Guest post: Hillary Clinton and the alligator

Forecasting Intelligence would like to welcome a guest post by an influential political journalist who closely follows US presidential politics. This is their unique take on the US elections.

Hillary Clinton is wrestling an alligator. And the alligator’s name is Donald Trump. A metaphor, of course, but let me explain.

How does an alligator capture and kill it’s prey? It lurks in the dirty, disease-ridden swamp where it lives and waits patiently beneath the water.

It’s prey arrives, either to look for fish or to drink some of the water on the edge of the swamp. And the alligator strikes.

It’s not the bite of its massive jaws that kills it’s prey, however. The alligator takes hold of the bewildered beast and drags them into the dirty, disease-ridden swamp – his home territory, where he can survive and his prey can’t.

He wrestles the prey and he rolls around with them at the bottom of the swamp covering them in all the festering scum, filth and disease he lives in day-to-day.

Battered, bruised, weary and covered in filth the prey finally submits and the alligator sinks its teeth into its neck and kills it.

Hilary Clinton is wresting with Donald Trump the alligator. At the bottom of his swamp.

The release of a video tape of Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women was not a massive surprise. But everyone is acting as if it was – in false hope that it will kill him off.

It was actually a boon for his campaign. It was gloves off time and plunged the debate into a mud-slinging contest and boy can you sling mud at Hilary Clinton. So much in fact that most of her supporters are now at best slightly disillusioned with her and at worst actually wondering whether it is her or Trump which is in fact the lesser of two evils.

Email-gate, Bill’s dalliances, Benghazi, her Wall street-puppetry, the list goes on with Clinton.

Clinton strayed into Trump territory – his metaphorical swamp – like so many of his rivals. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz – they all wandered too close and were dragged down and drowned by Trump. One after the other.

Donald Trump’s best shot of winning this election is making so many voters not want to bother voting for Hilary Clinton that they won’t. And day-by-day as he grabs all the headlines, sure enough he will gradually achieve that.

Trump’s supporters are swamp dwellers also – they are ‘deplorable’, didn’t you hear – and will not be fazed by the depths this election showdown is sinking to.

The Donald’s tactic throughout his campaign has been to drag his opponents down to his toxic level and beat them with experience in a mud-slinging contest.

He is on his way to achieving this with Hilary Clinton. And will be elected PUSA on 8 November.

Guest post: Hillary Clinton and the alligator

Can the Donald pull it off?

Older readers of my blog will recall a similar title, published only weeks before the Brexit referendum, in which I discussed whether Middle England would break for Leave. At the time, the overwhelming consensus of the political and media elites (the “Pundocracy”), was for a narrow Remain victory. Certainly the polling evidence indicated that the British electorate, who had consistently favoured Remain (in the poll of polls) throughout most of the campaign, would stick with the status quo. As it happened, the electorate narrowly voted to leave the European Union (“EU”), which confirmed that my “educated hunch” was more accurate than the galaxy of betting markets, opinion polls and received wisdom of the “experts”.

So the first thing to note is that just because Donald Trump is behind Hilary Clinton in the polls, it does not mean that he has lost the election. At the beginning of the month I noted that Trump needed to step up a gear in the following second and third presidential debates if he was to have a chance of winning the election. On balance, he has achieved that goal with a strong comeback performance in the second debate and a solid final finish in Las Vegas.

According to Frank Luntz’s focus group on the third debate, Trump performed very well on key “bread and butter” issues, like the economy, trade, border security and immigration, even with Democratic leaning voters. Hilary performed better on the important issue of which candidate appeared more “presidential”, a subject in which Trump has trailed in the opinion polls. The sex tape and allegations of groping by the Republican presidential candidate in the past has certainly damaged Trump in the eyes of the electorate and amplified concerns over whether he is fit to take on the responsibilities of the presidency.

So to summarise, the state of play, post the debates, is that Trump has secured his key objective of appearing sufficiently “presidential”, if not at the same level as his opponent. The Republican candidate has also succeeded in connecting with the electorate on key issues like trade, immigration as well as being a change-agent who will reform a failing political establishment. It is clear that the sex scandals have damaged the Trump brand, particularly with female voters, and ensured that the real estate billionaire has failed, so far, to seal the deal with undecided voters.

There are certain underlying factors which I don’t think are being picked up by the surface polling being conducted. These could ensure that the actual election result is much closer than expected, and indeed, could catapult the Donald into the White House. I will list them as follows;

Shy Trump voters

Anecdotally, most open Trump supporters know of individuals who have kept their support for the Donald secret, out of fear of social rejection or a backlash from friends, family or work colleagues. There is some polling evidence that suggests that Trump performs better in anonymous online polls than traditional landline polling which requires voters to confirm to another human being their voting preferences. British readers will likely have heard of the “shy Tory” phenomenon during general election campaigns.* I suspect that approximately 4% of the electorate are shy Trump voters and they will have a significant impact during the presidential election.

*As a Conservative supporter during the 2015 GE, I kept my Tory views to myself, as I was aware that among my left-leaning acquaintances the Conservative Party was considered a toxic brand. So I have personal experience of the “shy Tory” factor.

Redneck surge

During the Brexit referendum, the polling professionals had the unenviable task of attempting to forecast turnout numbers for the different social classes. This was challenging as Britain has not had a major referendum in decades. The post-mortem of the failure of the polling industry to successfully predict the Leave result appears to place a significant part of the blame on the failure to anticipate the much higher turnout of working class citizens who don’t normally vote in general elections. It was the millions of white working class voters from council estates across Britain who helped ensure Leave had a shock victory.

I suspect that something similar will happen in this year’s presidential campaign. Donald Trump has tapped into the frustrations of the white working and lower-middle class layers of society who traditionally have a poor turnout at elections. These voters, who despise the political class, will likely make the effort to turn out, as they perceive the Republican candidate will materially benefit their interests. The fact that Trump doesn’t always behave in a presidential manner will likely endear him to this group of voters. In key swing states, a major up-surge of white working class support could be the key to victory.

Base turnout

It is well known that there is an “enthusiasm gap” between the two campaigns, with Trump regularly hosting huge rallies, compared to Clinton. Trump has fired up his base to go out and vote for him. If the media de facto declare Clinton as a winner in the coming weeks, on the basis of her narrow polling lead, this may lead to complacency among her soft supporters. Should Clinton fail to bring key electoral constituencies to the ballot box, including younger Latino, African American and left-leaning youth, she may lose key states on election night.

Protest vote

This may not be a significant factor in the election, but should the overwhelming consensus of the Pundocracy be that the Democrats have the election in the bag; it may encourage former Bernie Sander supporters to vote for Trump as a protest vote against Clinton. During the Brexit referendum, there was some evidence to suggest that a small proportion of the Leave electorate voted to make an anti-establishment protest, without ever expecting Leave to actually win. When elections are extremely close, such minor dynamics can have a profound impact on the eventual winner.

The “f*** it” factor

Polls have shown that a large majority of the American electorate are unhappy with the trajectory of the country, are alienated from a political class and feel that the economy is geared towards the very rich. There are not many opportunities to express your grievance against the political establishment in the modern era, but voting for Donald Trump is certainly one way of doing so.

I suspect that millions of voters, who may at the moment be reluctantly planning to vote for Hilary Clinton, may decide in the very last day or so before 8 November 2016, to take a gamble with the Donald. For citizens who haven’t had a wage increase in 10 years, who lost their home during the Great Recession, who are enraged that not a single Wall Street banker has gone to jail or simply despise the Washington establishment, Donald Trump is a vehicle to project their sense of injustice, anger and desire for revenge against an out-of-touch financial, media and political elite.

The question is whether concerns over the politically incorrect, and at times offensive language, of the Republican candidate will override the hard headed appeal to the interests of working Americans by the blue-collar billionaire. Trump’s policies on deporting hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, imposing border security and the return of trade tariffs will materially benefit the majority of legal lower skilled Americans. Polling shows that Trump’s hard-line position on letting Muslim refugees into America chime with the wary instincts of the majority of the population.

To summarise, this presidential election will come down to a clash between interests and values. Donald Trump will win this election if he is successful in making a hard-headed pitch to the material interests of Middle America with an “American First” platform over the values based politics of political liberalism.

Can the Donald pull it off?

Book review of Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st century America

decline-and-fall

As we enter the final weeks of an extraordinary, brutal and at times profoundly depressing presidential election, very little has been said by either candidate, on the coming challenges facing America in the near future.

John Michael Greer has written a superb book on the coming collapse of the American global empire, a tottering giant with a stagnating economy increasingly dependent on manufactured “paper wealth”, exploding national debt and a military which for all its hi-tech brilliance, is heading towards a catastrophic defeat within the next decade.

As the foundations of America’s Imperial Age disintegrate, the world faces an even greater challenge, the decline and coming end of the “empire of time”, the exploitation of non-renewable resources like oil, coal and gas at an unsustainable rate, which I have covered in my post “winter is coming”. What the Washington elites fail to understand is that these two crises, the impending end of their global empire and the descent into the era of limits, will unfold at the same time.

Greer succinctly explains why the brittle American political and economic system is unprepared for this “perfect storm” which will impact America in the near future. Readers may note that I have used the term “Scarcity Industrialism” in the blog to explain the era which we are starting to transition to, a term which derives from John Michael Greer, in a number of blog posts. The issues raised by Greer have been discussed by governments around the world, in particular military circles, which are receptive of the national security risks of resource scarcity.

Few people are aware that the German military has also investigated the emerging era of resource scarcity, in particular oil, in a far-reaching report. As the magazine Spiegel notes, the report “…uses sometimes-dramatic language to depict the consequences of an irreversible depletion of raw materials. It warns of shifts in the global balance of power, of the formation of new relationships based on interdependency, of a decline in importance of the western industrial nations, of the “total collapse of the markets” and of serious political and economic crises.” Whilst the full report, at 112 pages, is a long read, it is worth reading to understand the multitude of challenges facing the industrial world. One can be sure that other similar reports are circulating among military and security policymakers around the world.

Greer considers that the most likely trigger for the end of American military and economic hegemony will be a military defeat, at some point, within the next decade. The US military is a formidable military machine but it is extremely dependent on hi-tech systems (GPS, satellites etc) that, if knocked out, would deal a devastating blow to its operational capabilities. The biggest weakness of the American military, its aircraft carrier fleet, is the means by which a military opponent can use asymmetrical warfare to cripple the American military. In Greer’s fictional novel “Twilight’s Last Gleaming”, these ideas are explored in a fast paced thriller, which I have recently reviewed.

The shattering impact of a military defeat would lead to the end of dollar hegemony, unleash a massive economic shock to the American economy and likely cause a systemic crisis within the American political system. The rise of Donald Trump is an early sign that the growing gulf between an increasingly pauperised Middle America and a tiny wealthy elite is leading to growing political instability. Should a significant section of the American electorate give up on the democratic process, they may turn to violence or rally behind a charismatic strongman who promises a return to the glory days of Abundant Industrialism.

The overall message from Greer’s book is that America is particularly vulnerable in the transition into the age of resource limits and will struggle to adapt to the coming end of its privileged status in the world economic order. Local communities are best advised to mitigate and adapt at a local level, as best they can, to the coming challenges as a bankrupt federal government will be unable to keep the many promises made during the golden years of abundance.

Whoever is elected the next president of the United States will have to start dealing with some of these challenges. The recent turmoil in the markets over the future of Deutsche Bank, the German banking giant, is a reminder that our western banking system is still very fragile and could relapse into a systemic crisis at any point. This is just one danger point in a world which is increasingly unstable and troubled.

I will be exploring some of the themes discussed in this book review over the course of the next few weeks, as well as publishing my final forecasting article on the likely outcome of the pivotal American presidential election, due on 8 November 2016.

Book review of Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st century America

The May Falle

During World War 2, the Red Army perfected the art of the strategic encirclement and entrapment of the mighty German Wehrmacht, resulting in the eventual destruction of the Third Reich. The Soviets baited the Germans into driving forward, encircled them and proceeded to starve the invaders into surrender. The Germans had a name for this, falle, meaning “trap”.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May, in her speech to the Conservative party conference, was a well crafted strategic encirclement operation against the Labour Party, which is in danger of getting trapped in May’s own political falle. Theresa May articulated a vision of a country that managed and regulated migration, used the state to protect the “left-behind” of a globalized economy and took on the vested interests of a wealthy City of London dominated establishment. It was a master class of the new centre-right populism where elections are now won.

Of course, the only reason why Theresa May is now occupying 10 Downing Street was the Leave victory during the Brexit referendum. The Brexit result had many causes, but one of the principal factors was the legitimate concerns of the British public about the economic and cultural implications of mass migration into the United Kingdom.

The consequences of European Union (EU) migration has predominately been an economic one, with low-skilled but hard working East European migrants taking jobs which might otherwise have been taken by the indigenous working class. The influx of Polish plumbers, for example, has inevitably had an impact on British born plumber’s wages, which has stagnated as a result. On a broader level, East Europeans broadly share similar attitudes to British people on many issues, and the high number of marriages between British and Polish citizens is a good example of how well EU migrants have integrated into British society.

There is no doubt that concerns over the mass immigration of EU migrants into the country, and their impact of wages and public services, impacted the referendum result. However, I would argue that it was the collapse of the external borders of the EU, and the mass influx of predominately Muslim refugees, that drove the average voter to vote out on 23 June 2016.

It is well known that the Muslim communities of Britain have struggled to integrate into the wider British society and opinion polls reflect the very different attitudes to woman’s rights, homosexuality and the role of religion in society. The boycott by sections of the Muslim community of the government’s Prevent programme illustrates these tensions. The Prevent programme was created to encourage citizens to report any potential terrorist cases to the police, but has been widely condemned by Islamists as a stigmatisation of the Muslim community.

Muslim critics have been very loud in their criticisms of Prevent, but little effort has been invested, in constructive proposals on how to deal with the growing extremism problem among the younger Muslim population. Question marks about the underlying loyalty of the Muslim population are a below-the-radar concern for broad layers of the British public.

The influx of Muslim refugees, many from deeply conservative countries, into the heart of the European Continent in 2015 transformed the nature of the EU migration debate in the minds of the average voter. The prospect that these refugees would at some point become European citizens and be free to move en masse to the UK was an intolerable prospect for many British people. It is now becoming clear that an unknown number of the hundreds of thousands of migrants are ISIS sleeper terrorists, sent to wreak death and destruction in the West.

The majority of the British public concluded that re-gaining control of Britain’s borders was a vital economic and security matter over and above the potential economic damage of exiting the EU.

The Labour Party is currently having an internal debate on whether to campaign on remaining in the single market or taking a “hard Brexit” approach, similar to the Conservative Party. The re-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is ideologically committed to an open borders policy and has indicated that he will campaign to stay in the single market. Should Labour go into the next general election on a platform of prioritising membership of the single market over controls over migration, it will be slaughtered in the ballot box. This is the Theresa May falle.

The Conservative Party is slowly but systematically pinching the economic programme of Corbynism, modifying and adopting it as government policy. May has promised a crackdown on corporate tax evasion, the “fat cat” culture of the City and the cultivation of an “industrial strategy” designed to build up Britain’s industrial base. This platform is music to the ears of traditional Labour voters. The Conservative Party is moving to bring on-board Labour voters, just as Donald Trump is doing with blue-collar Democratic voters, in the United States. You may hear a lot more in the coming years of the May Labourites and how they will bring an electoral landslide for the Tories at the next general election.

The Conservative Party is the most successful political party in history because of its ruthless and instinctive drive to seize and maintain power. The Telegraph’s writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has written eloquently on the demise of the globalised neo-liberal world order and notes that the Tories, with their instinctive lust for power, are the first to adapt to the new era of state interventionism, protectionism and the return of the nation-state.

The Tories are well positioned, under their new leader Theresa May, to strengthen their hold on the country as we enter the long twilight years of Scarcity Industrialism.

The May Falle

Passing the audition

On Monday 26th September 2016, Donald Trump passed the audition for the role of Commander in Chief, but hardly with flying colours.

If it was a debating contest the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton would have overwhelmingly won. Clinton was far more polished, policy focused and concise in her answers. In contrast, Trump was on the defensive for much of the debate, failed to effectively attack her on her weaknesses and tended to ramble and repeat himself.

It is important to remember that this is no conventional presidential election and Donald Trump is not your typical professional career politician, of which the average voter is well aware. The watching electorate expected Hilary Clinton to perform well and she matched those expectations on the night.

Donald Trump, as the political outsider with no prior experience in politics, was never expected to technically perform to the standard of Hilary Clinton. Trump’s challenge was to prove to the electorate that he had self-control, could plausibly appear presidential and was able to connect on the major issues affecting the nation. Overall, Trump succeeded in all those aims.

As Scott Adams explains so well in his blog (which I recommend reading), by avoiding the subject of Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, he showed self-control and remained presidential, even though it effectively lost him the debate. The perceived “risk” factor of voting for Trump is a major issue of concern for undecided voters, and his performance at the debate goes some way in reassuring those voters, who are thinking of voting for Trump.

The Pundocracy have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing issues of little relevance to the average voter. Emailgate, birthergate and other issues may reflect poorly on the candidates but they are not the “bread and butter” issues that affect the day-to-day lives of normal voters. When Trump spoke about returning jobs to America, the major problem of gun crime in America’s inner cities and his opposition to futile Middle Eastern wars, it felt to me that he connected with the watching electorate.

A number of polls, taken after the debate, suggest that this was the case. According to a scientific flash poll by Breibart/Gravis, Trump won 46 percent versus 42 percent to Clinton, on which candidate was considered more “plausible” as president. On the question of ‘Who showed that they care about people like you?’ Trump won that 49 percent to 44 percent for her.

A PPD Post Debate Poll suggested that Trump scored with undecided voters who felt that although Clinton won the debate, Trump appeared presidential and came across as more genuine and passionate about the major issues, including the economy.

The media have promoted the narrative, post-debate, that the night had been a disaster for the Trump campaign and this may have played a role in the modest bounce in the polls for Hilary Clinton since the debate.

My own view is that Donald Trump has failed, so far, to seal the deal with the American people. Millions of Americans still have doubts whether Donald Trump is ready to enter the White House, and it is up to him to overcome these concerns, if he wishes to win the election. The good news for the Trump campaign is that the next two debates are a huge opportunity to improve his performance and persuade the watching audience that he can do better than scrape a pass on the most powerful job audition in the world.

Trump has made significant strides in transitioning from the aggressive populism where he started, to the more serious centre-right political space, where elections are won. I have written before that the political sweet spot is in the populist centre-right. The Republican candidate is edging closer to that invisible line, on the political spectrum, when the majority of the electorate will vote for the Donald. He isn’t there yet though and there is still a possibility that he won’t reach that line before Election Day on 8 November 2016.

Whether Trump can step up a gear in this final stage in the presidential election race and surge to victory is the million dollar question. If he can, than the most likely outcome of the presidential race will be a victory for Donald Trump, which I predicted at the beginning of the year.

Passing the audition