Aug. 29

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Trump's Feud with the Pope is Starting to Pay Dividends--to Clinton

In February, Pope Francis held a Mass at the U.S.-Mexican border and said: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." So naturally, Donald Trump began attacking the Pope. Guess what? Catholics noticed and haven't forgotten. In 2012, Obama won the Catholic vote by 2 points. Currently, Hillary Clinton is leading Trump by 23 points among Catholics, 55% to 32%, in one recent poll and by 27 points, 61% to 34%, in another.

This shift toward Clinton is larger than for any other demographic group, including Democrats (+2% compared to Obama 2012), Republicans (+15%), Under 30s (+3%), seniors (+21%), white evangelicals (+16%), and Protestants (+19%). The only group that has shifted as much to Clinton (compared to Obama 2012) as Catholics is white college-educated women, who went for Romney by 6 points but now favor Clinton by 19 points.

Trump's problems with Catholics are momentous because that group represents about a quarter of all voters, almost as big as nonwhites. Irish Catholics know about the struggles of their grandparents and the hostility they faced as immigrants. Latinos have even more recent experience as immigrants. Short of flying to the Vatican to wash the Pope's feet, Trump is not going to be able to solve this problem easily, if at all. (V)

College Republicans Have a Real Problem

As students head back to college, young Republicans on many campuses have a yuuuuge problem: Highly educated people don't like Donald Trump, and millennials really don't like Donald Trump. The combination is deadly and chapters of College Republicans are struggling. Their normal mission is to get as many students as possible to vote for the Republican candidate, but this year it is already clear that the task will be exceedingly difficult. Some of the chapters don't even want to try. At Penn State, for example, the local chapter held a vote on whether to endorse Trump or not and the students voted not to do so. When the first meeting took place last week, angry Trump supporters demanded a revote and when the president of the group, Michael Straw, refused, the protesters demanded his ouster, which they didn't get.

At Harvard, a similar scenario played out. For the first time in the Harvard College Republicans' 128-year existence, the group refused to endorse the party's nominee. The Yale College Republicans did endorse Trump—and more than half the executive board resigned. They formed a new group, the Yale New Republicans, that didn't endorse him.

What's happening on campuses all across the country could be a foreshadowing of what is going to happen to the Republican Party as a whole if Trump loses. Some Republicans will reject Trumpism and try to go back to the old ways, supporting a more traditional conservative like Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN), or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), in 2020. Others like Trump's style and lack of political correctness (also known as bigotry) and want no part of much of the traditional Republican platform, especially not the parts about free trade and immigration. It could be a rough road. (V)

Trump Blasted for Wade Tweet

Normally, when politicians try to make political hay out of a tragedy, they begin with a respectful (if not always believable) expression of sympathy and support. "Thoughts and prayers," or the like. This weekend, however, Donald Trump decided to change the script. After the cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade was shot walking the streets of Chicago, he skipped over the niceties, and got right to the haymaking, tweeting:

Dwyane Wade's cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!

It's hard to even parse what Trump's meaning was. Perhaps he believes that he is the first politician to be aware of drive-by shootings, and that simply mentioning the problem will attract black votes in droves? Or, at least, fence-sitting white votes? Who knows?

In any event, the feedback on the tweet was less than stellar. His Twitter replies, and there are thousands of them, are littered with phrases like "narcissistic megalomaniac," "clueless bigot," "you are evil," and "insincere, opportunistic fecal stain." The Sunday morning talking head shows were not much kinder. Kellyanne Conway was on "Fox News Sunday" (aka the channel that is friendly to Trump), and was asked, "Do you think it's right to have that kind of political response to a personal tragedy?" Even she could not mount a defense, and instead could only halfheartedly note that his next tweet on the subject (an hour later) extended The Donald's condolences (including, you guessed it, "thoughts and prayers").

There was a time in this campaign where Trump's unfiltered, tweet-driven approach was hugely effective, sparing him tens of millions of dollars in advertising and staffing costs. However, that time has passed. It's hard to recall the last time a tweet did him some good; these days, every time "Trump" and "Twitter" appear together in a headline, it's because of some misstep he made. If Conway and Stephen Bannon were smart, they would change the password on the account and do all the posting themselves. (Z)

Was He Raised by Wolves?

More evidence that Donald Trump is ripping the Republican Party apart came yesterday from Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, aide to Jeb Bush, and CNN pundit. When Trump tweeted about the death of basketball player Dwyane Wade's cousin (see above), Navarro said: "Forget about unfit to be president. He's unfit to be human." Then she added: "Was he raised by wolves?" She also noted that a person can change his words but can't change his heart.

Navarro probably represents a fair number of mainstream Republicans, and if Trump loses, there are going to be huge recriminations and fights over the future of the Republican Party. It hardly needs saying, but while Republicans are accusing Hillary Clinton of many terrible things, no high-profile Democratic politicians or strategists are hurling the kind of invective at her that Republicans are sending in Trump's direction. (V)

Is There Precedent for a Trump Comeback?

As you may have heard, Donald Trump is behind in the polls. Way behind, in fact, with a mere 70 days until Election Day. This being the case, Politico asked historian Josh Zeitz to consider past elections, and whether or not they offer any hope for Trump. He identified two successful comebacks and two near-misses, along with "what Trump can learn from them." Let's review them here (in a different order from Zeitz), along with a bit more commentary on the "lessons" part:

Near miss—Hubert H. Humphrey, 1968: At that time, the Democratic Party was in much the same place the Republican Party is today, badly divided between its moderate and conservative wings. When President Johnson declined to run for re-election, Robert F. Kennedy and Humphrey threw their hats into the ring. RFK would surely have taken the nomination, but he died at the hands of an assassin in June. Humphrey was thus a runner-up choice, presiding over a sharply divided party. He also faced a third-party challenge from the right in the person of segregationist governor George Wallace. Consequently, the Democratic nominee entered general election season trailing Richard Nixon by 15 points, and seemed doomed. However, he ran a very upbeat campaign, focusing on what he called the "politics of joy." Further, LBJ sprang the October surprise that gave October surprises their name, ordering that the bombing of North Vietnam be halted, and giving hope (albeit, false hope, as it turned out) that the Vietnam War might soon end. When the votes were counted, Humphrey had pulled within 1% of Nixon (43.4% to 42.7%) in the popular vote, though he was still defeated handily in the electoral vote (301 to 191, with 46 going to Wallace).

Hope for Trump? Not much. We've argued several times during this campaign season that hope is a more powerful political weapon than fear, but hope is not Trump's style, and does not seem to be what his base wants. Though the U.S. is still in Afghanistan, it doesn't have the political saliency that Vietnam did, and even if it did, Barack Obama surely isn't going to be arranging any October surprises. To the extent that the Trump campaign can take anything from Humphrey, it's that HHH chose his message, and stuck with it to the bitter end.

Near miss—Gerald Ford, 1976: Ford was among the most decent men to occupy the White House, but was hurt mightily by his pardon of the considerably less decent Richard Nixon. He was also very stilted when appearing on television, and after he stumbled while exiting Air Force One, he was regularly mocked as a bumbling fool on the then-brand new program Saturday Night Live, which had an enormous influence on Baby Boomers. This paved the way for Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, an outsider who came off as wholesome, likable, and incorruptible to seize the Democratic nomination and to dominate the polls heading into the general election. Carter's numbers tumbled in September, however. Part of the problem was his infamous Playboy interview in which he admitted he had "looked on a lot of women with lust [and] committed adultery in my heart many times." He was trying to make a point about sin and Christian forgiveness, but many voters just found it to be smutty. The other major problem was Carter's poor performance in the first presidential debate. By the time of the second debate, on October 6, it seemed like Ford might make a race of it. However, he lost momentum by having an even worse debate performance than Carter had, raising eyebrows across the nation when he insisted that Eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviet Union (Note: It was). The election was close, but not close enough to really make Carter sweat. He won 50% of the popular vote to Ford's 48%, and took the Electoral College 297 to 240.

Hope for Trump? Maybe a little. While Bill has surely lusted in his heart (and other body parts) a few times, and might even share that information with a magazine interviewer, Hillary's not going to make that kind of unforced error. So, the real beacon of hope here for Trump is her screwing up the first debate, which will have the widest viewership of the three, can have a major impact. Trump needs to hope that Clinton is off her game that night (September 26), and that that he doesn't also blow it then, or in the next two debates. That's a very tall order, though, given her near-fanatical debate prep. The only way she will stumble is if he manages to throw something at her that she was totally unprepared for.

Successful comeback—Abraham Lincoln, 1864: Entering campaign season, the brutal Civil War had been dragging on for almost four years, and the Union's war effort was bogged down. In the Eastern Theater, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had laid siege to Petersburg, which was the key to taking the Confederate capitol at Richmond. However, Petersburg was well-defended and well-supplied, and it was unclear if the siege would succeed and if so, how long that would take (it did succeed, but not until well after the election was over). Meanwhile, in the Western Theater, Gen. William T. Sherman was struggling to bring the state of Georgia to its knees, as he desperately worked to take the critical supply depot of Atlanta. With the Union's military fortunes seemingly on the wane, the Democrats promised to end the war, and nominated Gen. George B. McClellan as their candidate. Though McClellan had been removed from command in 1862 due to gross incompetence, he was still popular with Northern civilians, particularly those of Irish descent. In late August, Lincoln conceded to friends that his goose was likely cooked, and he required his Cabinet to sign a promise that they would help the incoming administration. Then, on September 1, Atlanta fell. Shortly thereafter, Gen. Phil Sheridan secured the Shenandoah Valley, while Petersburg's defenses began to weaken. By November, it was clear that the collapse of the Confederacy was underway, and Lincoln trounced McClellan at the ballot box, taking 55% of the popular vote and 212 electoral votes (compared to 45% and 21 for the General).

Hope for Trump? Certainly not. It's hard to imagine why Zeitz even included this example; maybe he wanted to squeeze Lincoln in (he just wrote a book about the Great Emancipator), or maybe he just needed a fourth example. To start with, there was no polling then, and the perception that Lincoln was doomed is largely rooted in his own assessment of his chances. But Abe was a fatalist, and prone to depression, so perhaps things were not so gloomy as he suggested. Beyond that, it is impossible to conceive of any modern issue or event that would be even moderately analogous to the all-encompassing Civil War, which was the political issue in America for four years (or more, if you include the lead-up to the war).

Successful comeback—Harry S. Truman, 1948: Though Harry S. Truman's folksy ways are seen as refreshing today, they were not viewed so favorably back in the 1940s. He was also hurt by the difficult challenges that came from dealing with the aftermath of World War II, by following in the footsteps of the legendary Franklin D. Roosevelt, and by the fact that the Democratic Party was divided among its liberal, moderate, and conservative wings. Though the Republicans nominated something of a dud candidate in New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, a man who had less personality than Al Gore, polls nonetheless gave him a commanding lead. Still, Truman and his team rose to the challenge. They crafted pitches for each key Democratic interest group—talking to Jews about support for Israel, blue-collar workers about Social Security, black voters about civil rights legislation, and so forth. Truman also got much mileage out of running against the "do-nothing" Republican-controlled Congress. The President never did catch Dewey in the polls, such that the Governor went to bed on Election Night thinking he had won (the Chicago Daily Tribune, to their everlasting embarrassment, thought the same thing). In fact, Truman won the popular vote 49.6% to 45.1% and took 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 189.

Hope for Trump? Possibly. Obviously, Trump cannot borrow the "do-nothing" Congress bit, since Congress is controlled by his own party. However, deciding what he wants to say to each Republican constituency, and then sticking with that, is possible (if not terribly likely, particularly in the Internet Age). In addition, a large part of the reason for the "upset victory" was that polling was in its infancy, and the pollsters made some very serious mistakes. Most notably, they called voters on telephones, which were still fairly expensive back then. Expensive generally meant Republican owners, which meant that Dewey voters were oversampled. Trump has to hope (and, indeed, is already openly hoping) that this year's polls are wrong. Given the challenges facing modern pollsters (cell phones, people don't respond, etc.) it's not impossible.

So, there you have it. Quite a few of the factors that allowed these comebacks or near-comebacks are not germane to 2016. However, if Trump wants to try to take some lessons from the history books, the main ones are: stay on message, hope Hillary Clinton blows the debates (especially the first one), and pray that the polls are wrong. None of these seems very probable but, as they say, hope springs eternal. (Z)

Trump Immigration Speech Is Back On

Donald Trump was supposed to deliver a "major speech" on immigration two weeks ago, but then called it off at the last minute. Now, apparently, it is back on. He will be speaking in Arizona, home to many Latinos and also to many virulent anti-immigrant voters. So, it could get testy.

Trump's position on immigration seems to have evolved dramatically in the last few weeks, from "deport them all" to "maybe a path for citizenship" to "no citizenship, but we'll work with the good ones" back to "deport them all." The Donald's spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, helpfully explains that, "He hasn't changed his position on immigration." Merely that, "He's changed the words that he is saying." All right, then. Whatever the case may be, and regardless of how carefully Trump threads the needle on Wednesday, we can be sure of one thing: A lot of people are going to be unhappy on Thursday—all we're doing is waiting to find out which ones. Unless, of course, Trump calls off the speech again. (Z)

Trump Hires Bill Stepien

With the hiring of Bill Stepien, a former close aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Trump adds a political heavyweight to his team. If Christie had won the nomination, Stepien was expected to be his campaign manager. In 2008, he was the national director of the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). He was also part of the 2004 Bush campaign. He clearly brings years of badly needed experience to Trump's team.

He also brings plenty of controversy, however. Christina Renna, another aide to Christie, has said that Christie flat-out lied when he said that Stepien was not involved in "Bridgegate," a scandal that revolves around who ordered three lanes of the George Washington Bridge to be closed in Sept. 2013, creating a massive traffic snarl. Many people, possibly including U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, believe someone in the governor's office ordered the lane closings to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ, for not endorsing Christie's reelection bid. A trial of Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and former Port Authority executive William Baroni is scheduled for next month. Stepien's role in the lane closing could easily come up and possibly prove another distraction to Trump, especially if one or more witnesses testify under oath that Stepien knew all about the plan and possibly helped to carry it out. The George Washington Bridge connects New Jersey to New York. Interfering with interstate commerce is a federal crime. (V)

Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Future Is on the Line Tomorrow

Tomorrow night we will discover if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) can transfer his support to like-minded candidates. Former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom Sanders' supporters abhor for her support of Hillary Clinton during the primaries, is battling law professor Tim Canova, who Sanders is actively supporting, in the FL-23 congressional primary tomorrow. The district covers Miami Beach, then north almost to Fort Lauderdale, then cuts west to the Everglades. The congresswoman has long cultivated deep relationships with people in the district going back to 2004, when she became Florida's first Jewish congresswoman. The district is not prime Sanders territory, however, as Clinton beat the Vermont senator 68% to 31% in the district in the Florida Democratic primary. If Wasserman Schultz wins the primary, she is a lock to win the general election in this strongly Democratic district. (V)

Helping People Leave the Country Has Become a Cottage Industry

The election has become so partisan that many people are saying: "If [insert name of candidate here] wins, I'm leaving the country." Most won't, but for those who mean it, help is on the way. It started with an island in Nova Scotia, which advertised itself as a haven for Americans who refuse to live under a President Trump. Then came Maple Match, a site that wants to make dating great again. It is specifically aimed at Americans who want to meet a Canadian with the thought of moving to Canada. Now a real estate company in Texas has put up a billboard offering to sell your house if you decide to leave the country.

Actually, one of us, (V), beat them all to the punch. The day after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, we ran a note at the bottom of the page saying that if you don't like the election results and happen to be a college senior majoring in computer science and want to leave the U.S. and enroll in a top English-language masters program in parallel and distributed computer systems in Amsterdam, you should click on the link given. Over 28,000 people clicked on it and quite a few applied and later enrolled. Expect more organizations to get into the business of luring potential expats as the campaign heats up. (V)


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