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A Little Bit Of Hopium


Image credit: Cal Alumni Association, another article worth reading.

I don’t disagree with the pessimistic posts we’ve had over the past several weeks, but I think we need to hear something optimistic too. I don’t know what we do about the Senate except campaign like crazy and hope for several miracles.

But the polls, the polls. I am always suspicious about the polls because they include so many variables and sometimes rely on small sample sizes. Even in a poll that has a large total number of participants, the number of black men between 20 and 30 or the number of people with unconventional gender identities may well be small. Nonetheless, the analysts usually treat all categories the same.

Then there’s how issues are presented. I have yet to see a poll in which the enormous anger at the removal of women’s rights and healthcare is properly represented. Do you support restrictions on abortion represented by varying numbers of weeks? Do you want Roe v. Wade made into law? Do you think that Donald Trump or Joe Biden is responsible? I have yet to see Are you okay with women bleeding out in hospital parking lots or What do you think the rise in unplanned pregnancies will do to women’s participation in the work force.

So I don’t think they’re getting that one right. I haven’t been careful in my wording of the questions because all too often the polls aren’t either.

And we’re five months out. You have seen the Mike Dukakis and Mitt Romney sure winner polls that have been widely overshared.

We need to take seriously that even with all that, it looks like around half the country’s voters are okay with electing Donald Trump again.

But there are other ways to look at our situation. Heather Cox Richardson puts today’s politics into a historical context. Some optimistic observations from one of her recent columns:

The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war. The last of the establishment Republican leaders who controlled the party before 2016 are trying to wrest control of it back from Trump’s MAGA Republicans, who have taken control of the key official positions. At the same time, Trump’s MAGA voters, while a key part of the Republican base, have pushed the party so far right they have left the majority of Americans—including Republicans—far behind.

Abortion remains a major political problem for Republicans. Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who provided the votes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and he has boasted repeatedly that he ended Roe. This pleases his white evangelical base but not the majority of the American people.

Trump himself is a problem for the party. His base is absolutely loyal, but he is a deeply problematic candidate for anyone else. As Susan Glasser outlined in the New Yorker yesterday, in the past week he chickened out of testifying in his ongoing criminal trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep damaging information from voters in 2016 after insisting for weeks that he would. He talked about staying in office for a third term, ran a video promising that the United States will become a “unified Reich” when he wins reelection, and accused President Joe Biden of trying to have him assassinated. He will be 78 in a few weeks and is having trouble speaking.

In addition to his ongoing criminal trial, on Tuesday a filing unsealed in the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents showed that a federal judge, Beryl Howell, believed investigators had “strong evidence” that Trump “intended” to hide those documents from the federal government.

Yesterday [May 23] he wrote on social media that “Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

There is no good interpretation of this post. If Trump does have that sort of leverage with Putin, why? And why not use it immediately? Is he openly signaling to Putin to ignore the Biden administration’s ongoing negotiations for Gershkovich’s release? Trevor Reed, who was arrested in Russia in 2019 when visiting his girlfriend in Moscow, noted: “As a former wrongful detainee in Russia, I would just like to remind everyone that President Trump had the ability to get myself and Paul Whelan out of Russia for years and chose not to. I would be skeptical of any claims about getting Evan Gershkovich back in a day.” 

And then there’s his bombing before the Libertarian presidential convention. Most people don’t know or care what Libertarians think, but being booed over and over again is not a good thing for a presidential candidate. And it hurts Trump’s ego, as does the ongoing criminal trial and his other court cases. He’s pretty resilient though.

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice. [Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”]

Simon Rosenberg is another person who provides some optimism. He and Tom Bonier comment on the polls in more detailed ways than I can. After his interview with Isaac Chotiner, the question of whether the polls predicted the 2022 results has been bopping around. I would have to spend a lot more time with the numbers to have a strong opinion on that, but “the red wave” never materialized, and Rosenberg goes into more detail on that. Even the Times’s Nate Cohn had to admit that the likely voter – registered voter split (former for Biden, latter for Trump) favors Biden this time around.

Rosenberg also cites substantive issues, often the same ones Richardson cites. Our candidate is better than theirs. In many, many ways. Keep that in mind.

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