Down-ballot Doldrums

With another set of astonishing state poll numbers out this week, the ultimate outcome in the presidential race seems pretty well determined. Sure, history says that in a normal election cycle Republican nominee Donald Trump should be expected to gain back some of the percentage points lost after his disappointing convention and the Democrats’ successful one, but even standard tightening will likely leave him well short of victory (not to mention that normal events should not be presumed when it comes to Trump). For goodness sakes just look at the latest NBC/Marist poll numbers from four alleged battlegrounds, now swing states in lazy media usage only. Yes, in Florida Clinton is “only” ahead by 5 points, within striking distance should Trump resuscitate his campaign. But in states right at the tipping point of national averages, Clinton leads Trump by 9% in North Carolina, 13% in Virginia, and a remarkable 14% in Colorado. These are hardly outliers, either, though they are on the high side of current polling. The Real Clear Politics average for these states now has Clinton ahead by 8% in Virginia and 11% in Colorado. For comparison, in 2012, Barack Obama won Colorado by 5%, Virginia by 4%, and lost North Carolina by 2% as he was claiming a national popular vote mandate of nearly 4%. If Clinton holds on in Colorado and Virginia, along with defending two other traditional Democratic-leaning battlegrounds in which she has double digit leads (Pennsylvania and New Hampshire), her path to 270 electoral votes is without obstacle.

Assuming one cares about life after the election—as opposed to participating in presidential election hype as a cathartic identity exercise or a tactic for combatting summer dog-days boredom—then the real drama of the next three months is how these numbers will affect down-ballot congressional races. Continue reading

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Republicans Seeing Red

Donald Trump scored his first big win of the primary season with a resounding victory in the New Hampshire primary. Despite leading in the national polls by huge margins for the better part of six months, it was still unclear whether his supporters would actually turn out to vote. When Iowa delivered him a second place finish rather than the predicted first, its caucuses appeared to suggest that the Trump bubble would soon burst. Although New Hampshire netted him only ten delegates, its election nonetheless drove home the point that regardless of how this wild campaign turns out, Trump has indeed captured the imagination of a movement. And as the political order still grapples with what Trump’s unexpected rise means for the rest of the campaign, it is equally important to consider what his supporters’ underlying views mean for our politics. As written here last month, the first half of Trump’s success is a warning shot to the national party’s extreme anti-government policies.  But undoubtedly, the greatest part of his ascension has been fueled by nationalistic fervor. It’s written right there on his hat, after all — “Make America Great Again.” And in this respect, Trump is actually following a path to Republican resurgence initially paved by the party’s last highly successful national leader—Ronald Wilson Reagan—while fueling the same fear of decline and humiliation as his newfound favorite country. Continue reading