Friday, June 24, 2016

BTRTN Dem VP Prediction: Raising Kaine

We are quickly shifting from Brexit back to US politics.  We were calling Brexit as a very close "Remain" win, 52/48, and it went to the "Leaves" by that same percentage (the whole campaign was conducted within the margin or error).  David Cameron is out, other European right-wingers are calling for more exit votes across the EU, and world markets are reacting predictably to this shocking outcome.

Usually at BTRTN we make projections about elections, largely (though hardly exclusively) based on polling.  But occasionally we venture out into the land of gut feel on other matters of import, and we do that again today.
Our track record is pretty good on this front.  This was probably my favorite, the first Supreme Court decision on the fate of Obamacare.  I wrote this on May 12, 2012, six weeks before the Court decision, when the betting markets were in the 90% range the other way.
"I may be the only person in America who thinks they will NOT overrule {Obamacare}.  My basic theory is that Chief Justice Roberts has no interest in achieving the same legacy as Chief Justice Hughes, who presided over a conservative court known best for thwarting the New Deal in battle with FDR.  I think he’ll find a way to convince Justice Kennedy to uphold the act and then, as is his wont, join the majority for a 6-3 ruling.  You heard it here first!"
On June 28, 2012, the Court proved me right (although it was 5-4; Roberts did indeed join the liberals, but Kennedy was opposed).
And this was another good one…written in the thick of what was then known as the strangest GOP race for the Presidency ever.  On November 9, 2011, I was trying to predict where the GOP might go next, having embraced and discarded Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and others. 
"Or maybe….just maybe…December will be Rick Santorum’s turn in the spotlight.  Sure, he’s been to all 99 counties in Iowa and is still under 5% in the polls there.  They’ve seen him, examined him very closely and they, um, don’t like him.  But guess what….he’s a true, blue social conservative.  It’s in his bones.  And he’s got some depth to him since he’s been arguing the case for twenty years.  He’s not cramming for the debates.  He’s a policy wonk.  So do I dare call a boomlet coming for Santorum?  The upcoming debates give him another shot.  By the time of the Iowa caucus, he might even be the Republican frontrunner…"
Rick Santorum did indeed escape low single digits in the polls and on January 2, he did indeed win the Iowa caucus, by 34 votes (though it took about a month to figure out the actual vote count that gave him the win).

Which brings me to right now, when we make another prediction based on instinct and logic:   BTRTN predicts that Hillary Clinton will select Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her Vice President.
Why Tim Kaine, when there are so many other more exciting picks out there?  There’s Bernie Sanders Himself, and Elizabeth Warren, the Castro brothers, Corey Booker, Tom Perez….the list is endless in this history-making year.
Here’s why: 
  • Bernie is not cut out to be a VP, and while Clinton would love to have his supporters, there is too much bad blood here for this to be realistic.  And more to the point, Sanders offers no swing state help, still carries that nationally untested “Socialist Democrat” label, does not display classic #2 humility, would be a difficult partner for an eight-year stint (and well into his 80's by then) -- and, perhaps most importantly, might overshadow Clinton on the campaign trail.
  • Elizabeth Warren is a formidable name and her selection would certainly excite the Bernie crowd.  She has already mastered the fine art of lacerating Donald Trump.  But she too could outshine Clinton and also could be a difficult partner.   She offers no swing state help, and, importantly, as a sitting Democratic Senator in a state with a Republican Governor, her selection – and election – would put her Senate seat at huge risk.
  • Julian Castro is highly appealing but fails the basic test – he is only 41 and not really “ready to be President of the United States.”  Castro is your classic “Hail Mary” pick, a historic pick (first Hispanic on a national ticket) but I don’t think Clinton is anywhere near the position of needing to throw the long ball – quite the opposite.  (His twin brother, Joaquin, a member of the House, is at times mentioned as a potential VP candidate as well, but he has a far lower profile.)
  • Tom Perez is the Labor Secretary, also Hispanic, but I think he is way too low profile for a VP pick.  He is basically totally unknown to the American public.
  • Corey Booker is the Senator from New Jersey, who also, as an African-American, would lend diversity to the ticket.  But Clinton has New Jersey in the bag already, and the Governor of the state, a fella named Chris Christie – remember him? – would love to name a GOP replacement for Booker.
  • Sherrod Brown, the Senator of Ohio, is a Clinton friend who passes the “comfort zone” test easily.  Clinton would love a VP with policy chops like Brown, and he is in one of the most important swing states.  But…remember, who is the Governor of Ohio?  Oh yeah, John Kasich.  Another Senate seat at risk.
That brings me to Tim Kaine.  He’s got it all.  He is a former Governor and a current Senator, serving on the Armed Service Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee – no question he checks the first box, “ready to be President.”   He is a solid-citizen-type who will never overshadow Clinton and will willingly play the second fiddle role.  Virginia is certainly an absolutely crucial swing state.  Kaine was a finalist in the Obama Veepstakes in 2008, and while his national profile is not huge, he is just the sort of soothing safe pick that makes sense for a history-making frontrunner who has no need to take a risk.
Let’s see how we do.  And don’t ask me about GOP veepstakes; I have no idea.  The main question is really not “who will Trump pick” but rather “who might possibly accept?”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

BTRTN Looks at the Brexit Polls

BTRTN ventures across the pond again at the behest of our British fans, who have requested a BTRTN look at the Brexit Referendum, which is tomorrow. 

What, might you ask, is the bloody “Brexit” anyway? 

“Brexit” is short for “British Exit,” in this case from the European Union – and this is an issue that is fluttering the dovecotes on the Isles, as well as the Continent, and we would do well to pay attention.

The Brits have been members of the EU for donkey’s years, and the EU by and large has been a positive force in trade and collective political power.  But while the EU has been a giant step forward in the effort to achieve a near-utopian dream for centuries – that of an economically cooperative, nearly borderless and generally war-free Europe – it has not been entirely brilliant.

The concept is fine, and many benefits have indeed occurred, but the practicality of managing the EU as one voice has nearly gone up the spout, given the differing sovereign goals and aspirations of its members.  The Greek debt crisis is one example, with Germany’s heavy-handed austerity prescription at odds with the many debt-ridden EU countries (including, of course, Greece).  Immigration has been another challenge.  Clearly, not everyone feels they are getting a fair crack of the whip. 

And in the UK, at least some of the blokes on the Clapham omnibus seem to feel that the EU has gone for the burton, and such nationalist tendencies have driven the Brexit to the ballot. 

And, to step away from our fun with British idioms for a minute, the whole campaign took a tragic turn last week with the murder of Jo Cox, a rising Labour member of Parliament and a champion for the “Remain” cause (as in, “remain in the EU”).

What do the numbers say?

I’ve been gobsmacked at the number of polls available on the Brexit, and I am ready with the verdict, though with less front than Brighton.

BTRTN predicts that the Brits will elect to REMAIN in the EU, and do so by a very close vote, 52-48.  The polls have been inching to the Remain side, and the death of Jo Cox seems to have been the turning point.  The Leaves were up by four points in the days before her murder, and now the Remains are up by about a point.  However, about 10% of those polled are undecided and that number has actually been going up.

For now, we’ll just have to kick our heels and wait for the only Brexit poll that counts, tomorrow.

For those of you less familiar with British idioms, here is a rough translation:
  • Across the pond:  across the Atlantic Ocean
  • Fluttering the dovecoats:  causing alarm or excitement
  • For donkey’s years:  for a very long time
  • Up the spout:  has gone wrong or been ruined.
  • Fair crack of the whip:  have equal opportunities to do something.
  • Man on the Clapham omnibus:  ordinary person on the street
  • Gone for the burton:  been spoiled or ruined
  • Gobsmacked:  utterly astonished
  • Less front than Brighton:  not with self-confidence
  • Kick our heels:  forced to wait for the result or outcome of something 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

“There’s a Republican Born Every Minute” – P.T. Trump

Steve is back with his assessment of the marketing talents of Donald Trump.
Much has been made this election cycle of Donald Trump’s supposed inherent genius as a marketer… of the brand “Trump,” and of his highly unconventional yet uncontestably successful campaign to win the Republican Presidential nomination. The core premise is that in lieu of a standard campaign based on television advertising and grassroots organization, Trump has brilliantly manipulated the media to command constant saturation coverage, and has boldly exploited social media to create an unmediated, unfiltered personal broadcasting network to his faithful. 
Indeed, no one can argue his success… thus far. 
However, in these immensely tumultuous recent days in which Trump slandered an exceptionally respected and qualified Federal judge, hijacked Orlando’s blood-drenched AK-47 Groundhog Day to marvel at his own supposed clairvoyance, and then exponentially expanded his war on Islam, the question of Trump’s alleged marketing genius needs to be re-examined. 
Trump’s “marketing program” thus far has had one legitimate marketing home run: an insight that led to his running the table to capture the Republican nomination. 
But under closer scrutiny, this alleged marketing wizardry appears to be more Barnum than Apple.  Indeed, for those unflinching Clinton haters who recently boarded the Trump bus simply because no one else was still heading for Mohegan Sun, it will be painful to realize that Trump is actually not very good at the one thing he is supposedly very good at. But what did P.T. Barnum allegedly say? Something like “there’s a Republican born every minute.” Let’s start by giving him – in all fairness -- his due for decimating 16 dwarves to win the Republican nomination for President. At the core of that campaign was a superior insight into the target; a huge triumph of marketing. 
Marketers know that that the secret to becoming the dominant brand in a category is to figure out what is most important to the most people, and then deliver it better than anyone else. Generations of product managers at Proctor and Gamble repeat the mantra that Tide cleans best. No matter how many marketing managers come and go at Visa, the brand is always “everywhere you want to be.” If you stand for what is most important to the most people, your competitors are left to compete for smaller market segments and stake their brands to benefits of lesser importance. 
Whether by intuition or analysis it matters not; Donald Trump took this logic to a Republican Party had ruptured into three distinct tribes: 
1.     The largest was the “anti-Washington” tribe that hated ineffectual and disingenuous Republican leaders as much as they loathed Democrats. This is where Donald Trump put all his marbles, and his message of anger at the ineffectuality of government resonated with the largest segment of the party.  For a marketer, that’s just determining what is most important to the most people, and proving that you do it better than anyone else. 
2.     The next largest was the “Christian doctrinaire tribe” that cared only about Christian faith and conservative ideological purity. Ted Cruz placed his wager here, with the second largest group, and -- no shock to a marketer -- he came in second. 
3.     The big surprise of the primary season was that the “centrist” republicans had actually become the smallest group, all but disappearing in the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat. People kept expecting centrists to settle on one of Bush, Rubio, Christie, or Kasich, and that the winner of the centrist battle would rapidly jump to 40%-50% of the polls. The flaw in that logic was that the “centrist” vote was never more that 15% of the Party.  It was not that Bush lost because of “low energy” or that Rubio lost because he was “little Marco.” They lost because their message as “centrists” (and believe me, we use that term relatively) was out of touch with the new mainstream of the party.  There were never going to be enough “centrists” to overtake the “anti-Washington” or the “Christian doctrinaire” segments. 
Score that one as a marketing triumph for The Donald: he identified the largest “tribe” in the deeply fractured Republican Party. His contempt for “political correctness,” for the incompetence and gridlock of Washington politicians, and for the Federal government’s failure to defend American jobs against illegal immigration and questionable trade practices gave him a platform for a campaign that deeply resonated with the angry tribe that felt ignored, betrayed, and demeaned by Washington. He rode the correct identification of the target audience all the way to the nomination. 
However, the weeks since Donald Trump secured the nomination have oscillated between merely “bad” to downright nightmarish for Team Orange Hair. Many people were characterizing his assault on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a federal district judge in the Southern District of California, as a “tipping point” in a broad groundswell of Republican backlash against Trump. And that was before his despicable reaction to the Orlando tragedy. 
From a marketing perspective, the evidence is gradually mounting that Donald Trump may have had the one very smart initial strategic insight, but is now being victimized by his own failings as a marketer. Ah, Shakespeare and thy tragic flaws. 
Let’s review a number of the decisions Trump has made in light of general accepted marketing “best practices,” and take a measure of how Trump has started shooting himself in the foot and his aim is now rapidly heading north. 
1.     Failure to understand that his target market has changed. 
As smart as Trump may have been to identify the correct tribe within the Republican Party, he has totally failed to grasp that as the primary season changes into the general election, the target changes. In the general election, the candidates must do all in their power to (1) continue to galvanize their loyal base so that follower will turn out and vote, and (2) they must expand their appeal to compete successfully for the “undecided” voters who often determine who wins and who loses. 
As we turn to the general election, it is no longer a question of what the most Republicans want, or even – frankly – what most Americans want. The candidates must address the question of what the “undecided” voters want. To be even more precise still, the question is now “what do undecided voters in the key swing states want?” 
It’s a mistake to think that undecided voters in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are identical to the rabid conservative under-educated rural white voters around whom Trump built his campaign. And yet that appears to be his current assumption. 
Since securing the nomination, Donald Trump has given little indication that his general election campaign will vary from his primary campaign. If anything, he has seized opportunities to become more emphatic about the most incendiary messages of his primary campaign: racially-charged rhetoric aimed at Hispanics, and an ever-expanding frame for his personal jihad against Islam. 
2.     Focusing on awareness when he does not have an awareness problem. 
In my years running an advertising agency, there was no shortage of clients who came to me with a very thorny problem: their product enjoyed very high awareness, but its reputation was weak or eroded.  Very rarely would I encounter the delightful inverse: an outstanding product that simply needed to become a more familiar brand name.  The latter can be addressed largely through generating awareness. The former must be addressed by changing perceptions… a much tougher task. 
Donald Trump is running his campaign as if his core problem is simple awareness. He says outrageous things with the full intent of dominating the news cycle; there is not a microphone he won’t grab, not a tweet he won’t bleat, not a sound he won’t byte. And every time he does, he repeats versions of the same ideas he used in the primaries.  
Now, if you are comfortably ahead by five points in the polls, go for it: repeat your winners all day long. But if most polls show you trailing your rival, a smart marketer knows that mere repetition is not going to change the game.  If you know that your disapproval rating is higher than your opponent’s, you might want to try to change perception rather than simply beat the same drum ever louder. 
Indeed, this moment in time – nomination won, convention still weeks away – would be an ideal time for him to step back, rethink, and recalibrate his message for the entirely new marketing challenge that lies ahead. He is not doing this, and that is not smart marketing. 
3.     It’s time to beat a hasty retweet. 
Here’s a fascinating fact: Donald Trump’s campaign recently announced that his total social media following on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram now exceeds twenty million people. Want some context for that number? It happens to be the exact number of Walter Cronkite’s peak audience on the CBS Evening News. 
Yes, the Donald Trump Personal Broadcasting Network now has the exact same reach as the most trusted newsman of all time had at his peak of popularity. This fact would make me deeply concerned if I was convinced Trump knew how to use it. But the problem is that Twitter is a fickle and deeply ironic medium.  And it sure is not the CBS Evening News. 
First and foremost: Donald Trump’s Twitter following are the people who already buy in. They are his most loyal followers. So Donald Trump is spending all day long tweeting to people who are already committed to voting for him. There is no question that this has value for that all important task of galvanizing your supporters to get out and vote. 
But at this point, that is the smaller of Trump’s marketing problems. At just the moment when he should be reaching out to those undecided people in crucial swing states, he is feverishly key-stroking his twitter feed to climax. He needs to do more than master the base, no matter how much pleasure it gives him. 
Worse still -- and here is where the irony comes in – the only of Donald Trump’s tweets that undecided voters see are the most heinous, awful ones that are plastered all over the mainstream media when Trump is at this most evil. Think about it. The only tweets centrist voters read is when CNN broadcasts Trump’s verbal pillages of Carly Fiorina, his horrific abuse of Heidi Cruz, his steady drumbeat of Islamophobia, or his bizarre moment of self-congratulations to mark the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. 
Twitter simply reinforces the polarization of the electorate. His followers are happy to follow his 24/7 master-race-baiting, Islam-hating, and Benghazi-Gating, but all the left-leaning media needs to do is broadcast just one horrific tweet a week in full view of the undecided voters, and Donald’s twitter feed becomes his own worst enemy. 
Had Donald Trump indulged in some well-designed and executed market research on his current standing to the general population (another rather basic marketing practice), he might have found that many undecided voters believe that he has certain strengths but is thin on substance and his knowledge of a complex world. If people are concerned that you are a lightweight on substance, perhaps you should not make your primary medium the one that limits your communication to 144 characters. Sure, it is easier to write twenty words with no discernable syntax, punctuation, or factual support, but those are probably the reasons why hostage negotiations and cancer treatment protocols are rarely conveyed on Twitter feeds. 
And, indeed, when the timing of the candidate’s communications initiatives appears to be motivated by something akin to spontaneous combustion, Twitter is not your friend. Premature twit-aculation is when you send a tweet out too quickly in an ill-considered, out-of-control rush of anger. Twitter could make good money offering a ten-second delay option in posts so that people with anger-management issues could force themselves to take a moment of reflection prior to publication. At just the moment when Donald Trump would benefit from appearing thoughtful, measured, and contemplative, he is acting like a trailer for “Angry Tweets, The Movie.” 
But, in the end, anger and rage are central to Trump’s candidacy; therefore they are central to his marketing, and, in turn, to his communication on Twitter. Here’s an interest take on that: 
“Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.” – Joseph Goebbels, on the purpose of propaganda. 

(And, yes, in case you are curious... that quote and attribution are precisely 144 characters.) 
4.     Great marketers understand the importance of their sales force and distribution. 
The smartest marketers don’t walk around acting like the sales force is somewhere below them on the intellectual food chain, and they don’t think the distribution channel is a necessary evil. Savvy marketers actively market to these vital constituencies every bit as they market to the consumer. They want the sales force to be pumped up, to know the product story, to have the right incentives, and to feel that marketing is providing the right support. 
In this little fable, the “sales force” is the rank and file of Republican Party elected officials, and the “distribution system” is the network of state organizations that operate at the grassroots level, finding and getting out the vote. 
Donald Trump is taking extraordinary pride at making clear that he can succeed without any of the traditional mechanisms of party politics. Hey, Mr. Speaker of the House, up yours. The rest of you? It’s time to get on board, stick to the script, or shut the hell up. 
The point here is not that Donald Trump needs to suddenly abandon the renegade, rogue mentality that took him this far. But it’s probably true that he doesn’t need to go out of his way to make those party loyalists feel like so many eight-track cassettes and used Swiffer refills. 
The mutual disdain between the Republican apparatchiks’ and their candidate is now measured somewhere between Michael and Kelly and Kanye and Taylor. To characterize the Republican establishment’s current sentiment as mere “buyer’s remorse” is a minced Preibus-ism; “buyer’s remorse” is what you feel when a better house comes on the market after your closing; not how you’d characterize the discovery that your new split level sits on a sewage-filled sink hole that was created by untreated radioactive waste.  Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Kelly Ayotte have sold out but they can’t run from Fox microphones fast enough; John Kasich is still refusing to buy in. Each seems genuinely unable to come to grips with dealing with a candidate whose policy and platform are shaped largely by Tourette’s Syndrome. They are turning up their palms, rolling their eyes, and shaking their heads – just about anything they can do to convey despair and alienation without actually getting quoted. 
At the most fundamental level, the cost of Trump’s disdain for his sales force and distribution channel is that he is now fighting a two-front war. Just as Democrats are seen to be coming together, Trump is taking heavy incoming from his own party… and he is not handling it well. 
More than anything else this election cycle, the Republican rank and file wanted an outsider. Donald Trump is so “outside” that he is now paying no attention to any Republican voices, many of whom he views to be as much the enemy as Hillary Clinton. It has been fascinating to watch as Republicans learn that being as “outsider” doesn’t simply mean that Trump won’t listen to the party establishment… he won’t listen to anybody. 
5.     Doubling down when the message needed to evolve. 
Above all, a brilliant marketer nails the message. “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” “When it absolutely, positively has to be there on time.”  “Yes, we can.” 
Donald Trump has “Let’s Make America Great Again.” It is a fascinating choice, because the key word – “again” -- is so glaringly and unapologetically retro. “Let’s go back in time” may be a good slogan to address to aging undereducated white guys who were last seen on top of the sociological totem pole when Studebaker was battling for market share with Rambler. However, I am not sure how many women, Hispanics, African-Americans, and members of the LGBT community are really keen on bringing back those good old 1950s. 
Interestingly, Ronald Reagan never talked about “turning the clock back.” His most famous marketing campaign – “Morning in America” – presented an upbeat, positive, forward-looking view. Indeed, Presidential campaigns inevitably come down to two key themes:  the incumbent party talks about “four more years,” and “staying the course;” while the party out of power speaks about the dire need for change.  Going backward qualifies as “change,” to be sure… but it is inherently a retreat. 
Beyond the campaign theme, Donald Trump has been mangling his message from the very beginning, committing mistakes that now threaten that his campaign will arrive stillborn at the nominating convention. While Trump had correctly identified the largest “tribe” in the Republican Party, he misplayed and overplayed the “message” to that group. 
Trump launched his campaign with a ferocious assertion that Mexicans who came to the United States were drug dealers and rapists. The under-educated white males at the core of his base might climax when Trump made racist claims, but charging that Mexico is a nation of sexual predators completely overwhelmed the plausibly legitimate debate about the economics of illegal residents. Had Donald Trump limited his attack on Mexicans and Hispanics to the relatively narrow issue of whether or not undocumented aliens currently in the United States usurp jobs that tax-paying American citizens should have, he might have been perceived as simply a tough businessman forcing a public dialog on an uncomfortable but legitimate debate.  
Two weeks ago, his claim that a federal  judges of Hispanic descent could not be impartial in cases involving Trump University was labeled by the highest ranking Republican in the country as “the textbook definition of racism.” Through his racial attack on the judge, he dramatically elevated public awareness that one of his own companies was currently in litigation for fraudulent business practices. There is no plausible argument that a marketing genius was behind this projectile tantrum. 
Trade policy? A perfectly legitimate issue; indeed, Bernie Sanders inflicted real damage on Hillary Clinton with this exact line of attack. Had Donald Trump limited his commentary on U.S. trade policy to the narrow question of whether China’s monetary policies create a non-level playing field for U.S. companies, he might be viewed as an astute, experienced businessman bringing real-world experience to bear on government policy. Instead, Trump has chosen to center this discussion on “the stupidity of our leaders,” their “incredibly stupid deals,” and the unsupportable contention that a 45% tariff on Chinese goods will somehow magically bring manufacturing jobs back. 
Literally hours after the last AK-47 bullets sprayed death in an Orlando nightclub, Trump politicized the tragedy and used the occasion to double down on his Muslim ban, contending that the killer was from Afghanistan. In truth, the murderer was an American citizen born a few miles from Trump Tower. 
In case after case after case, Trump could not be bothered to do the hard work of providing factual evidence for his contentions; opting in each case to focus on an emotionally charged appeal to xenophobic instincts and fears. 
There will be some that allege that this is genius marketing; that he elevated each issue into an emotionally charged threat that transformed his followers into zealots, passionately committed to his cause.  They believe that Donald Trump has somehow channeled Donald Draper of Mad Men fame, and is now expertly practicing the darkest art of manipulation, a shaman puncturing the taboos that served as containment walls for the dormant racism and wild xenophobia of the less educated and malleable. 
Those who think he is a genius marketer would have you think that Donald Trump is living the life and saying the things that down-on-their luck white guys would be living and saying if only they had ten billion bucks. And that the allure of this fantasy – with its give-the-man-the-finger swagger – mesmerizes the weak-minded in the manner of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mind games with Imperial Storm Troopers outside the bar on Tatooine. 
The problem is that Star Wars was a movie, not a Presidential campaign, and undecided votes are not Imperial Storm Troopers. The math is becoming clear: there are not enough Imperial Storm Troopers to defeat Hillary Clinton. 
The theory that Donald Trump is a marketing genius is a fantasy. 
The emerging reality is that Donald Trump is a one-trick pony; a faker whose default mechanism is set to outrage, a man who radically dumbs down the problems of a complex world in order to create the impression that he can solve them. If this is marketing, it is of an ilk that Abraham Lincoln noted is only effective on “some of the people, some of the time.” 
No, friends, far from brilliant marketing, there’s enough self-destructive behavior in evidence to cause one to reconsider the theory that has been kicking about for months -- that he actually does not want to be President.  That he, as a marketer, simply enjoys the “campaign.” That simply being the Republican candidate for President will dramatically enhance his brand.  That, as a supreme narcissist, he is playing a game of chicken in which he wants to sustain the idolatry as long as possible and jump away just in time to dodge the responsibility. 
And when he loses, he will find some reason to say he was cheated, and true to form, he will sue Hillary Clinton, attempting to create the impression that he wanted the presidency, but that “Crooked Hillary” robbed it from him. 
All of it, taken together, makes me feel a bit bad for all the Imperial Storm Troopers who fill his arena.  In living to stroke Trump’s ego, they are the people who inspired the phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute.” 
What about you, Mr. or Ms. Trump supporter? 
Are you a Republican? 
Or just a sucker?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Trump's General Election Campaign: More of the Same, Except For the Free Falling Numbers

Once the nominees are set, Presidential elections are driven by a fairly clear set of defining moments.  There are the natural campaign events and actions: the selections of Vice Presidents, the conventions, the debates.  And then there are the meteors that rock the world, like the economic meltdown of 2008, the ones that stop campaigns and force them to react.  There are also “gaffes” that may occur on the campaign trail, such as the Mitt Romney “47% Video.”  And, occasionally, candidates might actually break through with something good on their own.

The post-primary/pre-convention months are usually fairly quiet, as candidates consolidate their parties, hone their visions for their candidacy, set their general election strategies, try out attack lines and begin to try to define both the race and their opponents on the terms of their choice.  That is happening with the Clinton team, but not on the Trump side.  The Trump approach to the general election has been unconventional as ever, after his brief flirting with respectability.

Trump’s initial moves to consolidate the GOP with his “respectability tour” officially ended with his attack on the Indiana-born judge who is presiding over Trump’s “Trump U” case.  Trump accused the judge of bias in the case based strictly on his Mexican lineage.  These attacks were labeled (correctly) by the de facto head of the Republican Party, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, as the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”  Plain and simple.  This happened just a day after Trump had finally secured Ryan’s endorsement.

With that, and ever since, Trump cast off any notion that he might settle down and play the role of a traditional candidate.  His latest assault on decency was his tone-deaf response to the Orlando tragedy, the season’s first “meteor,” in which he crowed in a tweet that he was “right” in his announced policy of banning Muslims from entering the United States, even though the mass murderer was American.  Once again the GOP establishment was sent scurrying, trying to figure out how to support Trump while denouncing him simultaneously.  GOP senators facing tough re-elections, like John McCain, are pitifully twisting in the gale force winds of Trump’s blather; one of them, Paul Kirk of Illinois, decided to unhitch himself from Trump completely and has been roundly denouncing him ever since.

The latest high level GOP defection came from none other than Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush who, rather than hiding in the woods or vaguely supporting “the nominee,” said the following:  “If Donald Trump is the nominee, I would vote for Hillary Clinton.  He doesn't appear to be a Republican, he doesn't appear to want to learn about issues. So, I’m going to vote for Mrs. Clinton.”

Apart from not coalescing party support, Trump is not really conducting much of a campaign at all; or if he is running one, it is certainly a radically different “minimalist” one.  He has a far smaller staff than usual.  He is not building a strong ground organization.  He is not giving the normal fight-back responses to frontal assaults from Clinton, Obama, and a Super Pac that is running a campaign denouncing Trump’s various statements about women, presumably due to campaign dysfunction.  He is not spending his time in strategically-designed venues.  He is not raising the kind of money he needs and has abandoned his initial $1 billion target.  He is, in other words, not doing much apart from the Twitter-feed.  And speaking of “gaffes,” you only have to keep an eye on that Twitter-feed to catch the next campaign-rattling, game-changing moment.

All of this is taking a toll on Trump’s prospects.  When Trump was in his “unify” mode in May, he narrowed his gap with Hillary Clinton from roughly the 6-7 range down to the 2-3, even leading in some polls.  But in the month of June, the gap has widened again, back up to 5-6 and, in the most recent four polls, that gap has grown to 8 points.  The whispering about a Clinton landslide has begun again.


Jun Last 4 Polls





But what is interesting about the “head-to-head” numbers is how the number of “other/don’t/know/won’t vote” responses has grown as the nominees have been anointed.  Trump’s numbers are going down, but Clinton’s are not really going up.  While she has seemingly found her voice in her much-lauded series of speeches over the past several weeks (the foreign policy speech, the post-California/New Jersey speech, and the Planned Parenthood speech), she still has Email-Gate hanging over her and the attendant “trust issues” and remains the GOP’s best unifying point (“anyone is better than Clinton”).  Hillary has far more work to do to seal the deal.

Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former GOP Governor of New Mexico, makes a dent in these polls when included.  (The polls above do not include Johnson specifically but tend to offer the categories of “don’t know,” “won’t vote” or “other.”)  The roughly 10% Johnson garners when he is included is surely overstated versus what a ballot box verdict might show, but nevertheless he is a factor.  Johnson tends to hurt Trump more than Clinton but not by a wide margin. 

The head-to-head polls reflect, not surprisingly, the favorability levels for each candidate.  While Clinton’s favorability level has been extremely constant at an unflattering 40%, Trump’s has bounced in the truly abysmal 29% to 35% range and is heading down again.


With so many events ahead of us – all of the scheduled ones and who knows how many more meteors and gaffes – it is virtually insane to attempt to chart a course for the remaining 143 days of the campaign.

But I suspect we are heading toward something between a full Clinton blowout (400+ electoral votes out of the total of 538) and the traditional “Blue Wall Plus Swing State Win” for her, much like Obama’s in 2008 (365 electoral votes) and 2012 (332).  There are a smattering of swing state polls out there from April and May, but not enough recent (June) ones to put together a decent 50-state view (I will do that as soon as enough data becomes available), but at this juncture we are headed toward a Clinton win with at least 350 electoral votes and the potential to get to the 400 mark. 

It is hard to imagine the deeply red states voting for her over Trump under any scenario – there are 19 states that have averaged, over the past four presidential elections, a 13-point or greater GOP margin, and they account for 138 electoral college votes.  That leaves 400 for Clinton, including the Blue Wall, the swing states, and some traditional red states such as Georgia, Arizona and Missouri that could be in play.M