The Briefing

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 49-

This week:

  • Trump’s Carrier deal is an indisputable and unqualified win
  • House Dems stick with the same old same old
  • For Obamacare, they sacrificed the officeholders who once connected their party to Trump voters


No one can deny it, and there’s really no other way to put it. Donald Trump’s Carrier coup was a massive and unqualified victory.

Liberals and conservatives alike might shake their heads. But for Trump’s long-hidden supporters hidden working-class supporters who came out on election day, it’s a sign that he can do what no one thinks he can, and also that he keeps his promises.

Trump’s appearance at Carrier in Indianapolis last week was just a win, even if it violates liberals’ sensibilities and conservatives’ principles at the same time. It came after the company had made the announcement that it would be keeping at least 1,100 jobs in Indiana that had been slated to go to Mexico. And it was all because of a deal with Trump — or perhaps more properly, with the Indiana governor who will soon be his vice president.

The optics were terrific for Trump. Here he was, keeping a highly implausible promise that had been met by universal eye-rolls from a political press that was just as certain this couldn’t happen as it had been that he’d lose the election.

And yes, the same liberals who cut all those ads in past election cycles about jobs going overseas were now complaining that this was just one company. Some of them even rediscovered what they had missed throughout the Obama era — that government interference in “saving or creating jobs” has big trade-offs and doesn’t ultimately work. (Hey, welcome to the club.)

Conservatives were disturbed because this was a total violation of sound economic principles. Trump was following Obama’s lead in bullying businesses into suboptimal decisions. Also, the deal involved a one-time corporate inducement, not the serious systemic tax and regulatory reform that will be required to make American companies want to stay. If any company can get a $7 million tax break just for not going to Mexico, which company won’t do that?

But step back for a moment and instead look at this from the perspective of workers in Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who just unexpectedly pushed Trump over the top. From their perspective, he’s keeping the very promise that led them to vote for him. He was the first politician in a long time even to acknowledge the difficulties they faced — now he’s actually made good on something, and he isn’t even in office yet. This looks like one more proof of his consistent ability to confound the common wisdom and get results.

Of course, the liberals are right that it’s just one company. And the conservatives are right that offering inducements to companies is not a sustainable way to keep jobs in America. But to put the most optimistic face on it, what if this PR win is just for tiding people over until there’s a chance for more substantive reform?screenshot-2016-12-04-at-11-51-32-pm

Might he succeed? Think about it this way: The Obama era has seen sluggish job growth and sluggish GDP growth. Even today, in late 2016, employment among prime-age workers (age 25-54) is still below where it was before the financial crisis, both in terms of its rate and in absolute numbers. GDP for 2016 is on pace to grow at less than 2 percent, and in fact Obama’s presidency has seen only three quarters with annualized growth of 3 percent or higher. For context, there were eleven such quarters in a row during George W. Bush’s presidency, and 18 in a row during Bill Clinton’s presidency that were above 4 percent growth.

Trump will, upon taking office, have opportunities to do things that are more systemic than just making deals with individual companies. He can sign pipeline permits, open federal lands for oil leases, and, with help from Congress, instantly repeal a bevy of late Obama-era regulations.

Trump has been on Twitter talking about a 35 percent tariff, and that is very unlikely to happen. But there is a non-zero chance that he could get a corporate tax reform bill to his desk that stops punishing companies that bring back overseas profits to invest them at home. He has also promised a one-time amnesty for companies that want to repatriate overseas profits right away. Who knows? That could be a game-changer in year one. Americans aren’t used to really strong job growth, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

In the end, you have to measure Trump’s potential not so much by your opinion of his ideas, but by your opinion of Obama’s performance. If Obama’s vision for America’s economy is the best it can do in this modern era, then Trump will ultimately be frustrated in office. He will disappoint his supporters as jobs continue to leave the U.S. and he run out of carrots and sticks to make them stay. Republicans will be severely punished in the 2018 Midterms.

But on the other hand, what if Obama’s vision for the economy is simply defective, unimaginative, unambitious? What if, with his aggressive, left-wing labor and environmental policies, he has been driving the car for the last six years with the emergency brake on? In that case, Trump’s success could be almost effortless. Disengage that brake, and the car starts rolling downhill, as nature dictates.

Were that scenario to prove true, it would be yet another confounding surprise for the conventional wisdom. Just the sort of thing 2016 has taught us all to expect.

House Democrats

House Democrats chose to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader, just as we expected. But it doesn’t mean they’re terribly happy about it. And there are no visible signs that the party is engaged in the sort of introspection that would normally accompany a loss as bitter and unexpected as it just suffered. As Pelosi put in on Sunday, she doesn’t think her members are looking for “a new direction.” And perhaps that’s part of their larger problem.

Tim Ryan’s candidacy had been doomed from the beginning, as we pointed out last week. His promises to give more voice to Democrats in the Heartland rang empty in a caucus that no longer has much of a presence there. And his counsel for Democrats, to drop the aggressive Culture War politics and instead champion low-income rural workers, couldn’t resonate in a party that no longer represents many such workers.

Ryan’s 63 votes was the best showing of anyone running for leadership against Pelosi since she first became the House Democratic leader in 2002.

Pelosi has promised modest reforms that will make her caucus slightly more democratic. Member will now be able to elect the chairman of the House party’s campaign arm (the DCCC) instead of merely ratifying the leader’s appointment. A handful of minor leadership posts have been created for junior members of the caucus. But many House Democrats are still restive and worried that they’re on the path to nowhere, and they’re not afraid to say so in public, even after her victory.

House Democrats have completely lost their party’s centrist wing over the course of four elections. By 2009, after Obama’s election, they had really built up that wing of the party. It formed the spine of their majority through the American heartland. At that time, you could walk from Charleston, S.C. to Detroit; from North Dakota to Louisville, Ky.; from Southern Ohio to Bangor, Maine; from the Texas Gulf Coast to the Pacific Ocean; without passing through a single district represented by a Republican.

But all it took was two years of full Democratic control to make it all fall apart. In 2010, they sacrificed dozens of their moderates for something that might prove quite fleeting — the passage of Obamacare.

That election paved the way for Republicans to consolidate their gains through the redistricting process. In 2012, they held onto their House majority and picked up a few more rural seats in North Carolina and Kentucky, even as Mitt Romney went down to a stinging defeat.

In 2014, Republicans took over the House seats of Democratic moderates in West Virginia, Georgia, Utah, North Carolina, Northern New York State, and downstate Illinois. Some of those seats connected the party to its older, labor-dominated and more moderate past.

Democrats had counted on Donald Trump being their trump card in 2016. They believed that a candidate so out of touch with their “coalition of the ascendant” would harm Republicans all over the map.

In the end, they were completely wrong. Trump might have been a net negative in three suburban seats they lost (in New Jersey, Illinois and Nevada). But on the other side of that coin, his appeal in places like Northern Maine and northeast Iowa made it completely impossible for Democrats to take back any of the rural territory they lost during the previous three cycles.

It would be a mistake to blame Pelosi for her party’s 2016 failure. But in re-electing her without much introspection, House Democrats have perhaps become content with the same old leaders and the same old losing culture that’s already cost them so badly. Maybe they’re waiting for Trump to implode and hand them back the House. But they’ll have to win back a lot of Trump voters to do it.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 48: Republican Party
  • GOP triumph at state level
  •  Republicans can now make laws alone in 27 states
  •  Trump coattails seen in some races

Among the new prizes Republicans are set to exploit: Still more in an impressive multi-election string of victories in state legislatures. Just as the 2010 and 2014 elections resulted in a mass of new policy initiatives and reforms at the state level, so will the election of 2016, and in new states where Republicans have not recently had full control.

The Obama years came in kindly for Democrats at the state level. They are going out as a complete disaster. Look to the map of state legislative control from 2009, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures:


Although NCSL hasn’t come out with its post-2016 election map, we’ve used their graphics to create this one:

capture-1This is a rather stark shift from blue to red. Democrats have gone from majorities in 62 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers right after Obama’s first win, to just 32 after his exit. They have been wiped out in the South, a stronghold for local Democratic elected officials right up until about 10 years ago.

A few technical notes on the maps: First, each state in the above maps is colored by the party majorities in each legislative chamber, not necessarily based on functional party control. Alaska’s and Washington’s each now have one chamber in which coalitions have given the minority party control. Also note that the unicameral Nebraska legislature, although nominally nonpartisan, is under Republican control and was in 2009.

As for total control of government, including both houses and the governor, Republicans will now have that in 25 states (including Nebraska), and can enact new laws over a Democratic governor’s veto in two others (North Carolina and West Virginia). Democrats will fully control the legislative process in only eight states, including Maryland and Massachusetts, where they can override a Republican governor’s veto.

2016 Balance Sheet: Let’s look at the changes from the last election, with Republican losses first. Amid a very strong early-vote performance by Harry Reid’s political machine, they lost control of both houses of Nevada’s legislature. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, however, remains in power through the next election.

They lost control of the New Mexico House, meaning Democrats will control both chambers of that legislature. But Republican Gov. Susana Martinez remains in office through the next election.

Republicans lost their party majority in the Washington State Senate, but will nonetheless maintain functional control of the chamber in a coalition with one Democrat.

Finally, Republicans did maintain their party majority in the Alaska House, but Democrats will control the chamber’s business in a coalition with a few Republican members.

As losses go, these were not too bad. Republicans lost total functional control of the elected branches only in one state, Nevada. In North Carolina, although they appear to have lost the governorship (pending recount), they now enjoy a veto-proof majority in the legislature and can still pass new laws without Democrats’ input. Moreover, they retain the ability to do this in West Virginia, despite the election of another Democratic governor. Democrats gained total functional control nowhere.

On the other side, Republicans managed to make important gains at the state level. This includes, on Trump’s coattails in rural regions, a surprise takeover the Minnesota state Senate. They now control both houses there, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton remains in power through the next election. They also gained the governorship of Vermont.

Republicans gained full functional control of four key states, two of which will be critical to future presidential runs: Missouri, New Hampshire, Iowa and Kentucky. There could be momentous policy consequences in all four, depending on how ambitious Republicans choose to be.

The Kentucky House had failed to flip to the GOP in 2014, in time to change the law to help Rand Paul run for Senate re-election and president simultaneously. But it flipped very hard this time, with Trump coattails and a number of party-switches from D to R. Republicans will occupy 64 out of its 100 seats.

With GOP control of the state House for the first time since 1920, the Bluegrass State, traditionally Democratic, has now completed the process of party realignment in its elections. The only step left is for voter registration to catch up. Republicans already outvoted Democrats in their respective gubernatorial primaries for the first time in 2015. They are on pace to overtake Democrats in registration within the next decade. Even if it is merely a formality, it will be a milestone for the state party.

In both Kentucky and Missouri, where Republicans took over the governorship, right-to-work laws are highly likely to be considered. This might also become a priority in New Hampshire, where Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pass such a law with a veto-proof majority over a Democrat’s veto.

In Iowa, of all the states that saw big changes, Trump Republicanism seems like a clear winner from the 2016 election, just as unambiguously as it was in Ohio. Although the state’s Republicans had rejected Trump in their caucuses, he outperformed every Republican in recent memory with his resounding 10-point general election victory (yet another reminder of how different primary and general elections really are). No Republican had carried the state by such a wide margin since 1980.

The flipping of Iowa has received less notice than that of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, because it seemed superfluous to Trump’s 306-vote Electoral College victory. But if Iowa follows the path of neighboring Missouri in a more Republican direction it really will change the electoral map.

As a result, Republicans finally control the state Senate with at least 29 of 50 seats, and all three elected branches for the first time since 1998. The local press suggests that the legislature is likely to tighten abortion laws and liberalize gun laws. There is also talk of reforms to public employee pensions and collective bargaining, defunding of Planned Parenthood, and a clear shot at their own solution to longstanding state water issues.

The bigger picture, though, shows Republicans at heights in state governments that they hadn’t reached since the 1920s. It means the party will have a healthy bench of election-tested candidates who can run for higher offices in the future.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 48: The Democrats
  • Dems struggle after another bench-clearing loss
  • Tim Ryan is the answer to no one’s prayers
  • Dems chose the wrong target audience

As Republicans consider their new opportunities, Democrats are left thinking about how to pick up the pieces. Their loss, as completely unexpected as it was, was all the more devastating. And not just at the presidential level, but all the way down.

In the U.S. Senate, where they were favored to seize control, they came up far short, gaining only two seats, one of them by about 1,000 votes. But this week we look to the House, where Democrats were already expected to come up short. And they came up far, far shorter than had been expected.

They were supposed to gain at least 15 seats, even by our assumptions, putting them within much easier striking distance for the 2018 midterm. But when the last district is decided in a Louisiana runoff next month, they will have gained only six seats.

Democrats also lost the national popular vote for House by about 3.3 million votes, despite having fielded about half a dozen more candidates than the GOP nationwide, and despite running behind a presidential candidate who won the national popular vote.

And so House Democrats, restlessly suffering with one of their smallest minorities since the Coolidge era (the only smaller one being during the Congress now ending), are questioning whether it is wise to keep the same leaders who won them a majority ten years ago but have since plunged them back into the wilderness.

House Leadership race: When you lose, you need to find someone or something to blame. Whether it is the CIB121014-Pelosifault of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or not (we will argue below that it isn’t, at least not directly), the party has a real perception problem in that its congressional leadership will consist of “both kinds” of Democrat — New York City and San Francisco. Do they want to continue along this path, given the results up to now? Or do they want to let their elder leaders step aside and inject some younger blood? 

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is is Pelosi’s challenger. But he had picked up only three public endorsements from members as of Friday, all of them from junior and back-bench House Democrats.

Ryan is far from the ideal vessel for Democrats’ frustrations with Pelosi’s leadership. He has been mostly a do-nothing back-bencher since he was elected to replace the late Rep. Jim Traficant in 2002. He has never chaired an important committee, sought a leadership post, or done anything terribly newsworthy during his entire time in Congress, aside from writing a book on food (which might be good, we haven’t read it).

There is one point in Ryan’s favor: He represents precisely the kind of district where Hillary Clinton just lost enough of the Democratic white working-class base to lose five Midwestern states that Obama carried and their 54 electoral votes. Trump came within three points of carrying heavily Democratic Mahoning County, which Mitt Romney had lost by more than 28 points. He is thus somewhat attractive as a Pelosi alternative with his talk of giving Democrats in “flyover country” more of a voice within the party.

But that’s about as far as it goes. And the reason has to do with the simple math of the House Democratic caucus. Democrats will finish this cycle with just 194 House members. Of those, only 31 represent districts in the Midwest, including Chicago. Only 27 represent districts in what can now be accurately called the South (including Southern Virginia and North Florida).

But 123 of the Democrats in the new House will come from the three West Coast states, New England, the mid-Atlantic region (including Philadelphia but not Scranton) or South Florida. These areas, and not flyover country, account for more than 60 percent of their caucus. You can blame gerrymandering (or rather, Democrats’ failure to keep their decades-long control of gerrymandering). You can blame Democrats’ loss of the national popular vote for House in three of the last four elections. You can blame an uninspiring and distrusted Democratic presidential candidate.

But whomever you blame, the Democratic House members who will elect the new leader have absolutely no incentive to look beyond coastal elite interests in choosing their new leader. Why should flyover country have a say in a party where it is dramatically underrepresented?

Add to this the fact that Pelosi raises so much money for Democrats in every geographic region, and you can see why she is a lock to remain leader when House Dems vote this week.

You can also see why her party is less likely to learn anything from its recent defeat.

National problem: By the same token, though, it is by no means clear that Tim Ryan represents a better way forward for his party. Is a do-nothing backbencher going to wow the big donors, as party leaders must do? His election would not be offensive to anyone, but it probably isn’t the answer to anyone’s prayers, either.

There is already speculation that Ryan is just trying to raise his profile for a run for Ohio governor in 2018, and it’s probably not off-base.

Besides, it would be wrong to blame Pelosi for an election in which she was not really the significant figure. In 2010, yes, she loomed large with her comments on passing Obamacare before finding out what’s in it. But not in 2016. This was the year of Hillary Clinton and, to a lesser degree, Barack Obama.

But Pelosi is part of what might be a losing ideological culture for the Democrats. That culture cost them far more of the regular party voters in key states than anyone had anticipated. It’s unclear whether the lost Trump Democrats will return to the fold in two years’ time, but it’s obviously not something the party can take for granted.

Democrats’ main problem is that in just the last ten years, they have become a party that speaks to an upper-class and mostly white urban gentry with a language of social liberalism that not all of their own voters care for. While they and their left-leaning media organs address that crowd, they count on social pressure to keep the votes they need from a broader and more diverse coalition that doesn’t necessarily share the priorities, outlook, or core values of the party’s elite members. (This insight was encapsulated pretty well in a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit created by Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock.)

This has already resulted in their losing touch with the Trump Democrats, who were real, honest-to-goodness Democrats who voted Democratic until now. Not only that, but it’s not hard to imagine a situation, in some years’ or decades’ time, where the same disconnect that cost Democrats a large share of low-income white voters could also someday cost them at the margins with other racial groups as well.

It wasn’t that hard to keep the Democrats’ coalition together when Obama was their candidate. But he’s gone now, and their party is left scrambling for answers, with a bench that has been decimated by two midterm losses plus a presidential-year implosion everywhere outside Nevada, Illinois and California.

There had been a time when Democrats spoke and sounded a lot more like Trump. The “dark” and “dystopic” vision they criticized Trump for pronouncing this year was, amusingly, the very same kind of rhetoric that Al Gore and Dick Gephardt once used — an America where senior citizens collect aluminum cans and eat dog food to get by. A “crippled America.”

Dems lost that connection, instead preferring to talk to an audience that ponders college-campus-type questions about microaggressions, “privilege,” transgender bathroom use, and other concerns that just don’t resonate outside with most normal people. The Democrats chose to become the party of upper-class whites who read the Huffington Post and have liberal social values, and now they need to re-establish touch with voters who don’t fit that profile or else they’re in for quite a bit more losing in years to come.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 47-

This week:

  • Can Republicans consolidate gains in the Rust Belt?
  • Will Trump’s victory be more lasting than Obama’s was?
  • How the parties fared with different voting groups in 2016

President 2016 Trends

Donald Trump’s victory continues to surprise everyone, and especially to confound liberals. Those Democratic partisans still defending rather than criticizing Hillary Clinton have argued that she came within a combined 110,000 votes of carrying Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which would have been enough to make her president.

Okay, that’s fine. But by that standard, John Kerry came much closer to winning the White House in 2004 than she did in 2016. Kerry lost the popular vote, but he came within about 65,000 votes of winning Ohio and the presidency.

Or to turn it around, Trump came within 91,000 combined votes of carrying Minnesota, Nevada, Maine, and New Hampshire for an even more solid win at 329 electoral votes. That would have put him just three short of the 332 that President Obama won in 2012 — again, despite Trump’s loss of the popular vote.

In fact, none of that stuff happened. The voters chose as they did in the real world. Democrats have more than enough trouble on their hands right now without agonizing over the imaginary closeness of an election in which their entire “Blue Wall” collapsed.

Make the Rust Belt Red again? Republican ascendancy in the Rust Belt has been slow in coming. It did not begin this year, but it might well have taken Trump’s candidacy to push the party over the finish line.

For many years, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin had been trending Republicans’ way when their presidential voting habits are compared to those of the U.S. as a whole. And it stands to reason. There are millions of habitual Democratic voters in places like LaPorte County, Indiana and Noblesville, Ohio. They have been voting Democratic because of economic promises, not really wanting to participate in the increasingly assertive liberal culture war that has become a much more important part of Democratic politics in the last ten years.

Despite all the doubters, Trump really did win these so-called “conservatives of the heart” to whom Pat Buchanan had once referred. The question is whether the party can make it stick now that it’s happened, or whether Trump is, like Barack Obama, a sui generis phenomenon that no other Republican can imitate.

It might well be that the Republican Party is entering an era of strength, even if the long-term demographic challenges it faces are troubling. Trump’s campaign was chaotic, constantly filled with media controversies that he often gleefully egged on and stories about Republican infighting. This seemed to suggest Republican weakness, but it might have actually concealed the fact that the party has made great strides in its ability to close the deal with voters.

Along with Trump’s undeniably unique appeal to non-traditional Republican voters, and the enthusiasm of his supporters, the RNC deserves a lot of credit in his win. Trump’s new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, spent most of his tenure as RNC chairman raising money to develop a data-heavy get-out-the-vote operation modeled after that of President Obama, which would bring the GOP to parity with Democrats.

Trump’s late trips to Minnesota and Michigan indicate that the party and the Trump campaign had all the information they needed to make smart decisions about where to send the candidate.

In Wisconsin, which Clinton failed to visit even once after the Democratic primary was over, the state GOP was aided by Scott Walker’s constant need to win elections, including the recall campaign that was waged against him (Walker overperformed the polls) and the subsequent 2014 re-elect. The state party’s machinery has become perfectly tooled because of the state’s constant political rancor and close elections for everything from president to state Supreme Court to state legislature.

As we noted last week, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., can credit his improbable survival with an intense and successful effort to drive up turnout in Republican strongholds; Trump can credit his (and this shows up clearly on the map) to the appeal he had in rural areas that normally vote Democratic.

If Wisconsin is an example of a state where the GOP is newly competitive, then Ohio is all the more so. Despite opposition to Trump from the state’s popular Republican governor, and despite Clinton’s last-minute visits to receive endorsements from rock and sports stars, Trump won by the biggest margin anyone has since 1988. It may be premature to suggest that Ohio is the next Missouri — a midwestern swing state as recently as 2000 that has since gone solid Red — but it’s not out of the question.

Pennsylvania will now be considered a true swing state, which is better than it had been for the GOP. And then there’s Maine, which Trump lost by only 20,000 votes (he did win one of its electoral votes) and Minnesota, which is sure to become more of a Republican target in the future.

It should not be lost on Republicans that some of their reliable Red states are going to become more competitive in the future than they are now. Arizona and Georgia could eventually go the way of Colorado and Virginia. All the more important, then, to expand the map beyond the old Blue-Red paradigm of 2000 — and Trump has helped them start the process.

House 2016 Analysis

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In that spirit, we’re about to give you several thousand words on the strength and future prospects of the GOP.

Part of the question Republicans need to be asking themselves now is how much of Trump’s win can be replicated in future elections. It’s hard to say, but one way of measuring party strength while filtering out the noise of individual candidates and personality-driven elections is to look at the national vote for U.S. House, which occurs every two years and which often clashes with the presidential result. (Note that House Republicans won the national popular vote this year by about 3.4 million, despite fielding fewer candidates.)

When looking at that vote over the years, as we are about to do, it also helps to filter out whether one party or another had an especially bad year for reasons peculiar to that year. If we’re interested in seeing how Republicans are doing with various groups, and in whether Trump’s win filtered down to the party’s down-ballot candidates (not all of whom even supported Trump), one approach is to compare each group’s voting patterns compared to the average voter.

This is what the following charts aim to do.

In the charts below, we look at voting patterns among various groups based on the media exit polling done on election day in the last 18 House elections, ending with 2016.

The actual election result is always the x-axis — which is to say, the average voter is always a “zero.” Each group is thus measured either with a positive number (more Democratic than average) or negative one (more Republican than average). By looking at this measurement over time, we see more than just whether one or another group votes for a given party — we also see whether it is becoming more or less loyal to that party, or whether it has shifted its loyalty altogether.


image-4Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2016 election, and certainly the most important shift among religious groups, came with self-described white evangelicals. They again voted in roughly equal numbers to Catholics (26 percent of the electorate versus 25 percent), and the 65-point victory margin they gave to Donald Trump is the largest in at least three decades, and possibly ever. So is the 68-point margin they gave to GOP House candidates in this month’s election.

As for Catholics, despite hand-wringing about Donald Trump repelling them with his high-profile spat with Pope Francis, he ended up carrying the self-identified Catholic vote by 7 points. (Mitt Romney had lost it by two points.) And Catholics voted Republican by exactly the same margin down-ballot. This ratifies a change of loyalty that began in 2010. Catholics (of all races) have now voted more Republican than the average voter in House races for four consecutive elections — something that has never happened before. Catholics had never favored Republicans more than the broader electorate in any election between 1982 and 2008.

We remarked on this phenomenon after the 2014 election as well, but this time it’s even more significant because the margin has grown despite demographic pressure in the opposite direction — i.e., the increasing share of U.S. Catholics who are Hispanic.

A small surprise: Voters who described themselves as belonging to some other religion besides Christianity or Judaism — a very Democratic group — have trended nearly ten points more Republican since 2012. This group includes Muslims, of whom there are about 3.3 million total in the U.S., some smaller number of whom actually vote. “Other” religious adherents made up 7 percent of the electorate this year.

Among the religiously unaffiliated, it appears that they have shifted ten points more Democratic over the last decade. (It could also be that many more Democratic voters now describe themselves this way to exit pollsters than they used to.)

Jews comprised a very small segment of the electorate once again (3 percent), and remained well within their historical range of voting behavior.


image-7This chart is mostly useless, because its overall trends reflect the inflation of the U.S. dollar more than they reflect changes in voting behavior. Which is to say, when this question was asked in 1982, a household bringing in more than $30,000 a year was firmly in the middle class, which is clearly no longer the case, and over time more and more voters have shifted into higher income groups.

However, there is a reason we share it. One group noticeably bucked the inflation trend this year: the lowest income group. Yes, it remains Democratic, but its counterintuitive shift toward the mean indicates that there were Trump coattails for Republican House candidates among lower income white voters. This might also reflect a slight slump in Democratic partisanship among black voters compared to the two Obama elections.


image-2Along with black voters, voters from union households have historically been one of the Democrats’ essential coalition partners. But this is a declining constituency. Their share has fallen from 26 percent of the electorate in 2000 nationally to just 18 percent in both 2012 and 2016.

By losing union household voters by a mere eight points, Trump nearly neutralized this constituency’s value to Democrats. Romney had lost them by 18 points, and George W. Bush had lost them by 22 points in his razor-thin 2000 victory.

Republican House candidates lost union households by only 11 points this time. Because the average voter was also more Republican, this is no better than 2012 on the chart.

But there is a reason we share it here. Although most of the groups pictured in these charts do not show a significant difference between midterm and presidential year voting habits, it does appear that union members have see-sawed between the two recent elections.

On the margin, it appears that the die-hard union midterm voters are significantly more Democratic. The extra marginal union household members who show up only to vote in presidential years seem more likely to vote GOP than their comrades.


image-3Republicans have a real long-term problem here. The belief that voters become more conservative with age (or that more conservative members of each age cohort begin participating later in life) is not without foundation, but at no point since 1982 have the age cohorts been so far apart in their voting patterns.

Remember: The youngest age cohort nearly tied between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, and its vote for House was only two points more Democratic than the average voter. Today, the thought of such a thing happening again seems almost ridiculous.

There are five plausible reasons for this departure, and all probably play some role.

One is Barack Obama, a transformational political figure looked up to by many young people the same way many young conservatives looked up to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Never underestimate the power of an icon.

Second, the culture wars seem to be repelling older age groups from the Democratic party, whereas those younger voters who actually participate in elections seem more attuned to liberal cultural norms on aggregate.

Third, it is noteworthy that the departure began during the Iraq War. There is no question that that event influenced many younger voters to turn away from the party of George W. Bush.

Fourth, the death of Democrats who came of age in the FDR years has sharply shifted the oldest age groups in a more Republican direction. This is one of the least remarked phenomena of the early Twenty-First century, but one of the most significant.

Fifth, and perhaps most important in the long run, an increasing share of young people are non-white today, due mostly to an population increase among Hispanics and higher black voting participation than at the beginning of the century (again thanks in large part to Obama). Some of these will grow up to be more Republican, but on aggregate this is a challenge for the GOP, because on aggregate they are growing up in a culture where no one currently votes Republican.

Donald Trump did not do nearly as badly with 18-29-year-old voters as some expected — he lost them by 18 points, compared to Mitt Romney’s 23 points. Republican House candidates lost them by only 16 points, compared to 22 points in 2012, but compared to a more Republican electorate this time around, they did not trend in a GOP direction.

Unless Republicans find a way to reach the younger generation, they are going to hit a brick wall sometime in the next four presidential cycles. Yes, older people are living longer, but they can’t live forever. A wildly successful Republican presidency that contrasts sharply with Obama’s could also really help change the game.


image-6Yes, here’s that big question-mark looming over the Republican Party, alluded to above. On the presidential level, exit polling suggests that Donald Trump did better than Mitt Romney with non-white voters — but that’s not a huge surprise, given that Romney was running to unseat the first black president.

Even if Trump’s ability to co-opt the white working class was enough to produce an electoral majority in 2016, the GOP needs to win a greater share of black and Hispanic voters if it is to remain competitive in, say, 2028.

And note that it would not be necessary to win majorities with either group. If Republicans could lose the Hispanic vote by just 20 points and the black vote by just 60 points (instead of 80), Democrats would probably never win another presidential election.

Within the House vote, there is evidence that Republicans lost a little bit of ground in 2016 with Hispanic men, who had been trending a bit more Republican, but nothing especially alarming. However, the slight move in a Republican direction by younger blacks might be interesting, especially if it plays out in future elections. Older blacks are tend to be more liberal and brand-loyal to Democrats than black Millennials. This doesn’t mean the latter will ever be a Republican constituency but could represent an area where the GOP can make some inroads with the right message.


image-5This process did not begin with Trump either, but it certainly culminated with him, at least in terms of presidential-year elections. His incredible improvement in GOP voting performance among non-college educated voters (50 percent of the electorate) did indeed create coattails for the House GOP, although Trump did slightly better with them than House Republicans did.

But the number of non-college voters has been in decline, and it’s still a marginal constituency. College graduates without a postgrad degree, on the other hand, split their votes for House evenly between the two parties, meaning they were three points more Democratic than the average voter (as the chart shows) in 2016. This is something the GOP will need to be mindful of, because it can’t afford to lose a constituency that has been solidly Republican but was already trending away from them gradually even before this election.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 46-

This week:

  • Where Trump expanded the GOP electorate in swing states
  • Where the Obama coalition collapsed beneath Clinton

Donald Trump was mocked and ridiculed for his claim that he could bring new voters into the GOP.

But guess what? He was right. Just as he promised, he attracted new voters in the Rust Belt to support his ticket, and the rest is history. What’s more, with a few exceptions, nearly all of Trump’s voters do seem to have supported Republicans down-ticket. Far from the disaster many had feared, the increased swing-state turnout was a tide that lifted all Republican boats.

On election night, Trump expanded the GOP base in many swing states. Clinton also did so in at least some of them, but in the most critical ones she fell far short of what Obama had been able to do.

These two factors, combined, made several competitive states closer this year, and in the cases of Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, flipped them from Democratic to Republican.

Here’s a detailed look at how Trump and Clinton did in all of this year’s election swing states (defined broadly). Vote totals may yet change in some states, but the idea here is to look at where the parties managed to substantially expand their following during this election, with an eye to future races.


These are the swing states where both Trump and Clinton exceeded their parties’ respective 2012 totals.

Florida: Trump by 114,000 votes (1.2 points)

Trump: 452,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 264,000 more votes than Obama

This is a rare electorally important state where Hillary Clinton managed to build substantially on Barack Obama’s majority. Clinton’s problem? Trump’s boost in turnout was far and away larger than what her team was able to produce.

If there is any state where Trump was right that he could bring in new voters, this is it — although it isn’t the only one.

Early on election night, Clinton’s team expressed satisfaction that its voters had turned out in Orlando, along the I-4 corridor, and that its margins along the Gold Coast were up to expectations. The anticipated boost in Hispanic voting, they believed, would carry her to victory. In Miami-Dade County, she expanded Obama’s margin of victory by 80,000 votes. In Broward, she added 24,000. In Orlando, she added 49,000. She even narrowed the Dem margin of loss in Collier (Naples) and Duval (Jacksonville) Counties by a few points.

But it just wasn’t enough to overcome the turnout boost that Trump got. The Hispanic vote-share increase over 2012 was just one point, and Trump’s 35 percent performance, though worse than Romney’s, proved good enough.

Trump narrowed Romney’s margin of loss in Palm Beach County, swept the Treasure Coast (turning St. Lucie County red for the first time since 1992), carried Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) and nearly all of the Gulf Coast. On top of that, he added to the GOP margin in small increments in counties throughout the state. Trump did indeed bring new voters into the process in Florida, and it added up to a victory of just under 120,000 votes.

Marco Rubio, who lost the presidential primary to Trump in the spring, ran ahead of him this time by about 200,000 votes.

Nevada: Clinton by 26,000 votes (2.4 points)

Trump: 48,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 6,000 more votes than Obama

Trump really did find a lot of new votes here, but Harry Reid’s political machine worked overtime to ensure that his retirement would not be taken in embarrassment.

In the end, Nevada Democrats’ strenuous focus on early voting was just good enough to carry Clinton and Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto across the finish line. Whatever happened in the rest of America, Reid did his part in his own state, even flipping both houses of the state legislature.

Still, Trump’s showing was good enough to suggest that there’s still some life in the Nevada GOP.


Here are the swing states where Trump surpassed Mitt Romney’s totals, expanding the party and/or winning over Democratic voters in large numbers, and where Clinton also underperformed Barack Obama’s 2012 vote totals.

Missouri: Trump by 531,000 votes (19.1 points)

Trump: 362,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 169,000 fewer votes than Obama

A state that has only gotten redder in recent cycles, Missouri had given Trump a slight polling scare a few weeks before the election. But it wasn’t a close race in the end.

In fact, it was a landslide in which vastly increased GOP turnout probably did help carry Sen. Roy Blunt, R, across the finish line. Trump outperformed Blunt especially in the state’s two major urban areas.

Trump improved on Romney’s margins in nearly every corner of the state, and probably also helped elect Eric Greitens, R, governor.

Now that it finally has a Republican governor, Missouri is very likely to become the next right-to-work state, unless Kentucky (whose state house flipped to the GOP) gets there first.

North Carolina: Trump by 178,000 votes (3.8 points)

Trump: 69,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 16,000 fewer votes than Obama

Romney carried it in a squeaker — Trump carried in in a little bit less of a squeaker. According to exit polls, black voters failed to turn out for Clinton in the same numbers or to deliver as they had for Obama. Meanwhile, Trump expanded the universe of GOP voters, improving on Romney’s margins in small counties throughout the state.

Despite being viewed by some Republicans as extremely vulnerable, Sen. Richard Burr, R, actually outperformed Trump numerically (by about 30,000 votes) and won re-election to a third term.


These are swing states that Barack Obama carried, and where Hillary Clinton’s loss of Obama voters was greater than the margin by which she lost to Donald Trump.

As it happens, Trump also gained votes in every single one of these. But if Clinton had only been able to persuade and turn out every Obama voter, she would have won anyway.

Iowa: Trump by 148,000 votes (9.6 points)

Trump: 68,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 172,000 fewer votes than Obama

Trump’s team feared the weekend before the election that he might lose here. But in the end, it wasn’t even close. Trump found new voter, and Clinton’s turnout fell off a cliff from the last Obama election.

Clinton slightly outperformed Obama’s margins in two counties (suburban Dallas County and college-town Johnson County) but saw the Democratic edge wilt and burn in the other 97. Iowa has a long tradition of left-wing populism, but has now become very friendly to the GOP for two consecutive elections (2014 and 2016).

Michigan: Trump by 12,000 votes (0.3 points)

Trump: 164,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton 297,000 fewer votes than Obama

People laughed at the time, but Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to focus on Michigan did not turn out to be in vain.

All evidence points to a collapse of the Obama coalition in a state to which Clinton paid far too little attention. She slumped in both of the state’s big eastern Democratic cities. In Wayne County (Detroit), she missed President Obama’s vote total by 79,000 and his margin by 93,000 votes. In Genesee County (Flint), she got 26,000 fewer votes than Obama and underperformed his margin by 38,000. Between these gains and improvements on Romney’s margins throughout the state’s many rural counties (including the Upper Peninsula), Trump just barely squeaked out a victory.

Ohio: Trump by 455,000 votes (8.6 points)

Trump: 111,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 511,000 fewer votes than Obama

The shock here is not that Trump won (polls had him ahead), but that he won by so much. Clinton could not even keep it close because she lost more than half a million votes that Obama had won.

Mahoning County (Youngstown) was considered a test case for Trump’s ability to appeal to white working class voters. He passed, coming within three points, whereas Mitt Romney had just come within 30 points of President Obama.

One of her biggest losses came in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), where her vote total came up 64,000 votes below Obama. But the fact is, she shed Obama voters all over the state — even in the four counties where she improved on Obama’s margins.

Pennsylvania: Trump by 68,000 (1.2 points)

Trump: 223,000 more votes than Romney
Clinton: 155,000 fewer votes fewer than Obama

Clinton’s loss of Obama votes in the Keystone State more than accounts for her margin of loss, but it’s worth noting that Trump also racked up far more votes than Romney had.

Clinton’s performance in Philadelphia was weaker than Obama’s had been in 2012, but most analysts thought at the beginning of election night that it was borderline-good-enough. This did not prove to be the case.

Trump just barely narrowed Romney’s losing margin in Philly, lost by a slightly larger margin in Pittsburgh, and got clobbered in the Philadelphia suburbs. But in the “Alabama in the middle” part of the state, he racked up staggering totals. The warning signs for Team Clinton came when he carried Erie County (Erie), where Romney had lost by 16 points and Luzerne County (Wilke-Barre), where Romney had lost by 27 (!) points.

It’s worth noting that Sen. Pat Toomey, who also won and by a bit more than Trump, found victory by a completely different path. He kept the race closer in Pittsburgh and much closer in the Philly burbs, carrying Bucks and Chester Counties, which Trump lost. Still, Trump’s heavy support in Wilkes-Barre might have helped him.

Wisconsin: Trump by 27,000 votes (1.0 points)

Trump: 1,500 more votes than Romney
Clinton 238,000 fewer votes than Obama

Wisconsin rejected Donald Trump in its GOP primary, but that didn’t matter on Tuesday (it never does). Instead, Trump’s uniquely non-ideological candidacy helped create an unconventional path to the win.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R, whose victory was also unexpected, got there by a slightly different path. Johnson had an extremely strong performance in the Milwaukee suburbs, where Trump still won but did not do quite as well. But in state’s Democratic wetern counties, Trump shone, winning several normally blue areas that Republicans seldom win. Johnson outran Trump in terms of votes and margin, but Trump’s map is the redder one. 

One has to wonder how much Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 union reforms contributed to this win. Absent strong and well-funded unions, Democrats have now suffered two important defeats in a row, between Walker’s 2014 re-election and now the triumph by Johnson and Trump.


In a handful of states, Hillary Clinton lost a lot of Obama votes, but still managed to hang on. Trump expanded the GOP electorate (at least a little bit) in all of them.

Maine: Clinton by 21,000 votes (2.7 points)

Trump: 43,000 more votes than Romney

Clinton: 46,000 fewer votes than Obama

Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s margin (of win or loss) in every single county of Maine. It was not enough to carry the state, but it was enough for him to easily win the electoral vote attached to the second congressional district.

Minnesota: Clinton by 44,000 votes (1.5 points)

Trump: 3,000 more votes than Romney

Clinton: 180,000 fewer votes than Obama

A surprisingly close finish in another blue collar workers’ paradise, thanks mostly to Clinton’s loss of so many Obama votes. Trump did not gain much over Romney, but the opportunity here is obvious. Had Trump been able to spend more time here earlier on (something that couldn’t have been reasonably expected), he might well have won it. In the future, if they retain their appeal to the Trump voter, Republicans may well start taking their chances in Minnesota more seriously and bother a bit less with states that are slipping away, like Virginia and New Mexico.

The change in margins throughout the rural parts of Minnesota is quite astonishing. They couldn’t quite overcome Clinton’s increased margins in the Minneapolis area, though.

During the Bush era, Republicans had come quite close in Minnesota, but the flipping of Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin holds forth hope for the future. Republicans just barely failed to flip two of the state’s House seats, both of which they will likely target in 2018.

New Hampshire: Clinton by 2,500 votes (0.3 points)

Trump: 16,000 more votes than Romney

Clinton: 21,000 fewer votes than Obama

There was a lot of undervoting in the Granite State. Donald Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s margins in every single county of the Granite State — and in all counties in neighboring Vermont except one. It wasn’t enough to win either state, but it was almost enough in New Hampshire. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., outperformed Trump by about 8,000 votes but lost by an even smaller margin.


Arizona: Trump by 85,000 votes (4.1 points)

Trump: 118,000 fewer votes than Romney

Clinton: 2,300 more votes than Obama

A drop-off in the GOP vote here did not prevent Trump from carrying the state, but it did result in Arizona being called very, very late in the night. Clinton made a bit of a play for Arizona, but part of the headwind Trump faced was not related to his own race: A well-financed campaign to take down Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who lost) might have depressed the GOP vote in Maricopa County somewhat. Clinton performed there at roughly 2012 levels but Trump fell far off Romney’s numbers.

In any event, Trump still carried the county and the state. He did underperform Sen. John McCain, R, who won a convincing 12.5 point victory, mostly by doing much better in Maricopa.

Georgia: Trump by 231,000 votes (4.7 points)

Trump: 10,000 fewer votes than Romney

Clinton: 63,000 more votes than Obama

Trump did slightly outperform Mitt Romney’s margins in a some southern states — Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas, for example. In some areas, this was due to a drop-off in the black vote for Clinton, in others it had to do with Trump building on Romney’s vote totals.

But in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma, Trump underperformed Romney — but not to any alarming degree that might cost him these states. He improved on Romney’s margins throughout South Georgia, but often because of Clinton lagging behind Obama. In the Atlanta area, however, Clinton more than made up for the lost votes.

This is another symbol of Trump’s non-traditional path to victory — hang on to the South and seize the rust belt. It’s also a sign of something Georgians have been expecting, but which has not come yet. The state is becoming more competitive for Democrats, but they still aren’t there yet.


These are states where both Clinton’s and Trump’s vote totals seem to have fallen short of their respective parties’ 2012 performances.

New Mexico: Clinton by 65,000 votes (8.3 points)

Trump: 20,000 fewer votes than Romney

Clinton: 35,000 fewer votes than Obama

In the nation’s most Hispanic state (by a long way), Donald Trump performed poorly. But he still didn’t lose as many 2012 Romney votes as Hillary Clinton did, one more sign of the overall weakness of her candidacy.

This was, of course, former Gov. Gary Johnson’s best state, with 9.3 percent, and his high vote total helps explain why Trump and Clinton saw their totals fall.

Virginia: Clinton by 185,000 votes (4.9 points)

Trump: 91,000 votes fewer than Romney

Clinton: 55,000 votes fewer than Obama

In Virginia, turnout was down across the board for the two major parties, even though the overall vote was up — third-party candidates picked up nearly 6 percent of the vote.

Trump actually picked up many votes over Romney in the Commonwealth’s panhandle and rural regions, but lost far more persuadable Republican voters in the D.C. suburbs — Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria and Loudoun County. Romney ran a much closer race in Virginia, which stands to reason given its makeup. This was not the blue-collar workers’ paradise where Trump tended to thrive.

In the end, it wasn’t terribly close, but Trump did manage to make it closer than the polls indicated. The results in Virginia were one of the night’s early warning signs for Clinton’s team.


Colorado: Clinton by 75,000 votes (2.9 points)

Trump: 20,000 fewer votes than Romney

Clinton: 48,000 fewer votes than Obama

Gary Johnson, whose position on marijuana legalization appeals to much of the state’s young population, had one of his stronger showings with 5 percent of the vote. This may have contributed to a drop-off in the two-party vote, but votes are still being counted and it’s entirely possible that one or both of the major-party candidates will surpass 2012 totals in the end.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 45-
  • Trump’s astounding, confounding triumph
  • Obama coalition collapses beneath Clinton
  • Republicans keep Congress

President 2016

Paul Ryan called Donald Trump’s victory one of the greatest political feats he had ever witnessed. It is one of the most amazing anyone currently alive has ever witnessed — perhaps even more shocking than the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment of 1948.

Hillary Clinton’s victory party on Tuesday night went from joy to shock to horror as her bid for the presidency unexpectedly failed. The Left is having a hard time accepting the result, with protests breaking out to reject Donald Trump’s legitimacy.

But he won. Donald J. Trump is the president-elect because the voters of enough states with large enough populations chose him over his opponent, just as the Constitution prescribes.

The win also makes Trump the leader of the Republican Party. With Reince Priebus expected to become his chief of staff, he will choose its new chairman (or chairwoman, as Carly Fiorina‘s name has been bandied about) and become responsible for some large part of his agenda.

And they won’t call him “Mr. Trump,” anymore, as he famously prefers — they will call him “Mr. President.”

Few believed Trump could pull it off, or pull it off in the way he did. But it turns out that his stated goal from early on — to persuade working-class voters in the industrial Rust Belt states whom Romney could not win over — was exactly the right strategy for him. For all the sneering he got, he really did manage to put a lot of new states into play. He won Michigan and Pennsylvania, in addition to the must-win swing states of Florida and Ohio.

Civic virtue: Rioters in Portland seem to believe that they can make it go away (or something) by smashing up their city, as they were doing Thursday night. More peaceful protestors in other cities have embraced the idea that he is “not my president.” Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, might have been the worst of all: He seemed to encourage the questioning of Trump’s legitimacy with a not-very-gracious statement on Friday, calling Trump a “sexual predator” even as he discussed the possibility of national “healing.”

But Trump won, and he deserves every American’s best wishes and prayer that his presidency succeed in promoting the common good. That applies to those who like him and those who do not.

Not all Democrats were such sore losers as Reid. As Clinton said in her gracious concession speech on Wednesday, this is the time for Americans to approach the coming Trump administration with “an open mind.” If someone who has worked all her life for the presidency and must be hurting now can show that much respect for the burdens of the office that Trump is about to take, then surely anyone can.

Even President Obama, despite the pain he must feel at leaving his party in total disarray as he exits the White House, was similarly respectful toward Trump in his remarks and in the meeting between the two men.

One other remark by way of introduction: With his own conciliatory victory speech, and his behavior in the time since, Trump really does seem to be acting more presidential. The office of the presidency is a grave responsibility. He must now fill enormous shoes, and like any other man or woman who takes an office with such immense power, he will need the prayers of all Americans.

Shocking result: Having said all that, that doesn’t make Trump’s victory easy to understand. How was everyone so wrong? The pollsters were wrong, obviously. The journalists and coastal elites were wrong. The politicians were wrong. I was wrong. And so was everyone who underestimated the appeal of Trump’s message.

Even people supporting Trump, and many opposing him — not just liberals, but conservatives as well — were somewhat confounded by his victory. The fact is, nothing in the polls suggested it was coming — and that includes Trump’s own internal polls. But Trump’s team did see the race moving in their direction late.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly reported Wednesday that the RNC’s data operation believed Trump was far behind in early October. But the race moved in his direction late. This coincided with two key events: Trump’s decision to focus on Obamacare and keep up a more disciplined approach to campaigning, and the FBI’s announcement that it was investigating new Clinton emails found on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner. As we 

One other factor may have been the most important of all. First, Clinton missed early-vote targets in key states like Ohio and North Carolina. And then on election day, when the Trump campaign recognized that most swing states were at least within striking distance, Clinton failed to meet their turnout expectations for her. They carried states that they weren’t sure they could win.

The simplest way to illustrate her dramatic drop-off in turnout from the Obama era is to share this chart of the total national vote, courtesy of Brian Cates — although bear in mind, her totals (as well as his) will rise as California’s last votes are counted, but not by more than 2 million votes or so. Trump may ultimately meet or come close to Romney’s total, but Clinton will not come anywhere near to either of Obama’s totals.

screenshot-2016-11-10-at-12-18-58-amSo what happened? One, Trump managed to replace any bleeding in Republican support by bringing new voters into the fold. This was more true in some states than others, and we will discuss this in more detail next week.

Two, Clinton is not Barack Obama, and her party is not as strong as Obama has made it look for all this time. And this is critical to understanding Obama’s presidency and legacy.

Have a look at what we published in April 2015, two months before Donald Trump jumped into the 2016 race, on the Democrats’ future in the post-Obama era:

With Hillary Clinton’s candidacy now a reality, Obama now semi-officially moves into the shadows as his party’s former leader … Was he a long-term builder of his party? Or was he its momentary source of strength, without which it suddenly goes back to being the loser of the John Kerry/Michael Dukakis/Newt Gingrich era? This question will determine the course of the next 18 months — and probably the composition of the Supreme Court for the next 20 years.

Between this and Clinton’s personal weaknesses as a candidate, Trump could defeat her while posting vote totals comparable to the last two Republican candidates.

Bear in mind, this was the first presidential election since 2004 in which Democrats didn’t have Obama on the ballot. And we may have just seen a glimpse of the post-Obama future.

The Obama-era Democratic Party might just have been a relatively weak political party attached to a talented, all-star quality candidate who could not only persuade but also drive turnout like no one else can. This remains the best possible explanation for why Democrats won decisive victories when Obama was actually on the ballot (2008 and 2012), but always seemed to lose the midterms and off-year elections where he wasn’t on the ballot (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, and now 2016).

Yes, we argued 17 months ago, the post-Obama era might usher in a permanent Democratic majority based on demographic change, as the Democratic triumphalists believed. But far more likely, Obama’s exit from politics will simply return the Democratic Party to where it was at the turn of the century.

The post-Clinton Democratic Party of 2000-2004 was one with more warring interests than appealing national candidates. When it wasn’t nominating low-quality presidential candidates like Al Gore or John Kerry, it was trying to string together congressional majorities by clinging desperately to seats they had no business holding in the first place. (Recall, for example, that they held all four Senate seats in the Dakotas and in much of the South as recently as 2004.)

It was then that Obama came onto the scene. In 2008, he helped his party build on its successes in the 2006 midterm in a very convincing win at the beginning of the financial crisis. In 2012, Obama won again — by less, but still decisively — by pulling together the same Democratic voter coalition that included historically high turnout by blacks, Hispanics, and younger voters.

Here’s the problem: Could anyone else bring out that coalition in the same large numbers that Obama did, and win their votes by the same large margins? The answer seems to be no, at least with respect to Hillary Clinton.

cib1601111-trump-house300Latino Voters: The expected surge in Hispanic votes — which in swing-state terms is really only relevant in Florida and Nevada — never materialized. In Florida, the differences were well within the exit polls’ margin of error.

In Nevada, Latino turnout was flat, and Trump did a lot better than Romney had, losing them by only 31 points instead of 47. Nationally, Trump’s margin with Hispanic voters was significantly better than Mitt Romney’s — which is to say, Clinton’s margin of victory was 8 points smaller than Obama’s.

Black Voters: The black vote is more reliably Democratic, and more important to Democratic hopes in more states.

And as much as black primary voters preferred Clinton, it stands to reason that she would not do as well with them as the first black president, either in terms of turnout or margin. Take North Carolina, for example. In 2012, Obama had narrowly lost the state with black turnout making up 23 percent of the electorate and voting 96 percent for Obama. This time, Black turnout was only 19 percent of the electorate and blacks went only 91 percent for Clinton. At the margins, such differences matter. In this case it meant Trump could cruise to a four-point win, instead of squeaking by as Romney had.

In Florida, black turnout was comparable to 2012, but Clinton won it by only a 76-point margin, not Obama’s 91-point margin. She lost the state by only 120,000 votes. Black Democratic margins and/or turnout were also smaller for Clinton than they had been for Obama in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The story of how Trump won Michigan can be illustrated simply by looking at Wayne County, home to Detroit, a heavily black city. Mitt Romney had lost Wayne by 382,000 votes. Trump lost it by only 289,000 votes, and won Michigan by about 12,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.

Youth Vote: On the national level, the under-29 vote in 2016 looked a lot like that of 2012. Not so in Pennsylvania, where turnout in that age group shrank from 19 to 16 percent, and Donald Trump won 43 percent of it, compared to just 35 percent for Romney.

The story was similar in Wisconsin and Ohio. In Florida, Obama had won this age cohort by 34 points in 2012; Clinton won them by only 18 points. In Iowa, youth turnout was slightly up, but Trump actually managed to tie Clinton with young voters. Romney had lost them by 16 points.  

Again, these are small difference-makers, which when added with other similar effects translated to Clinton losing Obama’s edge.

Obama’s broad appeal: It’s also worth mentioning that Obama had appeal that went beyond just these groups. He won far better vote shares than Clinton among whiter and older and rural populations in states like Iowa and Wisconsin.

For a sense of this, look to the northern counties in Wisconsin. In several of them, Trump added votes over 2012, but Clinton’s vote totals in these rural areas plummeted by far more. Her lack of appeal compared to Obama was quite vast.

One further thought: Next week, once most of the results are finalized, we will take a closer look at specific results. But the question Democrats face already is whether they have a future after Obama. Who among them can hold a candle to Obama’s appeal?

With the Clinton dynasty now dead, and so many Democratic pols ousted or kept out of power in 2014, the Democrats’ bench continues to be very weak. This could well present a problem for them in 2020. Republicans, at least for now, have a much stronger stable of young candidates going forward, whether or not Trump seeks re-election in 2020.

Senate 2016

What was expected to be a scary night for Republicans ended up being a pretty good one. Trump did not hurt Republican incumbents, and he may have in fact helped them keep their Senate majority. Once Louisiana’s runoff is finished, they should have 52 seats, for a loss of only two.

The biggest surprise of the night — aside from Trump’s win — was Sen. Ron Johnson’s convincing upset in Wisconsin, a win of nearly 100,000 votes.

Pat Toomey CPAC
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also won a second term, slightly outperforming Trump in percentage terms and nearly matching his vote total. Their paths to victory were very different, though — Trump had an easier time running up the score in rural counties, whereas Toomey managed to keep his race relatively close in Philadelphia’s suburban counties of Chester and Montgomery, where Trump was getting clobbered.

Rob Portman and Marco Rubio easily won second terms, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. survived a scare to win a third term by 5 points.

The two GOP casualties of the night were Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who was obliterated, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who lost by just a hair.

Republicans’ victory in the Senate guarantees Trump the ability to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after he takes office. It will also leave open the reconciliation path for repealing Obamacare, and generally make it easier to move legislation.

Finally, another note, with a quick look ahead to 2018. Most presidents suffer defeats in Congress in their first midterm. That may well happen with Trump, but the 2018 Senate map is brutal for Democrats, who will have only one good-looking pickup opportunity (in Nevada) and will have to defend about 6 or 7 seats that are on shaky ground. So Republicans seem likely to keep the Senate until at least 2020.

House 2016

With four races still outstanding (including two Louisiana runoffs and the San Diego-area seat of Rep. Darrell Issa), Republicans appear on track for 241 seats — just six fewer than they had won in 2014.

This is also an astounding result, as greater losses seemed likely. But Democrats failed to convert in nearly all of the competitive races they need to win in order to retake the chamber.

Among the GOP casualties: Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., in northern New Jersey; the scandal-scarred Rep. Frank Guinta in New Hampshire; Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Rep. Cresent Hardy, R.

Democrats also gained one open seat (in Nevada) and picked up three other and lost one due to court-ordered redistricting in Virginia and Florida.

Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., was the only Democratic incumbent House member to lose his seat.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 44:

This week:

  • Trump needed a miracle, he gets the FBI
  • Still needs to make up a lot of ground in several states to have a chance
  • GOP Senate candidates could benefit from a late Trump surge

President 2016

If you’d written off Donald Trump on the basis of a very bad month of news and polling, you might just have to rethink that today.

Not that he’s ahead with his presidential bid. But suddenly Hillary Clinton’s lead is precarious once again, as it was just before the first debate.

Hit Trump as hard as you like — with insults, tax returns, old tapes, allegations, or what you will. Between the polarization of the electorate (a constant), and Clinton’s continued problems with her email scandal (a factor peculiar to her), Trump just refuses to go off into the night.

October surprise? Last week, we said Trump needed something big — a miracle, perhaps — to take the lead. He got part of what he needs, but maybe not all.

On Friday, FBI Director James Comey notified Congress that the bureau had reopened its investigation into Clinton’s emails. Strangely, it is on the basis of emails discovered in the Weiner/Abedin household on the . On Sunday, the Washington Post/ABC tracking poll showed him down just one point in a four-way race.

It’s important to keep the FBI director’s announcement in perspective. Although the investigation is almost certain not to turn up anything new before the election, the reopening of the investigation serves an important purpose. After a month of highly negative Trump news — a couple of poor debate performances, of reminding people why they distrusted Hillary Clinton in the first place.

So far, we haven’t seen evidence of Trump’s viability in polls of the states where he would have to win. But this tracking poll, which hasn’t been especially favorable toward Trump, could be a sign of things to come.

What Trump still lacks — and what he hasn’t had in quite some time — are polling leads in the states where he needs them. Take the following states, worth 85 electoral votes in all, which are all necessary for Trump to win but not sufficient without additional wins. Next to each is the RCP polling average as of Sunday:

AZ: Clinton +0.6

NC: Clinton +2.9

OH: Trump +1.0

FL: Even

NV: Clinton +1.7

IA: Trump +1.4

Even if Trump carries all of the above, plus hangs on in Utah and Alaska, and carries the close congressional seats in both Maine and Nebraska, it still leaves him four electoral votes short of 270. And it isn’t obvious which other state Trump could put into play with a modest surge.

Prior to the FBI announcement, the RCP polling averages for the most obvious candidates for a Trump pickup are all well outside the margin of error:

VA: Clinton +8.0

PA: Clinton +5.8

MN: Clinton +6.0

MI: Clinton +6.1

CO: Clinton +4.5

That said, there was already some movement in Trump’s direction in many of these states cited above. In most cases, all the polling factored into the above averages is from last week. Still, he has a lot of ground to gain if he is to carry all of the states in the top group, and then one of those in bottom group, which is what he’d need to become president.

Another note, perhaps not insignificant: Early voting works against Trump in terms of this late surprise. The estimated 13 million votes that had already been cast by Friday won’t be affected by it at all.

Senate 2016

Whether or not it costs her the election, the FBI revelation could dampen Clinton’s turnout. The group most likely not to show up would be younger voters, but this late surprise, along with the generally negative tone of the entire campaign, could turn off many other voters besides. To whatever extent that happens, it could well help Republicans down-ballot.

The Good: Republicans seem poised to win Ohio — and if you believe the more reputable polls, Florida as well. Success in those two incumbent defense operations keeps them in the ballpark for maintaining control of the Senate. Some polls show Florida close, but none show Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy ahead of Marco Rubio, who beat him up pretty nicely in debate.

Without those two seats safe, it would be impossible for the GOP. With them, they still have a longshot chance at keeping the upper chamber.

The Bad: Republicans are also widely expected to lose in Illinois (where Mark Kirk self-immolated in a recent debate) and Wisconsin. It is worth noting, however, that former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold’s lead over Sen. Ron Johnson came in at just two points in the last Marquette University Law School poll. That was a month ago, and many other polls hint at a bit Feingold win, but Marquette’s poll is the gold standard in the state. Democrats now have jitters about Wisconsin, prompting Harry Reid’s SuperPAC to jump in with some late money.

The Ugly: But assuming a Republican loss in Wisconsin, that puts Republicans on 52 seats, with one possible pickup (in Nevada) and five shaky seats of their own to defend. Provided Clinton wins the White House, Democrats are guaranteed the Senate if they can win at least three of the six. If Trump wins, they need four of the six to guarantee it. These are all the races that really seem like they could still go either way.

Republicans have to be unhappy that Missouri is on shaky ground, but Sen. Roy Blunt (R) is indeed in the race of his life against Democrat Jason Kander. The Show-Me State’s recent Republican shift has not prevented Blunt’s sudden collapse from a lead that is small but comfortable to a lead that is razor-thin and within the margin of error. This is precisely the kind of race where a last-minute surge by Trump could help a Republican, even if Trump ultimately comes up short.

In North Carolina, the situation is similar, but worse for the GOP. Sen. Richard Burr (R) probably has to be considered the underdog, even though he doesn’t trail in all of the most recent polls. He is within the margin of error on one side or another of Deborah Ross, and perhaps lucky he didn’t face a more formidable opponent. This is one race where a late Trump surge could be just enough for the Republican to squeak it out, but Republicans fret that Trump lacks an adequate operation for getting out the vote.

In New Hampshire, Trump is all but certain to lose, but Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) is still very much in her re-election race and could even be considered a narrow favorite to win. She leads or is tied in the last four polls. Given her state, she probably walked the tightrope with how and whether she’d support Trump about as well as she could.

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) trailed or tied in all four polls released last week. He hasn’t trailed by much, but for an incumbent any deficit is a very bad sign. And only two recent polls — released mid-month — show him higher than 45 percent. To win, he’d probably need Trump to significantly outperform his current polling in his state.

Indiana is a bit of a black box because state laws make polling much more expensive to do — and rarer. Republican Rep. Todd Young is still the underdog, but seems on course to overtake the Democratic nominee. Former Sen. Evan Bayh began the race to get his old seat back with a substantial lead, but has been rocked by several back-to-back revelations in the past month broken by (surprise!) mainstream media outlets. Trump should win Indiana. Obamacare’s problems in the Hoosier State can only help Young because Bayh (like every Democrat who served in 2009) cast the deciding vote for the health care law.

The Nevada race, where Republicans hope to pick up the seat of the retiring Harry Reid, is kind of a head-scratcher. One (generally unreliable) Republican pollster shows Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto up by 6 points; an NBC poll shows GOP Rep. Joe Heck up by 7. And there is more than one recent poll with contradictory results. The outcome of this race is probably dependent on Trump’s performance in the Silver State. It would be ironic if, for all of the enmity between the parties involved, it is a late FBI-driven surge by Trump that ends up saving the GOP congressional majority for Republican leaders.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 43-

This week:

  • Dems still not showing they can take the House
  • Trump’s grim situation in polling
  • Trump needs a late game-changer. Will he get it?

House 2016

Since last week, Donald Trump’s polling has gotten somewhat worse, yet we still haven’t seen any new indications that Democrats have a reasonable shot at taking the House. A new media-sponsored poll was taken in yet another one of the supposedly competitive House districts that Republicans must defend, only to show the incumbent — Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., with an 11 point lead and hovering near the 50 percent mark. Note that in the same poll, the presidential ballot was tested, and Trump (in contrast to Paulsen) trails by 14 points, losing among both men and women within the district. This is the same kind of result that appears in many of the marginally competitive races Democrats would have to win in order to take over the House.

Of course, there is a serious dearth of House polling, as often happens in presidential election years. That could make it hard to see what’s happening beneath the surface. But the signs of serious down-ticket drag at the House level don’t seem to be coming together for Democrats just yet.

President 2016

Third Debate: Trump handed in what was arguably his best debate performance of the three — except for one answer he gave that polls quite negatively. Trump will probably accept the outcome of the election when it comes down, whatever it is. But by refusing, when asked, to promise in advance that he will do so, he harmed his own cause in two ways.

First, even if Trump succeeds in creating doubts about “rigged” election processes, this will only depress the vote among those he convinces. Given that those most likely to be convinced are his own base, it’s a self-destructive theme he has adopted within his campaign. Yes, it might provide him with an explanation of a loss after the fact that helps absolve himself of the blame, but if it means fewer of his voters think it worthwhile to turn out, then it clearly isn’t helping him.

Second, American voters very much like to see candidates concede when they lose. It’s part of the system to have the country come together for a brief time, so that everyone can go back to tearing at each other’s throats in a month or two. That’s why Trump’s answer to this question earns him scowls all across the ideological spectrum. Respondents in two different polls expressed 69 and 68 percent disapproval of Trump’s answer about the election results.

Given that Trump trails and needs to win over more undecided voters in order to take a lead over Clinton, this message isn’t going to help him win.

Trump vs. Ryan: Trump’s willingness to stick it to Republican leaders has been one of his selling points from the beginning.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise that when House Speaker Paul Ryan let word out that he would no longer campaign with or defend Trump (after the tape was released of Trump boasting about groping women), Trump turned his fire on Ryan once again. He seems very pleased to do it. Ryan seems content to respond by ignoring him.

Some Republicans argue that by not firing back, Ryan is hurting his chances to run for president in 2020. But of course, that’s a double-edged sword. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush can probably give some advice about getting into a mud-wrestling match with Trump — you can’t win. It’s also worth noting that the presidency might not be part of Ryan’s plans, and that

Whatever the electoral effect of Trump’s attacks on Ryan for his own cause (we suspect it won’t produce any additional support for Trump), it doesn’t seem to be destabilizing the tense but generally (if tepidly) supportive attitude of conservative House members toward Ryan. As Philip Wegmann finds, public calls by staunch Trump ally Sean Hannity to unseat Ryan are being met within the House Freedom Caucus with blank stares.

This could all change when the new House convenes, but it’s important to note that there is probably no one who wants Ryan’s job right now.

Recall that Ryan took the job in a truly Trump-ish manner, if you go back and look at Trump’s suggestions about how to negotiate in The Art of the Deal. He knew he had leverage, and he used it, agreeing to take the Speaker position only if all of his demands were met. Republicans agreed to this after the resignation of John Boehner precisely because the party’s House caucus had lost its ability to function. For now, the apparently impossible nature of the job probably still guarantees that there won’t be any serious challenge to him in January.

Outlook: After three debate performances that were not really game-changing, and a Trump sex scandal that apparently was, Trump is at this moment headed toward a loss — possibly a very large one — unless nearly all polling, and all of the more reputable pollsters, are completely wrong.

Trump’s supporters often write off all polling as biased, but campaigns that do this are nearly always losing campaigns. In past elections, data has proven a lot more reliable than anecdotes about Democrats changing parties or rally sizes.

That said, it is not impossible for all or nearly all pollsters to misunderstand the election or the likely turnout it will produce. It could be that an entirely different sort of electorate will come out on election day. After all, the polls have missed big in some races — the Kentucky governor’s race last year, for example.

The thing is, pollsters have never been as wrong on a national level as they would have to be for Trump to win. That doesn’t make it impossible, just unlikely.

The published polls are ugly, although not uniformly so. Here are the national polls released since mid-October that show Clinton with a lead:

ABC: Clinton +12
Quinnipiac: Clinton +7
Economist/YouGov: Clinton +4
Fox News: Clinton +6
Bloomberg: Clinton +9
Reuters: Clinton +4
Monmouth: Clinton +12

There are two regular tracking polls showing Trump with a slim lead:

IBD/TIPP: Trump +2
Rasmussen: Trump +2

In the individual states, it doesn’t get any better. For example: The latest polls have Clinton leading in Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado. Given her large leads in New Hampshire and Virginia, which Trump’s campaign has abandoned (all denials of this notwithstanding), Clinton wins the presidency if she carries any one of those five states.

To put it another way, Trump would have to carry all of these five states, where he trails, in order to win (or at least throw the election to the House), or else he’d have to make up for some combination of losses among these by taking Pennsylvania, where he also trails.

But it gets worse, because Trump now only leads in Texas and Georgia within the margin or error. Obviously there is no path to victory for him that doesn’t include both of those states.

And then there’s the reason we had to mention the possibility of throwing the election to the House. This is what happens when no candidate gets an Electoral College majority. In a normal year, that means a 269-269 tie between two major candidates. But not this year. Trump is currently losing Utah and its six electoral votes to independent conservative Evan McMullin, a resident of that state and a Mormon. (Clinton is making a feint at the Beehive State, but she still polls in third place.) McMullin is also competing for Idaho, another state with a large Mormon population where he will appear on the ballot. There is no polling yet suggesting McMullin could actually win Idaho, but there also haven’t been any polls that include him on the ballot test. It would be exceedingly difficult for Clinton to win there — the Democratic ceiling is well under 40 percent, and probably hers is lower than the average Democrat’s — but in a four-way race with Gov. Gary Johnson (who polls in double digits) Trump may not be able to take Idaho for granted.

The conclusion is that some massive shoe would have to drop to save Trump from the worst loss Republicans have suffered since 1964. Like the baseball team that trails in the standings and needs other teams to lose in order to make the playoffs, Trump needs something very big to happen in the final two weeks — something that completely changes the race.

Remember: Common-knowledge scandals about Clinton won’t cut it here. These are already priced into the polling numbers. The email scandal, the FBI report’s contents on Clinton, the lies to the public and the FBI, the fortune built from public service, Bill Clinton’s sexual predation, and obviously anything from the 1990s is either already factored into voters’ calculations or won’t have a chance to sink into the public consciousness any deeper than it has already.

So far, nothing from the WikiLeaks hacks has been big enough to change the equation. But we’ll see.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 42-

This week: 

  • Trump’s travails
  • McMullin might have a better chance of winning a state than Gary Johnson
  • Will the House flip?

President 2016

Trump’s tough week, part 2: Whatever you choose to believe about the new sexual allegations against Donald Trump, the electorate has some pretty lopsided opinions about the matter.

According to the newest ABC/Washington Post poll, 68 percent believe that “Trump probably has made unwanted sexual advances toward women.”

Now, the way this question is worded is not quite the same as asking whether he’s groped or sexually assaulted anyone, which is what his accusers say and what he boasted about to Billy Bush in the now-infamous taped conversation from more than a decade ago. But the fact that voters believe this in such great numbers really doesn’t help him. Nor does the fact that 57 percent believe his apology is not sincere. Even if you want to fudge the numbers a bit to account for potential liberal bias, those numbers are huge.

Still, what’s amazing is that this very poll, with these findings, has Trump down only four points among likely voters, 47 to 43 percent in an open race and 50 to 46 percent in a head to head with Clinton only.

That other polls (such as the NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll) show a larger gap is irrelevant here: The fact that the poll’s topline could be so close, despite the other answers the respondents gave, says quite a bit about where the American electorate is right now.

Ever since 2000, the modern hyper-partisan electorate has been the baseline reality of American politics. The red states, blue states and swing states have seemed well defined, as has the certainty that the parties are relatively close to one another in terms of number of voters. That relative parity survived even the decisive Obama victory of 2008. And today, the hard partisanship of a divided electorate endures even under the current circumstances.

Third Party: One possible exception to this is Utah, where resident (and Mormon) Evan McMullin now polls at 22 percent and just four points behind Trump and Clinton, who are tied at only 26 percent. Given the LDS church’s strong community ties in Utah, a McMullin victory there is by no means unlikely. But outside the LDS stronghold of Utah (and possibly Idaho, although there’s no polling evidence of a McMullin surge there yet), McMullin is just destined to be a protest vote and perhaps a historical curiosity. Also, note that he’s only on the ballot in 11 states.

When it comes to Gary Johnson, it’s quite another story. By all accounts, the Libertarian Party, whose nominee will appear on all ballots nationwide, is in the midst of experiencing the greatest missed opportunity in its 45-year history.

With two hugely unpopular major-party candidates, Johnson seemed to be in a good position on paper. In his best polls, he seemed to draw voters almost evenly from Clinton and Trump.

Yet in the real world, he’s never drawn nearly enough. One reason he hasn’t caught on with Republicans is that he isn’t a suitable candidate to attract the very sort of Republican voter who is at this moment most uncertain about Trump — the Christian social conservative. And the thing is, there is no shortage of libertarians (people like Austin Petersen and Rep. Justin Amash) who could fit the bill as a libertarian attractive to social conservatives.

Johnson is of course pro-choice on abortion, but that’s not his only problem. He probably could have overcome that by making the argument that pro-lifers might like the judges he’d appoint, and that his deepest desire is (true to the libertarian creed) to leave them alone. Unfortunately, he took the extra step near the start of his run to make clear that he doesn’t have much regard for religious liberty in the law, and that’s a problem. For the millions of evangelical and conservative Catholic voters who might have turned to him as a potential alternative, this might have been fatal. It meant Johnson could never rise above being a protest vote.

But Johnson is still quite popular, it should be noted, among young people, who are the least likely to vote and will probably turn out for this election in much smaller numbers than they did when Barack Obama was on the ballot.

Johnson’s popularity with the younger set, though, could hint at either a Libertarian Party second chance in some future election (far less likely) or else a brighter future for a Republican Party that embraces more libertarian ideals in the future (think of something resembling Amash or Rand Paul). Young people aren’t necessarily owned by the Left, but they’re quite sour on the GOP and its current nominee.

House 2016

Will the House flip? We’ve looked at the Senate several times, and Republicans have less than even odds of keeping it at this point. But what about the House? 

All predictions of a Trumpocalypse aside, Democrats do not seem to have made the progress they would need on the generic ballot question to take control of the House of representatives. Nor does the picture look bright for them when the problem is viewed district-by-district.

The Dems’ current three-point lead among likely voters on the generic ballot (in the Washington Post poll) actually compares to some past Republican House victories, and the numbers in that poll have basically not changed from the margin of error since May, when the parties were tied. The NBC/WSJ poll showed a six-point lead earlier this month, but most recently showed a two-point lead — again within the poll’s three-point margin of error.

None of this points to a Democratic takeover of the House. The last time Dems took over the House, in the 2006 wave election, Democrats led in various firms’ generic ballot polls by as much as 19 points in late October, and had posted leads greater than 20 points prior to this point. That hasn’t been happening this year.

Bear in mind that even a larger lead in this indicator won’t help too much if Democrats’ marginal advantage is concentrated in heavily Democratic areas. Given that such a concentration is the likely result of of Democrats’ presidential turnout strategy (Clinton’s most efficient means of driving turnout is to press her advantage with black voters in dense urban areas), there is again no reason to believe Democrats can pull this off — at least not yet.

District-by-district: The bigger problem Democrats face is that so few of the House races are competitive this year, and they failed to recruit adequate candidates for some of the ones that should be. They need a net gain of 30 seats (not counting two vacant but heavily Democratic seats they will easily win) in order to get a House majority. And the Cook Political Report, for example, considers only 33 Republican-held seats to be either “Lean Republican” or worse for the GOP, with one Democratic seat almost certain to go to the GOP due to redistricting in Florida.

This would mean that if Democrats go 33 for 33 in picking these up, for a net gain of 32 seats, they would just barely make it. And that isn’t so easy, because it involves winning some pretty tough seats, including a number where we know Democratic candidates aren’t polling well.

House polling has been unfortunately sparse this year, as often happens in presidential years. But there are a few examples we can look at. Cook considers all of the following Republican incumbents to be in the “lean” category, for example. And that’s reasonable based on the fundamentals of the districts, but recent polling by reputable firms (in parentheses) suggests these aren’t going to be easy pickups:

#NY01: Rep. Lee Zeldin (up 15 via Siena)

#IA03: Rep. David Young (up 10 via Loras)

#ME02: Rep. Bruce Poliquin (up 10 via UNH), whose district Trump is likely to carry.

#NY24: Rep. John Katko (up 19 via Siena)

The same could be said (although the polling isn’t as recent) for the seat of Rep. Mia Love, R, in Utah. Even Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, who makes Cook’s “toss-up” category, boasted a reasonably healthy lead (7 points) in one recent Loras poll. And in a number of other cases, there’s no data (or no reliable data) at all.

Which is just to say, Democrats have several easier targets in the House this year and will knock off some of them, but they will have to start winning races of this caliber in order to take the House outright. Not impossible, but quite a tall order.

The Briefing, Vol. IV, Issue 41-

This week:

  • Trump steps it up in second debate
  • Groping comments won’t go away easily
  • Evan Bayh makes a hell of a lot more money than you do

President 2016

Second debate: Trump won the second debate. Not all polls confirm this, but in terms of the debate itself, he just did. (More on the context of the debate below.)

You can chalk it up to low expectations, or to the fact that Hillary Clinton is such a terrible candidate, which she really is. But that’s the way it happened. The gamblers certainly thought so.

Trump didn’t necessarily win big enough to change the course of the race — he simply got the better of Clinton in the debate. At times he was witty, accusing her of blaming Abraham Lincoln for her statements leaked from one of her private, well-remunerated Wall Street speeches.

Perhaps he went overboard promising in a presidential debate to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Clinton if he won the election. (Of course, Democrats were only recently cheering the criminalization of political opposition when they indicted Rick Perry for vetoing a bill as governor, and when they persecuted Scott Walker and much of his staff in a politically motivated investigation that the federal courts ultimately had to stop.)

Most importantly, Trump avoided any sort of meltdown. He even showed a surprising grasp of some issues. He did well discussing Obamacare, even if he was a bit vague about what he would replace it with. He aimed at and seemed to hit well with a key target audience when he discussed the need to bring back coal and steel production in the U.S.

Groping comments: But here’s Trump’s problem: As with the first debate, which Clinton won, there’s more to it than who gets the most debating points. There’s a context to every debate, and the context for this one will not simply vanish due to his victory on points.

By the same token, it is important to point out that Trump really needed a good performance at a moment when more and more Republicans were backing away from him and talk was even bubbling up about him possibly dropping out. He got that at least, and thus survives at least until the next debate.

Trump went into the weekend dealing with a problem he had created for himself unknowingly in 2005. His secretly taped conversation with Billy Bush was reported by the Washington Post on Friday. In that discussion, he proudly talked about how, given his fame and fortune, he could grab the crotch of random women unexpectedly and thus successfully seduce them. Despite being recently married to his third and current wife, he specifically discussed his attempts to seduce a married woman by taking her furniture shopping.

What he admits to describing — and which he now insists he never actually did — is the behavior of a sexual predator. It was bad enough that Melania Trump didn’t want to do a join appearance with him. That could mean more than one thing — for example, she might have perceived that such a joint appearance could backfire against him, not that it would be humiliating for her. But either way, that underscores the gravity of the situation and the fragile, vulnerable position in which it puts his campaign.

Trump responded to this revelation with a televised apology, and then by attacking Bill Clinton for behavior not unlike what he had described in his own taped conversation. His pre-debate press conference, with victims of the former president, gave some hints as to where he might go (and did briefly, although surprisingly without overdoing it) during the debate.

It’s anyone’s guess whether this has the effect of confusing the issue and helping move past the news cycle, or whether it will backfire by equating him with Bill Clinton.

The bottom line Trump’s victory was underscored by the need for Clinton’s team to find very petty complaints afterward, such as where and when he stood up during the town hall themed debate. But the fact is, if Trump had really lost, it would have been pretty obvious. It would have been unavoidable, given the context.

Still, his victory isn’t going to quiet questions about his character that the taped conversation about groping raised. The risk Trump runs going forward is that more tapes and more complaints from more women could emerge in the coming weeks.

Trump was trailing in the polls going into the weekend, and this debate probably wasn’t enough to change that. But it probably did prevent a death-spiral for his campaign based on that single taped conversation. The longer-term (and by that, we mean a week or more) question is just how much dirt there is for the Clinton machine to unearth. There are hints that many more Trump tapes exist, although there is no hard evidence so far that they do.

An even bigger problem: Did this debate actually expand Trump’s appeal beyond the 40 percent base that he seems to draw in nearly every election poll?

In any event, the most negative presidential campaign in American history is certainly living up to its potential. As we anticipated, the two highly unpopular nominees have little to do beyond attacking each other personally, and both of the debates so far have confirmed this.

Senate 2016

Indiana: Former Sen. Evan Bayh, D, has been gradually losing his polling advantage over Rep. Todd Young, R, ever since he jumped into the race after the Hoosier State’s May primary had selected a different nominee. This weekend’s filing of his income disclosures is highly unlikely to help his cause.

Bayh, who became a K Streeter after leaving the Senate in 2010, was already known to have become a lobbyist. And Republicans have been making this argument against him to anyone who will listen, to some effect. Bayh, they argue, went native in D.C. and lost touch with his home state. After all, he couldn’t even remember his “home” address in Indiana when asked, and none of his “neighbors” even realized he “lived” there.

But the sheer amount of money that Bayh has been raking in — $6 million since last January — is at a level that could make Hillary Clinton blush. Even his $400,000 in pay from Fox News for serving as a commentator is several times his state’s median income, but it’s only a small fraction of what he made. His positions on four corporate boards brought in $1.76 million. He got $2 million as an advisor to a private equity firm and the same amount again as a partner at his lobbying firm.

It’s impossible to imagine someone with his skills earning this kind of money except in the context that he is cashing in on his time in public service.

After just six years out of public life, Bayh is now worth up to $50 million. In a close race — and this race is being kept closer by Trump’s reasonably good numbers in the Hoosier State — this sort of thing could really make a difference.

One more thing. If Indiana comes off the table for Democratic Senate pickups, the Dems’ path to controlling the Senate becomes much more difficult. This is one to keep watching, no matter how the presidential race goes.