Friday, May 6, 2016

So, Trump

Given the reaction of the MSM you would be forgiven to believe that Trump’s final completion of his takeover of the Republican party was a portent akin to the breaking of the seventh seal, predicted in St. John’s Apocalypse, that would supposedly mark the end of times and the collapse of civilization (probably those abusing apocalyptical metaphors don’t want to take them to their logical conclusion, as after such collapse it would come a time of blessing for the chosen ones, and no such respite seems to await at the aftermath of whatever Trumpism ends up bringing to the body politics).

Having dabbled in Trumpology myself even before the primaries actually started (here: Making sense of Trump (not) and here: Is Trump the next president of the US of A? ) it’s as good a time as any other to revisit my predictions back then and see how they have fared (as every self respecting pundit is doing, see for example Nate Cohn in the NYT: Man, was I wrong! and his namesake, the guru of polling gurus Nate Silver in his own Five Thirty Eight site: No, no, I was much wronger! ). Well, I’m quite proud of my forecasting prowess, as already in November I gave Trump more chances than not of winning the nomination (back when both Nates were telling us how the polls at that stages were a mirage, and he was a flash-in-the-pan in the tradition of so may Republican firebrands that seem to capture the imagination of the electorate early in the primary process only to peter out once the voters have a chance to get a good look at them), and I already predicted that two months after Iowa it would be a three man race between Trump (the eventual winner), Cruz (the well organized and resilient, although hated by everybody left of David Duke –and by DD himself, that had declared his preference for Trump, in a much embarrassing episode) and Rubio. OK, so I was wrong about Rubio’s prospects, and didn’t realize how delusional Kasich would turn out to be (it is interesting to note that both of them have ended with practically the same number of delegates). I think my basic hunch about Rubio (he is small and young and, above all else, Hispanic, which doesn’t bode well when you try to appeal to a voting bloc made predominantly of angry old white people whose main cause of discontent is how their privileges are being slowly eroded by the “browning” of the country as a whole) was right, but I overestimated how much mileage he would be able to extract from the famed “establishment” preference, and from being to the donor class and the “think tankarians” that pass for the intellectual class of the GOP the only palatable option (trouble is, he was definitely unpalatable, again I think mainly for racial reasons, to the ones actually casting the votes, that in this season were not much in the mood of letting the party decide).

So I can gloat a bit and parade around exhibiting my prognosticating skills, but of course in this line of work you can not rest in your laurels for too long, as having got it right once the pressure immediately starts to mount to make additional predictions and see how they hold. In the second of my own posts that linked above I mentioned that once the Republican nomination was in his hand, I saw very little chances of Trump winning in the general election (against my forecast of Democratic nominee, which was, and still is, Hillary Clinton), which I quantified (quit generously) at a paltry 5%. So how has my perception of Trump evolved? Do I still think he will be trounced by Hill come November? I do, but not for the reasons people normally imagine. Let’s state some widely acknowledged facts before we revisit the predictions:

·         Trump has “alienated” some key sectors of the general electorate, namely Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, homosexuals and Women. Actually if you count the percentage of each group within the voting age population liberal journalist consider he has slighted, insulted, offended and otherwise antagonized (something like 17%, 14%, 6%, 10% and 50%) you come to a grand total of 96%, and for the remaining 4% he will have to fight tooth and nail with Hil… I hope you noticed I’ve used that time tested legerdemain of doubly counting all the minorities (as part of the women are Hispanic, other part are Asian, etc., so it is not valid to just add them up). At least I’ve noticed and pointed to it, something Jamelle Bouie is failing to do in this overoptimistic piece in Slate: The guy I said would under no circumstance be the nominee now is under no circumstance going to be president... . Expect many more double counting, mainly from progressives trying to assuage themselves that a Trump presidency is absolutely not coming to pass

·         Trump is the political figure that has entered the race with a highest unfavorable rating in all US recorded history (How disliked are Clinton and Trump? ) with an average of 53% of the nation having a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of him (not compensated at all by the amazing 10% or so that have a “highly favorable” impression). But do you know who the second highest unfavorably viewed politician entering a national campaign would be? None other than Hillary Clinton, of whom a whooping 38% holds a strongly unfavorable opinion (at least she does not beat David Duke, the guy who held the record before Trump, although the former KKK Grand Dragon never could enter a national campaign as in his time main political parties wouldn’t even consider appointing as their nominee such fringe figures):

·         After an unusual amount of vitriol from supposed bulwarks of republicanism as the National Review and the Weekly Standard there is a non negligible amount of republicans that, having declared a Trump candidacy absolutely incompatible with their (supposedly high) standards of decency, morality, high-mindedness and taste, will not vote for him (most have not declared, at this early point, what they intend to do, but the timeframe for registering a third party candidacy is running short, and given the organizational prowess such luminaries have shown so far it would be a most amazing feat if they managed to put somebody in the ballot at all, even in a fraction of the states). It is difficult to seize how many people will follow the advice of such influential opinion-makers, but if the primary process is any guide such opposition may cost Trump one hundred, at most a few thousands, votes. On the other hand, according to the comment section of any political article appeared in the NYT in the last six months, there are about three or four million of (mostly young) very enthusiastic voters that have pledged allegiance to Bernie Sanders to such an extent that the prospect of voting for anybody else seems unbearable to them (the famous #BernieorBust). It remains to be seen if, with the increasingly likely prospect of a Trump victory as the polls get closer and closer, such idealistic and suddenly collectivist voters would indeed sit this one out

So where does all this leave us? Difficult to say. I do think Trump is more clever and less of a buffoon than the MSM gives him credit for. Still, he is still quite the buffoon, which in the American electoral system may not be such a bad thing. I think the breakdown of the electorate in massive racial blocs is ill-considered and tends to misrepresent how voters will react (grouping them as “women” or “latino” or “white males with a high school degree” is not more informative than saying they are “brown eyed” or “have five fingers per hand” or “have a BMI between 20 and 30%”), and furthermore I think Trump does have the potential to make significant inroads both within the Black and Latino population (and probably have already a higher acceptance between women than the polls give him credit for). Not enough to convince a majority of them, but to get to margins similar, or even better, than the ones achieved by Romney in ’12. And I do think Hillary is going to be penalized by her perceived coziness with the plutocrats and the 1% (those Goldman Sachs conferences!) especially between educated whites and women, more pointedly between the younger ones that for some reason seem less thrilled than their forebears by the prospect of the first woman to reach the US presidency. So its much of a tossup that some analysts would have you believe (like this one in the Newspaper of Record: Don't panic! Trump doesn't stand a chance (yet) ). Will those desertions be enough to tilt the demographic disadvantage given to democrats by the structure of the Electoral College (that today assigns almost 300 electoral votes to the dems for only 150 to the repubs)? Difficult to say. At the end of the day, I still think this is Hillary’s election to loose, but I’m much, much less bullish on her than I was in November last year. If I had to put a figure, I would say she stands at 55% chances of winning, versus 45% for the Donald (back then I saw her chances as 95% vs a mere 5% for Trump).

What I can say for sure is that it is going to be a heck of a race to watch, and that come what may the world is not gonna end the day after the election, or the fortunes of the declining superpower substantially change. Having “bad emperors” is the fate of every dwindling empire, and the USA has avoided them for a long enough stretch of their history. Furthermore, they are a symptom, not a cause of their current decadence. What this whole episode reminds us is that, as I decried in a previous post Democracy is dead, and the task of any serious thinker is to analyze why the voters seem incapable (distinctively incapable, less capable than in any previous decade, which includes decades that saw the more or less generalized acquiescence of luminaries as Charles II in Spain, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy, and a long, long list of mediocrities, demagogues, psychopaths and the like that during our history have occupied positions of responsibility and brought great catastrophes upon the groups that appointed them to such positions). But as usually, that is a task for another post.

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