All posts by Matthew Reade

What a Late-Night Uber Taught Me About American Politics

On Tuesday night, as the final tendrils of orange and red light faded from the evening skies in Washington D.C., I packed my bags and left my apartment for Dulles International Airport, ready to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family in California. Loaded up with a backpack and a small duffel slung over my shoulder, I ducked into my waiting Uber, exchanging the usual pleasantries with the driver.

Mo was quiet. His smooth olive skin and earnest eyes belied his years. He drove cautiously, but with the classic impatience of a Washington D.C. resident, nudging the nose of his van into crosswalks to exploit openings in the stream of pedestrians. We chatted idly for a few minutes about my time in Washington, the weather, and the gridlocked rush-hour traffic.

But then our talk turned to the election.

“America is the land of opportunity,” he told me. “This is the only place where you can go and do anything.”

In addition to driving for Uber, Mo arranges shipments of produce to the Washington D.C. area from Florida and other major agricultural states. He makes a good living this way, and he is proud of it. “I make good money,” he said several times, his face beaming.

Mo is an immigrant. He came to the United States on a green card in the late nineties and has lived and worked in Washington ever since. He has been able to renew his green card in the past, but he fears that under the new administration, he might lose his residency and be forced to return to his country.

“I don’t know if what he says is just rhetoric,” he explained, referring to president-elect Trump. “What he says about immigrants in this country illegally, who are committing crimes; I agree. But a lot of these immigrants are good people, hard-working people. They contribute to this country.”

As we came to a halt at another red light, Mo shifted his gaze to the Washington Monument, rising up out of the ground only a few hundred yards away. “I have met many undocumented people in my job,” he said. “All of them are good people, making an honest living. Their families are here. Their children go to school here. They are afraid that they will be taken away and sent out of this country.”

Even though President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than all of his predecessors, Mo pointed out, the rhetoric of the fierce 2016 campaign has terrified his undocumented colleagues. Last November, Donald Trump promised to build a “deportation force” to send all illegal immigrants, regardless of whether they had committed crimes in the U.S., back to their countries of origin. He has since softened his position.

“I’ve been here for several past elections,” he said. “I was here for Bush and for Obama, both times.”

He looked directly at me in the rearview mirror.

“But this fear? I’ve never seen it before.”

***

I have had trouble grasping the true extent of the emotions that have roiled this nation over the course of the election season. Before Election Day, I sensed the anger of conservatives with the status quo, but I never understood its depth until Donald Trump swept the Rust Belt on November 8th to become our president.

Conservatives have long chafed at the derision and condescension of the left, but recent years have deepened their frustration. To President Obama and other progressive icons, Republican political opponents do not simply disagree about how to make America a better place; instead, they occupy “the wrong side of history,” as the president himself has often said. They are bigots, misogynists, and racists, and their economic grievances and political anxieties are without merit. And someday, only a few decades further along the arc of history, their evil, backwards political inclinations will perish from the earth, and the good—progressivism—will triumph at last.

Coastal liberals, ensconced in their ivory towers in Washington and the university, continue to claim that they know best. They are the self-appointed defenders of truth and justice, visionaries bent on fixing our deeply flawed and broken nation. If only the hapless hicks supporting the Republican Party would wise up, absorb the teachings of the enlightened class, and understand how good they have it, the nation might make progress in helping those facing real hardship. As one bitter columnist at Jezebel wrote in the days following the election, the “grievances” of Donald Trump’s working-class supporters “ranged anywhere from distrusting Hillary Clinton as much as they did Obama to believing in racial stereotypes and feeling put-upon by ‘PC’ culture.”

But to the middle-aged factory worker in the Midwest who has lost his job and does not know where to turn to provide for his family, these criticisms are nothing short of insulting. He voted for Barack Obama, believing in the promise and hope of the young then-senator’s presidential campaign. But since then, things seem to have only gotten worse.

President Obama has overseen the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression, with most of this rebound benefitting America’s urban hubs. Meanwhile, the globalized economy grinds on, sweeping middle-class industrial jobs out of America’s heartland and into the cheap labor markets of China, Mexico, and southeast Asia. In the factories that have survived, automated technologies have replaced bustling crews of laborers with robots and an occasional human overseer. To the victims of these powerful waves of change, blue-collar America is dying—and Barack Obama’s hope and youthful idealism did nothing to stop it.

This election manifested the desperation of middle America. Few Americans actually liked Donald Trump. Nearly seven-in-ten voters viewed Donald Trump unfavorably. They found his behavior to be beyond the pale. His proposal to ban all Muslims was inexcusable, and his vow to build a wall was laughable. Yet nearly half voted for him anyway—because in the end, Donald Trump meant change, and change was what they needed. It’s as simple as that.

***

But with the turmoil of change comes uncertainty and, for immigrants like Mo, the frightening prospect that they no longer can pursue their dreams in the land of the free. Which Donald Trump should they believe: the one who promised to deport every illegal immigrant and to stop issuing green cards for foreign workers, or the one who will only deport “criminal” aliens and will “reform” legal immigration?

Mo is worried that it might be the former.

“When I was seventeen, eighteen, as a young guy, I came to this country, so you know that adjusting—that will be really hard for job adjustment in my old country,” he explained. “I am right now sixteen, seventeen years in this country. What will I do if I go back?”

“When I drive for Uber, I pay my insurance, I pay my road taxes, I pay my rent,” Mo continued, an edge creeping into his soft-spoken voice. “I contribute to America. Someday, I might buy a house. But if I’m not here, how can I do that? How can I contribute to this great country?”

He glanced at me in the mirror. “The undocumented immigrants, they contribute too,” he added. “Without them, this country’s agriculture would be nothing. The fields would be empty—and no one would take those jobs.”

In the end, as traffic finally began to pick up, Mo expressed a hint of optimism. “I am lucky,” he mused as he steered the car onto the freeway. “I have a wife here who is a U.S. citizen, so I will probably be okay.”

“But I really don’t know.”

Trouble for Trump

With 15 days to go, Hillary Clinton has cemented her position as the overwhelming favorite to win the election on November 8th.

Nationally, Mrs. Clinton has amassed a 6-point lead, according to this morning’s RealClearPolitics average. In live voter surveys, which have been more accurate in past elections than online polls, the Democratic nominee leads Donald J. Trump by an average of about 10 points. Online and IVR1 polls show a tighter race, with Mrs. Clinton maintaining a 3-point advantage among those surveys.

After the first presidential debate, Donald Trump lost traction in the most competitive states and has failed to recover. He now is underperforming 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in nearly every battleground state, and his path through the Rust Belt—long thought to be his best shot at victory—has closed.

Mr. Trump is doing well in Ohio and Iowa, states where he holds a decisive demographic advantage. But in all-important Florida, where President Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney by only 0.9 percent in 2012, Mr. Trump lags by four points. He also is behind in North Carolina, where Republicans won in 2012.

2016 Polls vs. 2012 Final
State 2012 Final Vote 2016 RCP Average % Change from 2012
Florida +0.9 Obama +3.8 Clinton +2.9 D
North Carolina +2.0 Romney +2.5 Clinton +4.5 D
Nevada +6.7 Obama +4.2 Clinton +2.5 R
Colorado +5.4 Obama +7.2 Clinton +1.8 D
Virginia +3.9 Obama +8.0 Clinton +4.1 D
Arizona +9.1 Romney +1.3 Clinton +10.4 D
Pennsylvania +5.4 Obama +6.2 Clinton +0.8 D
Michigan +9.5 Obama +10.0 Clinton +0.5 D
Ohio +3.0 Obama +0.6 Trump +3.6 R
Iowa +5.8 Obama +3.7 Trump +9.5 R
New Hampshire +5.6 Obama +8.0 Clinton +2.4 D
Wisconsin +6.9 Obama +7.0 Clinton +0.1 D

There are other warning signs for Mr. Trump. Though his path to the White House is through the Rust Belt, he is losing badly there. He has not led or tied a single poll taken in Wisconsin since mid-September, and in Michigan, he is down by about nine points. Even in these states, favorable demographics have not helped the G.O.P.’s chances, with Mrs. Clinton showing gains across the northeast relative to President Obama’s finish there in 2012.

Mr. Trump also is fending off challenges in unlikely places. In Arizona, a state which Mitt Romney won by nine points, he and Mrs. Clinton are effectively tied. But even if Mr. Trump manages to avert disaster there, he might lose deep-red Utah to anti-Trump hometown hero Evan McMullin, who rocketed to a four-point lead in a four-way poll conducted last week. FiveThirtyEight’s now-cast, a statistical model that predicts who would win if the election were held today, gives Mr. McMullin a shocking one-in-four shot of taking Utah—and becoming the first third-party candidate to win an electoral vote since 1968.

No candidate has ever emerged from such a weak polling position in so little time. With no more debates on the calendar, Mr. Trump is out of opportunities to change the media narrative to his advantage, and few undecided voters remain to be convinced by either candidate. Barring a polling error of unprecedented proportions, Hillary Clinton will become our nation’s next president.

In this election cycle, however, stranger things have happened. It is possible that pollsters have underestimated the turnout Mr. Trump will generate among his base of blue-collar whites, thereby unintentionally skewing the results of their surveys in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. Voters also dislike both candidates more than they have any other presidential contenders in the history of modern polling, making it hard to predict exactly which groups of voters will turn out on November 8th and which will stay home out of frustration. Others, including the Trump campaign itself, have cited “shy Trump voters”—individuals who are unwilling to disclose to pollsters that they support his candidacy when in fact they do—as a possible justification for the Republican nominee’s poor polling position.

But even accounting for these possibilities, Mr. Trump is still the underdog in this race, and a victory—if possible at all—would be extremely narrow. The electoral map is unfriendly, the polls are even worse, and the Trump campaign lacks a substantial get-out-the-vote effort in nearly every contestable state.

Donald Trump is in deep trouble.


Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore (flickr)


Footnotes
  1. Interactive Voice Response polls, otherwise known as robocalls.

What Is Killing American Politics?

To find the greatest irony of this year’s presidential election, look no further than any one of the national polls conducted since the final presidential primaries took place in June.

Majorities of voters disapprove of and mistrust each major-party presidential nominee. Three-fifths of the electorate views Republican Donald Trump unfavorably, and less than one-in-three voters describe Democrat Hillary Clinton as “honest and trustworthy.” Third-party candidates—little-known even to some of their most ardent advocates—are earning historic levels of support. Libertarian Gary Johnson, who won less than one percent of the vote in his 2012 general election run, now regularly polls in the double-digits, backed by a ragtag coalition of millennial voters and political independents. And for the Republicans and Democrats who have decided to toe the party line in November, negative voting is more common than ever, with over half of Republicans and nearly as many Democrats viewing their votes more as opposition to the other party’s nominee than as affirmative support for the candidate they have chosen.

Dissatisfaction with the American political process has spread to nearly every corner of the national fabric, and for some voters, the sense of disillusionment could not be stronger. According to an editorial which appeared this month in The Boston Globe, over a third of likely voters from both parties agree with the statement that “the election will be rigged.” These are not wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who believe that their fellow Americans will cast more votes than the law allows. They simply have lost all faith in the system. For them, democracy has died. No matter their choice, nothing will change.

In reality, however, democracy is far from dead—and therein lies the irony. Today, though voters almost entirely control whom the major political parties nominate, their dissatisfaction with the process and the candidates it produces has reachedrecord-breaking heights.

The 2016 presidential primaries granted voters near-total control over the selection of party nominees. The vast majority of Republican delegates were bound to vote for the winners of their states’ primaries or caucus elections. In the case of the Democrats, a cadre of unbound superdelegates—composed of party leaders and long-time party loyalists—exists ostensibly to counter popular impulses, but it never does. In 2008, superdelegates threw their weight behind Illinois senator Barack Obama instead of their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, on account of the groundswell of popular support behind his campaign. This year, Hillary Clinton was the clear choice of Democratic Party voters, having won nearly four million more votes than Vermont senator Bernie Sanders over the course of the primaries. For the Republicans, Donald Trump won even more decisively, earning nearly six million more votes than his closest competitor to secure the nomination.

For both Democrats and Republicans, the modern presidential primary is democratic to its core—a far cry from the mid-twentieth century, when this process first took shape. State party bosses dominated the old system, exerting power over their crops of convention delegates in order to sway the outcome in favor of their preferred candidates. The national conventions of yore were private affairs, taking place in the backrooms where public input was nonexistent. In the early decades of the twentieth century, some states began to enshrine primary elections into law, but it was not until the late seventies that the Democratic Party became the first to bind delegates, requiring each to vote for the candidate chosen by voters in his state’s primary election. Before then, the results of primary elections were merely a suggestion for party leaders to consider—or, more often, to disregard.

Strangely enough, voters seem to recognize how much power they hold over party nominations. Though few participate in the primary elections as a percentage of the American population, turnout has surged across the board over the past decade. In 2008, the hotly contested race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama crushed turnout records in 23 states across the country and helped set a new record for primary election participation nationally. And this year, the G.O.P. has led the charge, with Republican turnout reaching its highest level “since at least 1980.”

If higher turnout is not sufficient to show that voters are getting what they bargained for during the presidential primaries, Donald J. Trump’s nomination should be. The entirety of the political establishment aligned itself against Mr. Trump during the primary season, mounting a fierce challenge to his candidacy when it looked like he might actually win. But when the voters spoke repeatedly in favor of his candidacy, handing him victories everywhere from Florida to New York, there was no escape from the inevitable. Party leaders begrudgingly began to back Trump’s campaign in late May, and by the start of the national convention in July, they were mostly united behind Mr. Trump. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus squashed the last-minute efforts of some delegates to torpedo Mr. Trump’s nomination at the convention and has spared no mercy for Republicans who continue refusing to support their party’s nominee.

So we return to our dilemma. If voters are getting what they voted for, what can explain the pessimism of the American public about both major party candidates? The answer is political polarization.

One clue can be found in the partisan breakdowns of support for each candidate. Despite a virulent media narrative proclaiming rampant defections from members of his own party, Mr. Trump commands overwhelming support from Republicans. In early June, as the G.O.P.’s bitter primary battle drew to a close, political analyst Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight—the brainchild of Nate Silver, the famed numbers guru—indicated that “Republican voters are rallying behind Trump as if he were any other nominee.” The same has held for Mrs. Clinton among Democrats, despite her early troubles converting Bernie Sanders’s most progressive backers.

Part of the reason for the remarkable show of unity within each party is the shrinkage of partisan coalitions. Over the past decade, as political parties have accelerated their shift away from the center, the percentage of Americans who identify with either party has shrunk considerably. According to Pew Research, nearly two-fifths of the country now call themselves political independents—almost a 10-point increase from 2004. Over the same period, both political parties have watched their ranks shrink.

The Pew studies also reveal that Republicans and Democrats alike are doubling down on their most ardent constituencies instead of broadening their appeal. Even as the percentage of Americans identifying as Republican declined six points over the past decade, a majority of whites from the Silent Generation—those born between the 1920s and ‘40s—now call themselves Republicans. Similar gains are visible among evangelicals, two-thirds of whom now view themselves as Republicans or G.O.P.-leaners. Meanwhile, Democrats have increasingly come to rely upon college graduates and young non-white voters to compensate for lost support among whites and older Americans.

The consequences of these trends toward polarization and consolidation are two-fold. First, with the hardening of core constituencies and the loss of centrist voters, both parties have come to favor candidates who are more extreme relative to the center, speeding the exodus of moderates who could have balanced against this impulse toward extremism or, as many within the party would call it, ideological “purity.” Second, moderate voters and independents increasingly seek alternatives to the major parties. Some of these voters tune out entirely, indirectly increasing the influence of partisans over nominee selection and general election outcomes. Others turn toward third-party candidates. In a poll from early September, Libertarian Gary Johnson took first place among independents who do not lean toward either party, besting Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by seven points.

Americans have lost faith in their democratic institutions for good reason. With both major parties fleeing the center, more voters have been left behind than ever before, and this year, they are locked into a false choice between two awful candidates.

When creating the Constitution of the United States, our nation’s framers built a system of checks and balances in order to control the worst impulses of government. When one branch grows too strong, others may control it. In politics of today, however, the checks upon the two-party system have failed. By catering to their core constituencies at the expense of middle America, the Republican and Democratic parties have insulated themselves from the moderating force of independent voters, taking advantage of their long-time place as the central actors in American politics to force upon voters an impossible choice between two extremes.

To create balance again, independent voters must exercise their considerable political power and rebel against this system. Third-party threats have produced some of the most extraordinary and important political transformations in American history—including the victory of the anti-slavery movement under Abraham Lincoln, the first president and the father of the Republican Party.

Fortunately, ending gridlock in Washington will not take a Lincoln. A strong third-party movement, drawn from a broad, deep coalition of disaffected partisans and political independents, could put enough pressure on the two-party monopoly to force them to the center—or to carve out just enough space for a new party, a moderating force in American politics.

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Image: Flickr

Trust Me, It’s Only Pneumonia

After insisting for weeks that concerns about the health of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are the work of alt-right conspirators and endemic sexism within the Republican Party, the Clinton campaign found itself in the merciless grip of reality after an unsettling “medical episode” at a 9/11 commemoration forced the campaign to disclose that Mrs. Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.

On Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton attended an event in New York City marking the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, accompanying a raft of other dignitaries which included her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. According to The New York Times, she remained there for a little over an hour before she “suddenly…left her position” and departed the event in a black SUV. After over an hour of silence from the Clinton campaign, which did not permit any members of the press to follow the candidate as she departed, campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill indicated that Mrs. Clinton merely felt “overheated” and needed to take some time to recover at her daughter’s Manhattan apartment.

But as the media firestorm surrounding the strange incident reached a fever pitch, gaining traction well beyond the confines of the conservative blogosphere, the Clinton campaign released a statement from the candidate’s personal physician revealing that Mrs. Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia, a relatively common but occasionally deadly respiratory condition, on Friday.

The decision to reveal the ostensible reality of Mrs. Clinton’s condition comes at a high price. Not only will this admission tether concerns about the Democratic nominee’s health to the political mainstream, it will complicate Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to earn the trust of an electorate which has increasingly come to see her as deceitful and corrupt. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released early Sunday morning shows that only a third of Americans view Mrs. Clinton as “honest and trustworthy,” and this incident will only shrink this minority further. Indeed, Sunday’s events have highlighted once more the compulsion of Mrs. Clinton and her campaign to lie to the American people about matters of profound importance, especially when the truth could incur a political cost.

Most crucially, the episode throws into sharp relief the true magnitude of the dishonesty of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. As Mrs. Clinton gleefully took to the stage and the late night circuit to mock concerns about her health as “conspiracy theories” and the “paranoid fever dream” of her Republican opponent, she sought a secret rendezvous with her doctor in order to diagnose a condition serious enough to require “two Secret Service agents” to hold her up—her feet “dragging” on the ground, according to The New York Times—and “hoist” her into her getaway car.

After spending weeks condemning the “deranged conspiracy theories” of “the Republican nominee for president,” putting surrogate after surrogate on national television to assure the public that Mrs. Clinton is perfectly healthy and to declare that any suggestion to the contrary is sexist, the Clinton campaign had invested far too much into its web of deceits to stop. It took a shocking public demonstration of Mrs. Clinton’s frail condition—not the medical diagnosis which came two days earlier—for her campaign to admit the truth.

This is unacceptable conduct for a person seeking elected office, but for Hillary Clinton, it is just the cost of doing business. Sunday’s incident reinforces an unfortunate reality about Mrs. Clinton: that only under the force of law or the weight of unbearable political pressure will the woman seeking to become our nation’s next president dare to tell the truth.

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Image: Flickr

Why I Can’t Vote for Hillary Clinton

 

On July 5th, F.B.I. Director James Comey announced that the bureau would not recommend criminal charges against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information during her time as President Obama’s secretary of state. However, he also castigated Mrs. Clinton for her “extremely careless” treatment of our nation’s secrets and, at a later congressional hearing, said that her early statements on the matter were “not true.”

But last week, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, Mrs. Clinton recalled Mr. Comey’s words rather differently. “Director Comey said that my answers were truthful,” she said, “and [that] what I’ve said is consistent with what I’ve told the American people.”

This statement is plainly false. So false, in fact, that it earned “Four Pinocchios”—a rating reserved for “whoppers”—from fact checkers at The Washington Post. But no matter: Mrs. Clinton and her various campaign surrogates continue to peddle this fiction at every turn in the apparent hope that doing so will make her misconduct disappear. In the meantime, the incredulity of those paying even the slightest attention has grown to astonishing proportions. As one television host put it, “it’s like they don’t think we have video tape.”

Mrs. Clinton’s willingness to lie with impunity—even as she faces one of the weakest general election candidates ever fielded by either party—is disturbing. Her first instinct at the onset of this email debacle should have been to take responsibility for her actions, laying out the full truth for the American people. Not only would this course of action have been the right and honest one to take, it would have been politically prudent. Mrs. Clinton could have defused this controversy at the outset and moved on, simply by being forthright.

But instead, she has deceived the American people over and over again, hiding behind complex, legalistic non-explanations of her private email server designed to thoroughly confuse those trying to make sense of her unacceptable conduct. What makes it so hard for Mrs. Clinton to tell the truth, even when the political cost of doing so would be negligible?

There are only two possible answers. Either Hillary Clinton is unable to bring herself to acknowledge publicly that she willfully mishandled classified information, or she knows that there is much more to the email story—the revelation of which would compromise her candidacy. In either case, Mrs. Clinton cannot earn my vote.

Donald Trump is odious. His irresponsible rhetoric, unconstitutional policy proposals, and his inability to handle criticism like an adult are all part of the reason why I will not cast my ballot for him this November. But just as Mr. Trump cannot help himself when he lashes out at the parents of a slain Muslim Army captain, Mrs. Clinton cannot suppress her compulsion to lie, even when doing so can only tarnish further her extensive career in public service.

That Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are each unfit for the presidency is the main reason why both candidates have appealed to fear rather than pressing a positive case for their own selection. But I reject this notion that I must choose a liar over a blowhard, or vice versa, because one might be “worse” than the other. My vote is an affirmative endorsement of the person for whom it is cast; it must be earned.

It is for this reason that when I submit my ballot this November, I will vote for neither major party candidate. Instead, I will vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Though I do not agree with Mr. Johnson on many central issues, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump fail to meet even the minimum standards of honesty and decency which we have come to demand from our public servants.

I’m sick and tired of the lies, gamesmanship, and crudity in politics. I can’t vote for a vulgarian, but neither can I cast my ballot for the dishonesty and dysfunction which Hillary Clinton represents.

How Bernie Sanders Saved Super PACs

From the very beginning of his presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders has assailed the undue political influence of millionaires and billionaires, who he says have rigged the system in their favor through profligate contributions to super PACs and political campaigns. Yet the remarkable success of his unconventional candidacy has proven quite the opposite: that a democratic, grassroots political campaign can thrive without the helping hand of big money donors.

When Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy in April of last year, he was not considered a serious player in the national political scene. His polling average had not yet ventured beyond single digits, and nearly half of Democrats did not know enough about him to respond to poll questions mentioning his name. But his anti-establishment message resonated with voters almost immediately. In the 24 hours following his entry into the presidential race, he raised $1.5 million, outpacing better-known politicians like Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and earning nearly every dime from small-dollar donations.

It was not long before Mr. Sanders became a real competitor, nearly winning the Iowa caucuses and dealing a crushing 22-point defeat to Hillary Clinton, the chosen candidate of the political establishment, in New Hampshire’s primary election. He out-raised and out-spent Mrs. Clinton throughout the first four months of 2016, the critical stretch during which nearly three-quarters of all Democratic pledged delegates were allocated. To date, Mr. Sanders has raised over $200 million in campaign contributions, with about three-fifths of that number coming from donations of $200 or less.

By every traditional metric, despite shunning the support of progressive super PACs, Bernie Sanders’s political campaign was an unmitigated financial success. His most ardent supporters, however, miss the irony of this accomplishment. If the campaign finance system were rigged—if it were in fact designed to suppress the voice of the people and to channel the influence of millionaires and billionaires—Mr. Sanders would have failed.

But he did not. Rising from virtual political anonymity, Bernie Sanders fiercely challenged the Democratic frontrunner and singlehandedly pushed his message about income inequality and political corruption to the forefront of the national consciousness. And it is not as if Mr. Sanders had no opportunity to win his party’s nomination. As the Washington Post reported last week, close advisers to the Sanders campaign—as well as the Vermont senator himself—have chalked up his loss not to a rigged campaign finance system or the corrupt political elite but to “missed opportunities, a failure to connect with key constituencies and stubborn strategy decisions.”

Bernie Sanders is evidence enough that our campaign finance system is functioning just as it should. It rewards candidates like Mr. Sanders, who bring a message and personality that resonates with voters across the country, and punishes those who cannot build enough support to survive. Strict limits on contributions made directly to political campaigns ensure that floundering candidates are unable to lean on wealthy benefactors to keep them afloat, and the law already carries serious penalties for coordination between political campaigns and super PACs, which may raise unlimited sums of money in support of a candidate only if they maintain complete independence.

Bernie Sanders has proven that the campaign finance system works. And in so doing, though his sharp criticism of independent expenditure groups was central to his candidacy, Mr. Sanders may have saved the very campaign finance institutions he so passionately condemned.

 

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Image Source: Flickr

Bernie Sanders: Clinton’s Hail Mary?

Recent general election polls have revealed that voters dislike both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to an unprecedented degree, but Mr. Trump has opened up a considerable lead among independent voters—who rate Mrs. Clinton poorly on her trustworthiness—and has made significant gains with millennials. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey, Mr. Trump has improved his standing with millennial voters by 17 points, which puts him neck-and-neck with his Democratic opponent among young people.

That young voters are not overwhelmingly supportive of Mrs. Clinton at this point in the race is a major cause for concern. Strong millennial support provided a major boost to President Obama in close swing states, where turnout among young voters approached 60 percent, the largest in recent history. Millennials also comprise a reliably liberal segment of the electorate and have become more liberal in recent elections. Pew Research surveys conducted in 2014 revealed that a majority of millennials lean toward or identify with the Democratic Party, whereas only about a third see themselves as Republicans or conservative-leaners. And in the 2012 presidential election, President Obama crushed Mitt Romney by 37 points among young voters, while John Kerry in 2004 only managed to muster a 10-point victory against Republican George W. Bush among the same demographic.

President Obama did a remarkable job of whipping up enthusiasm among millennial voters in 2008 and 2012. But Mrs. Clinton is neither youthful nor charismatic, traits that made President Obama a powerful turnout driver. In many ways, she is the exact opposite of the person she seeks to replace. Where Mr. Obama had scarcely served a single term in the U.S. Senate prior to becoming president, Mrs. Clinton has spent her entire life in public service, building an extensive—but dull—resume over decades of work in government. And where Mr. Obama pressed a campaign message built on platitudes of “hope and change,” his former secretary of state has pinned her aspirations for the presidency to appeals to policy details and political expertise. Coupling Mrs. Clinton’s blasé public persona and detail-driven campaign strategy with the growing public perception that she is untrustworthy, it becomes increasingly clear that a millennial generation frustrated with the gridlock and opacity of today’s political world is unlikely to warm to her candidacy as it did to Mr. Obama’s. In one striking poll taken in late April, though 61 percent of millennials pledged their support to Mrs. Clinton in a one-on-one matchup with Donald Trump, over half viewed her unfavorably. These numbers—which have since soured considerably—portend a depressed turnout among young voters and are illustrative of the dearth of enthusiasm among millennials for her candidacy.

Independent voters are even more important, having decided presidential elections for decades, but Mrs. Clinton trails her Republican opponent badly among these voters. One poll found that Mrs. Clinton’s net favorability rating—the percentage of voters who view her favorably subtracted by the percentage who do not—among independents was an abysmal -51 points, while Mr. Trump’s stood at only -17 percent. Without a significant improvement to her favorability numbers among this critical segment of the electorate, Mrs. Clinton will struggle to win over moderates and will likely suffer a stinging defeat in November.

Selecting Bernie Sanders as her running mate will resolve both of these problems. On the favorability front, the Vermont senator is the only candidate whom more voters like than dislike. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken in mid-May, his net favorability rating among registered voters was +7 points, while those of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were -29 and -20 points respectively. And contrary to the argument often made by his critics, these positive sentiments are not simply the result of Mr. Sanders’s relatively low name recognition among the general election electorate. Among survey respondents who expressed strong feelings about the candidate—those who view Mr. Sanders in either a “very positive” or a “very negative” light—the Vermont senator is just about even, while Mr. Trump (-31 points) and Mrs. Clinton (-25 points), by the same metric, are intensely disliked. And crucially, Mr. Sanders’s likability would help the candidate command strong support from independents in a general election campaign. According to a CBS poll taken this month, Mr. Sanders would win a majority of independents in a one-on-one matchup against Mr. Trump. Though the power of his appeal to independent voters would certainly diminish as a mere vice-presidential candidate, Mr. Sanders’s presence on the ticket would convey a powerful endorsement of Hillary Clinton and bring his progressive, independent base of supporters to the ballot box in November.

A Clinton-Sanders ticket would also ignite the passion of millennials who distrust the former secretary of state and find themselves in lockstep with Mr. Sanders on policy matters. Mrs. Clinton has utterly failed to draw young voters to her fold. In the Pennsylvania primary, where she won by double-digits, Mr. Sanders drew 83 percent of support among voters aged 18-29. And in a one-on-one national contest with Donald Trump, he crushes the real estate mogul by over 40 points within this same age group, while Mrs. Clinton cannot even secure a majority of youth support.

These remarkable levels of support indicate that millennials trust Mr. Sanders to represent them and strongly identify with his anti-establishment message. The septuagenarian senator, impassioned and vigorous on the stump, has railed against the “millionaire and billionaire class” for attempting to turn government policy to its advantage and has proposed several drastic campaign finance reforms designed to sharply limit the influence of big money donors in elections. Along these same lines, Mr. Sanders has denounced the growing income inequality which exists in the United States, demanding that the wealthy pay more in taxes in order to fund a significant expansion of government aid and safety net programs, and advocates for a national single-payer health care program which would provide comprehensive medical coverage to every American family for free. For young progressive millennials, Mr. Sanders’s policy proposals are bold steps to repair a political and economic system which is stacked against them at every level, while Mrs. Clinton’s—though also politically liberal—appear pusillanimous by comparison. Nowhere is this perception more validated than in the contrast between the Democratic candidates’ plans to increase the minimum wage. Where Mr. Sanders has campaigned ferociously for a 15 dollar federal minimum wage, Hillary Clinton supports a less ambitious increase to 12 dollars per hour.

To many of Mr. Sanders’s supporters, Mrs. Clinton selecting Bernie Sanders as her running mate would amount to a tacit endorsement or—at the very least—an acknowledgement of the progressive ideas the Vermont senator has pressed throughout the course of his political campaign. It would also signal openness to taking up some of his proposals and including them among the central foci of Mrs. Clinton’s general election campaign. As the Vice Presidential nominee, Mr. Sanders would have a platform from which to continue hammering on the main messages of his own campaign, and his community of donors—most of whom are small-dollar donors who so far have given far less than the federal contribution limit—would provide Mrs. Clinton with yet another source of funding for the general election campaign.

Choosing Mr. Sanders would have its drawbacks. First, it is unlikely that the Vermont senator, who has built his candidacy on a critique of the moneyed political elite and super PACs, would be able to convince his most devoted supporters to vote for Mrs. Clinton, who has built her entire career and much of her wealth on the back of her and her husband’s formidable political machine. Some of Mr. Sanders’s backers would inevitably criticize him as a sell-out for associating himself with Mrs. Clinton and would refuse to support any kind of unity ticket. It is important to note, however, that these people are a small minority within Mr. Sanders’s base of support and would be drowned out by the vast majority of supporters who view their candidate favorably and would be glad to see him have some say over policy decisions as the vice president in a Clinton White House.

Second, Mr. Sanders’s radical policy positions might alienate some right-leaning moderate voters, who would otherwise view Hillary Clinton as an acceptable alternative to Donald Trump. But considering how unfavorably moderates view Mrs. Clinton at the present time, choosing someone as likable as Mr. Sanders is just as likely to produce the opposite effect and make her look better to this group of voters.

Broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders provides balance to the Democratic Party ticket in a way other candidates will not. Playing it safe and selecting a relatively unknown old-school Democrat—someone like Virginia Senator Tim Kaine or Labor Secretary Tom Perez—will only isolate Mrs. Clinton on the ticket and throw her most unlikable qualities into sharp relief. Similarly, selecting a young candidate such as Julian Castro—the current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—would be unnecessarily risky, as there is no telling just how much voter enthusiasm and millennial support such a candidate, who has not been vetted on the national stage and is nationally unknown, can ultimately produce. By contrast, Mr. Sanders has proven his ability to fire up the progressive base of the Democratic Party and millennials, who have eagerly embraced his populist rhetoric and have turned out for him to a degree rivaling the unprecedented groundswell of youth support for then-Senator Obama in the 2008 presidential election. He would also contribute a strong, relatively well-known personality to the ticket, one that would help compensate for Mrs. Clinton’s glaring lack of charisma.

If Hillary Clinton wishes to mount the most serious challenge possible to Donald Trump in November, she would do well to select the only candidate who can effectively neutralize her most glaring flaws as her running mate. That candidate is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Could Trump Actually Win?

One of the enduring critiques of Donald Trump from conservative Republicans throughout the primary process has been that the businessman’s cocksure temperament and draconian immigration policy proposals, though popular among certain segments of the Republican primary electorate, will all but ensure his defeat in a general election campaign against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. I have levied this criticism against Mr. Trump in the past; after all, his approval ratings among women and Hispanics are awful and are unlikely to improve dramatically before voters cast their ballots in November, even if the businessman makes a concerted effort to soften his image within these critical demographic groups.

But since Donald Trump took his place as the presumptive Republican nominee, the long succession of general election polls which showed the real estate mogul trailing both of his potential rivals by a wide margin has been completely overturned. Before Mr. Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana’s primary on May 3rd forced Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the Republican nomination fight, the GOP frontrunner was polling badly against both potential Democratic opponents. General election polls taken in the month of April showed Mr. Trump trailing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by an average of just about 10 and 12 percentage points, respectively. By contrast, in April 2012, Mitt Romney, who ultimately became the Republican nominee for that year’s presidential election, only lagged President Obama by an average of five points across seventeen general election polls.

But in the polls taken after his ascendance to the status of presumptive nominee, Donald Trump has gained ground rapidly. Though Bernie Sanders still trounces him by an average of 9.4 percent, Mr. Trump has closed what was a double-digit gap between him and Mrs. Clinton to a mere 1.2 point margin. Taking only the polls conducted in the last week, the businessman pulls ahead of Mrs. Clinton, albeit by less than one percent on average. Yet remarkably, these same polls show Mr. Trump to suffer still from the same likability problems which his critics and opponents have identified. According to a Fox News poll conducted this week, Mr. Trump is disliked by nearly three-fifths of the national electorate, yet he still manages to defeat Mrs. Clinton by three points. What gives?

First, though voters still dislike Mr. Trump immensely, they like him more now than they have in the past. Two months ago, the percentage of voters which view him negatively reached 65 percent, a record high for the duration of Fox News’s general election polling so far in this election. In the most recent survey, this number declined to 56 percent. This change could be reflecting a number of factors, including Mr. Trump’s move toward more moderate policy stances and less strident rhetoric as he shifts toward a general election strategy.

Second, Republicans are beginning to dutifully unite behind Mr. Trump as their party’s nominee. According to Gallup, which has tracked the businessman’s favorability among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents since July 2015, conservative voters are now more united behind him than ever, with two-thirds viewing him favorably now. Though many Republicans remain dissatisfied with Mr. Trump as their party’s nominee, they still largely plan to support him, and the once powerful #NeverTrump movement is now greatly diminished in strength and resolve.

Third, voters view Hillary Clinton as a poor alternative to Mr. Trump. According to this week’s Fox News poll, over three-fifths of the electorate—61 percent—view her unfavorably, while only 56 percent view Donald Trump in this way. Among independents, which have been a decisive force in the past several presidential contests, Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating is atrocious, with a whopping 51-point gap between voters who view her favorably (23 percent) and those who do not (74 percent). Independents also dislike Mr. Trump, but his net favorability (-17 percent) is much better than Clinton’s. The former secretary of state also fares poorly on questions of trustworthiness, as many voters view her as the epitome of a slick career politician. Nearly half of voters view her as more corrupt than Mr. Trump, including nearly a fifth of Democrats.

Fourth, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether Mrs. Clinton will manage to unite the Democratic Party behind her candidacy. Though she has received strong support from registered Democrats in several recent surveys, what really matters is whether she will be able to woo Bernie Sanders’s supporters—best characterized as liberals who do not identify as Democrats—to her cause. But as relations between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have soured, her favorability rating among the Vermont senator’s following has cratered. According to a YouGov poll conducted early this month, 61 percent of Mr. Sanders’s supporters view Mrs. Clinton unfavorably, and only 55 percent said that they would vote for Clinton over Trump in November. Of course, much can change between now and the November election, and we will undoubtedly see Sanders’s supporters shift at least slightly toward Hillary Clinton once she clinches the nomination. But unlike Mr. Trump, whose base of support largely consists of disaffected working-class people of independent political persuasions, Mrs. Clinton draws most of her support from older voters who identify themselves with the Democratic Party.

This difference could ultimately prove fatal for Clinton’s campaign. It has long been the case that party identification is one of the best predictors of how people will vote. As one study of voting behavior in the 2008 election explains, “party identification is a perceptual screen: a pair of partisan-tinted eyeglasses through which the voter views the political world.” As such, it goes without saying that Mrs. Clinton will command most of the vote from Democratic Party-affiliated voters in November. But this portion of the general electorate is one which virtually any Democratic nominee would win anyway simply by virtue of his/her party affiliation. The real battle is for moderates and independent voters, who are agents of transformation in an otherwise static political arena, yet these voters do not like Mrs. Clinton at all.

Donald Trump is much better positioned in this respect. Though many Republicans are uneasy about his candidacy, their loyalty toward GOP-affiliated candidates will pull them inexorably toward their party’s nominee. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump will hold onto his core group of supporters—the powerful bloc of independent blue-collar voters which his candidacy has energized—for the November election.

For months, I and many political pundits believed that Donald Trump would be a weak general election candidate. But as the general election matchup between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump has solidified, it is becoming increasingly uncertain just who exactly is the underdog in this year’s fight for the highest office in the land.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons