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Sunday, February 21, 2016


David asks, " Professor Wolff, could you say more about why you're deeply fearful of a Trump-Clinton match up?"  Needless to say, I have given this a great deal of thought.  Let me try to explain.

First of all some facts garnered from the primary season thus far:

1.  Republican turnout in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina has been extremely high, a bad sign. 

2.   Trump is doing well across the Republican electorate, among those self-identified as Very Conservative, Conservative, Moderate, and Evangelical.  He is not a candidate of the far right, as Cruz is.

3.  Trump is very deft at shifting ground in response to evidence of what works and does not.  He is an extremely skillful campaigner.

4.  Trump appears to be bringing out large numbers of Republican voters.

5.  Clinton is an appalling campaigner.  She is utterly inauthentic, fails to inspire young people [so-called Millennials], has no discernible message, seems clueless about the negative effect of her handling of the Goldman Sachs speech issue.

All of these are bad signs for the general election.

I am fearful that Clinton will be unusually vulnerable to the sorts of shrewd, sharp, unprincipled personal attacks in which Trump specializes.  I am fearful that she will fail to mobilize the Obama coalition that elected him twice.  She ought to crush the women's vote, the Black vote, the Latino vote, but thought she will carry them, she very well may not inspire them, and in today's American politics, Turn out is everything.

I believe the Republican base hates Clinton.  She will not, I fear, draw many crossover Republicans appalled by Trump.

Running as Clinton is for a third consecutive Democratic term, the odds are against her unless she succeeds in motivating large numbers of non-voters to come out and vote.

Those are some of the reasons why I am fearful.  I could go on!


Brian Leiter said...

The one thing you're not factoring in is how strong negative sentiment is about Trump, among Democrats, independents, and even a substantial minority of Republicans. Enough groups find him sufficiently appalling to compensate for Clinton's deficiencies, which you aptly note. Trump, like Cruz, is a gift to the Democrats.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Lord, I hope you are right!!! I await the inevitable polls with interest.

Brian Leiter said...

See, e.g.:

s. wallerstein said...

Maybe something like the run-off in the French 2002 election: Trump (Le Pen) vs. Clinton (Chirac), which will mobilize everyone to the left of Clinton (including people who despise her) to vote for her. Sanders will campaign for her as well as all the minorities whom Trump threatens and scares.

Tom Cathcart said...

What he said.

trane said...

A thought from abroad.

I understand the reasons for Professor Wolff's fears that Trump might actually beat Clinton. But I do not understand why a Trump candidacy would be a 'gift' to Democrats, even in the scenario that Clinton is the more likely winner. The crazier the candidate from the right, the more he might pull parts of the electorate, and thus parts of the legislature in his direction. Trump might lose, but his policies may take hold. And that will be very bad for America.

My fear is that you might see a similar mechanism to what has happened in my country, where the Danish People's Party has refrained from taking on parts of the executive power formally, with the effect that the other parties have gradually slided towards their policy platform.

I realise that
a) we have very, very different systems of government
b) there is not an abundance of non-crazy candidates from the Republican side

But there it is.


Robert Paul Wolff said...

I agree with your analysis, but the reason I would welcome a Trump candidacy, if indeed Clinton can beat him, is that I do not think Clinton would be likely to beat a Rubio or someone like him -- say, John Kasich. And I am so fearful of a Republican victory that I would be willing to pup up with the sort of rightward slide you envision.

mesnenor said...

The funny thing about Trump is that even though he's willing to say things that most people consider beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, he's by far the most moderate serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination since the 70s. He's an un-serious candidate in that he lacks any and all knowledge regarding foreign policy, domestic policy, policy in general, etc. But he's really the least crazy Republican running for office. It turns out the Republican "base" doesn't actually care about anything that "movement conservatives" have long considered bedrock items of dogma. I hope he doesn't become president, but I think he's been doing a lot of good in general, insofar as he's exposed the fundamental unfeasibility of the Republican coalition.

Tom Cathcart said...

Very interesting point, mesnemor. Maybe he's broken the back of the Tea Party.


Derek said...

mesnenor is probably right. The lesson of the season of Trump is that the Republican party, it appears, has achieved its post-Reagan successes not by making people like the Republican party, candidates, or platform, but by making people hate the Democrats more.

The base, considered as groups (e.g., Tea Party and its splinters), commentators (talk radio and places like Drudge, Redstate, etc.), and individuals, keeps claiming to be conservative, not Republican, as though party isn't the important thing to them. And no one really took that claim seriously--I, for one, kept wanting to think that they were just Republicans who didn't like to be called Republican. That they were hypocrites when they kept voting in Republican incumbents they claimed to hate.

Yet their claims, plus their voting patterns, especially in the 2012 primary (switch the Bush/Rubio/Kasich/Christie collective with Romney and add Trump, and tell me what on earth would be different!) should have made everything clear. What we currently call "the Republican base" really is probably non-ideological to an extent (leaving out the business class, ideologically Christian voters, etc.); the Republican party just got good at feeding their anger and resentment and directing it to the party's advantage. Well, after 2010 it started getting out of control, as we saw in 2012, and by 2015 Trump appeared and out-played the Republican party at their own game. The 'base' seems to care not about ideology, but the expression of anger, anger that has been stoked for the last couple decades. If there's someone to blame, it may be Gingrich circa 1994.