"As you know, we've inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump..." - President Lisa Simpson
NOTE: This is the first of three articles about the 2016 U.S. federal election. This one is about the deceptively humdrum Presidential contest. The next is about the grim realities of the House of Representatives. And the last one will deal with the Senate, which is by far the most interesting and uncertain part of this year's dog and pony show.
Donald Trump is going to lose. You already know this. His poll numbers are historically awful. His campaign infrastructure is largely imaginary. And he himself is an incompetent, fascist buffoon who is loathed by large chunks of his own party. (Good job, Republicans!) Media outlets desperate for ratings and pageviews will continue to hype outlier polls and useless horse race analogies to make it seem close, but it isn't. And while the Clinton campaign has to take him seriously, the rest of us sure don't.
All through 2015, I had terrible visions in my head of Ted Cruz campaigning circles around Hillary Clinton as the economy slowly got worse and Obama's approval rating hovered five-ish points below 50%. Happily, Cruz lost, Obama's above water, and the economy, though *still* not recovered from the crash, doesn't completely suck.
And then there's Trump, whose rise to the nomination was so wildly out of the blue that I'm still not entirely sure we aren't living in an alternate timeline. Maybe someone actually did try to kill baby Hitler, a butterfly saw it, and now we're all here wondering why nothing makes sense and nobody can remember the reason? Except for violating fundamental tenets of physics, that almost makes more sense than none of his Republican opponents bothering to do basic opposition research.
Then again, these are Republicans we're talking about. Their reputation for even minimal competence is long past its sell by date. It's anyone's guess as to why, but it certainly doesn't help that most of the party's higher ups have had so much of their lives handed to them on silver platters. There's a distinctly aristocratic cluelessness to those Gulfstream flights into Boston on Election Night 2012, when all available polling, plus the early ballot numbers, said Romney was going to lose decisively.
Willard, himself the son of a rich governor, was so convinced of his own impending victory that he spent the Sunday before the election in Pennsylvania, trying to run up the score in a state he would lose by five and a half points. The supposedly numerate Karl Rove then humiliated himself on national television because he couldn't understand that one number was bigger than another number. That level of willful denial and outright incompetence is as staggering as it is undeniable.
When Trump's nomination is seen in that light, it makes a little more sense. Sure, he's even more incompetent than they are, but not by nearly as much as the likes of Messrs. Priebus, Koch(s), et al. would care to believe.
The extra kick in the balls for the collection of donors, moguls, lackeys, and elected officials that gets referred to as the Republican Establishment is that, on paper, 2016 looked promising. First, the 22nd Amendment (curse its oily hide!) did its job and got rid of Obama for them. Since World War II, just two incumbents (Carter & Bush the Elder) have lost re-election bids, but only once has the same party won three Presidential contests in a row (1980-1984-1988*). Plus, key states necessary to a Republican victory, notably Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, have all come under unified Republican control and enacted new voting restrictions since 2010.
(*Yes, Gore should have and basically did win in 2000, but high ranking Republicans certainly don't consider it the semi-rigged shambles it was.)
Best of all, from their point of view, Clinton was going to be a uniquely vulnerable nominee. She is loathed by the press and knows it, yet persists in constantly giving them molehill scandals they can effortlessly turn into mountains. She is easy to publicly link to evil Wall Street bankers. And they could blunt the historic nature of her candidacy by putting a woman of their own on the ticket. For chrissake, she would've been the most unpopular nominee in the history of polling! . . . if not for their nominee.
That's got to be frustrating for them. And while I don't doubt that there are still plots being hatched to steal or buy the nomination back from Trump, if they were actually competent enough to stop him they would've done so by now. It's difficult to see how anyone that vainglorious would let anything get between him and a four day media orgy with his name all over it. I don't know if Trump actually wants to be President, but I do know that he wants to win gold at what is essentially the Olympics of reality TV. (Shame it had to be in Cleveland instead of someplace classy, but you can't win them all.)
This has all worked out so fantastically well for Hillary Clinton that the great Billmon used it to create this election's best running joke so far:
These kinds of fractured takes on modern life and Trump's clownball antics are going to have to amuse us, because they're basically all we have. The actual outcome is so overdetermined as to be boring.
Our first woman President is a going to be a former First Lady who's an unmitigated war enthusiast disliked by a majority of Americans. But weirder things have happened, one of which was her falling backwards into an opponent who is grotesquely misogynistic, Patient Zero for foot-in-mouth disease, has never held elective office, isn't nearly as rich as he says he is, looks like . . . well, you know the rest. If Obama was Constitutionally eligible, he might break 400 electoral votes against Trump; Clinton will probably end up somewhere in the 350 range.
For example, if she carried every state Obama did in 2012 plus Arizona (with its very anti-Trump demographics), that would be 343. If she got all those plus North Carolina (which Obama won in 2008 and lost by only 2 points in 2012), she'd get 358. Here in July, either of those maps is very plausible, and who knows how bad things might get with Trump come November? The Electoral College is going to be a slaughterhouse.
The only downside is that we won't get to soak in the spectacle of First Citizen Trump's inauguration. I can't pretend to know what fantasies are already running around inside that hair, but my guess is that they involve a chariot ride from the Capitol to the White House, with two dozen white horses in the lead and dazed prisoners being dragged behind him in chains. Whether the scantily clad Angels of Liberty will be flogging his enemies or merely taunting them would presumably depend on the weather.
Instead, we're all going to have to get used to hearing the words "President Clinton" again. "President Clinton traveled to Country X", "President Clinton used her weekly radio address to discuss Y", "President Clinton ordered airstrikes against Scary Bad Guys Z". Phrases like those will be coming at us a lot. It's going to be weird at first, and kids too young to remember the 90s will probably wonder why the rest of us are staring vacantly at stuff, but it'll pass.
The problem with all of this is that no matter how high her mountain of Electoral Votes, they're not going to do the newly minted President Clinton any good come January, when she is almost as certain to be facing a Republican House as she is to be the President.