Friday, November 11, 2016

Nobody Knows Anything

It was legendary screenwriter William Goldman who said, famously, of Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." Tuesday's Trumpquake suggests the same is true of America's punditocracy.

Like most other supposedly keen political observers, I delivered the worst prediction of my long career when I wrote in this space that Hillary Clinton would be elected president. It was only the third time in a dozen tries that I've gotten a presidential election wrong, but if I were you, I'd never want to hear my opinion again. So you're excused from reading the rest of this blog, without prejudice or penalty.

If you are still here, I do have a few thoughts. observations and nuggets of data (similar data were proven worthless Tuesday, so take these with a giant land mass of salt) to share.


That's a question I've been getting a lot, and one that I admit I've been asking myself, since I didn't predict it would. Trump's victory didn't take me by quite as great a surprise as it did others; I did predict almost a year ago that he would be the Republican nominee, provoking tremendous consternation and derision among many of my readers. But I also have believed for at least four years that Hillary Clinton was a prohibitive favorite to be our 45th president, and I didn't alter that assumption even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

It's been clear for a long time that much of the American electorate remains restless, angry, disenchanted. Yes, the economy is, empirically, a far sight better than it was when President Obama took office. Unemployment has fallen from almost ten percent to less than five. Instead of losing as many as 800,000 jobs a month, the country is creating as many as a quarter million. The U.S. economy is growing at about three percent a year, instead of plunging four percent, as it did in the spring of 2009. The Dow Jones average has tripled, meaning Americans with 401ks and other retirement and investment accounts have seen them more than recover from the Great Recession. But there are millions of people—no, tens of millions—who feel left behind by the recovery, whose paychecks are stagnant (or non-existent), who struggle to pay their bills and keep their credit card debt in check, who can't afford the still-rising cost of their health insurance premiums and their medications and their kids' education. They see factories close and jobs disappear and Mexican and Chinese and Somali and Puerto Rican immigrants arrive in their towns and they feel like they've lost their place in line, that someone else is stealing their shot at the American Dream, that they've been told to sit down, shut up, pay their taxes and take their lumps. They see the coastal elites with their app-driven lives and cars from the future and organic meal deliveries and wonder why everyone but them seems to be moving ahead. They live in places like Lycoming County, Pennsylvania and Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Hancock County, Ohio and Mariposa, California. The Democrats who live in these places voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, not Hillary Clinton. And on Tuesday, most of the people who live there voted for Donald Trump.

Most of them don't like Donald Trump. They don't admire his behavior. They don't think he's the kind of man who should occupy the Oval Office. But they don't think much of Hillary Clinton either. These are not people who vote party, or even policies. They vote personality. They're not sure what Trump's beliefs on most issues even are (is anyone?), but the ones they do know about, they probably don't share. It doesn't matter. They're dissatisfied. They want change. They've wanted change for years, decades even. They voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, because he was new and different, and a more compelling personality than John McCain or Mitt Romney. They voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, because he was from Texas, not Washington, had some folksy charm and was more engaging than Al Gore or John Kerry. They voted for Bill Clinton before that, for similar reasons. And Ronald Reagan before him. And Jimmy Carter. You get the idea.

I interviewed quite a few white folks who voted for—even volunteered for—Barack Obama, but this time, pulled the lever for Trump (or punched the hole, or filled in the arrow, or touched the screen). That is hard for liberal Democrats to comprehend. How could anyone—anyone—help elect the first black president, a man considered so progressive that his opponents slurred him as a socialist, and then turn around and vote for Donald Trump, a man who questioned Obama's legitimacy, aligned himself with white supremacists and called for a roundup of Muslim Americans and illegal immigrants?

It's too easy for outsiders to dismiss these voters as crazy, racist, sexist, xenophobic, illiterate misogynists. You know, your standard basket of deplorables. But even Hillary Clinton recognized that many of them are not that at all. Some have college degrees. Some went to graduate school. Many are women. Some are people of color. What they share is a sense that things still aren't getting better, that the country is moving in the wrong direction, and the people in charge just don't get it.

Even so, there weren't quite enough of them to elect someone as reprehensible as Donald Trump. That's not my characterization of him: the exit polls (if you still believe in any polls of any sort, which I'll get to below) reveal that 60% of the voters think Trump is not qualified to be president, and 63% say he doesn't have the right temperament for the job. Even a quarter of those who voted for Trump feel this way. So how in the world did he win? Because Hillary Clinton failed to inspire, and motivate, and mobilize, the voters everyone assumed she would turn out to win. I've seen some articles talking about the "Trump wave" that we journalists missed. There was no Trump wave, at least not nationally. Trump is going to end up with slightly more votes than Mitt Romney got in 2012, about 61 million or so. That's what we expected him to get. We anticipated an electorate of roughly 130 million people, and that it would take somewhere close to 65 million votes to win.

What we did not expect—and no one on the Clinton team did either—was that Hillary would not even come close to getting as many votes as Barack Obama did. Obama won in 2008 with a record-shattering 69.5 million votes, more than seven million more than George W. Bush got four years before, when he set a new record. Obama's support fell in 2012, when he won with about 66 million votes, to Romney's 61 million. Clinton is on track to finish with somewhat more than 63 million this time. She should end up about 1.3% ahead of Trump in the national popular vote. We all thought there would be a massive turnout of women to elect the first female president, and a surge of Latinos to keep the wall-building Trump out of the White House. Neither materialized. The female share of the electorate actually fell one percent from 2012, and Clinton did only slightly better among them than Obama did. She outpolled Trump with women, 54-42%, while Obama beat Romney among women 55-44%. Only one percent more Latinos voted this time than did in 2012, and Trump did better among them than Romney did (Trump won 29% of the Latino vote vs. Romney's 27%). Clinton didn't come close to matching Obama's appeal to Latinos—Obama won 71% of Hispanic voters, to Clinton's 65%. White women actually preferred Trump, with 53% voting for him and only 43% voting for Hillary. We knew Trump would beat Clinton among whites overall, but he did it by a record-setting 58-37% margin. As expected, Clinton did not do as well with black voters as Obama did, but we thought she might make up that difference by attracting new Latino voters and widening the gender gap. It didn't happen.

Another myth: Trump brought out many new voters, and also won over the middle-of-the-road folks. Nope. Only ten percent of the voters were first-timers. And, tending to be younger, they voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, 56-40%. And self-described moderates preferred Clinton, 52-41.

So, she won the fence-straddlers in the middle, and she won the new voters, so why did she lose? Well, first of all—she didn't, at least not in the purest sense. Clinton won a plurality of the votes, and in fact, will have the widest margin of victory in the popular vote of anyone who didn't win the presidency since Samuel J. Tilden in the notorious disputed election of 1876 (I wrote a term paper on that one in college, if anyone is interested in digging that up). But she didn't meet turnout expectations in a few key places: Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, Milwaukee. Even though she won in the cities, 59-35%, and Trump narrowly carried suburban America, he thumped Clinton in rural areas, 62-34. A relatively small number of white male Obama voters in those places I mentioned above gave Trump the narrowest of margins in three key states—Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida—and that gives him an Electoral College victory. At this hour's counting, Trump carries those three states by a total of 59,000 votes, or less than one percent. Toss in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by about one percent, and we're talking about less than one-tenth of one percent of the total votes cast Tuesday determining our next president. If Clinton had turned out literally another 0.1% of voters in the right cities, she'd have won those four states (technically, Michigan is still too close to call, with Trump ahead by less than 12,000 votes), which would have given her 303 electoral votes.

So, as you can see, it's not that Trump won this election as much as Clinton lost it. For all her vaunted advantages in fundraising and ground game and party support, she couldn't overcome the perception among white voters in rural America that she's a dishonest, lying, corrupt part of an elite political establishment that doesn't care about them and takes them for granted, if it thinks about them at all, a perception driven home in the campaign's final ten days by Trump's relentless ads portraying her as exactly that, and by FBI Director James Comey's untimely (for Clinton) announcement that he was investigating additional emails that might incriminate her, which ultimately amounted to absolutely nothing. Voters didn't turn to Trump in massive numbers in the closing days. They simply turned away from Clinton, enough to deny her victory in a handful of battleground states (Trump did do significantly better than Romney in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, but Clinton surpassed Obama's totals there, too, because the overall turnout hit record levels in those three states. In Wisconsin, Trump matched Romney's vote total, while Clinton fell about 200,000 short of Obama's).

Although I do think it's risky to write off the Trump Voter as uneducated, Trump did score an historic edge among voters without a college degree. In 2008, Obama and Romney essentially split college graduates, and Obama won among those without their degrees. This time? Clinton won the educated voters, 52-43%, while Trump won the less educated ones, 52-44. And among white voters who didn't finish college, Trump won resoundingly, 67-28. Those are unprecedented gaps.

So this election, like virtually every election without an incumbent president in recent times, was about Change. New. Promise. Different. When the first exit polling data came in Tuesday afternoon, what did voters say was the quality they were looking for most in their next president? "Can bring needed change." Uh-oh. Alarm bells went off at our KCBS Election Desk. That was not a good harbinger for Clinton. Two-thirds of the voters told the exit pollsters the country was on the wrong track. Yikes. That boded well for Trump. It wasn't until later that we got more data: A whopping 83% of those who said "bring needed change" was most important, cast their ballots for Trump. Even though Clinton won 66% of the people who said "has good judgment" was most important, and 90% of those who were looking for someone with "the right experience," there weren't as many of those voters in the mix. Which brings us to one final question...


Here, I posit the theory, supported by the monograph's worth of data I just laid on you, that we didn't, really. That's not a copout. I said Hillary would win the popular vote by more than five percent. I am an idiot. But the final polls all coalesced around a Clinton win by about 3 or 4%. I know when people hear, "Clinton will win by four percent" and she wins the popular vote by only one percent, they think, "Boy, the pollsters really blew it." But polling is rough science. Pollsters extrapolate results from small samples. Their sample sizes can be off. The way they weight the data they collect to reflect what they think the makeup of the electorate will be can be wrong.  But even so, missing the final popular vote by 2 or 3 points is well within most polls' margin of error. A poll that says Clinton will win by three points means in fact, she could win by six, or it could be a tie, or the final tally could fall anywhere within that range. Which it did.

So where the pollsters (and I) really did blow it was in the electoral vote. But again, as noted above, Trump won that by the slimmest of margins, by denying Clinton a fractional percentage of votes in states you can count on one hand (I suggest using the thumb for Michigan). And really, the only places the polls were off significantly were Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The final four polls in Florida had Clinton up two, Trump up three, and two were a tie. Trump won by about one percent, right in the middle of that spread. The polls in Wisconsin had Clinton up six to eight points, but no one bothered polling there in the last week of the campaign. The needle was already moving to Trump—or, more accurately, away from Clinton—but there was no one on hand to record it. The same was true in Michigan, where Clinton was consistently ahead by four or five points and it ended, essentially, in a tie. Perhaps in 2020, the pollsters will conduct more surveys, and later ones, in the key battleground states.

The other way we blew it was by how we read the polls we did get. Most political pundits, and even most people within the Clinton and Trump campaigns, were pretty sure Hillary was going to win. All the data, until the Comey letter came out on October 28, said the race was over. My interactions with voters in Ohio convinced me Trump would win there, and the polling supported that. If I had seen consistent survey data showing Clinton ahead in Ohio, I would have reconsidered my conclusion. But I didn't. So I put the Buckeye State in Trump's column in my final prediction (I remain astounded by how many pundits said Clinton would win Ohio. There were literally zero data to support that). But the polls were steady for Clinton in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. There was no reason to suspect a Clinton collapse there. So when we looked at the final polls, both nationally and in swing states, we tended to believe the ones that supported what we already believed to be true: that she would win. This bias reinforced a flawed conclusion. We disregarded polls that deviated from our expectations. They must be outliers. They can't be right. Given a choice between surveys that bolstered our preconceptions and ones that challenged them, we embraced the former and scoffed at the latter. This wasn't because we wanted Clinton to win; it was because we thought she would. I didn't want Trump to win the Republican nomination, but I predicted he would because all the available data, and my own observations of voters, told me that he would. In this case, even though I had ample contact with Trump supporters, I didn't believe there were enough of them to overcome what I thought was the larger universe of Clinton voters, a universe that collapsed into a black hole for Democrats on Tuesday.

I called three states wrong on Tuesday (four, if Michigan ends up a Trump state). I got two of the U.S. Senate races wrong. That's not bad, I suppose, but it falls far short of my usual standard, and bottom line, I PREDICTED THE PERSON WHO LOST WOULD WIN. Please allow me to hang my hat on this caveat that I included in Tuesday's prediction:

There could be a hidden pool of Trump voters who aren't showing up in the polls. There could be a Trump Effect, with respondents afraid to tell pollsters they're secretly planning to pull the lever for Donald. There could be a huuuge turnout of white men without college degrees who descend on polling places en masse to Make America Great Again.

As things turned out, that's exactly what happened, and in just enough critical places where Clinton failed to make up the difference.

Okay. That's a really long explanation of how Trump pulled off the biggest upset in modern political history, and how I missed seeing it coming. I underestimated the level of antipathy for Clinton, and I overestimated her ability to get her voters to the polls. The lesson for Democrats next time? Nominate someone who can run as an outsider, as a legitimate agent of change (a la Barack Obama or Bill Clinton), especially if President Trump (anybody used to saying that yet?) fails to deliver. The people who switched to him this time won't be patient with him for long. Certainly not as patient as you've been with me.

Final note regarding the exit polls: You'll notice I treat this data as if it were handed down on stone tablets. I am always amused by how we deride the pollsters for being so off the mark before an election, and then regurgitate the exit polling data as if it were stone cold fact. It isn't. It could be wrong too. But—there are some critical differences. Pre-election surveys are based on an estimate of what we think the electorate will look like, a best guess of who's likely to vote, and then a weighting to reflect the expected demographic breakdown. Exit polls are a measure of people who have actually voted. We don't have to guess how many Latina women over 50 will vote; we can count the ones standing in front of us coming out of the polling place. And the sample size is much larger. Instead of a survey of one or two thousand people on the phone, the National Election Pool (a data-sharing consortium of which CBS is a member) interviews more than 100,000 people, mostly in person. The response rate is much, much higher, and the margin of error much, much lower. People could still lie about how they voted, but they're less likely to do that in a face-to-face interview. This data is how we call the results in states long before the votes are counted. When the returns start to come in, if they hew closely to what the exit polling suggests they will be, we can deduce that the actual result will be what the polls say. If a state is very close, the polling data may not be enough, delaying a call. This is also how we knew something was amiss in the "butterfly ballot" counties in Florida in 2000. The exit polls said Al Gore had won Florida, because voters told the pollsters they'd voted for him, when in fact many of them had cast ballots for Pat Buchanan by mistake. So when their votes were counted, they weren't for Gore, confounding the exit poll data.

There can still be weighting errors in these polls of course, and people who refuse to answer can throw things off, but in general, we believe the exit poll data to be fairly reliable. Of course, we thought Hillary Clinton would win Pennsylvania, too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Madam President

Could Donald Trump really be elected President of the United States today?
Sure. Anything is possible.
The Chicago Cubs could win three straight do-or-die games to capture their first World Series since the Roosevelt administration—and that's Teddy Roosevelt.
The Director of the FBI could turn the presidential race on its head by announcing he's found hundreds of thousands of emails that may incriminate Hillary Clinton on the laptop of a narcissistic sex addict (no, not Trump)—and then, nine days later, pull an Emily Litella and say, "never mind."
Russian hackers could penetrate America's voting machines and switch enough ballots in key swing state precincts to throw the presidency to The Donald.
Okay, that last one hasn't happened—yet (as far as we know)—but barring something similarly outrageous and unforeseen, it seems almost certain that America will indeed elect its first female president by choosing Hillary Rodham Clinton to succeed Barack Obama.
I've been making official presidential predictions since 1972, and it's time for my quadrennial crawl onto the limb of potential public humiliation (I think I've used that line, or a variant, every four years too). I have a great track record, but as we all know, past performance is no guarantee of future results. So just because I've been right nine times out of eleven, and have never missed on predicting the eventual Republican nominee (yes, I picked Trump this year), and have an 80% success rate on the Democratic primary, and got every U.S. Senate race right last time, and nailed Obama's margin of victory in the popular vote, does not mean I'll get any of it right in 2016. This stuff gets harder, and weirder, every year.

But, here goes:

Hillary Clinton 49.2%
Donald Trump 43.8%
Gary Johnson,
Jill Stein, et al. 7%

Hillary Clinton 308
Donald Trump 230

Democrats 50 (including 2 independents who caucus with them)
Republicans 50

Here's my Electoral College map:

I believe Hillary Clinton will outperform the polls and do better in the popular vote than most of the forecasts suggest. If California's turnout is large enough, she might even exceed 50% (California alone supplied 60% of Barack Obama's margin of victory over Mitt Romney in 2012). I am not as bullish on her chances in a couple of key swing states, Ohio and North Carolina, as some other pundits seem to be, so while I do see her topping 300 in the Electoral College, I am not predicting as wide a margin there as you might see from some of my colleagues. She could hit 323. Her ceiling is as high as 352. But I don't think she gets there.

She doesn't need to, of course. 270 is sufficient, and she'll have plenty to spare, even to withstand a few "faithless electors" when the Electoral College meets in December.

There could be a hidden pool of Trump voters who aren't showing up in the polls. There could be a Trump Effect, with respondents afraid to tell pollsters they're secretly planning to pull the lever for Donald. There could be a huuuge turnout of white men without college degrees who descend on polling places en masse to Make America Great Again. But the early voting data, and the long lines of Latinos, in particular, voting in places like Florida, northern Virginia and Las Vegas, suggest the wind is at Clinton's back, not Trump's, and the momentum he was building since James Comey's October 28th announcement has faded, and reversed field.

A couple of points on the swing states:

OHIO - Trump has consistently led in the polls here. Only a couple—notably, Ipsos, which is an excellent polling firm—have had Clinton ahead, and just barely. Ohio is a reliable bellwether, voting for the presidential winner in every election since 1964. But the demographic changes altering vote patterns in other key states are not happening (yet) in the Buckeye State, which is now older and whiter than its Midwestern neighbors, and this could be the year it falls out of step with the rest of the nation. I spent some time in Ohio during this campaign and outside of Cleveland, it sure felt like Trump country to me. Obama carried the state twice, thanks to very large and late turnouts of African Americans. I don't see as many of those folks going to the polls for Clinton, and there probably aren't enough Latinos in Ohio to make up the difference. I could be wrong, of course, and Hillary could win here, but I think it's Trump's big prize on Election Night.

NORTH CAROLINA - Another tossup state, where African Americans fueled an Obama victory in 2008. But Mitt Romney won it back for the GOP in 2012. Again, the black turnout will be down this time. Can Clinton's superior ground operation put her over the top? Maybe. But my gut tells me that Trump wins this one, too, and incumbent Republican Richard Burr holds off Democratic challenger Deborah Ross in the U.S. Senate race. This one is truly too close to call for me. Clinton could win it, but I'm giving it to Trump.

FLORIDA - A massive surge of anti-Trump Latino voting has been happening in the Sunshine State the last few days. Early voting there shattered records. There could be enough votes for Trump in rural areas and the Panhandle to offset Clinton's big advantage in South Florida, but I think she ekes this one out.

If I'm wrong on any states this time, it will be on one or more of those three. They're the ones in which I have the least confidence. I see Nevada safely in Clinton's column, Iowa going to Trump, Hillary taking New Hampshire, Virginia and Colorado, and Trump surprising many of the pundits and hanging on to Arizona (I could be wrong on that one, too).

In the US Senate race, what once looked like a sure bet that Democrats would win a majority has faded into a tossup over the last fortnight as the presidential race tightened. Republicans have a 54-46 edge right now (including independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders, who caucus with the Democrats). So if Democrats gain four seats and Hillary Clinton is elected president, it'll be a 50-50 tie controlled by the Democrats (Vice President Tim Kaine would provide the tiebreaking vote). If Trump wins the presidency, Democrats need to net five seats for Senate control.

Here's how I see the contested seats going:

New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D) ousts incumbent Kelly Ayotte (R)   Net: Dems +1
North Carolina: Incumbent Richard Burr (R) hangs on against Deborah Ross (D)  Net: Dems +1
Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (D) knocks off incumbent Pat Toomey (R)  Net: Dems +2
Illinois: Tammy Duckworth (D) thrashes incumbent Mark Kirk (R)  Net: Dems +3
Missouri: Incumbent Roy Blunt (R) fends off Jason Kander (D) Net: Dems +3
Wisconsin: Russ Feingold (D) takes out incumbent Ron Johnson (R)  Net: Dems +4
Nevada: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) edges Joe Heck (R), holding the seat of retiring Harry Reid for the Democrats  Net: Dems +4
Indiana: Todd Young (R) edges Evan Bayh (D) to hold the seat of retiring Dan Coats for GOP  Net: Dems +4
Ohio: Incubent Rob Portman (R) beats Ted Strickland (D)  Net: Dems +4

So that gives us a 50-50 Senate, with Democrats in control by virtue of Tim Kaine being vice president. making Chuck Schumer of New York the new Senate Majority Leader.

Ross could beat Burr; Kander could upset Blunt. Either of those would give the Democrats outright control. But Ayotte could also come back and hang on against Hassan, potentially giving the GOP a 51-49 edge.

In the House of Representatives, I believe Democrats will fall far short of the 30 seats they need to win to regain control and make Nancy Pelosi Speaker again. I see them flipping 14-18 seats, narrowing the Republican majority but leaving Paul Ryan as Speaker.

There you have it. Tune in this afternoon and tonight to see how wrong I was. And whether Trump or Clinton will be the new Leader of the Free World. Personally, I love Election Day. It's like Christmas morning for me. I can't wait to open our shiny new president.

Our live, wall-to-wall coverage of the election returns begins at 4pm Pacific on KCBS Radio (106.9 fm, 740 am, and will run until at least midnight Pacific. We will bring you national, state and local results, as well as reaction and analysis, live reports from all over the country and California. I will be tweeting like a maniac at @SovernNation, so be sure to follow me for rapid-fire results and in-between-radio-reports analysis, breaking news, and pithy nuggets. Then we'll be back at it starting at 6am Pacific for morning after recrimination and regret. See you there. And don't forget to vote!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tears Of A Clown

"I think California is extremely winnable. I think that there's a real groundswell happening here in California. I've got a lot of little ticklers out there that are indicators to me just how significant our vote count could be here."

That's what Liz Ritchie, Northern California field operations director for Donald Trump's presidential campaign, told me Wednesday about her candidate's chances in the Golden State. Her apparent optimism belies all recent polling data, and the campaign's own activities in California. Hours after Ritchie's confident assertion, a new statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Trump's support here cratering to an historic low. Just 28% of likely California voters say they'll vote (or already have voted) for Trump, versus 54% for Hillary Clinton. That means Trump may well deliver the worst performance of any major party presidential nominee in California history. When FDR was re-elected in 1936, he thumped Kansas Governor Alf Landon in the Golden State, 67-32%.

Despite Trump's early bluster about competing for California's mother lode of 55 electoral votes, and his frequent trips here over the late spring and summer to fundraise and campaign, this bluest of blue states has always been safely in Clinton's column. So much so that Clinton's campaign—and Trump's too—has turned California into a giant political gold mine from which to export resources into nine critical states that are still toss-ups. Clinton's Brooklyn brain trust has declared California its national call center. Literally tens of thousands of eager volunteers are staffing dozens of field offices up and down the state, using sophisticated online tools to contact and mobilize voters from Florida to Arizona, from New Hampshire to Nevada. During a visit to the new Oakland office, its director, Katie Hooper, told me that the Northern California volunteers alone are placing more than half a million calls a day. That Get Out The Vote operation will only intensify in the campaign's final days, climaxing with a 96-hour push leading up to the closing of the polls on November 8.

Mind your time zones: a sign on the wall at Hillary Clinton's Oakland field office

Ritchie is running a similar operation for Trump. She claims "hundreds of thousands of volunteers" in California, and says if the national campaign would let her, she could unleash them as a Golden State ground force. "We were kind of gearing up for that, we got prepared for it. It's not like we couldn't do it." But her orders from New York are to send "strike teams" of Californians to Nevada and Arizona, to try to swing those states into Trump's column, and to utilize the same calling technology Clinton is using to reach likely Trump voters in other toss-up states and get them to the polls. "We're going after the battleground states because those are mandatory wins and we don't want to allow them to be neglected in any way." But, she says, "if it looks like we've got a leeway in our battleground states, I'm sure we'll implement" her plan to mobilize her California volunteers in their home state.

It's easy to say Ritchie is putting as brave a face as she can on a looming campaign failure of epic proportions. But she and Trump's other key operatives here—state director Tim Clark, campaign spokesman Jon Cordova—seem genuinely optimistic and enthusiastic about their chances. Do they not read polls? Do they not believe them? Are they in denial? 

"We know what we're seeing on the ground," one Trump operative told me. "We have more volunteers than we can handle. There are Trump signs everywhere. He drew huge crowds here and he's still having huge rallies all across the country."

In the last few days, Trump's team has been invoking Harry Truman's upset comeback of 1948, when all the pundits said President Truman was doomed to defeat at the hands of New York Governor Thomas Dewey. But compared to 2016, the polls of 1948 might as well have been carved on stone tablets. Even giving Trump the most generous benefit of the doubt—conceding to him the battleground states where he's either slightly ahead, it's a dead heat, or his deficit is within the margin of polling error (Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada) and giving him Utah and all of Maine and Nebraska (which award some electoral votes by congressional district)—he still loses the Electoral College to Clinton, 304-234.

And if Clinton wins North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada, which polls suggest she may well do, to go along with expected victories in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado and all-important Florida, her margin of victory balloons to 336-202. If she manages to eke out Ohio and Maine too, it's a 358-180 bloodbath. If she confounds decades of history and upsets Trump in Texas and Utah, her electoral vote tally will top 400 (this is not likely, but it's at least as likely as Trump winning the White House by running the table in the swing states).

President Harry S Truman exults in his surprise 1948 election, despite the 
Chicago Tribune's premature declaration of his political demise

In the last two weeks, Team Trump has sent out at least three emails seeking more California volunteers to staff phone banks and make canvassing runs across the border to Nevada and Arizona. So Ritchie's comments may well be disingenuous. But even taken at face value, large crowds and a minority core of passionate supporters do not necessarily translate into victory at the polls. Just ask Bernie Sanders. When the circus comes to town, lots of people go see the show. That doesn't mean they all want to climb aboard the elephant. The tent seems ready to come crashing down on Donald Trump.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Trump's Electoral Stenosis

Stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of a pathway in your body, often in your spinal column or neck. It can be a debilitating condition that leads to weakness and paralysis. Right now, we're witnessing a rare, self-induced case of campaign stenosis that is narrowing Donald Trump's path to the presidency so much that it's almost entirely closed off. And it's only early August.

Elections aren't typically won or lost in August, not before the presidential debates, unforeseen world events, an October Surprise, and who knows what else. But this is a most atypical election year (that's just in from the Keen Sense of the Obvious Bureau), one in which several major newspapers have already endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, one in which Trump got virtually no bounce from the Republican National Convention while Clinton got one from the DNC that is lasting well beyond what is normal, hardening from a bounce into a rock solid lead.

Consider this: in the last ten days, major national polls have shown Clinton beating Trump by ten, twelve, even fifteen points. Her average lead right now is around eight points. It's true that summer surveys are far from conclusive, and Trump could still (and probably will) narrow the gap considerably. But the last two presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, never had leads remotely that large. In the last forty years, only Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 ever enjoyed polling leads this substantial at this point in a presidential campaign.  Reagan went on to win by 18 points, and Clinton won both his races by comfortable margins.

Hillary Clinton, despite unfavorability ratings that would be the worst in history if not for the even worse ones of her even more despised opponent, is poised to win the presidency in a landslide. Yes, a landslide. Not because of those lopsided national polling numbers, but because she is pulling away in states that should be closely contested, and could even capture states the Democrats should have no reasonable hope of winning.

Here's how this election will turn out if Clinton wins the same states Obama did four years ago (interactive maps courtesy of, where you can make your own):

So that means Clinton starts with a presumed Electoral College advantage of 332 to 206, if she just holds on to all 27 of Obama's blue states, and Trump wins all 24 red ones Mitt Romney carried (50 states, plus the District of Columbia).

Trump's hopes rest on taking away Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, which would give him a 273-265 victory in the Electoral College. Or, if he carries Ohio and Florida but not Pennsylvania, perhaps making up for it by winning in Iowa, Virginia and Nevada, which would give him a 278-260 win and look like this:

Here's where Trump's electoral stenosis comes in. Recent polls in those battleground states show Clinton winning Pennsylvania by between 9 and 11 points. If not for its history, that would make it a Clinton shoo-in, not a swing state. She's beating Trump in Colorado by from 8 to 13 points, and in Virginia by 7 to 12. In fact, the Clinton campaign is shifting resources from those two states, so confident is it now of victory there. And the shift to Clinton goes on: WBUR has her beating Trump by 17 in New Hampshire. The last two polls in Michigan put Clinton up by 9 and 10. These are no longer battlegrounds; they are killing fields.

Ohio, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Iowa remain close, and could still go either way. But Clinton could lose all of those and still win 273-265 as long as she carries Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire, where, we've just noted, she has commanding leads.

A more likely scenario, in fact, is that Clinton not only sweeps most, if not all, of the swing states, but pulls off upset victories in historically Republican states, conservative strongholds like Utah and Georgia, and purplish places like Arizona. Clinton should not be competitive in Utah and Georgia, and Arizona should be relatively safe for Trump. But this is Donald Trump we're talking about. He is loathed by many conservative Republicans in Utah and Colorado, in particular, and his anti-Muslim rhetoric repulses Mormons throughout the Intermountain West, while his anti-illegal immigration vitriol is galvanizing the Latino vote in Arizona. So Arizona, which no Democrat has won since Bill Clinton in 1996, is a dead heat. So is Georgia, where the two most recent polls actually show Clinton ahead - even though no Democrat has carried the Peach State since her husband in 1992. And Utah? Tougher to predict, thanks to a dearth of polling data, but Libertarian Gary Johnson is running strong there, and with Mormon conservative ex-CIA agent Evan McMullin entering the race as an independent wild card, a Clinton victory there over Trump in a splintered field is certainly not out of the question.

So, one last map: If Clinton were to run the table in the battlegrounds, and tip just a few typically red states into her column, the country would look like this:

That's 31 states for Clinton, only 20 for Trump, and a 380-158 Electoral College landslide, the biggest since George H.W. Bush swamped Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Of course, this election could also end in a 269-269 tie, if things broke just right, which could leave us with President Donald Trump and Vice President Tim Kaine - but that's a scenario to be explained in another column - and only if if Trump can somehow stop dealing body blows to his own candidacy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why The Revolution Was Not Televised

The rumors crackled across the convention floor like a smoldering wildfire: "They're going to turn their backs on Hillary Clinton. They're going to walk out. They're going to throw toilet paper at her. They're going to rush the stage."

"We can't let her speak. She should not be allowed to speak," one #BernieOrBust delegate told me the morning of Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech, refusing to accept the legitimacy of Clinton's nomination for president by the Democratic Party. He was part of a hardcore minority within the Bernie Sanders delegation to the Democratic National Convention that felt betrayed by its leader. "He promised us we'd fight at the convention. We came here expecting an open convention. Instead, he sold us out. He no longer has the moral authority to tell us what to do."

These delegates, perhaps two hundred out of Sanders' almost two thousand in Philadelphia, might have been surprised, even outraged, to learn that Bernie Sanders was actually working closely with Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia to keep them from derailing the convention.

Conversations with more than a dozen delegates, floor whips and officials from the Clinton campaign, the Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee reveal just how they did it.

Most importantly, the Clinton campaign, not convention organizers, controlled the floor of the DNC. The yellow-vested floor whips told Clinton delegates where to sit, what signs to hold, what chants and cheers to yell and when to yell them. They seated delegations strategically, at first trying to dilute the strength of the Sanders delegates by splitting them up, then by surrounding them and keeping them as far back from the stage as possible. As in Cleveland at the RNC, the California delegation was the largest, and the loudest. In Cleveland, the Californians were all Trump delegates, so the Golden State crew was seated near the stage, where they could present a united front on television and shout down any dissidents supporting Ted Cruz, or any other challenge to Donald Trump. That worked to a T, as the Californians relished their role and overwhelmed all opposition.

But in Philadelphia, the California delegation consisted of 330 Clinton delegates and 221 Sanders supporters. So instead of a choice spot on the floor, the Californians were exiled to Section 105, one level up, far stage right, in a corner. Clinton's delegates arrived early each day and reserved all the seats closest to the floor, sometimes filling them with non-delegates to force the Sanders team to the rear of the section, where they would not be seen on television and would be less likely to be heard.

Sanders merged his campaign operation with Clinton's. There were no Sanders whips on the floor. The floor captains wore headsets, receiving radio instructions from the "boiler room," where senior operatives from the combined campaigns told them how to thwart any insurrections by the Sanders diehards. They were given a list of the chants the Sanders delegates might use, in advance, and had a corresponding list of counter-chants. So when TV viewers heard loud chants of "Hillary" at seemingly random moments, it was to drown out chants of "No TPP" started by some of the California Sanders delegates. When they heard "USA" break out at inexplicable times—a chant heard more often in the past at Republican conventions than Democratic ones—it was to cover chants of "No More War" coming from Section 105. When Sanders delegates stood up with homemade signs denouncing Clinton, or tried to wave the "LIAR" signs they'd made from the "HILLARY" ones handed out in the hall, Clinton delegates stood up with giant banners, designed to look homemade, but really, stashed ahead of time by the campaign, like this one:

California Sanders delegates doctoring signs in protest

The Sanders delegates also claim the Clinton campaign or the DNC installed white noise machines above certain sections to drown out any anti-Clinton chanting.

In the end, Clinton won. Yes, some delegates walked out, some turned their backs, many chanted, but for the tens of millions watching at home and around the world, that revolution was not televised. The #NeverHillary Sanders folks who were sitting front and center, in the New York and Florida delegations, stood up and waved signs and chanted, but never rushed the stage, as the Secret Service had heard they might. They wouldn't have gotten anywhere near Hillary Clinton, but the sight of the party's nominee being hustled off the stage while security forces subdued on onslaught of delegates would have doomed any hope the Democrats had of presenting an image of unity to the nation.

The upstart Sanders renegades had whips of their own, instructing their members when to chant, how to assert themselves and demand seats that were supposed to be held only for delegates, distributing fluorescent yellow-green "Enough Is Enough" shirts to wear on the convention's final night. But there weren't enough of them committed to disrupting Clinton to overcome the cards stacked against them. I was on the convention floor interviewing Donna Brazile, named interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz's email-induced fall from grace, when Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Bernie Sanders, happened by. "Excuse me," Brazile said, interrupting our interview. "There's my brother Jeff Weaver. I need to tell him how much I love him." Brazile proceeded to hug and laugh with Weaver, whisper in his ear and tell him how much she looked forward to working with him. It was more than just a public display of unity. While Sanders' most determined delegates felt betrayed and deceived by the Democratic National Committee, the man running their hero's campaign was already in cahoots with it. The Sanders brain trust turned over its intelligence on those resisting his endorsement of Clinton, so that Clinton's convention managers would know what to expect, and how to prepare. The combined operation even had spies within the rebel group.

DNC interim chair Donna Brazile with Sanders campaign boss Jeff Weaver on the convention floor

"This is like something out of 'House of Cards,'" one irate Sanders delegate from California told me. "These people are cheating. The whole system is rigged."
"They're roughing us up," another Sanders delegate, Henry Huerta of Los Angeles said. "They're shutting us out, trying to silence us."
"It's called politics," a California Clinton delegate responded. She asked me not to use her name. "This is how the game is played at this level. We're not doing anything they wouldn't do, if they knew how. They're just new to the sport. We're better at it than they are."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Night And Day

Thoughts on what lies ahead
Somewhere over Kansas

I’m winging my way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, after covering the Republicans’ confab in Cleveland last week (apologies for not blogging from the RNC, but the California delegation’s distant accommodations in Sandusky, Ohio added two hours of driving to my already overstuffed days and too-short nights there, and the need for sleep trumped posting to the blog. I’ll make up for it with far too many words here).

The RNC was the most off-kilter political convention I’ve ever covered, marred by Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, the open political warfare on the floor between the Ted Cruz delegates and the Donald Trump campaign, a bizarre and oddly programmed hodgepodge of motley speakers, and finally, the longest acceptance speech in American history, Trump’s 76-minute recitation of the doom and gloom that, in his eyes, has rendered America no longer great.

Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the Miami Congresswoman who chairs the Democratic National Committee, buzzed about the periphery of the RNC like a mosquito waiting to suck blood and raise welts. She talked to any and all comers about what a mess the convention was, and how her party was unified in its fight against Trump’s divided GOP, even ribbing her Republican counterpart, Reince Priebus, reminding him via Twitter that she was in town and available to show him how to run a smoother operation.

Well, as I write this, the Democrats are embroiled in pre-convention controversy of their own, and it turns out it isn’t always sunny in Philadelphia, after all. Friday, Wikileaks released thousands of hacked DNC emails—perhaps stolen by Russians trying to help Trump win the presidency, in return for policies more favorable to the Kremlin—that include embarrassing evidence that Shultz and other party higher-ups were indeed trying to sabotage the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders and ensure the nomination of Hillary Clinton (and Shultz trying to score tickets to “Hamilton” - DNC communications chief Luis Miranda is the father of Broadway wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s reassuring to know that clout has its limits). As the leaked emails broke, the furious pro-Sanders forces, armed with new proof that yes, the system is rigged, were fighting in the Rules Committee to abolish superdelegates in future campaigns, to make it easier for an outsider like Sanders to wrest the nomination from an anointed insider, like Clinton. Sanders demanded that Shultz step down. So things were unraveling for the Democrats on two fronts.

Just before my flight took off came this bit of breaking news (what would I do without Twitter and my crackphone, I mean iPhone?): Shultz announced that she will resign from the DNC—as soon as this week’s convention is over. She will still wield the gavel, opening and closing the convention, though her presence may be diminished. Score another one for Sanders, who sees her as his bĂȘte noire, who may have cost him the nomination and, perhaps, the presidency. This development will surely overshadow everything else on the convention’s opening day. Never mind your message, Senator, Governor, Congressman, up-and-coming obscure state lawmaker—what do you think about your party chair resigning under fire? How can you argue the Democrats are unified? Will the 1900 or so Sanders delegates break this convention wide open by feuding with the 2800 Clinton loyalists?

This will be my seventh national party convention, and I’ve never seen the kind of head-spinning, not-according-to-plan kerfuffles we got at the RNC—and now the DNC promises more of the same.

But there’s one critical difference, and it comes from the top: the presidential nominees themselves, and their closest rivals, and it’s instructive as to what kind of president each might make.

Donald Trump ran roughshod over the Cruz minority in Cleveland. To use his words, he “crushed them.” His team kept its boots on their throats in the Rules Committee, refused to allow a floor vote on the question of whether delegates should be released from their commitment to support Trump on the first ballot, and turned back every challenge from the Dump Trump brigade, without exception or compromise. Meanwhile, John Kasich—the Republican governor of the swing state hosting the convention—boycotted the whole affair, Marco Rubio gave a perfunctory 85-second address via video from Florida, and Ted Cruz, in a prime time speech, thumbed his nose at Trump and his rabid delegates by refusing to endorse him and urging America to vote its conscience. Bedlam broke out on the floor. I saw people crying and trembling, so shaken they couldn’t speak. Seriously. The party was ripped asunder for all to see. The schism was muted, momentarily, by the rousing reception the conventioneers gave Trump’s marathon acceptance address, only to have the wound gashed open again the very next morning by Trump himself, with a rambling diatribe against Cruz. There will be no endorsements, no party unity, no coalition to defeat Clinton.

It appears the Philadelphia Story could have a quite different ending. Rather than risk the unruly disturbance of a floor vote on the superdelegates issue, Clinton’s team is forming a “Unity Commission” with the Sanders supporters to study how to reduce the role of superdelegates, and cut their number by two-thirds. That defuses that tension. Instead of fighting to keep her job, the lightning rod Shultz is stepping down, presumably at Clinton’s behest, or at the very least with her acquiescence. Though many of his delegates remain livid, and may stage protests of their own—there’s talk of turning their backs, or even walking out, during Tim Kaine’s acceptance to register their disappointment that Hillary didn’t choose a more progressive running mate, and you can count on some fiery FeelTheBern-ing during the roll call vote of the states—Sanders himself remains steadfastly in Clinton’s corner. He is not rescinding his endorsement of Clinton for president and on Monday night will deliver it, with full-throated enthusiasm, in his prime time convention address. His campaign says he will make, in great and passionate detail, the case for defeating Donald Trump and electing Hillary Clinton, and will tout the “most progressive platform in party history”—which Clinton agreed to, in yet another mollifying move. In fact, Hillary is doing everything she can to minimize the controversies, forge unity, and turn each potential conflagration into a sing-along bonfire.

Can you imagine Trump agreeing to a Unity Commission with his “crushed” rivals? Or any of the top runners-up (especially Ted Cruz) urging the country to vote for him? I didn’t think so.

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton will strike a far different tone from Trump’s. Trump didn’t give us Ronald Reagan “morning in America’ oratory. It was more like a dark and stormy midnight. I expect Clinton will present a brighter, hopeful vision of an America that has come a long way and, with her at the helm, will rise even higher. She will try to inspire and elevate. She will talk about breaking boundaries, shattering glass ceilings, and building bridges instead of walls. She will tell us that Love Trumps Hate. She will try her hardest to seem human and humane, to connect emotionally, to appeal to optimism and hope and not just fear. In the last few days, Clinton has shown that she practices politics as the art of compromise, not the art of the one-sided deal Trump seems to be trying to sell America. The Democratic convention could still devolve into a rip-roaring free-for-all (especially if many Bernie backers refuse to follow their candidate’s lead), but something tells me the DNC and RNC will end up being as different as night and day.

Follow Doug’s convention tweets at @SovernNation. He reports live from the DNC in Philly twice each morning at either 6:20, 7:30 or 8:30, and again at 4:20pm, 5:11pm, 6:11pm, 7:11pm and 8:11pm (all Pacific time) on KCBS Radio in San Francisco. Listen live at 106.9FM, 740AM, or, where you can also hear recorded reports and see photos. Even more on the KCBS Facebook page!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Four-Lane Pileup

Political parties used to have wings. 2016 is the year they developed lanes.

That's what happens when you have seventeen candidates seeking your presidential nomination, as the Republican Party did at the start of this campaign. It's pretty tough to crowd seventeen people onto two wings. Eventually, some might fall off, or even choose to jump. And a creature with seventeen wings, even a political party, is too terrifying even to consider.

Hence, the advent of lanes, popularized by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and his shrewd strategic team. Even if he doesn't win the presidency, or even the Republican nomination—and I still don't think he will—Cruz will go down in history as the guy who changed the way pundits talk about campaigns. The lane metaphor has become ubiquitous. It's the fallback catch phrase for the talking heads of the politigentsia (did I just coin that word?). When's the last time you caught anyone referring to the "right wing" of the GOP?

The way Cruz saw it, there are four lanes in the grand new version of the Grand Old Party: the evangelical Christian lane, the Tea Party lane, the libertarian lane (read: the Ron Paul lane), and the moderate-establishment-old boy lane (read: the Bush-Romney-Bush lane). As a nakedly ambitious man unable to even pretend to conceal his Machiavellian ways behind a facade of niceties, Cruz was only too happy to articulate his four-lane construct to any and all observers as he launched his long-shot bid for the presidency. None of us took him too seriously, giving him barely any chance of breaking out of the pack ("way too conservative, unlikable, irritating, a niche candidate," we said). Four lanes, huh? Nice idea, Ted. Lovely. Good luck with that. Now go filibuster something and leave us alone.

But Cruz, who has proven time and again to be an absolutely brilliant politician (you may not want him to be president, but he would make one hell of a campaign manager) who thinks many moves ahead of his adversaries (if running for president were chess, Cruz would be the Bobby Fischer of our time), had a plan. He would run from the Tea Party lane, as he did when he stunned establishment darling David Dewhurst to capture a U.S. Senate seat in Texas. But he would also court the hell out of the evangelical Christians (pardon my blasphemy), and also go after the Libertarians, whom Rand Paul was taking for granted. Cruz figured if he could consolidate those three lanes, he would be the last conservative standing, and the only viable alternative to whomever captured the moderate-establishment lane, presumably one of the Four Govs, Bush, Kasich, Christie or Walker.

Cruz succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams except his own. Walker wilted early. Paul petered out. Christie and Bush are gone. The other red meat conservatives, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, were yesterday's news. Bobby Jindal couldn't get out of the starting gate. Rick Perry became a late night punchline. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina each had their moment in the sun, only to fade into asterisk land (Carson seems to have invented his own lane: the extremely slow lane, in which all the drivers fall asleep at the wheel until they veer into the Bushes). He won the Iowa caucus by doing exactly what he'd planned: uniting the evangelical, libertarian and Tea Party lanes behind his candidacy and presenting himself as the only one worthy of taking on the unexpected Big Dog, Donald Trump.

But he ran into a roadblock in New Hampshire, and now he's hit a speed bump in South Carolina, where he finished third, tailgating-close to Marco Rubio, but third nonetheless, in a state full of evangelicals Cruz had assumed he would win.

As I wrote before Iowa voters went to their caucuses, this is a three-man race (it didn't just become one, as some are saying after South Carolina; it's been one for months). John Kasich still has illusions of emerging from the establishment lane, but he's reading road signs that simply aren't there. With Jeb! out of the running, the party establishment and moderate money men are much more likely to coaslesce around Rubio as their only hope to stop Trump. Carson is running on fumes (and seems like he's inhaling them, too) and will be the next to fade away. But the party leaders are clinging to the unrealistic notion that Donald Trump has a ceiling, and that as the other never-were contenders drop out, that not-Trump vote will distribute itself among the remaining challengers, namely Cruz and Rubio. Bush's people will split between Kasich and Rubio, until Kasich is gone, and then Rubio will overtake Trump, unless Cruz rallies the remaining conservatives to his cause by then, in which case he will.

Here's the problem with that thinking, and the unexpected development even Cruz could not foresee: that is not what's happening. When Christie and Fiorina quit the race, Trump picked up as many of their supporters as anyone else did. With Bush gone, and when Carson follows, he's likely to do the same with theirs. The exit polls show Trump actually beat Cruz among evangelical voters in South Carolina, 33-27%. Yes, a plurality of the born-again Constitution-thumpers of the Palmetto State voted for the Antichrist Himself, Donald "New York Values" Trump. So if Trump has a ceiling, it may well be vaulted, and made of gilded marble. It is Trump, not Cruz, not Rubio, who is consolidating the various lanes of the Republican Party. He may not be in control of the party's moderate establishment, but the voters in that lane are all aboard the Trump Express. Trump won 34% of self-described moderate voters in South Carolina, with Rubio next at 23% and Kasich third with 21%. Cruz was a distant fifth among that group, at just seven percent. Trump won among voters who identify as conservative, too, beating Cruz by six points. He's pulling Tea Partiers, and he's attracting libertarians. South Carolina Republicans who are "angry" at the federal government voted overwhelmingly for Trump. So did those who are looking for a candidate who "tells it like it is" and "can bring needed change." The conventional wisdom that Trump is only pulling a third of the vote, so the other two-thirds will naturally coalesce around his last remaining opponent, is flawed. Many of those "other" supporters turn out to prefer Trump once their first choice falls by the wayside.

So while some suddenly-unemployed Bush strategists and mainstream pundits and deep-pocketed donors wait for Trump to crater, and for the anyone-but-Donald vote to consolidate around Rubio, or Cruz, or even Kasich (wow, really?), Trump speeds ahead and leaves the others to eat his exhaust. It's hard to look at the primary calendar and see where Rubio picks up a much-needed primary win, even with the "Marcomentum" of his second-place finish in South Carolina (a state he vowed to take just a week ago). Cruz is likely to score some victories in some of the larger Southern Super Tuesday states (most notably, the largest of them all, his home state of Texas), but his long-range plan of using his Tea Party/evangelical base as a springboard to a March 1st primary romp no longer seems realistic. Trump has more of the evangelicals in his corner than even the man who built his entire candidacy around them. If Cruz can't win his own lanes in a state as conservative as South Carolina, and Rubio can't win a state he prioritized from the outset, even with the endorsements of its three most popular conservative officeholders, it's hard to see where they force Trump into a pit stop. It's far more likely they end up in the growing pileup behind him, nursing whiplash as they try to figure out how in the world he ran them all off the road.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Trump (Yes, Trump) Vs. Clinton

It's time for my quadrennial limb crawl, in which I predict the eventual Democratic and Republican presidential nominees before the first caucus or primary. This blog has been in mothballs for a while, but I've been doing this in one forum or another for 40 years now (!) so I feel obliged to shake off the rhetorical cobwebs and risk my reputation, such as it is, in public once again.

There's no magic formula here, just a crunching of numbers and a survey of my gut, but somehow that recipe has served me well over the years. I'm 10-for-10 picking the GOP nominee, and 8-for-10 on the Democrats. You can read about my past performances here, but as always, they're no guarantee of future results.

That said, I have never felt less certain about my picks than I do this year. American presidential elections have become progressively more surreal, volatile and unpredictable in the last dozen years—really, the last 24, going back to the 1992 Clinton/Bush/Perot race. What could possibly top the 2000 Bush-Gore circus? Well, how about a Trump-Sanders-Bloomberg showdown in November? Or a Trump-Clinton race in which Hillary gets indicted halfway through, and Joe Biden jumps in late as a substitute nominee? I'm not predicting either of those scenarios, but I'm not ruling them out either. Nothing—at all—would surprise me anymore.

A year ago, I pegged Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush as my top three in the GOP race, and I saw no way anyone else could crack that tier. Of course, that was before Donald Trump decided to run for president. Walker proved to be a feeble, feckless candidate who came off as provincial and not ready for the national stage (surprising, given his strong performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention). Bush has shown late flashes of feck in recent debates, but he too, has been an underwhelming milquetoast, making no convincing case for the nomination beyond name recognition, establishment backing and a big war chest. Rubio is the only one of these three who remains viable.

Though the GOP field started with 17 candidates, and most of them are still running (for at least one more week, until after New Hampshire seals their campaign coffins), there are really only five legitimate contenders left: Trump, Ted Cruz, Rubio, Chris Christie and John Kasich. Those last two have pinned all their hope on New Hampshire (as has Bush) and if they don't finish in the top three there, are probably done. It's possible to construct a reasonably plausible scenario in which one of the more moderate governors does well enough in the Granite State to gain some momentum and the support of the others, and then surges on Super Tuesday to overtake Trump, Cruz and Rubio, but does anyone outside their campaigns really expect that to happen? No.

Which means one of those last three is going to be the Republican nominee. Here's the path for each:

MARCO RUBIO: Rubio is running an unconventional campaign. He has been patient and disciplined, eloquent and convincing in the debates, and well-versed on policy. Which is to say, an anomaly. He is not banking on winning either Iowa or New Hampshire—which is almost unheard of—instead pursuing what his strategists call their "3-2-1" plan. That calls for him to finish a strong third in Iowa, a strong second in New Hampshire, and a stunning first in South Carolina. From there, he consolidates conservatives and the stop-Trump GOP establishment and rolls to frontrunner status in the March 1 Super Tuesday states.

The Iowa part is likely to happen. Rubio's riding some late momentum there and should finish third. New Hampshire is more problematic. He's running a distant fifth there, and a third place showing in Iowa may not be enough to help him overtake Bush, Kasich and Cruz, especially if Cruz wins Iowa. If Cruz doesn't, and starts to fade, it's possible that Rubio somehow climbs into second place. But Trump has a commanding lead in South Carolina, and it's tough to see everything breaking just right for Rubio to give him the win he will need at that point. If he doesn't win any of the early primaries, it's hard to see how he gets the nomination. His best hope is for Trump to knock out Cruz in Iowa, and then rally the party leaders around him as the anti-Donald candidate.

TED CRUZ: I never gave Cruz much of a chance. I thought he was another in a long line of delusional also-rans (see: Rick Perry, among many others). But Cruz, unlike Walker and Bush, for example, turns out to be a brilliant politician. This is one smart guy, with a shrewd tactical mind, an articulate and persuasive debating style, and prodigious fundraising abilities. Never mind that he also appears to be a pathological liar (latest whopper: pledging to "always tell you the truth" if he's elected president, something he hasn't come close to doing either on the Senate floor or the presidential campaign trail). He has worked his tail off wooing evangelical Christian voters in Iowa and South Carolina. He smartly recognized Trump's appeal early and refrained, until the closing days of what's become a two-man race in the Hawkeye State, from clashing with him, courting Trump supporters instead of alienating them. He's positioned himself as a more palatable and electable version of The Donald, heir to his anti-establishment outsider mantle if and when Trump flames out. He comes off as passionate and committed, and the people who find that appealing don't see the smarmy demagoguery that has left him without a single friend, on either side of the aisle, in the U.S. Senate (even his former mentor, George W. Bush, admitted recently "I just don't like the guy"). So yes, Cruz could still wrest the nomination from Trump's well-manicured hands. To do that, he needs to win in Iowa, and parlay that into a very strong second place finish in New Hampshire. That would make him, not Rubio, the most viable not-Trump candidate, and he could use that momentum to upset Trump in South Carolina. Beyond that, Cruz is well-positioned to run the table in the most important Super Tuesday states (under this scenario) and emerge as the likely nominee.

Here are the problems for Cruz: He may have peaked too soon. He had a terrible final debate performance. Trump has taken his best punches, responded effectively and bounced back ahead in Iowa. He hasn't come close to denting Trump's huge leads in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or nationally. He spews fire on national security but much of what he says doesn't withstand closer scrutiny, and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire pay very, very close attention to detail. He is the conservative wing's best hope in years of nominating one of their own, but the pragmatic wing deems him too far right to win in November. So if he doesn't win Iowa, it may be the beginning of the end for him.

Which is why, by process of elimination, I actually think DONALD TRUMP will be the one accepting the 2016 Republican nomination for president in Cleveland this July.

Did I really just type those words? Apparently so. Do I really believe them? I'm trying really hard to convince myself.

We won't know until Monday night whether Trump really has the ground game to match his bravado, money and strong poll numbers. Winning the Iowa caucus takes much more than jetting in, giving a loud speech, and throwing an ad blitz onto local TV. It takes detailed organization, staffers and volunteers across the state and a data-driven get-out-the-vote operation. It takes a nothing-for-granted and leave-no-stone-unturned attitude. Does Trump really have those things? It's hard to tell. He says he does—the best, the biggest, the greatest of anyone—but there's a H-U-G-E difference between getting someone in Iowa to tell a pollster they like you and getting them to stand up for you in their neighbor's living room on Caucus Night.

But the final polls show Trump narrowly ahead of Cruz in Iowa. He is confident enough to already be on the stump in New Hampshire instead, where he's crushing Cruz by two or three to one. He seems likely to either win Iowa or come in a very close second, and then win New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. If that happens, how does anyone stop him? The party leaders will reluctantly embrace him as their guy, most of the rest will drop out, and either Cruz or Rubio will soldier on to be the Rick Santorum (2012) or Mike Huckabee (2008) of 2016: the right wing standard-bearer who finishes a valiant second.

Trump is a buffoon. He can't possibly be president, right? We all consider him reality TV entertainment, not a serious candidate. Hmm, people said the same things about Arnold Schwarzenegger (and Ronald Reagan, long before him) and look what happened to them. Never underestimate the American people's ability to fall in love with a charismatic, populist celebrity who taps into their anger and disenchantment and tricks them into thinking that somehow, he's one of them and has their best interests at heart. I can't believe P.T. Barnum never ran for president.

If Trump does win both Iowa and New Hampshire, history says the nomination is his. No Republican has ever won both of these contests and not gone on to be the nominee. No Republican candidate has ever lost both of these states and still found a way to win the nomination.

The same is not true on the Democratic side. In 1972, Edmund Muskie got more votes than any other Democrat in the Iowa caucus (he actually finished tied with "Uncommitted" with 36%) and won the New Hampshire primary. But he lost the nomination to George McGovern, who ran better than expected in both states and was declared the "winner" by the media, and rode that momentum to the nomination, knocking Muskie out in April.

Twenty years later, Bill Clinton was barely a blip in Iowa, where native son Tom Harkin won the caucus in a landslide, and Clinton ran second in New Hampshire to another almost-native son (Paul Tsongas of neighboring Massachusetts), but that began Clinton's comeback, and he became the first candidate to win the nomination without winning either of the first two contests.

Now, Bill's wife HILLARY CLINTON is trying, again, to follow her husband to the Oval Office (were you wondering how many words it would take me to get to the Democratic race?). And it says here, she will be the Democratic nominee.

BERNIE SANDERS: Bernie is, in many ways, the Trump of the left. He's tapped into the same voter disenchantment that we've seen in so many recent elections (seriously, this "outsider" stuff goes all the way back to the post-Watergate race of 1976. Carter and Reagan both won as outsiders who were going to fix Washington. So, to some extent, did Clinton in '92 and even W in 2000, and certainly Obama did in '08. Newsflash: None of them fixed Washington). The difference with Sanders is that, as a Socialist, he may actually mean what he says. That doesn't mean he can convince Congress to do any of it, but it's more likely that he has the courage of his convictions. He's built an impressive coalition of younger voters, progressives, some labor unions, the oh-please-not-Hillary Democrats, and those who were disappointed by Obama and pining for someone like Elizabeth Warren. Sanders is, much like Obama in 2008, a vehicle for the hopes and dreams of Democrats and independents yearning for something new and different. He's built a surprisingly strong organization, copying much of Obama's playbook, and mounting a much more serious than expected challenge to Hillary's presumed supremacy. She's in a fight, and she knows it.

Could this rumpled Jewish Socialist from Brooklyn really win the Democratic nomination? Sure, it's possible. He might edge Clinton in Iowa, and he's likely to win big in New Hampshire, next door to his adopted home of Vermont. If Clinton is indicted for her email transgressions, she could falter even more, and by then Sanders could have positioned himself as the only rightful successor.

But Clinton has a powerful and deep organization that goes way beyond college kids in Iowa and New Hampshire. She has a more sophisticated operation than Sanders does in South Carolina, Nevada and the Super Tuesday states. She will be able to draw upon greater union strength and minority support in the succeeding states. Though Sanders has been reaching out to African American and Latino voters and insists he can appeal to them, it remains to be seen if that's true, and Clinton is the more likely heir to that significant segment of the Obama coalition. This nomination fight may hinge on the question of electability, and that's a tough one for many Democrats to answer. The assumption is that Clinton is more likely to win in November, but some polls actually show Sanders running stronger versus Trump than Hillary does. Don't discount how many Americans truly detest Hillary Clinton, and how close the race could be in November if she's the nominee. On the other hand, the GOP ad machine is salivating at the prospect of having an actual Socialist to run against instead of someone they just paint as one, and don't underestimate how savagely the Republicans could go after Sanders if he's their opponent.

If Hillary hangs on and wins in Iowa, even if she loses New Hampshire, she is likely to crush Sanders in South Carolina and Nevada. Sanders will run best in states that allow independents to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary (which they can do in New Hampshire). But some pretty big states—Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey—don't allow that. California, which does allow unaffiliated voters to cast Democratic ballots, may be instructive. The most recent Field Poll shows Clinton leading Sanders among California Democrats by about twenty points, but Sanders beating Hillary among the independents by roughly the same margin. That suggests that when the decision is left up to party regulars, Democrats are likely to prefer Clinton. In a protracted battle for the nomination, that could be a significant, perhaps decisive, advantage for Hillary, who has also already locked up the support of most party leaders and superdelegates. None of this makes her edge insurmountable, or guarantees her the nomination, especially if unforeseen events (or foreseen ones, like a possible federal indictment) intervene. But add it all up and it makes Clinton the most likely Democratic nominee, which is why I am officially predicting a TRUMP VS. CLINTON general election.

Which is why you should rush to your favorite bookie and immediately bet the house on RUBIO VS SANDERS.

I think that's the longest blog post in American history. More like a wonky monograph, really. If you read this far, you deserve a prize, and you probably deserve a better president than any of the ones we're likely to get.

Tune in to KCBS (106.9FM, 740AM, for complete coverage and analysis of the Iowa Caucus Monday Feb 1, and the New Hampshire Primary Tuesday February 9.