Monthly Archives: November 2018

2020 kicked off last night

Democrats take the House, Republicans take the Senate, Trump? Well that is more difficult.

For the first two years of his Presidency, Trump nominally enjoyed the “support” of both the House and the Senate. However, between the never Trumpers and the GOPe, that “support” was mixed at best. He was stuck with insane spending bills, hamstrung on immigration and required to make nice with members of his own party even as they refused to use their majorities to pass his legislation or confirm his appointees. He had serious opposition but he was limited by party loyalty from calling out that opposition.

No more.

Trump now has a Democratic opponent which is not just the mainstream media. Better still, it is an opponent which contains a legion of quite sensible, moderate, people and a wonderfully unhinged minority – many of whom are in line for Committee Chairmanships. If we have learned anything about Trump it is that he thrives on opposition.

At the same time, Trump’s people will have to recognize the weaknesses the House races outlined. Winning a second term and taking back the House requires some hard work from the White House. The Democrats held their urban base and there is no reason to think that will shift much in 2020, where there are gains to be made is in suburbia. Which means Trump has to combine running against the crazies in the Democratic Party with an appeal to suburban women. It’s a tough get because what drives suburban women crazy about Trump is more about demeanour and style rather than policy. The “tough guy, NYC real estate tycoon” persona is a hard sell on the school run.

Trump has about six months to get his White House in order, deal with Mueller, goad Maxime Waters into trying to impeach him, fire Jeff Sessions (and restore the rule of law), and reach out to the many, moderate, Democrats who will be going to Washington to get things done. In a sense he needs to be running on two tracks: the first in defiant opposition to the crazy wing of the Democratic/Media Party, the second is to rack up a steady string of accomplishments, bi-partisan engagement and reasonable appointments.

The way to win in the suburbs is to look less crazy and more competent than the Democratic alternative. Given that Trump is resolutely non-ideological and, so far as can be seen, has no non-negotiable policy positions whatsoever, running the Presidency on the basis of MAGA and America First, this should not be difficult.

Of course, that sort of strategy depends on the Democrats in the House being unable to restrain their crazies. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the Democrats won’t give Trump the foil he needs. The party elders – if there are any left – may be able to persuade the hotheads that impeachment without any chance of conviction is a very bad idea. Or that holding hearings into the details of Trump’s 1984 tax return will not galvanize the citizenry.

The one great impediment to the restraint of the crazy wing of the Democratic Party is the Trump Derangement of the mainstream media. CNN, MSNBC, the networks, the NYT and WaPo and even Fox realized some time ago that opposing Trump was very, very good for business. But that opposition needs fresh meat every news cycle. Where better to find that fresh meat than in the crazy wing of the Democratic Party. Especially, if many of the crazies are now, portentously, House Committee Chair _______.

There are incentives for both Trump and the non-crazy wing of the Democrats to moderate the tone of political discourse in America. There are opposite incentives for the media and for the crazies. Television, and to a lesser degree, print media thrive on conflict. So do ambitious Committee Chairs and agenda driven “backbenchers”. It is a marriage made in Hell.

From Trump’s perspective, the media was and is the enemy. He is entirely unafraid of the media because two years of unrelenting hostility has not hurt him a bit. If anything, stoking the partisan fury of the MSM will simply help Trump appear reasonable in the suburbs he needs to win. If the media in its fury promotes the loudest, most divisive, craziest Democratic Party voices, Trump wins. Trump likes winning.

 

 

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Winning…sort of

It is still early but according to the NYT’s site the Democrats have picked up 25 seats in the House and lost a few in the Senate.

It’s too bad about the House. There will be mischief afoot as dimwits like Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters gain gavels and start “investigations”. Trump may well be impeached.

It won’t matter.

While it would certainly have been wonderful for the Republicans to keep the majority in the House, it was not critical. The House of Representatives was, deliberately, created as the weakest branch of the Federal government. The Senate, elected for six years, advises and consents on Cabinet appointments and the judiciary. The House does not. The House does have the capacity to initiate spending bills, enact laws and conduct investigations; but it has no significant veto power over a President. Of course, the House can, and probably will, impeach the President or a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court; but the trial of the action takes place in the Senate. The Republicans, specifically the Trump Republicans, won the Senate. Right now 51 (plus a sure pickup in Mississippi’s runoff election in a couple of weeks) to 42. The likely end numbers will be around 55 to 45.

From a Presidential point of view, a friendly Senate matters a lot. You can make a deal with the House, you can appoint away the Dem majority – keep that UN ambassadorship open for a statesmanlike Democrat – and you can position candidates to take back the House in the next election which is only two years away. Senators sit for six years and are far more consequential than Representatives.

If you looked where Trump rallied you see a series of Senate wins – Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. This was a calculation: re-enforce strength where it will matter for the rest of your Presidency.

I have no doubt Trump would have been delighted to have held the House, but he had to win the Senate. And he did.

The Blue Wave crashed against the breakwater of the Senate and, now, it’s done.

Onwards.

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Showing Up

Mid-Term Elections, Donald Trump, Brad ParscaleWith less than a day to Mid-Term election day polls are narrowing and pundits are coming up with all sorts of reasons why the Democrats will hold the House of Representatives. Most of the pundits – who are pretty universally Democrat-leaning – have conceded that the Republicans will hold the Senate but the House seems to offer the best chance for a Democratic victory. I wrote a month ago that I was not convinced that the House would swing Democrat and I ascribed that to the popularity of President Trump.

After a month of hectic campaigning, I see no reason to revise that thinking. In fact, if anything, the Republicans seem to have been galvanized by the Trump rallies, the Kavanaugh outrage and the poor people in the caravan(s) heading for America’s southern borders.

Early voting is up. Much higher than it usually is for mid-term elections. And in states where people are registered Democrats or Republicans, it appears more registered Republicans are voting early than Democrats.

2016 demonstrated that the polling model – generally and specifically – is badly broken. However, the question is whether the breakage is valanced in any way. The reason why polling is broken is that people are not as willing to answer their phones as they were twenty or even ten years ago and large numbers of people no longer have landlines. Their mobile is their only phone. And you cannot legally autodial cell phones. Ten years ago you could argue that the cell revolution skewed young and therefore young people were likely undersampled. In theory, young people were more likely to support Democrats thus the cell issue was valanced with Democratic Party support underreported.

To compensate for this, polling organizations overweight their samples to try and capture the missing Democratic support. It is a dark art and one which grows increasingly unreliable as more and more people become unreachable or unresponsive to pollsters.

The other huge change in the last decade is the waning of the influence of mass (and hugely liberal) media. Newspapers are in their death throes, network television is fighting for audience with cable and both are being sidelined by everything from Netflix to You-Tube to Facebook. Where people get their news and where they see advertising has profoundly changed.

A decade ago, in a tight race, a Party might make a strategic TV ad buy to haul its candidate across the finish line. Parties are still doing this but it is not at all obvious that races can be swung with a million dollar last-minute ad buy.

So how will the 50 or so House races which matter be decided?

I am pretty certain that many of these races will come down to which party gets out its vote, the good old-fashioned “ground game” with some information age bells and whistles.

Which is the reason I think the best indicator of tomorrow’s result is the surge in early registered Republican voting. The ground game begins long before the election and one of the key strategies is to get your identified voters to the polls as early as possible. The logic being that that reduces the amount of work which has to be done on election day. The Republicans spent a lot of time and a lot of money identifying their supporters in battleground states in the 2016 election. Those lists are fresh and available to candidates and campaigns.

E-Day tactics have not changed much in fifty years. A successful campaign will target its supporters who have not voted and get them to the polls. Phone calls and, even better, door knocks can make a huge difference in the final result. It is hard, not very glamorous, work.

But the Trump machine has done something no mid-term campaign in history has done: it has managed to get its activist core to register themselves as activists. This was the brilliance of the Trump rallies.

I very much doubt that a single mind was changed as Trump rocketed from hanger to hanger with Air Force One doing double duty as the world’s most exclusive stage prop. The rallies were all about affirmation, being part of something, knowing you were not alone. But they were also a brilliant way to collect GOTV data.

To go to a rally you had to register, online, for a ticket. Literally, tens of thousands of hard core Trump supporters registered. Over all I suspect well over a million people willingly gave up their emails and phone number for a chance to get a ticket to the Trumpaloza in their state. Which meant they self-identified as Trump Republicans. And it also gave individual campaigns lists of people who were likely to a) vote early, b) be willing to work on the GOTV effort, c) be ready, willing and able to knock on the doors for the E-Day effort.

Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is data driven. But he also understands that data without action is pointless. The rallies with their registrations have given the Republicans an army in the battlefield states the likes of which the Republicans have never had before.

We’ll see on Tuesday if it is enough to add seats in the Senate and hold the House.

It will depend on who shows up.

Update: Tuesday Afternoon. Reading anecdotal reports on turnout. The general trend seems to be high turnouts – at or better than Presidential – in red areas. Low turnout reported in some blue areas. You have to read a lot of reports to get a decent picture and there will be confirmation bias all over the place; but those trends are what will be needed for a red wave.

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Trump: the 19th/early 20th Century redux

Donald Trump, RallyAnother day, another packed out Trump rally. Set against the backdrop of Air Force One Trump delivered another, very odd, Trumpian stemwinder to the good people of Columbia, MO. There was not a lot new in this speech. Just the by now familiar hits on the media, firmness on borders and a fair bit of chest thumping about how well it has all gone to date. The fans never tire of this.

I don’t think for a second that Trump pays a lot of attention to the campaign strategies of the past; but he has inadvertently recovered the idea of a President, of a candidate, speaking directly to the electors. Neil Postman wrote about the Lincoln/Douglas debates which were all day affairs and reported verbatim in the popular press. 90 years later, Truman got aboard a train and made a speech – very likely much the same speech – at hundreds of stations across America.

Trump is not Truman and he certainly isn’t Lincoln, but he has a very keen sense of what works in the America he actually knows.

For a lot of American Presidents, the ascension to office marks the last time they really deal with Americans face to face. All of a sudden they have the access to TV and to journalists and, somehow, the stump speech gets lost in the green room.

Teddy Roosevelt essentially invented the whistlestop tour and he invented the White House press corps. He did both because he wanted to be able to speak directly to Americans, his Americans. His cousin, FDR, skipped past a largely hostile press with his Fireside Chats. Both men understood the necessity of speaking to Americans without filters and without spin. But, as television took over, that became something of a lost art.

Until Trump.

Frankly, I think Trump’s rallies owe more to Professional Wrestling than to a careful analysis of his predecessors’ communications strategies. But here’s the thing, Professional Wrestling is a wildly popular entertainment in the US. The Sunday morning talks, not so much.

Trump is all about open access. He can’t climb on a helicopter without holding an impromptu press conference. He is unworried about the talking points. What he wants to do is connect.

I am very confident that the GOP will win the Senate next Tuesday. The Map, the polls and so on. I am also confident that the Trump Republicans have a very clear shot at winning the House. Yes, I have seen the polls and the Cook Report and all manner of Nate Silver stats; I don’t think they actually matter. I think Trump has connected at a visceral level with his American people.

The House races, in aggregate, are very much like the Popular Vote in a Presidential election. You can lose the popular vote, and I think the Republican will poll fewer votes than the Democrats for the House, but the distribution of the votes is what actually matters. A district here, a district there and super majorities for the Democrats in Districts they have won for forty years, and a Republican majority will emerge. It might be tight, or it might not. It is quite possible that the Republicans will increase their majority in the House. It will depend on specific districts, specific races, and Trump’s people know that.

Trump likes winning. He is doing 11 campaign rallies in five days because he thinks it might be enough to win.

I think he’s right.

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