In an effort to fill a 24 hour news cycle while equipped with only 20 minutes of newsworthy content, cable news has veered into some pretty dodgy territory in this election cycle. We are not facing a very interesting or competitive election season. The only real story here is the utter implosion of one of our major political parties.
Here are a few of the popular myths that keep people watching the news for updates.
Hillary Clinton is a weak candidate
Sec. Clinton is an electoral juggernaut. In our modern history no non-incumbent has gone into a general election with a more powerful combination of built-in demographic advantage, savvy, popularity, money, personal political acumen, and overwhelming organization. It is beginning to look like she’d be capable of defeating a solid Republican candidate. And we aren’t going to get a solid candidate.
Trump can win by appealing to Reagan Democrats
There are no Reagan Democrats. Blue collar Northern whites have been voting for Republicans in Presidential elections for at least twenty years. There are none left to recruit. Republicans hit their high-water mark in the Rust Belt in 2004. Pennsylvania and Michigan are gone forever at the federal level. It may take a miracle or a complete party realignment to ever win Ohio again.
The last slender slice of white Democrats vulnerable to racist appeals switched parties when Obama won the Democratic nomination. Here’s a fine map from Vox that shows their final departure. The well is dry.
Trump is attracting new voters or the related; Trump will win by increasing white voter turnout
First of all, the idea that Trump is drawing Democratic voters to the GOP is often presented and never substantiated. An occasional man on the street interview includes a fairly unconvincing self-described lifelong Democrat who likes the Donald, but no one ever follows up to confirm this. Trump’s supporters can be capably summarized as a bloc of Tea Party Republicans who are more motivated by racism than by religious fundamentalism. As an alleged mass phenomenon, the Trump Democrat is a unicorn.
Even if Trump were bringing in new voters, no new voter comes without a price. There is a problem with attracting racists. There aren’t enough of them. Winning one of them causes you to hemorrhage votes elsewhere.
In proportional terms, roughly a third of that net vote you won from persuading Billy Bob McGunrack to show up at the polls this year disappears in increased voter turnout and hostility from Hispanic and Asian voters. Another vote and a half disappears from otherwise disengaged whites horrified by the rhetoric you used to win that vote.
Then you lose roughly another quarter of a vote from younger voters who might have ignored the election altogether if the rhetoric weren’t so toxic. That’s why Republicans have been using dogwhistle tactics for thirty years instead of outright appeals to racism. Be careful which votes you decide to pursue.
BUT THE EMAILS!!! SHE’S A CRIMINAL!!!!
Try this exercise. Name a major political figure that has been examined, subpoenaed, interrogated, investigated, and scrutinized in public and in private for thirty years. Find a politician who has had every one of her communications as a government official disclosed and examined in detail both by law enforcement and by deeply hostile political opponents.
For all of that scrutiny, no one has ever found ANYTHING worthy of so much as a reprimand. Now, while a court decides what to do with Denny Hastert, tell me again about Clinton’s scandals.
The left will desert Clinton
That may be the most amusing myth of this election cycle. They said the same thing about Obama in 2012. How many hardcore Sandernistas are going to throw away their vote in an effort to experience life under Trump or Cruz? Not enough, especially when you consider that Sanders’ support is deepest in states that are not on the competitive map.
Republicans just need to better communicate our message
Right now, our central message is that wealthy white people deserve everything they have and the less wealthy (you know, those “urban” voters) just need to stop complaining and work harder. America would be more successful if government got out of the way, taxed rich people less, and left the unfortunate to fend for themselves. On top of that message is something something gays abortion bathrooms ISIS yada yada yada.
Other than removing the yada yada yada (which only obscures nastier, less appealing rhetoric) describe for me how you restate that message to make it more attractive? The more people understand the Republican message as currently defined, the more they hate us.
The party of Hamilton, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, the party of American capitalism and commerce has become, as Bobby Jindal once explained, the stupid party. We don’t need a new message. We need a brain.
But we control all those state legislatures!
For a little longer yes. So what? We have solidified control across the least populated, least wealthy, least culturally influential patches of the map. That totals a large number of states and a small number of voters, a formula for national irrelevance. And even within those red states a generation of young voters is emerging who are utterly, comprehensively hostile to the party’s message. So, yes. Republicans control every branch of government in Tennessee and Arizona. Congratulations on that achievement. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Kasich or Sanders would be more competitive than the current frontrunners
This myth is interesting for what it says about the nature of political polling in this atmosphere. To be clear, no Republican would be competitive against Clinton in the fall, but Republicans could have a shot against Sanders. Polls today do not show this, unless you look at the right polls.
For a glimpse at what’s happening here, look at a chart of Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings dating back to the nineties. Until she announced her run, she was one of the most popular political figures in the country. Here’s the reality – she still is.
Want evidence of this? Go back and look at national favorability ratings for Sanders and Kasich stretching back to the nineties. See my point?
Why has Clinton’s favorability rating dropped by half since she was Secretary of State? Because now she’s a leading candidate for national office. That’s it. That’s the only thing that has changed. Being a leading candidate in this climate is a drag on overall popularity. No one else in this race on either side has a deeper, larger, more committed base of political support. No candidate in modern times has started a campaign with more built-in strength.
Here’s another reality – whoever wins in 2016 will have a “favorability rating” below 50%. That’s just the nature of politics right now.
A well-known leading candidate will earn the near-unanimous hostility of opposing partisans, roughly 40% of the population. They will also have tepid support from a big chunk of voters who only support them out of a greater loathing for their opponent. And in the course of rising to dominance they will have frustrated the hopes of maybe 20-30% of their own partisans who really wanted another candidate. Any successful candidate will be operating in a favorability range between about 35-45% (Trump, by the way, barely breaks 30%). If Sanders was ever perceived as a frontrunner, his approval ratings would eventually converge with Trump’s.
Guys like Kasich and Sanders don’t earn a lot of hostility because few people know them and, since they aren’t going to be the nominee, no one feels threatened by them. Polls of potential General Election matchups fail to reflect anything approaching the real outcome until after Labor Day. People like novelty until it stops being a novelty and starts being something real that might actually happen.
Sanders and Kasich poll pretty well in a theoretical fall matchup. So would Peyton Manning or Kelly Ripa…unless they were actually running and it was time to start making a decision.
This is a particularly crazy year in national politics. Most of our usual landmarks have stopped making sense. Getting a handle on events will require asking a lot more “why” questions than usual.