It’s kinda time to panic for liberals; regardless of how the public reacts to the debate, here are 10 reasons why liberals should not be relaxed between now and November 8th.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse September 26, 2016
By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @bfry1981) September 26th, 2016 (Edited/updated slightly September 27th)
Getty Images/Reuters/NY Post
AMMAN — This is too close for comfort, people. And it’s important to understand why. Here are ten reasons why what some call the “Trumpocalypse” is a real serious possibility, one with about the same odds of happening as Hillary saving America, Western civilization, and the world from a President Trump. Any exaggeration in the preceding sentence is slight, if it exists at all, I’m sorry to say.
1.) This Isn’t like 2012. Or any other year, for that matter; the past cannot provide comfort
Numerous times I’ve experienced liberals who are confident saying “This is just like when it was close with Mitt Romney and Obama. We’re going to win.” Or pointing to this trend or that swing from another election year. This boggles my mind because I thought one of the most obvious—even omnipresent—themes from this year’s election is so much being so unpredictable and so unprecedented. Republicans had 17 candidates running for president, nearly all of whom were better qualified than Trump. And Trump won. A declared “democratic socialist” won about 4 in 10 votes in the Democratic contest. So, please, don’t tell me not to worry because X happened in X past election. This year, the rulebook seems to have been thrown onto a bonfire of the vanities. Obviously, this is because of Trump (and the people backing him) more than anything else, and he seems to pay no long-term prices for his many gaffes and scandals and outrages.
2.) Republican voters really are a mob and “principled” Republicans actually willing to stand against Trump on principle are a nearly extinct species
I will be giving myself credit, and then say what I got wrong. In August 2015, I was one of the only non-pro-Trump people to recognize Trump’s potential to win the nomination and that important factors favored his chances of doing so. But at the time I predicted he would be a disaster as a general election candidate; that is still possible, but seems very unlikely now; what seems more likely is that it will be very close either way.
How did I get this wrong? I put too much emphasis on “The Republican Establishment” and assumed it actually represented more people in the party than it actually did. One of the reasons both Mitt Romney and John McCain lost is that, unlike George W. Bush, both were relatively unliked by Republican voters for being too moderate. But in both 2008 and 2012, a number of Christian conservatives split the base votes in favor of one main moderate “Establishment” candidate. The “Establishment” elites in backed McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2004, both of whom during important early stretches only won a plurality and not a majority of GOP voters. In 2008, John McCain only won 3 of 7 contests in January, failing to even reach 40% of the vote in any contest, and on that year’s Super Tuesday on February 5th, out of 20 contests McCain only won over 50% of the votes in 3 even though he won 9 contests overall. Then in 2012, Mitt Romney won 2 of 4 contests in January, but did not win a majority of votes in either and won less than 40% in one; for all of February, he won less than half the vote in every contest save one in Nevada, where he won 50.1% of the vote, even though he won 4 out of 6 contests. In both situations, other candidates divided votes that went towards less moderate, less “Establishment”-backed candidates so that solid chances to derail both McCain and Romney and allow a single other candidate to gain clear momentum early in the campaign were lost. Conversely, there were so many candidates in 2016 that were “Establishment”-oriented and moderate that the dynamic worked somewhat in reverse, so that even after the first Super Tuesday in March, such candidates has only won a single state (Rubio in Minnesota), and the rest went to Trump and Cruz, two solidly anti-“Establishment” candidates, with Kasich being the only other candidate to win one of the fifty states, his home state of Ohio.
What I and I think many others thought is that “Well, that crazy base Republican was beaten in 2008 and 2012, and while they weren’t enthusiastic about their candidates, the more typical and moderate Republicans who voted in the general election but not the primaries were more solidly behind McCain and Romney.” What 2016 has taught us is that there are very few “typical moderate” Republicans in any meaningful sense, because such people would not be supporting Trump; I had not realized how far gone the vast majority of Republican voters are down the rabbit hole; the Kasich-Kristol-National Review-wing of the Republican Party is only a tiny fraction of the Party overall and has little sway with Republican voters in general. Sure, when the “Establishment” candidates won in 2008 and 2012, most rank-and-file Republicans had no problem supporting them over Obama but did not do so enthusiastically; yet the assumption that many Republican being rational and principled and unable to support Trump was always a myth, as Trump’s numbers now mean that he has pretty much all Republicans in his camp. The public intellectuals, commentators, and national security professionals who are Republicans and speaking out against Trump are merely a detached intelligentsia who influence the small group of elites like them and, clearly, virtually no other Republicans. I have lost track of the specific items of behavior that should have cost Trump a significant number of Republican voters—from disparaging both John McCain for being captured during the Vietnam War and a reporter for being disabled to talking about his penis at a presidential debate to seeming to instigate both violence (repeatedly) and Russian hacking against Clinton—but as we approach Election Day, that support has only increased and is at comparable levels to Clinton’s support among Democrats. In fact, Trump’s behavior has in no way disqualified him from receiving support within his party comparable to levels of what other recent Republican nominees have enjoyed.
In other words, I foolishly believed that enough Republicans would be better people than to be able to support Trump. But if anything, enthusiasm is higher for Trump than Clinton. Granted, I didn’t expect this number of Republicans to be large (and knew it didn’t need to be that large to still make a big dent in Trump’s support level), but it’s pretty much nonexistent relative to other candidates, and thus, the race is basically a dead heat.
Much has been written of Millennials’s lack of support for Clinton. It’s not a fading thing: it dogged Clinton all through the primaries and it’s still a major problem six weeks before Election Day. Echoes of Brexit—when an outcome that a vast majority of Millennials in the UK did not desire and that has drastically negative long-term consequence occurred because Millennials pathetically couldn’t motivate themselves to get out and vote—can be heard now in America, with not only worries about whether or not Millennials will turn out and votebut worries about who they will vote for even if they do turn out. Clinton’s relatively and notably strong weakness with Millennials compared to Obama is evident across all ethnic, racial, and gender groups, including with African-Americans and women. It’s not that they support Trump more, it’s that they often tend to support other third-party candidates or seem less likely to vote for Clinton or vote at all: polls tend to show Clinton’s support among Millennials from being close to significantly behind the combined Johnson-Stein vote, and the trendline for Clintons’ Millennial support is (mostly) moving down.
In a close election, Millennials are a key part of the Obama coalition that Clinton cannot afford to do without. But perhaps even most frustratingly, such behavior on the part of Millennials is something the country and especially they themselves cannot afford. In the words of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “As Bernie Sanders himself said last week: “This is not the time for a protest vote.” Protest voting or not voting at all isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!” James Kirchick, writing for The Daily Beast, echoes a similar sentiment: “…[M]illennial opposition to Clinton and the attendant blitheness toward the prospect of a Trump presidency…[can] best [be] described as a mix of moral relativism, historical ignorance, and narcissism.” However, some good news below…
4.) Sanders Supporters
There is a lot of overlap here with the Millennials section above, but here, we must ask why so many Millennials think of Clinton as a soulless hack, the epitome both of corruption and a selfish “Establishment,” and a “warmonger.” Where, you ask, did they get such an impression? Easily more than any other source, the answer is Bernie Sanders. I have laid all this outin detail in the past, but what is important to note here is that before Sanders began his presidential campaign, this narrative of Clinton was basically nonexistent. Then he repeated it over, and over, and over, and over, and over again at every rally over many months, skillfully blaming Clinton for an entire system implicitly at first with a guilt-by-association campaign, then progressing to letting surrogates do his dirty work and not reigning them in, then becoming more direct, even to the degree of whipping up crowds into a frenzy and pausing to let them boo Clinton and the Democratic Party, thus creating an atmosphere of hatred of Clinton (as evidenced by many signs and just listening to Sanders supporters talk about her at rallies) that culminated in a mini-riot at the Nevada Democratic State Convention in May that I dubbed a mainly non-violent form of political terrorism. Now, is it any wonder, after claiming before that the contest was “rigged” against him and implying that Clinton was a monster, that many of his backers didn’t still don’t support her, despite his endorsement?
Of course, many of the earlier discussed Millennials are Sanders supporters, as he was wildly popular with the younger crowd.
As for that good news: just yesterday, an Economist/YouGov poll was released that showed a dramatic increase in a key stat: 70% of Sanders supporters were now saying they would support Clinton, up from 57% a week ago, which was up from 52% in a poll released on the 15th. The new poll also saw Trump’s support from Sanders supporters increase to 13% from 12%, which was 15% before that, while Stein’s support shrank dramatically to 6% from 11%, which had been 13% before that; as for Johnson, his support dropped dramatically as well, to 4% of Sanders supporters, down from 9% in the previous two surveys. This is welcome news, but is just one pollster’s group of polls and its findings do not seem to fit in the larger patterns that now have the race virtually tied. And despite the increases in these examples, they still show 3 out of 10 Sanders supporters are not backing Clinton, and when factoring in the fact that 13% of them are saying they will support Trump, Clinton is left with a net level of support of only 57% of Sanders supporters over Trump. These specific Economist/YouGov polls notwithstanding, Sanders supporters and Millennials, two groups with huge overlap, are groups Clinton needs to really focus on in the final weeks of her campaign in order to ensure a victory in November.
5.) Dr. Stein and Gov. Johnson
In most polls, when third-party candidates are factored in, Clinton does worse than when the same poll shows just Clinton and Trump, the clear conclusion is that the two third-party candidates are taking more votes from Clinton than from Trump. When this trend first became clear, it was shocking: obviously the far leftist Stein would be taking virtually all her support from the left, but Johnson has between two and three times as much support as Stein, and he, as a L/libertarian, would be expected to be drawing more support from the right, and yet, the net advantage has been to Trump, meaning Johnson has a considerable portion of his support—roughly half—coming from the left. Since Johnson is “cool,” very independent-minded, very anti-foreign intervention, and very pro-weed, this means he is taking vital votes away from young Millennials all over the country and in key battleground states where marijuana is very popular, especially Colorado but also Michigan, Nevada, surprisingly-close Maine, and New Hampshire; New Hampshire and Nevada are also two of the states with the most libertarian support, and Colorado is also in the top third; in all five states, Johnson’s polling average is 8% or higher, and in New Hampshire, Colorado, and Maine, it’s above 10%; this is all in five states where the polling average gap between Trump and Clinton is 0.2% to 5.4% (and we did not even get into Stein). In other words, there is a very real chance that Johnson and Stein being on the ballot will end up covering the difference if Clinton loses any of these states even when just factoring in their liberal support (according to FiveThirtyEight, she’s currently favored in Michigan, New Hampshire, Maine—which is one of two states that does not award all the electoral votes to the statewide winner but splits some of its electoral votes based on Congressional district, with Trump up in one district and likely to get 1 of Maine’s 4 Electoral College votes because of that—and is favored slightly in Colorado, but is slightly behind in Nevada; Trump has recently closed the gap in the other four, as well). If she loses any of the states where she is favored and Trump holds onto every state in which he is favored, Clinton loses…
The situation of a third-party candidate acting as a spoiler is not merely hypothetical: in 2000, liberal Ralph Nader voters could easily have put Gore in the White House instead of Bush; Bush won Florida by 537 votes, and Nader got almost 100,000 there; in New Hampshire, Bush won by 7,211 votes, where Nader got over 22,000 votes; exit polls told us that if Nader had stayed out of the race, 47% of his votes would have gone to Gore and only 21 percent to Bush. Objectively, then, Nader and his voters cost Gore the presidency, and a similar situation could be giving us a President Trump in a few weeks.
Before Nader, the last time a third-party was a spolier was when Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party run cost Republicans the presidency in the election of 1912.
6.) Clinton isn’t Obama
Obama was an exceptionally charismatic candidate and came into the public eye with barely a hint of scandal (in part because he was so new). Hillary Clinton simply doesn’t have the same personality and charisma as Obama. Two points here: first, I would hope liberals/Millennials can energize themselves to vote on critical issues concerning our future without needing to have someone with an exceptionally charismatic personality as a candidate. I’ve had it with liberals not supporting the likes of Al Gore and John Kerry who may not have been “cool” but who would have been great presidents and would have spared us the human disaster that was George W. Bush (although if we have a President Trump I will imagine that I will recall the Bush years fondly) had younger voters then been able to put aside “cool” and focus on substance. But especially with liberal Millennials now, I am not sure we can trust them to do their fair share in this election or over time without the dangling of shiny new objects in front of their faces; Clinton is like the perfectly functioning and incredibly useful iPhone that just happens to have the misfortune of being two or even three versions old; there is very little difference between it and newer models, but it’s not the cool-thingy-of-the-moment, and therefore earns something between indifference and scorn from the typical Millennial liberal. It’s more about an individual and their personality that supporting a political party over time. In fact, when it comes to their politics, Millennials are pretty political party averse: about half identify as independents (hence they came out to vote for Obama twice, but voted in significantly lower proportions in both the 2010 and 2014 midterms, helping to give rise to the Tea Party and contributing to the inability of Obama and Democrats to enact key parts of a liberal agenda. The above factors are big parts of the reason why Trump is now competitive and basically even with Clinton.
Second point, related to the iPhone analogy: I would hope liberal Millennials can realize that the iPhone Hillary is much like the iPhone Barack, for even without the cooler design of the iPhone Barack, they are almost the same in many substantive ways; in other words, that Clinton is essentially running for a third Obama term but has a big gap between the level of support he enjoyed and that she is enjoying now is mainly due to a combination of one of three things: 1.) she’s not (as?) cool, 2.) she’s a woman (black men voted before women in America, and we had a black man as president before a woman), so “HELLO, sexism!”, and 3.) negative recent branding of Clinton by her former rival, Bernie Sanders, and by her current and decades-long-enemies, the Republicans. In the end, there IS SO MUCH MORE IN COMMON between Clinton and Obama than any differences that exist between them that it is hard explain the gap otherwise. In fact, it is very telling that Obama is still loved by Millennials liberals, but Clinton gets castigated and deemed evil incarnate for Libya and TPP, among other policies, that were actually Obama’s calls to make and more his than her policies because he was president, not her; listening to elements of the angry left’s denunciations of Clinton, you sure wouldn’t know this.
7.) Ann Selzer, polls, and momentum.
Who, you ask? Only “the best pollster in politics.” Her outfit just released a poll, conducted September 21st-24th, which has Trump up 2 points (43% to Clinton’s 41%), Stein with 4% of the vote, Johnson with 8%, and 2% of voters saying “don’t want to tell,” which sounds an awful lot like embarrassed Trump voters to me; the last poll her group conducted had Clinton up 4% (44% to Trump’s 40%), with the same 4% for Stein and Johnson at 9%, meaning their latest poll had Trump up 3 points and Clinton down 3 points from the last one. Oh, and the averages of all the other polling shows a tightening of the race both nationally and in key battleground states. At a time when it would be great for this to not be happening. Trump is gaining support, and Clinton losing support, with only weeks to go and just as the debates are starting.
No pressure Hillary.
8.) Trump has spent very little money relative to Clinton
Since mid-June, Clinton has outspent Trump more than 5-to-1 ($109.4 million to $18.7 million) on television ads through September 13th and has spent far less than any major-party candidate since at least 2008. The fact that they are basically tied in light of this info is, frankly, terrifying and terrifyingly efficient.
If that isn’t bad enough, Trump’s campaign just announced it will spend $100 million in TV and $40 million in digital ads between now and the election. Imagine the potential difference that could make… and imagine if the billionaire decides to throw a lot more of his own money in as a surprise right before the end…
9.) The major media outlets have generally done a terrible job covering this election
A whole article can (and will be) written about this, but we should briefly look at the dynamics behind how bad the coverage has been and how important the media is in shaping this race. It basically boils down to this: Trump has so much baggage and spews so many lies and misstatements that the media barely scratches the surface of them before it decides to move onto something else without properly revisiting what it had started exploring, but spends an inordinately disproportionate amount of time going over every little detail of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails/server (since that is basically all that can compete with the scandals on Trump’s side) and yet cannot even provide proper understanding and context for that (which I provided in my last article); there were even times that it seemed the news cycle contained nothing else about Clinton other than her news scandal, not her policies, not her ideas, not anything else, except maybe her falling favorability/trustworthiness numbers. The same can be said for the lazy, facile coverage of the Clinton Foundation arising from content in certain e-mails of Clinton and her staff, content that was anything but scandalous, yet you wouldn’t know this from the coverage. This has created a dangerous false equivalence in the coverage of Clinton and Trump, with the New York Times’ Paul Krugman noting a similar dynamic helped to destroy Al Gore’s candidacy in 2000. As for Trump, I myself wrote an in-depth article on his and his associates’ ties to Russia, making several connections before any major media outlet made them; there is no way that I should have been the one to do this, and not a major paper (but I’ll take it as a freelancer!); this is just one example of the general lack of proper coverage of Trump.
The end result has been that Trump is now more trusted than Clinton, as many Americans are getting a distorted view of Clinton and one that makes her seem in many ways to be on the same level as Trump, where people just seem to shrug off his scandals in part because there has been too little of a focus on really digging deeper, following up on unanswered questions, and getting the full, complete picture. In many ways, the damage is done and attempts at self-correction (some just starting) may very well be too late.
10.) Americans are stupid
Rationality dictates that Clinton would have a sizeable lead. But we are not a rational country. It’s so glaringly obvious to the rest of the world, which is also increasingly irrational. I seriously have no idea how people will react, decide, or change their mind between now and the election because any rational person would choose Clinton and I do not know if we have more rational than irrational people. I hope we do, but for now, about 6 in 10 voters are saying they will vote for Trump, Johnson, or Stein. I’m not going to cite anything to show how stupid we are a nation; rather, I’ll let you, dear readers, engage in the mental exercise of looking up how bad our public education system is, how ignorant people are about basic history and geography, how crazy are some of the beliefs Americans have (like evolution and climate change), how many people believe in debunked conspiracy theories, and any other number of other topics.
Democracy may be failing in places like the EU, Turkey, Israel, India, & Russia as right-wing, racist, and/or xenophobic demagogues, from Modi to Netanyahu, from Le Pen to Erdoğan gain power, but far be it for the U.S. to be a spectator: it’s trying as hard as it can to follow suit, embrace hatred and irrationality and tribalism as well as groups in Syria, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, just in less violent ways. But such tribalism almost invariably leads to violence, and we are seeing racial unrest and disturbances not seen in a generation in America. If Trump wins, these fault lines can be expected to be the location of earthquakes.
On top of all this, there’s always the room for late-game surprises: terrorist attacks could increase a climate of fear to favor a candidate presenting himself as a strong-man—like Trump is—and push the country to the right as has happened in Europe, Turkey, and Israel; even non-terrorist mass shootings may do more to contribute to fears about security more than add to any support for gun control; there’s also room for one or two bad jobs reports between now and the election, something which would cause the voters to blame Democratic Party of Obama, the sitting president, and of Clinton. Then there’s the promised “October surprise” coming from Julian Assange of Wikileaks, one which will release more Clinton-related hacked files and be sure to keep that topic in the limelight in the final days of the election contest…
And let’s not forget the possibility of Russia hacking our election to put try to put Trump in the White House…
And even amid the litany of well-documented lies and distortions coming from Trump of just the past week, the voters are moving slightly towards him and slightly away from Clinton. Some of these people are liberals who are ignoring political reality and suffer from any of a series of personality syndromes and have no business voting for anyone but Clinton when she is running against Trump. Well, one thing which hasn’t changed this cycle compared with others in the key final months: the left is still great at shooting itself in the foot while the right is making sure to be unified. Do I think Trump will win? I can’t say yes, but I can’t say no either. I feel ever so slightly more confident that Clinton will win instead of Trump, but now that is only by the faintest of margins and accompanied with a sense of dread. Whatever the outcome, shame on America and American voters that it was ever as close as it is now, that someone like Trump can get this far in our political system.
Even if Clinton wins, we are a country with serious problems and will be an extremely divided nation. I wouldn’t even be surprised if she won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote with perhaps millions of liberals voting with Johnson and Stein, outnumbering conservatives who vote Johnson, even as they are not enough to swing the Electoral College to Trump. It would be a kind of revenge for 2000, but one that at this point in time could really damage the credibility of the system in eyes of voters and greatly harm the ability of Clinton to govern or the government in general to function. I would be shocked if Republicans didn’t try to impeach Clinton on the “scandals” of Benghazi and her e-mails; like the last time a Clinton was impeached, the case will be ridiculous and the motives will be almost entirely political. No matter who wins, it will be difficult, but no question will America still be far better off with Clinton than with Trump.
But on those hypotheticals another time…
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