative Republican actually wants to get one of these problems solved (be it Boehner or Ryan) they are attacked by the very movement that should be promoting their cause.  Witness their response to the Doc Fix.  Or Ryan’s long-term transportation bill.  Both have a direct impact on the average American.  But no, let’s quibble over $30 billion in a single year budget.

Certainly, it makes sense to debate the size of the US budget.  Conservatives elected Republicans to trim the budget down to size.  But the intellectual conservative movement forgets the world they live in is a world different than the average conservative.

The average conservative does not debate the merits of a Healthcare Co-op vs. allowing insurance companies to offer plans across state lines.  Likewise, they don’t debate the finer points of a payroll tax cut vs. taxes on the rich.  But, note a key variable here.  The above are not purely left or right ideas.  A Healthcare Co-op for certain individuals and higher taxes on the wealthy are left of center ideas.  A payroll tax cut and allowing insurance companies to trade across state lines are right-wing ideas.

Now compare this to the world of an intellectual conservative.  They probably qualify as having a white-collar profession, have time to debate the finer points of Healthcare policy and have the luxury of not being impacted by an overburdened Medicare or healthcare system.

In this is the beauty of Trump’s appeal.  Yes, it has nationalistic overtones and the bombastic style of the candidate is a turnoff.  But, when he talks about a set of concrete ideas voters can picture he actually manages to have more credibility than the intellectual conservative movement does.

It does not matter that none of these ideas will come to fruition.  There will not suddenly be tariffs against Mexico.  We won’t build a wall on the border.  We won’t halt immigration for Muslims or establish a database of their whereabouts.  Rather, Trump is an expression of the average conservative’s frustration.

At this point to the average conservative ideology is not a major factor.  Sure, it is to the intellectual conservative (you can’t raise taxes on the wealthy), and younger conservatives brought up to believe it is heresy to suggest otherwise (I was canned for saying this at Red Millennial).  But not to the majority of conservatives (who support Trump).

The failure of intellectual conservatives to understand this fact is compounded by their incredulity that the average conservative could support Trump.  The #Nevertrump movement is full of intellectual conservatives.  But this just shows they have left the conservative rank and file behind.  Conservatives are so desperate for somebody to fight for them that they are overlooking ideological loyalty.

Consider the numerous issues that Trump has broken with ideology on and it has cost him little, if any, support.  On infrastructure spending, Trump laments the despairing state of America’s infrastructure.  On taxes, he supports hikes on millionaires.  Gay marriage, so what?  Abortion, I don’t like it but I won’t fight over it.  He stated such themes numerous times over the course of the primary and he only grew stronger.  True believers like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Scott Walker fell by the wayside.

Whereas the intellectual right is shocked that Trump could win a campaign with these views the average conservative (myself included) is not.   It makes sense to secure the border (sorry big business).  We don’t need to fight endless wars overseas for little or no return.  We don’t need to endlessly re-litigate gay marriage.

But where the intellectual movement has failed the worst is culturally.  Intellectual conservatives carry cosmopolitan values on issues like LBGT rights and religious liberty.  They seem shocked conservatives are worried over bathrooms and religious liberty.  Due to their shock perhaps. Trump has filled the vacuum by promising to fight against government overreach forcing people to violate their religious beliefs or letting the Department of Education bully school districts into compliance with veiled threats of withdrawing funding.

It goes without saying that an entire book could be written on how the intellectual conservative movement has failed conservatives.  The refusal of them to acknowledge this fact has only added fuel to the fire.  Ultimately, it led to Trump’s rise and could easily lead to the party conservatives call home becoming inhospitable to the intellectual movement.