Some Well-Meaning Advice* for Anti-Trump Republicans

fliegergriff01
Can’t vote in good conscience for Donald Trump? Sleep like a baby and vote for Gary Johnson! By Produnis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Behold! There is a white knight for anti-Trump Republicans after all. His name is Gary Johnson, Republican Governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, now turned Libertarian and likely to be that party’s nominee for president in 2016. He’s polling at 10% in matchups with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the moment, and really, he could gain some traction this year.

Johnson is the candidate that would have been created in a lab to attract “limited government” Republicans who like everything about Trump’s tax and economic policies but don’t want to vote for a misogynistmobbed up, white nationalist-inspiring know-nothing. I mean, look at Johnson’s issue positions:

  • He would shift the tax burden from the rich to the working and middle classes through eliminating all tax on income and establishing a nationwide consumption tax.
  • He rails against Trumpian immigration policy and supports a two-year grace period for the millions of currently undocumented immigrants residing in the country.
  • He loves term limits for elected officials.
  • Johnson believes the federal debt is going to destroy us all, so we’d better slash the welfare state and make sure lazy senior citizens work until they’re at least 72.
  • He thinks the health insurance market is basically the same as any other market, so it shouldn’t be regulated. If Americans are too lazy to get rich and afford plans that cover anything more than catastrophe after huge deductibles, them’s the breaks.
  • He’s a harsh critic of our criminal justice system and U.S. drug policy, would like to see marijuana legalized, and loves privatizing prisons.
  • For that matter, Johnson loves privatizing everything.
  • On climate change, Johnson thinks the government shouldn’t do anything about it. But hey, at least he thinks it’s probably happening!
  • He’s pro-choice, but not too pro-choice!
  • Johnson thinks that people and corporations should be able to contribute as much money as they want to candidates seeking election, but it’s problematic if public sector unions make contributions.
  • He loves guns and thinks gun control doesn’t work. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, because logic.
  • Johnson thinks the federal government can’t do anything right, but state governments are great, so put them in complete control of education, Medicaid, making sure black people can use the same bathrooms as white people, etc.
  • He wooed his current partner by having her read Ayn Rand, which allows me to link to my all-time favorite Rand joke: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

I can’t help but editorialize around some of Johnson’s positions, so it must be clear I won’t be voting for him. But Republicans disaffected by Trump, he’s your man!

*This advice is not well-meaning. In 2000, Ralph Nader only needed 2.74% of the national popular vote to cost Al Gore the presidency.

Advertisements

Independents are Special Snowflakes, California Edition

snowflakeswilsonbentley
Voters registered with the California American Independent Party. By Wilson Bentley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A few hundred thousand California voters are about to find out that they cannot vote for candidates in their preferred major political party in the primary contest being held on June 7th. This will inevitably lead to wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of Bernie Sanders supporters who don’t want to engage with the American political system until they do.

Ed Kilgore explains that many California voters, though not a terribly significant amount in the country’s most populous state, have registered with the American Independent Party (AIP) under the mistaken belief that means they are of “no party preference.” This is awesome in every sense of the word. You see, calling yourself “independent” is way sexier than saying you have no party preference, so American Independent Party it is!

Problem is, the AIP was the vehicle by which segregationist George Wallace ran for president in 1968. Today, and largely because of mistaken affiliation, the AIP is California’s third largest party by membership. In recent times, the AIP has been most closely associated with the Constitution Party and the Tea Party reaction against Barack Obama’s presidency. Accordingly, intentional members of the AIP tend to believe that the U.S. is a Christian nation, Social Security and other federal welfare programs are unconstitutional, income taxes should be abolished, undocumented immigrants should be summarily deported, etc. You know, all the stuff Bernie Sanders supports.

I mock, but that’s because I had been the type of person to whom political independence and special snowflake posturing was attractive. I wrote a while ago about why my vote in 2000 for Ralph Nader was stupid and I regret it to this day. Our democratic republic and presidential system tends to converge on two major parties each consisting of competing factions. Showing up to vote in most primaries as a registered independent or no party preference voter, and finding you do not have a say in one of the two major parties, is like turning up at a soccer match and wondering why you can’t just pick up the ball with your hands, run down the field, and throw it in your opponent’s goal. It shows no understanding of the system in which you want to participate.

I agree with Kilgore that closed primaries ought to make it easier for people to re-register their party affiliation, preferably on the same day as the primary. It should be easier to vote, not harder. For example, New York’s re-registration deadline 193 days before its primary contests was absurd and undemocratic. The good news for California voters is that their deadline is today, a fairly reasonable 15 days before the primary contests.

People are busy, and most don’t spend hours obsessing about this stuff for a hobby like your humble blogger. Convenience in voting should always be preferred in a country that prides itself as the world’s foremost democracy. However, voters do have an obligation to have minimal understanding of the system in which they live if they want to participate in a meaningful way. Independent or no party affiliation registration denies voters a voice in major party primary elections, and frankly, that’s fine.

Parties are state-by-state organizations and are set up to gauge the preferences of their members. Independents can go on and cast a meaningful vote in the general election, because like party-affiliated  voters, they are members of the United States. But in what other walks of life do we allow non-members to have a say in an organization’s affairs? Independent voters aren’t morally wrong to declare themselves untainted by party affiliation, but it’s extremely unreasonable for them to expect parties to welcome their input.

How I Got Trump Right; or, How Did I Make Such a Lucky Guess?

donald_trump_approves_2016
Thanks for the thumbs up, Donald. I never doubted you. Well, okay, I doubted you once but then I shaped up. Looking forward to handicapping your general election chances. By Marc Nozell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcn/24622320840/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The last few weeks have featured some interesting pieces by prominent reporters and analysts about why they severely underestimated Donald Trump’s chances at the Republican nomination. For my money, the most worthwhile so far is this one by “data journalist” Nate Silver at his website FiveThirtyEight. He and his team put Trump’s chances at 2% last August and raised them to 7% by December. The unprecedented nature of a Trump-type seriously vying for the nomination led the FiveThirtyEight crew to over-rely on the thesis behind The Party Decides, which proposes that a political party’s establishment steers the electorate to its preferred choice in presidential nominating contests. As it turns out, while the 2016 contests haven’t been great for The Party Decides-style analysis, they certainly haven’t refuted the theory altogether. After all, Hillary Clinton is a classic “party decides” candidate, and Trump’s victory is perhaps indicative of what happens when the party DOESN’T decide.

The Republican Party establishment was dead set against Trump from the beginning, but they never managed to rally around a single candidate. Actually, that’s not entirely true; Jeb Bush had huge amounts of money and significant establishment support dating back to early 2015. For a variety of reasons, Bush’s candidacy went nowhere fast. The establishment backed a spectacularly and fatally flawed horse and never recovered. That they thought Bush – brother of one of the two worst presidents since World War II, non-hater of immigrants, and Common Core supporter – could ever establish rapport with the Republican base in this weird political moment we’re now living through goes to show just how unprepared they were to deal with the forces that have brought us Trump. If we grant that Bush was basically a non-starter “party decides” choice, then the theory lives on to see another day.

In his fascinating retrospective on FiveThirtyEight’s thinking, Silver proposes models that could have taken Trump’s chances more seriously. However, under these new models, back in the fall of 2015 Trump still would have only been considered to have had between a 10 and 15% chance at the nomination. It wasn’t until the voting actually began and Trump did very well in February that FiveThirtyEight’s models finally gave him front-runner status.

To put it simply, this just means that an unlikely nominee is unlikely. Over the long run, candidates with a 10% chance of winning the nomination can be expected to win the nomination 10% of the time. In fact, we’ve seen unlikely and ultimately poor general election candidates win nominations before, such as George McGovern and Barry Goldwater. As the data coalesced around Trump’s strong position, the unlikely became likely, and after Indiana, inevitable.

Since a lot of elite political commentators are making hay right now out of getting Trump wrong, why not explain why I got him right? How did I come to call Trump the front-runner last August when most analysts were still laughing at his candidacy? First, I should acknowledge that I waffled a bit on that just a few days later in the post “Can the Republican Establishment Trump Trump?” I was hedging against what seemed to be a rash prediction, influenced by my boy Nate Silver and others such as Jonathan Chait. But even in that post, I laid out the case for Trump being the favorite. Just as important, I explained what had to happen in order for the Republican Party to deny Trump the nomination. They never managed to do any of it.

There were two main reasons, both related to polling, why I thought Trump was in the best position to win the nomination. First, Trump was the plurality leader in nearly every poll taken since he had entered the race. Silver cautioned against reading too much into polls taken months before voting was set to begin, and usually caution is warranted. This time, however, there were indicators suggesting something strange was happening. I noticed that Trump’s leads were consistent except for one brief period of time when Ben Carson inched ahead, but not really at Trump’s expense. The Carson bubble soon burst, and Trump went right back into the lead, never to relinquish it.

Another polling factor I thought important was how “non-establishment” candidates performed in aggregate against “establishment” candidates. Nationally, and often in individual states, the Trump-Carson-Ted Cruz trio combined for more than 50% and sometimes more than 60% support, while the establishment candidates were stuck between 20 and 30% taken altogether.

When Carson collapsed, which was only a matter of time, where was his support going? I never for a second believed it would go to Bush or Marco Rubio. Cruz, who had hoped to be the credible outsider in this campaign, started losing votes to Trump when he blatantly cozied up to Republican elites, trying to earn their support in order to deny Trump a majority of the delegates. Point is, I always thought that at least 50% of the vote would go to non-establishment types, and once Cruz turned his campaign into that of an insider Trump cleaned up the outsider vote. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Trump started winning majorities around the time Cruz and his campaign started bragging about gaming the delegate system. The geographic region helped, sure, but then Trump went on to a crushing win in Indiana, where Cruz was supposed to be strong.

Why think that non-establishment types would combine for at least 50% of the vote, and that Trump would be able to consolidate that vote when his rivals dropped out or forfeited their outsider status? First, and as just mentioned, were the numbers; the polls themselves always gave the non-establishment category commanding support, usually well over 50%. Second, and more esoteric, is what I wrote back in August:

The genuinely fascinating thing about Trump’s candidacy is how he is exposing fault lines between the GOP’s elites and its base. The elites have two economic priorities: keep taxes low and limit government regulation. The base has two economic priorities: keep their jobs and their “earned” benefits, Social Security and Medicare (the “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” phenomenon).

The GOP elite has always been hostile to welfare programs (yes, Social Security and Medicare are socialist welfare programs) because they require certain tax levels and regulations to keep afloat. So how has the GOP managed for decades, like with Bush in 2004, to elect people who promise to dismantle the programs the base relies upon? One thesis, though it has its flaws, is proposed in the famous book What’s the Matter with Kansas? The basic argument is that GOP elites impose upon the electorate candidates who share elite priorities of low taxes and slashed welfare programs, but are capable of redirecting the base with cultural issues, such as immigrants, abortion, gays, and guns (and yes, race), that the candidates and elites have little appetite for actually pursuing.

The Tea Party backlash against the GOP establishment is an expression of this tension in the party. The base started waking up to the fact that the establishment had no real dog in the culture war fights. The base began electing people who really did want to ban abortions, who really did want to carve out exceptions to equal protection laws to allow people with certain religious beliefs to discriminate against gays, who really did want to severely restrict immigration and forcibly remove those residing in the country illegally.

The problem here is that the GOP base has always preferred Democratic economic policies (link to opinions about Social Security, but could easily link to opinions about taxes, Medicare, etc.). So I find it extremely hard to believe that the GOP base is rallying around Trump simply because he talks more like a Democrat about economic issues…

So what’s going on here? Why would a bloc of voters who have always voted for GOP economic policies all of a sudden be open to Democratic economic policies espoused by someone who sounds like a racist demagogue?

The Republican establishment took it for granted that its base of angry white people would hold their noses and vote for John McCains and Mitt Romneys forever and ever. They assumed the base would be fine in perpetuity with do-nothing Congresses that never deliver on the campaign promises of repealing Obamacare, building walls and deporting millions of immigrants, and putting women, minorities, Muslims and LGBT citizens back in their places. The elite made the mistake of conflating base support for these reactionary positions with support for the elites’ two true goals: low taxes and no regulations. This was the Republican establishment’s key mistake, and you could see back in the summer of 2015 how Trump was deftly exploiting the rift between the elites and the base over economic issues. Nevermind that Trump’s tax policies and many of his economic policies belie his populist rhetoric. The Republican base has always been a bunch of rubes.

What Trump did brilliantly in his campaign was decouple the traditional conservative cultural grievances from elite economic policy. Once a candidate, and especially a gifted demagogue like Trump, figured out that the base just wants its cultural meat and who cares about the tax vegetables, it was over. It might sound simplistic, but that was my assumption this whole time. Polling during this election cycle and recent voting behavior suggested that at least 50% of the Republican base is most concerned with full-throated airings of grievances and couldn’t care less about making sure the rich don’t pay higher taxes. Much of the base, after all, are members of Romney’s infamous 47% who don’t pay income taxes and will never take advantage of tax schemes that favor the rich like the carried interest loophole.

I won’t pretend that this explains the whole election, though I contend it explains much of it. Trump demonstrated almost immediately that he understood this cleavage between the base and the elites and that he could leverage it better than any of his 2012 harbingers or 2016 rivals. That’s why he’s the 10 to 1 long shot that actually came in first.

Weekend Links

I’ll start with a couple of pictures that capture aspects of my life here in Dali, Yunnan Province. I’m leaving for good in seven weeks, so I really ought to do more of this. Yesterday evening, there was a bit of rain and then around 6:45 p.m. we were treated to a rainbow stretching across the width of the lake. Some people in my WeChat took pictures from the lakeshore that put mine to shame. But yeah, spectacular scenery is something I’m going to miss.

Also pictured is a bowl of noodles I eat once a week called zhájiàng miàn (炸酱面). When my wife and I lived closer to the restaurant, I was eating it twice or three times a week. It’s wheat noodles bathed in a brown pork sauce, with some sprouts and greens mixed in. Also, there’s a fixings station where I add cilantro, chives, and ground chili pepper. Wow, is it good! If anyone wants to open a Chinese noodle shop that makes a reasonable approximation of this near Duncan Avenue in Jersey City, I’ll single-handedly keep you in business.

Onto some of the articles I read this week:

  • If you read one thing I recommend all year, make it this piece about in-groups and out-groups. It’s very long but entirely worth it. In a general election where many of us are going to wonder how it’s possible that Donald Trump will win at minimum 45% of the popular vote, it’s important both to look in the mirror and to wrestle with the tribal nature of Americans’ voting behavior. I came to this by way of Nate Silver’s attempt to explain the decisive movement in Trump’s direction by the Republican electorate over the last few weeks.
  • In my post about Trump’s emergence as presumptive nominee, I mentioned that the Democratic Party has many advantages in the electoral college. Ed Kilgore explains that if the Democratic nominee carries every state the party has carried since 1992, plus Florida, that’s 271 electoral college votes and it’s all over (270 needed to win). And Florida is looking all kinds of bad for Trump. That’s a Democratic victory WITHOUT Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia, all of which are battleground states President Obama won in at least one of the last two presidential elections.
  • Jonathan Chait wonders how Republicans limit Trump’s damage to their down ballot races and their brand, and comes up empty.
  • There are several reporters and commentators that helped me take Trump seriously earlier than most of American media. Charles Pierce, who writes for Esquire and has been a tireless chronicler of the madness in the Republican Party, is one of those authors and here he is on how Ted Cruz paved the way for his vanquisher.
  • Josh Marshall, another writer I rely on who was in early on Trump being the nominee, has two good ones over at Talking Points Memo about Trump: first, there is no mystery about Trump winning the nomination if you were watching the data this whole time, and second, Trump begins his general election campaign with a blatantly unconstitutional, not to mention economically illiterate, idea about not paying U.S. debts.

Long day of teaching and I still need to make a batch of tomato sauce. We’re having two of our older groups of kids come to the school tomorrow evening for a DIY pizza party. I’ll try to remember to take pictures.

Enjoy the weekend!

Indiana Aftermath: Democratic Party Edition

hillary_rodham_clinton_dnc_2008
It’s unlikely Hillary Clinton gives the runner-up speech at this year’s convention. What is Bernie Sanders looking to do? Qqqqqq at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump has officially secured the Republican Party’s nomination now that John Kasich, last man standing by a day, has suspended his campaign. Weirdly, that means it’s the Democratic Party’s nomination that is still up in the air, with Bernie Sanders claiming he will contest the nomination if Hillary Clinton needs superdelegates to get her over the top. Unfortunately for Clinton, it looks like she will in fact need superdelegates for a majority.

However, this requires some context. Just the word “superdelegates” riles people up and makes rational conversation difficult, so let’s try to clarify the situation before we look into the future. First, I’ve written before that the superdelegate system needs to be abolished and I stand by that. In addition, I explained the superdelegate math. Here’s the relevant passage:

The superdelegate system, which allows 712 Democratic Party insiders to vote for whomever they want at the convention, accounts for 15% of the 4,763 total delegates. Since a candidate needs 2,382 delegates to win an outright majority, superdelegates could provide as much as 30% of the votes needed to push a preferred candidate over the top.

While it’s unlikely that superdelegates are willing to risk breaking the Democratic Party in two in order to get their preferred candidate on the ballot, their votes would be required to form a majority if a candidate finishes with less than 58.8% of elected delegates. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight wrote a great piece about this in February. Flipping things around, there’s 41.2% – that’s the percentage of elected delegates a candidate could win the nomination with if 100% of superdelegates voted for him or her.

Silver reminded us that superdelegates, wary of going against the will of the voters, are likely to see which way the wind is blowing and support the candidate with a majority of elected delegates. This is exactly what happened in 2008, when Clinton again started the nomination process with a large superdelegate lead only to see that shrink and vanish as Obama won more and more elected delegates.

Superdelegates are part of the game and everyone who’s playing wants to win. Sanders supporters were outraged by the superdelegate system before voting began, and as I’ll explain, now the Sanders campaign is banking on superdelegates to save his candidacy. This might reek of hypocrisy, but I don’t remember Clinton and her campaign disavowing the system back when she had huge support from superdelegates before a single commoner had cast a vote. Now, the Clinton campaign is aghast that the Sanders campaign would try to win the nomination through manipulation of superdelegates. So, yeah, plenty of apparent hypocrisy for everyone.

The only fair way to resolve this issue is for both camps to agree that democratic legitimacy depends on winning a majority of pledged delegates. Every state and territory sends pledged delegates for candidates to the convention based proportionally on their primary or caucus results. Therefore, pledged delegate count is a reasonable proxy for the popular will. Superdelegates, in the imperfect world in which they still exist, should basically be honorary convention attendees, at least when it comes to voting on the nomination. Ideally, and as they did in 2008, superdelegates simply ratify the choice of the public.

At the moment, the Sanders campaign does not agree to these ground rules. Why not? Well, the simple answer is that Sanders is losing pledged delegates by a big and nearly insurmountable margin, so if he wants to win the game, he needs the superdelegates to be seen as a legitimate part of it and then he needs them to back him overwhelmingly. The hypocrisy is distasteful, but hey, you play to win the game.

How is the Sanders campaign rationalizing this about-face? There seem to be two key arguments: 1) contests that Sanders wins are worth more when they come in a row or later in the election season, so superdelegates should reflect those different weights, and 2) Sanders matches up better against Trump in general election polling so superdelegates should get behind the candidate with the best chance of winning in November.

The first argument is stupid and delegitimizing of Clinton voters. Before we hear protests that only Sanders fanatics are saying this, no actually, Sanders’s top strategist, Tad Devine, is making this case. If we really want to get into weighing the different contests based on their perceived legitimacy, well, Sanders has racked up pledged delegates in caucuses, the least democratic process for selecting delegates. Caucuses result in abysmal voter turnout and tend to privilege wealthier people with the ability to spend time at a caucus. This is a cake that the Sanders campaign can’t have and eat, too.

Leaving aside the toxicity of the first argument for the moment, the second argument is the one that deserves serious consideration and is why the superdelegate system exists in the first place. No Democrat wants to lose a winnable election, which 2016 most certainly is even if the Republican opponent weren’t Trump. Both Clinton and Sanders beat Trump in head-to-head polls, but Sanders leads by significantly larger margins. The Sanders camp would argue that Clinton has negative favorability ratings and therefore is the riskier candidate. The Clinton camp would argue that Clinton is a known quantity and she still beats Trump, most voters don’t really know who Sanders is and wait til Trump calls him a communist, and anyway general election polls this far out historically don’t correlate very well with November results.

That superdelegates exist to guide the Democratic Party to its most viable nominee is a compelling argument. If we accept it, then we are putting a close contest in the hands of 712 unelected party insiders who are free to assess each candidate’s case and vote according to their conscience. Though it’s self-serving for the Sanders campaign to now embrace this argument, again it’s part of the game. I maintain that superdelegates should simply ratify the will of the majority, and after they do that this year, the Democratic Party should eliminate the superdelegate system.

That brings us to the state of the race after Indiana. If you take my position and agree that the 4,051 pledged delegates should determine the nomination, it looks like this:

  • Hillary Clinton has 1,701 pledged delegates, which is 325 shy of the minimum 2,026 needed for a majority.
  • Bernie Sanders has 1,417, which is 609 shy of the majority threshold.

With 933 pledged delegates still remaining, Clinton needs to win 34.8% to reach a majority and Sanders needs to win 65.2%. Clinton has won 54.6% of pledged delegates awarded so far, while Sanders has won 45.4%.

For the sake of argument, say they maintain the same pace, which is somewhat reasonable since Clinton is expected to do well in California and New Jersey and Sanders is expected to do well in the smaller states such as West Virginia and Oregon. That means Clinton wins 509 more delegates, giving her a total of 2,210, and Sanders wins 424, giving him a total of 1,841. Contest over.

Now, let’s entertain the Sanders campaign contention that the 712 superdelegates should have the final say. A candidate needs 2,382 total delegates for a majority. Clinton would need 172 superdelegates (24%) to put her over the top, while Sanders would need 541 (76%). Are 76% of superdelegates going to find Sanders’s electability argument persuasive? And this isn’t a vacuum; remember, many Democratic Party members are wary of Sanders’s tenuous links with the Party, both rhetorically and financially.

Like in Michigan before, Sanders just pulled off a surprising victory in Indiana. Maybe more surprising victories await, but it’s hard to see him winning substantial majorities in California and New Jersey, which look and behave a lot more like New York where Clinton won big, than they do Washington state, where Sanders won big.

The takeaway? Superdelegates are not going to entertain Sanders’s electability argument unless he wins a majority of pledged delegates. Many are already ambivalent towards him. Also, there’s the precedent of 2008 when superdelegates supported Clinton by a wide margin but many switched to Barack Obama when it became clear he would win the majority of pledged delegates. That contest was even closer than this one and the candidate behind was the one many of the superdelegates preferred, yet they still refused to put her over the top. No way they do that for Sanders. If his campaign wants to win, it’s going to have to do something it hasn’t managed to do yet, which is carry large diverse states with more than 65% of the vote.

This makes one wonder what exactly Sanders is after, and calls back to mind the first argument we identified that his campaign is using to woo superdelegates. Sanders wants to win, of course, and I respect that and am genuinely happy about the good influence he’s already had on Clinton’s campaign. But what exactly does he gain by suggesting that primary votes in the South don’t really count because they happened early and those states never go for the Democrat, when he’s relying on states like Idaho and Kansas that held contests over a month ago and never vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate either? Or what good does it do when his strategist says that contests count more when a candidate wins a lot of them in a row or they come later in the process, like Clinton didn’t just win five out of six primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast?

Do Sanders and his campaign staff actually believe this stuff? Are they just undisciplined? Or are they actually trying to tear the Democratic Party apart? These aren’t rhetorical questions.

 

The Trumptanic Sails at Dawn

Fortunately, we have a rich cultural vocabulary we can use to discuss the 2016 Republican nomination contest. Back in January, I wondered if the Republican “establishment” – whatever that means anymore – would be able to chase down their Frankenstein’s monster. With Ted Cruz dropping out after getting clobbered in Indiana yesterday and Donald Trump’s victory now inevitable, we’re at the “Iceberg right ahead!” stage of the process. They can turn the ship’s wheel as hard as they want and shut down the engines, but it’s too late – the iceberg is right there, and there’s no avoiding it now.

Donald Trump is a disaster for the Republican Party, and frankly, it’s been a long time coming. As Josh Marshall explains, the Republican Party has been building up a mountain of “nonsense debt” and “hate debt” for decades and Trump is that debt come due. Having built a movement around obvious claptrap such as the working classes pay no taxes, African Americans just want free stuff, Obamacare is setting up death panels in order to kill useless grandmas, Obamacare is making us give sluts free birth control, the IRS is targeting conservative groups, legalizing gay marriage means conservatives have to preside over gay marriages, Democrats are coming for our guns, immigration is destroying the country, and so on, no wonder a misogynist, racist know-nothing has emerged as the democratically elected leader of that movement.

Staff at FiveThirtyEight did a preliminary autopsy of the #NeverTrump movement and find that in retrospect, there just weren’t many good options for derailing a front-running Trump. Marco Rubio seemed like a plausible candidate the establishment could rally around, but then Chris Christie made a fool of him in New Hampshire and Rubio couldn’t even carry his home state of Florida. Nobody ever knew or cared who John Kasich was. Jeb Bush had all the money in the world but was the brother of a man who belongs on Mount Failmore. A total of 17 candidates ran for the nomination, representative of a supposedly deep Republican bench, but none of them knew how to play the game Trump was playing. Ted Cruz won in Wisconsin, giving hope to NeverTrumpers, only to find that increased publicity meant most Republican voters came to the same conclusion as former Speaker John Boehner: Cruz is “Lucifer in the flesh.”

So, what does Trump’s victory mean for the general election? In the modern U.S., with its polarized electorate overwhelmingly attached to one or the other of two ideologically coherent parties, we can’t count Trump out completely. Most Republicans, establishment-types and the base, are likely to stand by Trump or at least not bash him, and vote for him in November. Last August, when I first predicted that Trump would win the nomination, I wrote that Trump would have a 30 to 40% chance of winning the general election. At the moment the betting markets put his chances at the low end of that range. This isn’t tooting my own horn as much as it is to say that Trump, though a historically weak nominee, can still win. (Okay, it’s a little bit of tooting my own horn.)

Much more likely than a Trump general election victory is the Trumptanic scenario. The Democratic Party has many advantages heading into the 2016 general election irrespective of the identity of the Republican opponent. Now we know the Democrat (still overwhelmingly likely to be Hillary Clinton) will face Trump, who enjoys unheard of disapproval ratings from women and minority groups. Female voters tend to make up a significant majority of general election voters. If that holds and Democrats can get minority groups out to vote – basically, recreate the Obama coalition – we’ll be looking at a landslide in which Democrats hold the presidency and take back the Senate.

To quote Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack, “This is bad.”

And with that, here’s the Bob Dylan song that inspired the title to this post: