Why I am a Bull on this Election

Steve M. makes a prediction:

I think Democrats still haven’t unified. I think rank-and-file Democratic voters — not the most politically engaged people, but average voters — focus on politics later in a typical election cycle than rank-and-file Republicans. I checked the 2012 numbers and notice that Mitt Romney led in a lot of polls in May of that year.

So I think Clinton will win this one, but the margin will be more like the ones in 2008 or 2012 than in 1964. I think the Republicans could nominate Charles Manson and still win at least 175 electoral votes, because they think literally anyone who’s not a Democrat is preferable to a Democrat.

Every single post I wrote in 2012 on the election, including the ones in May when Romney was looking strong in the polls, said that Romney did not have a chance in hell of winning. I wasn’t even momentarily undecided about the outcome of that election because I wasn’t looking at polls in the springtime. What I was focused on was the potential for the Democrats to go from winning narrowly to winning in a blowout, and I still believe the country got to the precipice of that happening before Obama’s poor performance in the first debate stalled his momentum. The signs that led me to believe a blowout was possible in 2012 are similar to the ones I am seeing now, although things have gotten almost unimaginably worse for the Republicans in the intervening four years. Back then, I couldn’t imagine a situation where the Republican Speaker of the House wouldn’t endorse the candidate and volunteered to step down as chairman of the convention. I couldn’t imagine George Will saying that conservatives’ moral obligation was to make Romney lose in all 50 states. I couldn’t imagine that Republican senators wouldn’t even want to take a meeting with their nominee.

Now, Steve says that the floor for Trump is 175 electoral votes, and I don’t think he’s too far off. If Clinton wins all the states that Obama won in 2008 and adds Georgia, Arizona and Missouri, that puts the Electoral College at 392-146. That could be the floor, although it might not be if Trump just can’t hold up to scrutiny over the long campaign.

I don’t like to repeat myself, but it’s my belief that the Republicans operate at a disadvantage because their policies are broadly unpopular. They are still able to succeed because they are extremely good at fighting each news cycle with a coherent and unified message that is carefully crafted to create an us vs. them narrative which basically tribalizes our elections and our political discourse. They simply cannot accomplish this task anymore because most of their thought leaders, from Erick Erickson at Red State, to many of their hate radio broadcasters, to the National Review, to most of their communitariat on television, to their foreign policy elite, to the Bushes, Romneys, and McCains, to the Speaker of the House and many congresspeople and senators, all refuse to sing from Trump’s hymnal. Trump also won’t be able to raise enough money to compete, and he won’t mobilize the leaders in the social conservative movement. He’ll also be fighting the president and his bully pulpit, who will have the advantage of not being a candidate.

It’s not enough to say that the Republicans always win Georgia. You have to look at all the things they do that make winning Georgia easy for them. If they can’t do those things, then suddenly Georgia isn’t easy for them.

I come at politics as an organizer with an organizer’s perspective, which means that I don’t put too much stock in what candidates say, but I look very carefully at what they build. The same is true of parties, which is why I identified Obama as an outlier eight years ago, because he was focused as much on building an organization to win as he was on winning rhetorical arguments with his opponents. The reason I early on concluded that Sanders had no chance at the nomination was as much about how late he got started and how little progress he made uniting elected progressives and progressive organizers as it was about his standing with the black vote. And the reason I am bullish on Trump collapsing is only partly about his staggering flaws as a human being. It’s mainly about his inability to get the GOP up and running the way a major party needs to be run in order to wage a competitive national election.

I see no way that he can do it, and it doesn’t really matter if he can peel off some disaffected Rust Belt union Democrats. The Republicans cannot hold their own people in line without a unified and disciplined and tribalized message that is very well funded and never internally contradicted. The right doesn’t move as a Borg without this, and they cannot maintain their historical strength under these conditions.

One term I’ve used for this over the years is “winning the argument.” You may not like him, but in 1984, Ronald Reagan won the argument, which is why Vermont and Massachusetts and Rhode Island all voted for him. When it comes to an election between Clinton and Trump when the GOP isn’t operating as it was built to operate, winning the argument seems a given, and the only question is whether or not Trump’s narcissism and ignorance and boorishness can take a lost argument to a level we haven’t seen before.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.