Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Game Change

And in the master's chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the beast
-- Hotel California (The Eagles)
Exactly how long Trump can hang around is something of a mystery: back when he launched, FiveThirtyEight declared him "Not a real candidate (in one chart)." The chart was comparative likability and Trump was in a class all by himself: at the bottom.

Of course today, while still underwater with people as a whole, in the GOP he gets 58% favorable from Republicans and Republican-leaning voters. Certainly he'd lose with Republican women, though, right? After the Megyn Kelly thing? Nope. That's Ted Cruz (-16pt gender gap). Trump scores an average -9 along with Jindal, Carson, and Kaisch.

Five days ago, a majority of GOP Insiders (60%) told us that Trump--no matter what early polling says--can't win early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina):
“Telling a pollster you support Trump is whiskey courage. Most of them will sober up enough to realize they aren’t going to walk into a ballot booth and vote for a misogynist jerk,” agreed a New Hampshire Republican, who like all participants was granted anonymity in order to speak freely.
And just today, after yet another round of great Trump polling, the Christian Post's political analyst Napp Nazworth gives us reasons Trump CAN'T win:

  1. A Plurality is Not A Majority. Trump has the most of a hugely divided field (16 other candidates). A bunch of these guys will drop out by voting time or shortly thereafter (Perry has, for example, stopped paying his staff). At that point people will (a) be paying attention and (b) not be "shopping around."
  2. Trump Is Not Qualified. He quotes 52% saying Trump is NOT qualified (doesn't name the poll)--which is much higher than other not-qualified people like Ben Carson.
  3. Trump Is Not Electable. Clinton wins by 5pts. Other candidates beat her (except for Carly Fiorina).
  4. Trump Is Not Likable (Enough). Trump has about 1-in-3 "hell no voters."
Indeed, the general analysis suggests that the electoral math looks something like this:

As Time (t) Goes To ElectionDate (0), Candidate Value Is All About Electability
That's not bad math, really: it assumes that when push comes to shove, people want to win--and take it from The Omnivore, people want to win. In fact, by most measures, Trump isn't even winning right now. Here is an excellent article from The Upshot (NYT's Data-Blog) that has some non-poll values for "winning."
This analysis looks at the Prediction Markets (still focused on Bush, Rubio, and Walker), National Endorsements (where Trump comes in at a five-way tie in last place with none), Iowa and New Hampshire polls (Trump wins), and Money Raised (Trump is near last, in 14th place).

by this metric, Bush leads with 3 first-places ... followed by Trump with two firsts although he might be behind Walker if you average his other low scores). But whatever--a lot of people think National Endorsements count. Everyone knows fund-raising is the smart metric ahead of the campaign--so, hey--Trump's a goner?

Even the latest FiveThirtyEight dialog notes that it's too early to panic: if Trump is around in November or December ... then maybe. Silver has laid out the six-stages of doom:
  1. Free-For-All: It's a mess and Trump's name recognition and (especially) media attention give him a huge edge.
  2. Heightened Scrutiny: Voters wake up around November (Labor Day) and higher-information voters will come out.
  3. Iowa and New Hampshire: All the polling up until now is pretty meaningless. If Trump finishes in 3rd place he's likely done.
  4. Winnowing: People drop out heading out to March. This is where "insurgent candidates" usually lose steam. Trump should drop out here--or at least dwindle (like, say, Forbes)
  5. Delegate Accumulation. If Trump doesn't have a crackerjack electoral team he can take a heavy hit there since the rules are arcane and the superdelegates won't help him.
  6. Endgame. The GOP Establishment can freeze him out with rules, rules interpretation, and party-leaders working against him.
The Omnivore finds this all pretty cogent analysis (much better than the points from the Christian Post guy)--but let's not close the door just yet.

However ...

All of this is looking at things from a more-or-less business as usual perspective. The Omnivore doesn't think that's the case here. There are a few reasons--these are:

Endorsements From The GOP's Entertainment Class

Guys like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Ann Coulter have, literally, millions of GOP followers. These people usually stay pretty sidelines (Rush wasn't a fan of Romney--but got behind him when it was all over but the crying). Today, though, The Omnivore is seeing these people lean Trump-ward. This is because Trump is selling the same thing they are. From Limbaugh:
“Do you know what bought me all this?” he asked, waving his hand in the general direction of his prosperity. “Not my political ideas. Conservatism didn’t buy this house. First and foremost I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.”

Trump may not have endorsements from governors, senators, and so on--but he has some pretty key ones where it counts.These don't show up on FiveThirtyEight's metrics--or The Upshot's.

Money Can't Buy Everything, It's True (What It Can't Buy, I Can't Use)

Trump comes in low on one of those metrics because he hasn't raised money. That's largely because he isn't trying and isn't taking it. Neither Perot, Bloomberg, nor Forbes was as "all in" as Trump is--and while Trump is being pretty stingy in some respects (airtime)--he's also being savvy (using his helicopter and bus to campaign). Trump, simply put, has assets that other candidates--even with their swollen SuperPac war-chests, can't buy.

Jeb has raised the most money and he doesn't have a luxury 757 to fly around in. Trump does. If you give Trump a #1 in the money department, the Up Shot's metrics start to look ... strained. However, there is another reason why money counts--if you aren't winning, you aren't raising cash--and cash is the "mother's milk" of politics. You can't buy the White House--but not having cash is a sure way to lose it.

Trump, valued at several billion (he says 10, other estimates say a lot less) could, if he goes all in, outstrip Perot and Forbes easily:

Adjusted Dollars
Ross Perot
60 million
102 million
Steve Forbes
32 million
54.4 million

If Trump spends half a billion dollars, he would eclipse these guys and have roughly five times the staying power.

Electability Ain't What It Used To Be

Trump's likability has increased--especially with the GOP base--and so has his electability. What the Christian Post guy didn't say was that when, today, yes, other candidates beat Hillary and, yes, Trump is 'behind' by 5%, that's outrageously close. All those "winning candidates" were further behind when they started.

There's also the possibility that the nominee may be someone other than Clinton which would almost certainly give any GOP candidate a large edge. If the math that we sketched above is true, there's no reason to think that Trump will be any further behind than Romney or McCain was. They both got nominated over the 'cooling bodies' of the base. Trump would at least have real supporters. From The Political Animal (the natural enemy of The Political Omnivore):
The data are a bit unclear on the subject just yet, and the cycle is still young. But new CNN/ORC poll findings today should provide a very rude shock to those who think Republican voters will finally wake up and realize Donald Trump would be a disaster as a general election candidate and stampede instead to a “grown-up” like Establishment fave Jeb Bush.

What If The Game Is Changed?

What The Omnivore has been harping relentlessly on is that a vote for Trump is, yes, kind of a 3rd-Party vote--which is, yes, kind of throwing your vote away. The Game Theory mechanics behind this are why everyone talks about 3rd Parties and then suddenly Bernie Sanders is giving a speech the night before Hillary's inauguration or something (and he's still being heckled by #BlackLivesMatter because she hasn't given him any security). Third parties don't work because tanking your vote to send a message is something very few people really want to do.

But what if they didn't have to? Trump represents a possibility for a real "3rd way." He represents a way to have a protest vote and still maybe win. So long as that's feasible--so long as Trump gets respect from thought leaders like Limbaugh and Levin--so long as he hits the right notes (and so long as his opponents play catch-up ... badly--and so long as Congress proves to be ineffectual and doesn't go through with an even-more-disastrous government shutdown), Trumps cred will increase.

The Omnivore doesn't think Trump is in a death-spiral. The Omnivore thinks the GOPe is, if they don't figure something out fast.


  1. I wonder if we might find parallels from the past. I don't know, maybe someone from the entertainment industry, who switched from D to R late in life, who rose to prominence on a simple and easy-to-digest message ("are you better off than you were four years ago?" - simple as, say, "make american great again").

    Trump is the new Reagan. The sooner the GOPe figures this out the better chance they have of actually riding Trump into the White House. It's all right there. Frightening as it may be.

    1. While Trump is like the never-ending Christmas present to political bloggers, I suspect that when he has to compare to one or two other candidates his ceiling will become more apparent. I don't know if he can make the White House--but I'm hoping for March of 2016.

      -The Omnivore

  2. I am starting to think the only thing that would take Trump down would be a Michael Bay-esque on-stage panic attack that destroys people's confidence in him, since at his core, Trump is a (con)fidence man. And I don't see that happening. Gotta go refill my popcorn.

    1. For as long as it lasts, it's glorious. I just bought a Trump hat!