Hindsight is 20/20. The Clinton campaign had good reasons for its rally scheduling

I’ve seen a lot of posts over the past month bemoaning Clinton’s failure to take the Rust Belt seriously with more visits and ad spending. Heck, I wrote one of those posts. I even called it political malpractice for failing to visit Wisconsin (at all) and Michigan (until the last week).

But here’s an argument on the other side that I have not yet seen in this debate: the more salient risk at the time was Clinton’s health and fatigue. The only time in the campaign when Trump had pulled even was immediately after her collapse and pneumonia revelations after Sept. 11. That episode coincided with the first sudden drop in her support in the campaign after she had taken a commanding lead after the conventions. (The simultaneous “basket of deplorables” frenzy drove her numbers down, but the illness was salient for a week as she was resting and unable to address the “basket case” or shift the debate, so the illness was a double-whammy).

First: The point is that in real time, the Clinton campaign had to weigh the risks of overscheduling and exhaustion and relapse vs. recuperation and being focused and balanced in the three debates. At the time, there was a much bigger risk of another bout of illness or a gaffe or some hint of a lack of energy in the debates, rather than the uncertain local effect of a campaign rally in Milwaukee or Detroit or Johnstown, PA.  The research shows that a local campaign event has a short term impact on polls that steadily dissipates over a week or two.  But the effect of a bad debate could have been disastrous. Moreoever, the Trump campaign and the Fake News Network had been planting stories that Clinton had a serious illness (Parkinson’s? Cancer? Yes, even possession by demons, a story I had seen on the interwebs). Even if the lunatic right did not need evidence, the concern was that another fainting spell or collapse could raise enough concerns among swing voters, many of whom had underlying doubts about a woman being able to handle this job.

Second: the polling data, internal and external, showed Clinton with a steady lead in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania through September and October. Meanwhile, other swing states had early voting (Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, etc.).  The data show that campaign rallies have limited and diminishing impact in states far before election day, but they have more immediate impact when early voting is already happening. The campaign committed its most limited resource (the candidate’s time and health) to the early vote swing states, where it would have immediate impact, rather than other swing states with diminishing impact. Keep in mind that at the time, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina looked far more competitive.

Third: my worry was about an October surprise, like a terror attack or a power grid attack on Philadelphia or Milwaukee (shutting down election day electronic voting). I didn’t foresee the Comey inside job. It turns out that an October surprise did swing the election, and it was worth a shot at trying to limit its damage. If you’re worried about October surprises, you need to bank as much early voting as possible. So I agree with the campaign focusing on the early vote, rather than just on securing the Blue Wall months or weeks out from election day. Let’s be a little more generous and a little less second-guessing.

 

Ann Coulter is right…

When I find myself agreeing with Ann Coulter, the world really is upside down. Coulter tweeted: “Medicare IS NOT WHAT THE ELECTION WAS FOUGHT OVER. If Ryan wants to change Medicare, then run for president on that & see how far you get.” We are going to win this fight over Medicare. Here’s a meme I can support (that’s ObamaCare enemy Tom Price, Trump’s HHS secretary-nominee):
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Recount! Michigan has over 80,000 “blank votes”?

Today, Michigan certified its presidential vote for Trump, and the 48-hour clock is ticking for a recount request (Wednesday deadline). Here is some very interesting information about Michigan’s tally: the margin for Trump is 10,000, but the state has a surprising number of “blank ballots” for the presidential race, over 80,000, called “undervotes.” (read the update at the bottom). I put “blank ballots” in quotes, because many of those votes were probably not blank. Michigan did not have a Senate or Governor race, so people who showed up to vote probably cared about the presidential election. They could have voted for third-party candidates as protest votes, but they left the presidential race blank? Michigan uses the optical scan ballots (like Scantron), so voters may not have fully bubbled in the oval for the machine to detect it, but a hand count would determine voter intent.  It is still highly unlikely that Clinton would have any margin from those 80,000 sufficient to catch Trump, but that number might add up with the many provisional ballots that come disproportionately from minorities whose voter  registrations were targeted for “caging” by Republicans (see post below).

The bill for Michigan’s recount is about $800,000. Stein’s lawyer in Michigan is a veteran lawyer for the state Democratic Party.

The bottom line is that there is reasonable hope for a recount to flip Michigan, but Clinton would still need both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, there is value in knowing more about our shoddy and rigged voting system and for making Trump enjoy the “suspense” he embraced back in October.

Recount!: What about vote purging, counting errors, and provisional ballots?

I posted earlier about my skepticism that computer hacking stole the election for Trump. (Michigan, New Hampshire, and Minnesota don’t have computerized/electronic voting, but showed the same dramatic swing to the GOP vs. polling and historical patterns.)

However, there are many other valid reasons to support a recount.  First, it is still crucial to examine the flaws of electronic voting.  Second, there are accounts of clerical errors (to put it generously). Counting errors happen all the time, and they get corrected as the votes are certified, but they can also be missed. Third, and most importantly, we are seeing more and more stories about “Crosscheck,” Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s multi-state effort to purge the voter registration records. The program was in place in 30 states, apparently all the major battlegrounds, many with Republicans administering it. Crosscheck appears to target minorities and the poor, though the effects and intent are disputed. The program is designed “childishly,” as described by one expert, challenging people with common last names like Williams, Johnson, Rodriguez, or Kim (guess which groups are affected the most?) But the word “childish” does not reflect the cynicism and sophisticated manipulation of its implementation state-by-state. The program could affect millions of valid voters, and unknown thousands in particular states.  You can read a critical account here and a more balanced mainstream report here.  Charles Pierce, a top-notch journalist, wrote this story about Kobach and Crosscheck in August, and it is chilling.

Vote purging is a big deal. Kris Kobach is a dangerous partisan who has a long history of racially targeted vote-purging and anti-immigrant extremism. I encountered him in law school in the 1990s, and he was rabidly anti-immigrant then, and he has only gotten worse. Kobach met with Trump last week and appears to be the leading candidate for the Department of Homeland Security. Even more chilling.

As a general public policy matter, we need a recount and an audit, regardless of its immediate impact on the 2016 electoral college. We might be able to address these problems in the future. We need to find out how vote purging worked in practice, if it literally disenfranchised valid voters. The purges tend to disproportionately target minorities and the poor, intentionally or unintentionally. The poor tend to be renters and tend to move more often, and tend to change jobs more often, than wealthy homeowners.

The question for 2016 is whether this skewing or targeting could flip three states:
PA (current margin is about 68,000 for Trump)
WI (about 22,000 for Trump)
MI (about 10,000 for Trump).

If voters were wrongly purged, or did not have an acceptable form of ID, they can file a provisional ballot in an envelope with a signature and address. There are also an unknown number of absentee ballots. I support a recount to get the count right. But I’d be surprised if there are many thousands of uncounted ballots that could swing the election. Consider that, for Hillary to make up a 10,000 deficit in Michigan, there would need to be a lot of uncounted ballots with a huge Clinton margin. Imagine maybe 50,000 uncounted ballots, with a split of 30,000 to 20,000. Possible, but unlikely. Now stretch those margins for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Even if we could flip Wisconsin and Michigan, the electoral college would still have 280 GOP electors. Still, there could be some momentum over the next three weeks as Trump’s shamelessness about his business conflicts of interest or his Putin connections might flip a few GOP electors, or at least extend some drama. We’d have some continuing denormalization/delegitimization of Trump, based on fact and counting votes, rather than fiction and voter suppression. Trump was happy in October to threaten to keep us “in suspense.” Well, now the suspense is warranted. Clinton is winning the popular vote 48%-46%, and there are urgent questions about the state counts.

Steve Bannon: Where was the outrage in August?

I started writing about the alarming hire of Steve Bannon back in August when it was announced. The critique is not manufactured partisan spin after the election. Many Republicans were horrified by the hire in August. Where was the media back then? Why was this not a bigger deal during the campaign?  Here is what I wrote on Aug. 18 upon hearing that news:
“This is the bottom line of the Trump campaign shake-up:
This campaign is going to get even uglier and nastier. Bannon is a bare-knuckle Tea Party brawler who runs right-wing Breitbart Media, and he has been pushing for more anti-Clinton attacks, conspiracy theories, and white nationalism.
Bannon has been calling Trump [by phone] this summer to urge more “bare-knuckles brawl,” “brutal fights,” “gloves off,” full-scale populism/nationalism. Trump decided that the Manafort people were trying to restrain him and keep him on script, but Bannon wants to “Let Trump Be Trump!” Bannon is also known for wanting to burn down the GOP establishment, so that should be fun.
Insiders expect Bannon to push for Monica’s-blue-dress attacks and old Clinton conspiracy theories. Breitbart himself called Bannon the “Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party.”
Republicans say giving Bannon access to classified briefings is “insane,” and they want Obama (or the FBI or State Dept.) to move to block Trump’s briefings.  
Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro wrote that under Bannon’s leadership, “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website… pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.” He said that Breitbart under Bannon embraced “a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.” I have followed Breitbart closely since the 2008 campaign. It started out as a right-wing news source with a pro-Israel spin. It has changed dramatically into the home of the alt-right. Bannon proudly claimed that under his leadership, Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right.” And finally, we all know what alt-right means.

I have read too many stories and racist/anti-Semitic statements in Breitbart to list them all. I have heard from apologists claiming that because Bannon was an early investor in “Seinfeld,” he can’t be an anti-Semite or a racist. Investing in Seinfeld means nothing, except to say that he is a savvy and lucky investor in a show that made fun of New York City. I loved the show. At the same time, a small part of me worried about how the rest of the country interpreted it and what the rest of the country was laughing with… or laughing at?

Michigan did not use electronic voting: There are still no credible, specific claims that the 2016 election was stolen

Alex Halderman, the highly respected computer science professor asking the Clinton campaign to seek recounts, posted an explanation early this morning. His explanation is persuasive as a general condemnation of electronic voting in any election, especially a close one. He shows how frighteningly easy it is to hack voting machines. But he does not offer specific statistical claims about the 2016 presidential race, other than noting the Russian email hacking. He is right that we should audit and verify as a matter of public policy. Why not? But there is still no specific anecdotal or statistical evidence suggesting an actual hack or vote-rigging in this election. He does not mention the “7%” statistical shift in electronic voting towards Trump, and that’s the factual claim that seems to be generating media interest. Nate Cohn at the NY Times confirms what I’d been posting yesterday: the general pro-GOP correlation with electronic voting is probably attributable to race and class by precinct, rather than hacking. White precincts are slightly more likely to have electronic voting. See link in comments, H/t Richard Kim.
Here is my main problem with focusing on electronic voting as the way the 2016 election was stolen: the key battleground states used different voting systems. Yes, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania use electronic voting, as do many other battleground states. But Michigan (and Minnesota, NH, and Iowa) use only optical scan paper ballots, not electronic/computerized voting. Michigan’s margin and demographics were very similar to Wisconsin’s and Pennsylvania’s, and the three states’ histories of presidential voting and 2016 polling were roughly similar. In fact, Michigan had been more blue than Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, so if anything, Michigan reflects an even bigger shift to the GOP in the Midwest, regardless of voting technology. Other states with paper ballots show a consistent pattern: the state-by-state polling was inaccurately pro-Clinton, underestimating the white turnout. Minnesota (a paper ballot state) had been a deep blue state for two decades, but was razor thin this year (about 1% for Clinton, a dramatic shift to the GOP). New Hampshire (paper) was closer on election day than the polling averages. This election seems not to be a story of a failure of voting technology, but a failure of polling technology.
One more point: for a recount to make a difference, Clinton would have to overcome substantial deficits in all three states (MI, WI, and PA — 70,000 in PA alone!). And to be fair, Trump would be entitled to his own recount of New Hampshire and Minnesota. The evidence of hacking would have to be overwhelming to make any difference, and in the end, the House of Representatives would resolve such a contested election… For Trump. Let’s have an audit to verify the security of our elections. Let’s fight for voting rights and fight to get rid of insecure electronic voting. But please don’t circulate conspiracy theories of how this election was stolen, until we see detailed, hard statistical evidence suggesting otherwise. We lost the election. Let’s not lose focus on this corrupt administration and its far-right-wing transition.