Monthly Archives: October 2020

Letter to a Friend

Donald Trump, American politics

A dear friend of mine wrote from England to catch up and send brilliant pictures. More or less in passing she said how much she was looking forward to November 3rd, “am holding my breath for November 3rd, and hope the ghastly man will go. Whatever you and I may agree on, or dispute, on policy matters, he really is a monster, as many of my onetime Lincoln project chums would agree.”

I replied,

On Trump. He is going to win on November 3rd, bigly. Monster or not, the man is a genius at retail politics. And he is running against a decrepit, demonstrably corrupt, fossil. The Democrats had lots of good alternatives but they went with tired Joe and will now proceed to lose. Your pals at the Lincoln project will have to tie the bow ties a little tighter and soldier on. Trump will win because people actually want to vote for him, Biden will lose because his voters are actually just voting against Trump. Poor Biden is now having to hold his 60 person “rallies” at undisclosed locations because his rallies are being trolled by hundreds of good-natured, but loud, Trump supporters. And this weekend, all over the US, there will be spontaneous boat parades, truck parades and car parades (95 miles long in Arizona last weekend) supporting Trump.

A great deal of the anti-Trump animus comes from the academic, media and policy world. A world which simply cannot fathom how a person as gauche and tacky as Trump can possibly be President. And a world which, getting its news from the NYT/WAPO/CNN, is entirely convinced (because polling) that the American nation will swiftly correct this horrendous error. Inside the bubble, Joe is winning and the monster will be sent packing. Outside that bubble, people are doing the math and looking at the cross tabs on polls which were close in 2016. They are also looking at how many voter registrations there have been in battleground states, the improved Trump numbers among black and latino voters and the rather overwhelming enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden supporters. (There are actually bumper stickers saying “Settle for Biden”). Outside the bubble, the 33% 3rd quarter GDP bounce back, record low black and latino unemployment and no new wars are just a few of the reasons people give for re-electing Trump. There are dozens more.

What is entirely un-noticed in clerisy conversations about Trump is his appeal to ordinary Americans. People who really can’t “work from home” and whose kids have no chance of attending elite colleges and who will never attend, much less give, a TED talk. These are Trump’s people. Last election, for a variety of reasons, a fair number of these people voted for Hillary. Sure she called them “the deplorables” but she was female and that, apparently, mattered. This election these people – referred to by Biden as “chumps” – have no reason at all to vote for Biden. But they have lots of reasons to vote for Trump. Until COVID they were better off which is usually all it takes for an incumbent to win. But you are now dealing with another huge question: the riots and looting. The clerisy is convinced that if we all hopped aboard the critical race theory train and embraced anti-racism the riots would magically end. The chumps are pretty sure that is not going to work and that you need a President with some determination to end the riots.

On COVID, the clerisy takes great glee in pinning every death on Trump despite the fact that it is mainly the states which have power in public health. The chumps, while they may not be all that clear on state responsibility, know that they are badly hurt by lockdowns. They are also deeply sceptical about state-level lockdowns and mask mandates. They are bright enough to recognize that a virus is, itself, no one’s fault (except maybe the Chinese). Biden promising a national (and unconstitutional) mask mandate did him no good. And the red states cannot help but notice that the most draconian measures have been taken by Democrat governors and mayors.

One of the key things to understanding the coming Trump victory is to recognize that there is no longer much buy in to the national media. The internet has meant that people get their “news” and opinions from a wonderfully fragmented array of sources. And they have direct access to the information which interests them. Trump is doing three rallies a day in front of 15 to 30 thousand people a rally. These are barely mentioned in mainstream media, but literally, 100’s of thousands of people watch them online. The boat parades get no MSM coverage, but there are Tik-Toc videos which go viral. A black rapper named Lil Wayne endorsed Trump a couple of days ago, no mainstream coverage but Trump tweeted it to his 80 million followers and Lil Wayne has it as a pinned tweet for his 32 million followers.

Soooo. My suggestion is to take in a generous supply of wine, and a good bottle of scotch, and prepare for a shock. Last election I was rooting for the monster because I despised Hillary. I was stunned when he won. This election I am rooting for the monster again, this time because I despise what the Democrat party has become. I will be well-stocked, but for celebratory rather than medicinal purposes. 

Ah, enough about Trump. I am off to the dog park!

Happily, she is an old enough and good enough friend that our friendship will survive this note. (I think.)

At an Undisclosed Location

Biden is calling in Obama to campaign in Michigan (which should be a Democrat lock). But what is cute about this is that the campaign stop is to be at an “undisclosed location”.

Who does that?

Apparently, this is motivated by a desire to avoid the annoying Trumpsters who have been showing up at Biden rallies and mocking the old guy.

I’ve already written about why I think Trump will win bigly, however the events of the last few days – the Hunter Biden documents and videos, the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, riots in Philly and, tonight Washington, DC, the second debate – simply re-enforce that view.

People with a serious chance of winning do not campaign at undisclosed locations with former Presidents. They are out and about doing several events a day. These days, not pressing the flesh, but visible, confident, in charge. Biden is none of those things.

I am pretty sure Trump is going to win, but I am even more certain that Biden is going to lose.

Biden loses because he is a terrible campaigner and because he has not gained any traction for whatever it is he is presenting as vision for America. Leave aside his infirmities, he has not articulated anything which would make people want to vote for him. His voting base is voting against Trump, not for Biden.

The Trumpsters are out in force. Joyful, laughing, gently mocking “Sleepy Joe”. They are daylight contrasted with the Biden supporters looting Walmart in the dark.

Trump supporters are basically running spontaneous tail gate parties across America. Lots of people, no masks, have some fun, wave a flag, cheer for your guy. Biden and his campaign have no answer.

To avoid it they are running a “campaign event” at an undisclosed location.

Which is really all we need to know.

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Orange Man Wins Bigly

If you read MSM, especially Canadian MSM, the US Presidential Election is over and Joe Biden will cruise to an easy victory in both the popular vote and in the swing states where US elections are decided. The polls say so. End of story.

It is trite to point out that the polls said the same thing about Hillary in 2016, yet here we are.

Elections are about a lot of things, policy, personality, demographics, ground game, likeability and so on. They serve as an outlet for the fears and frustrations of the electorate and an opportunity to express tribal loyalty. The 2020 US Presidential Election is really an up or down vote on Donald Trump.

In 2016 Trump short circuited the system by providing an alternative to a genuinely despised woman whose “turn” it was. If I had a vote, which I don’t because Canadian, I would not have voted for Trump, I would have voted against Hillary. I did not like Trump the man and was not at all excited at the prospect of “President Trump”.

This has changed a bit for 2020. He’s still an Orange Oaf but, in the face of multiple challenges, COVID 19 being only the most recent, he has managed to execute the office far better than I anticipated. No new wars, lots of new judges, de-regulation, tax cuts, a booming pre-COVID economy which led to very low unemployment generally and record lows for Blacks and Latinos. He has shown remarkable restraint in the face of the Antifa/BLM provocations and deference to the place of the States in the American Constitution on both COVID and the riots. For a rank amateur, often advised by people who did not share his agenda, Trump’s first term was a success.

Which is just one of the reasons I think he will be given a second term.

There are lots of others. Up until he beat COVID (we hope) in a weekend, Trump was running a real, old time, campaign. Flying into swing states and doing hanger rallies in places no Presidential candidate has been to in a century. Pulling 10,000 here, 20,000 there. And, of course, harvesting the data on all the people who wanted tickets.

The boat parades (apparently not organized by the campaign), truck parades and car parades, the spontaneous rally outside Walter Reed, even the Trump supporters greeting Biden when he occasionally campaigns, all indicate real enthusiasm for Trump. Biden’s campaign knows it can’t put on this sort of show so it is not even trying.

Trump is, first and foremost, a showman. He loves the crowds, the cheers, the signs. He has developed a rally “patter” with entertaining asides, imitations, jokes, insults all worked into the teleprompter material. His timing isn’t perfect but he never runs into “Please clap.” moments. Most of all, Trump always looks like he is having a ton of fun being with his people.

Now, if that was the whole of the Trump campaign it might very well beat the lame effort of the Dems and Joe Biden; but it is not:

“Although Stepien faces an unprecedented challenge — trailing in some national polls by double-digits with an unpopular incumbent in the midst of a pandemic — he has what Republicans believe is a crucial advantage over Democratic opponent Joe Biden: the Republican Party’s sophisticated, billion-dollar get-out-the vote operation.

Trump Victory, the joint operation between the RNC and the Trump campaign, has an army of 2,000 paid field staffers in 17 states and more than 2 million volunteers making phone calls and knocking on doors. The field operation claims to have made more than 90 million voter contacts in the cycle, including 12 million door knocks since they resumed the practice in June.

In just the last week, according to Trump Victory spokesman Rick Gorka, volunteers have knocked on more than 533,000 doors across the key states of North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Georgia.” cnn (September 10, 2020)

For years political consultants maintained that campaigns were won with advertising mainly on TV. Markets were saturated, consultants well paid – it was like selling soap. Now, fewer and fewer people are watching TV and if they are they have more than five channels to watch. National markets have collapsed, local markets are fighting for a share of fewer and fewer viewers. People get their news, their entertainment and their political views from the fragmented, siloed world of the internet. On the internet you can target very specifically, but you cannot really reach an undifferentiated mass audience.

Trump’s campaign figured that out in 2016 but it has had four years to figure out how to bypass both TV, mainstream media and the internet’s silos. A phone call is fine but the ultimate outreach to the undecided voter in key states is good, old fashioned, door knocking. It’s a big country, but in the states which matter, hundreds of thousands of direct contacts and a big data operation can make a huge difference.

Demographics matter too and here Trump has a huge advantage, he has nowhere to go but up with black Americans and Latinos. In 2016 Trump got 8% of black votes. According to exit polls in 2016 Trump got 29% of the Latino vote. For the past four years Trump has made a point of courting black and Latino voters. More importantly, in the pre-Covid economy employment rates for both groups hit historic highs. Will that translate to votes? I suspect it will, the question is how many. Much is made of the “shy” Trump vote. Realistically, you would have to be a very brave black person in a black community, to show any support for Trump. We’ll see how that goes but a tiny increase – and I mean 3% – in Trump voting in black and Latino demographics would have huge electoral consequences.

The final piece of the Trump victory is the gift of Joe Biden. No one hates Joe in the way people hated Hillary. He’s old, a bit dazed, corrupt, lousy at retail politics, bereft of policy and saddled with a VP candidate someone referred to as Hillary in blackface. But no one hates him. They just don’t like him very much. Even his supporters have bumper stickers saying “Settle for Biden”.

Incumbency is tough to defeat. People know who Donald Trump is. There are plenty of people who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and are looking forward to not voting for him in 2020. Just as there are lots who voted for Trump and will again. But no one is affirmatively voting for Joe Biden.

Which leads to the final reason why Trump will win. People who support Trump will all show up, most of the people who hate Trump will show up too, though likely not all – and there is no one who actually supports Joe Biden. Elections are decided by the people who actually vote. Trump’s job is to make sure every single one of his supporters and leaners (secret or otherwise) feels motivated enough to vote. And that is exactly what Trump and his organization are doing.


Vancouver Notes

The Old Station – back in April, it was, perhaps, twice as busy yesterday.

I popped across the Strait a couple of days ago to see my older son and do a bit of business. I had not been in Vancouver since January.

It was a beautiful day, a tiny bit of fog but it burnt off.

It is difficult to grasp, living on largely COVID free Vancouver Island, just how devastating COVID has been in other locations. Where I live we have lost some businesses but there are lots which continue. About half the people mask if they are in a store. The streets are busy.

I spent a lot of my younger life in a stretch of Vancouver known as South Granville. And that is where my son lives now. The key thing about this area is that it has dozens of low rise and some mid-rise apartment buildings. They range from a bit sad through very elegant, pre-WWII, multi bedrooms. The key thing about South Granville apartments is that they never, ever, come vacant. People know people, lists were kept by building owners and managers. Walking towards the bus on West 12th every single building had a “Vacancy” sign out.

I walked down Granville Street for a couple of blocks. This is a high end shopping area. 85% of the people on the street were wearing masks. There was about half the normal foot traffic. And, most significantly, at least a quarter of the storefronts were “For lease”. There were still plenty of stores open and the majority of them had a mask requirement for entry.

The Granville bus was empty enough that “social distancing” was not a problem. I was heading downtown and looking at the empty storefronts and the “liquidation” sales. But the shock was downtown Vancouver itself. The “Granville” entertainment (read many bars and clubs) has simply ceased to exist. There are few bars hanging on, but where there were 30 or so venues it looked to me as if there are now maybe 5. Vancouver has always had a homeless population and, sadly, a population of street addicts. When I was a kid there would always be a few of these people at the south end of Granville street. They largely disappeared after about 2000 as the area gentrified. Now they are back.

Going all the way downtown three things hit me. First, the absence of people. Noon, on a sunny, warm, October day normally would see hundreds of people on the streets, grabbing lunch, doing a bit of shopping: yesterday there were, at best, dozens. Second, the number of storefronts for lease and businesses which are no longer there. At a guess, a third of the businesses which lined Granville and Pender and Howe are gone. The third thing which struck me was the absence of “international students”. There are, or were, dozens of English language schools downtown – actually a little east of where I was – and part of the fun of downtown was seeing gaggles of students. They stood out against the ranks of the office workers. While there were only a few office workers, there were no foreign students at all.

At noon I turned up at a restaurant at the corner of Howe and Hastings. I waited outside for my lunch partner. I could see the restaurant owner hovering at his door. This is a restaurant where, normally, you pretty much have to line up for a lunch table. It was empty and stayed empty through our lunch.

After lunch I headed off to the old station. I always have a cigarette on the plaza just before the entrance to the station. It has a grand view of the mountains but also of the bright reddy orange cranes of the Port of Vancouver. On a sunny day the plaza will usually have a couple of hundred people having lunch or just sitting in the sun. It is a favourite spot for tourists to take pictures. Yesterday there were less than fifty (likely less than thirty, I didn’t count) people all well distanced. There were no tourists.

I walked down to the trains. Again, usually, there is a steady stream of people coming and going even at 1:00. I passed exactly one person coming up from the trains and the great hall of the station was, effectively, empty. As were the train, the bus and the return ferry.

Overall, while it was great to see my son and one of my favourite CEOs, it was the most depressing trip I have ever taken. I could not have imagined Vancouver on a sunny, warm, October day being dingy, but it was. Storefronts are the multi faceted eyes of a city. When they are dark, the city is dark at noon. People, in their thousands, are the life blood of a city. Without people a city, even a beautiful city like Vancouver becomes pale and anemic.

British Columbia has done well through COVID. We’ve done it without lockdowns or mandatory masking but not without huge costs. Most of those empty storefronts were occupied by businesses which are not coming back. The absent foreign students and tourists will only return slowly, if at all. The empty offices may very well stay empty either because the jobs they contained will vanish or because staying at home during a pandemic makes a lot of sense and COVID seems far from over.

In one way, Vancouver is better off than most cities because “downtown” is mixed use. Lots of people live in the condos which surround the business district. That will keep some of the businesses alive. But that is the only encouraging thought I had. No office workers, no foreign students, no cruise ship passengers, no tourists: it is difficult to see how Vancouver will ever recapture the vibrancy, the sheer vigor, it had when I was spending time there last fall.

Wonderful, complex things like cities and downtowns are also fragile. You cannot shut a city down without there being short and long term damage. Nor, I suspect, is there any good way to “restart” a city. You can rebuild a city after an earthquake or hurricane, but restarting is a very different challenge. Especially if the “shut down” was largely voluntary, as it was in Vancouver.

Whether COVID simply dies out or a vaccine is produced or therapeutics are invented which allow the thing to be controlled is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the healing of the city. What has been lost along with the businesses and the tourists, is a sense of trust and optimism. Those will take much more than an end to the pandemic to restore.

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2020 is getting weird

OK, there is an actual shooting war here. How will the Armenians answer?

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So The Donald has caught COVID.

Sighs, lamentations and ugly joy on the left.

What a crock.

Assume for the moment that this is true (which I honestly don’t think is the case.) Even at his age and weight, with decent treatment, he’ll be fighting fit for the next debate. Takes a bit of time off the rally trail, isolates in the White House. Does the HCQ. He’ll be fine.

But now the next debate is Lazarus vs. Sleepy Joe.

The “seemingly frail” President kicks Joe’s butt across the country.

Donald Trump made a fortune in reality TV. Some of his best friends run the “pro wrestling” world. How do you make the other guy the “heel”?

Get sick, recover, debate.

Trump won 2020 tonight. It was cheap and ugly and it will work.

(But the market will be ugly tomorrow.)

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