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“Over-Inflating Impressions Of Trump’s Strength”: Clinton’s Lead Over Trump May Be Bigger Than You Think

A fresh round of hand-wringing among Democrats broke out over the weekend, and at the core of it was the same old storyline that we keep hearing again and again: Donald Trump is unconventional and unpredictable! The normal political rules don’t apply! Democrats are getting caught off guard by this, and you should be terrified!

But what if Hillary Clinton’s national advantage over Trump is actually larger than it appears? And, more to the point, what if the reason for this is a thoroughly conventional one?

NBC’s Chuck Todd and Dante Chinni have served up a useful analysis of the current national polls that suggests this is a very real possibility. They looked at three recent polls that currently show the race very close: The NBC News poll showing Clinton up 46-43 among registered voters; the New York Times/CBS poll showing her up 47-41; and the Fox News poll putting Trump up 45-42.

But then Todd and Chinni took into account the fact that a sizable chunk of people supporting Sanders are now saying they cannot back Clinton. These are the “Sanders-only voters.” They took the additional step of assuming that Clinton wins back 70 percent of those voters. Here’s what happens to the national numbers:

In the NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton’s advantage over Trump goes from three points to eight points and she leads 51 percent to 43 percent….

In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, Clinton’s advantage grows from six points to nine points with 70 percent of Sanders-only voters — she leads 50 percent to 41 percent. In the latest Fox News poll, where Trump currently leads Clinton, the Sanders-only voters make it a tied race — 45 percent to 45 percent.

Now, in my view, we shouldn’t place too much stock in national polling at this point, because it historically has not been predictive. But if we are going to obsess over it, let’s keep this in mind: In two of these polls, once you allow for the possibility that Clinton could win over many of Sanders’s supporters once he concedes and endorses her, Clinton holds sizable national leads, of eight and nine points. Nate Cohn has similarly concluded that, if Clinton can consolidate Sanders supporters behind her, she could gain a “considerable advantage” against Trump.

And we’ve seen this before: As Todd notes in his video presentation of these numbers, in 2008, Barack Obama picked up three points against John McCain in NBC polling after Clinton surrendered in the primaries.

If this is right, the point is that the tightening in the polls between Clinton and Trump — which is real — may reflect a particular moment in this race that may prove fleeting, in ways we’ve seen in the past. To be sure, Democrats should not underestimate Trump or imagine that defeating him will be easy. They should work to determine the true source of his appeal, i.e., his suggestion that our political and economic system is failing people and he’d snap it over his knee and get it working again. They should work on making an affirmative case for Clinton that addresses this voter dissatisfaction in addition to relying on the low hanging fruit of attacking his business past and highlighting his wretched comments. Nor does any of this mean that Clinton’s high negatives aren’t a real problem. Democrats should obviously be prepared for any manner of attack that Trump will throw at her, and they’ll need to figure out how to create a more positive narrative around her.

Rather, the point is that we should stop over-inflating impressions of Trump’s strength. We should stop ascribing magical political powers to Trump based on the questionable notion that his “unconventional” and “unpredictable” campaign makes him a more formidable foe than anyone expected. Trump will be difficult to beat, but that might be mainly because these elections are always hard. It is perfectly plausible that the “old rules” will end up applying to some degree. For instance, Clinton may be able to beat Trump, at least in part, by offering up more convincing policies and revealing his to be the nonsense that they are. Maybe assuming that Trump has rendered policy debates meaningless actually gives him too much credit. Maybe we shouldn’t accept Trump’s boasts of super-human appeal in the Rust Belt at face value: they may well run headlong into demographic realities. Meanwhile, we should keep focused on what the aggregate data is actually telling us.

One other point: The Todd/Chinni analysis could have important implications for the endgame of the Dem primaries. Once the voting is over in June, Sanders will have nothing left to do but win actual concessions in exchange for working to swing his supporters behind Clinton. You could see a real shift in how this race is covered, with more and more analysts — and high profile party leaders, such as Elizabeth Warren, and, yes, Barack Obama — pointing out that the failure to unite Democrats is making the prospect of a Trump presidency more likely. That could make it harder for Sanders to hold out. We don’t know if Sanders’s supporters will get behind Clinton in the numbers she needs, and she will have to do her part to make that happen. But despite all the tensions, Sanders, too, will probably end up doing all he can to ensure that it does.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 31, 2016

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, National Polls | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Convention Chaos”: The Next Three Months Will Be Awful For Republicans — And Good For Democrats

Three months from now, on July 18, the Republican Party will open its convention in Cleveland, to be followed a week later by the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. A lot is going to happen in those three months.

But it’s not too early to predict that most of it is going to be good for the Democrats and bad for the Republicans.

At this point in the campaign, both parties have a straightforward, though by no means easy, set of tasks. They each want to get their nomination settled, unify and motivate their own voters, and start making their case to the broader electorate that will vote in the general election. Democrats will have an easier time on all counts.

While we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the upcoming primaries, at the moment we can say that Hillary Clinton will almost certainly have the Democratic nomination wrapped up by the end of the primaries in June. Donald Trump, on the other hand, may or may not have the Republican nomination in hand at that point. Right now FiveThirtyEight’s projections show Clinton running at 108 percent of what she needs to meet her target for the nomination, while they have Trump at 95 percent of what he needs, meaning he could well fall short.

The possibility that he won’t win 1,237 delegates, triggering a contested convention with multiple votes, is consuming the Republican Party (and the media) right now. That means that all of the discussion on the Republican side is about the process, with Trump complaining about unfairness, Ted Cruz supporters talking about their plan to snatch the nomination on the second or third vote, and everyone speculating madly about the drama that will ensue in Cleveland.

And what are the consequences of that discussion? The first is that it prevents Republicans from talking about issues. This came up earlier this week when Ted Cruz was being interviewed by Sean Hannity, who asked Cruz about his efforts to persuade delegates to shift their votes on a second or third ballot. Cruz responded: “Sean, with all respect, that’s not what people are concerned about,” and tried to shift the discussion back to issues. Hannity was having none of it: “I’m asking you more than a process question, it’s an integrity of the election question, and everybody is asking me this question.” That’s a microcosm of the entire Republican race at this point.

There’s some of that kind of talk on the Democratic side, but not nearly as much. Which means that while Clinton and Bernie Sanders are talking about issues — which can at least in theory win more voters to the Democratic cause — voters only see Republicans consumed by these process questions.

That’s not to mention the fact that the process argument serves to divide Republicans, stoking longstanding resentments and making Trump supporters dislike Cruz and Cruz supporters dislike Trump. The debate on the Democratic side, even if it highlights some differences between Clinton and Sanders, still reminds Democratic voters of what they all have in common and what differentiates them from Republicans, while the debate on the Republican side only deepens their internal divisions.

Don’t be surprised if in the coming days you hear Hillary Clinton talking much more like a general election candidate, reaching out to all voters and contrasting herself with Donald Trump. She’s already shifting to unifying rhetoric; in her victory speech last night, she said, “To all the people who supported Senator Sanders: I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us” (though she also repeated her now oft-used line about how identifying problems is not enough, you also have to propose solutions, which is a jab at Sanders).

So while Trump is complaining about being treated unfairly and predicting chaos in Cleveland, Clinton can talk to voters about raising the minimum wage, supporting clean energy, reforming immigration, and a whole range of other issues where the Democratic position is more popular than the Republican one.

And she’ll have help: Priorities USA, the most well-funded Democratic super PAC, is planning on spending $90 million on broadcast ads and another $35 million on online ads promoting Clinton in swing states over the summer. My guess is that they’ll spend a lot of that money reinforcing people’s negative opinions of Trump, to make it harder for him to pivot away from everything he’s said in the primaries in order to present a friendlier face for the general election.

Even little things, like the selection of a running mate, will probably work to Clinton’s advantage. Though that choice doesn’t have a profound effect on the final outcome of the race, Clinton will get a few days of positive news coverage out of her selection, with stories all about this person filled with admiring quotes from Democrats.

Republicans, on the other hand, may not even know who their vice presidential nominee is until the convention, if Trump hasn’t secured the nomination before then. The selection will then happen in the middle of all the convention’s chaos, so it won’t be the media’s sole focus for any length of time. And call me crazy, but I’m guessing Donald Trump isn’t going to pick a running mate whom everyone will agree is a terrific choice.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Trump could do better than he’s currently projected to and secure the nomination before the convention, and everyone in the GOP might quickly rally around him. There could be some unexpected event, in the world or on the campaign trail, that changes the race’s agenda in the Republicans’ favor. But from the perspective of today, it looks like the next few months are going to be a rough period for the Republicans, in ways that make winning the general election even harder than it already was.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 20, 2016

April 24, 2016 Posted by | Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Donald Trump’s Ignorant Honesty”: The Donald Never Learned What He Is And Isn’t Supposed To Say

For a guy so eager to tell you about the majestic size and quality of his brain, Donald Trump has a way of displaying his ignorance and getting into trouble whenever he gets asked detailed questions about a policy issue. And something has changed: Now it’s actually doing him some harm. The latest controversy, on abortion, shows us how some of what has served Trump so well in the primaries is coming back to bite him as he moves toward the general election.

For months, we all marvelled at how Trump could say almost anything, no matter how offensive or stupid, without suffering any damage in the polls. But that was possible because of the particular polls that mattered at the time: polls of Republican primary voters. And for Trump voters told for years that “political correctness” was oppressing them and ruining the country, the spectacle of someone so willing to offend and insult the people they never liked was intoxicating.

Today, with the nomination within his grasp, those primary polls don’t matter so much, and everyone is finally realizing that the things that so cheered his supporters were indications not just of how different a candidate he is, but of how the things about ordinary politicians that he rejects—the caution, the care taken not to offend, the carefully crafted talking points—serve an important purpose.

We’ll be seeing this cycle again: Trump gets pressed for details about an issue by an interviewer, he says something outside the expected or acceptable (or sane) range of opinions, without even realizing which norms and beliefs he has violated, and then he tries multiple times to refine and revise his comments after the unsurprising freak-out. In the abortion case, it took Trump a few tries—no doubt after huddled conferences with his advisers—to circle around the issue enough times that he could anger almost everyone. He was asked whether, if abortion becomes illegal as he and most Republicans support, women should be prosecuted for getting abortions. He responded that there should be “some form of punishment” for women, then said there shouldn’t be any punishment for them, then said we should leave the laws the way they are now, then said through a campaign aide that he’ll change the laws to outlaw abortion (here’s a wrap-up).

If Trump had come up through the Republican ranks like other candidates, none of this would be necessary, because he’d have learned what he is and isn’t supposed to say. On longstanding, contentious issues, each party has an entire structure of positions, ideas, and rhetoric that has been refined over years of thinking and arguing. That structure reflects their shared values and the policies they would like to implement. On an issue like abortion, which has moral, legal, and policy components, the structure is rather intricate. If you haven’t spent a long time within the places and among the people who use that structure to guide the way they think and talk about the issue, then you’re bound to make mistakes when you weigh in.

This incident is also a reminder that for all the time we spend on candidates’ “gaffes,” most of the time the people who run for president are executing a complex, demanding, and delicate rhetorical performance. They have to talk every day in public, covering a wide variety of complicated issues, and do it in a way that not only might persuade the undecided, but that won’t alienate large numbers of people at the same time. Except in the most unusual circumstances, you don’t get to the major leagues of a presidential run without spending years developing the knowledge and skill to pull it off.

But of course, there have seldom been more unusual circumstances than the one we’re witnessing right now, in the person of Donald Trump. And the irony in this incident is that Trump, unlike the rest of his party, kicked off the controversy by expressing a logically coherent opinion. If you believe that a day-old zygote is a fully human person and that abortion is murder, then how can you think that the person who planned that person’s murder shouldn’t be held legally culpable once you’ve outlawed abortion completely? After all, if a woman hired a hit man to murder her five-year-old she’d go to jail, and as far as conservatives are concerned there should be no moral or legal difference between a fetus and a child. Their answer to this problem is that “she’s a victim too,” because when it comes to anything involving the operation of their ladyparts, women must themselves be treated like children, or at the very least as though they were so mentally incapacitated that someone else has to make decisions for them.

It’s obvious that Trump was not sufficiently schooled in this intricate rhetorical dance, for the simple reason that he’s not a politician. But these kind of complicated positions aren’t constructed at random. They’re built to serve a set of sometimes contradictory purposes: allow us to pursue the outcome we prefer, give us a way to justify it in public, provide a rationale judges can build rulings on, and do it all while minimizing the number of voters it pisses off.

It doesn’t really work—the “gender gap,” where more women vote Democratic, is no accident. But Republican rhetoric is designed to, at the very least, minimize the damage by assuring women that the GOP really has their best interests at heart. If Donald Trump is the nominee, however, that’s going to be impossible. If nothing else, there’s something more honest about his fumbling around on issues like this. He may have no idea what he’s talking about, but that means he hasn’t learned how to skillfully wield the apparatus of deception Republicans have spent so much time crafting.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 4, 2016

April 6, 2016 Posted by | Abortion, Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Voters | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Here’s How The Media Should Fight Trump (It’s Easy!)”: Ask Him Questions Presidents Need To Know How To Answer

This week we’ve seen a flurry of media activity that, up until the start of this election, wouldn’t have been noteworthy at all. Three days in a row, the likely Republican presidential nominee was… challenged by a journalist.

Yep, that’s it. Welcome to 2016.

On Monday, #NeverTrump-er and conservative Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes held Trump’s feet to the fire on his bullying and complete lack of policy knowledge.

On Tuesday, Anderson Cooper challenged Donald Trump to defend the hallmark of his campaign, acting like a semi-matured toddler on Twitter, and then didn’t let up when Trump tried to dodge it.

On Wednesday, Chris Matthews wouldn’t let Trump snake out of a question about punishing women for having abortions, even though it was clear mid-interrogation that Trump didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

Good. These aren’t “gotcha” questions. They’re questions. Anyone who wants to lead the free world should have to answer them.

I’m not asking for much. All I want is for the national media, rather than asking Donald Trump about the controversies he purposefully creates to divert their attention, to ask him about him. Ask him questions he hasn’t heard before. Ask him policy questions to which you know he doesn’t know the answer, but that you would expect any other presidential candidate to answer easily.

It’s no secret why this hasn’t happened: Donald Trump is a money machine for media outlets. Personalities like the Morning Joe bunch don’t want to lose access to Trump’s campaign, so they let him call in to their show, or lob him softball questions at a specially-programmed town hall.

Or they simply let him have the floor, like when Fox and Friends asked, “Were you right?” in response to the Brussels bombings. Trump had previously called Brussels a “disaster.”

Donald Trump calls everything a disaster.

If there’s a single quote that explains this entire election cycle, it’s from CBS Chairman Les Moonves, about all of the free media his company gave Donald Trump:

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

The news networks can hide behind a false sense of neutrality — Look at how many millions of his supporters agree with building an impossible wall— but to do so ignores their responsibility to report for the sake of the public good, instead of just for the… public.

When you really listen to them, it’s crystal clear: If Trump goes down, so does our bottom line.

Enough is enough. The overlap between “Questions presidents need to know how to answer” and “Questions we haven’t asked Donald Trump” is incredibly large, and perhaps larger for Trump than any major candidate in recent history. We need to ask them — and demand a straight answer.

Better to ask those questions now than find out how Trump answers them with his finger on the gold-plated nuclear button. It’s a beautiful button, really. The best.

 

By: Matt Shuham, The National Memo, March 31, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Press, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Can Donald Trump Do An Extreme General Election Makeover?”: The Entire Country Will Have To Get Amnesia

Donald Trump may not be the Republican nominee yet, but he’s already started to pivot toward the general election. This is of course what many conservatives fear about Trump: that because he seems to have no real ideological beliefs, he’ll be happy to turn his back on them, both as a candidate and as a president.

But can Trump really cast off the very things that have brought him such improbable success in the Republican primaries when the time comes to appeal to a broader electorate that finds the Trump they’re seeing now utterly repellent? That may turn out to be the most important question of the general election.

It’s one of the wonders of Trump’s candidacy that where other politicians imply things, he just says them plainly so there’s no mistaking what he means. Others might try to convince you that they’re smart, but Trump will just say, “I’m, like, a really smart person.” And while others might begin to adjust their rhetoric in subtle ways as they prepare to appeal to a wider electorate, Trump just comes out and says that he’ll become a completely different person when the political situation demands it. Here’s what he told Sean Hannity last night:

“At the right time, I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that, it’s too much.’ But you know what? It is true, and I think you understand: When they attack me, I have to attack back. I’m a counter-puncher. When they attack me, if I don’t attack back — You know, the press could say, ‘Oh, he should act more presidential.’ And then like a couple of days ago, I gave a speech, they said, ‘That was so presidential.’ I can be presidential.”

Who is the “they” he’s talking about? He doesn’t say, but I’m fairly certain no one has ever watched one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness speeches and thought, “that was so presidential.” But as often happens, Trump just makes up something and attributes it to an undefined “they.” (Maybe “they” are the people chowing down on an imaginary Trump Steak while they read the latest copy of the non-existent Trump Magazine, both of which Trump insists do in fact exist.)

This isn’t the first time Trump has said something like this. “As I get closer and closer to the goal, it’s gonna get different,” he told Greta Van Susteren a month ago. “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.” Or as he said in another interview yesterday: “In order to be victorious, frankly, I had to be very tough and I had to be very sharp and smart and nasty. I can see women not liking that. That will change once this is all over.”

Trump probably could change — within limits. He isn’t going to become conversant with policy issues or demonstrate that he has the faintest idea how government works, but he will almost certainly be changing his focus once he has to appeal to a different audience. He’ll talk about his devotion to protecting Social Security and Medicare, and don’t be surprised if he starts to shuffle back to the center on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and guns. Most of all, he’s likely to downplay the nativist anger that has propelled his campaign, and focus more on the idea that he’s a can-do manager who will whip government into shape and get America winning again.

But that will only work if everyone forgets the Donald Trump they’ve seen since he announced his candidacy nine months ago. And that’s going to be an awfully tall order.

Right now, Trump is poised to be the most disliked party nominee in recent history. Polls routinely show two-thirds of the public saying they have a negative opinion of him. In the Post’s most recent poll, seven out of ten Americans said he isn’t honest and trustworthy, doesn’t understand the problems of people like them, and has neither the right experience nor the right temperament to be president. He seems to think that being “presidential” consists of refraining from calling his opponents names, but it’s going to take a lot more than that.

As just one example, consider the Latino vote. When the Post polled Latinos a couple of weeks ago, eight in ten had a negative opinion of him, and Hillary Clinton won a trial heat against him by 73-16. Many analysts think that if the GOP nominee doesn’t substantially improve on Mitt Romney’s 27 percent support among Latinos in 2012 — and get it up near 40 percent — then he can’t win. If you think Latino voters are going to forget everything Trump has said and done until now once he starts talking nice, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying. (And if you’re thinking Trump will run up such huge numbers among working-class whites that he’ll overcome his weakness with minorities, that isn’t going to happen either.)

Then there’s the question of what happens to the Trump voters who are now so attracted to him precisely because he’s vulgar and angry. There’s an atmosphere of thuggery that surrounds Trump, with  his rallies regularly featuring violence directed by his supporters at the protesters who often appear. Trump has held on to that core of Republican voters because of his current persona. That group — a plurality of Republicans, which is miles from being a majority of the entire electorate — might not be so excited about Trump if he stops being the person he is now.

Maybe Trump will surprise us all, and in the general election he’ll be, as he says, “more presidential than anybody other than the great Abe Lincoln.” But in order for that to work, the entire country is going to have to get amnesia.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 10, 2016

March 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Primaries, Governing | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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