Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Nightmare Scenarios of the 2016 Election Cycle

Here are the thoughts that ought to bother you at 3 AM in the morning.

Trump Wins Republican Nomination

We're now into January of the actual year of election, and Trump is STILL leading in too many early state polls to dismiss this possibility outright.

For all the talk about Trump's supporters are LIKELY Far Right voters rather than ACTUAL overall Republican voters, one has to remember that previous turnout by likely voters weren't that high because they - the Far Right base - didn't have anyone they felt like backing. This cycle, they do (not just Trump but also Carson and Cruz). That may well mean those LIKELY voters WILL become ACTUAL voters this February / March to the detriment of the rest of the GOP.

Even if voter turnout is meager or average for the Primaries, the odds are good the Actual voter turnout will scale accordingly to the Likely polling numbers (the turnout in 2012 in New Hampshire for example played out like that). So if Trump is leading in New Hampshire - I don't count Iowa, the caucusing system is questionable IMHO and rarely predicts the final winner - throughout January and February, he's getting the Actual voters he needs.

This is a nightmare for the party Establishment, and you can tell by the number of alarmist articles coming from the conservative talking heads having emotional breakdowns on their editorial columns.

This is because Trump is winning over the Republican base with open xenophobia, racism, and hostile ignorance. And his success is making it easier for other candidates - Ted Cruz for example - to play that card as well. This makes it harder for the party as a whole to pivot away from this open display of hatred when it comes time post-convention to pander to the more moderate/centrist voters the GOP needs to win the general election in November.

By the by: Anyone who thinks Trump can "tone it down" when it comes time for the general election has not been watching this spotlight hog these last 30 years. And anyone who thinks Trump can win over general voters is overlooking how negative too many people view Trump: his Unfavorable numbers are THE worst of any candidate.

Back to the topic about a toxic platform. Past experience about reaction against this xenophobia is our guide: At the state level, California was a reliably Conservative state that had a steady, well-backed Republican Party in the 1990s. Then the governor Pete Wilson ran a harsh anti-immigrant campaign that backfired, as Digby points out in that Salon article linked earlier:

But California Republicans in 1994 were a lot like Trump voters all over the country are today. That is: They were utterly convinced that a vast wave of immigrants from Mexico were pouring over the border to obtain free medical care, welfare benefits and schooling, even as they stole all the good paying jobs from real Americans. They allegedly did all this while stubbornly refusing to learn English.
The Republicans were so worked up, they put an initiative on the ballot now known as the notorious Proposition 187... But while Republicans were high-fiving each other over their great victory, the court issued an immediate stay of the proposition and the Latino community in California began to protest and organize. And they also began, in great numbers, to vote Democratic. The fallout from Prop 187 and a few subsequent anti-immigrant proposals decimated the Republican Party in California. In 1994 the GOP held 26 of 52 (50 percent) U.S. House seats in the California delegation. Today they hold just 15 of 53 (28 percent). The Republican nominee has not won California in the last 6 presidential elections.

I'd also add at the state level, the California Legislature is now decisively Democratic and is projected to stay safely Dem into the next decade. All because the state-level Republicans pissed off the Hispanic voting base and lost that bloc for at least two - now maybe three - generations.

And now with Trump (and others), the national-level Republicans are poised to piss off the Hispanic voting bloc that can well keep Blue (Dem) leaning states with significant Hispanic populations (California, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico) fully aligned to Democratic turnout, and maybe switch Red (GOP) leaning states with significant Hispanic or pro-immigrant populations (Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, maybe even Texas) to Blue in a big way.

If Trump is the candidate for the GOP after the Cleveland convention, the Republicans could lose Texas in the general election this November 2016. If they lose Texas - currently the largest populated state that the Republicans can count on (having lost California and New York and barely any hope for Florida, Ohio, or Illinois) - the GOP is done as a national party.

The other thing causing night-time jitters for the Republican leadership is how a Trump campaign could affect the down-ticket campaigns for the Senate. A high number of vulnerable seats for Republicans - those who won in 2010 over the Tea Party backlash during a low turnout midterm - are up for grabs in too many Democrat-friendly states in likely-high turnout Presidential cycle. The predictors are currently thinking the Republicans can maintain a narrow hold on the Senate: however, Trump Primary voters may well vote for Far Right xenophobic Senate candidates as well, ones that can turn off certain states' more moderate voters in the general elections.

Just think of John McCain in Arizona: he may make it seem as though that state's seat is safely R, but he's getting challenged in the Primary by a Tea Party Trump-lite candidate and is already losing in the polls (something incumbents rarely do).  A more extremist candidate even in Arizona could hurt: unlike House campaigns where gerrymandered districts are safe no matter how extremist a candidate could get, the Senate voting is across a state that has more varied voters able to vote outside the party lines. Just think of the damage Todd Akin and other ignorant candidates in 2012 did to Republican chances then, and change out ignorance over rape and replace it with hostility towards Latinos. That's what Trump can bring to the entire GOP platform.

And yet - despite the likelihood that Trump's race-baiting can turn off voters - if Trump wins the nomination he STILL stands a decent chance of winning the Presidency anyway. Let's be blunt: it's a Two-Party nation and whomever is running for D or R is gonna win the White House. I won't say it's a 50-50 chance Trump wins, but if he's on the ballot in November and enough Republicans stay true to their school and show up to vote the party line while the Democrats don't then Trump wins.

This becomes a national nightmare. Trump will be the least-qualified inexperienced President in recent memory if not ever. Having won entirely on bombast and bullying, that will set the tone of how his administration will behave. The few policy positions he did run on - an insanely expensive border wall, a trade war with China - could be implemented while the Republican agenda - mass deregulation, mass tax cuts, repealing Obamacare - will bring back most of the worst excesses of the Dubya administration.

This is worst-case scenario. Please pray this never happens.

Jeb Wins Republican Nomination

This is a nightmare scenario for a variety of reasons.

For starters, his current polling just don't add up. He's mostly in FOURTH place behind Trump, Carson, Cruz, and/or Rubio (and in one or two places behind Christie). Again, while polling of Likely doesn't translate into Actual voter support, that lack of love among Likely voters is bound to translate into low turnout among the Actual ones.

Another item of note is Jeb's Unfavorables: He's got one of the highest negatives among Republican voters towards a Republican candidate. If he wins enough Primaries it's going to come against the fact too many of his own party's voters just don't like him.

So for Jeb to win the nomination, it's going to have to happen one way: a contested "brokered" convention in July. That means no one got the 50-percent-plus-one delegate count to win outright, or worse someone *cough* Trump *cough* did get enough delegates but somehow they refuse to cast their votes for him, leaving that convention in chaos.

For all of Jeb's failures as a candidate so far, he has one advantage the other candidates don't: that damn Bush family of his happens to maintain a lot of political pull within the Republican ranks. The voters may not like him but the deep-pocket owners of the GOP do.

This becomes a nightmare because the odds are high Jeb won't be anywhere near enough delegates to position himself as the obvious Establishment candidate for the convention to back. He's FOURTH PLACE with no sign he's secretly getting enough Actual voters to win Primaries. He would NOT be the clear choice of the party's faithful, and yet the Establishment will ignore that voter base to appease themselves. The only way this works is if Jeb is in Second: If Jeb gets the nomination while candidates with more delegates are locked out - the way polls are going that would be Trump, Cruz, Rubio and/or Christie (I doubt Carson will stick the whole run) - there will be hell on the convention floor. It will be open civil war between the voters and the party leaders.

Jeb's win would likely come at the expense of Trump, whose threat to leave and run a Third Party campaign is still there and viable an option if he does lead with more delegates (meaning a sizable support base) and still loses the convention. Trump's separate run would break the Republican Party in two and divide enough popular votes to prevent the GOP from winning enough Electoral votes. Any effect Trump would have pulling Dems to him would be less than his effect among Republicans (think Perot's campaigns hurting the GOP in 1992).

And Trump will do that if the convention is rigged against him: his Id (more than his Ego) would compel him to run even if he doesn't win. All he has to do is win Second place in the November election over Jeb and the Republican Party, an act that would embarrass the party Establishment for decades. That does beg the question, why WOULD the Establishment risk alienating their own like that if they rig the convention to favor Jeb? Because if the Bushes - and yes, they are this obsessed with winning - want it, they'll take it. And convince themselves and their backers it was for the greater good. Even if it wrecks the Republican party for another decade.

The other way this is a nightmare is if Jeb wins the nomination AND wins the Presidency despite being a terrible campaigner. Because it will be the Dubya mess all over again.

Cruz Wins Republican Nomination

So let's say Trump fizzles out as the pundits and pollsters predict. We're still talking about someone campaigning with over 30 percent support among the Republican base. Where will all those voters go when they no longer have Trump to lead them and when Jeb is such a wuss?

This is why the chatter about Cruz is dead serious about him likely winning the nomination. He's playing to the same crowds as Trump with essentially the same anti-immigrant racist talking points, doing it with more style and panache avoiding most of the criticisms hitting Trump.

This becomes a nightmare for the Republicans because 1) a Cruz nomination means the party will be stuck with that anti-immigration stance as a platform no matter how hard they try to pander back to the middle. It will be a rehash of why a Trump nomination is troubling; 2) Cruz is one of the least-liked candidates among his own party's elites in ages. He's burned so many bridges in Congress pushing a selfish agenda clearly aimed at his Presidential run that there's chatter the party leadership won't support Cruz if he gains that nomination.

The odds that Cruz can win over the independent or moderate voters needed in the general are not high: his grandstanding in Congress does not play well to those types of voters who prefer "bipartisan" congeniality at that level. The Republicans may think his nomination over Trump would be a dream, but the likely result - losing the White House bid - would still be a nightmare. Not as destructive to the party's overall future, but close.

Rubio Wins Republican Nomination

How does this turn into a nightmare scenario? If Rubio does win the nomination via Primary voters (currently not working), that's a good sign for the Establishment types that one of "their" guys was acceptable to their voter base, and the mainstream media is keen enough on Rubio happening that they will gleefully fall in line to whatever platform he's shilling.

This turns into a nightmare scenario in two ways. First much like the Jeb nightmare, if this happens via that contested convention: despite any Primary wins Trump can claim, a rigged convention (where the Establishment goes with Rubio instead of Jeb due to Jeb's terrible Unfavorables) would cause a similar civil war. The nightmare kicks in when (not if) Trump storms off to run as a Third Party candidate in response to that rigged convention.

Second, Rubio is just not the "safe" candidate his media cheerleading squad thinks he is. He panders to and works with the Far Right as much as Cruz and Trump does, only from the direction of the evangelical rather than open race-baiting (even then he's gone way too quiet on immigration). He's not going to be safe on a lot of the issues moderate/centrist/independent voters look after. And his lack of performance in the Senate will become a fatal flaw: those moderate/centrist voters prefer a candidate who shows up for the job he's been hired to do.

Granted, among the nightmare scenarios this is the one to least bother the Republican party as a whole. But it can happen...

Christie Wins Republican Nomination, Gets Arrested on Corruption Charges Afterward

This has been the only real surprise for me this campaigning preseason, how Christie has stayed in the race as a viable candidate even with all the marks - BridgeGate - against him. The polls are starting to favor him, and the conservative media is at least speaking about him with pleasing tones. If Jeb and Rubio are not the Establishment's preferred choices, Christie will be.

Problem is, Christie is under investigation for a few things not just BridgeGate. There's a series of investigations into how the relief aid for Hurricane Sandy funds had been handled since 2014, and the possibility of either of those inquiries turning into indictments / arrests are plausible enough to create concern. While enough about BridgeGate is out and most of that doesn't touch Christie, there's enough smoke surrounding the Sandy relief aid to consider the possibility of a real fire to this story.

It would be a nightmare to nominate Christie - either with a genuine delegate count or a "broken" convention - only to have the New Jersey legislature or the federal Department of Justice to file criminal charges the next day. Granted the Republicans would raise a stink about it being a "Librul Conspiracy" aimed at "rigging" the general election, but criminal charges are a serious matter and voters won't ignore that.

Of course, Republicans aren't the only ones having nightmares this Primary season.

Hillary Wins Democratic Nomination

The likeliest scenario among all candidates, the one the party leadership can live with - because a lot of them are in her pocket - and yet still one fraught with peril for the Democratic Party.

For all the positives that Hillary can bring to the table, she brings far too many negatives. She has Unfavorable polling numbers equal to either Trump or Jeb. There are enough Far Left voters among Democrats who have grievances with her - that she's too cozy to Wall Street and Big Business, that she's ignored liberal issues for too long - that they can refuse to turn for the general election the way they refuse to turn out for midterms.

Hillary also comes with a big bulls-eye on her back for the Far Right Noise Machine media will aim at 24/7 with a wave of mudslinging unparalleled, likely far worse than anything they've slung at her husband Bill in the 1990s and at Obama in 2008 and 2012. You think the vitriol for Obama was bad among Birthers? Hillary's going to get hit with every conceivable insult and conspiracy accusation dreamed up the last twenty years. Granted, the way the Republicans are today with their Politics of Personal Destruction any Democratic candidate is going to get slimed, but Hillary... hoo boy. The Benghazi hearing was just a taste of what's to come. There are still people accusing her of murdering Vince Foster, and THAT was twenty years and three separate investigations that disproved every conspiracy theory.

The reason mudslinging is damaging to a general election is because it drives down voter turnout - especially among independent voters - to some degree. No matter if people believe the accusations or not: They tune out and decide the entire process isn't worth the hassle. It leaves the voting to the extremists who vote no matter what, and that can be risky to the Democrats if their extremist Far Left refuses to come out in sufficient numbers for Hillary.

If the general election comes down to it being a choice between Trump - with his high Unfavorables - and Hillary - with her high Unfavorables - we could witness one of the lowest voter turnouts for a Presidential election in history. And that does not favor the Democrats - Dems outnumber GOP voters when they show up to vote, the cowards - and can hurt their down-ticket chances with Senate campaigns much the same way Trump could hurt the Republicans.

Bernie wins Democratic Nomination

This becomes a nightmare for the Democratic Party on several levels.

It would come at the expense of THEIR Establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton, which would cause some disarray and chaos within the party apparatus. While they can rally behind Bernie Sanders if he wins a clean fight, it's an outcome that would cause dread over whether Bernie can win the general election.

Bernie is running as one of the more Far Left candidates this nation has seen since George McGovern or Walter Mondale. And THOSE were experiences the Democrats do not want to experience again (granted, Nixon won in 1972 because of dirty tricks, but still...). Despite evidence that the American electorate is swinging Left again after three decades of the Reagan Era, this is still a relatively conservative nation. There are still moderate/centrist voters who do not think along the lines of socialism that Bernie does. His unflinching stance on Universal Health Care is a tough sell to a nation that's only just starting to like (barely) ObamaCare. While Bernie is showing strength in campaign contributions outside of Big Business, if the pro-business players in the Democratic ranks decide to withhold funds it can hurt the party's ability to keep up with the Republicans concerning ads, staffing, expenditures, etc. These are factors that would give the DNC severe migraines.

The only way Bernie can win in the general election is against a clear Far Right candidate - Trump or Cruz - who can't appeal to those moderate/independent voters. Or against Jeb, because seriously Jeb sucks (and Bernie would break the dynastic struggle between Bush vs. Clinton).

I Win The General Election

If I can get 60 million write-in votes, that would cause nightmares for the Republicans and Democrats. Still, it's doable, right people? Yes? Hello?

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