Welcome to the 23rd issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! We’re 3 days out from the general election (I don’t count election day). Last week I wrote about the history of October surprises and how they impacted past Presidential races. I did that in anticipation that multiple hits would be falling. And boy did hits fall. Clinton’s camp dumped multiple opposition file hits on Trump. But in turn, the FBI investigation of Clinton has narrowed the race. The attacks on Trump don’t appear to have moved the race. But the FBI investigation into Clinton’s server and Foundation have hurt Clinton. There’s a lot to get to today, so let’s jump right in…
The State of the Race
The next time I write the Outsider Perspective, the US Presidential election will be over (maybe). The race has officially tightened. Clinton’s 7-8 point lead 3 weeks ago has narrowed considerably (though there is a question of how much). The RealClearPolitics poll averages has Clinton ahead by +1.3 points. This is closer than the 2-4 point range I anticipated post-Comey Congress letter. I expect the race to tighten further. If for no other reason than the fundamentals demand it. Though her numerical lead is similar to Obama 2012, Clinton’s lead is weaker. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model has, at the time I write this, Clinton at 65.3% chances to win with Trump at 34.7% chance. Put another way, Trump has a 1 in 3 chance of winning. Here’s Silver’s latest analysis:
There’s been a potential breach of Hillary Clinton’s electoral firewall. And it’s come in New Hampshire, a state that we said a couple of weeks agocould be a good indicator of a Donald Trump comeback because of its large number of swing voters. Three new polls of New Hampshire released today showed a tied race, Trump ahead by 1 percentage point and Trump up by 5. There are some qualifications here: The poll showing Trump with a 5-point lead is from American Research Group, a pollster that’s had its issues over the years. And other recent polls of New Hampshire still show a Clinton ahead. But the race has clearly tightened in New Hampshire, with Clinton leading by only 2 to 3 percentage points in our forecast.
If Clinton lost New Hampshire but won her other firewall states, each candidate would finish with 269 electoral votes, taking the election to the House of Representatives. Or maybe not — if Clinton also lost the 2nd Congressional District of Maine, where polls show a tight race and where the demographics are unfavorable to her, Trump would win the Electoral College 270-268, probably despite losing the popular vote.
Couldn’t Clinton win Nevada to make up for the loss of New Hampshire? Or Florida? Or North Carolina? Well… of course she could. All those states remain highly competitive. The point, as we’ve said before, is just that Clinton’s so-called firewall is not very robust. If you’re only ahead in exactlyenough states to win the Electoral College, and you’d lose if any one of themgets away, that’s less of a firewall and more of a rusting, chain-link fence.
Where is Trump’s support coming from? The majority of his support is coming from Republican voters returning to the party. Prior to the polls narrowing, Trump’s party support had dropped to historical lows in the high 60% range. He’s now returned his Republican support to near-historical norms. He’s also winning the non-college educated white vote. The negative news cycles he was mired in for weeks at a time finally refocused on Clinton. His once depressed supporters have become more energized. Clinton’s negative news cycle has depressed her voting base. In particular, early voting results are suggesting that Clinton is underperforming among black voters. Blacks are sitting this election out if early vote results are correct.
Ultimately though, I believe election fundamentals have come back to the forefront. The fundamentals of this race suggested a pro-Republican environment. The combination of that, a slowing economy, and the historic unpopularity of Clinton suggested this race should be competitive. The fundamentals that pull away from the pro-Republican environment are the continuing popularity of President Obama, steady job growth, and the historic unpopularity of Trump. The resulting combination of these forces is a negative gravity pulling everyone towards the center. No one can break orbit. And I expect polls to narrow more going into Election Day. Mitt Romney was able to do this against Obama. Trump should be able to do the same with Clinton. And Clinton has not been able to prove she’s as good a campaigner as Obama.
All of this means one thing: The race will come down to voter turnout. Can Clinton get the Obama-coalition of voters to turn out? Obama won because his GOTV operation beat the polls. Can Clinton’s GOTV operation equal Obama’s operation? If you compare 2008 Obama to 2012 Obama, you can already see some cracks in that coalition. In 2012, Obama received fewer votes than 2008 and Romney was able to close the gap. Though not enough to win. If the Obama coalition continues to shrink for Clinton in 2016, will Trump be able to close the gap like Romney? It’s a tall order. But it’s not as impossible as it once looked a month ago.
Right now, Trump is losing the votes of blacks, hispanics, women, and college educated whites. He’s basing his entire campaign on winning non-college-educated whites and men. As Nate Silver noted in his piece above, that block packs a big punch. But they don’t vote often. Trump needs those voters to show up and then have other groups not vote. Which is why I’ve noted a number of times in my weekly analysis his so-called efforts at “voter suppression.” Trump’s chances rely entirely on: 1) Republicans voting in en masse for him and 2) everyone else not voting. He has no outreach to anyone beyond his base. It’s not a long term winning strategy, but if the Obama coalition refuses to show up for Clinton, it just might work this year. Or at least work enough to make Trump competitive.
What to watch on Election Day
- Turnout: First, who is voting? Specifically, is Clinton able to turn out black voters or replace their loss? Black voters are concentrated more heavily in swing states than other non-white minority groups. Clinton’s lead among Hispanic voters may end up simply boosting her vote totals in states like California, Texas, and New York. States that don’t matter in electoral votes. If that’s the case, battleground states will be closer than polled. Pollsters model their polls around certain expectations of voter turnout. If actual turnout demographics are different than expected, polls will be off. If Trump is able to get white turnout to surge above 2008/2012 numbers while black voters stay home, he will be closer in states like Virginia and North Carolina than he’s polling (and in North Carolina, early voting suggests that non-college educated white voters are up 15% while black voters are down 16%).
- Important note: Voter ID laws do not suppress votes. I’m linking to Vox for that point, a highly liberal site. So when election night commentators inevitably say black voters were suppressed by Republican Voter ID laws, just know that’s patently false. And those commentators know it.
- Foreign influence / cyberattacks: We’ve had numerous warnings this year that Election Day voting was a target for foreign hackers. Specifically, the Russians are seen as a threat to US elections. The goal for the Russians wouldn’t be to elect one candidate over the other. The goal for the Russians would be to destroy American trust in their elections. Russia even “offered” to “watch” US elections to prevent them from being “rigged.” Putin would love nothing better than to hamstring the next President by having the American public believe that person and their administration was illegitimate. It would severely hamper the power of the President. On election night watch for three things:
- 1) Overt cyber attacks. These would DDOS attacks that shut down websites. Specifically watch the Secretary of State website for most states reporting voting totals.
- 2) Internet outages. Russia has used this type of attack against neighbors.
- 3) Abnormally high number of provincial ballots being cast, specifically in Trump or Clinton heavy districts. In the event a voter cannot cast normal ballot because they don’t have ID or they’ve been deleted from a Voter ID roll, most states allow that person to cast a provincial ballot. These ballots are counted after the election because they have an entirely separate process. Normally, this isn’t an issue. But, if news outlets start reporting a heavy Democratic or Republican district casting these types of ballots, it’s likely a sign of foreign obstruction. The most likely reason being that a foreign hacker has removed valid voters from voter rolls and obstructed their ability to vote normally. This has the appearance of certain voters appearing obstructed. In reality, it’s likely a Russian attack where they’ve hacked voter rolls to remove voters from the roll (for more, listen to this War on the Rocks podcast). So keep an eye on reports for voters saying they were obstructed from voting and blame Trump/Clinton campaigns.
Things to ignore on election night
- Exit polls: Exit polls are never accurate, never scientific, and aren’t even good at measuring voter enthusiasm. People get sucked in every single election reading exit results. Those results are often wildly inaccurate. Just ignore them.
- Anyone saying the election is rigged for “X” reason: It’s not rigged. Read this if you don’t believe me.
- Any claim a 3rd party “cost” Trump/Clinton: It’s usually false. Ross Perot didn’t cause Bush to lose. If Perot didn’t cost Bush or Clinton in 92 or 96, then you can guarantee McMullin, Johnson, and Stein won’t cost Clinton or Trump. The only way for this to be true is if the electoral college ends in a deadlock and McMullin wins Utah, denying Clinton and Trump the 6 electoral votes needed to push them over the top.
- The 5 polling stories: You’ll likely be reading one of the 5 following poll explanations after the election. Ignore them. Election postmortems take about 6-8 months to perform by the national parties. It’s doubtful anyone will have it right in the aftermath of the election. Hot takes rarely age well.
My prediction for the race
I’m going to preface my prediction by saying the following: I have already voted Evan McMullin for President. He is a write-in option for Tennessee. I’ve also donated monetarily to McMullin’s campaign and supported his campaign here and on social media. To make my prediction, I’m using the data from RealClearPolitics, FiveThirtyEight’s model, and trends I’m seeing in individual polls. The demographic trends and tools I’m using come from FiveThirtyEight and a project by Sean Trende and David Byler at RealClearPolitics. I would also recommend a four-part series by Sean Trende: “The Case of the Missing White Voters, Revisited” (the initial 2012 piece is here). What Trende described from 2012-14 is effectively what the Trump campaign is trying, albeit nowhere near as refined. And also, since I’m not an expert, I’m going based off my intuitions and gut (I have worked on 7 campaigns). Now for my prediction…
Electoral College ends in tie – Election goes to the House of Representatives
If the Cubs can with the World Series after being down 3-1, this can happen too. In fact, the map is setting up for this perfectly…
Here’s how I’m seeing the map. Trump is gaining ground, but he’s gaining slowly. If he had another uninterrupted week, he might be able to pull cleanly ahead in some states. But I don’t think he’ll be able to do that by Election Day.
The Obama coalition will not hold together completely for Clinton. She’s not showing the ability to turn out blacks in high enough numbers. And her gains with Hispanics won’t be enough to overcome the deficit with black voters. Her main problem is that she’s running up her popular vote in states like California, Texas, New York, and deep blue New England states. Deep red states are also going to be closer, but that won’t help in swing states. Clinton likely wins the popular vote because of her gains here. But, as Nate Silver has noted, her gains aren’t where it counts: Electoral Votes.
Trump has to take a blue state and turn it red. Nate Silver thinks it may be New Hampshire. That’s possible, but I think Trump does that in Virginia. A state that is blue because of Northern Virginia (NOVA). But I think the polling in Virginia is off. For proof, I’d point to the last Virginia Senate Race between Ed Gillespie and Mark Warner. Pre-election polls in Virginia gave Warner a 8-9 point lead. Warner only won by 0.8 points in the end (17k votes). Barely squeaking out a victory in a state no one thought was competitive (see this FiveThirtyEight post-election autopsy).
The key to that Senate race was turnout being abysmally low. People just didn’t show up. Warner was not able to cobble together anything like the Obama coalition and held on by the skin of his teeth. Pollsters in Virginia have given Clinton a similar lead in Virginia (8-11 points), but right now her lead is considerably smaller (4.7 points). Virginia has also been subject to far less focus than other battleground states. I think turnout will be lower because of negative Clinton stories and voters thinking the state is already going to Clinton and not showing up. NOVA in particular will underperform. Trump wins by 0.5%. And if Trump does that, he also flips North Carolina.
[Note: Reference Electoral Map available here. Click on a state to make it change colors]
Of the Battleground states, I have Trump taking: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Iowa, and Virginia. I also have Trump taking one of Maine’s electoral votes (they split their electoral votes). Clinton takes New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, and New Mexico. I also have her taking one electoral vote in Nebraska (they split their electoral votes).
McMullin takes Utah by an incredibly narrow margin. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clinton voters cross over to strategically vote McMullin to deny Trump the state.
This places Clinton at 267 electoral votes. Trump has 265 electoral votes. McMullin has 6 electoral votes.
No one has 270 electoral votes to end the night. Which means, the newly elected House will decide the election. I see the GOP keeping their House margin (losing less than 10 seats) with a 50-50 Senate.
The ultimate question out of this is: Will the House keep Trump in? I don’t think there’s enough votes in the House to do that. It will come down to Ryan’s decision. Clinton won’t have a shot. Democrats are a minority and she is the one human alive, other than Obama, that is capable of uniting Republicans. This leaves McMullin capable of putting together a coalition between both parties. And Ryan will see McMullin as far easier to work with on passing legislation and pushing Supreme Court nominations through the Senate. McMullin won’t have the baggage of Trump or Clinton. Democrats would vote for him to spite Trump-supporting Republicans. Especially when Clinton gets locked out. Vice President is a different ball of wax… Mike Pence or Tim Kaine (especially Kaine) could survive votes from both parties. I don’t know if Mindy Finn could do the same.
The ultimate question: Would anyone accept the results of this election? Clinton? Trump? The American people?
No idea. I would. I’d consider it a gift straight from the Founders who set tiebreaker provision in the Constitution. But I can already hear the Trump and Clinton surrogates claiming the election was rigged, even though it would be an explicit Constitutional procedure. Frankly, they’ll end up claiming this whoever wins.
Let there be no doubt though: The fighting in this country over Clinton and Trump is only the beginning. Things are not going to get better after this election. If what I describe happens, this country will descend into a political civil war we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights era, the Civil War, or the American Revolution. The infighting in the Republican Party will explode. Democrats will experience the same. Without Obama or Clinton to tamp down on infighting, the Democrats will descend into faction disputes too.
That’s my prediction anyway. And yes, I know it sounds ludicrous. No matter who wins though, the Republican Party is headed for a civil war. A Trump win will not solve that crisis. And the Obama coalition shrinking in a Clinton win means a real divide is occurring in the Democratic Party. A McMullin victory means everyone goes to political war at once instead of later on.
Links for your radar
- Senate still likely to swing towards Democrats, but Republicans are making a late push. – FiveThirtyEight
- Inside Evan McMullin’s 10 years undercover for the CIA – The Washington Post
- FBI finds emails related to Clinton’s home-brew server – they are not duplicates and indicate these are emails that Clinton did not turn over in the initial investigation. – CBS News
- Clinton emails were discovered on Weiner’s laptop. – Washington Examiner
- FBI has had an open investigation into the Clinton Foundation for the last year and two FBI sources say it could lead to an indictment. – Brett Baier, Fox News, RealClearPolitics
- Grain of salt: NBC reporting that indictments are unlikely… – Mediaite
- Dueling leaks between the FBI and DOJ mean these two agencies are at war over the Clintons. – WSJ
- FBI is also at an internal war with competing leaks coming out of it too. – WSJ
- FBI never asked Clinton aides for all electronic devices. – Politico
- After NYT report, Podesta told Clinton Chief of Staff to “Dump all those emails.” – The Federalist
- Hacked docs appear to show DOJ tipping the Clinton campaign off about a review starting on them. – CNN
- Doc Dumps continue: FBI Archives releases documents relating to probes into Clinton era pardons and Trump’s father. – HeatStreet
- Inside the Clinton’s Moroccan Money Mess: How the they tried to deny charges and keep foreign donations at the same time. – Politico
- Obama breaks longstanding executive tradition to speak on a current FBI investigation by blasting FBI Director Comey in campaign stump speech. – NYTimes
- Clinton Camp’s opposition file dump on Trump falls flat. It barely registered in the news cycle. If that’s all the Clinton camp has, then she’s staying in the negative news cycle until Election Day. – The Federalist
- White Nationalists planning a show of force on election day to suppress the vote. – Politico
- McCarthyism 2.0: Democrats become unhinged over the Russian connections within the Trump campaign. – The Observer
Stories to watch through the election:
- The Blob is back: The foreign policy establishment in Washington is laying out new strategies on containing the problem of Syria in a post-Obama White House. Here are the specifics to watch in the next 6-12 months. – Foreign Policy Magazine
- Russia looks destined to violate the START treaty. It is doubling its production and stock hold of nuclear arms in defiance of START treaty regulations to cut them by 2018. The US has been following the treaty and reducing its nuclear arms. – RealClearDefense
- Beyond ISIS: The Rise of Al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has grown larger than either terrorist group. And how it plans to be the next major player in the Middle East and Africa. – The Cipher Brief
- Secretary of Defense Ash Carter floats the idea of new less strict fitness guidelines for new recruits. – Military Times
- The “e-Bomb”: Assessing the threat of a cyberattack on the US. How an attack would happen, the timeline for such an attack, and how the US should respond. – RealClearDefense
- Clinton’s choice for Secretary of Defense in her administration. – Politico
- Iran is sending elite soldiers to the US and Europe with the goal of infiltration and spying. – Washington Free Beacon
What I’m Reading
“Populism, III: Insects of the House” by British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan
This is the third part in the Populism series in the New Criterion magazine. I’ve enjoyed each part of this series and shared them as they’ve been published. The third part was written by Conservative British Parliamentarian Daniel Hannan, a leader of Brexit movement in the United Kingdom. He’s quickly become one of my favorite thinkers internationally. He has a deep understanding of the ideas undergirding British and American notions of individual liberty. In this piece he argues why the Brexit movement was an outpouring of good populism. That is, populism which leads to more freedom and liberty for citizens. Instead of other populist movements which can create centralized and violent power, like the French Revolution. He draws out 3 reasons why Brexit happened and Trump has ridden a populist wave in America. As always, the entire piece is worth your time:
The thing that both movements had in common was a sense of frustration with the establishment. That frustration stemmed, in both cases, from at least some shared causes. In both Britain and the United States, three factors in particular had contributed to a widespread disenchantment with the political class.
First, there was the Iraq war, and the subsequent belief that it had been launched on the basis of a deliberate lie. For what it’s worth—and I write as one who opposed the invasion—I think George Bush and Tony Blair were mistaken rather than mendacious. After all, if they knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they must also have known that the invading troops wouldn’t find any. It would have been the dumbest lie in history. Nonetheless, the episode served to widen the rift between politicians and people. A conviction began to take hold, including among respectable middle-class voters, that their politicians were prepared to send young men off to die for some clandestine cause, a cause, at any rate, whose true purpose had not been fully adumbrated.
Second there was the credit crunch, which saw billions of dollars taken through the tax system from low- and medium-income families and given to . . . well, no one is entirely sure what happened to it. Bankers are never going to compete with soldiers or nurses in the popularity stakes but, when things are going well, criticism is muted. Sure, we’re vaguely aware that some people are earning excessive bonuses, but as long as our own investments are also rising, we’re relaxed about it. When, however, bankers seem to be making a hash of things, and then helping themselves to bonuses at our expense, our mood alters. The crash that followed the collapse of Lehman saw middle-class families expropriated through the tax system in order to rescue some very wealthy bankers and bondholders from the consequences of their own errors. No wonder the politicians who decreed those bailouts were blamed. And no wonder faith in the system took a knock from which it has still not recovered.
Third, our age is witnessing a mass movement of populations, a Völkerwanderung, previously unknown in peacetime. Rising wealth and advances in technology have triggered a migration from the poorer parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America to developed nations.
I spent part of last summer volunteering in a hostel for underage migrants in the south of Italy. The boys staying there had come mainly from West Africa, and some had had truly Odyssean journeys across first the Sahara and then the Mediterranean.
They were courageous, resourceful, optimistic lads, and the more time I spent with them, the more convinced I became that, in their position, I’d have done exactly as they had. Few of them, though, were refugees, at least not as that term is legally defined. They were fleeing poverty, misery, and corruption rather than war, oppression, and persecution. And for each one, a hundred were waiting to follow.
When we met people being landed by the Italian coastguard, their first question was often “Where can I get Wi-Fi?” I don’t mean to suggest that because they had smartphones, they weren’t in need. On the contrary, the phone was often their only possession of value. My point is that smartphones are the key to the whole migratory phenomenon, making possible the transfers of credit and information that allow young people to move from Nigeria or Eritrea through Sicily or Greece into Northern Europe. To their grandparents living on subsistence agriculture, such a trek would have been unthinkable.
People in the receiving countries are aware that these population movements are increasing. They keep hearing their leaders promising to do something about it, but nothing seems to check the flow. Some voters suspect that, for all their promises, the politicians don’t really want to do anything about it. They wonder whether their elites secretly want more inward migration than they publicly admit, seeing it as a source of cheap nannies and gardeners rather than as a source of competitive pressure on jobs and amenities.
Put it all together and what do people see? A political class that will send boys to die in distant lands on the basis of, at best, a half-truth; that taxes the poor to bail out the rich; and that supports an immigration policy designed for big business at the expense of ordinary people.
Thanks for reading!