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Seeking An Oracle

Nate Silver argues that the Democrats’ odds have been overstated all along, and it was never her election to lose.

Incidentally, Clinton slightly outperformed the “fundamentals” according to most of the political science models, which usually forecast the popular vote rather than the Electoral College. For instance, the economic index included in FiveThirtyEight’s “polls-plus” model implied that Trump would win the popular vote by about 1 percentage point. Instead, Clinton won it by roughly 2 percentage points. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s something to consider before assuming that Clinton must have been an exceptionally flawed candidate.

It’s also possible, of course, that Clinton and Trump were both “bad” candidates but that their flaws mostly cancelled one another out. This idea would seem to be supported by their record-low favorability ratings, for example. One bit of pushback to this theory: Politicians are an unpopular lot nowadays, and most of the other men and women who ran for president in 2016 wound up with bad favorability ratings too. So Trump and Clinton’s unpopularity may have been partly an artifact of the partisan political climate.3 Either way, it’s rarely easy to win a presidential election, and Clinton was trying to win hers under more challenging conditions than what Democrats faced in 2008 and 2012.

I agree in part, and disagree in part. I think a lot of us – even people like me who have always been skeptical of the blue wall – overstated the inherent Democratic advantage. I thought Generic Democrat beat Generic Republican, most likely. I also thought Hillary’s favorables would improve in a way they never did, and I thought she would get better as a candidate. But mostly I thought the Democrats pretty cleanly had the baseline, and I no longer think that was the case. If Hillary Clinton had lost to Generic Republican, I’m not sure I would be fair in criticizing her for the loss.

That said, I think Silver is too dismissive of the “cancel each other out” theory. Yes, you can add Ted Cruz’s name to Clinton’s and Trump’s as being unpopular, but come on: He’s Ted Cruz. What all three of them have in common is that they were varying degrees of unpopular from the start. Bernie Sanders and John Kasich never had that problem. Kasich and Sanders may have skated a bit because they were not viable nominees, but Mitt Romney was more popular (or less unpopular) the day he lost than any of those other three were at any point in the race and he certainly faced a lot of head. And while all this was happening, Barack Obama’s approval ratings were inching ever upward. So, not all politicians. These two (three, counting Cruz). Neither was able to capitalize on the unpopularity of the other because they themselves were unpopular.

I don’t believe that the election was always Clinton’s to lose, but do believe that it was Clinton’s to lose as soon as Trump got the nomination (arguably, as soon as it was a Trump-Cruz race) unless she was (roughly) as bad a candidate as Trump was. To believe otherwise is to believe that candidate quality and behavior simply doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone believes that’s true. At least, except in this narrow context in which we try to explain an unexpected result, we certainly don’t act like it. And if we’re going to believe that about the election that just happened, we should believe it about elections going forward. Are we going to commit to the notion that Trump’s approval rating doesn’t matter? That it doesn’t matter how he does? That it’s partisanship and the economy all the way down?

The only out here is to say “Actually, Trump was never a weak candidate and his liabilities were compensated for by his strengths, any Republican nominee would have had similar difficulties, and his low approval ratings were not actually the product of his behavior and candidacy.” There is likely some truth here. I certainly underestimated his strength as a general election candidate. When I look at 2020, this is what I am most worried about, because it means Trump stands a pretty good chance of being re-elected. But, again, I don’t believe it’s a theory that we are willing to commit ourselves to. Hillary Clinton being weak candidate who blew the election is actually among the more optimistic scenarios.

With remarkable haste, the conversation among many political types pivoted back to Received Wisdom and how this race – when you really look at it – wasn’t that remarkable. This race has been playing wack-a-mole with Received Wisdom from the start. The wisdom of the primaries was The Party Decides. Endorsements matter. The establishment wins. Then boom. No worry, though, because as we know there are still the polls. People were wrong in the primary because they ignored the polls. The polls pointed to a Clinton victory. So there you go. Then boom. And now we’re talking about the political science fundamentals and economic fundamentals.

Something, somehow, must explain this and future elections. If we have been led astray, it is because we were following the wrong oracle. This other oracle was right. So now it seems like we’re going to follow this new oracle for four years until it turns out like 2000 when the economic models pointed heavily in an election that ended up so close we didn’t know the outcome until a month later.

Polls can be indicative. Economic models can be indicative. Political science fundamentals can be indicative. So can gut, for some people. And these things are indicative until they’re not. The polls are right until they’re not((Even if you think 2016 was pretty accurate on the whole, that would actually make it unusual for the 2014-16 cycle.)). Economic models tend to be all over the place and are sometimes wrong. We often flail from one oversimplified set of pat explanations (“It’s all about appealing to the middle”) to another set (“Actually, there are no undecideds anymore”).

It’s deeply unsatisfying not to say that we’re all guessing. There is going to be a tendency, going forward, to try to snap everything back into place. To find ways to say that the polling wasn’t really wrong, the political science was right, and the things that we think we know going into 2020 are going to be correct. All of these things are reasonable indicators. Just not good predictors. It’s extremely difficult to come up with good models with such a small sample set. We know a lot less than we thought we did, and sciencing it out is mostly going to be trial and error, and error, and error…

All the same, I do expect in about three years we will be hearing quite a bit about how smart the new, new wisdom is, and that we should trust the Oracle.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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113 thoughts on “Seeking An Oracle

  1. Hillary Clinton being weak candidate who blew the election is actually among the more optimistic scenarios.

    A very good point.

    Here’s where I find myself wondering about what will happen in the future: Remember back in September or October where we were discussing whether Clinton was a weak candidate? Here’s a thread from when we mentioned that NPR had Cokie Roberts on and was discussing how people in the back rooms were discussing replacing Hillary. (Oh, going back and reading that reminds me that I might owe Kazzy five bucks.)

    There was a “clap louder” feel to the Clinton nomination.

    If the next Democratic nominee has serious problems, how will we know? I am not confident that discussing these serious problems will be received well.

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    • Jay,
      Clinton had to basically rig the primary (and do it HARD) to win even the primary. I’d say if we see evidence of that in the future, that it’s a good sign that the candidate is more establishment than popular.

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  2. I guess I’m still curious about why the Oracles matter in all this stuff. I mean, unless you put money on Presidential election results… :) Are we any worse off for NOT having reliable predictions of electoral outcomes? What have we lost?

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  3. One strange result of this “following an oracle” tendency is that we assume that there are no freak outliers. Elections aren’t science; they’re social science, and that means that sometimes things go unexpectedly. You can’t even give someone credit for predicting an unexpected result, unless their model explains prior elections too.

    Let me unpack that a bit. Every unusual election (or stock market crash or Arab Spring), the body of analysts won’t have seen it coming specifically. That’s what makes it unusual. There will always be people who predicted it, but unless they can show that they predicted the conventional ones, or can demonstrate the “thing” that made this one unique, they have to be considered as lucky shots. The guy who predicts catastrophes every day doesn’t become a good source of analysis because of one catastrophe.

    This is how science works (including social science, when it works). You look at the new data and form theories that account for it. If the theory holds up over time, it becomes more accepted. When the next fundamental shift happens, you take that theory and explain why it no longer holds. Even then, you approach your theory with humility, because what looked like a new trend could turn out to be an outlier.

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    • Pinky,
      Yeah. And it does help when you do a person by person analysis of voting patterns. Then you can say “where did I screw up?” and “how did this go wrong?” without needing to explain election-wide skewing.

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  4. “”… implied that Trump would win the popular vote by about 1 percentage point. Instead, Clinton won it by roughly 2 percentage points.””

    I keep coming back to this. The popular vote doesn’t matter, not in our political system. And the fact that this gets bandied around indicates, to me at least, one of the directions of the problem. The focus of the campaign, also that of the pundits and what they pick up on, was all wrong. And THAT indicates a horrible candidate. Not understanding the election parameters in ’16 was a sure sign of incompetence, which we saw Nov. 8th.

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    • Not understanding the election parameters in ’16 was a sure sign of incompetence

      Did you see those signs? Assuming the answer is “yes” (I’m being charitable here … :) what evidence was that determination based on? I certainly don’t remember you saying Trump would win the general.

      Which just goes to my basic point here: Trump won because he was appealing to sentiments in voters that were basically impossible to measure or determine. And not because statistical modeling is a biased, or based on fake-facts, or fundamentally wrong, but because Trump ran a campaign on immeasurables. It’s pretty close to logically impossible to measure the degree to which voter’s sentiment of rejection determines their voting behavior within an established paradigm based on past behavior.

      And that will be true even if the next iteration of modeling somehow included “degree of total rejectionism of the status quo” as a fundamental metric, since what people would be rejecting at that point would, again, iteratedly, be opaque to the model itself.

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      • Stillwater,
        I’m sorry, but you’re totally wrong. You can measure the “Trump Effect”. People did.
        You can also measure the Remain and Brexit votes. People did.

        There’s TONS of money to be made betting on crap like this. People do have good models, they just aren’t often freely available.

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        • You can TRY to measure it, based on the standard model. The folks who did got it wrong: both Brexit and Trump.

          What’d they miss in their analysis? Were those folks just not smart enough?

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          • Stillwater,
            They relied on self-report to known pollsters. (And please don’t forget the caller-id and cellphone issues).
            Turns out self-report to friends, and other choices that one makes day to day are a lot more reliable predictors.

            I mean, for real, I can ask you a series of irrelevant questions, and tell you what race you are. This is quantifiable shit that earns money (people will pay a lot to be racist on the sly). I’m willing to bet that “irrelevant questions” is a lot more accurate than self-report (particularly in places where people even suspect discrimination might occur).

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          • I agree with Kim on almost nothing about the last election, but Kim is right about this. Direct marketing, which leverages this kind of thing these days, meant so much to this election. Sooo much.
            One of the things that happened is that the Trump campaign, led by Bannon, ignored TV ads and went for micro-targeted Facebook offerings. They almost certainly used a feedback system, so they could feed people who liked stuff, and clicked on stuff even more of the same.

            I don’t put all that much stock in the wizardry aspect of this, the “we know if you are are a racist by what kind of socks you order from Amazon” thing. But I put lots of stock in, “we know what motivates you and interests you by what you click like on, or reshare, on Facebook”

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      • Did you see those signs? Not enough to call it for him.I knew that Trump was tapping into something, but didn’t know if it would be enough. But I am not a paid prognosticator or campaignster. And this is, from everything I have read, something the HRC campaign knew. Heck, even Michael Moore knew

        [b]ut because Trump ran a campaign on immeasurables. And that is another direction of the problem, that one campaign was trying to forego politics for science. Yes, these things are immeasurable, but they aren’t insurmountable. For that is what politics is, that is how Bill Clinton beat HW Bush. He felt their pain, which is something no amount of white papers or policy positions can correct for.

        Data can tell us many things, but it cannot empathize, which is the heart of politics.

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    • “The focus of the campaign, also that of the pundits and what they pick up on, was all wrong.”

      Do we know that? Both campaigns were thinking in terms of targeting specific states. You could argue that both of them were overconfident in some respects, but the matter of the states versus national polls was on their minds. If the pundits were focused incorrectly, well, that’s a different matter. Pundits are not professional campaigners for the most part, and even if they are, they’re not perfect at it. Campaign reporters are as likely to be wrong as writers of medical TV dramas. We expect some effort on their part to understand the basics, but you’d be crazy to make a diagnosis based on them.

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      • Pinky,
        Clinton fired the people who predicted she was going to lose (by losing the Midwest). So, um, yeah, Clinton’s team was off, and a lot. She spent about half of October not campaigning at all.

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        • Ugh. Now we’re back to criticizing Clinton and her people. Personally, I never get tired of doing so, but it seems ancillary to the point of the OP. And in that regard, Pinky makes a good point: I recall hearing that even Trump’s people thought that the rust belt wasn’t gonna go for him but that it was the last best hope to pull out a win.

          And it worked! (Partly due to Hillary’s incompetence.)

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          • Stillwater,
            It’s not so ancillary when the fired people take their predictions and invest in the stock market…

            Trump was doing way better than he was supposed to be, before the Powers that Be pulled out their blackfile on him (all that sexual harrassment stuff). Apparently Trump was finding it pretty difficult to be the heel (he kept getting more popular than Hillary).

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            • I was replying to Aaron. He said that the press and the campaigns weren’t focused on the states. That’s why I pointed out that (a) the press doesn’t explain everything the campaigns do, and (b) the campaigns were focused on the states. Clinton’s campaign was just wrong.

              You can eat a whole pizza and that doesn’t prove you’re not counting calories – you could just be really terrible at it.

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    • My understanding was that nationwide PV polling has historically been the most accurate way to pick outcomes because it allows for a certain amount of randomness as between close states. Also, it was easier to get ‘accurate’ (whatever that means) polling on a nationwide basis because the larger pool meant that you got more useful responses for the same number of outreach efforts.

      (of course, I could be wrong.)

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      • It’s possible, but 100% opposite of the Received Wisdom four years ago. I remember this because I had thought that national polls were probably a better indicator. And sure enough, the state polls more accurate predicted the race.

        Silver talked about it here and here.

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      • Francis,
        polling social media works better than calling people and asking them direct questions at this point. Years of data demonstrating that too (all elections).

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  5. When i sent the link along i knew one thing would drown out the message in it. Not that i think the piece is perfect but there are some good points there. The recent election was in many ways a real fluke. It takes a weird role of the die to win the EC and lose the PV by 2%. Now the issue that blinds so many has already been raised.

    Of course Clinton is the most horrible thing to have ever been horrible that is so obvious that nobody can argue with it. Unless of course maybe some people are so blinded by that point they can’t see anything else. I’ll just assume i can predict the responses that will follow.

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          • I don’t think she would have bothered to let Cruz run, which might be why her team leaked that they couldn’t beat him, in hopes the Republicans would nominate him.

            The DNC would have filed suits in 50 states showing that Cruz was ineligible because he’s not a natural born citizen (he’s a naturalized one with a certificate of citizenship), and they would probably have won most of those suits.

            It’s entirely possible that the Republican establishment wanted Cruz to beat Trump so they could come out at the last minute to announce their own hand-picked emergency replacement candidate, while desperately trying not to laugh maniacally.

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    • Of course Clinton is the most horrible thing to have ever been horrible that is so obvious that nobody can argue with it. Unless of course maybe some people are so blinded by that point they can’t see anything else.

      Forget not being able to discuss whether the next Democratic candidate is a weak one, I am not confident that we will be able to even discern if the next Democratic candidate is a weak one.

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    • The initial post-election reaction was, of course, the usual “The end of the loser’s party for all time, that party needs to learn to talk to/listen to/understand some segment of the other party’s base” crossed with the usual “Worst candidate of all time” stuff (seriously, this seems the outcome of every election) with pretty much everyone ignoring the “Hey, interesting that this is the second time in two decades we’ve had a PV/EC split, and both in the same direction” thing as immaterial. (I think that actually speaks of a more fundamental issue, that the geographic nature of the EC seems to be causing a rising split between votes and results — kind of a problem in a democracy).

      But most interesting has been the reaction about Comey and the FBI letter, which started as “Grasping at straws to avoid acknowledging loss/having to change” to “Oh, well yeah, it sort of looks like there was a wild swing in late deciders that coincided right with that letter and was worth a point or three right there”.

      And it really was the case that talking about Comey in November was a case of refusing to face up to reality, but by January or so you had parsed exit polls and poll data that showed a rather large change based on it, more than enough to swing the election. By then, of course, it was old news….

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      • Oh yeah Comey….that has been tossed down the memory hole pretty quickly. But yeah Comey might very well have swung the election. The Clinton was the worst ever folks don’t want to see that, even the ones who say they are suspicious of the government and police powers and all that. And i’m not even saying she was a strong candidate. But Comey and stolen/hacked e-mails were a massive reason for why we have Prez Trump.

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        • It’s worth noting that over the months, even the pollsters who were pretty “meh” to “bs” on “Comey swung the election” have moved around to “Well, the data does show….”

          (In short, the data shows that there was a massive swing in undecided voters starting with the Comey letter. The election results look exactly like large late break against Clinton. One that started right after the Comey letter. That might be coincidence, but given the 24/7 coverage of that…..

          Has the media ever spent so much time covering nothing (and covering it adversely) as they did with Clinton’s’ emails?)

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  6. We discussed this on LGM last week.

    I think there are a few issues going on here for me or anyone else.

    1. Trump is a weak candidate in terms of getting the popular vote. He might not be a weak candidate in terms of appealing to his core base (whites especially older white men without college degrees) who happen to also be the prominent demographic in purplish or formally purple states like PA, WI, MI, IA.
    Those states are older and whiter than average.

    2. Party fatigue is real but makes no sense. I think most people here have strong partisan/ideological affiliations. We keep voting for the same party generally because we believe in that party’s ideology and/or vision. So we tend not to understand how can you vote for the other guys just because Party X has been in power for 4-8 years? But it exists.

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        • What I’m saying is even if Clinton came out of it with a win, it would have been a close election (as was 2004). And I’d I even that given the givens, the Democrats would be asking themselves some hard questions. (I was wrong about this.)

          In college I was taught that 2.2% is the upper bound of an inverted outcome. That was over 15 years ago and it could be higher now. But this seems about as far as that rubber band can stretch.

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          • Oh yeah but November it was going to be close. I thought Clinton would win and then be in real trouble in 2020. The D’s have needed a shake up for a while which they hadn’t been doing. Heck if Clinton had won they still would have avoided asking some of those hard questions.

            But the outcome was weird and unlikely. What it means for a democracy to have outcomes like this is going to be seen as solely partisan. People are ascribing brilliance to Trump’s campaign where there was far more dumb luck leaving aside the Comey/ Russian stuff.

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      • nearly 3 million people is still a lot in my book!

        I don’t think HRC was a perfect candidate. She also had a lot of baggage (real and imagined). She did not run a perfect campaign. But I am still not sure whether Bernie Sanders would have done better or Joe Biden even. I like Sanders but I can see a campaign run by Rs against him and it would be brutal and ugly.

        The problem for me personally is the belief v. winning thing. Is it better to accept being a permanent minority party instead of selling out core ideals? I do think that Trump’s narrow and key victory were for reasons associated with bigotry, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, authoritarianism and other things which I consider anti-thetical to liberalism and the beliefs of the current Democratic Party.

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          • The other issue is that I am coming to the conclusion that a lot of voters want to be lied to. They don’t want hard truths.

            A honest politician when looking at the economic situation, and outsourcing, and automation would say something like “We are at the precipice of huge changes to the national and global economy. Automation and outsourcing are changing and/or eliminating many traditional means of employment. No one can tell how these changes will play out in the coming decades. At times the best we can do is muddle through but we are strong and will come out of this a better nation….” Followed by a bunch of policy proposals to help those suffering.

            But this did not work. There is still a huge perception that service jobs are girly and not manly and Trump did well because a lot of voters liked when he said the factories and coal mines would be humming again with manly manly work.

            Plus there is still racism. This is also the party that has Steve King tweeting that white women need to give birth more and quaking in fear of the people of color.

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            • Saul,
              saying that no one can tell is a fucking copout.
              I can tell. I can cite sources that can tell how these changes will play out (who will be effected).

              You really think people want to hear about 1billion refugees with nuclear weapons?
              About planned and projected genocide?

              … because I think we’d rather put our heads between rocks and go squish, rather than try to fix problems a hundred years in the making.

              This is why corporations will win where they can.Because it’s profitable to win, a very select bit of the time. We’ll leave the rest on the table.

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    • Trump is a weak candidate in terms of getting the popular vote.

      True enough. But what he realized, seems to me, is that he only needed to be stronger than each opponent he successively confronted. He bested the GOP, then he bested the Dems. So, granting the premise that he was a weak candidate, the logical conclusion is that the candidates he successively challenged were weaker than he was. Game theory stuff.

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      • How much credit do you give to Hillary in Trump beating the GOP crowd?
        Hell, I knew someone who threw in some free media for trump (he was busy trolling other candidates, naturally).

        I’m not sure that Trump, by himself, beats all the other GOP candidates. At least not without the active interference and meddling that was going on by liberal interests.

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        • How much credit do you give to Hillary in Trump beating the GOP crowd?

          Absolutely none. Trump insulted not only every GOP candidate except Kasich (and maybe Carson…), but demonstrated unadulterated contempt for the party in general. Yet he won the primary!

          How the what the….???

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          • Well, Rubio decided to “buy the stupid” that Bush was selling as he left the race…
            And Walker decided that a presidential election didn’t need a travel budget.
            And then the FBI…

            (oh, wait, am I not supposed to talk about the FBI in regards to the Republican Primary?)

            And everybody hated Cruz.

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            • Cruz was playing the same cynical game Trump was. Ie., just be stronger then the next opponent. And it almost worked. Well, sorta almost. But so close that at the time it engendered apocalyptically wild nightmare fodder about a Cruz presidency which kept me from sleeping well for quite some time….

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          • Might it be that the base has contempt for the party in general? The platform he promised was heterodox – as we’re seeing now when the GOP apparatus tries to pass off business as usual. His personal style was contrarian. And the more he insulted the empty suits on stage with him, the more the people liked it.
            Clinton might not have beaten generic-republican-not-named-Cruz, but I strongly suspect that map would be vastly different from the one we got.

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            • There was polling in October that had Romney beating Clinton by 10. He wouldn’t have, of course, but combine that with other things (Kasich polling well against her, he unfavorables, etc), GOP House/Senate performance) and I’m not sure she beats Jeb Bush, which I had considered a given (that she would) for most of the campaign.

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              • Ehh, she’da figured out a way to screw that softball up as well…

                Actually, I think she’da done better against a conventional candidate than she did against Trump. For some reason she couldn’t understand that playing against Trump by conventional rules when he was running a non-conventional campaign wasn’t gonna work. “She has no gift for strategy!”

                {{She’s just turrible at politics.}}

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                  • She ran a campaign based almost entirely on criticizing Trump’s character and temperament while apparently failing to realize that the primary criticism against her was her temperament and character. She way overplayed her hand there, on two levels: a) the majority of people just don’t like her and b) childish character attacks are Trump’s bread and butter. There was no way she could win *that* battle with him.

                    I call that political incompetence, myself. (I even expressed that view in several comments right after Trump locked up the nomination: that her bad political instincts and judgement would compel her to go negative against Trump and that that was a fight she could not win.)

                    (That’s just one example… :)

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                    • With the exception of 2006, she failed or underperformed every time she has run for anything. With each individual case there is a potential “You have to understand, there were specific dynamics in that one.” But together they add up.

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                      • I’ve got no love for Hillary. And I agree she ran a less than stellar general election campaign. And I admit this is mostly a pedantic point. But calling her terrible at politics is like calling Jordan Spieth terrible at golf because he blew a 3 shot lead with 7 holes to play at the masters, or calling Dan Marino terrible because he lost the only superbowl he ever played in. All three of them take a single data point, (or WRT to Will, a couple of data points) and weight them more heavily than the fact that the person under examination was able to put themselves in position to be steps away from being the world champion, or the president. Not only do you not get that close to either of those if you are terrible at doing the things required to get there, you don’t get anywhere near that close to either unless you were exceptional at doing the things required to get there. Which are the same things required to take the final step.

                        So yeah, she failed. She had a bad game. It wasn’t her first/. But lets not lose sight of how remarkably hard it is for not only anyone, but a women, to get that far, and how exceptional she must have been at politics to even get to the position where she was able to fail like that.

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                        • switters,
                          By politics you mean blackmail.

                          In ACTUAL politics, she sucked royally. “Likeable enough” was Obama’s charity speaking. I’d say more, but… Did I mention how much of a grudge she holds?

                          Yes, it does take a certain breed of woman to rise to positions of power in this culture. Hillary, in particular, was a bit worse than usual (mad, really), and likely to break things that Trump won’t.

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            • True or she would eek out a narrow victory.

              Of course I think that Trump is basically enacting an amped up GOP agenda and his heterodoxy was a con but I’m only a Democrat so….

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              • I actually mostly agree with Will. Against a normal, likeable, bog-standard R, the fundamentals would have played out normally, the blue wall would have held up better (albeit never as well as expected), her particular weaknesses are apparent in real time and not masked, and the map plays out in a completely explicable narrative.
                But generic GOPman ends up with a completely different coalition beyond the infamous 27%.

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                • FWIW, there are people on LGM who think HRC would have eeked out a victory against a bog-standard Republican but not as strong a popular vote victory. Perhaps Greg’s analysis is right.

                  But I don’t doubt the efficacy on Trump’s routine, I doubt its veracity.

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            • Might it be that the base has contempt for the party in general?

              I think so. It’s actually a pretty big topic, but going back for a while now the GOP has increasingly disconnected itself from its own base’s interests to focus on opposing Democrats, and (short version here) as a result lost its own base in the process by an application of the exact same logic. My own view is that Trump recognized that status-quo politics was taking place at a level which left out (probably) the majority of American’s primary, most fundamental interests. That most folks viewed it as a fucking game. So he did two things: a) appeal to those interests directly and b) attack the “establishment” which engendered and sustains such a fucked conception of democratic governance. He effectively cut the legs from under two clashing titans while they were so preoccupied with each other that they didn’t realize other adversaries were contending for power.

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            • The platform he promised was heterodox

              I agree. In his “not the state of the Union” address before Congress last month he threw out plenty of red-meat Dem policy positions, inviting them to get on board with the program. I thought that was very good politics, myself (even if the delivery was cloaked in a general disdain for politicians, evinced in those moments by his contempt for Democrats in particular…).

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      • That seems to be giving Trump way too much credit. As far as we can tell, most of his campaign thought he would lose until mid or late October.

        This might as well be the dumb luck election.

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        • I think they did get lucky. But a significant part of that luck was having the opponents that he did…

          (And, this bears repeating, he never should have been in the position for luck and circumstance to get him across the finish line. Either one.)

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            • Nothing they could have done that they’d realistically be willing to do. Especially once he got to 1237. His luck in the primaries had more to do with delegate allocation, who ran, who didn’t, and who fell in what order. He might have carried the day anyway, though.

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            • They could have co-opted a handful of his critiques that were hitting home with the base. The interesting thing about 2016 isn’t simply that several fissures were exposed in Republican orthodoxy, but that none of the candidates could see it.

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            • I don’t think there *is* anything the Republicans could have done, for basically the same reason that Hillary lost:

              You cannot fight authoritarians on the basis of their horrific personas or what they say that is out of bounds.

              That is what Republicans did, and that is what Clinton did, and that is why they lost.

              You have to fight authoritarians *as if they are normal politicians*…with completely idiotic policies.

              Trump could have been defeated if Clinton had focused on, for example, Trump’s complete lack of stated policies. If she had focused on how stupid some of his premises were. Or, if she took things that he said that seemed reasonable (Like his childcare stuff, and whatever happened to that?), and *demanded he fully explain them*.

              But instead she assumed that pointing out what a horrible person he was would work…and it didn’t.

              Note I can’t really blame Clinton for this…our political system has never learned how to handle authoritarians. I certainly didn’t understand this until much later. I don’t think anyone understood what was going on.

              People like Trump have to be defeated by standing up to their dumbshit ideas, and pointing out they are dumbshit….not by pointing out they are raging moronic assholes. I know this doesn’t seem to make any logical sense, I know the obvious thing to do is to attack at the ‘highest level’ of ‘This person is not even competent to be president so I won’t even try to parse their ideas’, but that method of attack does not work. Authoritarian supporters *do not care*. They do not care about personalities, because they are defective human beings who only understand strength.

              Authoritarian supporters only start to care when you point out that the person they support *is speaking gibberish and all their ideas are stupid*. Make the person they support *look like an idiot* that has no idea what they’re talking about, and they’ll start quietly muttering among themselves. (1)

              However, unlike Clinton, who *could* have won if she understood what was going on and the correct way to fight authoritarians, the Republicans *couldn’t have* won doing that. Because their policies, believe it or not, were often stupider than Trump’s, and the few cases where Trump had notably dumber ones than them (The Wall, for example.), they were stupid in exactly the direction the Republican base had been taught was good.

              The Republicans cannot stop Trump. They cannot stop the next Trump from getting nominated. They, as a party, are in an untenable position to try to *stop* future Trumps, because they are so utterly disconnected from their base in the actual policy positions their base wants, because they ignored their base being moved by yammering morons in right wing media, and even helped the process along.

              1) Which is why the real danger, of course, is a smooth-talking hyper-intelligent authoritarian leader who can always deflect and ‘outsmart’ his opponents. Someone who his opponents *can’t* make look like a fool, even when his policies are completely unworkable. Someone who can always come up with some explanation and justification for why his policies are great and the failures are someone else. (Preferable some minority or other group actively trying to destroy the country.)

              That…is probably not describing Donald J. Trump. I mean, he’s clearly *trying*, he clearly understands how this is *supposed* to work(2), but, just, no.

              2) Not literally, he doesn’t ‘understand’ it, it’s just ow he functions…and that answers what used to be an interesting sociological question: We’ve always understood that authoritarian regimes had a lot in common throughout history, and it’s always been a question…is this deliberate? Like, is this some sort of strategy that seems to work, so cold and calculating authoritarian leaders do it? Either by modeling their behavior on other people, or just by trial and error? Or is this some inherent authoritarian-leader personality type (Not to be confused with authoritarian *supporter* personality type), is this how people *truly* think? And you get authoritarian regimes when they randomly end up in change?

              Well…it’s the latter. 100% the latter. Question now answered. Because Donald Trump is, frankly, much too dumb to have planned this out himself, or to be consciously modeling his behavior on *anyone*. We can see, quite clearly, his personality type, and it’s completely reflected in how he ran for office, and how he governs, and *none* of it could possibly be deliberate in any manner. This is how a certain type of people think and function.

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                • Man, don’t leave me hanging. What parts don’t you like?

                  This is my new-ish political theory about the election (It’s really only solidified over the last month) and I haven’t really put it out here much yet. I’m not entirely married to it, but it does seem to explain why Trump was anywhere near close.

                  The cause of the actual outcome of the election, of course, is many things, a whole bunch of stuff, including Comey, and Clinton making mistakes and not campaigning in specific places. (Although I have an unformed theory that polls were wrong because authoritarians maybe poll different? While the Bradley Effect might not really exist in general, perhaps something like it does exist for authoritarians, or perhaps it exists for obvious *horrible people* authoritarians?)

                  I’m just trying to explain the whole ‘How the hell was Trump even in the running at all?’ question.

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              • I’d say almost half of recent nominees were stopping by circumstance.

                Stoppable: Trump, Romney, Obama, McCain
                Not stoppable: Gore, Bush, Dole

                Kerry and Clinton are debatable, though I’d put them in the latter category.

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                • Back around 2004, the fun argument I always got into involved “what if Gephardt” rather than “what if Kerry”.

                  It always struck me that Gephardt would have won every single state that Kerry won without losing a single state… and he would have won Ohio.

                  Kerry was an awful, awful candidate. And the Democrats just couldn’t tell.

                  It might be a Northeast thing. Republicans are very good at defeating Northeasterners. Lord knows, they can’t defeat anybody else…

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                  • Except again, Kerry overpreformed what you’d expect a challenger to get against an incumbent.

                    It’s really hard to beat incumbent President’s, especially if thing’s are going better than not terrible.

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                    • Kerry overperformed because Bush was an awful, awful candidate.

                      It still strikes me that Gephardt would have won every single state that Kerry won without losing a single state… and he would have won Ohio.

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              • I largely agree here. This is what Luigi Zingales said about Bertolucci. His opponents only defeated him once they started going against him on policy instead of pointing at his outrageousness.

                I suppose the reasons this is hard is because it would feel great to defeat an authoritarian based on their odiousness, “The American people saw Trump for who he is and rejected it…..” and/or part of their secret genius is just getting under our skins.

                So what also happened is that the anti-Trump ads acted like pro-Trump ads for the just right amount of people.

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                • I largely agree here. This is what Luigi Zingales said about Bertolucci. His opponents only defeated him once they started going against him on policy instead of pointing at his outrageousness.

                  Thank you! That guy is what made me start thinking in that direction months ago, except that I couldn’t remember the guy’s name so couldn’t find it or link to it.

                  Note I don’t completely agree with him. He seems to think the protests against Trump were a bad idea, because he doesn’t seem to understand how Trump voters *already* think about anti-Trump people.

                  But, in generally, the more I’ve read about authoritarians over the last few months, the more I think that is how Democrats should move forward, both to destroy Trump’s support and to counter any Trump-like people in the future.

                  It really all is about projecting strength and intelligence and the ability to solve problems, and Trump could obviously be undercut on the last two of those. (It is, as I said, possible at some point that we could get an extremely smart and charismatic and weaselly authoritarian in the future that manages to dodge most policy attacks…but Trump is not that guy, and let’s just worry about Trump for now.)

                  I suppose the reasons this is hard is because it would feel great to defeat an authoritarian based on their odiousness, “The American people saw Trump for who he is and rejected it…..” and/or part of their secret genius is just getting under our skins.

                  Exactly. We all assumed that would happen, and we just need to *convince* his supporters of who he is.

                  That was…entirely wrongheaded, in every possible way. And also entirely understandable. We’ve never been in this situation before.

                  So what also happened is that the anti-Trump ads acted like pro-Trump ads for the just right amount of people.

                  Yes. A lot of Trump voters saw Trump *exactly how the Democrats were presenting him*: A total asshole who screwed a lot of people over.

                  They just wanted that guy to be president.

                  EDIT: Oh, forgot to link. Here’s the article I think I read, way back when. Again, I do not fully agree with what Democrats should do, and I think a lot of it has been proven wrong. But it started me thinking on this path: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/opinion/the-right-way-to-resist-trump.html?_r=0

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                  • Oh, and BTW, it just occurred to me…you want to undercut a guy’s perceived strength?

                    Allegations that he is a puppet of someone else would seem to do that nicely.

                    Are we going to get an article about that here? Because, frankly, that story is getting a bit wild. It really is starting to look like all the crazy theories were true.

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                • Many liberals and leftists aren’t fans of this analysis because it doesn’t let them point out how bigoted and misogynistic Trump is. A lot of people really want to point this out and don’t like to do the Trump is a normal politician with bad ideas routine.

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              • A third possibility regarding authoritarian regimes is that their commonalities result from the process of selection, which doesn’t require conscious strategy at all (as with evolutionary selection). In other words, even while Trump isn’t a “great politician”, he’s lucky enough to rise to power on the right combination of “winning” traits, traits which don’t necessarily correlate together in the general populace at all, but which, when they happen to combine, make for authoritarian success.

                I lean toward your view on the whole. I also think there are a couple ways in which Trump politically benefits from “rational irrationality” of the sort captured in the phrase “He’s crazy! He’ll do it!” If he were genuinely better at basic charismatic-politician behavior (e.g. if he could play a room and have listener-affirming conversations the way even a non-social introvert like me can) he’d lose a lot of followers who like him “Telling it like it is”.

                Ironically, I think he’d make that trade in a heartbeat; he clearly detests being disliked at all, and would probably rather have an Obama-level approval rating even if it made him a phony in the eyes of his current fans.

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                • A third possibility regarding authoritarian regimes is that their commonalities result from the process of selection, which doesn’t require conscious strategy at all (as with evolutionary selection). In other words, even while Trump isn’t a “great politician”, he’s lucky enough to rise to power on the right combination of “winning” traits, traits which don’t necessarily correlate together in the general populace at all, but which, when they happen to combine, make for authoritarian success.

                  I didn’t want to get into it that deep in a footnote of footnote. ;)

                  Here is my theory in total: Trump is a conman, a somewhat unintelligent but convincing man that tells people what they want to hear. He tells people he is going to give healthcare for everyone, because that line gets cheers. He doesn’t actually care about that (Except, as you said, to make him popular), but he says it because people like it.

                  So there’s a level of ‘con’ to what he is doing in a lot of things. As I’ve said before, he has offered some *startlingly* mid-left positions, positions so ‘far left’ (As in, not really that far left) it’s a struggle to get *Democrats* to agree to them, or to actually take any action furthering them.

                  I don’t think he means a *word* of them, but he’s clearly figured out where the American people are on economic issues, and is willing to lie his ass off.

                  So, with the *economic populism* stuff he’s presenting, I think Trump stumbled across something that authoritarian leaders might also stumble across, or might deliberately select as the lies they would operate behind. (They have to explain *some way* that others politicians are completely screwing over ‘real people’…and in this country, Trump had the added advantage of being somewhat right.)

                  But when you strip away the obvious ‘con’ stuff, what is left is the actual parts of his personality. The stuff behind the con, the real true Trump…is a nationalistic and racist old man. (For evidence, I point to his ad about the Central Park Five.)

                  The actual authoritarian stuff, the ‘everyone has been taking advantage of us and we need to get back at them!’, really is an inherent part of him.

                  He has managed, presumably accidentally because he really is very dumb and unknowledgeable, to reinvent a good deal of actual fascism behavior, to reinvent their slogans and positions and conspiracies…in fact, he’s probably invented *too much* of it and it’s way too obvious to get anywhere! Oops?

                  It is possible that some of this is bleeding in from the current alt-right he’s surrounded himself with, but I think it’s just as likely that the alt-right is accepted by him *because he happens to mirror their worldview*, even if some of the details are off.

                  When we look back on this era, when we don’t have to deal with this in real time, the dissection of the personality of Trump, who is too dumb to hide any of this, is probably going to tell us a lot about the origins of authoritarian leaders. (Just like the dissection of the end days of Nixon showed us how paranoia lunacy worked.)

                  I lean toward your view on the whole. I also think there are a couple ways in which Trump politically benefits from “rational irrationality” of the sort captured in the phrase “He’s crazy! He’ll do it!” If he were genuinely better at basic charismatic-politician behavior (e.g. if he could play a room and have listener-affirming conversations the way even a non-social introvert like me can) he’d lose a lot of followers who like him “Telling it like it is”.

                  I think ‘Telling it like it is’ is actually a code phrase used by his supporters. What it really means is ‘He insults the people we want insulted, because we need and demand enemies to attack’.

                  Wanting and, thus, seeing enemies is pretty much the definition of authoritarian followers. The authoritarian leader points out random entities as enemies, his (And it’s almost always ‘his’) followers leap on board to attack the enemies.

                  ‘Telling it like it is’ is just a way to indicate those enemies…it’s everyone who objects to that.

                  Ironically, I think he’d make that trade in a heartbeat; he clearly detests being disliked at all, and would probably rather have an Obama-level approval rating even if it made him a phony in the eyes of his current fans.

                  Trump is a very sad and desperate man, and I suspect he’s a victim of his own personality.

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            • Saul Degraw:
              So going back even further,

              What should the GOP have done to deny Trump the nomination? What could they do?

              Either Kasich or Rubio needed to be out of the contest before March 1. The remaining guy might have lost out to Cruz in the end, but that bloc would have curtailed Trump’s numerous plurality wins.

              eta – and Jeb should have stayed completely out of it. His hoovering up the early money undermined the ability for the not-Trump not-Cruz candidates to counter those two.

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                  • Though, all those people that gave all that early money to Jeb – what actually are they *not* getting now? They’re getting tax cuts, they’re getting a military build up, they’re getting domestic spending cuts, they got (iirc) the Mexico City policy, they’re on track for defunding PP.

                    The only thing off the table is entitlement reform. And any sort of sustainability in this agenda past the next two sets of federal elections.

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          • Will:

            “should” is bearing a lot of weight in your comment. Since 1980, the GOP has faced the problem that its donors want different things than its base. Whether it’s low taxes, immigration laws being flouted by employers, free trade agreements or Fed Reserve policy, the GOP has continuously acted to serve the interests of its donor class while offering platitudes to its base that these policies will help them too.

            It looks to me that the change in this election is that all the candidates in the primary were offering the classic Republican policies in slightly different disguises — except for Trump. He offered a proud pro-America strategy which rejected the classic Republican remedies and it swept the nation. Bagatelles like poor moral character were farts in the wind as compared to a nationalistic MAGA.

            Perhaps Trumpism “should” have beaten Bush fils.

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            • Since 1980, the GOP has faced the problem that its donors want different things than its base. Whether it’s low taxes, immigration laws being flouted by employers, free trade agreements or Fed Reserve policy, the GOP has continuously acted to serve the interests of its donor class while offering platitudes to its base that these policies will help them too.

              It looks to me that the change in this election is that all the candidates in the primary were offering the classic Republican policies in slightly different disguises — except for Trump.

              Exactly. ++

              Trump cut thru all the bullshit the rest of the GOP smart guys assumed wasn’t obvious. But it was obvious. Hell, even liberals were telling GOP voters that they were willing participants in a massive corporate grift at their own expense.

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        • That seems to be giving Trump way too much credit.

          My counterpoint: I think you give him too little credit. All square!!

          Actually, tho, I think you do give him too little credit. He campaigned on a handful of issues that matter to wide swaths of the electorate, and if not for his pussy-grabbing and general crassness he’d a crushed the competition. So, you know, don’t confuse the messenger with the message.

          This might as well be the dumb luck election.

          Sure, it might be. And certainly some of that came into play. Nate Silver wrote that 100,000 people in something like five Rust Belt counties determined the outcome of the election. That’s a pretty narrow margin. The problem with saying Trump got lucky is that doing so just doesn’t matter going forward. Except, maybe, that it makes you feel good about something. It also precludes Hillary and the Dems from receiving any negative judgments regarding the outcome.

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          • Well that is conflict. It’s possible to say this was a fluky election that was moved by Comey/Russia AND the D’s need changes. Those things aren’t exclusive. People on both sides want to just see one thing but you can’t understand the election without seeing both parts.

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            • It’s possible to say this was a fluky election that was moved by Comey/Russia AND the D’s need changes. Those things aren’t exclusive.

              Yeah, they are, actually, if I understand your argument here. The mere fact that the pussy grabber won the primary, let alone holds the Presidency, means that something has changed in American politics. The results might be flukey in the specific, but the fact that the PGer was even in the running is what’s interesting, and that wouldn’t have changed even had Hillary actually won.

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              • Nah, I don’t think anything changed as far as the Republican primary electorate. Trump was just the 1st Republican candidate who said the quiet parts loud.

                There were a couple of Republican staffers from McCain’s campaign who said they had polling that showed McCain’s numbers in ’08 would’ve improved he went explicitly racist against Obama.

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                • Nah, I don’t think anything changed as far as the Republican primary electorate. Trump was just the 1st Republican candidate who said the quiet parts loud.

                  But…. that’s the entirety of the change! It exposed the base as not only not giving a rats ass about what the GOP had been selling em, but picking the guy who opposed the GOP by saying it.

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              • Yeah, they are, actually, if I understand your argument here. The mere fact that the pussy grabber won the primary, let alone holds the Presidency, means that something has changed in American politics. The results might be flukey in the specific, but the fact that the PGer was even in the running is what’s interesting, and that wouldn’t have changed even had Hillary actually won.

                I would like to present a third alternative. This was *neither* a problem with Democrats (Although they do have them) nor a a ‘flukey’ election in the sense we should not do anything about it.

                What happened here is that Republicans have managed to distort their own party and base so much that their party was ready for an *authoritarian* takeover.

                And the American political system *does not understand how to handle authoritarians*.

                The Democratic party(1) will have to learn how to fight against authoritarians. This is not particularly hard, as long as everyone completely ignores their instincts to point out how obviously horrible people are obviously horrible people, and instead go after them on policy grounds.

                If Clinton had stopped trying to show that Trump was a horrible person (Which his supporters did not care about) and instead demanded that he put forward specific of his plans for the Wall, or instead demanded that he explain what sort of better health care plan he had, she would have completely undercut him.

                But blaming the Clinton campaign for not knowing this is a bit silly. No one knew to do this. No one understood what was going on. Everyone assumed that pussy grabbers *couldn’t* get elected president, and if you made his supporters realize that, if you kept telling them over and over, they’d stop supporting him.

                Nope. Not how that works for authoritarians supporters. They only understand power. Or things that *look* like power.

                Making Trump look like a blithering idiot who couldn’t explain anything at all would have worked much better in peeling away support. As would making it clear that the things he wanted to do would have harmed a lot of people, including ‘normal Americans’.

                But basically no one understood that. (I will freely admit *I* didn’t.)

                HOWEVER, the current opposition to Trump’s policies are making it pretty clear where the efficient attacks are, and I really hope it’s a lesson that Democrats learn in the future.

                1) I’m not sure the Republican party *can* handle authoritarians in the future. Pointing out the policy problems with *Trump* to *their own voters* would not have worked, because where Trump diverged in policy, he did it *towards* their base. In fact, because the Republicans politicians had diverged so far from rational positions, Trump was able to stake out *saner* (sounding) positions on a lot of stuff, even if they were a load of gibberish.

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            • Signed. A lot of things went wrong that all had to go wrong to lose.
              Unfortunately, a big portion of them were strategic and tactical mistakes – which range a gamut from not testing the candidate strongly enough early on to a naive passivity in evangelizing the message (literally “good news” – imo Clinton should have been much more aggressive telling people what’s in it for them).
              Fortunately, mistakes are correctable. The question is whether the will is there.

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  7. I think the oracular piece that was buried as too-awful-to-contemplate was the poll following Comity’s first briefing in which twenty percent of Clinton supporters disagreed with the decision not to indict her. This is a pretty extreme take that the media seemed to ignore and I don’t believe was ever followed with more polling other than once by Rasmussen; it sort of got wrapped into the dishonesty questions, but that doesn’t really capture the dynamic of such a large number of people voting for you who think you should perhaps be behind bars.

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