Sunday, May 31, 2020

ELECTORALLY, IT'S NOT 1968

No liberal wants to acknowledge agreeing with Ross Douthat, but I'm hearing a lot of concern on our sides that this year's election will go the way Douthat seem to believe it will:
In the origin myth of post-1960s liberalism, all the defeats that the Democratic Party suffered in the years of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were owed to the party’s heroic support for civil rights, which rectified a great injustice but opened the way for the Republicans to build majorities on racial backlash.

Like most myths, this story contains pieces of the truth. The battle over civil rights did accelerate the regional realignment of the parties; racial backlash did help the G.O.P. make gains in the once-Democratic South. But what ultimately doomed the old liberal majority wasn’t just support for civil rights; that was on the ballot in 1964, when Barry Goldwater won the heart of the old Confederacy but Lyndon Johnson won everywhere else. Rather, liberalism unraveled amid the subsequent nationwide wave of crime, unrest and disorder, which liberal mandarins and liberal machine politicians alike were unable to successfully manage or contain.

... there is a striking pattern of evidence, teased out in the research of the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow, showing how peaceful civil rights protests helped Democrats win white votes, and then violence pushed white voters toward Republicans.

Looking at data from the civil rights era, Wasow argues that “proximity to black-led nonviolent protests increased white Democratic vote-share whereas proximity to black-led violent protests caused substantively important declines” — enough to tip the 1968 election from Hubert Humphrey to Nixon.
So we're doomed, right? The unrest we're seeing now will throw the election to Trump, won't it?

Joshua Holland doesn't think so.
There are three good reasons to think it won’t work.

First, Nixon was taciturn, serious and experienced. As Josh Zeitz wrote, he “walked a thin line between statesmanship and demagoguery,” which is something that Trump, who has no discipline whatsoever and is the antithesis of a statesman, is incapable of doing. Nixon was able to pitch himself as a stabilizing force–a rock in a sea of chaos; Trump is himself an agent of chaos. A majority of Americans think he’s racist and uniquely divisive. Those yearning for stability and a return to “normalcy,” have an alternative in Joe Biden, a veteran moderate Democrat who’s served in government for decades and tends to speak in soothing tones....

Second, it didn’t work in 2016. Not only did [Trump] lose the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots, but the data show that he almost certainly would have lost the Electoral College as well if not for former FBI Director James Comey announcing that he was reopening the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days before the vote.

It also didn’t help his party in the 2018 midterms, when Trump spent months railing about an “invasion” by a caravan of refugees making their way north to the United States through Mexico.

Finally, it’s simply the case that nothing seems to move the needle on Trump’s popularity with the public, or lack thereof. Opinions are set. He ended 2019 with a 42.6 percent approval rating in FiveThirtyEight’s average, and today–after 100,000 mostly avoidable deaths, 40 million lost jobs and a couple of stock market sell-offs–that number stands at 42.6 percent.
I'll add a few more points. As I've been predicting, Trump has remained aloof (except on Twitter) and left the response to mayors and governors. Yesterday, many people expressed concern about a report that military troops were being mobilized in response to the unrest.
U.S. military police could be sent to George Floyd protests in Minneapolis under a law not used since the Rodney King riots, the Associated Press reported.

The Pentagon ordered the Army to ready personnel from North Carolina and New York for deployment in Minnesota amid unrest over the police killing of Floyd while he was in custody, according to the wire service.

Three unnamed sources told AP that the soldiers from Fort Bragg and Fort Drum were expected to be ready for deployment within four hours of receiving an order to deal with the ongoing protests in Minneapolis.
But the troops won't deployed unless the state of Minnesota asks for them. They weren't deployed last night. The president who wouldn't use the Defense Production Act in the worst days of the coronavirus crisis so far also doesn't seem to want to challenge the laws and norms that prevent the military from being deployed against civilians.

Also, many people read a tweet from Trump on Saturday speculating on "MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???" as a call for a violent confrontation on the White House grounds between protesters and Trump supporters. But no such thing happened last night -- there were protests at the White House, but "National Guard troops, the U.S. Park Police and the Secret Service" -- just whom you'd expect -- "kept the demonstrators back from the president’s residence."

Trump doesn't want to be involved in this. He'd have to plan a brutal response. He'd have to think and make choices. That's work. He'd much rather blame Democratic politicians in tweets. If someone came to him with an off-the-shelf plan for a brutal crackdown, he could sign off on it and then go play golf. But no one can offer him an easy, lazy man's way to be brutal.

And it's not clear that he wants to be brutal. His campaign has him convinced that he'll win a surprisingly large percentage of the black vote this year, even though, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, his approval rating among African-Americans is 8%. For the moment, he's trying to be liked by (as he puts it) "the black people." He may also believe that acknowledging the unrest undermines his "I made America great again" rhetoric.

Finally, he's incapable of focusing. He couldn't stay focused on the coronavirus, and now he can't stay focused on the anger and unrest in America. (Must go to war with Twitter! Must withdraw from the WHO! Must fly to Florida twice to see the SpaceX launch!)

Unrest in America doesn't inevitably lead to Republican electoral victories. The riots in response to the Rodney King verdict happened in the spring of 1992, and Bill Clinton was elected half a year later. Joe Biden isn't as talented a speaker or politician as Clinton was then, but Trump is at least as incapable of an effective response as Poppy Bush was.

Circumstances could change, but I don't see 2020 as 1968. Trump pretends to be a strongman, but at a moment of turmoil that seems ideally suited to that approach, he doesn't seem at all like a tough guy or a guarantor of safety and security.

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