Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Donald Trump: Champion of the Open Society?

It has been almost a month since this page took a peek at the U.S. presidential race. With the Iowa caucus less than two months off, terror has gripped the GOP Establishment at the prospect of Donald Trump's nomination.

One manifestation of this terror is the recent anointing of Ted Cruz as the candidate who has the best chance of knocking Trump out of his perch on top of the polls (see Nate Cohn's "Behind Ted Cruz’s Rise in the Polls: Lopsided Support" and Matt Flegenheimer's "Ted Cruz Surges in Iowa, Powered by Outsider Fervor").

If you feel nauseous due to serial deja vu, don't doubt yourself. It is real. We have been here before, and repeatedly so since Trump announced his run for the presidency in June. Once Trump weathered the surge of outrage about his Mexican rapists comment and then floated to the top of the polls (where he remains) over a crowded GOP primary field, the media and the Republican Party has put forth one champion after another to knock the crown from The Donald's head. There was the Carly Fiorina bubble. Then came Marco Rubio's turn. The big one was the Ben Carson boom, which has now gone bust. Finally, we have the absurdity of the Establishment coalescing in the 11th hour around the candidacy of Ivy League Tea Party huckster Ted Cruz. 

Cruz, whose negligible support is dissected in the Cohn piece above, is not going to win, just as Jeb Bush, who never gained any traction despite his $100 million Super PAC war chest and his Establishment imprimatur, is not going to win. Trump is headed to victory because he is the choice of the white working class, the base of the Republican Party.

Tom Edsall in an article today, "Donald Trump's Appeal," gets an earful from psychotherapists explaining the Trump phenomenon, but he identifies two basic truths about Trump that cannot be denied: 1) the bedrock of his support comes from the white male working class without college degrees -- call it old-time America; and 2) Trump voters have an insatiable appetite for destruction of the duopoly -- a system, in their hive mind, that has failed abominably and needs to be demolished (and I think rightly so) as soon as possible.
Poll data from the Pew Research Center shows how much Trump depends on the politically restive white working class. His backing from voters with a high school degree or less is twice as high as is it is from those with college degrees; the percentage of men lining up behind him is eight points higher than the percentage of women; voters from households making $40,000 or less are 12 points more likely to cast a Trump ballot than those from households making more than $75,000. 
Unlike most Republican candidates, Trump rejects cuts in Social Security and Medicare — programs strongly supported by the white working class. And, while he nods in the direction of the anti-abortion movement, he does not attempt to impose a repressive sexual morality (after all, he has been married three times).
At the moment, Trump leads in polls of Republican primary voters at 30 percent. Impressive as that is, more than 66 percent of Republican voters surveyed chose someone other than Trump. 
Going a step further, if Trump’s 30 percent of Republican primary voters is a marker of his core support, that translates to just 7.5 percent of all the voters who will cast ballots in the general election next November. 
Win or lose, Trump has made millions of Americans acutely aware of their dissatisfaction and prepared them to voice their resentment in the voting booth. The emotions he’s awakened and benefited from aren’t going away. 
If Trump is not nominated, the Republican candidate is still almost certain to have one of the Democratic Party’s more polarizing figures, Hillary Clinton, as an opponent, giving Trump supporters an incentive to remain loyal. 
But the larger problem Trump has created for the Republican Party is that his success has pushed all likely alternative candidates to the right, further from the mainstream, particularly on immigration. 
If Trump achieves nothing else, he has already proved himself to be a one-man wrecking crew, demolishing the efforts of Republican leaders and consultants after the 2012 election to soften the harder edges of their party.
I stopped reading FiveThirtyEight -- the web site of Nate Silver, prognosticating avatar of both Obama landslides -- because of its repetitive dismissal of the candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders. Polls showing Trump and Sanders in the lead are invariably picked apart, while historical statistics showing that "factional" candidates like Sanders are unelectable are highlighted. It is as if Mr. Data has rejected the first principle of scientific inquiry, the principle of falsifiability, to concoct a narrative that cannot be disproved: Trump cannot win and Hillary cannot lose.

The fascinating kernel at the center of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight analysis is the notion that Trump cannot win because the United States is not an open society (fascinating because the "principle of falsifiability" is Karl Popper's concept, the theorist who wrote The Open Society and Its Enemies, an apologia for "liberal democracy" published at the end of World War Two). Silver won't come out and say this but that is what he means when he says that an outsider candidate cannot triumph over the apparatus of the party even if he/she has clear majority support.

A must-read is this morning's FiveThirtyEight round-table discussion, "Big Phony And Loser Nate Silver Can’t Even See Donald Trump Is A Winner! What A Joke!" between Silver and two of his colleagues, Micah Cohen and Harry Enten. Cohen and Enten, role-playing a die-hard Trump fan and a Democrat intellectual, respectively, hammer away at golden-boy Silver and his notion that Trump won't win.

Silver puts forth his "Trump can't win because our open society is actually a closed society" argument in the first paragraph below, and then there is some back and forth with his interlocutors:
natesilver: By a Trump-like candidate, guys, I mean someone who openly defies his party and whose party is openly rooting against him. It’s one thing to say that the party chooses its nominee. That’s not always true. But can the party prevent someone from hijacking its nomination when the consequences for it would be disastrous? My guess is that it can.
Also, we do have some empirical data on how non-politicians perform in campaigns. It’s not uncommon to see them in U.S. Senate races, for instance. And the answer is that they tend to perform poorly. They often fade down the stretch run — look at Meg Whitman in 2010, for example — because of a tendency to commit gaffes and a lack of organization on the ground-game side of things.
Trumpfan1959: Trump has committed plenty of “gaffes” — at least, according to you people — and he still leads every poll.
PhDemocrat: Yes, Nate, but they also win. David Perdue won in Georgia in 2014, for example, and he survived both a competitive primary and a general election campaign. And Perdue also committed some gaffes. What I hear from you is a lot of guessing.
natesilver: You guys are arguing against a straw man. I’m not saying it’s impossible for Trump to win. But it’s unlikely — less likely than betting markets and the conventional wisdom hold.
Also, there’s an important difference between a one-off election like a Senate or gubernatorial primary and a presidential nomination. In a presidential race, voters and the party establishment have time to read and react. You’ve had candidates like Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan win individual states before, but they haven’t been able to sustain their momentum.
Will an onslaught of super PAC ads against Trump hurt him or help him? I dunno! But the party has a lot of time to experiment until it finds the right formula.
Trumpfan1959: It seems to me that you have no idea what’s going to happen — maybe there’s zero empirical evidence that candidates like Trump can win, but there’s just as much evidence that candidates like Trump CAN’T win. Trump is dominating the race, media and polls. How is that not the best position to be in?
natesilver: Let me turn this around a bit. You both seem to be placing a lot of emphasis on Trump’s polls. I don’t think they mean very much.
Trumpfan1959: If Marco Rubio were winning, you’d be citing the polls all the time. You just don’t like what they show.
natesilver: Dude, this isn’t complicated. Go back and look at past polling frontrunners at this stage of the campaign. They have a poor track record. By contrast, go back and look at who was leading in general elections in late October. They have a very good track record.
The point of being empirical isn’t that you love polls. It’s that you learn from experience, and our experience tells us that polls aren’t reliable predictors at this stage of the race.
PhDemocrat: 1980: Reagan led in polls and won. 1984: Mondale led in polls and won. 1988: Bush led in polls and won. 1996: Dole led in polls and won. 2000: Bush and Gore led in polls and both won. 2012: Romney was top of polls for most of primary and won. That’s seven out of 12 times the person who led in the polls at this point has won. That’s greater than 50 percent. And it’s far greater than the chance you give to Trump at this point.
The point that Silver misses is the dialectic. When has the white working class been as alienated as it is today? Not since the 1930s I would say.

Big changes are coming.

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