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Monday, June 13, 2016


Last December, my curiosity piqued by the conventional wisdom that Trump could not win the nomination unless he drew more than 50% of the vote in the primaries, I carried out and posted on this blog a careful calculation based on two assumptions:  That there would be three candidates left in the race until late in the primary season [Trump, Cruz, and Carson, or Trump, Cruz, and Rubio] and that Trump would draw between 35-40% of the vote.  I concluded that under those conditions, he would win the nomination.  I was right.  Emboldened by my success, I return now to the task of prognostication.  Needless to say, this effort carries no more weight than my previous effort.  But blogging is not for the faint of heart.

Accordingly, I offer the following prediction:  Shortly after the Democratic Nominating Convention in late July, Hillary Clinton will open up a widening lead in national polls and a very substantial led in Electoral Vote estimates.  Sam Wang and Nate Silver will project the probability of a Clinton win in the high 80 percents or better, and this estimate will grow as November 8th approaches.  Clinton will win the election.  The Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and will gain seats in the House, but will probably fall short of regaining control, although it is not impossible that they will gain the 30 seats needed to make Nancy Pelosi once again Speaker.  What leads me to this optimistic conclusion?  [I have already indicated that I view a Clinton presidency with dismay, but I consider a Trump presidency a disaster fraught with dangers of genuinely democracy-ending potential.  I really am not interested in re-litigating this matter here.]

The calculation begins, of course, with the well-known and much discussed Electoral College advantage enjoyed by the Democrats together with the demographic changes that are favorable to them.  But what has eased my deep anxiety about the prospect of a Trump presidency is the clear evidence that Trump is utterly incapable of controlling his self-destructive impulses.  It has very quickly become the conventional wisdom that he is a narcissistic bully, but in addition he has, as Elizabeth Warren noted, a very thin skin.  He is compulsively incapable of ignoring criticism from any source, and his response to it is becoming increasingly desperate and unconvincing.  What is more, he is, astonishingly, utterly unable to recognize that a general campaign requires a quite different organization and approach than a primary campaign.

That he is despicable goes without saying.  That he is a non-stop braggart is well established.  But he has acquired, perhaps it now appears unjustifiably, a reputation as a shrewd businessman, which would seem to imply some capacity for acknowledging and adjusting to reality.  There is a good deal of evidence accumulating that he completely lacks that capacity.

Now, all this may be wrong, but I am reminded of David Hume’s observation that the degree of our emotional investment in an event irrationally colors our estimate of its probability.  A Trump presidency would be so utterly awful that we tend to exaggerate its likelihood.

If my confidence is misplaced, it will not matter, because the day after Donald Trump is elected, we will have more serious matters to concern us than failed predictions.  And it goes without saying that I shall work all fall to help Clinton win North Carolina, which in a very close election could be the margin of victory for her.  The day after she wins, I will go back to doing what I can to mitigate the harm she will do as president.


tim said...

My own approach to reading the polls & the news ignores the polls and numbers generally. Drawing a distinction between the content of the media reports [i.e. what happened & what was said] and and the judgments the media makes about what it is reporting. Setting aside the judgments found in the media and ignoring the temptations of big data, it becomes quite likely the Republicans will be massacred come November.

Look at the GOP. Trump can't even unify his own party. These people may be functionaries and players of one kind or another in the GOP establishment, but they are his target demographic. If the GOP was united and coming at the rest of a country like a flaming meteor, then there would be cause for deep concern. But what is happening instead? Hardly a week seems to go by without some figure in the GOP admonishing him for racist remarks or some other foolishness he's come out with.

Admittedly Hillary is deeply unpopular, but she has a mostly united party behind her. If Obama's & Bernie's campaign show anything, it is the power and necessity of a well-run organization in electoral politics.

With their poll numbers roughly equal at the present time and four months to the election, the biggest difference between them is just that: the unity of the Democrats and the chaos in the GOP and its donor networks (just look at the articles on the more or less secret conference of Romney and his network of donors).

The results of the presidential election will be lop-sided and there's a lot of reasons to think that it will be worse than the usual spillover for down ticket races. I expect that a fair number of figures in the GOP will find it difficult to live down their endorsements of Trump.

The question to ask is this: setting aside poll numbers and big data generally, who do you think is going to win Hillary or Trump? And why?

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Off topic: Prof, I was recently musing about Marx and leftist politics generally, prompted by a commentary I happened across by Prof. Joseph Heath on Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. What struck me in particular was Heath's interpretation that the reason Klein is opposed to the practical solution of carbon pricing when it comes to climate change is because she thinks it is immoral to pollute, pure and simple.

This struck me of an instance of a broader thrust among the left, touched on previously here, and regularly on Prof. Leiter's blog, of identity politics and moralizing trumping an understanding of economics/class and politics (as well as psychology).

As I pondered how the left had drifted so far from class and power being central to its socio-political analysis, I wondered if it might come, not just from a general tendency to turn Marx into a moralizer, but specifically from his talk of capitalism's contradictions. Could it be that the left has made the mistake of extrapolating from "capitalism has contradictions" to "therefore capitalism is irrational" and it is the irrationality per se that is bad?

I'm currently rereading Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil where he strongly challenges the utility of "truth". Might the left have fallen prey to West's general pathological (some, like Nietzsche, would say) tendency to desire a rational basis for all things?

I was also thinking that it is probably all too easy to elide Marx's theortical work on capitalism with his worker's activism, which could reinforce the tendency to read Marx as a moralizer.

I guess I would say the point of this rambling comment is several-fold: 1) do you think any of the above is correct (or even coherent)? 2) do you think socialism is more rational than capitalism (and did Marx think so) - and is that a reason to favor it over capitalism (for you or Marx)? 3) how strongly related (if at all) is the irrationality of capitalism to the fact that it causes immense global suffering which we rightly deplore?