The volume of hot takes about how Hillary Clinton—and Democrats more generally—blew the election is getting way, way out of hand. Of course Clinton made mistakes. Every campaign makes mistakes. But her margin of loss was only 80,000 votes among three states. She won the popular vote by 2 percentage points. She outperformed the econometric models. And she accomplished this despite the headwind of the Comey letter, the Russian hacks, and the media's insane preoccupation with her email server.
Over at the Niskanen Center, Jacob Levy has written a much-discussed piece about identity politics. But he also makes some more general points about how this election unfolded:
The pundit’s fallacy when applied to losses takes the form of a morality play: because you fools did the thing I don’t like, the voters punished you. [Mark] Lilla solemnly noted that “those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.”
....The [white] backlash hypothesis is of this sort. Trump got a lower share of the white vote than Romney did (58% vs 59%)....Fundamentally, voting patterns didn’t change enough between 2012 and 2016 to justify big claims about new national moods or about Trump’s distinctive appeal. I believe the consequences of this election will be deeply abnormal. But the voting behavior that brought it about was, in the end, very normal.
An 80,000 vote margin in a 137 million vote election, about .05%, is susceptible of almost endless plausible explanations....But anyone trying to generalize about popular beliefs or the electorate’s mood should be very wary of any of them....An explanation that...implies some large shift in opinion or mood toward Trump, is a bad explanation overall.
So too is any explanation that is incompatible with the observed variation in the polls over the course of the campaign. The worst moments for Trump’s campaign focused on egregious episodes of political incorrectness....In other words, the more the electorate focused on his proud political incorrectness, the more they recoiled from him....[This] didn’t stop a normal level of white voters from voting for him.1 But the poll evidence suggests that they were most reluctant to support him at the moments when these things were most vividly on their minds.
Everyone wants to draw big, world-historical lessons from this election. That's understandable, since the result was the election of an unprecedentedly dangerous and unqualified candidate. But the data just doesn't support any big lessons. Barack Obama won the popular vote in 2012 by 3.9 points. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 by 2.1 points. That's less than a two point difference, despite the fact that Obama is unusually popular and Clinton had to run after eight years of Democratic rule. In the end, she did slightly worse than Obama, which is about what you'd expect. Unfortunately, a little too much of that "slightly worse" happened to be in three must-win states.
Nevertheless, the identity politics critics insist that the lesson for Democrats is to ditch identity politics. The economic lefties say the lesson is that Democrats need to be more populist. The Bernie supporters are sure that Bernie could have won. The DNC haters think it was a massive FUBAR from the Democratic establishment. The moderates blame extremism on social issues for alienating the rural working class.
These have one element in common: All these people thought all these things before the election. Now they're trying to use the election to prove that they were right all along, dammit. But they weren't. This election turned on a few tiny electoral shifts and some wildly improbable outside events. There simply aren't any truly big lessons to be drawn from it.
But that doesn't make anyone feel good, and it doesn't make good fodder for a "smart piece" on what happened. There has to be someone to blame when something bad happens. But sometimes there isn't.
Except for James Comey. Feel free to blame him all you want. Unfortunately, there aren't really any lessons to be drawn from that.
1OK, fine, you want a big lesson? Here it is: our country is now so polarized at a partisan level that it almost literally doesn't matter who runs. Republicans will vote for the Republican and Democrats will vote for the Democrat. There's probably not much more than 3-4 percent of the population that's truly persuadable anymore.
POSTSCRIPT: This is all about national-level politics. I don't think there's any question that Democrats took a huge beating at the state and local level, where they were already weak. If you want to write a smart piece about what's wrong with Democrats, that's the place to start. Forget Hillary Clinton. Tell me instead why Democrats have such dismal prospects at the state level.
In mid-July, Democrats and Republicans both had an extremely unfavorable view of Putin. On July 18-21, Republicans hold their presidential nominating convention, and a few days later Republican enthusiasm for Putin spiked up. On November 8, Donald Trump was elected president and Republican enthusiasm for Putin spiked up yet again.
What did Putin actually do during this period? He escalated the siege of Aleppo. He escalated military activities in Ukraine. And he released a whole bunch of emails hacked from Democrats and Democratic organizations. I wonder which of these accounts for the sudden bounce in Putin love among conservative Republicans? Hmmm....
In the middle of a story about Teresa May's scandalous $1,250 leather trousers,1we get this:
President-elect Donald J. Trump had been able to fashion himself as a working-class hero despite his luxurious Brioni suits, which can cost as much as $17,000. Mrs. May’s predecessor, David Cameron, who....
Yikes! A $17,000 suit? Fine: I'm a yokel who doesn't get clothes. But if you told me that Trump drove a $500,000 car, I probably wouldn't blink. Still, I was curious, so I hopped over to the Brioni website. It turns out you can buy this gray continental three-piece suit for $5,250. Or you can buy this seemingly identical pinstripe version for $6,900. Someone help me out. Why do pinstripes cost $1,650?
But there's more! Even if I don't really get it, I sort of understand how a suit from a famous Italian designer can cost a fortune. But Brioni also sells other, more pedestrian stuff, like this burgundy polo shirt—for $795. I wonder if Trump owns any of these? And even in theory, what can you do to a polo shirt to make it worth $795?
For what it's worth, if you want to Dress Like Trump™, the cheapest thing you can buy from Brioni is a baby-blue tie with an embroidered B on it. It's only $230.
A Dow 20000 milestone would have Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to thank....Shares of the Wall Street firm are up 31% since Election Day, rising to within striking distance of their all-time closing high of $247.92, which was hit in October 2007. That compares with a 8.6% rise in the Dow industrials.
And it's not just Goldman Sachs. Bank of America has done even better, and the rest of America's megabanks are doing pretty nicely too. It's a wonderful time to be on Wall Street.
Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.
....“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”
I doubt this will happen. I'm not even sure how it could happen. But it's chilling that a bunch of working scientists think there's even a 5 percent chance that it might happen.
This is the real danger of a Trump presidency. I figure there's a 95 percent chance that it ends up being a garden variety Republican administration—which is bad enough, of course. But there's a 5 percent chance of something truly catastrophic happening. I don't know what, and I don't know when, but it's a real possibility.
Back during the campaign, I was vaguely aware that the Russians had hacked not just the DNC, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well. For some reason, though, I never put two and two together long enough to think about what this hack might mean. In my defense, no one else seems to have given it much thought either—despite the fact that hacked documents were showing up in local races all over the country:
The intrusions in House races in states including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina can be traced to tens of thousands of pages of documents taken from the D.C.C.C., which shares a Capitol Hill office building with the Democratic National Committee....The seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dumps were hardly random: They were some of the most competitive House races in the country.
....In Florida, Guccifer 2.0’s most important partner was an obscure political website run by an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist. The blogger sent direct messages via Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 asking for copies of any additional Florida documents. “I can send you some docs via email,” Guccifer 2.0 replied on Aug. 22....“I don’t think you realize what you gave me,” the blogger said, looking at the costly internal D.C.C.C. political research that he had just been provided. “This is probably worth millions of dollars.”
The hacked documents played a big role in a Florida congressional primary between Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia:
After Mr. Garcia defeated Ms Taddeo in the primary using the material unearthed in the hacking, the National Republican Campaign Committee and a second Republican group with ties to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, turned to the hacked material to attack him.
....After the first political advertisement appeared using the hacked material, [DCCC chair Ben Ray] Luján wrote a letter to his Republican counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee urging him to not use this stolen material in the 2016 campaign....Ms. Pelosi sent a similar letter in early September to Mr. Ryan. Neither received a response. By October, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” tied to Mr. Ryan, had used the stolen material in another advertisement, attacking Mr. Garcia during the general election in Florida.
The basic story here is simple: the Russians hacked, the media gave the revelations big play, and Republicans gleefully made use of the Russian agitprop. Altogether, the Russians released hacked documents from four different sources:
The Clinton Foundation
But nothing was ever released from any Republican sources—despite the fact that, according to the New York Times, the Russians had hacked the RNC and possibly other Republican accounts as well. If I had to guess, I'd say there's a good chance they hacked a few people at the Trump Organization too. So here's where we are:
The Russians ran a very sophisticated operation designed to hack into both US government servers and the servers of US political organizations.
They released only hacked documents from Democratic organizations. Republicans were left alone.
The intelligence community told high-ranking leaders of both parties what was going on, but Republicans flatly opposed any public acknowledgment of what was happening.
Republicans cheerfully made use of all the hacked material, even though they knew exactly where it came from.
At this point, you need to be willfully blind to pretend this was anything other than what it was: a ratfucking operation on an epic scale aimed squarely at Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. And while it was happening, Republicans were happy to play along.
It's inevitable that more details are going to emerge about all this—about both the hacking itself and Republican complicity in making use of the Russian material. This is not something that can be forgiven quickly or easily. Republicans may or may not care about this, but they're going to have live with a smoldering, bitter anger from their Democratic colleagues for a very long time.
Hold the presses! Cathy McMorris Rodgers will not be our next Secretary of the Interior. Instead, it will be Rep. Ryan Zinke (R–Mont.). The Washington Post explains what happened:
While Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) was a leading contender for the Interior post in recent days, Zinke hit it off with Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., an avid hunter, and met personally with the president-elect on Monday in New York City.
Over lunch I read today's big New York Times story about the Russian cyberattacks aimed at disrupting the US election. It was mesmerizing even though I already knew a lot of it, and it was also depressing as hell. By the time I finished, I was pretty close to thinking that the right response would be a couple dozen cruise missiles aimed straight at Putin's lone remaining aircraft carrier. I guess we're all lucky I'm not the president.
There are a dozen depressing things I could highlight, but somehow I found this the most depressing of all:
By last summer, Democrats watched in helpless fury as their private emails and confidential documents appeared online day after day—procured by Russian intelligence agents, posted on WikiLeaks and other websites, then eagerly reported on by the American media, including The Times…Every major publication, including The Times, published multiple stories citing the D.N.C. and Podesta emails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.
I know: News is news. Somehow, though, that doesn't seem sufficient. I'm still not entirely sure what the right response is to leaks like this, but simply publishing everything no matter where it came from or what its motivation no longer seems tenable. There has to be something more to editorial judgment than that.
Anyway, Putin won this round. He didn't do it all by himself—he had plenty of help from the FBI and the media—but in the end, he got his pet game show host elected president of the United States. I hope we all live through it.
Was Rex Tillerson a good CEO at Exxon? Over at Bloomberg, Vincent Piazza says Tillerson has two big claims to fame:
Number one, it's the relationship with Russia and the expanding relationship there as well. But also the recent acquisition of XTO back in 2010. That was a major bet on natural gas that did not pan out—a $35 billion bet on natural gas that seemed to turn the other way on them.
“I have a very close relationship with [Mr. Putin],” Mr. Tillerson told students at the University of Texas, his alma mater, in February....He was successful, in part because he negotiated with Mr. Putin, who became Russian prime minister in 1999 and has run the country, either as president or prime minister, ever since. Mr. Tillerson’s ties helped him catapult past other executives to lead the company in 2006.
....At a June 2012 meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Tillerson said Exxon’s Arctic deal enhanced U.S.-Russian ties. “I agree, as you point out, that nothing strengthens relationships between countries better than business enterprise,” a Kremlin transcript quoted him as saying. The next year, Mr. Putin awarded him Russia’s Order of Friendship for his work.
Well, OK then. He's chummy with Vladimir Putin and he blew $35 billion on a bad acquisition. But at least he's a great businessman, right? Here is ExxonMobil's performance over the past decade:
But at least they paid dividends regularly! Sounds like Secretary of State material to me.
Sarah Kliff recently returned from a trip to Corbin, Kentucky, where she talked to a bunch of Trump voters about Obamacare. Her full story is here. I just want to excerpt a few comments from three of the interviews that Kliff conducted. First up is Kathy Oller:
Kliff: Trump campaigned on repealing Obamacare. Do you think he's going to repeal all these programs that you've been signing people up for?
Oller: The funny thing is, my husband said, “You know, he’s going to eliminate health care.” But he really can’t totally take it out, because everybody has to have health care. You can't go backward....
Kliff: Did you hear him talking about repealing Obamacare in the campaign?
Oller: Yeah, he was going to get rid of it. But I found out with Trump ... he says a lot of stuff. [laughs] I just think all politicians promise you everything and then we'll see.
Mills: The insurance we had before, we ended up paying about $1,200 a month for a family of five....For the past two years, we had the Healthcare.gov. It's made it affordable....It's been great to have health insurance, because I couldn't imagine what it would be like to not have it with all the treatments and things that [my husband] had to have done.
Kliff: Do you think if it does go away, you'll regret your vote in any way?
Mills: I don't know. I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this....I was thinking that once it was made into a law that it could not be changed, but I guess it can? Yes?
Kliff: It can be changed....
Mills: I don't know. I guess the next four years is going to be different. I don't know what to look for. You're scaring me now, on the insurance part. ’Cause I have been in a panic, so I'm afraid now that the insurance is going to go away and we're going to be up a creek.
Atkins: I don't see how they can call it affordable care. I was paying two, three hundred dollars on my own when we did have insurance....And we had no deductible, we had ... 100 percent coverage. [We had a] $5 copay to the doctor, $10 copay to the doctor; 100 percent if you go to the hospital [Kevin note: This is pretty obviously insurance she had while she worked for the local school district.]....
Kliff: Do you think Trump is gonna fix this?
Atkins: I think it's got out of hand; there's no way he's gonna fix it. I think the whole thing, they're going to have to go back to ground zero and start again....I don't see no end in sight in all this. This is like ... gas prices a few years ago. It's just going to keep going up.
So we have two people who figured Trump was just blathering because, come on, what kind of person would take away people's insurance? And we have one person who is upset because her Obamacare insurance costs more than the insurance she got when she worked for the public school system. We can complain about this all we want, but that's the reality out there.
It's funny. I was thinking about the hack gap the other day in a different context, but Obamacare is an example too. Obamacare has several smallish problems, but its only big problem is that it's underfunded. The subsidies should be bigger, the policies should be more generous, and the individual mandate penalty should be heftier. Done right, maybe it would cost $2 trillion over ten years instead of $1 trillion.
Republicans wouldn't have cared. If this were a real goal—like, say, cutting taxes on the rich—they'd just go ahead and do it. If the taxes didn't pay for it all, they'd make up a story about how it would pay for itself. And if you're Donald Trump, you just loudly insist that,somehow, you're going to cover everybody and it's going to be great.
But Democrats didn't do that. They didn't oversell Obamacare and they didn't bust the budget with it. They could have. It would have added to the deficit, but that wouldn't have hurt them much. Politically, the far better option was to go ahead and run up the deficit in order to create a program of truly affordable care that people really liked.
It's not just pundits who have a hack gap. It's the politicians too. And in this case, Democrats are paying the price for their lack of hackery.