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Data Love or: How I learnt to stop worrying and love Donald Trump

by Kirk Serpes

Before I get a flurry of hate mail, let me start off with a disclaimer. I’m well to the left of pretty much everyone running for President in the US right now.  And frankly, so are you if you live in New Zealand. Hillary pre-2015 was well to the right of the National Party, and even Bernie is well to right of us on things like gun ownership. 

I also think Donald Trump is a fascist who is a serious threat to not just democracy in the USA but to everyone on the planet.  And I also think that Hillary Clinton can’t really be trusted and will say whatever she thinks people want to hear.

Yet I still quite strongly believe that the best thing for progressives is to have a Clinton vs. Trump showdown in November.  And here’s the kicker: even though I love what Sanders stands for, I still believe Clinton will be better for the progressive movement.

Now, unless you spend many hours of your week checking out fivethirtyeight.com and politico.com you’re probably panicking a bit about the prospect of Trump becoming President. Don’t be. It is within literally everyone’s interest to play up his chances even though mathematically he has near none.

For the media, it’s simple: they need the clicks and Trump is walking, talking clickbait.  Everything written about him gets views, which is why you’re reading this, and why I used his name in the title.

For the Democrats it’s turnout.  Voters don’t turn out if they are a bit ‘meh’ about their candidate or if they feel the election doesn’t really matter.  Talking up the threat of Trump is absolutely perfect for boosting voter turnout (and donations). 

He’s the perfect opponent for Democrats because he actually increases their chances of winning every time he opens his mouth!  Let’s look at the math:  Trump would have to win about 70% of white males to win a general election, and no Republican has come close in US history.  Worse still for them, the share of African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities has been increasing year on year, making it near impossible for any Republican to win, let alone one that goes about alienating each of those groups.

Reagan and Bush Snr. both won their elections comfortably with about 63% of the white male vote. Fast-forward to 2012, Romney still managed to get 62% of white males votes but lost to Obama by 3.5 million votes.

It was no accident that the GOP establishment were backing the likes of Bush (who has a Hispanic wife and is fluent in Spanish) as well as Rubio and Cruz.  They need the Latino vote or they’re never going to ever take back the White House.  In the years between Reagan and Romney, the total share of Latino voters has increased from 3% to 10%.

Further, the election of Barack Obama has evaporated their chances of getting the Black vote for at least a generation.  And they also don’t seem to be that keen to treat gay people like human beings which tends to hurt them with young people.  As for women voters, they’ve generally supported Democrats by slightly higher margins, but party affiliation always takes precedence over gender. 

Frankly, pretty much any Democrat (even Frank Underwood) would crush Trump purely on the mathematics of demographics.  Of course, elections are not that simple – you still need to turn out your voters.  And the biggest risk is that Democratic voters stay at home on election day (Yes, people are the worst!).  There is some cause for worrying about this, but if Trump were the candidate it would definitely solve the enthusiasm gap.  Fear and hate would be a driving force on the left for a change.  (Guys, it’s okay to hate fascists!)

Speaking of Obama, we’ve yet to see him stump for the Democratic candidate.  He’s already wiped the floor with Trump once before. And chances are with nothing left to lose, he’s going to simply humiliate him in the most public way possible and do it with style and class.  Beating Trump is not about making a rational argument, it’s about taking a bully down a notch and making him seem small.  And between Obama, the Clintons, and the creative power of Hollywood, I’m pretty confident they can hit him right where it hurts.

Given a Democratic President in almost every scenario, I’m of the controversial belief that Hillary back in the West Wing would be better for the progressive movement than Sanders.  To understand why, you have to understand how the US political system works.

Don’t worry, I’m not going into the deep, confusing detail.  Just remember this: The President has much less power to pass a new law in the US than our own PM does here in New Zealand.  They have the Senate and the House of Representatives (Congress) through which most policy has to go through to become Law (don’t worry about the Supreme Court for now).  Elections for those positions happen at very odd intervals. that I’m not going to go into detail except for the fact that a whole heap of them are up for re-election this year.

So naturally, come November, the ballot will include all positions from President to your local school board.  People generally vote ‘Down Ballot’ as in they vote for a single party from the highest office to the lowest.  In 2012, 94% of House districts voted for the same party in the House as well as the Presidency.  And similarly, the correlation between voters for Senate seats and the Presidency was 0.781 (zero indicates no relationship, while one would indicate a perfect, exact relationship between two variables).

Whoever wins the Presidency would bring in a lot of people from their party into office on their coattails.  Trump would actually be disastrous for the Republican Party, which is why they’re so freaked out right now (read full article here). I love watching him wreck the party from the inside as they stand by helpless. 

Democrats (and all progressives) have this obsession with the Presidency and seem to ignore immense power all the other branches of government have in influencing actual outcomes.  Liberals really need to get over their ‘great white/brown saviour complex’ and learn to play the long game.

If Sanders makes it into the White House, he will have almost no chance of implementing any of the “radical” policies he ran on, thanks to a hostile Congress and Senate.  This would lead to the predictable disillusionment of the Democratic base, and the eventual rout at the midterm elections when once again a whole heap of Senate and House seats are up for re-election.  We saw this in 2010, where the Democrats squandered their majorities and let the Republicans take back control of government, effectively blocking Obama’s progressive agenda.  Knowing how complacent left wing voters and activists are, this is quite likely to happen again.

However, if Hillary wins, the enthusiasm gap would actually be a good thing.  Leaders of progressive movements like #BlackLivesMatter, Occupy, and the climate movement would be able to keep their supporters outraged and agitated, and be able to channel that energy far more easily into pressuring Clinton both directly and by running against moderate Democrats in the House, Senate, and Governorships. 

The energy that’s behind Sanders right now needs to be channelled into more regional and local battles.  The White House on its own can be a bit of red herring.  Not only do all the bat-shit insane Republicans need to be removed from office, so do all the so called “moderate” Democrats.  Clinton is a political pragmatist who has already shown how far she can be moved by an organised progressive movement.

I don’t trust her one bit, but that really shouldn’t be a factor anyway.  That’s just being lazy.  Politicians get elected to represent the whole country not just you and your liberal mates. They will listen to the loudest voices of the moment.  If that’s not liberals, who can’t seem to bother turning up to vote half the time, then we only really have ourselves to blame.  Choosing Clinton over Sanders would give progressive leaders a much stronger position to maintain the outrage and grow their movements.  That’s how you win the long game.

Ultimately, I’m not actually that worried about the events in the USA as they stand.  It’s a country that’s growing less white, and more liberal by the day.  And the Republicans are caught in a strategic death spiral.  Their base of white males is slowly losing its position of power in society.  They can feel it happening right across the board and they’re scared.  Trump being a brilliant salesman has tapped into that fear and stoking it into anger. But it’s already too late.  With every inflammatory statement, they might shore up the votes of a few more white males but they lose even more women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and young people.  It’s an easy strategy for winning the nomination but not the White House. 

The age of political and cultural power of the white male is near its end in the United States of America and Donald Trump is their last King.  His defeat at the hands of Hillary Clinton would be great to watch, but I don’t think it will happen.  It looks like the Republican establishment is going to force a brokered convention and use this to give the nomination to someone else.  Which would also implode the party by pissing off Trump supporters.  They’re damned either way – so sit back and enjoy the show. 

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