"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
May 30, 2016
HISTORY: Remember Joseph Warren This Memorial Day
May 25, 2016
POLITICS: The Dog That Didn't Bark: Trump Voters in Down-Ballot Primaries
May 23, 2016
POLITICS: You Won't Believe Why Hillary Bagman Terry McAuliffe Is Under Federal Investigation
May 18, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: Three Thoughts on Donald Trump's Supreme Court List
May 17, 2016
POLITICS: The Never Trump Movement Is Neither Anti-American Nor Hypocritical
May 11, 2016
POLITICS: A Very Different Republican Coalition: Can It Fly?
There's been a lot of attention paid to Donald Trump's appeal to a particular type of voter: white working class, no college degree, not that religious or socially conservative but anti-immigration. Let's look at a few exit poll numbers to contemplate how a Trump coalition might be shaped very differently from Mitt Romney's coalition, which drew together a respectable but insufficient 47% of the general electorate.
I did some simple algebra combining the share of each group in the electorate and the share won by each candidate, to consider what chunk of their voters fell in each group. For example, college graduates were 45% of the 2012 general electorate and Romney won 48% of them, so whereas non-college-grads were 53% and Romney won 47% of them - thus college-educated Romney voters were 23% of all voters, non-college-educated Romney voters were 25% of all voters, and accordingly college-educated voters made up 48% of the Romney vote. For purposes of this exercise I looked back at the Trump coalition in three states that were decisive (Indiana, Florida and South Carolina). While primary and general election coalitions are different animals, this is the data we have to work with so far, and it gives us a clue as to some of Trump's challenges ahead, as well as how a candidate with Trump's appeal to such groups could be an electoral force if that candidate wasn't also as off-putting as Trump is to other core elements of the Romney coalition.
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As noted above, almost half of the Romney voters in 2012 (48%) had college degrees. Trump matched that figure in Florida,, but in both Indiana and South Carolina, just 42% of his voters had college degrees. The Romney-Obama race actually did not feature a big educational divide, at least around the college/non-college fissure. The GOP primary has featured a larger one. Trump's ability to win educated voters is one of the major question marks for his fall campaign.
49% of the Romney voters in 2012 were women, despite the partisan gender gap and reflecting the fact that Romney did better with white women than any candidate since Reagan in 1984. Trump's primary coalition has been very male even by GOP primary standards - 41% of his voters in Indiana were women, 44% in Florida, 44% in South Carolina.
We don't have applies-to-apples comparisons for all three states, but 52% of the Romney voters in 2012 were at least weekly churchgoers, compared to 45% of Trump's voters in Indiana. 74% of Trump's South Carolina voters said shared religious convictions were important to them. 60% of Romney's voters said abortion should be illegal, a large contingent Trump will have a lot of trouble replacing if he continues to manifest signs of being a lifelong supporter of legal abortion.
71% of Romney's voters were married.
Exit polls often ask a binary yes/no question about whether illegal immigrants should be deported or allowed to stay in the country, a useful question for isolating the true hard-liners on the issue but a more fraught one for capturing the nuances of people who would be willing to entertain "amnesty" but only under fairly stringent conditions. And admittedly, attitudes may have hardened a good deal on the issue since 2012. Anyway, despite running mostly as an immigration hardliner in 2008 and 2012, 54% of Romney's voters in 2012 were on the amnesty side of the amnesty/deportation question, compared to 45% of Trump's voters in Indiana and Florida and just 36% in South Carolina.
Size of government
Do Trump's voters agree with his pro-big-government stances? A whopping 84% of Romney's 2012 voters told exit pollsters that government does too much, when offered the alternative of "it should do more." We haven't seen that question in a lot of primary polling, but it suggests another warning sign. Interestingly, 35% of Trump's Florida voters said that we need to cut Social Security benefits - even though Trump is running on a platform of dissent from the GOP on that issue, he actually did better with those voters than with those who want the status quo.
Lack of education may be a hallmark of Trump's coalition, but lack of money is not as much one as you might have guessed. 67% of Romney's voters made over $50,000 a year, compared to 74% of Trump's voters in Indiana, 66% in Florida, and 71% in South Carolina. 32% of Romney's voters made over $100,000 a year, matched by 32% of Trump's South Carolina voters and exceeded by Trump in Indiana and Florida (36% each). (85% of Romney's voters were not part of a union household; 62% worked full time).
Of course, we've covered previously Trump's issues with self-identified "Very Conservative" voters, the heartland of the Ted Cruz primary vote. But demographically, Trump's primary coalition does look less educated, less churchgoing and more male than the Romney 2012 coalition. Obviously, the optimist's theory (for Trump, and for down-ticket Republicans to the extent that Trump voters might also vote for actual Republicans for the House, Senate and Governorships) is that Trump's coalition looks different because he is adding new groups. But the danger sign is that just to pull even with what Romney did, he may still need more educated, religious, conservative voters and women than he has thus far been interested in appealing to.
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May 6, 2016
POLITICS: Is #NeverTrump Doomed To Fold?
May 5, 2016
POLITICS: Dear Republican Politician: Let's Talk about Donald Trump
May 4, 2016
POLITICS: Politics Is Still Downstream of Culture
POLITICS: Trump's Next Victim: Pollsters
Donald Trump has proven adept at corrupting everyone and everything that comes into his orbit. He has constructed a kind of cargo-cult imitation of a real political campaign, with press flacks and pundits and elected officials and "policy advisors" and even now speechwriters all acting as if Trump was a real candidate rather than a bad joke told too long. But the one thing Trump has not really needed so far was thoroughly bogus general election polls. Oh, his strength has been overstated in some national primary polls, and the online Reuters poll has been a particular favorite. But Trump in the primaries has mostly been content to tell bald-face lies about his polling against Hillary Clinton, content that any rebuttal could be shouted down with "BUT I AM BEATING YOU IN THE PRIMARY SO YOU MUST BE WORSE."
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Trump can no longer hide behind that, so he will need to find some pollsters willing to be...flexible...in their methodology in order to show that this is a real contest. Trump's millions of supporters, and his enablers in talk radio and on Fox News and Drudge and Breitbart, will provide a willing market for this. And so will the mainstream media, which as much as it wants Hillary to win, is also addicted to Trump-driven ratings and can't afford to just admit that the election is effectively over in May.
Enter "Rasmussen Reports". Now, if you have followed polling controversies over the years, you know that Rasmussen has been a lightning rod. A minor pollster before 2000, Rasmussen was reinvented by Scott Rasmussen in the mid-2000s into one of the giants of the polling business, with ubiquitous high-volume polling that included one of the most influential daily tracking polls, while Rasmussen himself became a prominent pundit. For the most part, during the Bush years, Rasmussen had a solid record as a pollster, and while it had some embarrassing misses in 2010 (usually due to over-projecting Republican candidates), it was still a reputable pollster. In 2012, I still relied on Rasmussen's national party-ID survey, which had a strong predictive track record over the prior decade. But it failed spectacularly, as did many of Rasmussen's polls, in 2012: the party ID tracker was projecting the most Republican general electorate since the Coolidge years, and we got precisely the opposite. So far as I can tell, the party ID poll was discontinued immediately after the 2012 election.
Rasmussen has stayed in the political polling business since then, but greatly diminished, as Scott Rasmussen himself left the company in mid-2013, and it has refocused more on making money from non-political polls. His departure also ended the firm's GOP tilt, or at least induced an overcorrection; for much of 2014, for example, Rasmussen's job-approval poll showed President Obama to be a lot more popular than any other pollster, a finding totally inconsistent with the 2014 election results. On the whole, my postmortem of the 2014 Senate polls found Rasmussen's polling to be a mixed bag.
But now, in the past few weeks, Rasmussen has emerged as the lone pollster showing Trump competitive nationally with Hillary Clinton:
You will notice that Trump's standing in the Rasmussen polls is no better than in others - he's at 38% in the April 25-26 poll, and 41% in the April 27-28 poll. Every poll in the RCP average since the start of March has Trump between 35% and 43%, with a current average a shade below 41, but most have Hillary in the upper 40s or the 50s. So what gives? Obviously, Rasmussen didn't push soft "undecideds" who are likely to vote Hillary to make a choice, so it shows a lot fewer Clinton voters in the April 25-26 poll:
Nearly one-in-four voters say they will stay home or vote third party if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the major party presidential candidates.
The April 27-28 poll, with Trump up 3, is even fishier because it assumed everybody is forced to vote:
Trump edges slightly ahead if the stay-at-home option is removed. Trump also now does twice as well among Democrats as Clinton does among Republicans.
Well, yeah, you can get different polling results if you pretend turnout will be mandatory. Unfortunately for Trump, that's not how elections actually work.
But don't be surprised if we see more polling organizations, especially in the media, fiddle with their methodologies to prop up a horse race at least into the fall. And watch people who desperately want to believe them fall for it.
That's how things work in Donald Trump's America.
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May 1, 2016
POLITICS: Yes, Donald Trump Would Be Worse Than Any Prior Republican Nominee
Why now? Why Trump?
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Haven’t We Voted For Some Terrible Republicans Before?
Many – if not most – #NeverTrump voters have pulled the lever for some or all of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, and Bob Dole as well as lots of other less-than-pure Republicans for lesser offices. I personally voted for all of them, plus backing some fairly heterodox presidential primary candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. In the years since I became old enough to vote in 1989, the only two semi-serious GOP presidential contenders before Trump that I’d have seriously considered not voting for were Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, both mainly for national security reasons, but at least Paul and Buchanan were dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifers, in Paul’s case grounded in his life experience as an OB/GYN.
I also voted for some terrible down-ticket Republicans here in New York (Mike Bloomberg, Carl Paladino, Rick Lazio, George Pataki…heck, I even voted for a City Councilman who was the blood-drinking leader of a local pagan sect and was recently sentenced to a decade in prison for selling Democrats access to the Republican primary for Mayor.) It’s an easier answer for the local officials: I live in deep-blue territory, and local electeds may have fewer powers and less important roles in party leadership. Indeed, I’d probably vote for Trump if he ran for Mayor of New York, since he really is not that different from Bloomberg, and the Mayor’s race is almost entirely a single-issue referendum on policing (for similar reasons, I might even vote for Bill Clinton if he ran for Mayor).
We know, from his deeds, words, and even his pronouncements in this campaign, that Trump offers nothing to conservatives – worse than nothing, he would evict us from any position within our own party. He gets his foreign policy ideas from Michael Moore and Code Pink (or worse yet, from Vladimir Putin); his abortion views are grounded in his sympathy with Planned Parenthood; he supports socialized medicine in the form of single-payer healthcare, higher taxes, more government spending, and Herbert Hoover's trade policy. He’s never met a bailout or a crony-capitalist deal he didn't like, or a Democrat he wouldn’t donate to. He’s astonishingly ignorant, emotionally unstable, and wholly incapable of saying no to Democrats. Trump is a spoiled, entitled rich kid who shows not the slightest understanding of the American way of up-by-the booststraps striving to better yourself; in Trump’s world, the rich get richer by having the right friends, and everybody else is a serf who needs the government to protect them from foreign competition.
Let’s compare Trump to some of the prior Republican presidential losers, and I’ll throw in Rudy and Newt for good measure since I’ve written on this site in their defense before:
Mitt Romney: Romney’s flip-flopping on pushed me pretty far, since I wrote tens of thousands of words attacking him in the 2008 and 2012 primaries, predicted that he’d be a bad general election candidates, and basically spent the 2012 campaign carefully avoiding making any affirmative statements about Romney’s commitment to his own stated agenda. I once characterized Romney’s record of standing with conservatives as “a sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see“.
But even so, Romney was no Trump. Romney, unlike Trump, had an actual record in office, albeit only a single term as Governor, and he did pursue some fiscally and socially conservative positions in office, on taxes, spending and same-sex marriage. Romney was also more loyal to the GOP as an institution and a team than Trump – he’d been a Republican Governor, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, had run against Ted Kennedy for Senate, had built a network of loyalists in the party through endorsements, donations and campaign stops, and was the son of a father who was a Republican Governor, Republican presidential candidate and Republican Cabinet Secretary and a mother who also ran for Senate as a Republican. Romney in 2012 was also on his second run for the White House, which required him to stay consistent and committed to his 2008 platform; he was neither quite as inexperienced nor quite as new to his “severely conservative” platform by 2012 as he had been four years earlier.
And perhaps most important and most unlike Trump, Romney demonstrated by 2012 that he had the capability, the intelligence, the base of knowledge, and the personal character to be Commander-in-Chief. His foreign policy pronouncements in 2012 were not terribly exciting (President Obama memorably mocked them as a throwback to the 80s), but over and over since then he has been proven right by events. And while Romney’s political identity was always questionable, he was and is a man of outstanding personal character – faithful family man, pillar of his church, unfailingly loyal to his business partners and employees, generous with not just his money but his time to charity, personally modest and decent. In every one of these ways, Romney stood as the opposite of Trump, a thrice-married serial adulterer who has left a long trail of wreckage through both his family life and his business career and has become a byword for crassness. As much as I worried about Romney’s ideological commitments and political courage, I came to admire the man personally and trust that he would be a steady hand leading the nation, a leader we could be proud of. Trump is the opposite of all those things.
John McCain and Bob Dole: I actually voted for McCain three times, although in retrospect I regretted supporting him against Bush in 2000, the reasons for which I explained at the time (I do not regret preferring McCain to Romney and Huckabee in 2008). McCain was in many ways a more open moderate than Romney, more consistent in his stances on a lot of issues but also consistently a problem for conservatives. That said, it was not actually that hard to see McCain as a guy who was broadly on the side of conservatives part of the way on a lot of issues, and more to the point, a guy who proved himself fully capable of digging in and fighting for our side on some tough calls. He voted to put Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court – the Thomas vote was a tough one, as he was confirmed by two votes. He voted to remove Bill Clinton from office in the 1998 impeachment. He was a faithful vote for the Reagan agenda in the 1980s, a consistent pro-lifer and a supporter of entitlement reform, free trade, and nuclear power. He backed Phil Gramm in the 1996 primaries. He built his whole 2008 campaign around courageously standing up for finishing the job in Iraq when the war was at the nadir of its popularity. And McCain was and is a vigorous voice on national security issues for decades.
None of that is to whitewash McCain’s problems for conservatives, nor to deny that McCain has his own issues of character (e.g., cheating on and abandoning his first wife, or the Keating Five scandal). But between his political career and his famously heroic POW record, McCain had demonstrated some important attributes of presidential character: seriousness of purpose, deep and abiding patriotism sealed in blood, the ability to take a stand and stick with it come Hell or high water. I knew McCain was a compromise in a bad political environment in 2008, but I also trusted him as Commander in Chief and as a guy who would follow through when the going got tough.
The case for Dole – aside from the fact that I was 25 and more of a knee-jerk straight-ticket voter at the time – is more or less similar to the case for McCain, although Dole’s legislative record was distinctly less conservative than McCain’s. Dole was doomed, of course, as everyone knew at the time, but at least he was a war hero, the sort of man you could trust as Commander-in-Chief, and was nothing if not a party man through and through, with 35 years as an elected Republican and leader of a GOP caucus in the Senate.
Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich: I suppose I need to defend Rudy (my first choice in 2008) and Newt (my final choice and vote in 2012 after Perry and Pawlenty dropped out), although the latter was mostly a desperation protest vote. Rudy was the first candidate I supported for President who was not even nominally pro-life, and will probably be the last. In part that was an effort to square the circle of finding workable common ground on judges, which by the end of his campaign, Rudy had never been able to do, and that’s a story for another day, but also one that drove home the impossibility of making a Republican presidential candidacy work without a clear and explicit commitment to the pro-life cause.
But fundamentally, despite flaws in their personal character (flaws on display again this year as both have disappointingly gravitated towards Trump), what I liked more than anything about Rudy and Newt is that they had actually accomplished an enormous amount for conservatives, both in policy and politics, as well as helping a whole lot of other Republicans get elected over the years. They fought the battles and earned their scars.
Despite his social liberalism, Rudy’s tenure as Mayor of New York was the most consequential real-world domestic policy achievement for conservative ideas since Reagan; he single-handedly changed the trajectory and living conditions in New York City, and sustained a colossal amount of incoming political fire to do so, plus providing tremendous leadership in crisis after 9/11.
Newt’s tenure as Speaker featured its share of missed opportunities and misjudgments, but name me a more consequential and effective Republican House or Senate leader in the last half century; in 1995-96, he got more done for conservative policy priorities in two years with a Democratic President than Denny Hastert did in six with a Republican. And for all their policy deviations, Rudy and Newt are both guys who are well-versed in conservative ideas and expert at defending them in the public square. None of these things – not the accomplishments, not the fights for policy and the political team, not the ability to sell our ideas and solutions – is true of Trump. (Polls show that virtually every position Trump has taken during the campaign is less popular with the general public now than before he ran).
In short: yes, you can find an example of many of Trump’s flaws in prior Republican presidential candidates. But not one of those candidates combined the total package of Trump: the unfitness to be Commander-in-Chief; the total lack of accomplishments, sacrifices or even efforts over his lifetime for any cause we believe in, combined with repeated efforts to assist the other team; the manifest lack of political principle, personal character or demonstrated political character; the ignorance; the catnip for white supremacists; the toxic effect on the brand of both the party and its ideas.
A vote for Trump, even in the general election, is a suicide note for the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I will never vote for Hillary Clinton, but I cannot in good conscience ever give aid and comfort to Donald Trump and the poison he represents. The only cost to abandoning Trump in the general election is the specter of a defeat to Hillary – but Trump’s nomination ensures that anyway. If he wants to sink the GOP at sea against Hillary Clinton, I see no reason to waste a life preserver on him.
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