Saturday, September 03, 2016

Hey Democrats, chill out, we're winning

I don't have a lot of respect for the Republican party, but there is one thing I've always thought they were really good at: confident bluster.

In the 2012 election, polls consistently showed pretty consistently that Obama was going to win re-election. So this whole alternate reality sprung up around "unskewing the polls". Websites popped up dedicated to fudging the math and nitpicking the demographics of mainstream polls. They proved that Romney wasn't just going to win; he was going to win in a landslide. On election night, Karl Rove was sitting on Fox News stating with certainty that the math showed Romney winning easily.

...Moments before they called it for Obama.

Obviously I don't think this bluster is good for them. overconfidence put the Republicans in denial. That didn't just hurt their chances of winning the election; this kind of wishful thinking is pervasive in the way they think and govern. All the same, I hear how pessimistic some Democrats seem to be about Hillary Clinton's chances of beating Trump, and I wish that they would learn to emulate some of the other side's confidence. Her chances of beating Trump are still really good.

Let me get something out of the way first: Hillary Clinton should win. She deserves your vote. Yeah, I know that the primary was contentious, and some people are still disappointed that Bernie Sanders isn't in the race. But all the same, Clinton was one of the more liberal Democratic Senators when she held office. She is one of the more honest candidates running for president in quite a while. And the "scandals" Republicans have tried to gin up have not held up to scrutiny, over and over again. Also, whatever else you might think of her, you don't get these kinds of enthusiastic endorsements by Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren if they consider you "Republican lite."

Clinton is a competent left wing politician. If you don't consider that enough reason to vote for her then maybe pass on reading this post, because I'm not talking to conservatives. What I'm concerned about is the needless pessimism a lot of Democrats have, who rightly think that Trump becoming president would be an epic disaster for this country, but are afraid that he's going to win.

It's to those people that I want to say: Seriously, he probably won't.

Barack Obama was targeted by a lot of right wing hate too; they still literally call him the antichrist. Yet he's leaving office with over a 51% approval rating, which is a pretty solid finish for a two term president. More importantly,  Obama won two elections by huge margins. When you look at the national figures it doesn't look that much like a landslide, but when you look at the electoral college, his win over Romney was a crushing defeat of 332 to 206.

There are two reasons I see why that happened:

  1. Obama's team had a strong, successful get out the vote organization. They focused ads on swing states; they set up technology that allowed people to call swing state voters during the run up to the election. Luckily, Obama is in Clinton's corner; and one of her greatest strengths is that kind of ability to do process work. So Clinton's got that piece locked up.
  2. Republicans have gotten really, really bad at campaigning for a general election. The worst. About the only thing they've gotten good at is focusing on a core of resentful, deluded white male douchebags. (#notallmen #justrepublicanmen)

Trump is really popular with resentful deluded white male douchebags, don't get me wrong. But as I've written many times before, pandering to that group comes at a price, and the price is aggressively alienating everyone else. After the shellacking of 2012, Republican Party chairman Reince Preibus wrote an "autopsy" on the election, saying Republicans need to start listening to minorities, stop talking about deportation, and be more inclusive. I thought he made some good points. The primary voters didn't care; they nominated Donald effing Trump.

From a polling standpoint, there is no realistic measure by which he's doing better than Romney -- who, again, lost by an electoral college landslide. Just to take one slice: the last Republican president, George W. Bush, got 40% of the Latino vote. McCain got 31%. Romney got 27%.

Trump is currently polling at 19% with Latinos.

Trump is also polling worse than Romney among black voters, women, and the religiously unaffiliated (a group near and dear to my heart, obviously). Those are voters that aren't coming back any time soon unless Trump does something about them; and Trump has absolutely no intention of ever doing something about them.

Seriously, you need a lot of deluded white dudes to cover up gaps like that. And I know it seems different when you're on Twitter, but there aren't enough.

Finally, Donald Trump isn't just toxic and abrasive; he also has another problem that Romney didn't have: He's thoroughly incompetent and uninterested in running a real campaign. He didn't bother to start setting up statewide campaign offices for a long time; he apparently thought the party would cover that boring kind of stuff for him. He changes campaign managers every month... and the managers he has now are still idiots.

Counterpoint: Trump always wins everything, because he is a winner!

Nope. That is self-serving propaganda. It's championed by people like Scott Adams, author of the used-to-be-a-little-bit-funny comic strip Dilbert, and crown prince of deluded douchebags. Trump is a wealthy pop star. A lot of people confuse Trump's fantasy TV personality of a smart, successful businessman with his actual personality. Being a celebrity is the only thing he was ever all that good at. He's rich because he inherited a bunch of money, and his finances grew at about the same rate it would have if he never owned a business but just dumped everything in an index fund. And that's after declaring multiple bankruptcies that cut off his liability for his failed businesses. Trump is good at conning investors; that isn't the same as winning except by very specific definitions.

That's also assuming that you believe that his net worth is what he claims it is; a dicey proposition since he has refused to release his tax forms.

Trump only won one thing in this political season, and that is the undying love and affection of the asshole demographic. And again: There aren't enough of them to close the gap.

Counterpoint: Trump could make a big comeback if he kicks ass in the debates!

Oh hey, Trump recently said that he's not going to prepare for the debates. I don't blame him, it sounds like hard work. But I'm not running for president. For someone who wants to be president, that's not a decision someone makes who knows what he's doing. It sounds like the decision of somebody who doesn't like to think very hard and is overconfident that he can win without learning anything.

Counterpoint: What about the "Nader effect?"

Please. There are two non-main party candidates in the race right now. This is an oversimplification, but Jill Stein is most likely to siphon votes from Clinton, and Gary Johnson is most likely to siphon votes from Trump. Johnson's current polls are averaging around 8; Stein's are around 3. If there is a Nader effect, IMHO it's more likely to make an even worse environment for Trump.

Plus, the Nader thing happened in one state that was crucial to Gore's victory. This year, there is no such state. With polling right now, Clinton could lose both Ohio and Florida, and still coast to a pretty big victory with the other states. Yeah yeah, I know that Nate Silver also says not to count on statewide polling. I respect Nate Silver, but I think he underestimates the impact that Clinton's ability to actually run a campaign focused on swing states is having.

Counterpoint: Even if you're right, we should pretend to be losing so people will be "inspired" to vote out of fear

People don't get inspired by losers. An underdog story is satisfying, but you know what's even more satisfying? Voting for somebody who's winning, and having them win by a lot. I turned 18 the year Bill Clinton was elected. Now that was fun.

The thing is, it's possible to have confidence that Clinton will win, and also encourage people to vote. And also do the other things you can do to help her campaign, like donating and phone banking. Because saying you helped elect a winner is something you'll always have as part of your personal history, for your entire life.

So if you're still scared that Clinton will lose (and you don't have to be too scared) then please, do those things. Encourage your friends to do them too.

Just, please, stop running around with your hair on fire and saying things are hopeless.


  1. Very interesting read, and I think you are right. Thank goodness! I don't live in the US, but I still care a lot about getting Clinton elected, and more importantly not getting Trump elected.

  2. Nice essay Russell. I think people are freaking out because Trump is an open racist and fascist. I'm not going to stop being anxious until the votes are in and Trump is defeated.

  3. Tbh the whole idea of this polling scare feels to me like mere apathy. "Woe is me, I guess there really is no point after all and now I don't have to think about this dreadful election any more."