Friday Talking Points [405] -- End Of The Silly Season

[ Posted Friday, August 26th, 2016 – 17:13 PDT ]

It's still only August, but already the predictions that this would be an exceedingly banal presidential election campaign look like they've already come true. This week's campaign news might be summed up as an elementary school playground shouting match: "You're a bigot!" "No, you're a bigot!" Sigh. We've still got over two months of this to get through, folks. And nobody sane expects things are going to get any better any time soon -- quite the opposite, in fact.

Now, normally August is the official "Silly Season" of politics, where reporters get so bored with the lack of actual political news (Congress having larked off on vacation for the entire month) that they write speculative pieces pondering ideas only one step removed from conspiracy theories. Like whether Donald Trump's real Machiavellian plan all along has been to start up his own alt-right media empire after he loses to Hillary Clinton. That's pretty much par for the August course. Over on the right, Rudy Giuliani is conspiracy-mongering the "Hillary is dangerously ill" storyline, which is also something you'd expect in August. Thankfully, we've only got less than a week to go until September, when pundits will all begin obsessing over the upcoming first presidential debate. So there's that to look forward to.

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Happy Centennial, National Park Service

[ Posted Thursday, August 25th, 2016 – 16:05 PDT ]

Today, we wish a very happy 100th birthday to the National Park Service. A century ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation creating the National Park Service (although, as Ken Burns will readily tell you, some National Parks actually predate the federal department). But on this auspicious birthday, one sore subject must be addressed, because the National Park Service is currently considering an idea which would be abhorrent to millions of their visitors. Since they're seeking new ideas in this area, I thought I'd share a few of my own.

birthday cake

Personally, I love National Parks. I've been to over half of them, although I couldn't give you an accurate percentage since the last time I added them up was 2009 (and since then, several more have been created). Back then, I had been to 55 percent of the parks, from Acadia to Zion and all points in between. Each is spectacular in their own way -- some flashier than others, some more quiet and subdued. I don't think I've ever had a bad experience in a National Park, or at least not one of my own stupidity's making (I once locked my car keys in a car that was running in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park... long story short, got rescued by a ranger with a slim-jim). One of the first parks I ever visited was one of the smallest of all, Greenbelt National Park (a park so small most maps didn't even used to show it), in the D.C. suburb of the same name (a planned "green" community promoted by Eleanor Roosevelt). I've even routinely given my year-end "Best Governmental Dollar Spent" award to the National Park Service, because it is the thing I am perhaps the proudest to pay my tax money for.

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Clinton Emails

[ Posted Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 – 16:05 PDT ]

That headline is Hillary Clinton's biggest current problem. At this point, it has become akin to how Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign used to be described: "a noun, a verb, 9/11." Clinton has entered similar linguistic territory, because any headline using the word "Clinton" and the word "emails" now triggers a consistent reaction from the public. Details, even fresh new ones, don't even really matter all that much at this point -- all people are really hearing now is: "Clinton, a verb, emails."

The anti-Clinton forces consider it a victory to see yet another round of email stories written, of course. But in all the investigating and document dumps, they have never uncovered any sort of bonfire-sized scandal to inflame public passions -- it's all been pretty small-scale stuff. More on the order of a damp match being lit in a rainstorm than a bonfire, really. A brief burst of light and energy and then (...pffffft...) it fizzles out into nothingness. Because of the lack of truly scandalous revelations, it has instead become a campaign of attrition, with those opposed to Clinton hoping mightily that the sheer volume of "Clinton Emails" headlines will eventually wear her down in the public eye.

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Will 2016 Be A Nader Year, Or A Perot Year?

[ Posted Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 – 17:14 PDT ]

That question might not be immediately apparent or totally accurate, so please allow me to explain. The literal answer will probably be "somewhere in between," if the yardstick used is total percentage of presidential votes cast. But what I'm really asking is whether this year will follow the model of third-party support collapsing in the voting booth or actually holding firm on Election Day.

Both Ralph Nader and H. Ross Perot influenced the elections they ran in -- Nader in 2000, and Perot in both 1992 and 1996. Nader won 2.7 percent of the national popular vote. Perot won a whopping 18.9 percent in 1992 and a respectable 8.4 percent in 1996. Without their candidacies, the races might have elected different presidents (George H. W. Bush's second term, Bob Dole, or Al Gore). Or perhaps Bill Clinton would have won with more than 50 percent of the vote both times. You can endlessly speculate about what might have been, but the fact is that in three successive elections, third-party candidates had a measurable impact (whether good, bad, or indifferent depends on your political outlook, really).

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2016 Electoral Math -- Hillary Moves Up

[ Posted Monday, August 22nd, 2016 – 17:42 PDT ]

Welcome back to the Electoral Math series, where we try to predict the outcome of the presidential race using the smartest metric: Electoral Votes (EV) charted over time. The first of this year's column series ran two weeks ago, and we've seen a lot of polling data since. A whopping 14 states moved around within the categories, but this much volatility is normal this early in the process.

Almost all of this movement was good news for Hillary Clinton, as states firmed up for her or even switched from Donald Trump's column over to hers. Clinton only saw bad news in one state, and Trump only saw good news in two states.

As always, we begin with an overview of how the election would turn out if it were held today (and if all the current polling is correct). As you can see, Clinton has considerably widened the lead she held two weeks ago. To read the chart, blue is Clinton and starts from the bottom; red is Trump and starts from the top. White are states which are tied, in the middle. Whichever color crosses the 50 percent line (from either direction) wins.

Electoral Math By Percent

[Click on any of theses images to see larger-scale versions.]

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Friday Talking Points [404] -- As The Turd Tornado Turns...

[ Posted Friday, August 19th, 2016 – 17:26 PDT ]

Some weeks, it's tough coming up with a subtitle for these columns. Some weeks, not so much. This is one of the latter, because the juxtaposition of a colorful (to say the least) description of Donald Trump with a soap opera's title just naturally presented itself.

The quote comes in response to Trump's campaign shakeup, which we'll get to in a moment. One of the new people Trump hired comes from Breitbart News, and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro was being interviewed by CNN's Brianna Keilar for his response to the shakeup. Here is the transcript, for everyone's edification:

SHAPIRO: I mean, as you probably know, I think Donald Trump's a turd tornado, but I also understand that he has no capacity whatsoever to control himself and be this staid politician that everyone wants him to be. Telling him to double down is not necessarily terrible strategy. If he's gonna go down, he's gonna go down being Trump.

KEILAR: A what tornado?

SHAPIRO: A turd tornado.

KEILAR: What is that?

SHAPIRO: Well, it's like a sharknado. Except with poop.

Thanks for clearing that up, Ben! We'll just add that to the images we never thought we'd have to think about in the world of politics (a list which has grown to epic proportions during this presidential race, it's worth pointing out). With such an auspicious metaphor to work with, let's see just how the turd tornado (turdnado?) turned last week.

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Another Brick In The Big Blue Wall

[ Posted Thursday, August 18th, 2016 – 17:22 PDT ]

It is time to consider the future of the Big Blue Wall. The Big Blue Wall, for those who haven't heard the term before, is the list of states that have voted consistently Democratic in the past six elections. They voted for Bill Clinton twice, against George W. Bush twice, and then were part of Barack Obama's winning coalition twice as well. I've written about the Big Blue Wall previously in more detail, I should mention, for anyone interested.

The upshot is that any Democratic candidate for president starts with 242 Electoral College votes. Only 270 are needed to win the presidency, meaning Democrats only have to pick up 28 from all the battleground states (Florida, the biggest battleground, has 29 Electoral College votes). Here is a full list of all the Big Blue Wall states, with their respective Electoral College votes:

California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawai'i (4), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12), Washington D.C. (3), Wisconsin (10).

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Being Trump

[ Posted Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 – 16:25 PDT ]

It's one of those days where you can freely pick your favorite movie metaphor to describe the news from the campaign of Donald Trump. "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," perhaps? Ben Shapiro, a former editor of none other than Breitbart News, was being interviewed on CNN where he came up with "a turd tornado." When asked, Shapiro helpfully defined the term: "Well, it's like a sharknado -- except with poop." I'm personally going to go with a favorite West Wing reference, one Trump himself actually seems comfortable with: Trump's campaign is now going to fully commit to "letting Trump be Trump." Because, obviously, the problem all along has been that Trump wasn't being Trump enough. Obviously.

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Contemplating A Landslide

[ Posted Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 – 17:13 PDT ]

Back in May, I wrote an article that laid out five optimistic paths to victory for Hillary Clinton. Two of these paths were quite close, one was the equivalent of Barack Obama's 2008 win, and two were wildly optimistic (at least, at the time and given the available polling data). The last two projected Clinton winning with either 401 or 471 electoral votes.

Today, I'd like to update that last map. Because the possibility of an absolute blowout landslide for Hillary Clinton is growing by the day. The Washington Post ran an article today which spurred me to redraw this map, since it pointed out that Hillary Clinton is closer to catching Donald Trump in seven traditionally blood-red Republican states than Trump is to catching her in several traditional swing states.

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Trump Just Can't Help Himself

[ Posted Monday, August 15th, 2016 – 14:53 PDT ]

It's Monday, so Donald Trump just stood up in front of the cameras and read another speech off a TelePrompTer. For the second week in a row, this is supposed to present Trump as being a serious-minded candidate who can manage to "be presidential" when required. But if the past is any prologue, by the end of the week nobody's going to even remember this speech, because by then Trump will have had at least two or three blowups out on the campaign trail -- which will become the story, instead.

"TelePrompTer Monday" will fade into "Outrageous Statement Tuesday," and then into "Damage Control Wednesday," to be followed by "Just Being Sarcastic Thursday," in other words. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but at this point it's the smarter bet. Trump just can't help himself.

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