Jonathan Chait and the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis

I’ve tried to avoid replaying the issues of the election, but it interested me that Jonathan Chait, possibly unwittingly, recently endorsed the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis. Chait wrote,

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

Chait gets things wrong sometime. He may be wrong this time. But he might not be wrong. We’ll see.

The Sarandon Hypothesis is from 2016. I confess I didn’t pay much attention to Sarandon, but as I understand it, she argued that it might be better in the long run if Trump beat Clinton, because Trump would be such an awful president he would destroy the Right and bring on the progressive revolution. A Clinton presidency, on the other hand, would have simply continued the slow death of progressivism in the U.S.

Trump is proving to be such a disaster there might not be anything left of the United States to salvage. But so far, his administration has not helped the Republican Party one bit.

For as unpopular as the president has become, Trump’s own party has been hit even harder when it comes to poll results. Republican support has dropped significantly over the past few weeks, with Americans now disapproving of Republicans 70 percent to 21 percent — a 14 point negative swing from two weeks ago.

The HuffPost aggregator has the Republican Party at 37 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable. Democrats aren’t doing much better, however. They’re at favorable 40 percent, unfavorable 50 percent. But you know who’s even less popular? Congress.

So we’re a long way away from seeing whether the Sarandon Hypothesis holds water. The strongest factor working against it, IMO, is the Democratic Party, which still seems reluctant to own up to what it got wrong last year. But we’ll see.

Racism Is No Excuse

Let’s not overstate the racism factor. While there is much wailing about those awful racists who voted for Trump, a closer look at the numbers suggest that the real story of this election was the people who didn’t vote for Trump … or Clinton, or anybody else.

Carl Beijer, who writes for leftie publications, argues that this wasn’t so much the bigot election as the apathy election.

From 2012 to 2016, both men and women went from caring about the outcome to not caring. Among Democratic men and women, as well as Republican women, care levels dropped about 3-4 points; Republican men cared a little less too, but only by one point. Across the board, in any case, the plurality of voters simply didn’t care.

White voters cared even less in 2016 then in 2012, when they also didn’t care; most of that apathy came from white Republicans compared to white Democrats, who dropped off a little less. Voters of color, in contrast, continued to care – but their care levels dropped even more, by 8 points (compared to the 6 point drop-off among white voters). Incredibly, that drop was driven entirely by a 9 point drop among Democratic voters of color which left Democrats with only slim majority 51% support; Republicans, meanwhile, actually gained support among people of color. …

… The major trend in 2016 was one of increasingly apathy. Within that broader trend, the demographic patterns are muddy. Deviations in relatively support from group to group don’t map well onto the standard media narratives that dominated this election; for example, apathy grew more among women and voters of color than among men and white voters. Among the candidates, Clinton either broke even or lost support among every single demographic group, while Trump won support among voters of color and boomers.

See Carl B’s blog for more data.

I’ve read that, particularly in the Rust Belt states, if the same numbers of people who came out for Obama in 2012 had voted for Clinton in 2016, she would have won those states, even though Trump did better than Romney did in those rust bucket states. For example, this anecdote is from Wisconsin:

Urban areas, where black and Hispanic voters are concentrated along with college-educated voters, already leaned toward the Democrats, but Clinton did not get the turnout from these groups that she needed. For instance, black voters did not show up in the same numbers they did for Barack Obama, the first black president, in 2008 and 2012.

Considering how razor-thin the margin of victory was in Wisconsin and elsewhere — there’s your loss.

It also appears that some people who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016. So were they not racist in 2012?

Was the loss this year a “whitelash” against the Obama Administration? If so,why didn’t that cost President Obama the election in 2012? I can believe that some bigots are more worked up now than they were in 2012, considering that Trump and his followers have been stoking the fires. But if Democratic voters, including nonwhite ones, had voted as usual, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

During the primaries we were way oversold on Hillary Clinton’s alleged support among African American voters. She clobbered Sanders in the early southern primaries because huge majorities of black voters chose her, and that gave her a lead that he could never catch.  Clinton supporters even held this up as proof that Bernie Sanders is racist, which was absurd, and not that Democratic voters in the South just plain didn’t know who he was. As I wrote several times during the primaries, as time went on he won larger and larger percentages of black voters, and he had the support of a majority of black millennial voters.

But Beijer wrote back in June that people were misreading this.

Hillary Clinton has won an overwhelming majority of black voters who have participated in the Democratic primaries: the Wall Street Journal places her share at 75.9 percent, and my math puts it at 77.9 percent. This is certainly a better showing than we’ve seen seen from Bernie Sanders, who has won support from about a quarter of black voters.

But on this basis, Clinton’s partisans have routinely concluded that their candidate has won some kind of democratic mandate from black Americans. While this is true in the trivial sense — she has won votes from a majority of those who actually voted — this framing overlooks the overwhelming majority of voting-age black Americans who either voted against Clinton or declined to vote at all. In fact, based on an analysis of exit polls, turnout numbers, and census data, an extraordinary 87.9 percent of voting-age black Americans have not voted for Clinton.

The news stories revealing that the Clintons were worried about African American voters began to turn up in September.

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in panic mode. Full panic mode,” said Leslie Wimes, a South Florida-based president of the Democratic African-American Women Caucus.

“They have a big problem because they thought Obama and Michelle saying, ‘Hey, go vote for Hillary’ would do it. But it’s not enough,” Wimes said, explaining that too much of the black vote in Florida is anti-Trump, rather than pro-Clinton. “In the end, we don’t vote against somebody. We vote for somebody.”

This article is from November 1.

African-Americans are failing to vote at the robust levels they did four years ago in several states that could help decide the presidential election, creating a vexing problem for Hillary Clinton as she clings to a deteriorating lead over Donald J. Trump with Election Day just a week away.

As tens of millions of Americans cast ballots in what will be the largest-ever mobilization of early voters in a presidential election, the numbers have started to point toward a slump that many Democrats feared might materialize without the nation’s first black president on the ticket.

The reasons for the decline appear to be both political and logistical, with lower voter enthusiasm and newly enacted impediments to voting at play. In North Carolina, where a federal appeals court accused Republicans of an “almost surgical” assault on black turnout and Republican-run election boards curtailed early-voting sites, black turnout is down 16 percent. White turnout, however, is up 15 percent. Democrats are planning an aggressive final push, including a visit by President Obama to the state on Wednesday.

But in Florida, which extended early voting after long lines left some voters waiting for hours in 2012, African-Americans’ share of the electorate that has gone to the polls in person so far has decreased, to 15 percent today from 25 percent four years ago.

Voter suppression was a factor in some states that Clinton lost, but not in all of them.  See Voter suppression didn’t cost Hillary Clinton the election at Vox.

Here’s another analysis:

Of the nearly 700 counties that twice sent Obama to the White House, a stunning one-third flipped to support Trump.

Trump also won 194 of the 207 counties that voted for Obama either in 2008 or 2012.

By contrast, of those 2,200 counties that never supported Obama, Clinton was only able to win six. That’s just 0.3 percent crossover to the Democratic side.

Again, if we were to claim that racism cost Clinton the election, we’d have to conclude that people who were not racist in 2008 and 2012 had become so in 2016. Or, maybe, Clinton lost because not enough voters were enthusiastic enough about her to go to the polls and vote for her. Take your pick.

It’s true that a lot of outspoken white supremacists supported Trump. But I’m writing this because I’m seeing way too many people say that we can’t win over those racist voters who elected Trump, so we’re doomed. It isn’t that simple.

Blame Where Blame Is Due

I began this post with an anecdote about a restaurant manager who sat in a booth studying spreadsheets while the restaurant was in chaos and failing to get food on the tables. This article from the Washington Post made me think of it again. Apparently the Clinton campaign was being run by a computer algorithm named Ada.

According to aides, a raft of polling numbers, public and private, were fed into the algorithm, as well as ground-level voter data meticulously collected by the campaign. Once early voting began, those numbers were factored in, too.

What Ada did, based on all that data, aides said, was run 400,000 simulations a day of what the race against Trump might look like. A report that was spit out would give campaign manager Robby Mook and others a detailed picture of which battleground states were most likely to tip the race in one direction or another — and guide decisions about where to spend time and deploy resources.

The use of analytics by campaigns was hardly unprecedented. But Clinton aides were convinced their work, which was far more sophisticated than anything employed by President Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, gave them a big strategic advantage over Trump.

So where did Ada go wrong?

About some things, she was apparently right. Aides say Pennsylvania was pegged as an extremely important state early on, which explains why Clinton was such a frequent visitor and chose to hold her penultimate rally in Philadelphia on Monday night.

But it appears that the importance of other states Clinton would lose — including Michigan and Wisconsin — never became fully apparent or that it was too late once it did. …

… Like much of the political establishment Ada appeared to underestimate the power of rural voters in Rust Belt states.

There are Democrats in Michigan, right? Did the Clinton campaign not speak to actual human beings outside the Beltway?


I’ve spent the past four days pouring my thoughts into this blog, and while I have more to say I need to get some air, so to speak. So for today, here are links to the best analyses of the debacle I’ve seen so far. I may add to these as I see more. In no particular order:

Frank Bruni, The Democrats Screwed Up

Thomas Edsall, The Democratic Coalition’s Epic Fail. See also this Edsall column from August, Is Trump Wrecking Both Parties?

Dan Roberts, My Journeys in Trumpland

Matt Taibbi, President Trump: How America Got It So Wrong



How Democrats Gambled Everything, and Lost

This happened yesterday:

Donna Brazile, the interim leader of the Democratic National Committee, was giving what one attendee described as “a rip-roaring speech” to about 150 employees, about the need to have hope for wins going forward, when a staffer identified only as Zach stood up with a question.

“Why should we trust you as chair to lead us through this?” he asked, according to two people in the room. “You backed a flawed candidate, and your friend [former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz] plotted through this to support your own gain and yourself.”

Some DNC staffers started to boo and some told him to sit down. Brazile began to answer, but Zach had more to say.

“You are part of the problem,” he continued, blaming Brazile for clearing the path for Trump’s victory by siding with Clinton early on. “You and your friends will die of old age and I’m going to die from climate change. You and your friends let this happen, which is going to cut 40 years off my life expectancy.”

Zach gathered his things and began to walk out. When Brazile called after him, asking where he was going, he told her to go outside and “tell people there” why she should be leading the party.

Well, she won’t be leading the party for long, but Zach’s anger is justified. Brazile and people like her were handed a set of circumstances that should have meant a decent year for Democrats, and they royally screwed the pooch.

The loss of the general election — not just the White House, but a potential Senate majority and a lot of crucial state offices as well — could have been prevented, I believe. But all was lost because the Democratic Party apparently was following an elaborate game plan that actually worked. It worked in the sense that all the pieces fell into place; everything that was supposed to happen did happen, just as anticipated.

Until election day.

I think it’s important to understand The Plan, because I sincerely believe that it shows us that the current leadership of the Democratic Party — and not just Donna Brazile — must step aside before another election takes place.

Step One: Put The Plan into place (March 2015)

The game plan apparently was worked out by the spring of 2015, well over a year ago. And this is something I wrote about a lot during the primaries (such as here). By March 2015 Hillary Clinton had won the “invisible primary” and had been chosen by Democratic Party insiders to be the nominee. I’m sure of this date because there were commentaries dated March 2015 declaring this had happened.

See, for example, Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg News:

Clinton has (apparently) won the nomination fair and square, through hard work and political talent. That is why she has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.

So all those perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race. Had Clinton chosen not to run, plenty of the others would have jumped in, and the field would have been comparable to what the Republicans have put together.

See also Ezra Klein at Vox:

Bernstein’s argument is related to the “invisible primary” theory of presidential elections. Hillary Clinton, he says, “has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.” The result is that the Democratic Party’s “perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race.”

Perhaps a slightly clearer way to put it is this: in the invisible primary, when the contest is as much a draft as it is a campaign, Clinton is “opposed” by essentially every Democrat fit for the presidency. If the party’s powerbrokers didn’t want to support Clinton and instead really wanted Sen. Michael Bennet to run, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the field, they would be working toward that outcome. Instead, they’re lining up behind Clinton. In this telling, Clinton isn’t winning by default. She’s winning by winning. The absence of competition is the product of Clinton’s strong, successful campaign to win over Democratic Party elites.

Again, both of the above articles were published in March 2015, and these are both respectable sources. So we’ve established that Democratic Party elites were determined to make Hillary Clinton the nominee several months before the primaries started.

How much other Democrats were actively discouraged from running I cannot say, but I assume that was part of The Plan, too. The only other arguably “establishment” Dem who entered the primaries was Martin O’Malley. And this ought to have struck people as odd, because it was an open seat, and it was already certain that the GOP would run a selection of whackjobs and clowns. It must have looked like a winnable election to a lot of people.

Yet other establishment Democrats sat it out. The field was cleared for Clinton. Why that happened is explained in Step Two.

Step Two: Set up the Hillary Victory Fund.

I know people got tired of me going on about the Hillary Victory Fund during the primaries, but there was something about it that just didn’t pass the smell test. Among other things, I complained that the HVF allegedly was raising money for down-ticket candidates, yet the money was all going to the Clinton campaign.

It appears that for the general election the HVF actually did generate a lot of money for the down-ticket candidates, although I haven’t seen a breakdown of actual numbers. Clinton beat Trump in fundraising by a large margin, and I read a few days ago that she was sending money to other candidates. The HVF should have been a brilliant plan to out-raise Republicans and achieve a substantial number of congressional and state election victories.

To recap, the Hillary Victory Fund was a joint fundraising effort set up with the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic parties of 33 states.  It’s essentially a PAC. Individual donors could give up to $356,100 per year, and since this was set up in 2015 some gave this maximum for two years, for a total of $712,200. The Hillary Victory Fund was a huge cash cow. Part of the deal is that by passing money through state parties, Clinton could take a portion of PAC money and use it as individual donations, meaning no strings attached.

And it was great for the DNC, also, which was in debt in 2014 and falling way behind the RNC in fund raising. Thanks to the HVF, money flowed into the DNC.

There was nothing illegal about the HVF, as far as I know, but it would have been illegal for earlier campaigns. The McCutcheon v. FEC decision in 2014 changed previous election rules and made the HVF plan possible.

So what was the problem?

The Clinton campaign began courting state parties to join the HVF in August 2015, at the Democratic National Committee summer meeting. Note that this was before the primaries had started. In effect, the HVF tied the fortunes of 33 state Democratic parties and the DNC itself to the Clinton campaign, before she was officially the nominee. If Clinton had lost the nomination, the money spigot would have been cut off, too.

This gave the DNC (not to mention 33 states) a powerful incentive to favor Clinton for the nomination. Past Democratic presidential election campaigns had also formed joint fund-raising committees, but not until after the nomination had been secured.

And, one suspects, the Hillary Victory Fund plan was part of the reason Democratic Party elites green-lighted her nomination back in March 2015, although that’s a piece of the puzzle I cannot document. It all must have seemed a sweet, brilliant plan. Clinton could use her chops for fund-raising among the well-heeled and flood the entire Democratic Party with lots and lots of campaign cash. And it appears she succeeded. Whatever other problems they may have had, the Democrats were not handicapped by being strapped for money this time

However, the significant point here is that Hillary Clinton bought the DNC. She owned it. The DNC depended on her for income. This all but cemented her position as the party nominee.

So, parts one and two of The Plan made sure that Hillary Clinton would be at the top of the ticket, and this was decided before the primaries began. No fair competition was allowed. The fact that a huge part of the Democratic/progressive base made it clear they wanted someone else was dismissed by the DNC as a mere problem to manage. It didn’t signal to them that maybe Hillary Clinton wasn’t the best choice.

Step Three: Hillary Clinton Wins the Nomination

Let me be clear that I am not going to argue that Hillary Clinton stole votes from Bernie Sanders or actively “rigged” the primary election. I have no proof of that, and I’m not going to go there.

But there’s no question the primary fight was slanted in Hillary Clinton’s favor. In July Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wrote about Wikileaks:

As is sadly the case with most political stories these days, whether or not you care about the so-called “DNC leak” probably depends on which candidate you supported in the primaries.

If you supported Hillary Clinton, it probably won’t bother you that the Democratic National Committee is revealed in these documents to have essentially acted as an arm of the Clinton campaign during the contested primary season.

Most people guessed at this anyway. But it wasn’t until these documents were dumped last week under mysterious circumstances that the extent to which the party both advocated for Hillary and against her opponent Bernie Sanders was made plain.

And the critical factor in Taibbi’s piece was the Hillary Victory Fund. Eventually reports came out that there was something fishy going on, and the Sanders campaign complained. Taibbi continued:

By evening that day, news outlets were describing this not as an expose about the DNC and Clinton, but as an inside-baseball fight between the Sanders and Clinton camps.

“Clinton and Sanders spar over joint fundraising efforts,” wrote one CNN headline.

That CNN story even added language that “a Clinton campaign aide refuted some of Politico’s report Monday.” This was despite the fact that the “refuting” amounted to a promise that more money would reach the state parties in upcoming months.

What does it all mean? If you’re a Clinton fan, probably nothing.

To anyone else, it shows that the primary season was very far from a fair fight. The Sanders camp was forced to fund all of its own operations, while the Clinton campaign could essentially use the entire Democratic Party structure as adjunct staff. The DNC not only wasn’t neutral, but helped with oppo research against Sanders and media crisis management.

DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as a result of this mess, which exposed to Sanders voters the extent to which they were viewed organizationally as annoyances to be managed.

So it was, for example, that even Sanders’s invitation to speak to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on an ethical global economy was used against him; the Clintons and DNC turned it into an opportunity to ridicule Sanders because he only briefly met with the Pope (which was never the purpose of the trip), and media mostly went along. Karl Rove himself couldn’t have “managed” that one any better. I believe that may have hurt Sanders in the New York primary, which was a critical one for him to win. And he didn’t.

Do read the entire Taibbi post; he put the pieces together better than anyone else that I saw.

I know there were stories claiming that Clinton was using the HVF to buy superdelegates, but I don’t know that’s exactly true, and anyway that isn’t the big picture. The big picture is that anyone in the upper echelon of the Democratic Party (which would have included the superdelegates) were bound to go along with The Plan, because they all benefited from it directly or indirectly. The entire Democratic Party benefited from it, in theory, except for the poor schmucks who ran against Clinton in the primaries, and who were never given a fair chance to present their case to the American people.

I know Liz Warren caught a lot of grief for not endorsing Sanders and for campaigning for Hillary Clinton, but she was doing it for the Team, And this tells me why Rachel Maddow sold out and enabled a cover-up of HVF activities last May. She was doing it for the Team.

If you understand that the success of the entire Democratic Party (as they saw it) was tied to Hillary Clinton being the nominee, all of that makes sense.

Part Four: Promote Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.

It struck me as extremely weird that Clintonites were evoking the horrible spectre of President Donald Trump long before he actually won the nomination. For example, this widely circulated article from March dismisses Sanders supporters as privileged white people who wouldn’t be hurt by a Trump Administration, and if they weren’t so selfish they’d get behind Clinton, who of course was the only candidate running who might beat Trump. All of the Clinton television ads I saw leading up to the New York primary also promoted Clinton as the only reliable firewall between The People and President Trump.

How’s that one workin’ out for ya, New York?

The Wikileaks emails tell us that the candidate that worried the Clintons most was Marco Rubio. They weren’t worried about The Donald. And part of their strategy was to manipulate media to promote the worst Republican candidates. This is a variation of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s successful Todd Akin strategy that helped her defend her Senate seat in 2012.

So here was the Clinton plan:

An email recently released by the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks shows how the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party bear direct responsibility for propelling the bigoted billionaire to the White House.

In its self-described “pied piper” strategy, the Clinton campaign proposed intentionally cultivating extreme right-wing presidential candidates, hoping to turn them into the new “mainstream of the Republican Party” in order to try to increase Clinton’s chances of winning.

The Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee called for using far-right candidates “as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right.” Clinton’s camp insisted that Trump and other extremists should be “elevated” to “leaders of the pack” and media outlets should be told to “take them seriously.”

Thus, the Clinton campaign encouraged media to give Trump lots of free publicity and to take him seriously — to “normalize” him, in other words. But the Wikileaks emails reveal a lot of hand-wringing behind the scenes back when the Trump nomination wasn’t a sure thing..

The correspondence reveals a campaign that has struggled all year to improve a flawed candidate. As far back as March, aides were keenly aware that she was resistant to the media, perhaps out of touch with regular Americans and unable to convey a clear message to voters. …

… “Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” asked Clinton adviser Joel Benenson.

Benenson contrasted the simplicity of Bernie Sanders’s anti-Wall Street message with Clinton’s multitiered campaign slogans.

Seven months later and on the cusp of Election Day, the concerns laid out in these emails and others largely remain. Clinton has proven to be a lackluster candidate who has struggled to win over the liberals who gravitated to Sanders during the primary, and who remains ahead in large part due to Trump’s historic weaknesses.

“Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky, a political columnist and former political adviser, wrote in a March 2016 email to Podesta and Roy Spence, an ad maker for the campaign. “She has huge endemic political weaknesses that she would be wise to rectify.”

But Trump did get the nomination. So no worries, right?

Part Five: General Election

Hillary Clinton had a great resume and all the money in the world to spend on staff and advertising and anything else a campaign needed. What could go wrong?

All along, Hillary Clinton marketed herself as the safe choice. As the pragmatic choice. As the one who wouldn’t rock the boat that much. She would be the sensible steward of the Obama legacy who knew how to get things done in incremental baby steps that wouldn’t give anyone indigestion.

Except that across the political spectrum, most of the electorate was screaming for big change as loudly as it could. Clinton  and Democratic Party insiders were tone deaf to it.

And now we’ve learned that to lots of folks “drain the swamp” was a more compelling campaign slogan than “eat your spinach.”

The Plan was supposed to give Democrats the White House, the Senate, maybe the House, and maybe some governorships. Instead, not only did Dems lose the White House, but a lot of other good candidates lost because people who might have preferred them just didn’t go to the polls to vote.

In 2012, Obama got 65,915,795 votes, which was a lot less than he got in 2008, but enough. This week, Clinton got 59,814,018 votes. A shitload of people who helped elect Obama just plain didn’t bother to go to the polls and vote for Clinton. I understand that there was a big drop of votes from nonwhite and younger voters especially.

I argue the down-ticket candidacies were held back because Hillary Clinton was at the top of the ticket. As I watched the general election campaign in Missouri, I couldn’t help but notice that Republican campaign ads were citing donations from Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a reason to vote against state Democratic candidates. The HVF money may have hurt them more than helped them.

I don’t know that Bernie Sanders would have won the general election. Big national elections are complicated beasts with infinite moving parts; change one variable and thousands of others will change also. It may be that the GOP would have found some vulnerability in Sanders to exploit that we don’t know about.

(However, there is an argument out there that he would have done better against Trump than Clinton did. And if the Clinton campaign hadn’t encouraged it, perhaps Trump wouldn’t have been the nominee.)

But what if the primary had been genuinely open? What if Joe Biden or Liz Warren or Sherrod Brown had run for the nomination? One of them may have caught fire with the base the way Barack Obama did in 2008, and then we’d have had a very different election with an well-known establishment candidate enjoying the enthusiastic support of a bigger part of the base. We’ll never know.

Trump won in part because he is a master salesman who pitched a product lots of people were ready to buy.

One of the biggest upsets in American political history was built on a coalition of white voters unlike that of any other previous Republican candidate, according to election results and interviews with voters and demographic experts.

Mr. Trump’s coalition comprised not just staunchly conservative Republicans in the South and West. They were joined by millions of voters in the onetime heartlands of 20th-century liberal populism — the Upper and Lower Midwest — where white Americans without a college degree voted decisively to reject the more diverse, educated and cosmopolitan Democratic Party of the 21st century, making Republicans the country’s dominant political party at every level of government. …

… But Mr. Trump also won over millions of voters who had once flocked to President Obama’s promise of hope and change, and who on Tuesday saw in Mr. Trump their best chance to dampen the most painful blows of globalization and trade, to fight special interests, and to be heard and protected. Twelve percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters approved of Mr. Obama, according to the exit polls.

Mrs. Clinton won by a greater margin than Mr. Obama among affluent whites, particularly those living in the Democratic Party’s prosperous coastal strongholds: Washington and Boston, Seattle and New York. In Manhattan, where Mr. Trump lives and works — and where his fellow citizens mocked and jeered him as he voted on Tuesday — Mrs. Clinton won by a record margin, amassing 87 percent of the vote to Mr. Trump’s 10 percent. Around the country, she won a majority of voters over all, harvesting the country’s growing and densely packed big cities and a plurality of the suburbs.

But Mr. Trump won low-income white voters to the Republican ticket, reversing a partisan divide along class lines that is as old as the Democratic and Republican Parties — a replay of the “Brexit” vote in June, when the old bastions of England’s Labor-left voted decisively to leave the European Union. His breakthrough among white working-class voters in the North not only erased the Democratic advantage but reversed it, giving him a victory in the Electoral College while he lost the national popular vote.

Most strikingly, Mr. Trump won his biggest margins among middle-income white voters, according to exit polls, a revolt not only of the white working class but of the country’s vast white middle class. He did better than past Republicans in the sprawling suburbs along Florida’s central coasts, overwhelming Mrs. Clinton’s gains among Hispanic voters. He held down Mrs. Clinton’s margins in the Philadelphia suburbs, defying expectations that Mrs. Clinton would outperform Mr. Obama by a wide margin.

See also “Michigan Democrat slams Hillary Clinton’s terrible campaign strategy: ‘How would any sane person not predict how this one would go?‘” What happened on Tuesday can’t be explained by misogyny alone, no matter how much Amanda Marcotte might fervently wish to believe otherwise.

In many ways it really was a brilliant plan, but it was doomed from the outset because it depended on Hillary Clinton being at the top of the ticket, and it turns out she was too weak a candidate and too out of touch with the mood of the country to carry it off. She was never able to tell all those white folks in states that are being hurt by the global economy why she should be their president. All she did was try to contrast herself as the “safe” choice compared to that awful Donald Trump. Nearly all the Clinton campaign ads I saw in Missouri were anti-Trump ads, and the one exception was a drearily forgettable ad in which Clinton made vague noises about doing nice things. I don’t remember what, exactly.

But Donald Trump wasn’t as scary as she assumed, especially after the press had “normalized” him and taken him seriously. As she had directed them to do.

We might complain for days on end about the unfair smear campaigns that relentlessly follow her, but even an idiot should have known that she would be very, very vulnerable to more smears this year. It’s been going on since at least 1992. Why, of all people, did she have to be the Democratic nominee?

(Yet last spring we were being told by Democratic Party apparatchiks. that Hillary Clinton had already been so thoroughly vetted nobody could touch her, but Bernie Sanders would be killed for being a socialist. Remember that one?)

And no, those third party voters didn’t cost her the election. She lost it herself.

I want to close with more words from Matt Taibbi, from June:

The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.

This is especially the case now that the Republican Party has collapsed under the weight of its own nativist lunacy. It’s exactly the moment when the Democrats should feel free to become a real party of ordinary working people.

Instead, because of the gross miscalculations of a lot of smart people utterly out of touch with their own country, the GOP has been regenerated. It owns the federal government now, and most of the states as well.

For a long time the Clintons and people who came up through party ranks with them have dominated the Democratic Party. And while the Clintons pulled off some smart moves in the 1990s, they should have moved on a long time ago. As someone on my Facebook feed said recently, “They’re not nurturing a farm team of young candidates. They’re not working to get working people back in. They’re mitigating progressives with their nervousness and wussy behavior. I’m tired of bringing knives to a gun fight.” And a lot of us are tired of being shut out.

So all you folks who are demonstrating against Trump — I know how you feel. But maybe you should be marching on Democratic Party headquarters instead. It isn’t just Donna Brazile who has to go. It’s everyone who owed their careers to the Clintons who have to go. They all must go, now. Because they are the problem. They have been holding the Democratic Party back for years, and it’s got to stop, now. And as long as they’re still in positions of authority, no one is going to trust the Democrats to not be the party of out-of-touch elitists.

So if you want a swamp to drain, start here.

Stop Scapegoating Third Parties!

After the debacle that was Tuesday, the first reaction of a lot of Clinton supporters was to blame third-party votes on her loss. But that doesn’t wash, folks. Those numbers don’t crunch.

Now that we’ve looked at state-by-state numbers, it looks as if Jill Stein votes might have cost Clinton two states — Wisconsin and Michigan — by a relatively tiny sliver of voters. But those two states together have only 26 Electoral College votes. Give them to Clinton, and she’s still 16 votes short.

So we go on to the next phase of the excuse-making, which is that if all of Stein’s and Johnson’s voters had voted for Clinton, she would have won. Steve Benen argued that if we gave all of Stein’s votes and half of Johnson’s votes to Clinton, she would have taken Pennsylvania and Florida and the Electoral College win.

And if more blue-collar white men in rust belt states had voted for Clinton, she would have won, too. If Jesus had appeared in glory in the sky and written “vote for Clinton” in glittery letters, maybe it would have changed the evangelical vote. And maybe if some space aliens had managed to sneak in and mess up the voting machines, we’d be looking forward to the Clinton Inauguration now. But none of those things happened.

And my point is that it’s ludicrous to assume that Johnson took more votes away from Clinton than from Trump. Johnson was not a candidate who appealed to progressives and liberals. Libertarians tend to be Republican-leaning voters, not Democratic-leaning voters.

What do we actually know about who took votes away from whom? I found an exit poll at CBS News that asked people how they would have voted if they had to choose between Clinton and Trump only. Only a quarter of both Johnson AND Stein voters said they would have voted for Clinton. One quarter. If we give one-quarter of Johnson and Stein votes to Clinton in swing states, would it have mattered? This takes a level of computation that’s outside of my skill set unless I worked on it all day, but if someone wants to try it, be my guest. But I rather doubt it. And at the same time, we’d need to give 15 percent of Johnson votes and 14 percent of Stein votes to Trump, so you’re looking at a really tiny sliver of the total percentage of votes. If we re-assign those votes based on this exit poll, I am extremely doubtful that the outcome of the election would have changed.

Oh, the remainder of those third-party votes would have just been tossed into the void; a majority of respondents to the CBS exit poll said that if they had to choose only between Trump and Clinton, they wouldn’t have voted at all.

So this takes us to the next level of blame-casting, that it was those nasty third-party voters bad-mouthing Hillary and spreading hate speech about her that poisoned the election. This is a bit like blaming Pearl Harbor on what Emperor Hirohito had for breakfast.

Are those coastal liberals so out of touch with the rest of America that they didn’t know what a hot button the name “Clinton” is? Did they really have no clue that for nearly 25 years the Clintons together have been to Republican and conservative-leaning voters what Emmanuel Goldstein was in 1984 — the “primal traitor”; the Ultimate Boogeyman; the locus of All Evil; symbols of the worst corruption and elitism and global conspiracy-ism all rolled into one? And if you say that isn’t fair I agree, heartily, but it is what it is. A big chunk of Americans have long been conditioned to react to “Clinton” the way George Orwell’s characters turned into a howling mob during the Two Minutes Hate. Donald Trump tapped into that conditioning and exploited it masterfully. Although Jill Stein supporters stupidly got sucked into it, they didn’t start it.

That’s why it didn’t matter if nothing criminal was found in the damn emails, or if the Benghazi witch hunts turned up no fault in the Secretary of State. In the minds of many she was guilty because she is Hillary Clinton. No matter what anyone says they believe she is always guilty, and she always gets away with it. This is the narrative they’ve embraced and which will never be unlearned. And I am not exaggerating.

And if this is news to you, I assume you are either (a) living in a bright blue state surrounded by like-minded liberals; or (b) born yesterday.

That’s why the mere mention of “Clinton” and “emails” triggered such a wave of revulsion in the electorate. The Comey letter of late October may very well have made a difference in those close swing states, although I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. “Trump cheats on taxes” doesn’t have the same effect. Most Americans aren’t (yet) invested in hating Trump the same way they are invested in hating Clinton. And that’s why all the talk during the primaries about how Hillary Clinton had already been “vetted” and was above being brought down by scandals was delusional.

Somehow, the Democratic Party didn’t think of that when they chose to put all their chips on Hillary Clinton. It was a huge hurdle to overcome, and they failed to overcome it.

As I wrote yesterday, it appears that Trump’s victory came from non-college-educated whites in the upper midwest; the “rust belt” states. The New York Times has more on this today.

Donald J. Trump’s America flowered through the old union strongholds of the Midwest, along rivers and rail lines that once moved coal from southern Ohio and the hollows of West Virginia to the smelters of Pennsylvania.

It flowed south along the Mississippi River, through the rural Iowa counties that gave Barack Obama more votes than any Democrat in decades, and to the Northeast, through a corner of Connecticut and deep into Maine.

And it extended through the suburbs of Cleveland and Minneapolis, of Manchester, N.H., and the sprawl north of Tampa, Fla., where middle-class white voters chose Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton.

One of the biggest upsets in American political history was built on a coalition of white voters unlike that of any other previous Republican candidate, according to election results and interviews with voters and demographic experts.

Mr. Trump’s coalition comprised not just staunchly conservative Republicans in the South and West. They were joined by millions of voters in the onetime heartlands of 20th-century liberal populism — the Upper and Lower Midwest — where white Americans without a college degree voted decisively to reject the more diverse, educated and cosmopolitan Democratic Party of the 21st century, making Republicans the country’s dominant political party at every level of government.

Read it and weep, folks. That’s why Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party generally, lost on Tuesday. Stop scapegoating third parties.

Election Return Live Blog

Well, folks, hang on to your butts.

Everybody says that Florida will tell the tale. If Clinton hangs on to Florida, Trump is probably shut out, the bobbleheads say.

Indiana and Kentucky already called for Trump. Clinton takes Vermont.

There was a shooting near a polling place in California. No indication the shooting was related to the election.

Rudy Giuliani is on MSNBC saying that Clinton got away with multiple crimes, and Chris Matthews isn’t challenging him to be specific.

(7:30) West Virginia called for Trump. No surprises so far.

Steve Kornacki tells us that Trump is doing better with non-college-educated whites than Romney did four years ago.

South Carolina called for Trump; again, no surprise.

(8:00) Okay, they are calling a bunch of states. Let’s see if I can get it straight.

States just called for Clinton: Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

Tammy Duckworth will be a Senator from Illinois!

Trump picks up Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Marco Rubio re-elected in Florida. Damn.

Florida — 59 percent of precincts reporting, and it’s dead even.

Evan Bayh, centrist Dem Senate candidate, loses in Indiana, MSNBC says.

(8:30) Arkansas called for Trump.

Returns seem awfully slow this year.

New projections — Clinton wins New York. Trump wins North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Clinton wins Connecticut.

Florida — lots of votes to be counted in Broward County yet.

(9:30) Trump wins Louisiana.

This is making me crazy.

Fox News has called New Mexico for Clinton, I understand.

(10:00) Trump wins Montana.

Missouri called for Trump.

The fivethirtyeight crew is saying that Republicans probably will keep the Senate.

NBC is calling Ohio for Trump.

Clinton is pulling ahead in Virginia.

Clinton wins Colorado.

Virginia called for Clinton, finally.

Florida called for Trump.

Clinton wins California.

People, this is not looking good. Clinton has to win some states in which she’s behind right now to get to 270. And I doubt she can do it.  I think she’s going to fall short.  Assuming she takes all of the states she’s currently leading, she’s going to be short. She’ll need Michigan — possible, but she’s behind right now — and one other state with at least 5 electoral votes. And I don’t know what state that would be.

So, folks, it looks like we’ll lose this one.

If there’s a possible silver lining here, it is that it’s going to shake up the Democratic Party.

(1:45 am) Some news outlets are officially calling the race for Trump, sorry.

The Damn Emails

While everyone is hyperventilating about emails that, apparently, no one has read yet, Kurt Eichenwald reports at Newsweek,

Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records.

Nothing so far has been revealed in Clinton’s emails that warranted indictments. But it sounds as if Trump has been breaking laws for years and getting away with it. Note that the worst of the actions Eichenwald uncovered relate to Trump’s violations of fair housing laws

But let us review what the new Clinton email “revelations” amount to. Executive Summary: Nothing so far.

My understanding is that at the time FBI Director James Comey sent his letter to Congress about the emails on Anthony Weiner’s “device,” he didn’t yet have a warrant that allowed the FBI to read them. All they knew was that State Department emails ended up on Weiner’s “device,” supposedly forwarded by Huma Abedin, although she says she doesn’t know how that happened. We don’t know if any of those emails were sent or received by Hillary Clinton, or if Clinton even knew about the emails on the “device.”

Some news outlets are reporting that the emails were in Abedin’s Yahoo account, which makes me wonder if somehow an account was set up to automatically forward emails and Abedin didn’t realize it. The Clinton campaign is not exactly a tech-savvy crew. But if that’s the case, it’s likely most of these emails are duplicates of ones already known to the FBI.

But there’s more. CNN is reporting that the FBI knew about the emails on the “device” weeks ago. Why did James Comey sit on this information and then release it days before the election? At first it was assumed that Comey sent the letter as soon as he knew about the emails; maybe he wanted to avoid an appearance of being partisan. But if that was the case, it backfired big time.

Josh Marshall writes:

It is quite telling that even at this late stage of the election, when partisan tempers are naturally running at their fiercest, former career DOJ lawyers, former high level DOJ appointees and legal experts on both sides of the aisle are lining up to say this was not only an extremely poor decision but may even have violated the law. (Note here: President George W. Bush’s top ethics lawyer suggests Comey may even have broken the law. Another example is here.) As far as I can see, no one who actually knows what Comey’s legal, professional and ethical responsibilities were in this case can find a basis to defend his actions. Even Republicans who might be inclined to interpret ambiguous facts through a partisan prism don’t seem able to come up with one.

I’ve said a number of times that I do not believe Comey acted out of a desire to interfere with the outcome of the election. I still believe that. But I’m not sure it matters. What seems inescapable is that Comey has made avoiding criticism from Republicans (and leaks by FBI agents that would generate such criticism) his top, almost his sole priority. That being the case, his intent seems all but irrelevant. It amounts to some professional equivalent of reckless disregard, perhaps with a smattering of largely irrelevant naïveté thrown in.

See also FBI Director James Comey screwed up big time.

The presidential race has tightened up since Friday, although Clinton is still heavily favored to win.

Meanwhile Sen. Harry Reid has not only accused Comey of violating the Hatch Act; he says the FBI is sitting on damning information about Trump’s ties to the Russian government:

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

It should be noted that Brian Ross at ABC News reported last September that Trump does millions of dollars of business with Russians, which wouldn’t have been possible without Putin’s approval.

But I’ll give John Oliver the last word today.

Update: Oops! Here’s another last word. CNBC reports:

FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and ultimately ensured that the FBI’s name was not on the document that the U.S. government put out, a former bureau official tells CNBC.

The official said some government insiders are perplexed as to why Comey would have election timing concerns with the Russian disclosure but not with the Huma Abedin email discovery disclosure he made Friday.

Somebody’s partisanship is showing.

Please, Make It Stop …

Just encountered a woman on Facebook who was screaming that Hillary Clinton plans to privatize Social Security.

This particular panic came about because of a headline on an opinion piece in Forbes titled “Clinton Might Be Moving Toward Social Security Privatization” that offered absolutely no evidence of anyone on the Clinton team thinking about SS privatization. Do read it; it’s short. Basically, the author says that Social Security is a mess, and how else will Clinton save it but privatization? Seriously; that’s the argument. I am not making this up.

There’s a lot of regressive stuff I fear Clinton might pull, but that is not one of them. Remember all the crazy we went through with Dubya’s privatization plan more than a decade ago? The more Bush talked about his plan to “reform” Social Security, the less popular the idea got. And that was before the 2008 crash.

Having invested so much political capital in this issue, President Bush embarked on the first of what proved to be a long series of tours crammed with events at which he pitched his plan to the people. It soon became apparent that it would be a tough sell. Within weeks, observers noticed that the more the President talked about Social Security, the more support for his plan declined. According to the Gallup organization, public disapproval of President Bush’s handling of Social Security rose by 16 points from 48 to 64 percent–between his State of the Union address and June.

By early summer the initiative was on life support, with congressional Democrats uniformly opposed and Republicans in disarray.After Hurricane Katrina inundated what remained of the President’s support, congressional leaders quietly pulled the plug. By October, even the President had to acknowledge that his effort had failed.

Since then, Democrats have been running on promises to protect Social Security from the evil machinations of privatizing Republicans. Even Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Bush’s plan would put “Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.” The 2016 Democratic Party platform plainly states “We will fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security, including attempts to raise the retirement age, diminish benefits by cutting cost-of-living adjustments, or reducing earned benefits.”

In short, this is an issue in which the Dems have absolutely no wiggle room. And I don’t think they’re so stupid they don’t know that. If on the remote chance Clinton were to offer a Bush-style plan as part of some “grand bargain” with a Republican Congress, the political fallout on the entire Democratic Party would be radioactive.

So, while I distrust Clinton in many areas of policy, privatizing Social Security is very low on my list of Ways Hillary Might Sell Us Out.

And the whole point of that Forbes article was planting that headline in the magazine, so that soft-headed progressives and Greenies would link to it and get hysterical, possibly costing Clinton some votes. It was bait.

Yesterday I linked to an article by Josh Marshall that explains what “oversampling” means to a pollster.

Campaigns do extensive, very high quality polling to understand the state of the race and devise strategies for winning. These are not public polls. So they can’t affect media polls and they can’t have anything to do with voter suppression.

Now you may be asking, why would the Democrats skew their own internal polls? Well, they’re not.

The biggest thing here is what the word ‘oversampling’ means. Both public and private pollsters will often over-sample a particular demographic group to get statistically significant data on that group. So let’s stay you have a likely voter poll with 800 respondents. The number of African-Americans in that sample is maybe going to be 100 people, maybe less. 800 people is a decent sample for statistical significance. 100 is not. So if you’re trying to draw conclusions about African-American voters, levels of approval, degree of opposition or support of a candidate, demographic breakdowns, etc. you need to get an ‘over-sample’ to get solid numbers.

Whether it’s public or private pollsters, the ‘over-sample’ is never included in the ‘topline’ number. So if you get 4 times the number of African-American voters as you got in a regular sample, those numbers don’t all go into the mix for the total poll. They’re segmented out. The whole thing basically amounts to zooming in on one group to find out more about them. To do so, to zoom in, you need to ‘over-sample’ their group as what amounts to a break-out portion of the poll.

In other words, campaigns and parties do not “oversample” demographic groups in order to generate fake poll numbers. That hasn’t stopped half the Intertubes from reposting headlines like WIKILEAKS BOMBSHELL EXPOSES Clinton Campaign and Mainstream Media “RIGGED POLLING”. And the people posting this that I’ve seen are lefties. The links are followed by comments such as “Money talks and if they don’t listen, thee is always the threat of imminent ‘suicide’ to keep witnesses silent.”

I mean, I’m as weary of knee-jerk rah-rah yay for our side as anybody. But this perpetual screaming hysteria is absolutely exhausting. I wish there were nothing on the Web but cats and babies.

In other news — the text of the talk I gave Sunday is posted here.

Bye Bye, Bad Hombre

This is the part of the debate that’s already getting all the attention.

“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I will look at it at the time,” Trump said during the final presidential debate. “What I’ve seen, what I’ve seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt. And the pile-on is so amazing.”

He then said the media has “poisoned the minds of voters.”

“If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote,” he continued, claiming to cite a “Pew report.” “Millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote.”

Pressed by moderator Chris Wallace on not accepting “one of the prides of this country… the peaceful transition of power,” Trump said of his acceptance of the election results: “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?”

Hillary Clinton called Trump’s response “horrifying.”

There are in fact a lot of dead people who are still on the nation’s registration votes. There often is a time lag between a death and a name’s removal from the registration rolls. However, instances in which dead people actually vote are quite rare.

The Trump surrogates already are trying to walk this back –  he just meant that he would contest the election if there is evidence of fraud, they are saying. But that’s not what he said. Not just the Trump camp but every Republican in national office is going to be pushed to defend or reject what Trump said tonight. A lot of them are likely going to use this as an opportunity to sever ties to what promises to be a loss of epic proportions.

See also Josh Marshall’s postmortem.