I’m a policy wonk rather than a political partisan or political prognosticator, so I generally don’t comment on elections. But since I’ve received several emails asking my opinion of the Trump debacle and this is the topic dominating the headlines, I will offer my two cents on the mess.
My first observation is that there are nearly 325 million people in the United States, so it’s rather amazing that neither Republicans nor Democrats could find candidates more appealing than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s almost as if Democrats had a secret meeting and decided, “Hey, let’s deliberately lose this election by nominating a corrupt, statist hack.” Which led Republicans to convene their own secret meeting, where they decided, “Two can play at this game. Let’s nominate an empty-suit populist who is famous for being a reality TV huckster.”
And if that is what happened, both the polls and the betting markets indicate that the GOP is more competent at losing (since they are adept at throwing away simple-to-win policy fights, it stands to reason that they’d also be good at fumbling away sure-thing political victories).
But have they thrown away victory in the presidential race? Let’s look at the analysis of Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator who has now become famous as a quasi-pundit because he predicted Trump would get the GOP nomination when the rest of us thought it would never happen.
Here are his 14-points, each followed by my assessment.
1. If this were anyone else, the election would be over. But keep in mind that Trump doesn’t need to outrun the bear. He only needs to outrun his camping buddy. There is still plenty of time for him to dismantle Clinton. If you think things are interesting now, just wait. There is lots more entertainment coming.
Yes, it’s probably true that Hillary could still lose. And, yes, things will probably get more interesting. But my guess, for what it’s worth, is that the additional “entertainment” that we’ll experience will not be favorable to Trump. Don’t be surprised if women come forward to say that Trump coerced them into sex, into abortions, into whatever.
2. This was not a Trump leak. No one would invite this sort of problem into a marriage.
I wasn’t aware that anybody was even speculating that Trump or his people would leak a tape with him bragging about grabbing women’s privates.
3. I assume that publication of this recording was okayed by the Clinton campaign. And if not, the public will assume so anyway. That opens the door for Trump to attack in a proportionate way. No more mister-nice-guy. Gloves are off. Nothing is out of bounds. It is fair to assume that Bill and Hillary are about to experience the worst weeks of their lives.
Trump was being a nice guy up to this point?!? More important, what can he dump on Hillary at this stage that will change minds? People already recognize that she’s corrupt and dishonest. But her sleaze is boring and conventional, and voters probably prefer that to an unconventional and erratic Trump.
4. If nothing new happens between now and election day, Clinton wins. The odds of nothing new happening in that timeframe is exactly zero.
I’m tempted to repeat my response to point #1, but let’s hypothesize about what can happen that might derail Hillary. We now have the alleged transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street and the only revelation of any note is that she’s for free trade (as many of us suspected). But since voters already know she lies, I don’t think this matters. Some folks speculate that the Russians or some other foreign power (or a random hacker) will release top secret emails that she illegally transmitted on her insecure private server. But I suspect most voters already know and accept that she put America’s national security at risk. Or what if we learn that she altered government policy in response to bribe money going to the Clinton Foundation? Again, most voters probably already accept this as a given. Maybe I don’t have a sufficiently vivid imagination, but I just can’t think of a (pro-Trump, anti-Hillary) game changer between now and election day.
5. I assume that 75% of male heads of state, including our own past presidents, are total dogs in their private lives. Like it or not, Trump is normal in that world.
I suspect there’s some truth to this. But those various heads of state didn’t brag about their conquests and advertise their infidelities. To be sure, Trump fans do have a point that he is being held to a tougher standard than Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, both of whom allegedly engaged in sexual assaults on women. But Trump isn’t running against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy.
6. As fictional mob boss Tony Soprano once said in an argument with his wife, “You knew what you were getting when you married me!” Likewise, Trump’s third wife, Melania, knew what she was getting. It would be naive to assume Trump violated their understanding.
No argument with this. But I also don’t think this point has any political relevance.
7. Another rich, famous, tall, handsome married guy once told me that he can literally make-out and get handsy with any woman he wants, whether she is married or not, and she will be happy about it. I doubted his ridiculous claims until I witnessed it three separate times. So don’t assume the women were unwilling. (Has anyone come forward to complain about Trump?)
Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that some women are turned on by money and power and that they are amenable to advances by someone like Trump. My response is “so what?” What will matter, for purposes of handicapping the election, is whether any women come forward to say that they didn’t welcome the advances. And it won’t even matter if they’re telling the truth.
8. If the LGBTQ community wants to be a bit more inclusive, I don’t see why “polyamorous alpha male serial kisser” can’t be on the list. If you want to label Trump’s sexual behavior “abnormal” you’re on shaky ground.
This seems very weak. The issue isn’t whether Trump is “abnormal.” I don’t think anyone will be shocked if we learn he’s cheated on all of his wives, including the current one. But if it come out that he actually has grabbed an unwilling woman by the you-know-what, that’s something that could impact voting behavior.
9. Most men don’t talk like Trump. Most women don’t either. But based on my experience, I’m guessing a solid 20% of both genders say and do shockingly offensive things in private. Keep in mind that Billy Bush wasn’t shocked by it.
I know plenty of guys (and even a few gals) who talk like Trump. And since I have a juvenile sense of humor (I used to enjoy hearing Trump as a guest on the Howard Stern show), I confess that I’m amused by what’s now being called “locker-room banter.” But I’ll repeat what I just said. People probably won’t change their votes based on Trump’s rhetoric, but some of them will change their votes if they learn his actions matched his bluster.
10. Most male Hollywood actors support Clinton. Those acting skills will come in handy because starting today they have to play the roles of people who do not talk and act exactly like Trump in private.
Probably true, but does any of that matter for the election? No.
11. I’m adding context to the discussion, not condoning it. Trump is on his own to explain his behavior.
12. Clinton supporters hated Trump before this latest outrage. Trump supporters already assumed he was like this. Independents probably assumed it too. Before you make assumptions about how this changes the election, see if anyone you know changes their vote because of it. All I have seen so far is people laughing about it.
Perhaps true, but Republican strategists are probably terrified that there will be revelations that Trump crossed the line from mere rhetoric to actual misbehavior.
12. I hereby change my endorsement from Trump to Gary Johnson, just to get out of the blast zone. Others will be “parking” their vote with Johnson the same way. The “shy Trump supporter” demographic just tripled.
Republicans (at least the ones who want Trump to win) are praying and hoping that the “Bradley Effect” is real and that there are lots and lots of voters who will secretly vote for Trump even though they’re telling pollsters otherwise. I’m guessing that there are lots of these people. But probably not “lots and lots,” which is probably what Trump would need to prevail.
13. My prediction of a 98% chance of Trump winning stays the same. Clinton just took the fight to Trump’s home field. None of this was a case of clever strategy or persuasion on Trump’s part. But if the new battleground is spousal fidelity, you have to like Trump’s chances.
Even if the new battleground was spousal fidelity, that doesn’t help Trump since he’s running against Hillary rather than Bill. But I think Adams is wrong. The new battleground is potential abuse of power.
To be sure, Hillary has plenty of vulnerabilities in this regard, most notably with the pay-to-play antics at the Clinton Foundation. But the media doesn’t want to cover that example of corruption and I doubt Trump has the discipline to make her sleaze an issue.
By the way, since Trump is at 20 percent in the betting markets, Mr, Adams has a chance to become very rich. I wonder if he’s putting his money where his mouth is.
However, before dismissing his prediction, it’s worth remembering that he was right about Trump getting the GOP nomination when everyone else (including me) didn’t think is would ever happen.
14. Trump wasn’t running for Pope. He never claimed moral authority. His proposition has been that he’s an asshole (essentially), but we need an asshole to fight ISIS, ignore lobbyists, and beat up Congress. Does it change anything to have confirmation that he is exactly what you thought he was?
A very good point. I bet a big part of Trump’s appeal is that people think he would kick butt in Washington (for what it’s worth, he might disrupt Washington, but I very much doubt that he would shrink Washington).
But let’s stick with the political side of things. I repeat what I’ve already written about the difference between saying coarse things and engaging in actual coarse (and unwelcome) behavior. That is Trump’s bigger vulnerability.
Adams concludes by arguing that “reason is not part of decision-making when it comes to politics” and that none of what’s discussed above will impact voters.
I’m dubious about this claim. Besides, what matters for elections is whether some voters are affected, not whether all of them care about a particular issue. And on that basis, I suspect Trump is heading for defeat. And since we’re a month from the election, here’s my prediction of a comfortable victory for Hillary.
The good news is that Trump’s presumed loss is not a defeat for limited government. In part because he doesn’t believe in small government, but also because Democrats may rue the day Hillary prevailed because of what that implies for the 2018 midterm election and whether that sets the stage for total GOP control in 2020.
Though keep in mind that I’ve made the same argument in the past. Here’s what I wrote back in 2012.
…keeping Obama for an additional four years would be the best way of laying the groundwork for a Reagan-style victory in 2016 with a presumably small-government advocate like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket. …my first political decision was to favor Carter over Ford in 1976 in hopes of paving the way for Reagan in 1980.
So maybe the real issue is whether Republicans would be crazy enough to nominate another Trump in 2020 or whether they might actually find another Reagan-style limited-government conservative.
And if this hypothetical poll is any indication, that would be the route to electoral success.