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Friday, July 29, 2016

Some takeaways from the Republican and Democratic conventions



Republicans and Democrats have wrapped up their national conventions and what happened at them told us a lot more about what to expect than any poll numbers we'll see over the next week or so.

Trump's bounce was significant, taking him into a slight overall lead, but Hillary's, in the aftermath of four days of news coverage and media like CNN reshaping itself into the Clinton News Network, should balance things out. But none of the polls this early in the game mean much. It's the debates that we'll see in fall and what the public thinks of them that will be the real indicators of which way the electorate is leaning. Don't forget that all those intelligent, experienced, skilled Republican Senators and Governors were supposed to make Trump look like a fool and collapse his support during the primary debates. It didn't work out that way. Whether Hillary fares better or worse remains to be seen.

However, for now, there are some very significant convention factors worth noting.

The dissent at the conventions was the highest I remember ever seeing in my lifetime. The closest ones I recall were the Reagan/Ford and Kennedy/Carter rivalries. But neither of those reflected the internal discord that Clinton faces from the Sanders camp and Trump from the old school Republicans. This degree of internecine dissatisfaction bodes ominously for both nominees. But particularly for the Democrats.

The dissent within the Republican Party came almost completely from The Establishment. That, in many ways, works to Trump's advantage, since after 8 years of a Democrat President and widespread dissatisfaction and insecurity in the nation as a whole and the GOP in particular, there's a big appetite for change. In such a climate, being seen as part of The Establishment can be a disadvantage. To that end, Trump's strategy was to paint himself as an outsider while tagging his Republican rivals during the primaries as embedded in the establishment and the Democrat's Presidential nominee as "Secretary of the Status Quo."

That charge stings. It's why during the convention, Hillary and her proxies, including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and current President Obama went to such great lengths to portray her as an agent of change. But whether that's a convincing sales pitch when applied to someone who has been entrenched in the Washington political establishment for more than a quarter century is a dubious proposition. Especially when the people championing Hillary and telling you that she rejects the status quo are the very people who comprise the status quo.

While Trump's problems within his own party as serious, as Hillary endorsements from people like Republican Michael Bloomberg indicate, they're not as severe as Hillary's problems. Well before November, the bulk of Republican establishment will almost certainly fall into line to set up a line of defence for the party, and to save their own skins in the event Trump wins.

Hillary's dissent problem is much more threatening to her prospects for victory. Her party's establishment was completely behind her. So much so that, as the recent DNC leaks published by Wikileaks reveal, the Democrat establishment tipped the scales in her favor. But the establishment, for all its power and influence, is a relative handful of people. It's the grass roots where Hillary has a problem and that is going to be devastating to her unless she can win them over by election day. As it stands, Hillary  has to contend with legions of democrats who detest her, seemingly even more than they do Donald Trump. Having those problems with her voter base may mean she has an even bigger problem winning over the independents and centrist Republicans she hopes to attract.

There's also the authenticity factor.

Trump says wildly outrageous things as a matter of course. What he says often seems to reflect what he actually thinks at the moment, as if there's no filter between the frontal lobe of his brain and his mouth. Although there are obvious disadvantages that come with that trait, it has the single advantage of making him seem genuine. Trump also understands showmanship and charisma and he has plenty of both. Politics in the TV era is in no small measure entertainment, and Trump knows how to entertain. It can't be overstated how important a factor that is in a national campaign. Trump may have delivered the longest party nomination acceptance speech in living memory, but it wasn't boring. In entertainment, there's no greater sin than being boring.

Hillary's speech, insofar as content goes, was good. But just as timing is crucial to comedy, charisma and at least the appearance of authenticity are crucial to politics. In that, Hillary still has a serious problem. For all her policy expertise, Hillary's acceptance speech sounded as if it were something written by Bill Clinton and delivered by a Kurzweil voice synthesizer. Much of it was dull by virtue of the way it was delivered, and by being dull, went on too long. That dullness was exacerbated by being spoken by someone who conveys the feeling that everything she says is calculated for political advantage rather than coming from the heart.

Having been lauded at the convention in sermons by two of the greatest political orators of our generation, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, might have even been disadvantageous to Hillary, since it highlighted her comparative shortcomings to them. Retired General John Allen and Senator Cory Booker also delivered more stirring addresses than Hillary, predictably making hers anticlimactic and, even with a generous assessment, no better than the 5th best performance of the Democratic convention. Say what you will about Donald Trump, but there was no question about whether he was the star of the show at the Republicans' gathering.

As an aside, it's interesting to consider and compare the two "first daughters" who introduced the Democrat and Republican nominees before making their acceptance speeches. Chelsea Clinton is clearly a lovely, decent, intelligent woman. But she inherited her mother's dearth of charisma and seems to have lost something, even from that, in the transfer. By contrast, Ivanka Trump is beautiful, extremely articulate, warm, convincing and dynamic. Whether that makes much, if any difference to voters is doubtful, but elections are sometimes very close calls and if there is an advantage to be had in that regard, Trump has it.

In the end, the two conventions have given American voters something akin to two choices to pick from off a menu. Hillary is like a healthy, green salad, made up mostly of lettuce, with a light dressing. Trump is like that big, greasy chili burger with cheese dripping down the side. Even though it's bland, you know the salad is healthier. That chili and cheese burger isn't nearly as good for you. It might not even taste good and if you swallow it, there's the distinct possibility it could make you puke. But on the other hand, it might taste great, and it might give you energy and make you feel really satisfied.

You know you should probably choose the salad, but you know that the chili burger is going to be a lot more fun. The fact that America has one of the highest obesity rates in the world may give some indication of how its voters will choose come election day in November.

Which looks more appealing? The Hillary Salad or the Trump Burger?

2 comments:

Skippy Stalin said...

Sure, but registered Republicans are only about 28% of the electorate, and he only has about 70% of them (although I haven't seen polling on that since the end of the convention.) Clinton is carrying slightly over 90% of Democrats, and she's clearly aiming for persuadable Republicans. 30% of Republicans is more than all of the fucking Bernie Bros alive today and yet to be born. If Clinton wins just 10% of them, it's all over. Bernie, in my opinion, matters a whole lot less than the commentariat seems to believe.

In what might be the most counter-intuitive and ironic play I've ever seen, Hillary Clinton is running as the Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump's Jimmy Carter. Could an "America: Fuck, Yeah!!!" campaign lose? I guess so, but I've never actually seen it happen before.

I'm also not sure that Ted Cruz and his ghoulish supporters are in any way reflective of "the Establishment." They sure spent four years persuading everybody otherwise. I suspect that his voters, along with Bush's (all three) Lindsey Graham's, John McCain's and Mitt Romney's will very quietly pull a lever for Hillary or Johnson. Otherwise, they admit, if only to themselves, that they've been lying about policy goals for decades.

And if you look at the demographic breakdowns, he's getting slaughtered with everyone except dumb white trash in ways that I haven't seen happen to a major party candidate in my lifetime. But dumb white trash is a much lower percentage of the electorate than it used to be. Just in the last four years, whites as a whole have fallen from 72% of the electorate to 70%. Mitt Romney won whites by a blinding 20 points and Obama won by three and a half, anyway.

His numbers with women and Latinos are abominable, orders of magnitude worse than they were for Romney and John McCain. George W. Bush only barely squeaked out a win with 44% of Hispanics. Trump will be lucky if he gets 12%. Trump is losing women across the board (by 19 points in Pennsylvania,) which I also haven't seen happen to a Republican in my lifetime. Bill Clinton won women by sixteen points WHILE HE WAS BEING SUED FOR SEXUAL HARASSMENT, but Bob Dole carried married women.

Elections are about basic math. And addition beats subtraction every time. Since the day he spouted off about Mexican rapists, Trump has been running a subtraction game.

Of course, I don't expect much else from a guy who could never quite figure out how to make a dollar from owning casinos.

Richard K said...

All that may be so, but Hillary has an immense likability problem and a negative charisma rating, which counts for a lot in elections. And more telling, Trump has been steadily narrowing the gap in poll trends over the last 8 weeks. Even her convention bump has only put her back to about a 1.5% lead, within most margins of error.

It's now more than just Nate Silver among pollsters (most of whom decidedly don't like Trump) who are saying Trump's odds of winning are now better than Hillary's.