This Election Cycle: A Gift from the Political gods to the Political Junkie

I mean, like, really? Oh, my. 2016.

“You mean I can’t directly quote the candidate?”

This was a question asked to me by my student who will be participating in our school-wide presidential debate. He asked me this question because I asked him to refrain on using certain anatomical references in the debate, even when quoting.

This is the first year I had to ask my students to self-censor. Trump happens.

And now, the return of Anthony Wiener?

And the October surprise that never actually happens but did this year?

Where to begin?

Let’s start with the October Surprise, which is the mythical event which shakes up the election mere weeks before the voting. It’s the unseen political jack-in-the-box of death which stabs a campaign with a nearly mortal wound. People talk about it ad nauseam every four years, and each campaign (especially the one who is trailing) is hoping that some skeleton in the closet will produce itself. It never happens.

Until this year. Everyone thought the off-camera remarks in 2005 about groping women would end up being the first October surprise that anyone can remember for a long time. This, assumed all, would put an end to Trump’s campaign, and indeed the poll numbers shifted sharply in Clinton’s favor as the Trump camp scrambled to minimize the damage.

But what happened last Friday, when FBI director Comey announced that the FBI had re-opened its investigation into Clinton’s emails after it discovered possibly relevant emails on a laptop used by infamous Anthony Wiener, who also shared the laptop with his wife, Huma Abedin–Clinton’s longtime personal assistant. What’s in the emails? Who knows? But the announcement sent shock-waves through the presidential campaign–Clinton claiming there’s nothing there and demanding Comey release the emails–Trump praising the FBI for backtracking and doing what he thought they should have done in the first place.

Trump’s poll numbers were already rebounding from the tape fiasco before the explosive October Surprise, but the early numbers indicate possible significant movement in Trump’s direction. The LA Times/USC tracking poll has Trump up by 7 points in a head-to-head match-up with Clinton for the time frame 10/26-11/1. Half of this poll was taken after the FBI’s news. The Real Clear Politics average for the 4-way race currently stands at 2.2 points in Clinton’s favor. On October 17, Clinton’s lead stood at 7.1 points. Her lead has evaporated. Further proof is if you look at the three RCP polls where half of the polling days have been on 10/29 or after. Those three tracking polls (Rasmussen, IBD, ABC/Washington Post) are all TIED. Dead heat. A draw. Clinton’s lead has disappeared.

Now, of course, how this plays out in the electoral college is a different matter. Clinton still has a substantial advantage and more paths to victory, but this October surprise has given the Trump team lift at a time when their numbers were already improving, likely due to continued attacks on Clinton from Wikileaks and other sources.

How this all plays out is a complete mystery. No one has ever seen anything like this campaign season, and I’m sure everyone just wants it to END, one way or the other.

But for the political junkie, this has been a dream come true. A Washington outsider prone to gaffes. A Washington insider tainted with scandals. An out of control media. An FBI investigation. An underage sex investigation (thanks to A. Wiener). A scandalous tape and a juvenile Twitter fiend. A network who has spoon fed a debate question to team Clinton. The release of emails from Wikileaks. Other emails which have gone missing. And now some that are found.

Catch your breath, America. It’s almost over.

This political junkie just might be a little sad about it.

 

Everyone is as Smart as the Polls. And That’s Pretty Dumb.

I get a kick out of so-called experts calling the U.S. presidential election while we are still in August, nearly a month away from the first debate, with an already unprecedented, topsy-turvy primary season behind us.

I heard someone say basically this yesterday: “Oh, look at the polls! Clinton is going to win. It’s over.”

I suppose that same person would also predict a Cubs World Series victory if they looked at the current MLB standings. But people who understand that nothing is taken for granted when talking about the Cubs will also understand that we have no idea who will win the presidential election. At least not yet.

It was just a month ago that Trump’s campaign was riding high in the polls with a post-convention bounce which vaulted him ahead of the Democratic challenger. Clinton got her bounce, then Trump’s mouth seemed to self-implode again, causing leaks in his shoddy-planned campaign wall.

But does anyone really think they know what’s going to happen next? Really, in this year? You can’t predict this stuff. Not any year, and especially not this year. The odds-makers still have to settle on a number, and they currently give Clinton nearly a 4-1 chance to be president, but my goodness, let’s wait and see. Here’s a few things which need to be settled first.

  1. In my mind, the debates will be begin to tell the tale and start to settle the field a little. It’s one thing hearing daily sound bites from the campaign trail, but it’s a completely different beast when you see the candidates stand next to each other, go at each other, and see who can punch out a little momentum. I’ll start checking the polls after this. I think it will mean much more.
  2. Will Trump’s “softer” approach make a difference to voters? He’s been consciously reaching out to black voters. I read an interesting article yesterday written by a Latino as to why Latinos should vote for Trump. This might all be too little too late to overcome the bombastic mistakes he’s made because of his inability to censor himself. But we shall see.
  3. Clinton is not having an easy go of it. She is continually dogged with questions about her past, most recently about the Clinton foundation and whether influence was being peddled. ┬áThe Republicans really must be kicking themselves because Clinton feels like the most inept Democratic presidential candidate in decades. She seems very beatable if there wasn’t a Republican challenger beating himself.
  4. Wikileaks. More threats from Jullian Assange regarding Clinton-related documents to be released before the election. Who knows what’s in the documents and if he will actually do what he says. But he no doubt is causing a lot of consternation inside the Democratic campaign machine.
  5. The economy. It continues to struggle – the most recent quarter at an anemic 1% GDP growth.
  6. People are not happy. I can’t think of anyone on either side of the political spectrum who is happy right now. And there may be a ground-swell of “sweep out the existing regime” which might yet catch Clinton in its crossfire.
  7. A major event. I certainly hope this one doesn’t happen, but a major terrorist attack, whether in the US or one of the US allies, could affect perceptions of voters before the election.
  8. Trump himself. He remains predictably unpredictable. He was a clear underdog in the Republican primary and it still remains unclear how he will finish this thing out. He’s proved before that he shouldn’t be underestimated.

There are 8 reasons why I think it’s much too early to be calling the election for Clinton. There is so much time which remains and way to many things can happen. It will be, I believe, one of the most entertaining and gripping presidential campaigns in history. So sit back and enjoy the ride.