the public’s cluelessness about Trump’s policy agenda vs. her own?
PHILADELPHIA — On Wednesday night, the Harvard Institute of Politics pulled together a focus group of eight millennial voters from the Philadelphia area, and a small group of journalists watched. One of the millennials supported the Green Party presidential candidacy of Jill Stein. The rest professed to be totally undecided — despondent about the election, offended that they were being asked to choose between major party candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Most of the participants asked for anonymity. A few, including the Green-voting 27-year-old Amanda, offered up their first names and allowed a few follow-up questions. The small sample of voters, in one swing state, was illustrative just as the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and Researchpoll had been — and with the same tantalizing power for Democrats. Unlike some of the white working-class men who are breaking for Trump, the millennials were onboard with the Democrats’ 2016 agenda. But they were struggling to cast a vote. Among the lessons:
1. They agree with the Democrats on the issues. For the better part of an hour, the members of the group listed their most pressing policy concerns, from climate change to taxes to education to agriculture. When all the terms were written on a whiteboard, they were ask to list their top three, and for each, say which candidate they agreed with. Seven of the eight millennials ended up preferring Clinton on the issues; the eighth, as mentioned above, preferred Stein.
4. They’re counting on something — an assassin, impeachment — to prevent Trump from doing too much damage. Alex paralyzed the room with laughter when he floated a strange and “dark” idea. “If Trump wins,” he said, “he’s probably going to be assassinated, and Mike Pence will become president.”
Alex, a Democrat who had voted for Barack Obama in 2008, had stayed home in 2012 and cooled on most politicians. He had come to like Pence for his demeanor, as seen at Tuesday night’s debate. But the more important point was that a Trump presidency did not seem like a four- or eight-year proposition.
“He’s going to be in court most of the time as president,” said one focus group member who preferred to be anonymous. “He’s going to get impeached.”
5. They’re not necessarily thinking about all the powers a president would have. One of the questions that halted the group’s discussion was simple: How was the Supreme Court affecting their vote? Several members of the group admitted that they had not considered this; when they did, as in the issue round, they preferred that Clinton appoint members of the court.
— Five lessons about millennial voters from a Philadelphia focus group, David Weigel, Washington Post, yesterday
Meanwhile, today, Paul Krugman, Clinton’s penultimate cheerleader pundit, continues to pin on the political news media the entire blame for this epidemic of cluelessness about Trump’s and the Republican Establishment’s actual policy agenda. And for such things as the unawareness that Trump will be appointing Supreme Court justices, lower-federal-court judges, and federal-agency heads, and will be signing Paul Ryan’s fiscal and regulatory bills.
And that if Trump resigns, is impeached, or is assassinated, Mike Pence (the rightwing talk-show host cum Tea Party pol) will.
Krugman often beats the drum with praise for Clinton by reminding the public of such things as how poised and how much stamina she showed last fall during that 11-hour Benghazi House Committee hearing. He can’t understand why that doesn’t suffice as reason to be fond of her, or at least to vote for her against Donald Trump.
He even more often rages in anger at the appalling, diametrically opposite manner in which the mainstream political media has covered both Clinton and Trump—and its god-awful-absurd, unremitting obsession with Clinton’s email for a full one-and-a-half years until finally it stopped late last month.
But never, ever, does he acknowledge that the profound lack of knowledge, particularly among millennials, about the differences between these two candidates’ agendas, and between their respective parties’ agendas, may be as much because Clinton herself has failed to apprise the public of this. Some of it at all, some of it with actual specifics, the rest of it with anything resembling consistency.
To wit, Krugman’s column today, titled “What About the Planet?” It begins:
Our two major political parties are at odds on many issues, but nowhere is the gap bigger or more consequential than on climate.
If Hillary Clinton wins, she will move forward with the Obama administration’s combination of domestic clean-energy policies and international negotiation — a one-two punch that offers some hope of reining in greenhouse gas emissions before climate change turns into climate catastrophe.
If Donald Trump wins, the paranoid style in climate politics — the belief that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast international conspiracy of scientists — will become official doctrine, and catastrophe will become all but inevitable.
So why does the media seem so determined to ignore this issue? Why, in particular, does it almost seem as if there’s a rule against bringing it up in debates?
He goes on to castigate Kaine/Pence debate moderator Elaine Quijano for her general awfulness and, specifically, for this:
[I]t’s really stunning that in the three nationally televised forums we’ve had so far — the “commander in chief” forum involving Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate — the moderators have asked not a single question about climate.
This was especially striking in Tuesday’s debate.
Somehow Elaine Quijano, the moderator, found time for not one but two questions inspired by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — an organization concerned that despite relatively low budget deficits now and extremely low borrowing costs, the federal government may face fiscal problems a couple of decades down the line. There may be something to this, although not as much as deficit scolds claim (and Ms. Quijano managed to suggest that Mrs. Clinton’s proposals, which are fully paid for, are no better than Mr. Trump’s multitrillion-dollar debt blowout).
But if we’re worried about the longer-term implications of current policies, the buildup of greenhouse gases is a much bigger deal than the accumulation of low-interest debt. It’s bizarre to talk about the latter but not the former.
And this blind spot matters a lot. Polling suggests that millennial voters, in particular, care a lot about environmental protection and renewable energy. But it also suggests that more than 40 percent of young voters believe that there is no difference between the candidates on these issues.
I watched that debate from beginning to end (although I’m sure I broke a record for times checking the clock during a 90-minute period). And I couldn’t believe this moderator’s focus on the national debt. Or, to be accurate, I couldn’t believe her loaded, circa-2011 questions about it and deep urgency in the tone of her voice. Might a question specifically about what Trump’s massive tax cuts and massive military board-patrol buildup relative to the debt not have been, y’know, a good thing for her to ask?
But it also might have been a good thing for Kaine to ask. And it might have been helpful if he’d responded to Pence’s false statement that the debt has increased massively since Obama assumed office with a truthful statement that in fact it has been significantly reduced, but he didn’t. But Kaine had one, and only one, assignment in that debate, and it wasn’t to make either of those two points. It was instead to force Pence to accept, reject, or deny the fact of Trump’s racist, xenophobic, misogynist, vulgar, etc., etc., pronouncements.
Mission accomplished. Unless, of course, the mission was to educate the public about the Trump agenda that huge swaths of the public—including, apparently, most millennials—doesn’t know about.
Including all those court and agency-head appointments. And what that would mean.
I don’t expect that Clinton and her campaign strategists can be disabused of their foundational presumption that moderate suburbanites just love extreme tax cuts for the wealthy, further deregulation of the finance industry, global warming, and complete control of government at every level by a handful of billionaires and some mega-corporations. Which is why she doesn’t campaign on these, and campaigns almost entirely on the racist, xenophobic, misogynist, etc., etc. stuff, in the belief that only that will sway or hold moderate suburbanites.
So I suppose it would make no difference if someone other than me—someone like, say, Krugman—pointed out that Clinton’s been an extreme enabler of the political news media’s de facto blackout on these dramatic policy-and-appointments agenda differences. But it would be worth a try.
Although first the people I’m urging to do this would themselves have to be persuaded that Clinton’s poise and stamina during the Benghazi hearing did nothing to educate the public about those policy-and-appointments agenda differences.
I guess I won’t hold my breath. Even though time is now so short that I probably wouldn’t even turn blue.