Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why is Trump Afraid of Vaginas?

When Donald Trump was a little kid did a vagina spook him?  Did one fall out of tree and hit him on the head?  Did he trip and fall into one?  Or did one jump out of a dark alley with hedge clippers and seek to cut off his penis (because as Freud said, women have penis envy and therefore seek to emasculate men by castrating them in all types of ways)?   After observing Trump’s Monday debate performance against Hillary Clinton and now his lashing out against former Ms. Universe Alicia Machado, it appears that he is scared to death of vaginas and that he must have had a traumatic childhood experience with one.

There is no question Trump hates women.  They are pigs, slobs, and dogs a Clinton reminded us Monday when she recounted Trump’s adjectives about them.  He hates Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton, and now Alicia Macado.  If he cannot objectify and dominate them such as in beauty contests they are threats to his masculinity and therefore objects of ridicule.  After Clinton beat him in the first presidential debate on Monday Trump could have been gracious such as when Obama acknowledged in 2012 that Romney beat him in the first debate.

Instead, he got beaten by a girl, nothing is worse than that.  Thus, Trump blames everyone except himself.  The debate was unfair, the moderator unfair, the questions unfair, and he himself was a gentleman and did not go far enough in raising the question of Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity and a 20 year old story about Monica Lewinsky.  Insult Clinton’s vagina by waving another in her face.  Appeal to her insecurities and that of women across the country by claiming you are not good feminists or women because their husbands had affairs.  It was your vagina’s fault. And of course he lost because Ms. Machado is fat.  All perfectly good reasons to explain his debate performance.

The 2016 presidential debate was the first to have a gender dynamics where there was a woman featured as a presidential candidate.  It was Trump’s first one-on-one presidential debate with a woman.  Throughout the Republican primaries he out-testosteroned the other male candidates.  It was classic Freudian right down to the debate featuring discussion of his penis size.  Why he did not whip it and a ruler out like adolescent males do is beyond me, but he effectively did that, more or less declaring he was the best candidate to make America great again because he had the biggest penis.  But when it came to Fiorina he froze, criticized her face, or otherwise seemed tout his superiority because he had a penis and she did not.

But with Clinton on Monday it was the first time he had to directly confront a strong vagina on stage  He was eye-to-eye with a vagina and he blinked.   It was mano o mano–rather mano o vagina on stage–and he lost.  It was humiliating to his manhood, castrated in front of 84 million viewers.  So of course the only thing he could do was to call a former Ms. Universe fat.  Yes, that evened the score with Clinton and women everywhere.  For Trump, if you cannot dominate a vagina insult it instead.  Clinton’s finest moment on Monday was when she finally became comfortable with gender, laughing off Trump’s insult that she could be blamed for everything.  It was at that moment she won the debate, putting Trump down in the worst possible way by being a vagina that beat him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Clinton won the First Debate But did it Matter?

To the extent that American presidential debates sway public opinion, help swing voters decide, or persuade observers that someone is fit to lead the United States, Hillary Clinton won the first debate.  While she may have not done much to help her cause, Donald Trump did nearly  nothing to his benefit.
It is questionable  how much presidential debates really shift public opinion.  Since first televised in1960, they remain the most watched event during the presidential  campaign.  While in the past famous scenes–such as how Kennedy won the 1960 debate over Nixon by looking more presidential, or when in 1992 George H.W. Bush looked at his watch and looked out of touch when he debated Bill Clinton seemed decisive, the best political science evidence is that the debates only shift a small number of voters. This year in a highly polarized electorate where there are few undecided or swing voters, the same can be said.  Trump supporters will say he won, Clinton’s allies the same.  Thus, for the few undecided voters the question is who won their vote, if either?
With the presidential race essentially tied, Trump and Clinton needed to do two things. First they needed to play to their political bases and get them excited to vote.  Both candidates did that.  Trump was aggressive and continued his rhetorical style that suited well during the Republican debates.  He raised questions about Clinton’s honesty, stamina, and her views on some policy issues such as Iraq.  Clinton sought to question Trump’s temperament, display her policy skills, and show she was more prepared to be president.  Thus their political bases were pleased.
But if the issue was moving the swing voter in the critical swing states, Clinton did a better job.  The swing voters–women, people of color, and those under the age of 30– found more to like with Clinton.  She talked more policy, she appeared calmer, and she seemed prepared.  Trump lacked focus, seemed to ramble, and he barely could string together a coherent  argument.  Moreover, Clinton simply was prepared and gave thoughtful answers even if you disagreed, whereas Trump gave troubling responses.  He had no plan for ISIS or terrorism, his remarks about NATO left it member countries wondering if the USA would protect them, and his refusal to renounce first strikes with nuclear weapons did little to convince critical swing voters that he could be trusted as commander-in-chief.  On merits, Clinton generally answered the questions, Trump avoided them or blustered.
Clinton also came out more truthful.  Yes she had questionable answers about her denial in supporting free trade, but generally most fact checks gave Clinton the edge.  Trump was not truthful regarding his stances on his support for the Iraq war and he was wrong on issues such as China and currency devaluation.  Whether he lied or simply was uninformed is a matter of debate.
Finally, in terms of style, Trump did little to convince people he had the right temperament to be president.  He f ought with the moderator, he shouted down Clinton.  He simply displayed a style that did not win him any new friends.  Clinton navigated the gender double-standards, generally avoiding looking too aggressive or passive.  Whether she navigated the fashion police I leave to others to address.
Overall, Clinton should be judged the winner but whether it matters is yet to be seen.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Near Impossibility of Clinton Winning the First Debate

Before it even takes place the easiest prediction in the world to make regarding the first presidential
debate between Clinton and Trump is that it will be nearly impossible for Clinton to win it.  The reasons are simple–sexism and the expectations game.

There are many reasons why Hillary Clinton could or will lose the first debate.  She is not a strong  public speaker.   Or she might not provide good answers to tough questions.  Or she will continue to be dogged by issues surrounding her e-mails or even something substantive and real that matter, such as her policies toward ISIS, health care, or financial regulation.  All are possibilities.

But what will doom her first is sexism.  She is trapped by a double-standard that Trump will not face.  If on the one hand Clinton is too aggressive she will be saddled with the bitch word;   too passive and she will be perceived as too weak, too female, to be a commander-in-chief.  If she is too policy focused she risks turning off too many, further reinforcing the impression that she is too cold or ambitious.  If she getting into a yelling match or goes into the gutter against Trump she is just a nag. No matter what she says she will be criticized.

But presidential debates are more watched than heard.  Since the beginning of televised presidential debates in 1960 it is how one looks that is more important than what one says.  Radio listeners thought Richard Nixon beat John Kennedy in 1960 in terms of content while most who watched declared the latter the winner because he looked young, strong, and in command while the former sweated with a five-o-clock shadow.  The medium is the message as Marshal McLuhan famously declared and for television the medium is appearance.

Even before she utters a word Clinton will be judged by her appearance.  She will be poured over in terms of what she wore (another pantsuit!), how her hair looked, her make up, her weight, or whether she looked sick.  She will be judged by her body language.  Think back to the primaries when Sanders wore the same cheap $99 Woolworths suit everywhere he went.  No one criticized him on that.  But lest Clinton wear the same pantsuit as before or not have all her hairs in place she will be harshly criticized for that and the lead story come Tuesday will be about her fashion mistakes.

But the sexism is even deeper that how she looks.  She will also be Laurerized.  Laurerized is the new verb coined by Matt Laurer’s sexist treatment of Clinton a couple of weeks ago when he constantly interrupted her but not Trump in the Commander’s forum.    The media’s double-standard  will box her in.  Finally think even about this campaign and how the candidates are reverenced )and even self-referenced): Hillary v Trump.  The female is often referred to by her first name, the male  his last–a subtle but powerful form of sexism that treats women like children.

Clinton thus faces a difficult challenge.  She cannot be too aggressive or passive, too logical or emotive, or too strong or weak.  She has to look just right.  She needs to thread a nearly impossible  needle to be declared the winner–a task many women find everyday at work but not magnify that problem on a national stage and one will find it almost impossible to navigate.

But add to that the expectations game.  Clinton I expected to mop the floor with Trump on substance.  If she does not dominate she is declared the loser.  Trump wins simply by showing up and not insulting anyone (too much), or he wins if he insults Clinton, or he wins if he just looks presidential (read as be male and looking like he is in control).  The expectations are so low for Trump that almost anything he will count as a victory.

This is especially the case in the polarized political and media environment we live in today.  Half the public has already declared Clinton will lose not matter what she says, and with that half the media and blogosphere has already rendered its judgment.  The post-debate pundits will issue the usual and predictable verdicts, make it difficult for a real consensus to emerge regarding who has won on merits.

Finally, this polarization and the politainment focus of the debates will render whatever substance there is superfluous, where neither truth will matter nor content seem important. Clinton cannot win on merits because merit does not matter. In so many ways, expect the debate to be cast as a great entertainment venture where all Trump needs to do is to call Clinton “an ignorant slut” and we have reality mocking the famous 1979 SNL Dan Aykroyd-Jane Curtin Point/Counterpoint skit.

It will be nearly impossible for Clinton to win the first debate.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why Nate Silver is Wrong: The Limits of Political Money Ball and Why Trump may Win

It’s time to admit it–Trump may win.
Increasing and begrudgingly the establishment politicians, pundits, and analysts are beginning to realize that Trump may actually win the presidency. Nate Silver, whom too many people put too much political stock in, is now saying that Clinton is favored 60-40% to win, down from dramatically larger percentages even just a couple of weeks ago.  It’s nice to see that Silver finally is getting closer to my assessment which has said Clinton has a 55-60% chance of winning.  But even then, I may be exaggerating her chances and would put it at 50%+–barely break even.
Nate Silver came to fame with applying the logic of money ball to politics–successfully using his algorithms to call 99 of 100 states in the last two presidential elections.  Silver is smart, but it would not have taken an Einstein to call at least 90 of the 100 states.  This is what the logic of my book Presidential Swing States is all about–showing how because of the Electoral College, partisan voting, and party alignments, the elections were over before they started in all but ten states.  Moreover, in the last two election cycles, one could have also eliminated a couple of other states from the swing state category, giving one about 94 states that would have been easy to predict.   Throw in the relative stability of polling and getting to 99 is not so hard.
Why is all this worth mentioning in connection with Trump and the 2016 elections?  First,  despite 2016 being a unique election year there are still many forces that make it a relatively normal election that again is reducing the election to only a handful of swing states.  Still in play are the core ten that have consistently been in play for the last seven election cycles, such as Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa, but additionally a few others such as Michigan and Pennsylvania may now be  flip-able.  There is evidence that partisanship is still a factor driving how people vote with few real swing voters moving from party to party.  Voters are coalescing around Clinton to some degree but more so for Trump, thereby producing a normal election pattern that suggests is it still a few swing voters in a few swing counties in a few swing states that will determine who gets to 270 electoral votes and wins the presidency.  All this bodes well for the Nate Silvers of the world.
Additionally when one looks at Trump versus Clinton traditional wisdom hands it to Clinton.  Until recently ahead in the polls, she has a better run campaign, more money, and has insulted far few people than Trump.    Yet this is where the uniqueness of 2016 kicks in, and where the limits of political money ball appear.
First, there is no such thing as an electoral college lock for the Democrats who think demographics is destiny.  Statistically voters may be presupposed to vote a certain way but you need to get them to vote.  Trump supporters are passionate and will show up, Clinton’s are not.  She relies on many voters who are mercurial at best when it comes to vote and she has done little to address the lack of enthusiasm many have for her.  She has yet to seal the deal with the Sanders people and liberals, simply assuming that running to the center as a Republican much like here husband did will result in these people having no where else to go and therefore they will vote for her.  2016 and the Millennials are very different from 1992 and the Baby Boomers.  Even African-Americans who loved  Obama in 2008 and 2012 may not come out the same way in 2016.
Second, polling is more complicated now than before. Cell phone technology, polling costs,  defining likely voter, and other issues all complicate this years predictions.  Many media outlets are cutting costs on polls.  Take for example the September 18, 2016 Star Tribune poll  with results from 625 respondents and landlines constituting 69%.  A good poll should have at least 1,000 respondents and nearly 70% cell phone.  This is a flawed  poll.  Silver’s predictions are only as good as the polls and he has blown several predictions this year, consistently over-estimating Clinton’s strengths.  Face it, Clinton often polls better than she performs, Trump performs better than polls.
Third, what political money ball misses are three important factors–candidate quality, mood of a country, and the politainment quality of American politics.  No matter how good a campaign some candidates are simply not good.  Clinton is a weak candidate and does not resonate well.  Factors such as likeablity are missed in political money ball.  Yes, Trump too is a weak candidate, but he has the benefit of it being an anti-establishment year at a time when Clinton is the poster child for the establishment.  And Trump understands the politainment aspect of contemporary politics that is increasing post-truth (candidates do not tell the truth and the public does not expect it), post-rational, post-issues, and simply pop culture sound-bite driven.  Image is everything, content is nothing.
Put this altogether and the traditional political pundits, politicians, analysts, and Nate Silvers of the world are missing a tremendous amount about politics in 2016.    They and traditional political scientists also miss the importance of how politics is moving marginal numbers of swing voters in a few swing counties in a few swing states and therefore the issue is not how Trump or Clinton appeal to large numbers of people but only to move a few people.  Aggregate analysis misses subtle shifts.
Right now logic dictates Clinton still should win but the reality may be that the public should prepare for a Trump presidency because there are many reasons to think they he will win.

Postscript:  The Star Tribune poll is flawed along the lines of its previous polls that predicted a Dayton blowout over Emmer in the 2010 gubernatorial race.  Notwithstanding the poll's problems there is no doubt the race for president in Minnesota is closer than some think.  Trump plays well in an Iron Range ready to flip to the GOP and I can see it electing Mills or Nolan.  The same  could affect the first district race Waltz v Hagedorn and even Craig v. Lewis and the control for the MN House and Senate.  Clinton's weaknesses have potential down ballot issues and the DFL's effort to go to court last week to get Trump off the ballot may have given new resolve to Republicans.  Add to that the ISIL connection to the St Cloud attack and how the public sees in some polls security and law and order as a Trump issue and one can see Minnesota as potentially competitive at the presidential level.  While possibly not yet a swing state, I see many reasons based on the conclusions of my recent book why Minnesota is becoming a swing state, perhaps even as early as 2016.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Close 2016 Presidential Election that Favors...

To the dismiss of many Democrats and political pundits, the presidential race is again tightening up.  For weeks Clinton enjoyed a near double-digit lead in national polls and solid leads in the critical swing states.  Yet recent polls suggest nationally the race is closer, with at least one poll–CNN putting Trump ahead (although with a margin of error that might question that)–and a recent NY Times article suggesting a closer race but one with Clinton still leading.  The Washington Post still sees a decisive lead for Clinton in the critical swing states, but again polling suggests even in the swings a tighter race.  The point is that for the last three or so weeks partisans and pundits have committed one if not many of the seven deadly sins of punditry that I recently described.
The point is that the presidential race is close and may be so right to the wire.  Nate Silver gives Clinton (as of September 9) a 69.5% chance to win, I place it closer to 60-65% chance.  Early voting will start soon, more FBI Clinton e-mails will be released, Wikileaks will release some, and then there are the debates.  Many variables can still affect the election and there is no guarantee that  Clinton can cinch an easy path to 270 electoral votes, especially when her disapprovals are as high  as Trump’s and this is an anti-establishment year and she is the face of the status quo.
Over the last few weeks I have given several talks to various groups about the election, with three questions or issues repeatedly surfacing.  Let’s consider these issues.

Popular Vote v Electoral Vote
Remember presidents are elected by the electoral vote which is a 51 state race (50 states plus District of Columbia) to reach 270 electoral votes.  One can win the popular vote as Al Gore did in 2000 yet lose in the electoral college.  I see this split again as a real possibility.  One scenario: Clinton racks up large popular vote majorities in Democratic-leaning states but loses in the swing states.  Alternatively, Clinton wins the swing states but huge anti-Clinton voters overall give Trump a popular (if we can say popular this year?) vote victory.

Clinton has many self-inflicted wounds and is a flawed candidate but she is also a victim of horrible sexism.  I have been doing a quiz this year in my talks asking the audience what percentage of the voting population will not vote for a woman regardless of who it is?  I think it is approximately 30%.  This means Clinton starts off with nearly one-third of the voters who will not  vote for her.  What do you think?  Is the percentage higher or lower than 30%?

Everyone wants to know what turnout will be this fall.  This is hard to predict.  I can see a scenario where turnout is depressed because no one likes the two major presidential candidates or a scenario where we see high turnout as voters come out to vote against Trump or Clinton.  Both are  plausible scenarios.  With that I am asked who is advantaged with high or low turnout?  Traditionally  I would argue Democrats would be favored with high turnout but this election high turnout could  favor Trump.

Third Parties
Since nearly 60% of voters say they do not like Trump or Clinton, will third parties benefit this year?  I am skeptical.  Partisan attitudes have hardened and it seems unlikely that many voters will beak to a third party, especially with a lingering but false belief that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election.   Instead I see it more likely that some voters stay home or not vote for the presidential candidates.  This non-voting may not make a difference in many states but in some swing states it could tip a race.

How will voters break?
I was in graduate school at Rutgers University during the 1980 race between Carter and Reagan.  The race was very close until about 72 hours out.  Polling then indicated that the undecided  voters were breaking strongly for Reagan, deciding that they did not like the status quo.  I see a scenario like that repeating itself.  Yes early voting many complicate this but undecided voters will not vote until November 8.  I could see a close race until about November 5, and then a major shift in voting as undecideds make up their mind.  Whether those numbers will be enough to offset any candidate advantages from early voting is not clear but I could see one candidate winning the early  voting and another winning on election day.  Right now my guess is that a last minute break by voters favors Trump over Clinton in a year that favors the anti-establishment.

What happens after the election?
Stalemate.  See almost no scenario where the next to years produces a real break from the current deadlock we see.  No one party will win sufficiently commanding majorities in Congress plus the presidency to break current impasses and since neither Clinton nor Trump really are running with serious or significant narratives (they are arguing they should be elected because the other person is worse) their mandates will be weak.
But assume Clinton is elected, what then?  Two predictions.  First, Congress will do everything it can (the Republican-controlled House) to shut her agenda down.  Second, the House sometime before the 2018 elections will impeach Clinton in a straight party-line vote.  This will then  give the Republicans the bragging rights to claiming they impeached both Clintons.