Saturday, October 08, 2016

Four Thoughts on the Latest Trump Debacle

Okay, so there's a lot to unpack here.  Every few minutes, it seems, I'm just updating my Twitter feed to figure out if Trump has dropped out, Pence has dropped out, if Paul Ryan has unendorsed, if we still have a debate tomorrow, and basically if the Republican Party has become the 2016 version of Circuit City.  As I do this (please follow me on Twitter if you don't already) I figured I should give a few of my thoughts/predictions on the biggest questions of the day.  Let's take a look (knowing that we're getting new information every second):

1. Will Donald Trump drop out?

The biggest question has been surrounding whether or not Trump will drop out of the race.  Numerous figures in the Republican Party, but particularly some of the highest-profile women in the party (people like Carly Fiorina and Sens. Lisa Murkowski & Deb Fischer), have called on him to step down and let his running-mate Mike Pence take over the ticket.

Trump has pointedly proclaimed that he will drop out, stating so on CNN as well as on Twitter just a few moments ago, so legally there's not a lot of options here for the RNC even if they wanted to get Trump off the ballot.  Purportedly this idea was pursued during the wake of Trump's attack on the Khan family after the DNC, when Trump's numbers hit their nadir (so far) of the cycle, and it was decided that they wouldn't be able to do anything after September 1st.

It is now October 8th.  We are thirty days from the election.  While it's technically possible for Trump to renounce, it would likely be tied up in courts for weeks, and the election date isn't moving (it's in the Constitution).  While some may think that it's naive to assume the RNC couldn't quickly move into the Supreme Court and proclaim that Trump must be replaced (if and when he were to turn down the nomination, which seems unlikely), it's hard to tell if there's a plausible way they can do this and win the White House.  Numbers are loose on this, but reports I've read this morning have stated that nearly 500k votes have already been cast, in this case for Trump (or more correctly, Trump's slate of delegates).  You can't just drop those votes away as being for the Republican or for Mike Pence-they were legally cast for their ticket, and so they can't automatically go for Mike Pence on the top of the ticket.  In order to do that, they'd have to legally find a way for those people, people in swing states like North Carolina and Florida, to either recast their ballots or just discard thousands of ballots for the GOP ticket, thereby giving Hillary Clinton an incredible advantage (since obviously no vote for her will go uncounted).

It's also worth noting the deadline in most states have passed, including in places like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio, all electoral college rich states that are pretty much mandatory for a Republican to win in order to take the election.  There's some precedence for replacing a name on the ballot even when a deadline has passed, though very few that would be thirty days from an election.  The only one I can think of (even Torricelli/Lautenberg was earlier than this) would be Grunseth/Carlson in 1990 in Minnesota, but that was a gubernatorial election, not a presidential one.  It's hard to see how you would even legally challenge this without going to the Supreme Court, and it's possible the Supreme Court will have little sympathy for the GOP here (particularly since they could well end up in a tie, in which case it would be state-by-state whether the GOP can get on the ballot).  In fact, in a true moment of irony, it may end up being that Merrick Garland not being on the court (he'd be considered the swing vote in this case) could end up costing the Republicans the White House and the Senate.

All of this is to say that Trump is almost certain to remain the nominee, whether anyone really wants him to be or not.

2. Is Mike Pence Going to Drop Out?

A more pointed (and plausible) question is whether or not Mike Pence will be dropped from the ticket.  Pence is reportedly despondent, and refusing to stand by Trump during this latest debacle, dropping out of a campaign event in Wisconsin and (according to reports) telling Trump he's "on his own" for the next couple of days.  It's quite possible that Pence, who has never been the best fit for Trump to begin with, could be considering dropping out of the race.

It's worth noting, though, that we'd be in the same situation as we were above from a tactical standpoint.  Those 500k people have legally voted for Mike Pence already as the vice president.  It's something you don't often think about because all of the focus is on the top of the ticket, but you are legally casting a ballot for the running mate just as much as the president on election day.  So those votes couldn't legally be counted for a Ben Carson or Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich if Pence decided he doesn't want to be on the ticket anymore.  There would almost certainly be legal challenges.

What's different here, of course, is that Pence could technically be on the ballot but not really be on the ticket.  He could publicly deride Trump, telling people not to support a ticket he's on, and essentially abandon Trump even if people were legally casting a ballot for him to be vice president.  This would essentially doom Pence's chances alongside Trump, but would effectively stop Trump from being the nominee.  It's hard to see how Pence would recover from this, but his Faustian deal to be Trump's running-mate (remember, unlike Christie, Carson, and Gingrich, other major players who were considered for the ticket, they backed Trump while Pence was behind Ted Cruz) is going to probably end his career.  Unless he can somehow get to the top of the ticket this year, he'll be either the man who abandoned Trump in four years (Trump's supporters aren't going away) or he'll be the man who enabled Trump (to the GOP establishment, and certainly to general election voters).  It's hard to see either side taking a chance on Pence in four years.  His career on November 9th is as a footnote.

And for anyone who is saying "but Thomas Eagleton," remember that happened at the beginning of August...and also that McGovern/Shriver went on to lose 49 states, so Republicans pining for hope there may want to rethink things.

3. How will this effect the ultimate election on November 8th between Clinton and Trump?

This is one of the biggest questions here, and one that we don't have a lot of information on since this is a breaking story, though it's easy enough to guess.  Provided that it is, indeed, Trump vs. Clinton on November 8th (which I'm still predicting), it's hard to imagine that Clinton doesn't win.  Keep in mind that she's still very much in the lead right now, even before the debacle with Trump's tapes with Billy Bush (PS-anyone else want to hear the phone message that Jeb Bush left for his cousin that could have been used to win Jeb the nomination a year ago?).  Trump needed to do better, not worse, from his current vantage point, and it's hard to imagine that Trump doesn't hemorrhage support after this.

That's because this straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back is a little more self-serving to the GOP than meets the eye.  It's worth noting that past incidences that seemed egregiously awful were with constituencies that the Republican Party down-ballot doesn't really need to win in order to have success on Election Day (specifically the Muslim and Latino communities).  Attacks on the Khan family or Judge Curiel incensed Democrats, but by-and-large the Republican Party stuck behind Trump in these instances.  However, Nancy O'Dell and Arianne Zucker, are in a constituency that the GOP has struggled with this year, but historically have done very well with: married women.  Trump's comments (it's worth noting he had recently married his current wife when he had the conversation), were vulgar attacks on married women, a constituency the GOP desperately needs to win in order to have a chance at the Oval Office in November.  It may be a bit coarse to say that Republicans who denounced Trump today after months of supporting him (tacitly or not) did so solely to win reelection, but the evidence there is pretty overwhelming.

In terms of the electoral college, with the caveat of Trump still being on the ballot, it's hard to imagine Clinton losing, and in reality she'll probably win in a landslide.  My gut tells me that most of the current swing states she'll see a bounce, particularly amongst married women but just generally across most demographics, and Obama states that had been trending Trump (places like Ohio, Iowa, and ME-2) will start to return to form and go with Clinton.  How much she can expand the map is a big question mark-it's entirely plausible that states that had once seemed in play but had largely gone by the wayside (think Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, even Utah, where the Mormon Church has loudly denounced Trump) could come back into focus.  Look for how Trump handles tomorrow's debate (I still think it's a mistake to let him debate in this condition, since it could be even worse for his campaign than letting him do a one-on-one with a journalist early next week, but I'm not Kellyanne Conway so who knows what they're thinking here), and take a look at polls late next week, but I would be stunned though if Trump doesn't see a massive shift.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (D-NH)
4. How will this effect down-ballot Republicans?

Here's the billion-dollar question.  So far this cycle, it's been easy for Republicans to ward off comparisons to Trump.  With the exception of only a couple of races, the Republicans have been able to stay competitive.  Senate races in New Hampshire, Nevada, and Florida have actually given the Republicans running there a pretty consistent lead, and the Democrats are still pretty shaky in places like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana (Evan Bayh has to be the biggest benefactor today about the Trump campaign's debacles, as the allegations he was meeting with potential lobbying firms while he was a senator and voting on their issues would have derailed any other campaign...I still think it probably will, though Trump is making it easier on the former senator).

The question now is does this change those races.  A few things have happened today.  People like Joe Heck and Kelly Ayotte, Republicans in these competitive races, have publicly denounced Trump. It's easy to see why they're doing this-sticking with Trump when he's losing married women at the top of the ballot is political suicide, but there's a downside here: Trump supporters may choose to punish Ayotte and Heck on Election Day.  It's not inconceivable to see a faction of the GOP that loves Trump skipping Ayotte and Heck on the ballot or going third-party as a form of punishment for not backing the standard-bearer.  Even a 2-5% loss of support for these candidates would ensure that the GOP would lose the Senate, and it's not out of the question that Trump, irate that people aren't supporting him from his own party, shoots the GOP in the foot by encouraging his supporters to only go to the ballot box backing he and his supporters, ensuring that Ayotte and Heck and other senators like them are denied a win in November.

All of this has invited conversations over whether the Republicans could lose the House.  It would take a cataclysmic event, but it's worth noting that waves occasionally break late (at this point in 2006 it looked like the GOP would hold the Senate and House) and if this isn't a cataclysmic event for the GOP, I don't know what is.  It's probable that in certain suburban districts (think of something like MN-3), this could have ramifications, but in order for this to probably come to fruition, you'd probably need depressed turnout.  It's hard to see that many people skipping portions of their ballots.  If, however, the Republicans simply decide to stay home as a protest against Trump, that would put the House into play, not to mention hand the Senate over to the Democrats, and potentially give them a number of state legislatures.  Also it's worth noting that regardless of what happens or if someone has endorsed Trump, it's impossible to imagine Democrats not continuing to hammer Republicans for their connection to Trump-people like Ayotte and Heck will surely get a "what took you so long?" question every single time they do an interview and it will be part of the media strategy for the next month.  Just because they've denied Trump doesn't mean that he won't still be hung around their necks.

These are all hypothetical, but it's a situation that the GOP didn't think it could be in-the Republicans could well have, with Trump, put a number of incumbents into jeopardy by not doing background research during the primary (how did no one figure this out?!?).  It's also worth noting that we've still got thirty days left-how much more Trump data will we have to sit through before November 8th?

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