Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Tipping Point

When I was a kid, my parents had a novelty toy - a plastic bird that appeared to "drink" water from a glass set before it. The bird would start upright, then gradually begin to tip, tip, tip, until it finally, fitfully, bent down, dipped its beak in the glass, and then sat bolt upright, only to repeat the process again.

I was, in a word, mesmerized.

Later, as a fan of "The Simpsons," I ceased being a fan after the bird was nearly to blame for a nuclear meltdown. Luckily, Homer's wide behind helped turn "a potential Tchernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island."

To mix birds, if not metaphors, I have seen the canary in the Democratic coal mine coughing.

Literally as well as figuratively.

As I read two blog posts this morning about the coming election (one, which tracks the polls in attempting to predict which states will go for whom; the other, the famous Five Thirty Eight blog of celebrity statistician Nate Silver - yes, you read that combination of words) I have begun to wonder if the outcome is as much a slam-dunk as I had thought.

As I've said, over and over again, I think that Hillary Clinton would make a singularly awful president, and should be kept far, far away from the levers of power. Simultaneously, I am not a supporter of Donald Trump, the crude, vulgar human mouth whose "ideas" indicate he has no more the skills or qualifications to be president than an anteater has for dancing the lead in "Swan Lake."

But I reckoned that Mrs Clinton, based on the electoral map, the pretty much unobscured support of the press and opinion makers (the universities, writers, the entertainment complex), was going to win and win easily.

What I had not counted on was just how awful a candidate she would turn out to be; I forgot the lessons of 2008, when she re-created the 1964 Phillies Phlop in givning the Democratic nomination - and ultimately the presidency - to a green, one-term Senator who is second perhaps only to The Donald in being unqualified to sit in the big chair.

Last weekend, Mrs Clinton scored a daily double with her idiotic, own-goal comments about "Basket of Deplorables" and subsequent collapse on Sunday at a 9-11 memorial ceremony after denying for weeks that she was unwell.

Now, I am not so sure that she is going to win.

For one, the Electoral Vote website, run by a guy who, blending Napoleon (self-coronating) and Louis XIV ("l'etat c'est moi") calls himself "The Vote Master" with no sense of irony, is a pretty thinly veiled cheerleader for Hillary. The data seem unbiased and useful, so the snark are worth listening to.

WELL, the narative has changed from "Republicans are rallying to survive damage from devastating Trump loss" to "Republicans panicking about possible Trump win."

The change is subtle, but it is important. It's the first real crack in the Democratic happy face, which to be fair, is always a smirk rather than a smile, he's put on.

Over at Nate Silver's blog, Trump continues to close on Hillary, his odds in the Polls Plus predicitons having grown from about 20% two weeks ago to 34% today.

That is a substantial change as well.

I suggest that, where Silver focuses his attention on Florida and Ohio, the real canary in the coal mine is neither Ohio nor Florida, but the Keystone State.

I was a strong sceptic about Trump's chances to win the GOP nomination, but here he is.

I have long felt that Trump's chances in the general rested on the state of Pennsylvania, and I think that that looks stronger today than ever before. The electoral maths favour the Democrats in the short term, and the numbers are going to get longer, rather than shorter for the Republicans over the next few elections.

Mind you, I think that the Democratic coalition of the fringes is ultimately going to come apart - what, other than animus to historical boogeymen unites black, Latino, Asian, feminist, gay, and environmental activists? The forces pulling them apart are so obvious and strong, that once "old white men" are put into their place, it is just a matter of time until the Democratic party succumbs to what Singaporean President Lee Kwan Yew said decades ago about pluralistic democracies.

But Trump, ironically, is different from the big business, Wall St crowd who have controlled the Republicans for the past 80 years. And his loud - some say xenophobic - bluster can appeal to people that the cosmopolitan President Obama derided as losers who "cling to guns or religion".

It's no accident that these people Mr Obama disparaged live in Pennsylvania, a rust belt state of hunters where the coal industry was once a huge employer.

When Mrs Clinton made her "basket of deplorables" comment - to a roomful of people who had paid thousands of dollars to have dinner and listen to her, hosted by Barbara Streisand, she was talking about people in central Pennsylvania. Some of them, to be sure, are deplorable racists. But I suspect not as many as Hillary Clinton imagines, and surely, not half of the people.

Mrs Clinton has tried to clarify her comments - no, I didn't mean you are an ugly, irredeemable bigot - I meant the guy across the street. But if YOU lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and were historically a Democrat but considering Trump because of Hillary's comments about putting coal miners out of work, is it not possible that the thought might cross your mind that, "maybe she really meant me." These are, as I've said before, the working poor whose prospects under Obama (and to be fair, Bush and Bill Clinton before him) have dimmed, but who entitled Yale students whose apparent greatest problem is Halloween costumes libel as "privileged" in perhaps the single greatest example of lack of self awareness in the past 25 years.

The Keystone State has not had polls released since the remark, but it will be instructive to see what, if any, impact the remark has.

Right now, Silver puts Hillary as about a 3-1 favourite to win PA. But 38 polls - all before the "deplorables" comment - have been taken, and virtually all put Trump within 5 points of Clinton.

I think that Donald Trump is going to win in Ohio. And of course, he cannot win without Florida (which also is close).

But if he closes the gap in Pennsylvania, it is almost surely going to be a bellwether of bigger gains. IF Trump wins in PA, he is going to win in Florida, and he is going to win - easily - in Ohio.

So far, the drinking bird is not in the glass, but he may be tipping.

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