There are a couple of things that I want to mention today in the context of Donald Trump and the upcoming midterm elections. First of all, let’s look at the fact that many Republican candidates are looking to copy everything about Donald Trump in their approach to campaigning. This is a sensible thing to do as it worked for Trump and continues to work for his core base. Therefore, why not copy such techniques, even if they are course and pretty distasteful? In “Midterm ‘Mini-Me’: is copying Trump a winning strategy for rightwingers?”, David Smith states:
Copycat tactics ahead of November’s midterm elections include flaunting political incorrectness, courting controversy for its own sake, blasting out inflammatory tweets in upper case, railing against “fake news” in local media, never backing down or saying sorry, trafficking in conspiracy theories and denigrating rivals with tags evocative of “Crooked” Hillary.
“Since Trump currently has 88% approval among Republicans (stronger than any modern president of either party except Bush right after 9/11) it makes sense for candidates in his party to emulate him,” Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and a prominent Trump supporter, said via email. “If Republicans are willing to fight toe to toe with the left they will win a shocking victory this fall. If they try to appease the media and the elites, they will lose the House.”
The elections offer the first comprehensive test of whether Trump is sui generis or his winning formula can be replicated without his celebrity and wealth. Several imitators have already fallen by the wayside in Republican primaries. Several more are struggling in opinion polls against Democratic rivals as they desperately try to mimic the president.
It is a sign of Trump’s cult-of-personality dominance of the Republican party that candidates are now falling over each other to demonstrate their ideological fealty. All are aware that his endorsement can make the difference between victory and defeat among primary voters. Some are taking it one step further by also copying his methods, no matter how coarse.
These midterm elections are certainly going to be fascinating viewing. It would appear that there is continued polarisation in voting in the US. This means that Republicans can fully count on their staunch Republican voters and Trump has forced the Democratic voters firmly into the Democratic camp. I wonder whether there are, in real terms, fewer swing voters than in previous elections.
Smith details some vivid cases of copying:
In Georgia, Brian Kemp is waging a vicious campaign against the Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is bidding to be the first African American female governor in US history. He has called her a liar who spreads “fake news” and tweeted a video clip that described her as George Soros-backed candidate. His TV ads have shown him holding a gun that “no one’s taking away” and sitting in a Ford F350 truck that he would use “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself”.
Some indulge in Trumpian name calling. The conservative businessman Mike Braun, running for the Senate in Indiana, branded his primary rivals “Luke the Liberal”and “Todd the Fraud”. Others follow the president’s lead on Twitter. In Arizona, Kelli Ward’s timeline is replete with hashtags such as #AmericaFirst, #BuildTheWall, #RepealObamacare and even #BIGLY.
A sample of tweets on Friday by the former soap opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr, running for Congress in southern California, offers another insight. In turns he celebrated the latest jobs numbers; promoted a film by Dinesh D’Souza, who has pushed conspiracy theories; mocked Barack Obama; slammed CNN for “fake news”; had a dig at the New York Times; championed a border wall and demanded: “Democrats cry for illegal alien children – encouraged to cross the border by their own parents – but what about the American children who’ve been killed by illegal aliens and permanently separated from their parents?”
Perhaps most vividly (and knowingly) of all, the congressman Ron DeSantis, campaigning for the governorship of Florida, released a humorous campaign video in which he and his children build a wall from toy bricks, read Trump’s book The Art of the Deal and use a “Make America great again” sign to learn reading. DeSantis was trailing in the polls in the Republican primary until Trump’s endorsement turned the race on its head.
There is an interesting number of quotes from Corey Stewart in the article that are worth looking at where he talks about how Trump has broken the mould in what Republican candidates can look like and sound like. I think this is certainly the case. For better or for worse, Trump has changed the way politics works in America. Whilst Stewart may argue that there is a new era of “authenticity”, I would argue that there is a debasement of political discourse.
Is it working? Well, arguably not as much as they would have already liked:
The reality, however, is that Stewart trails Kaine by double digits in opinion polls. And he would not be the first candidate to discover the limitations of Trumpism without Trump. In 2016, the “alt-right” acolyte Paul Nehlen was hammered by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, in a Republican primary in Wisconsin. This year in New York, Michael Grimm, who had been in prison for tax fraud, branded his House primary opponent Dan Donovan “Dishonest Dan” and “Desperate Dan”, but the latter gained Trump’s support and won. In the Georgia governor’s race, the stunt of driving a “deportation bus” could not save Michael Williams from trailing in last….
The reality, however, is that Stewart trails Kaine by double digits in opinion polls. And he would not be the first candidate to discover the limitations of Trumpism without Trump. In 2016, the “alt-right” acolyte Paul Nehlen was hammered by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, in a Republican primary in Wisconsin. This year in New York, Michael Grimm, who had been in prison for tax fraud, branded his House primary opponent Dan Donovan “Dishonest Dan” and “Desperate Dan”, but the latter gained Trump’s support and won. In the Georgia governor’s race, the stunt of driving a “deportation bus” could not save Michael Williams from trailing in last.
And this is the point: it will work, this kind of disrespectful discourse, for those Republican voters entrenched in their ideology but it won’t wash with anyone outside of that tribal boundary.
In one area, that of gender, the Trumpian message is received in two very different ways. FiveThirtyEight, as ever, has some good analysis:
The gender gap — the fact that women tend to vote Democratic at a higher rate than men do — has been a persistent feature of American politics, and it’s only getting wider. According to 2016 exit polls, women voted for Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points, and men voted for President Trump by 11 points. That 24-point gap in the national popular vote was the biggest in the history of the presidential exit poll.
This week, we got a poll showing that same 24-point gender gap in the only “national” election of 2018: the national popular vote for the U.S. House. A YouGov survey found that male voters preferred the Republican candidate by 9 percentage points, while female voters preferred the Democratic candidate by 15 points. It was a bit of an outlier, but not egregiously so: A RealClearPolitics-style average1 of generic-ballot polls taken in the past two weeks reveals a gender gap of 16 points, and the two highest-quality polls from that period — Quinnipiac and Marist — each showed a gap even bigger than 24 points. If YouGov, Quinnipiac or Marist is correct, then just like 2016 broke a gender-gap record for presidential races, 2018 will have the widest gender gap in congressional elections since at least 1992.2
If the electorate were exclusively women, then the Democrats would romp home. Likewise, if they were men, the Republicans would be a shoe-in.
These state election polls show this to very much be the case:
In a Quinnipiac poll of Texas’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Ted Cruz won male respondents by 20 points, but Democrat Beto O’Rourke won female respondents by 6 points — a 26-point gender gap. (There were no exit polls of Texas in 2012, the last time this seat was on the ballot.)
In a Texas Lyceum poll of the gubernatorial race in the Lone Star State, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won likely male voters by 30 points and likely female voters by 3 points. That’s a 27-point gap. Four years ago, exit polls indicated that Abbott won men by 34 points and women by 9 points — a similar 25-point gap.
In a Suffolk poll of the Nevada governor’s race, Republican Adam Laxalt leads among men by 15 points. On the other hand, Democrat Steve Sisolak has a 13-point lead among women, making for a 28-point gender gap. (There are no exit polls of the 2014 Nevada gubernatorial race to compare to.)
In the same Suffolk poll of Nevada, men prefer Republican Dean Heller, the incumbent, in the U.S. Senate race by a 20-point margin. Women opt for Democrat Jacky Rosen by 16 points. That’s a 36-point gender gap. When Heller was first elected in 2012, he won men by 10 points and lost women by 6, per the exit polls — a 16-point gender gap.
According to a Mason-Dixon poll of Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Rick Scott is winning men by 21 points; Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is winning women by 15 points. That’s another 36-point gap! According to exit polls, the last time this seat was on the ballot, Nelson won men by 4 points and women by 20 points, for a 16-point gap.
Thus the political landscape in the US appears to have polarised to an even greater degree: not only do we have Republican and Democrat, but to a large degree, men and women.
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