A New York Politics Chat: Is Clinton a Lock to Win the Presidency, or Could Trump Pull Off an Upset?

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Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

After a bizarre, exhausting race, we’re finally here: By the end of the night we’ll know whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States (we hope). Clinton is still widely favored to win, but in recent days the polls have tightened. And frightening Democrats even further, Trump has actually managed to stay on message. Is there a chance he could pull off an upset, or does the strong turnout among Latinos in early-voting states indicate that Clinton already has the race locked up? On Monday, New York Magazine’s politics team — Jonathan Chait, Margaret Hartmann, Ed Kilgore, and Eric Levitz — joined digital deputy editor Jebediah Reed to discuss what we should expect to see on Tuesday night.

Jebediah Reed: One of the big stories of the last month has been Trump seeming to submit himself, for the first time, to the advice of his handlers — even giving up his Twitter privileges. Has this late-stage pivot helped his chances? And does this tell us anything important about him as a politician — especially in the unlikely event that he wins?

Margaret Hartmann: I think staying “on message” is definitely helping, if only because it allows Republicans to pretend that he’s a normal candidate.

Eric Levitz: Not picking Twitter fights with the parents of fallen American war heroes — and beauty-pageant contestants whom you’ve psychologically abused — is almost certainly a sound political move. Trump’s core message is still one that most political observers would have deemed toxic a year ago, but in recent weeks, we’ve learned how tolerant Republican voters are of xenophobic populism — even those who aren’t attracted to it appear willing to tolerate it as an acceptable price of their preferred fiscal agenda.

Jonathan Chait: I’ve made the case that the Republican Establishment’s calculation that it can do business with a President Trump is not crazy. I think this behavior provides more evidence for that.

Eric Levitz: Which is one of the scarier aspects of this election right now: If the GOP were running a competent authoritarian nationalist, he could very well be winning.

Jonathan Chait: Yup. Trump could have been 90 percent less crazy and norm-shattering, and still been the craziest, most-norm-shattering candidate in history. And quite possibly won.

Ed Kilgore: There is a point of view that a different kind of Trump would not have the same “base” appeal.

Eric Levitz: I don’t think attacking Rosie O’Donnell or Alicia Machado was core to that appeal though. He could have dropped 96 percent of the misogyny and kept the base, as long as he retained the white identity politics.

Ed Kilgore: The other contrarian idea is that most of the voting patterns are returning to a partisan status quo — which means a lot of campaigning, including Trump’s really bad campaigning, has become irrelevant.

Eric Levitz: Correct. Many pundits have attributed Trump’s ability to survive controversy to some mysterious trait unique to him personally. But it seems more likely that the depth of partisan polarization has enabled Republicans to forgive him all his sins.

Margaret Hartmann: Maybe the crazy attacks were key to his success. He earned media attention through breaking norms so dramatically. Part of the “fun” of Trump’s candidacy was tuning in to see what shocking thing he would say next.

Jonathan Chait: But media attention has hurt him in the general election. When he’s receded into the background, the media focused on Clinton, usually in a negative way, and she sunk.

Ed Kilgore: In the primaries, his outrages were offset by the fact that for a lot of “base” voters he was saying stuff publicly that they say (or wish they could say) privately. Not so much in the general. “Not being p.c.” is not a universally accepted excuse for being nasty among the general electorate.

Jebediah Reed: Trump is projected to lose, of course. Based on what we know now, there’s a growing sense among commentators that the Latino vote is what will do him in. Vox has already dubbed the 2016 election “the Year of the Latino vote.” It’s a great story. Do the facts support that argument yet?

Eric Levitz: The early-vote totals certainly do. White turnout is also up, so the spike in Latino turnout may not prove sufficient, but there’s little question that such a spike is happening.

Ed Kilgore: If Trump loses Florida and Nevada and Colorado and there’s the kind of evidence already emerging that Latinos (a) turned out exceptionally well, and (b) gave Clinton Obama-like margins or even better — then yeah, it’s the Year of the Latino Vote.

Jonathan Chait: It would be the least ironic election outcome ever.

Eric Levitz: It also may have long-term implications. Latinos have long been underrepresented in the electorate, relative to their share of the population. If Trump turned a bunch of non-registered Hispanics into habitual Democrats, he will have done a profound service to the progressive movement.

Ed Kilgore: If Trump loses a bunch of battleground states without many Latinos, and the gender gap is as big as some polls say, it could also be the Year of the College-Educated Women.

Margaret Hartmann: That would be a huge shift, since the the lack of enthusiasm for Clinton among millennial women was a theme throughout much of the election. And there’s been so little focus on the likely prospect that we’re about to elect the first female president.

Ed Kilgore: True. I also agree with Eric, though: The long-term effect of this campaign may be to accelerate the portion of demographic change attributable to Latino voting. Which raises the question of which shiny object attracts the most Republicans after the election: Trump’s success with white working-class voters, or his failure with Latinos.

Jebediah Reed: Ed, can the GOP realistically compete for the Latino vote? Or does the phenomenon that Eric is describing simply cement a permanent advantage for the Democrats in presidential races?

Jonathan Chait: Permanent is an impossibility. I think we’re already in the midst of a structural Democratic advantage at the presidential level. But it will end at some point. Either the Democratic coalition will come undone, the Republicans will get it together, or both. In other words, the Democrats will abandon the center and the GOP will seize it.

Eric Levitz: In the near-term, opposition to Latino immigration is too fundamental an issue to the GOP base for the party to moderate. And the GOP leadership has it too good to abandon that base. They still have Congress and a majority of state governments.

Ed Kilgore: I would normally say “permanent” is way too strong. But then again, when was Prop 187 in California? Twenty-two years ago? Republicans haven’t recovered with Latino voters even yet.

Jonathan Chait: George W. Bush found ways to finesse the gap between the base and the center. A clever pol could do it.

Ed Kilgore: I would remind you, Jon, that comprehensive immigration reform was one of Karl Rove’s “outreach” initiatives. The gap over that became un-finessed.

Margaret Hartmann: If only there were a young, likable Latino senator that the GOP could turn to … a Republican “savior,” if you will. The party should probably give up on outreach and just pin their hopes on that kind of figure emerging.

Ed Kilgore: Trouble is, for a lot of “base” voters, the obvious answer won’t be L’il Marco, but someone like Ben Carson. Or Trump.

Margaret Hartmann: Oh, I was talking about George P. Bush. (At least, that’s the role George P. hopes to play in the party. It’s the only explanation for him endorsing a man who humiliated his dad so thoroughly.)

Jebediah Reed: Poll-watching and election prediction have gotten even more heated than usual this week. There is a rift between Nate Silver, who sees the race as pretty wide open (Trump with a one-in-three chance of winning), and some other generally left-leaning statisticians who see the race as over, a Clinton win basically guaranteed. How certain are all of you that Clinton will prevail? What has you most concerned that the race might be more competitive than the consensus suggests?

Jonathan Chait: Silver’s right that the size of her lead is within the margin of a non-shocking polling miss.

Ed Kilgore: There are actual polls run by reputable people showing Trump ahead nationally and in most of the hotly contested states. If I knew more about polling methodology, I could maybe tell you whether Nate’s critics are engaging in a nerd fight or are convinced Trump’s odds increase whenever someone says he might win.

Jonathan Chait: I feel like saying “Trump has little chance of winning” is a statement akin to “There’s little chance an asteroid will destroy all life on Earth.” It’s intended to reassure, but has the opposite effect, merely by invoking an unthinkable prospect. In other words, the psychological element is at odds with the predictive one.

Margaret Hartmann: Yes, 30 percent chance that the country falls apart is still not acceptable. If Trump wins, Canada will need to build some kind of southern border wall to keep Democrats out.

Eric Levitz: I’m pretty confident. Clinton’s leading the polls, and if the polls are wrong, they seem more likely to be wrong in Clinton’s favor. Models don’t price in her ground-game advantage, nor the fact that that advantage seems to have already paid off in early voting. Plus, third-party voters are disproportionately young, and young voters are disproportionately anti-Trump. They’re much more likely to break for Clinton or stay at home than decide to make America great again.

Jonathan Chait: I agree with Eric. My guess would by Clinton by five, and I bet polls are underrating her a tad.

Margaret Hartmann: For a moment late last week, after the first Comey revelation, it seemed like she might lose. But the early Hispanic turnout suggests that moment is past. Plus, the electoral map has always been much more difficult for Trump.

Eric Levitz: The only thing I think Clinton supporters should be worried about is Clinton’s narrow margins in the Midwest. But they shouldn’t be that worried.

Ed Kilgore: The Nevada early-voting news basically convinced me Clinton was going to win. I think Trump will get close in some of those “Clinton firewall” states, but not close enough. If, as I suspect, Florida goes narrowly to Clinton, the other stuff doesn’t even matter.

Jebediah Reed: Since Jon offered a prediction: for fun and future embarrassment, anyone want to take a stab at the final result?

Ed Kilgore: Clinton by three in popular vote, 307-231 in electoral votes.

Margaret Hartmann: Clinton wins Florida. No voting irregularities, but Trump claims it’s rigged and demands a recount anyway.

Jonathan Chait: Clinton by five, 318 electoral votes.

Eric Levitz: I like Clinton by five nationally. She’ll take Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, and, heck, let’s say Ohio. Trump wins Iowa. He concedes, technically, but his rhetoric is not conciliatory.

Jonathan Chait: Does Trump concede on Election Night? I say he claims it was rigged but promises not to contest.

Margaret Hartmann: On the one hand, Trump can’t tolerate losing. On the other hand, I don’t think he really wants to be president. Trump may find it more appealing to claim he’s the victim and take his message to Trump TV. Or Trump Facebook Livestream.

Jonathan Chait: “The election was rigged, but I am a big man and I will not fight it for the good of the country.”

Ed Kilgore: I could also see him pitching a fit for a week or two if it’s really close.

Jebediah Reed: He might realize that being conciliatory is the only hope for his hotel business, which is falling off a cliff.

Margaret Hartmann: Yes, it seems like Ivanka could talk him into conceding for the good of the business. She’s reportedly very aware of the brand tanking. Better to concede and live to sell crappy steaks another day.

Eric Levitz: Then again, he couldn’t publicly admit Trump Steaks was a failure, so …