Sunday, July 17, 2016

Convention Watch

As the GOP Convention gets underway, it will be interesting to see how any Trump bounce in the polls manifests. First, a positive bounce would require a convention that actually functions without catastrophe, crisis, or embarrassment for the Republicans or for Trump. That's not in the bag. Romney's campaign was well organized and well funded and, still, it suffered this at their convention.

Second, if the convention works more or less as it's traditionally supposed to, can Trump break the polling ceiling that to this point he's been trapped beneath and do so with any staying power? Have a look at Huffington Post's polling tracker, which does a good job a averaging polls from multiple outfits. The graph to this point is clear. The recent tightening of the race has been almost exclusively a result of Clinton's numbers dropping after Comey's statement about the email investigation. Trump's numbers have not improved significantly. Even in May when Trump had locked in his primary victory and Clinton and Sanders were still slugging at one another, Trump's poll numbers never got much higher than 42%. Clinton's have never dropped below 43%. If her floor continues to remain above his ceiling, it's a very good indicator of how the race will play out. If the convention can't raise the ceiling, few other events between now and November will either.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nobody Panic

Here's a quick dose of blog-tonic in case you read about polling numbers that came out today showing a tightening race for the Presidency and proceeded to freak out. The most alarming was a Quinnipiac swing state poll showing a tie between Clinton and Trump in Ohio and small Trump leads in Florida and Pennsylvania. A few observations:
  1. The race is tightening in some states (notably Florida) and nationally as well. Anyone with half a brain wants a Clinton victory and would love a blowout, so obviously that's bad news. But it's not terribly surprising either. Lockstep partisan voting habits seem to have earned Trump the polling loyalty of the Republican base. That would bring him to the high 30s or low 40s in the polls, but to win he'd have to break into different demographics.
  2. Speaking of earning votes from different demographics, Trump earned 0% of black votes in the latest NBC/WSJ polls of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Not a typo. 0%. That does not spell good things for him in November, whatever polls indicate about the overall race now.
  3. Clinton has sustained her national lead despite Trump's consolidation of support. It may become closer still in the next two weeks and Trump might even pull ahead for a bit. Why? Odds are that this stretch will be the nadir of her general election campaign because of the email scandal, the Trump veep speculation, and the GOP convention. Her numbers will go back up again after her own convention. (Take lots of deep breaths these next few weeks.) That doesn't mean Trump can't overtake her, but it helps explain the current closeness of the race.
  4. Betting markets still have Democratic victory in November in the low 70th percentile, exactly where it has been since mid-March.
  5. The Princeton Election Consortium has a Clinton victory at 80%, down from 85% because of the new polls but a psychologically reassuring number during these Trump-ety news cycles.
Hold steady... there's a long way to go yet.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2016 Stakes

As we all know the circus comes to Cleveland in just one week and Donald Trump will officially be named, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, Republican nominee for President. It is hard to comment on the state of the Republican Party at this moment. The shock has probably worn off of most GOP leaders, but some mixture of anger, denial, bemusement, despair, and delusion remains. The unsettling truth for them is that the most likely outcome of the election, regardless of who wins, is that the Republican Party will be dramatically changed.

Plenty of pundits have made this point, but it's actually worth considerable rumination. This is a Party, after all, historically populated with folks who usually find change disagreeable by nature if not downright threatening. Is it any wonder the Party is freaking out? Consider the official national platform they are debating and voting on at this very moment. It's barking mad, a series of throwback social positions indicative of a party that has no idea what it actually stands for anymore.

For all that, Trump still has a chance of winning that is not insignificant. Reader ER asked me the other day whether I was scared about the election. My answer was not too scared, but scared enough. The election fundamentals and consistent polling point to a Clinton victory, but it's not close to a lock. (Incidentally ER, a fiercely intelligent observer, is quite scared.) Sam Wang explains the current math and, as he sees it, it's all about the undecideds:
If Trump does not bring enough Republican voters home, there could be unexpected wins for Clinton. If all states within 5% went Democratic, the electoral total would be Clinton 381 EV, Trump 157 EV. This is the downside risk for Republicans. On the flip side, Clinton’s biggest major weakness is Pennsylvania, where she leads by a median of only 1%. If all states within 5% went Republican, the electoral total would be Trump 318 EV, Clinton 220 EV. So it is not crazy to imagine a Trump victory…if he could somehow become a candidate that did not repel members of his own party.
People express fear all the time when it comes to elections—"If George W. Bush wins, I'm moving to Canada," and all that. But it's always been a testament to the often maligned two-party system and the rigorous-if-flawed primary process that two candidates emerge both capable of stewarding the republic (or, to be more cynical, candidates just wise enough to keep from doing critical damage to the nation and the world). Even Bush 43, as reckless and dishonest as his administration was about Iraq after September 11, did not represent an existential threat. In retrospect, he was too good-hearted for that. (The most common counter-factual when it comes to that decade is to imagine Gore as President, but it is equally interesting to imagine Bush without Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Rice whispering Neo-Conservative poison to him, but instead counseled by Powell and like-minded realists.) Or Romney... even as the modern progressive movement would have been frustrated on numerous fronts, do we doubt the republic would have been in relatively safe hands had he won in 2012?

With Trump in 2016, the fear is real. There are two great threats to humanity that, to be safely answered, require steady, strong leadership from the American executive. The first is nuclear war; the second is climate change. Since 1945, American presidents have avoided nuclear war with patience, measured diplomacy, and good counsel. Trump is impetuous, puerile, and megalomaniacal, three qualities least desirable in someone with the power to launch nuclear weapons. He's also a climate change denier. This doesn't distinguish him from many in the elite Republican establishment, but his election would end US involvement in the Paris climate accord and any chance of implementing Obama's Clean Power Plan. Paris was a monumental achievement and Democratic presidential leadership is required for at least the next four years to push the US along the path to meeting its obligations.

Were another candidate the 2016 GOP nominee—a mythical Mitt Romney who believed in fighting climate change or the 2008 McCain, who (we often forget) ran on a cap-and-trade program—there would actually be a decent liberal argument for not worrying about the election. Much would be at stake, not least the Supreme Court, so of course liberals would want a Democrat to win. But in this scenario, a Republican victory that did not endanger Paris or the CPP, would give Democrats an opportunity over four years to take back state legislatures, rebuild their bench of national candidates, and fight to take back the White House and Congress in 2020. They would avoid the burden of holding the White House four terms consecutively and would be better positioned to win the year a new census will be taken that could determine control of the House of Representatives for the next decade.

But such a GOP candidate does not exist. Instead we must deal with the likes of Trump.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mapping the Ocean

The Okeanos Exporer, an NOAA ship, is currently near the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument mapping the ocean floor with remote underwater vehicles and livestreaming the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Descent into the Hellmouth

"There is a lot of demonic activity in Cleveland." — Rupert Giles
I've been struggling to wrap my mind around the paradigm-breaking election we've been experiencing since it began last summer, when the obvious finally struck me: this presidential contest is the lived experience of a season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For longtime Buffy fans, the parallels won't require much explanation. The usual arc of a Buffy season sees a host of vampires, ghouls, zombies, and other supernatural beastiessome more dangerous than othersthreaten Buffy's hometown of Sunnydale week after week only to be dispatched one by one until (as Buffy's friends would say) the Big Bad emerges, a monster of seemingly overwhelming power that will bring about the apocalypse. Buffy, the unlikely female protagonist, possessed of great powers though desperate just to fit in with all the other teenagers, ultimately saves the day when no one else can. It's entertaining, unexpected, campy, and most of all dark. It's the 2016 election.

Why do the monsters keep coming season after season? Because Sunnydale sits on top of a Hellmouth, a supernatural gateway to the Underworld whence all manner of demons spawn. Other Hellmouths exist too, or so we're told, one apparently beneath Cleveland, site of this year's GOP convention now less than a month off. Now, while each season offers a new villain to challenge Buffy, the real narrative problem of the show is how will Buffy & Co. close the Hellmouth and bottle up the source of evil?
A Hellmouth

So, too, is it with Hillary & Co. (And by "Co." I don't just mean Democrats; I mean everyone who rightly fears and despises Donald Trump.) Hillary's job is to defeat Trump, assuredly, but he's just the monster du jour. The Hellmouth, which is to say the nearly 14 million right-wing primary voters who endorsed Trump and all the racism, sexism, xenophobia and incompetence that comes with him, remains an active threat to the republic.

This is important. Trump himself has never looked so vulnerable. His polling is abysmal; he just fired his campaign manager; and he has no money. Betting markets now have the man who won more primary votes than any Republican candidate in history and who "clinched" a clear majority of delegates at 84% to win the nomination. There are mutterings of a coup in Cleveland.

There are probably some Democrats, gleeful at the stunning weakness of the current Trump campaign, becoming anxious at the thought of a sudden elevation of, say, Paul Ryan or even Ted Cruz. It would turn the race upside-down for a few weeks. But it's hard not seeing defeat for the GOP regardless. A lot of those Trump supporters would boycott the race and the Republican nominating process would be forever tainted. Every GOP politician who thinks about 2020, 2024, or 2028 (and, right now, all of them are) would most likely reject such a move or, at least, would not themselves want to be the candidate. Jeet Heer gets it right in The New Republic, making the case that the practical and morally responsible thing to do is to stick with Trump and hope he gets shellacked in November. Trump must lose, yes, but more than that his politics must lose. That requires (among other things) a landslide defeat.

Predictwise has the chances of Hillary winning at 77%. That's probably low, but we'll see how the next month plays out. In the meantime, you should watch some Buffy.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Splendor of the Purple One

This blog is about Union. Well, so was Prince. Many tributes to him are rightly describing how otherworldly he was, an artist of genius, inspiration, and overwhelming power. True, all of it. But he was also quintessentially American. No other nation could have produced him; no other artist so perfectly represented the nation in their time. He was the strong force consolidating all the contradictions of American cultural life into a comprehensible whole one hit record at a time. Virtuosity and soul, sex and god, male and female, starfish and coffee.