As we roll into 2020, aficionados of American politics will be in their element.
Beginning with the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus and the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary, there’ll be a continuous series of events leading up to the Nov. 3 finale, the day of the presidential election. And most Canadians will fervently hope – even expect – it to culminate in the political denouement of Donald Trump.
That might happen. Or it might not.
I’d put the odds in the general vicinity of 50/50. Underestimating President Trump is a mug’s game.
Here are three pieces of advice on navigating the spectacle.
• Don’t put your faith in national polls.
Most of the reported polling will focus on the national horse race. Who’s ahead by how much in national samples will consume vast quantities of reporting, commentary and analysis.
The thing is, though, it’s almost irrelevant. It hardly matters.
The presidential election isn’t a national plebiscite. There are 51 separate elections – 50 states plus the District of Columbia – with each election generating electoral votes for the winner. Whoever gets to 270 electoral votes or higher scoops the pot.
Yes, the bigger states get more electoral votes. But geographical distribution is critical.
And the Democratic vote is particularly inefficient, piling up enormous majorities in places like California and New York. But while these margins inflate the Democratic popular vote, they don’t deliver proportionate electoral returns. You can only win a state once.
The 2016 result provided a perfect example.
Being the most populous state, California’s 55 electoral votes made it the single biggest prize. And Hillary Clinton won them in a landslide, registering a majority of almost 4.7 million individual votes.
Trump, however, put together 55 electoral votes by winning Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. His combined majority for all three was just over 146,000 votes.
Mathematically, his vote distribution was approximately 32 times more efficient than Clinton’s. That’s the reason he’s president and she isn’t.
National polling obscures this dynamic, which is why you should focus instead on polling in a handful of battleground states.
The ones I’ll particularly follow are Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump won all four in 2016, sometimes by razor-thin margins. If he wins them again, he’ll be re-elected.
• Watch the two B’s: Buttigieg and Bloomberg.
Pete Buttigieg – mayor of South Bend, Ind. – is the most promising dark horse in the Democratic race. If anyone emerges to seriously challenge the frontrunners, it’ll be him.
Journalist Kyle Smith has caustically assessed the source of Buttigieg’s appeal: “It’s that Harvard-McKinsey-PowerPoint-problem-solving-speak that sends a thrill up the leg of Kennedy school, good-government Dems. To gentry liberals, this is the new Scripture.”
Although a distant fourth in current national polls, Buttigieg is highly competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are the first two nomination contests. Should he win them, he’ll catapult into the front rank as the fresh new face.
As for billionaire Michael Bloomberg, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he actually becomes the Democratic nominee. But he has the capacity to blunt the momentum of a surging Buttigieg or chip away at the soft underbelly of frontrunner Joe Biden’s support.
Bloomberg won’t make his move until Super Tuesday (March 3), the day with primaries in 14 states, including California, Texas, Massachusetts and North Carolina. And he’s not stinting financially, having already spent around $100 million. If his effort flops, it won’t be for lack of resources.
• Don’t be diverted by the impeachment circus.
Notwithstanding the hoopla and the wall-to-wall coverage, impeachment is simply an exercise in partisan theatre. That’s not how it’s supposed to be but it’s how it is.
Having never accepted the result of the 2016 election, Democrats have been aching to impeach Trump since he was inaugurated. And when they won control of the House of Representatives in 2018, it was merely a matter of time.
Equally partisan, the Republican Senate has no intention of providing the two-thirds vote necessary to convict and remove him. Barring a bombshell – and I mean a genuine bombshell, not the routinely touted everyday sort – there’s no prospect of that happening.
Further, all of the to-date drama gives no indication of having eroded Trump’s support base, which fluctuates within a narrow range and currently sits near its peak.
So if the breathless coverage catches your fancy, enjoy it. Just don’t kid yourself.
Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.