The House is in Play

The most under-covered story of this endless election is the battle for the House of Representatives. While it’s true that based on what we know right now Democrats are unlikely to take back the House, that statistical likelihood is being covered as a near certainty. Yet a shift of a few points in the national mood in the Democrats’ direction could completely reshape the post-election political scene. Considering that control of Congress is the difference between whether a President Clinton could enact her far reaching agenda or become further entangled in the legislative morass of the last six years, the possibility of such a shift is of major importance. If Democratic turnout is higher and Republican enthusiasm is tepid—and there is real reason to think it will be—the greatest drama as election night turns into the small hours of the early morning might be over control of the House.

The national polling data and the current state of play in races around the country suggest that Democrats will gain seats in the lower chamber, but fall short of the 30 pickups needed to regain control. Yet, the amount of coverage national media outlets and respected nonpartisan congressional analysts have given to the simple possibility that Democrats could take the House is far too low. Even though the national polling averages have remained steady in this election, the amount of uncertainty in the polls is far higher than four or eight years ago. A landslide victory at the presidential level would likely push Democratic House gains into the 25-35 seat range. That scenario is very much in play. Continue reading

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The Lowest Point

Shortly after the second presidential debate ended, Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway gave an interview to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. As their conversation drew to a close, Blitzer noted that CNN’s post-debate polling had Hillary Clinton winning the encounter, 57%-34%. “I watched a different debate but thank you,” Conway tartly replied. While Conway may have felt far differently about the debate than the public, her general sentiment wasn’t wrong (only the logic behind it was). TV news commentators watched the ninety-minute exchange and saw something far different from the rest of us. The operative phrase for the night was “Trump stopped the bleeding,” as this off-hand and misguided comment spread like wildfire throughout the punditocracy. That exact phrase was repeated over and over again on television and in print media. Apparently commentators were grading on a curve and refusing to deduct for lies and incoherence. But even applying such a forgiving standard, the analysts were indeed watching a different debate. Those ninety minutes in St. Louis, Missouri did not staunch Trump’s downfall. Instead, they hastened it toward the nadir of this already depressing election. Continue reading

Trump’s Reflection

The Republican Party is falling apart. Donald Trump is dropping in the polls and hemorrhaging support from his party’s elected leaders after his recent rampage of disturbed performances following a series of scandals. Unable to restrain himself or soothe his ego without exacting revenge, Trump veered into the oncoming traffic of deeply damaging storylines over the last two weeks. Those revelations include past shaming of a former Ms. Universe contestant over her weight, manipulating the tax code to avoid paying federal taxes for the better part of two decades, bragging about acts of sexual domination and assault into a hot mic before an appearance on Access Hollywood in 2005, and groping a seemingly inexhaustible list of women now emerging from obscurity. Rather than play damage control, Trump surrogates actively bragged about his “genius” tax avoidance while the candidate dismissed his disturbing sexual comments as nothing but “locker room talk.” And so yet again, as he did with his remarks on Mexican rapists, on captured POWs, on the Muslim Ban, and on Judge Curiel and Khzir Khan, Trump has forced the political party that leant him its ballot-line to repudiate his conduct. But try as they might to separate themselves from their standard-bearer’s noxious behavior, Republican officials just can’t seem to quit Trump. Distance without disavowal.

In a normal political environment, Trump couldn’t get away with any of what’s going on right now. Not the racist, sexist, far-right demagogy part—that’s actually been remarkably successful for many GOP politicians. Rather, the extraordinary factor in Trump’s ascent is how little deference he has shown to party leaders and how easily he has bullied them without repercussion. For all the talk of the unprecedented number of Republican leaders refusing to support the Trump campaign, what may be more incredible is how few defections there have been. Trump has bludgeoned party leaders, donors, and even his own supporters at every turn in this campaign. That so many are still willing to stand by him as he drags them through the dregs of sex tapes and Bill Clinton’s accusers reflects the true predicament bedeviling the party. Trump, one day, shall pass. The GOP’s real problem is not the candidate, but the voters who enable him. Continue reading

Cool and Collected

For all the talk of Donald Trump’s primetime disintegration last Monday, the first presidential debate resulted in a clear win for Hillary Clinton for a less obvious reason. Yes, Trump was his typical boorish, mendacious, and uninformed self. It’s true that his lack of preparation and hateful rhetoric were bound to leave voters shocked and disgusted in what was for many their first lengthy exposure to it. And as described here yesterday, Trump’s complete inability to resist provocation led him astray time and again. Yet, left mostly unnoticed and underappreciated in this telling of Trump’s first one-on-one clash with Clinton, however, was how perfectly composed Clinton was in dealing with the potential stumbling blocks laid by her opponent and by the moderator Lester Holt.

It’s not as if Clinton was on the attack all night. She, too, is subject to biting critiques from her opponent and victim of unfavorable public perception of many aspects of her past. Unlike Trump, however, she did not feel the need to use her ninety-minute debate appearance as a means to vanquish every foe and right every wrong. She had goals and a strategy for achieving them. And she stuck to it.

Even with Trump’s run-on sentences and bizarre defenses, the narrative that emerged from Monday’s contest might have been far different had Clinton felt the unquenchable need to respond to every goading insinuation. A botched answer on emails or the crime bill or her record as Secretary of State—even if it answered a misleading and unjust attack—might have led debate coverage and swung the dial back in Trump’s direction. Her willingness to take unfair flak and move on has long been one of Clinton’s defining features, but it shone through in her debate performance. Continue reading