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Column: Clinton Expands The Map, Trump's Worrisome Embrace of Putin
“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.
2016 Overview – With fewer than 60 days to Election Day, according to our polling aggregate Clinton continues to hold a substantial 5 point lead in the race, 46-41. A few things to also note: 1) While Clinton retains this 5 point lead, a majority of public polls now have the race within 2 points. 2) Trump is still struggling to get out of the low 40s, and is only above 42% in a handful of either national or battleground state polls. 3) Clinton has successfully expanded the battleground to three new states – AZ, GA and NC. New polls from NBC this weekend should both AZ and GA to be a dead heat, and she leads in most North Carolina polls.
This last point is significant. A larger battleground allows the Clinton financial and organizational advantage to become magnified, as her resources – including powerful surrogates – are being deployed in more than just 10 states (the core battleground - CO, FL, IA, NV, PA, MI, NH, OH, WI, VA). This not only puts much more pressure on the under-resourced Trump operation, but it will mean more wins for Democrats down ballot in these additional states. For the Republican Party who has struggled so much at the national level in recent elections this expansion of the map is a very ominous development.
The move of Arizona into a pure toss up (two good polls out this week have the race dead even, Romney won by 9 pts in 2012) is one that should be particularly worrisome for the national GOP. For it means that soon Texas will start to be in play for Democrats, and not just statewide – Hispanics make up more than 15% of eligible voters in fully 15 Congressional seats held by Republicans in Texas, and 5 of those have more than 25% share. Dedicated, funded campaigns designed to get Hispanic turnout up in those districts could have a significant impact on the balance of power in the House in coming years. The last two public polls of Texas have Clinton up 1, and Trump up 6. Even assuming a 6 point spread, this is way way too close for the GOP to feel good about.
For those wondering about the state of play in the House, this Politico piece is well worth reading.
Trump and Putin – While Trump’s apparent admiration for Vladimir Putin has gotten a lot of attention of late, it is his embrace of Putin’s worldview that should be most alarming to Americans and to his fellow Republicans. Trump and his top supporters, including Governor Pence, have repeatedly praised Putin’s “strength,” admiring of his ability to prosecute his agenda on the world stage particularly in the Middlle East. But let’s look at that agenda a bit, and question whether it deserves praise and admiration.
In the Middle East, Putin is funding and protecting Syria's Assad, and is thus directly complicit in mass slaughter of civilians, the lengthening of the Civil War, and the massive refugee crisis in Europe that is doing so much to weaken establishment parties in Europe right now. Putin has also for years been Iran’s primary backer on the global stage, including at the UN. The ISIS insurgency is primarily a fight against the Iran/Shi’a aligned regimes in both Syrian and Iraq, and thus one could argue that it has been Russia more than any other global power who has been responsible for creating the conditions that have led to both the rise of Iran as a regional power and ISIS itself - something Trump blames Hillary Clinton for daily.
The distance between Putin's approach to the Middle East and the very public demonization of Iran we've heard from the GOP over the past few years could not be greater.
His “strength” has also led Putin to invade and occupy portions of a foreign neighbor, and like Trump, support Brexit, weakening of both Europe and NATO (see this piece for a longer discussion of this). His “strength” has also put him right in the middle of both the greatest sport cheating scandal in history, the FIFA scandal, and now the greatest Olympic cheating scandal in history. The level of cheating and corruption practiced by Russia on the global sports stage has no historic parallel, and is another sign of Putin’s utter contempt for a rules-based, international system.
Third, Putin is a leader of what has become the most pernicious political economy of the 21st century – the petro state. There is perhaps no system more antithetical to the American creed than petro states – unaccountable dictatorships, systems whose wealth and power is derived from mass pollution of the planet and the threat of global instability (which keeps oil prices high) rather than a commitment to the current global system.
Which brings me to my final point – that Trump, like Putin, has denigrated institutions and conventions which keep our democracy strong. He has broken from time honored bi-partisan tradition and refused to release his tax returns and his medical records, and has even failed to produce Melania’s basic immigration documents that he promised weeks ago.. He has refused to allow press to travel on his plane, and ended the traditiona of the “protective pool” that would travel with him at all times of day. He already said the election will be rigged and thus illegitimate, has encouraged the hacking of a major political party in the US by a foreign power to help disrupt our election and constantly calls the media and political elites dishonest and corrupt. He has questioned the efficacy of NATO and the European project, praised Brexit, and has said he will rip up trade agreements we have with other nations, violating international law and weakening the global trading system that has done so much to advance democratic capitalism around the world.
It would be one thing to praise Putin’s charm, but to praise his leadership and “strength” is praising a man who gets up every day fighting against time worn American values and the modern world we helped build. This is the very opposite of patriotism, and to me is the single most troubling manifestation of the new politics of Trump.