State of the Mugwumps
When Trump first announced he was running for President I realized I was in trouble. I was caught in a cycle of shame that started every morning by erasing my internet browser’s history and ended every night alone in bed with the lights off and the volume on my computer turned way down, watching videos of him saying crazy things to a crowd of crazy people. It was all I thought about at work. I no longer found normal candidates entertaining, perfectly good candidates that any average guy should be totally happy with and attracted to.
Trump challenged John McCain’s military record, he promised to ban entire races and religious groups, and he blamed Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle in response to her calling out his sexism. All of this led to even greater plaudits by a sliver of the population being ever more whipped into a white geriatric froth. It wasn’t until mid-September that I realized he wasn’t going away, and that was a dark moment in my life.
Is Trump’s support real? There are three camps:
The simplest answer is “Yes.” The GOP has been using the rural south and west to win elections for half a century and the base is tired of playing second fiddle. They’re ripping power away from the northeastern Republican elites and nominating whom they want for a change, a soulless businessman from New York that lives in a gold-plated Manhattan apartment.
An alternative explanation is “Yes, but they aren’t people who vote.” Polls suggest Trump has the support of about 30% of Republicans, who make up about 30% of the electorate, for a total 10% of the country, which is about the same number of people who think the moon landings were faked.
The final answer is “Yes, and much more than polls suggest.” The basic argument is that because Trump and his supporters are openly mocked by the Blame Stream Media and closet-communist academics, people lie about not liking what Trump is saying. Polls, under this scenario, would be underestimating his strength in what is effectively an inverse Bradley effect. This may also explain why Trump does so much better in online polls than over the phone or in-person interviews.
Iowa will of course be the first test of these theories, where Trump faces a head-to-head battle with Ted Cruz. You know the Republican establishment hates Ted Cruz when Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and the Governor of Iowa (Republican Terry Branstad) are openly rooting for Trump to beat him.
And who thought that Hillary Clinton would be in a serious fight with a socialist in Iowa, let alone New Hampshire? The pre-primary environment appears more hostile to mutual understanding and measured principles than anytime since the Progressive Era.
The Mugwumps aren’t much concerned with Sanders or Trump. The overwhelming consensus is that Bernie Sanders is not Barack Obama and Donald Trump is not Ronald Reagan. Despite the anti-establishment rhetoric, Ted Cruz going as far as referring to his senate colleagues (and himself?) as the Washington Cartel, the Republican Party generally falls in line with the Party leaders, who will in the end pick the nominee from a voter picked list of final candidates. This favors well for Marco Rubio and, to a lesser extent at this point, Jeb Bush, who collectively the Mugwumps give a 57% chance of procuring the nomination.
But what if neither Rubio or Bush can win enough states to legitimately (or at least with the pretense of legitimacy) get the nomination at the convention? We see two possibilities: The Party learns to live with Cruz (31%) / Trump (3%) or the Republican National Committee engineers a brokered convention using arcane parliamentary tricks (circa 1912) to re-nominate Mitt Romney (8%). Admittedly, they may need to unearth Elihu Root to pull off the latter.
On the Democratic side, despite Bernie’s predictable rise in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, Hillary Clinton is closer to the nomination than a year ago. Maybe if Joe Biden was around to split the stalwart vote Bernie would have a chance, but it’s increasingly unlikely he will capture a majority of national democratic support, even if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, which is also unlikely. Of course, all of this assumes a Clinton collapse due to scandal is unlikely. We’re not saying a Clinton scandal is unlikely, they will come in considerable number, but that Clinton will, as Clintons do, survive them only to come back stronger than before.
2016 Pre-Iowa General Election Model
Without knowing the party nominees, the health of the economy 9 months from now, or even the major issues of the campaign, can we accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 November election? No, but let’s try anyway. The Mugwumps predict a map not dissimilar to 2012, where the Democratic Party holds the interior lines and the added advantage of the GOP having to play defense in Appalachia with a Clinton on the ticket.
Integrating these individual state probabilities into a stochastic Electoral College model yields an 85% predicted chance of the Democratic Party retaining control of the White House for another four years. The most likely outcome is a Democratic Electoral Vote (EV) total of 297, notably winning the swing states Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, while losing ground from 2012 by losing Florida and Iowa. The old adage that the road to the White House for Republicans requires Ohio appears to be the case, and a Democratic win there seems sufficient to keep the White House blue. However, Ohio is not enough for the GOP. The most likely Republican victory is a narrow one that goes through Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Iowa, which on the surface does seem doable.
One might think, and would be wrong, that the White House predictably swings to the opposition party after two terms of single party control. In fact that can and does happen, but requires either an economic downturn or the opposition party to shift its ideology to, ideally, novel and, at minimum, more centrist positions. Opposition populism and extremism almost always fail, with the notable exceptions of Jefferson and Jackson, and their elections marked radical changes to the party system. Does the GOP appear poised to make novel and centrist legislative proposals? Maybe, and certainly Rubio has potential, but probably NObama.
Regardless of your party identity or political ideology (unless that happens to be anarchy), we should all hope for a landslide winner. There’s only a 1.02% chance of a 269-269 tie, in which case every close state would be recounted and the House of Representatives would caucus by state delegations to pick the next President. Then the Senate would name the Vice President, presided over by Joe Biden. Maybe. Or maybe they would wait for the new congress to be sworn into office. The Supreme Court would definitely have to get involved. The fact is the rules are vague and everyone who agreed to them has been dead for almost 200 years.
This analysis assumes the likelihood of a major third party candidate, such as Trump or Bloomberg, to be very small. If either entered the race outside the two party system, it would dramatically alter the map and model.
The Mugwumps were polled on the likelihood of each state or district (DC and the congressional districts of Nebraska and Maine) going Democratic or Republican in November. A ten thousand iteration stochastic model was generated based on these individual state outcomes and EV appropriation. If a state or district was predicted to be won with >90% probability it was called Solid, between 90% and 75% was called Leaning, and <75% by either party was called Toss Up.
A previous version of this article stated that the the 12th Amendment gives the power of picking the President and Vice President to the newly-elected congress, rather than the lame-duck congress, where there is no majority winner of the Electoral College. Precedence states that the lame-duck congress can act immediately.