It seems timely to document the scrapheap fire that is the 2016 USA
General Election -- and I say timely because 'early voting' began
Monday in some US states, a reminder that the outcome is _not_ malleable
all the way to the Tuesday, November 8th Election Day as often assumed.
The die is already being cast.
I expect that in this mail I'll discuss the current situation and a bit
about its historical context. I'll begin by citing a wager on which I
staked US $10 on a mailing list, this past February 28th:
Clinton 358 electors
Trump 180 electors
(I bet only that she'll _win_, I should stress.)
My nervous friend Len (in Missouri, a traditionally Republican
Party-leaning AKA 'red' state), feared a dramatic Trump victory and
(unhappily) bet $10 that the Orange Menace would win. I'm in
California, probably the deepest blue of all the blue (Democratic
Party-leaning) states. This is very much a gentleman's wager; neither
of us thinks the other a fool. I've already stated that if I win,
especially as dramatically as I hope, I'll be so deliriously happy that
Len can keep his $10.
, Nate Silver's site, keeps analysing polling and
other data, and publishes three metadata summary models, the 'poll-plus
forecast', the 'polls-only forecast', and the 'now-cast'. The last
those is 'Who would win an election today', and predicts:
Clinton 301 electors
Trump 237 electors
Each US state (plus District of Columbia, which is very like ACT) is
allocated a number of 'electors', minimum three, and more if they have
high population. Per the US Constitution, each state is to pick
electors pledged to opt for a specific slate of President &
Vice-President. On a certain day late in December every four years, the
states' electors meet in their respective state capitals and cast their
votes. (For example, California's 55 electors would meet in Sacramento,
California.) There are 538 electors total, which is the origin of Nate
Silver's Web site name. Collectively the electors are colloquially
called the 'Electoral College', a misleading term in many ways.
The purpose of a General Election is for the voters of the various
states plus DC to select their electors. States are NOT required to
choose their elector through popular vote of their citizens, and the
Founding Fathers expected state legislatures to pick them. However, all
states have picked electors by popular election for over 100 years since
the American Civil War of the 1860s.
48 of the states (plus DC) award their electors on a winner-take-all
basis. Two (Maine and Nebraska) award them on a proportional basis
between candidate slates by popular vote margins within their various
Congressional districts -- though in a normal year Nebraska would be
deep red (Republican Party) and Maine would be deep blue (Democratic
Party). Trump has been so poisonous that the electors for two of the
most urbanised parts of Nebraska, those around the cities of Omaha and
Lincoln, may end up being pledged to Secretary Clinton, while the other
three will doubtless be pledged to Trump as per the usual GOP
Accordingly, the _usual_ game of predicting Electoral College tallies
involves tallying up the electoral votes of the reliably blue states,
tallying those of the reliably red states, and guessing on which side
the ~10 'battleground' states would fall.
Mr. Trump promised to make more states competitive for the Republicans.
So far, it appears he _has_, but not entirely the way he intended.
Solid-red states like Texas(!) with 38 electors, Arizona with 11
electors, and Mississippi(!) may now 'flip' to blue on Election Day, if
the polls can be believed.
The California Cautionary Tale
California wasn't always deep blue, and often in the past had Republican
Senators and (to our horror, in 1966) elected has-been, slightly dim
Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan as Governor, which major seat he then
parleyed into the US Presidency in the 1980s. What turned California
deep blue was subsequent Republican Governor Pete Wilson and his
Proposition 187 campaign in 1994.
Wilson decided his electoral prospects would be improved by backing a
state-wide voter proposition ('initiative statute') to deny state
services to illegal immigrants and create a state-funded citizen
'screening' programme -- the point being to scare and suck-up to
anglophone voters of European descent worried about the gradually
increasing influence of immigrants from Latin America and East Asia.
Proposition 187 passed by a slim margin (and then was found
unconstitutional by the courts) -- but backfired: Latino voters in
particular, and many other ethnic subgroups, were driven straight into
the waiting arms of the Democratic Party, where they have remained, and
voters generally, including Euro-descended Californians of all stripes,
turned massively away from xenophobic and especially Hispanophobic
Today, the California Republican Party is outvoted by state Democrats
by a 2:1 margin statewide, and even extremely conservative polities such
as Orange County (south of Los Angeles) have been -- at an increasing
rate -- putting Democrats in office.
The national Republican Party took careful note of the California
calamity, and in particular of the nationwide demographic threat to its
continued influence. The USA is becoming more Hispanic, in particular.
This includes an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants from Central
and South America -- who cannot vote, but all of their children born
here are citizens, and do vote.
The Republicans (AKA 'GOP' = Grand Old Party) have a recurring nightmare
of shutout nationwide. Unlike with the Westminster system, shutout is
possible: If your party consistently gets 40% of the vote everywhere,
you will have zero elected offices.
The Autopsy Report
In 2012, Barack Obama and VP Joseph Biden shellacked the GOP a second
time, defeating Republican challengers Mitt Romney and (VP-hopeful) Paul
Ryan decisively. The Republicans were, quite reasonably, introspective,
and commissioned a remarkably clear-headed and intelligent study of what
it needed to do in the future, to assure greater success. The group's
97-page report appeared in March 2013, and was termed the Growth &
Opportunity Project ('GOP') Report -- but everyone else calls it the
Autopsy Report. http://goproject.gop.com/
To sum up the Project's recommendations:
o GOP risks permanently losing younger voters
o It's becoming a dead-end party of angry white men
o The way forward involves getting fully behind real, honest
o and backing corporate whistleblowers, and curbing corporate welfare
o and put a screeching halt to all the anti-gay rhetoric
o and stop the bizarre extremism on abortion and rape that is
alienating women voters
o and get behind campaign finance reform
The GOP mandarins earnestly urged all Republican leaders to take the
report seriously, and they started doing so. But then things blew up.
Project REDMAP and Unintended Consequences
While the Autopsy Report committee was working on making the GOP saner
to help it survive the decade, a very different group was using tactical
application of money to take a different approach. The Republican State
Leadership Committee realised that the 2010 census opened a rare
opportunity to tip the scales in the GOP's favour for at least a decade.
The US Constitution requires a nationwide census at the turn of each
decade. States with increased population receive an allocation of more
members of the House of Representatives (and thus also electors for the
Presidential contests); states with population declines lose a few.
(Tax revenues were also to be apportioned among the states according to
census numbers.) Following each census, every state redraws all
Congressional seats with fresh district boundaries.
The Republican State Leadership Committee allocated $30M to influence
state legislature contests in states with thin, vulnerable Democratic
Party majorities -- the Redistricting Majority Project, AKA Project
REDMAP. This tactic proved successful past their wildest dreams, and
'flipped' many legislatures Republican even though those states remained
majority Democratic -- helped by low voter turnout in 2010 because it
wasn't a Presidential election year. Once in power in state capitals,
the local Republicans now used greatly improved computer modeling to
'gerrymander' the new Congressional districts to an unprecedented
degree. (Note that the US Senate, lacking districts able to be
manipulated, cannot be gerrymandered.)
The aim of the gerrymandered districts was always to make as many
districts as possible 'safe' for GOP candidates by carving boundaries so
that likely Democratic voters were a slim but decisive minority in as
many as possible, and 'packing' Democratic voters into the small
remainder of districts.
Project REDMAP was too successful.
The unintended consequence of 'safe' districts is that it encouraged GOP
extremism. Gerrymandering meant that any lunatic able to win a local
primary in such a district would automatically prevail in the contest
against the badly handicapped Democratic opponent, and go to Washington.
Many dozens of far-extremist Republican Congressmen took office in
2012 and 2014. These replaced the vanishing 'Tea Party' contingent
who'd been briefly funded by the wealthy Koch Brothers but had their
allowance cut off and been vanishing since the mid-2000s -- and greatly
outdid them in truculence and determination to sabotage the Federal
government and prevent it from working.
The newcomers called themselves the Liberty Caucus, but everyone else
calls them the Suicide Caucus. These are the Congress members who tried
and failed to prevent President Obama from doing his job during his
second (2012-2016) term.
With their conviction that Washington is evil and must be defeated, the
newcomers opposed not just Democrats but also their own party
leadership. Speaker of the House John Boehner (Republican of Ohio)
resigned not just from his leadership post but from all of politics in
2015 because the Suicide Caucus prevented him from doing his job and was
out to defeat him. His reluctant successor, Paul Ryan, has had no
The dominance of extremist lunatics also created another change in the
GOP. At least since President Nixon (1968-72 and 1972-74), the GOP had
been 'dogwhistling': Making coded, deniably worded appeals to the
xenophobe, racist, bigoted portion of their constituency, especially
racist Southerners. The avoidance of outright 'support us and we'll
keep the blacks down' (etc.) appeals made the GOP passable among
moderates, pro-business liberals, and aspiring young people, but still
let them appeal to bigots and get their votes. But the antics of the
Suicide Caucus normalised saying bluntly what the GOP had spent half a
century taking great pains to only hint at and never say. The Overton
Window of GOP rhetoric had been slammed right.
Note: I am _not_ saying that the traditional GOP is/was an organisation
of bigots and xenophobes. That is not the case. It merely warmly
appreciates the votes of those who are. The traditional GOP tactic was
to accept their support and money during the primary election season but
then 'pivot' away from them during the general election and silently
betray their interests once in office. This is what Richard Nixon, who
was the greatest exponent of this tactic and called it his 'Southern
Part of the Suicide Caucus's problem is that they were so much of a
clown-car collision that they had no hope of fielding a credible GOP
Presidential candidate during the early 2016 primary elections -- and
nothing like such a candidate emerged. Instead, there were 17 variously
bizarre and weak primary candidates -- as opposed to two on the
Democratic side (three if you count one Mr. O'Malley). The seventeen
mutually destructed over a period of some months, the last one to rule
himself out other than the Orange Menace being a universally despised
hard-Right, ultra-religious social conservative from Texas named Ted
Cruz, being perhaps the closest to a Suicide Caucus pick.
Mr. Cruz at least gave lip service to many of the GOP national party's
goals -- though he'd headed a disaterious 2013 effort to make the
Federal government shut down in order to strip funding from President
Obama's Affordable Care Act ('Obamacare') initiative.
And what about the Autopsy Report's programme? Members of Congress
who'd attempted to advance that sane and reasonable agenda, including
Florida's Marco Rubio (one of the 17) found themselves under attack by
Suicide Caucus types, and _reversed_ their progressive positions, most
notably on immigration. Other politicians who stuck with the Autopsy
Report themes found themselves marginalised (such as the national GOP's
intended candidate, Jeb Bush of Florida).
All of these contending influences left the GOP weak, divided, and
riddled with crazy racist factions -- which became the core of Trump's
electorate when he showed up and started marching at the head of their
parade and dragging them in his direction.
The GOP violently opposed the Trump takeover, until it became obvious on
the eve of the Republican Convention that the damage they'd take from
attempting to unseat him as their nominee would be too high. Since
then, Republicans have taken a variety of strategies. Most try to
distance themselves from Trump, few support him except very tepidly,
and some try to square the circle by condemning particular things he
_says_ but refusing to disavow him.
The View from the Blue Seats
As a Democratic Party member (best option I have, USA electoral
mechanics having the emergent effects they do per Duverger's Law),
all I want from Father Christmas is President Hillary Clinton and
a Democratic Party majority in the Senate taking office in January.
Gerrymandering will probably protect the GOP House majority through the
rest of this decade at least, but the other is enough, because the
_most_ important goal in the next few years is getting several
Democratic-appointed Justices on the US Supreme Court (USSC). These
must be appointed by the President and confirmed by a majority in the
Senate. (The Vice-President is permitted to cast a vote in the Senate
any time it has a tie vote.) That _is_ projected to happen.
And the USSC is important for many reasons, including getting some of
the money out of politics (reverse the Citizens United decision), ending
rampant gerrymandering -- e.g., a Federal court recently ordering the
undoing of North Carolina gerrymandering that was openly racist and
turned the legislature and Congressional delegation heavily Republican
despite the electorate being majority Democratic Party members, ending
voter suppression tactics, and _perhaps_ even eventually fixing some of
the breakage in the economic system. Eventually.
It has been, however, a crazy election season, and my $10 isn't safe any
more than Len's is.
 To be tediously precise, each state gets electors equal to its total
of the number of Senators (always two per state) plus the state's number
of representative in the House of Representatives, the house where the
number of seats is set by population established by the nationwide
decennial census. DC originally had no electors. As DC ceased in the
20th Century just being a Federal government company town and its
citizens resented being disenfranchised, the Twenty-Third Amendment
in 1961 vouchsafed them as many electors as the least populous state,
 As part of the shady 1789 compromise that kept the 13 former British
colonies from splitting apart, the Constitution required the census to
count free persons, 3/5 the number of all slaves, and excluding
non-taxed (i.e., living outside USA jurisdiction) American Indians.
This arrangement guaranteed the slave-holding southern states a power
advantage in the House of Representatives and a tax-revenue bonus. This
'three-fifth compromise' was eradicated at the time of the Civil War.
Northern political interests agreed to the compromise because they knew
slavery was increasingly uncompetitive and would die out by itself if
the Republic could be held together long enough for that to happen.
 'Gerrymander' is an expression from early USA politics. In the 1812
redrawing of state districts within Massachusetts, Governor Elbridge
Gerry was mocked for having caused formation of new electoral districts
with grotesquely misshapen boundaries. One political cartoonist drew a
caricature of such a district in Essex County that was in the shape of a
salamander, which was thereupon dubbed the 'gerrymander', and the name