Monday, February 22, 2016


Does it really make sense for me to resume blogging? While I was gone over the weekend, this blog became so much better. Tom, Yastreblyansky, Aimai, Tom, Crank -- you all raised the quality level.

But I don't agree with everything that was written here. For instance, I don't share Tom's impulse to single out Bernie Sanders as unelectable. I see Tom's point, and the email to Josh Marshall that's quoted by Tom describes what I've been fearing: that if likely GOP lines of attack are deployed against Sanders, many people who are now open to him will turn firmly against him. Also, when you include super PAC money deployed against him, he'll be overwhelmingly outspent. And many members of the Democratic Establishment will probably abandon him, dishonorably, the way they abandoned Ned Lamont. So, yes, he'd have serious trouble in a general election.

But so would everyone else who's won a primary or caucus this year. In fact, the four primary/caucus winners all seem unelectable to me. And the billionaire who wants to take advantage of the chaos in this race, Mike Bloomberg, seems unelectable as well. I don't know what happens when you have a general election with two (or maybe three) unelectable candidates. I think we're going to find out.

I don't have to explain why Donald Trump seems unelectable. Last month, Gallup registered a 60% unfavorable rating from Trump among all voters, compared to a 33% favorable rating. That's awful -- but Hillary's Clinton's unfavorable rating in the same poll is 52%, worse than the 45% registered by the woebegone Jeb Bush. And as I noted last week, a USA Today poll depicts Trump and Clinton as equally "scary" to voters:
... for Trump, 38% of likely voters would be scared if the real-estate mogul won the GOP nomination -- including not only 62% of Democrats but also 17% of Republicans. A third of independents, 33%, feel that way.

... And for Clinton, a former secretary of State, 33% would be scared -- including 60% of Republicans and also 8% of Democrats. Just over a third of independents, 35%, agree.
Also, both inspire bad feelings overall:
For Trump, a majority of likely voters, 56%, have a negative response to his prospective nomination, including 18% who would be dissatisfied. Just under four in 10 have a positive reaction: 15% enthusiastic and 24% satisfied.

Clinton fares only a bit better: 54% have a negative response to her nomination, including 21% who would be dissatisfied. Just over four in 10 have a positive reaction: 16% enthusiastic and 26% satisfied.
The GOP and the mainstream media agree that Hillary Clinton is an ugly old lying monster, a fairytale evil witch. Clinton hasn't figured out a way to counteract that message. Beyond that, she's just the sort of candidate who loses presidential elections -- Walter Mondale in 1984 or Bob Dole in 1996, a former primary-season loser who gets the nomination on the basis of being the next in line, but who still reeks of defeat and datedness. There's no way she'd win against a reasonably strong traditional Republican candidate.

Fortunately for her, if she's the nominee (as now seems almost certain), there's an excellent chance that she'll run against either Trump or Ted Cruz. I think Cruz could theoretically win a general election, but if he's the nominee, he's going to run a failed campaign, because he has a failed theory of what it takes to win.

You see, he'd be the first GOP presidential nominee who grew up not as a producer of bamboozling Fox/talk radio talking points, but as a consumer of them -- he actually believes the BS. One line in particular that he believes is that Republicans win elections when they run as True Conservatives. We've seen this disproved in recent Senate campaigns -- Todd Akin got trounced after we heard him say things that would have been cheered on talk radio, while wingnuts such as Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner hid their extremism under a bushel and won. But Cruz simply won't tack to the center if he's the nominee. He doesn't think he has to. Therefore, he'll be beatable.

So what happens when two unelectable candidates compete? I think the Democrats' recent strength in the Electoral College will kick in at that point, but only because a weak Democratic nominee will draw a weak Republican opponent. Even a moderately popular, not terribly off-putting Republican opponent could win this year. But it looks as if Republicans probably won't luck out.

If they do -- if Marco Rubio wins the nomination -- I think the GOP will win handily. I respectfully disagree with Yastreblyansky:
When pandits say Marco Rubio is electable, I think they mostly mean he's a revolting little prig but nice-looking, and with a manner less directly offensive than Cruz's: "I don't like him but I bet everybody else does" the way Mrs. Cleaver thinks Eddie Haskell is really a nice boy. In fact they are merely making the mistake of thinking other people are even stupider than they are, which is not necessarily the case.
Stupider? Not necessarily. Less focused on policy specifics and more focused on affect? Absolutely. That's how a lot of people vote -- Marco Rubio is "mainstream" because the way he speaks feels mainstream to people who don't think a lot about politics. (That's also how a lot of journalists think -- and would it be really be arrogant of me to assume they're stupid?) And yet beyond that he's talking the way the white voters who still dominate our elections think: taxes are too high, the have-nots are too cosseted, our enemies think we're too lily-livered. He's too canned, but he knows where heartland white voters' sweet spot is.

Rubio has a pitchfork-shaker's positions, but he speaks as if he'd be shocked to find an angry mob following in his wake. If he has a genius, it's for the crafting of talking points that contain both dog whistles and wiggle room; if you don't like these convictions, wait till fall and he'll have others.

Beyond that, he's the slightly hip bro dad the mainstream media craves. As a result, he'll never get bad press for more than a few days. (Notice how he's bounced back from the robot moment.)

So he can win -- but I don't see him winning the nomination. One of two unelectable Republicans will get it instead, and then lose to one of two unelectable Democrats.


AllieG said...

A sound analysis, except I still don't get your belief Rubio is unbeatable in a general election. A man taken down by Chris Christie is hardly invulnerable.

Phil Freeman said...

Now that Jeb is out, Trump is gonna turn the flamethrower on Rubio, and if you thought Rubio crapped himself when Christie went after's gonna be UGLY.

Even if he miraculously manages to become the nominee, though, eventually the Republican voter base will remember/realize Rubio isn't white. (Amazed it hasn't happened to Cruz yet.) The Republican voter base is not yet ready to vote for a non-white President, even if he's on their side.

I admit it; I never thought Trump was actually going to run. But now that he's in, I don't see any way one of these other schmucks keeps the nomination out of his hands.

Steve M. said...

A man taken down by Chris Christie is hardly invulnerable.

But he wasn't. It was a temporary setback. Christie's in New Jersey and Rubio's the media golden boy in waiting.

Rubio got bad press for maybe 72 hours after a gaffe that went massively viral, and that should have resonated years later, like Perry's "Oops." Rubio doesn't have Teflon of his own, but the GOP Establishment and MSM keep draping him in Teflon.

BKT said...

That's also how a lot of journalists think -- and would it be really be arrogant of me to assume they're stupid?

Ha! No, that's not arrogance. Read Bob Somerby-- going on 18 years now he's been detailing the fact that our political journalists aren't just sycophantic, front-running fanboys/girls, but are in fact, WILDLY incompetent at their jobs, as well.

Steve M. said...

Even if he miraculously manages to become the nominee, though, eventually the Republican voter base will remember/realize Rubio isn't white.

You mean, the party that elected him, Cruz, Jindal, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott (the latter two in South Carolina, of all places)? The party that briefly made Ben Carson the top Republican presidential candidate? The party that deeply admires Clarence Thomas and Stacey Dash?

Republicans love black and brown people who reinforce the white GOP's messages.

But you're right about Trump -- he screwed everything for these folks.

AllieG said...

It will be hard for the media to keep man-crush Rubio afloat if ratings/clicks Godsend Trump starts eating his lunch in public. I should have been more specific in my first post. Triple A level bully Christie took Rubio completely out of one primary. What will certified big league bully Trump do?

Victor said...

Welcome back, Steve!
We missed you.
Krugman, today, does his usual excellent job. He dismantles Rubio.

Oh, how I wish that the rest of the media read him!

Steve M. said...

Thanks, Victor.

And Allie (and Phil), you're right about Trump. He's going to attack Rubio brutally, and he'll draw blood (though the eligibility attack isn't a promising start). But if Rubio could manage to get past Trump, I don't think Clinton or Sanders could best him (with the GOP and MSM backing him up). Remember, Clinton couldn't beat Obama , and she's struggling to beat back Sanders. Sanders isn't really a back-alley fighter. Rubio, if he's the nominee (and thus the Trump slayer), would go into the general election as the favored child.

AllieG said...

True, but as you noted, he's got to get there first.

Feud Turgidson said...

My fellow Americans, today, we are all unelectable.

Feud Turgidson said...

Because of what I do for a living, I was invited once to participate in an AEI panel discussion, in which I said some things which apparently at least someone there failed to understand because I ended up on a conservative mailing list, which means I occasionally, especially during presidential election years, gets me a lot of free albeit mostly scary but sometimes amusing stuff. In December I received a handy-dandy GOP delegates calculator, which I think now must be defective, because I input the vote percentage received by Senator Rubio in his scintillating second-place finish in South Carolina but it keeps allocating Rubio zero delegates for that, by all media accounts, critical victory.

aimai said...

Thanks for having me, Steve! It was a breathless ride on a runaway sled. I'm sure I speak for everyone in saying that trying to keep this blog flowing at its normal rate of speed took all of us working as hard as we could, while you make it look effortless.

As for the subject of this post, I guess I don't think anyone is "unelectable." The voters are faced with a shifting set of choices, and any student of humanity knows that people can rapidly shift their preferences when their choices are changed or begin to slim down. Not only is it true that "buyers are liars" (i.e. Evangelicals will vote for a twice divorced public pervert) but there is a fierce light that beats upon the scaffold and "wonderfully concentrates the mind" of the man about to be hanged, or forced to choose a candidate in the voting booth.Another way of talking about that is to say that when the beer goggles are on many people find something to like in the candidate who is left for them to vote for.

The problem that the GOP has is that the party doesn't want Trump, but they are very likely to get him. Of all of them I think Trump has the best chance of beating the Democrat (although I don't think his chances are very good). But the others, Rubio et al? I don't think they have a chance against trump. They'd have a chance against the Democrat (whoever he/she may be) because there is a floor of die hard Republican voters who will always vote against the Dem. But if the nominee is not Trump I don't actually think Trump's voters, or his fans, will switch their vote to Rubio (perhaps they would to Cruz). Because the kind of red meat and 100 proof alcohol that Trump has offered them, the straight up crystal meth of his self presentation and his promises, simply can't be replaced by Mr. Not-Even-Shaving techno boy toy.

swkellogg said...

Rubio is so reminiscent of Dan Quayle.

We need a Bentsen.

aimai said...

Rubio would be completely destroyed, if he even got to the nomination, by HRC and/or her VP choice if her VP choice were, say, one of the Castro brothers.

Yastreblyansky said...

Welcome back!

You got to the Zen heart of it while Tom and I were flailing in the right direction--this is one of those years where somebody unelectable gets elected. You'd better keep writing, because nobody else can do that.

And what aimai said, plus one of the other great things about NMMNB is that it gets her to write stuff.

Tom Hilton said...

Thanks, and welcome back! It's a privilege and an honor to post here.

I think this is broadly right, though I do would still argue that there's a an order of magnitude of difference between Sanders' electoral weakness and Clinton's. And paradoxically, the very unelectability of Cruz and Trump brings up another vulnerability I think Sanders has that Clinton doesn't. Because the way "unelectable" Republicans win is by making their opponents more unelectable. By relentlessly keeping the public's attention on their opponents' weaknesses, thus minimizing attention to their own. Think George H. W. Bush and Willie Horton, or his punk kid and the Swiftboaters.

And while Clinton has no compunction about getting down and dirty when necessary, Sanders has his high-minded record of "never running a negative ad" (which stretches the truth a little, but still), which he either maintains (unilateral disarmament) or ditches (flip-flopper!). I don't think he would be able to function at all in the kind of campaign we know Cruz or Trump will run.

Luigi said...

Wow. I'd better beat a path down to the local Dem office and tell them Hillary's unelectable.

Who knew?

Ten Bears said...

Assimov wrote a shorty early on about the Multivac computer randomly selecting a president from the general population each year. Humorous.

About the same he wrote a cashless society. Not humorous.

William F. Glennon said...

I think this is broadly right, though I do would still argue that there's a an order of magnitude of difference between Sanders' electoral weakness and Clinton's

Read that out to the Sandernista spouse and she said "Order of magnitude? Clinton's way more than 10 times weaker..."

The New York Crank said...

Okay, crazy prediction. No chance of it ever happening, but I occasionally buy a lottery ticket,too.

Bloomberg enters the race. The election is a three-way tie. Meanwhile, Obama nominates a Republican to the bench, fully expecting the nominee will be rejected, leaving room for his (he hopes Democratic) successor to appoint a liberal.

The three way tie goes to the Supremes ,who appoint the president of their choosing as they did in Bush vs.Gore. However, the new Republican justice turns turncoat and votes with the Conservative majority. And their choice is.....well the court decides that since everything is tied they should pick none of the above. They announce that their choice is made "in the interests of impartiality and neutrality." And with that, they anoint Mitt Romney.

And now I'm going back to my cell. The decorators should have finished re-padding the walls by now.

Welcome home, Steve.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Unknown said...

I can barely comprehend how Steve M. so indefatigably provides us with dense, insightful commentary, day after day. I'm gratified to have him back. But it was definitely fun to have the guests running the place for a few days. They're all sorts of wonderful as well.

Ken_L said...

The consequence of having unelectable candidates running is likely to be low voter turnout, as in 2010 and 2014. And we all know what happened then. Yes the electoral college math is different, and Hillary may well still win. But it will be a win without much honor or enthusiasm, without any significant gains in Congress, and a recipe for even more of the dysfunction we've seen since 2010.

And in February '17, needless to say, the whole "Who'll be the GOP nominee in '20/Can Hillary expect a second term?" bullshit will start the whole circus all over again.