Tyler Cowen writes in Bloomberg today about Donald Trump's main base of support:

Older white Americans are Donald Trump’s core support group, and that’s relevant to the success of Trump’s rhetoric. Commentators frequently cite globalization and wage stagnation as the economic forces behind recent political shifts, but there is a less heralded force influencing American politics: insufficient savings, most of all for older Americans. For those individuals, the prospect of falling standards of consumption — for the remainder of their lives — means the economy is worse than the GDP growth and unemployment numbers are indicating.

....As for today’s 45-to-69-year-olds, only 36 percent claim to be engaging in net savings. And only 45 percent of all people earning $75,000 to $100,000 a year claim to have net positive savings, as measured in 2012. That helps explain why the typical Trump voter in the Republican primaries earned a relatively high income of about $72,000 a year and still worried about his or her economic future.

It's not really possible to read minds in order to figure out definitively why older white voters support Trump. But the evidence doesn't support inadequate savings as a possible reason. For starters, older black and Hispanic voters don't support Trump, and their savings are even more inadequate than those of older white voters.

But put that aside and look just at retirement for a moment. Cowen, like most people who write about retirement, offers up a blizzard of scary statistics. But there's one thing he doesn't do: put them all together to come up with probable retirement income. However, the Social Security Administration has done this, and their conclusions are clear: retiree income has been rising steadily since the 70s and will continue rising steadily far into the future. This compares to virtually no increase at all for working-age families. When it comes to rising incomes, the 65+ crowd is by far the best-off age cohort in America.

But there's more. If there's any group that's benefited from financial deregulation and the growth of 401(k) plans, it's higher-income workers. The Employee Benefit Retirement Institute has attempted to take a look at retirement security by income level, and their conclusion is that folks in the top two quartiles—which includes Cowen's households earning $70-100 thousand per year—are in pretty good shape. Only a tiny fraction are likely to run short of money, even if you go out 35 years:

There are two real retirement risks in America: being poor and ending up in a nursing home. Those are both worth addressing. But overall, Americans are in pretty good retirement shape, and that's especially true for prosperous families.

So are retirement worries behind the support Trump gets even from affluent older white voters? It's possible, of course. There's no telling what people are worried about. But reality doesn't back it up. Their support for Trump is a lot easier to figure out if you just pay attention to the obvious. That's not as much fun, but it's a lot more likely to be correct.

Republicans Circle the Wagon for Trump

Last night, after I finished writing about the Republican convention, I plopped into my easy chair and watched an episode of The Night Manager, which I DVRed a while back. After it was over, I turned on CNN at about 1:30 am Eastern time, and they were chatting about the Melania Trump plagiarism. It was sort of astonishing: virtually everyone was doing their best to minimize the whole thing. And I'm not talking about the Trump cheerleaders, I'm talking about the regular reporters.

Anyway, at one point someone—Jake Tapper, maybe—said he was most interested not in the plagiarism per se, but in how the campaign would respond to it. Option 1 was to just bull through it, as Trump usually does. Option 2 was to be "transparent," which he defined as admitting that it happened, and explaining that it was probably an accidental cut-and-paste done by a harried staffer. I was agog at both these points. Bull through it? How can you do that? And in what universe does making up a story about an "accidental" cut-and-paste count as transparent?

But I guess I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The Trump campaign certainly seems to agree that the cut-and-paste story would, in fact, count as transparent and thus would be bad for Trump's image as an asshole. So they did what I thought was impossible: bull their way through. Katrina Pierson, a spokesperson who makes Ron Ziegler look candid and honest, had this to say:

"These are values, Republican values by the way, of hard work, determination, family values, dedication and respect, and that's Melania Trump," Pierson told The Hill. "This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd."

Paul Manafort, of course, also says there was no plagiarism. Chris Christie says the speech was 93 percent non-plagiarized, and that should be good enough for anyone. Actor Stephen Baldwin says the identical phrases were "sheer coincidence." The RNC's Sean Spicer says Twilight Sparkle of "My Little Pony" used the same words as Melania. WTF does that even mean? I guess they've all been reduced to desperate googling in an effort to find someone, anyone, other than Michelle Obama who might have said something kinda sorta similar to the plagiarized phrases.

Then there's Ben Carson, who actually admits something happened, but suggests it was just an innocent mistake and paints it as an overall positive: "I think we should celebrate the fact that both parties take something like what Michelle Obama said and Melania Trump said and they honor it and cherish it and think that it’s something — that tells you that we’re not as far apart as Democrats and Republicans want to make it out to be."

As for the Trumps themselves, they've been silent so far. Melania's Twitter account merely passes along the campaign's official statement, while Donald's Twitter account has been unusually inactive. I guess he's letting his minions soften up the ground for him before he strikes. What's your guess? Will he blame Hillary Clinton? The liberal media that's obviously out to get his wife? ISIS?

California's Retirement Fund Is In Big Trouble

California's biggest public retirement fund, CalPERS, generally counts on a rate of return of about 7.5 percent. They're missing that by a wee amount:

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System said Monday that its rate of return for the year ended June 30 was just 0.61%. What’s more, Ted Eliopoulos, the pension fund’s chief investment officer, said the poor year has pushed CalPERS’ long-term returns below expected levels.

....CalPERS officials had recommended the rate be cut further, to 7.25%. But government agencies that pay into the pension system on behalf of their employees said that large of a reduction in expected returns would cut too deeply into their budgets. As expected returns go down, the amount local governments have to pay for pension benefits rises. And small changes in expected returns can add up to big changes in what government agencies have to pay.

This year's return is unusually low, but as CalPERS acknowledges, investment returns are likely to be modest for quite a while. This is one reason I'm more sympathetic to 401(k) funds than a lot of liberals. There's no magic here. If returns are low, then returns are low. Even if you run a big fund with professional investors, you can't defy gravity forever.

It's true, of course, that a big fund can spread its pain over a lot of retirees, while a 401(k) that goes south concentrates all its pain on one person. And 401(k) owners can make unusually bad investment decisions, too. Along with high fees, those are real problems with only partial solutions.

In other words, 401(k)s aren't perfect. Some of their problems can be addressed by better rules, while others are inherent in the structure of a private fund. On the other hand, big pension funds aren't perfect either. They can lose money. They aren't portable. They're often heavily backloaded. They don't provide anything to pass on to your children if you die before you retire. They often require years of vesting.

There are no magic bullets here. It's not plausible to make Social Security into our sole source of retirement income, and that means we need other sources too. Pension funds are one source, and they aren't perfect. 401(k)s are another source, and they aren't perfect. But it hardly matters which is better: you can't force employers to join big pension funds, so 401(k)s are what we have. We improved them considerably via legislation in 2006, and we can improve them further if we want to. We should focus on that, not on casting them as the devil's handiwork.

Rich Lowry:

Hillary’s lead in the RCP average is down to 2.7. Assuming Trump can deliver a good speech on Thursday night, he should be tied or ahead as Hillary goes into her convention. It’s an astonishing statement of Hillary’s weakness that Trump, running an amateurish campaign on so many levels, is competitive.

I don't want to be an endless Pollyanna about this stuff, but Lowry is just wrong. Trump is running a different campaign, but that doesn't mean it's either bad or amateurish. After all, he blew away the cream of the Republican Party with his supposedly amateurish campaign. Were they all astonishingly weak too?

Beyond that, the increase in partisanship over the past couple of decades means that candidates of both parties are pretty much guaranteed 45 percent of the vote. As my father once told me about my grandmother, the Republican Party could nominate Mickey Mouse and she'd still vote for him. Well, now they have, and there are a lot more people like my grandmother than there used to be.

So it's going to be a close election. And poll numbers bounce around. And convention bounces are normal. And sometimes all that bouncing will take Trump into positive territory.

Remember 2008? That was as Democratic a year as you could hope for. Republicans had been in power for two terms. People were tired of the war. The party was enmeshed in scandal. The economy was imploding. Everything pointed to an easy Democratic victory. And Barack Obama was nobody's idea of a weak candidate. But take a look at the chart below. Do you remember that? In June McCain pulled to within a point of Obama. He did it again in August. And in September he spent nearly two weeks ahead of Obama. And then he lost by seven percentage points.

There's no guarantee this will happen again. But the fact that Trump is running a tight race is nothing unusual. Quite the contrary: it would be surprising if it were any other way.

Kudos to Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post's media columnist, for calling out Lesley Stahl's performance in her Sunday interview with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. About halfway through, Trump tossed out his usual lie about having opposed the Iraq War from the start:

That claim, which Trump has made a cornerstone of his campaign, is “blatantly false,” according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and many other similar efforts. Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking operation, also called it false. And BuzzFeed dug up a 2002 interview in which Trump said he supported the invasion.

....But Stahl — busy trying to herd the other rhetorical cats set loose in the interview — did not say what she should have, something like this: “No, Mr. Trump, that is simply false, and I’m not going to let that go unchallenged.” Instead, she let the man who could be president get away with it, basically affirming his falsehood by twice saying, “Yeah,” as he stated it.

I'll grant that interviewing Trump is a challenge. He throws out casual lies so often that it's hard to address them without letting the entire interview go off track. But of course, this is what Trump counts on. Stahl had other things she wanted to get to, and anyway, she's probably hoping to get future interviews with Trump. How likely is that if she interrupts to tell Trump he's lying?

So that's that. Nobody on TV wants to challenge Trump on this stuff because they don't want to be blacklisted. And after a while it gets boring anyway. So they just say "Yeah," and move along. The result is that Trump has free rein to repeat his lies endlessly on network TV, and millions of viewers believe him. Why wouldn't they? They don't read the Washington Post's fact checker, after all.

I suppose this is the strategy with Melania Trump's obvious plagiarism, too. Just deny that it happened, and before long everyone is bored and stops asking about it. It seems crazy, but it works.

This is such classic Trump. Here is campaign manager Paul Manafort responding to charges that Melania Trump plagiarized part of Michelle Obama's 2008 speech:

There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech. These are common words and values that she cares about her family, things like that,” he continued when asked by anchor Chris Cuomo about the plagiarism allegations. “I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy. This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It's not going to work.”

No cribbing! These were universal ideas that Melania just happened to express using the exact same words as Michelle did eight years ago!

Could anything be more Trumpish? Faced with clear video evidence of lying or wrongdoing, they just deny that anything happened. It's remarkable. Who would have thought that an entire campaign could be based on the notion of listening to their own words and then claiming with a straight face that they never said them? They bring entirely new meanings to the phrase "reality-based community." Karl Rove must be jealous.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in the era of Google you should at least be a little more careful about doing it on live national TV:

   Michelle Obama, 2008    Melania Trump, 2016

Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation.

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life: that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow.

This comes via Jarrett Hill. I'm sure Donald will have a suitably belligerent explanation about this tomorrow. Or maybe via Twitter later tonight. I'm hoping for a declaration that Michelle actually stole it from Melania.

BY THE WAY: It's interesting that one of the phrases Melania left out was about treating people with dignity and respect "even if you don't know them." How very Trumpish.

Well, these were my favorite parts of today's festivities, anyway:

  1. Rep. Steve King on CNN talking about the greatness of white people: "Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?"
  2. Soap opera star Antonio Sabato Jr. on Twitter after his speech: Obama is "absolutely" a Muslim.
  3. A chant on the convention floor after Gen. Michael Flynn attacks Hillary Clinton: "Lock her up, lock her up…"
  4. Rudy Giuliani on how Trump will make America great again: "He will lead by leading."
  5. Former Happy Days star Scott Baio defending a crudely offensive tweet about Hillary Clinton after his speech: "You make of it what you want."

Melania Trump just gave her speech, but I'm not sure I heard it all. My ears were still ringing from Rudy Giuliani's 15-minute shriek about how we were all going to die if Hillary Clinton gets elected president. Damn. Was he afraid the microphones weren't working, or what?

Trump was smart to have Rudy go on just before Melania. She might have been a little nervous, but anyone would have seemed like a cool, refreshing breeze after Rudy's yawp (my favorite part: "Donald Trump will lead by leading"). Needless to say, Melania didn't say much except that Donald was a great guy, but I guess that's OK. It would have been nice to hear a few personal anecdotes explaining why she actually likes him, but maybe those are hard to come by.

On the downside, I lost my bet with myself. I figured Donald would use his introduction to talk about himself as usual, but he didn't. He actually restrained himself and just introduced his wife and then left the stage. Maybe he really is pivoting for the general election.

The #NeverTrump folks just tried get a roll call vote on a set of rules changes, but they failed. Nine state delegations were in favor, but after a massive campaign of arm twisting and begging, three of them withdrew. That left only six, but seven were needed to force the vote.

Victory for Trump! Victory for Reince Priebus! We may now all pretend that the Republican Party is happily unified behind their standard bearer. Whew.

And what were the rules changes about? Apparently it was an effort to (a) unbind the delegates so they could vote for whoever they wanted, and (b) change the rules for 2020 to encourage closed primaries. This latter change would have benefited Ted Cruz—but only if you assume that Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton this year and 2020 will even have a primary race. Which apparently Cruz believes. But it's not exactly the message the RNC wants to beam out to millions of viewers, is it?

And now back to our regularly scheduled nobodies who are speaking in the afternoon session. You'll have to wait until this evening for any of the big names to appear. For example, Scott Baio, Rudy Giuliani, and Melania Trump. Bring 'em on!

UPDATE: Hmmm. I was wrong about the 2020 stuff. I guess the anti-Trump folks are hoping to get a vote on that later.