• Trump Is Disgusted with Christie
• Trump the President-Elect Versus Trump the Candidate
• What Does History Tell us About Trump? (Part II)
• 2016 Was Not the Year of the Split Ticket
• Class Trumps Gender
• Is Trump Sui Generis?
• It's Not Over 'til It's Over
• Trump's Lawyers Ask for Trial Delay
• What About the Freedom Caucus?
Yesterday Donald Trump announced that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will be his chief of staff. Priebus is well liked within the Republican Party and gets along well with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose lack of enthusiasm for Trump is well known. Priebus' job will be to try to smooth matters over, as Trump will need Ryan's cooperation to get anything done.
Trump also announced that Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon will be his chief strategist and senior counselor. This is the ecological niche that Karl Rove occupied in George W. Bush's administration. While in both cases, the strategist's job is to get the president reelected, the two people couldn't be more different. Rove is a numbers guy who looks at data to find the best strategy; Bannon is an outspoken bombthrower. (V)
Donald Trump is so disgusted with the behavior of Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) in the Bridgegate matter that he has been booted from Trump's inner circle and has virtually no chance of getting a job in the Trump administration. Trump is angry that Christie is sending his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, a mother of four young children, to jail for possibly more than 20 years, for choking traffic on the George Washington Bridge. Trump believes (and he is almost certainly correct) that it was Christie's idea in the first place. No junior aide would dare propose something like that. It had to come from the top. (V)
Donald Trump sat for a wide-ranging interview with Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" Sunday night, and revealed his current thinking on a wide variety of issues. As we learned in election season, anything that comes out of Trump's mouth could easily change the next day. Here, the early indications are that Trump the president-elect is already very different from Trump the candidate.
The 800-pound elephant in the room, and so the natural starting point for the interview, is the acts of violence that have been perpetrated in Trump's name across the country. He said he was "saddened" by the news, and declared, "And I say, 'Stop it.' If it—if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: 'Stop it.'" It was a nice sentiment, though it does not help that he was rather hesitant while saying it, nor that he was somewhat dismissive of the extent of the problem, suggesting there had only been "one or two instances."
Trump also dug into some questions related to Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal. He said that he may or may not ask for James Comey's resignation, and that "I think that I would rather not comment on that yet." As regards the possible prosecution of Clinton, The Donald left the door open to the possibility, but said he preferred to focus on other things first. Expect the prosecution plans to fade away very, very quickly.
Next up was same-sex marriage, where Trump said he was OK with the status quo, observing that "It's irrelevant because it was already settled. It's law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it's done." Apparently not realizing he had just made a very good argument for keeping Roe v. Wade in place, he ended up on the spot a bit, saying that he would appoint judges who oppose abortion, and then it would be up to them.
One of the touchiest series of questions involved Trump's plan to "drain the swamp" in Washington. Nearly all observers have noted that this is going to be hard to do if Trump surrounds himself with lobbyists and career politicians, as he has begun to do. The President-elect argued that there was no incongruity there, declaring that, "they know the system right now, but we're going to phase that out. You have to phase it out." How, exactly, you persuade lobbyists and career politicians to phase themselves out after a year or two was unclear.
Trump also discussed ISIS, promising that they would be eliminated, and standing by his position that he knows more than anyone else about the subject. He declined, once again, to share this secret knowledge. He may end up being right about ISIS, though, since the group is already on its heels in the face of an ongoing allied bombardment. It would not be a surprise if one of the final acts of the Obama presidency was an announcement of the fall of Mosul, which would leave ISIS stateless. Presumably, at that point, they would just be IIS.
The last major subject was the Electoral College, which Trump has criticized before, and which he says he still does not like. "I'm not going to change my mind just because I won. But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win." Given that Hillary Clinton looks likely to win the popular vote by 1 million ballots, and perhaps as many as 2 million, this subject may be one that's not going away.
And speaking of subjects that are not going away, there has been little discussion since November 8 of an issue that dominated much of campaign season: Trump's taxes. Someday soon, the world's most famous audit will be over. Will The Donald release his taxes, as he promised? Stahl might have considered bringing that up.
In any case, we're less than a week removed from Election Day, and Donald Trump has already pivoted on racism and dog whistles, the Clinton prosecution, lobbyists, and maybe abortion rights. Further, he has yet to fill in any of the gaps he left in his platform during the campaign, whether about ISIS or the "terrific" replacement for Obamacare. So, the mystery of exactly how President Trump will govern just keeps deepening. (Z)
Donald Trump will be the 44th man to serve as President of the United States (though number 45 in the overall count, because Stephen Grover Cleveland was both #22 and #24). Generally, at this point in the process, we might look to the past for some insight, comparing a victorious candidate to the presidents to which he seems very similar. However, that doesn't work so well for Trump. People have run campaigns like his—say, William Jennings Bryan in 1896—but none of them have won (well, maybe Andrew Jackson, but that was 200 years ago). People have run for the White House with no political or military experience—say, Wendell Willkie in 1940—but none of them have won. So, there is no clear historical analogue for The Donald. That being the case, we're comparing him to all of the presidents since 1928. Yesterday, we did Hoover through Nixon. Today, it will be Ford through Obama.
How was Gerald Ford (R, 1974-77) like Donald Trump? Ford also came into office with questions about his legitimacy. Not only did he fail to win the popular vote, he didn't get any votes at all. He was appointed Veep and then succeeded to the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned. And Ford's position grew even more tenuous when he pardoned Tricky Dick for any crimes he may have committed. Beyond that, Ford was also given over to using simple, direct language, as he tried to project a "regular guy" persona.
How did it work out? Not so well. Ford was a fine legislator but a mediocre executive. He took office as the economy was headed downward, and his efforts to rally the troops—most obviously with the slogan "Whip Inflation Now"—fell flat. The "regular guy" shtick lost him the confidence of many voters, and he was parodied savagely (and incorrectly) as a clumsy simpleton. His foreign policy accomplishments, such as they were, came largely as the result of simply allowing processes already in motion to reach their conclusion. Ford entered the election season in 1976 as a huge underdog, and though he nearly rebounded to win, victory was not in the cards. He was particularly hurt by verbal miscues, such as his declaration that eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination.
How was Jimmy Carter (D, 1977-81) like Donald Trump? The most outsider president of the 20th century, Carter was elected by voters who were tired of "business as usual" in Washington. Though a wealthy businessman, Carter successfully sold himself as a man of the people, even going so far as to file lawsuits so that his name would appear on the ballot as "Jimmy" rather than the legally-mandated "James." Not everyone was buying what he was selling, and he won by one of the narrowest margins in American history. If just 10,000 votes had been switched in the right places, there would have been no President Carter.
How did it work out? Badly. Like Ford before him, Carter was lost when it came to fixing the economy. Beyond that, his inexperience in Washington meant he was forced to rely heavily on others to run the government. That can work, but the problem is that Carter was a micromanager who had enormous difficulty keeping his fingers out of others' pies. This extended, for example (and quite notoriously), to personally managing the reservation schedule for the White House tennis courts. Further, although voters sent Carter to Washington as a rebuke of Nixon's "imperial" presidency, it turned out that the public likes their president to be awe-inspiring, at least some of the time. In other words, as with Ford, Carter's regular guy persona wore a bit thin. He was one and done in a landslide.
How was Ronald Reagan (R, 1981-89) like Donald Trump? In many ways, Reagan—a career actor—was playing the role of President of the United States more than anything else. He thrived on speeches, rallies, and television appearances, and was often bored with the details of everyday governance. Beloved by his voters nonetheless, he could say and do nearly anything and get away with it, like the time he accidentally announced the bombing of Russia. Or, you know, the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan was also a Democrat-turned-Republican whose words were very far right, but whose ideas were often less so.
How did it work out? Quite well. Reagan was the ultimate CEO president, setting an agenda and then letting the pros execute it. He also proved to be much more pragmatist than his words might have suggested, often compromising with Democrats on things like tax increases. He won one of the biggest re-election victories in American history in 1984, taking 49 states. If there is a model that Trump and his team should be looking toward, the Gipper is probably it.
How was George H. W. Bush (R, 1989-93) like Donald Trump? A Northern elite who got off on a good footing thanks to his father's wealth and power, but who also built his own fortune, Bush was one of the best-connected presidents in history. He knew everyone thanks to his business career, his time in the CIA, and his management of the GOP as its chair. Entering the White House, he inherited a booming economy from a popular predecessor.
How did it work out? Badly. The strong economy, along with a vigorous foreign policy, propelled Bush's approval ratings sky high—during the Persian Gulf War, he was in the low 90s in an era when most presidents dream of a 60% approval rating. But then the economy tanked, and the Democrats managed to discover a largely unknown Southern governor who proved to be one of the most brilliant political minds of his generation. So, after one term, it was bye, bye Bushie.
How was Bill Clinton (D, 1993-2001) like Donald Trump? Clinton was the last presidential candidate to truly "break" the electoral map, and to take states his party has no business taking (like, say, Montana and Kentucky). A natural-born salesman who really seemed to empathize with the plight of those who were struggling, he persuaded voters to overlook his sometimes sleazy behavior, particularly his less-than-gentlemanly treatment of women.
How did it work out? Fairly well. Clinton was sort of the anti-Nixon, a Democrat who governed (in many ways) as a Republican. He drove the American economy to great heights, and crime to new lows, albeit with policies (repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, the "three strikes" law, etc.) that proved to have troublesome long-term consequences. Clinton's successes and his centrism did not win Republicans over to his side, however, and he became only the second president (after Andrew Johnson) to be impeached. The impeachment was not followed by a conviction in the Senate, but it did hurt Clinton enough that he was unable to hand off the White House to his preferred successor, Al Gore.
How was George W. Bush (R, 2001-09) like Donald Trump? He came to the White House without benefit of winning the popular vote, and without much of a resume for the presidency. Yes, Bush was governor of Texas, but that is a remarkably low-power job for such a high-power state, and he was unusually hands off even by the standards of that office.
How did it work out? Poorly. Like several of his Republican successors who did not have extensive experience with governance, Bush turned over much of the decision-making to his lieutenants. That can work (as it did for Reagan), but it requires excellent lieutenants. Bush's team was undoubtedly brilliant, but many of them were also prone to scheming, and tended to believe they were above the law and the truth. The result was a long and ugly war in Iraq that was started under false pretenses, as well as a raft of scandals, big and small, that ultimately torpedoed the Bush presidency. For those who fear the worst for a Trump presidency, this is the blueprint that should have them nervous. Already, the cast of characters is falling to place, with a maybe-in-over-his-head president (George Bush/Donald Trump), an ultra-conservative Veep (Dick Cheney/Mike Pence), a take-no-prisoners neoconservative chief strategist (Karl Rove/Steve Bannon), and a polished political insider as chief-of-staff to make it all work together (Andrew Card/Reince Priebus).
How was Barack Obama (D, 2009-17) like Donald Trump? Since Trump ran as the anti-Obama, this is another case (like JFK) where a comparison isn't too easy. But Obama did have a meteoric rise in politics, he did defeat much more experienced challengers for his party's nomination, he did harness the voting power of people who felt left out by the system, and he did enter office with his party in control of both houses of Congress.
How did it work out? Very well, it would seem. It's hard to judge presidents while they are still in office, or even after a decade or two has passed. Still, Obama brought dignity to the Oval Office, and managed to remain largely scandal-free in an era where political scandals are all the rage. Once he lost control of Congress, he managed to get things done through executive orders, diplomacy, and other creative uses of presidential power. He certainly did not achieve everything he wanted to, but given how dedicated the opposition was to stymying him, future historians may well be impressed that he achieved anything at all. There's probably little here for Donald Trump to emulate, though, because he and Obama have very different personas and very different skill sets.
So, what do we learn from this exercise? Each reader may well take different lessons, but one that stands out is this: The clues as to nearly every president's fate were present before he ever entered the White House. FDR was already charismatic, Nixon was already shady, Reagan was already a gifted communicator, Bush II was already overmatched. The problem, if one does not have benefit of a time machine, is figuring out which clues are the ones that matter. We have evidence suggesting that Trump will be a success, with Ronald Reagan or Dwight D. Eisenhower the most likely templates. And we have evidence that Trump will go down in flames, a la George W. Bush or Richard Nixon. But which evidence is the correct set? Unfortunately, your blog authors are not soothsayers.
Oh, and one other lesson: The economy matters—a lot. The bad news for Donald Trump: (1) economies rarely remain robust for 10 or 11 straight years, and (2) the president has relatively little power to change fact #1, no matter how "terrific" their ideas may be. (Z)
Before the election, many pundits were predicting this was going to be the year of the split ticket, when straight partisan voting wouldn't be the norm everywhere, as it has been for years. They were wrong. In every single state with a Senate election, if Hillary Clinton won the statewide vote for president, the Democratic Senate candidate won, and if Donald Trump won the state, the Republican Senate candidate won. Here is an Excel spreadsheet with the presidential and Senate results. Below is a scatterplot of the presidential vs. Senate races. The x-axis is the Clinton minus Trump score for the state and the y-axis is the Democrat minus Republican Senate race for that state.
While the correlation is not perfect, and there is some variance from the regression line, it is pretty clear that when a state is very red in the presidential race, it is also very red in the Senate race, and vice versa. Note the dearth of data points in the upper left-hand quadrant (Trump carried the state, but a Democrat won the Senate) and in the lower right-hand quadrant (Clinton won the state, but the Republican won the Senate contest). Voting is strictly partisan. Blue states vote for Democrats up and down the line, and red states vote for Republicans up and down the line. (V)
One might have thought that in a race between a woman and a man who shows little respect for women that nearly all women would vote for the woman. One would be wrong. The exit polls show that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. Overall, Clinton won among women, but only because of her overwhelming support from minority women. There was little solidarity among women, with working-class white women going strikingly for Trump, just like working-class men. Political scientists have long known that by far the best predictor of how someone will vote is which party that person identifies with. Veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said: "Democrats never win white women," and that held this year as well. Even the two female constituencies that Clinton aimed at—Republican suburban women and independent suburban women— went for Trump 55% to 38%.
Democratic women who are surprised by the lack of sisterly solidarity here might want to consider who they would vote for if the candidates had been Sen. Tim Kaine (D) and Sarah Palin (R). Which is more important, gender or the letter inside the parentheses? (V)
Many people think the country is heading in the wrong direction and has weak leadership. A politically incorrect billionaire businessman with an ego the size of a small planet who has no political experience but who has a fondness for locker-room talk and has been involved in sex scandals decides to run for office to clean up the mess and wins. Recognize the scenario? Of course. It is Silvio Berlusconi, a pioneer in this area. Then there is also Johnny-come-lately Donald Trump, who is merely following in Berlusconi's very large footsteps. They have a tremendous amount in common. Both are twice-divorced former playboys who love the limelight, beautiful young women, and suing anyone who criticizes them. When they announced their candidacies, the political class roared with laughter, although that faded when they won. Both love bragging about their sexual prowess and use salty language that resonates with working-class men.
Is there anything to learn about how Trump might behave in office by examining Berlusconi's record? Perhaps, although the political systems of the U.S. and Italy are different, with more checks and balances in the U.S. system. Berlusconi was able to easily pass 30 laws that were intended primarily to help his businesses. Trump won't be able to do that quite so easily. Trump may want to drain the swamp, but he will soon discover that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the alligator-in-chief, has other ideas. Berlusconi was not able to achieve many of his stated goals, but he was pretty good at bamboozling the voters and getting elected over and over, despite not making the lives of his supporters any better. (V)
At least not according to Yogi Berra. While we (and everyone else) have the Senate at 48 Democrats and 52 Republicans, that is not really certain yet. When every other state was holding its general election on Nov. 8, Louisiana was holding its strange jungle primary. No candidate got 50%, so the top two of the 24 candidates on the ballot running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) will battle it out in the Dec. 10 runoff. The two are state Treasurer John Kennedy (R) and cattle rancher Foster Campbell (D). Given how red the state is, the Republican is the favorite, but if Campbell can unify the Democratic Party after the raucous primary, he has a shot at it. If he were to win, the Republicans majority in the Senate would be cut to 51 to 49, leaving the Republicans little margin for error. (V)
In a circumstance that is unprecedented, President-elect Trump is scheduled to go on trial in federal court on November 28, in one of three cases that has been filed against him due to his involvement in Trump University. His attorneys have requested a continuance until after January 20, arguing that Trump is too busy preparing to assume the presidency.
Previously, Trump has been unwilling to settle these cases. However, urged on by Judge Gonzalo Curiel (of "a Mexican judge won't be fair" fame), The Donald may well choose to revisit that decision. Being on trial would not be a good look for a president or president-elect. That's particularly true if the continuance is not granted, and photographs of Trump on the stand (plus any leaks from the trial) cause the presidential electors to think twice about their options before they meet on December 19. Meanwhile, it would seem that we may have further evidence that Trump did not actually expect to win the election. If he did, why did it take this long for anyone to notice that he might be busy in late November?
Judge Curiel isn't Trump's only legal problem. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) is also looking into the alleged fraud cases surrounding Trump University. While Curiel is just a judge, Scheiderman is much higher on the totem pole. He was a state senator before becoming state attorney general, and is very ambitious. He knows very well that being an attorney general is often a stepping stone to becoming governor, and governors sometimes become presidents and he probably wouldn't mind at all being the first Jewish president. Prosecuting Trump to the fullest extent of the law would be very popular in blue New York. Keep an eye out for what he is up to. (Z & V)
The House Freedom Caucus (HFC), a group of roughly 40 ultra-conservative House members, was organized as a counter-weight to President Obama. Their purpose was to drag Republican leadership rightward, and to stop former Speaker John Boehner and current Speaker Paul Ryan from giving too much to Obama (or, really, to stop them from giving him anything at all). But now that the entire government will be GOP-controlled, with a Republican president setting the agenda, does the group have any purpose? As one Congressional insider observes, "Now that Trump has won, they're irrelevant. They're not going to go against Trump; he's stronger in their own districts than all of them."
The Freedom Caucusers insist that they still have a reason to exist, though individual members don't seem to agree on exactly what that reason might be. Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) is a Freedom Caucuser, and he believes that he and his fellows will become The Donald's "foot soldiers": "I would suggest what [Trump] saw is exactly what HFC has been talking about ... illegal immigration, bad trade deals." However, during the actual election, many HFC members were quite leery of Trump, suspecting (probably correctly) that he's not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) is not an HFC member, and he observes that, "You've got a new president who is painfully pragmatic ... and you have a significant number of members in the House Republican Conference who can be excruciatingly ideological, very doctrinaire. So how is this going to work out?" Time will tell, but since the HFC members come from districts that are both very red and very pro-Trump, the odds are that they will make much noise about Trump successes that jibe with their agenda, and will swallow hard and keep it to themselves when he drifts in a more centrist direction. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov13 Clinton Blames Defeat on Comey
Nov13 Infighting within Trump's Inner Circle is Back
Nov13 Roger Stone Warns Trump Not to Pick Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff
Nov13 Trump Will Lay Off Twitter
Nov13 Trump to Work with Granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen
Nov13 What Does History Tell us About Trump? (Part I)
Nov13 Five Reasons Hillary Clinton Will Not Be Prosecuted
Nov13 Trump Might Be Impeached
Nov12 Another Take on Why Trump Won
Nov12 Trump Won White Women
Nov12 Breaking Out of the Bubble
Nov12 Whither the Electoral College?
Nov12 Christie Out, Pence In as Transition Chief
Nov12 The Map that Should Have the GOP Nervous
Nov12 Trump Open to Keeping Parts of the Affordable Care Act
Nov12 Facebook Under Scrutiny
Nov11 Democrats Lost Because Democrats Didn't Vote
Nov11 Was the Trump Voter Motivated by Economics or by Racism
Nov11 Other Key Findings from the Exit Polls
Nov11 Things Are Turning Ugly
Nov11 Classes, Exams Canceled on Wednesday
Nov11 Did Hillary Clinton Have a 98% Chance of Winning?
Nov11 President Ryan?
Nov10 Exit Polls Reveal a Deeply Divided Nation
Nov10 Third Parties Had a Huge Effect on the Election
Nov10 What Went Wrong?
Nov10 Trump's Business Conflicts Present Some Serious Issues
Nov10 Preliminary List of Trump Cabinet Officials Leaks
Nov10 Maggie Hassan Defeats Kelly Ayotte
Nov10 Democrats Have No Leader and No Direction
Nov10 Jihadists Happy About Trump's Win
Nov10 U.S. Elects LGBT Governor for the First Time
Nov09 Possible Electoral Vote: Trump 310, Clinton 228
Nov09 Popular Vote Is Very Close
Nov09 What Happens Next?
Nov09 How Did This Happen?
Nov09 How Does This Result Affect 2018?
Nov09 Election Postmortem, Take One
Nov08 Live Blogging Will Begin this Evening around 6:30 PM EST
Nov08 Our Prediction: Clinton Will Win
Nov08 Clinton Leads in Eight of Nine New National Polls
Nov08 Latino Vote Is Surging
Nov08 Justice Department to Monitor Polls in 28 States
Nov08 Candidates' Final Day Is Hectic
Nov08 Democrats Vote Early
Nov08 Americans Don't Think the Election Is Rigged
Nov08 Supreme Court Declines to Overturn Appeals Court on Voter Intimidation Order in Ohio
Nov08 Obama Campaigns in Michigan for Clinton
Nov08 Stock Market Zooms Up