Thursday, September 29, 2016

Is it better for the Democrats if Hillary loses?

I doubt there are many Democrats who would want to entertain the thought of Donald Trump winning on November 8th.  That's traditional, long-time registered Democrat voters rather than the more recent, brash, Sanders insurgency supporting youth who so nearly upset the convention.  And yet there may be a case - which some hard-core Sandersites have long endorsed - for suggesting that a Trump win would be the better option for the long-term future of liberalism in America.

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency then her very tenure will reinvigorate the Republicans in Congress, united in their bid to frustrate her at every turn.  It will likely give Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, an even higher profile and a leading role in not only refurbishing the Republican image - something he is desperate to do - but also in running for the presidency in four years time.  A Clinton presidency will also leave the substantial army of Trump supporters wholly unsatisfied, and ready to back either Trump or similarly iconoclastic right-wingers next time round, when they can point to four more years of "Democrat misrule" and establishment alienation.

A Clinton presidency might even engender a constitutional crisis.  While Trump said he would support Clinton as president if she won the election on November 8th., he has made enough noises previously to suggest that he and his supporters consider the whole electoral system rigged against them, and would use that as justification to dispute another Democratic victory.  Edward Foley on Politico has shown how such a challenge might work given the partisan nature of America's state operated electoral decision machines.

Should Trump actually win, a whole new scenario emerges (I know, I know....a contender for statements of the blinding obvious).  Given Trump's maverick approach to politics, and the division he has already inflicted on the Republican party, the Democrats can look forward to four years of ever increasing Republican turmoil as House and Senate Republicans try and deal with an unpredictable, and essentially non-party, president.  Four years of President Trump also provides even his hardest core supporters with the irrefutable evidence of not just how damaging such a presidency might be, but more importantly show them just how little he is able to change.  When no wall goes up - or at best a small symbolic one - and immigration doesn't cease; when terrorist attacks continue; when Trump's pally approach with a politically superior Vladimir Putin fails to bring gains to America and merely makes her look like an international patsy; when Trump's economic decision making fails to match the promise he has given of work for all those disenchanted, unemployed voters; when race relations hit a nadir and riots envelop the cities on a scale not seen since the 60s; when the economy tanks under the weight of an illiterate economic stategy; when all this and more happens do we really think the Trump brand will retain its potency in the re-election battle of 2020?

In such circumstances, the Democrats could nominate a new, fresh face, reinvigorate their liberal appeal, shore up their popular support across a variety of groups - the young, the black, the female, the Hispanic - and storm to victory not just in the race for the White House but also in the House and the Senate, probably for a generation at least.

The only question is - would four years of Trump be an acceptable price to pay for such future largesse?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hillary wins the debate, but not necessarily the people

Plenty of keyboards have already been called into action to provide quick analyses of last night's stormer of a presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  To give just a flavour of some of the more prescient online commentary, this is the Washington Post take from Dana Milbank; Howard Kurtz gives a pretty balanced view from the right of the spectrum on Fox News; while the liberal viewpoint is most articulately expressed by Michelle Goldberg on Slate.  Politico meanwhile remains a forcing house of regular and detailed commentaries.

The commentariat consensus is that Hillary won - and unequivocally so.  Even Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani admitted as much in a tweet he sent.  But Giuliani's tweet also offers - unusually - a proper cautionary note for the Clintonites.  She may win the debate and the plaudits of political insiders, as well as those voters who are more politically switched on than their peers.  Whether the debate will have translated that into an appeal to those who are largely alienated by politics is another matter, and Trump's one decent gambit last night was to keep identifying Clinton with the "failed" political establishment.

We already know that the hard-core Trump supporters will never be convinced by anything other than what Clinton characterised as a "Trump reality" that bears little relation to facts.  What Clinton needed to do was to try and win back some of that support which she appeared to have after the Democratic convention but which has dissipated over the course of the summer.

Certainly Mrs. Clinton exceeded expectations in the debate, while Trump probably came in under his.  All the more remarkable given that expectations for Clinton were already high - she was seen as a capable and professional debater who masters her brief exceptionally well - and those for Trump were correspondingly low - he was seen as a man of bluster and bluff with little regard for the facts.

It turned out to be Clinton who scored the more aggressive hits, on Trump's income tax returns, his "stiffing" of ordinary workers who worked for his companies, or his racism over the Obama Birther affair.  She maintained poise, looked relaxed, went in for the kill with appropriate but not over the top aggression.  She arguably didn't press one or two issues enough.  She could have pressed further on his tax returns, or seized upon his implicit admission that he hadn't paid federal tax in years.  She could have pressed on his pursuit of Obama's birth well after the president made his birth certificate public.  She could have been specific in calling him out as an early supporter of the Iraq war.  But these are quibbles.  The debate went well for her.  The only issue is whether it will have been enough to bring voters back into the fold.

For Trump, the issue is a little different.  He has defied all expectations and all campaigning conventions to get where he is today - that is, within a whisker of winning the White House.  No-one expects him to be articulate, no-one even really expects him to understand and ally himself with facts or, more broadly, the truth.  None of his nearly 40% of hard-core supporters are going to move away from him simply because his blustery one-liners didn't work in a debate, or because he was called out on various contortions of reality, or even because he is a giant narcissist who only talked about himself.  So emotionally based is his appeal that it is impervious to facts and events.   I thought one of his most astute points was when he noted that Clinton had spent hundreds of millions of pounds on television adverts attacking him, while he had spent nothing, and yet they were still level-pegging in the polls.

Trump is the anti-candidate, and to succeed he just needs to continue to exist.  The real issue for America in November is whether enough American voters - especially those in the so-called swing states - are nihilistic, alienated and angry enough to tell reality to go hang and put Trump in the White House.  We already know he can't get there because he is better qualified, or more astute, or has a better understanding of politics, or is a more eloquent and articulate speaker.  He is none of these things and Clinton beats him handily on each one.  Her unpopularity remains mysterious in many ways for a woman who has genuinely dedicated herself to a lifetime of public service, and who has come up from relatively humble origins.  But she is now the single most lethal personification of the politics of old, of the establishment, and if enough people are alienated from all of that, then she can't win them over.

This is an election between primal instinct and rational thought, and rational thought has an uphill battle.  That is why it may not matter that Hillary Clinton won the debate.  Donald Trump isn't campaigning that way, and his support base isn't interested.  So if you haven't yet seen it yet do watch it and enjoy - it was a great and rumbustuous debate (although the audience should have been allowed to make more noise!).  But for all the viewership - the highest for any presidential debate - it may not have mattered much.