May 19 2016
Men are from Mars. Women hate Donald Trump. Or something like that. It seems there’s a bit of a gender gap in the presidential race. For decades, Republican candidates have run better with men than women. The Donald is simply expanding on a continuing trend.
And expanding he is. You could sail an aircraft carrier through the difference between his support among men and women in the overall electorate. While Trump holds most Republican women, he struggles with Independents and repels most Democrats. This isn’t new. For months, observers have waited to see when he’ll pivot.
But what if he doesn’t? After all, he hasn’t yet, and polls are currently showing him in striking range of Hillary Clinton. While she lacks the distinctive tone of her opponent, she isn’t doing much better with men than he is with women. Trying to win an election by appealing mostly to white men was a great strategy in 1916. In 2016 the math isn’t supposed to work.
Normally, a running mate is chosen to accentuate a strength, or cover for a weakness. In this case, both candidates have too many weaknesses to cover with a single vice presidential nominee. There are too many potentially competitive states to figure any one of them is make or break.
In addition to the normal suspects like Ohio and Florida, Trump is contending in places like Pennsylvania where Republicans haven’t won since the 1980s. On the other hand, Arizona and Georgia look closer than they should for a GOP nominee with a chance. Each candidate will have more chances to go on offense than most, with the sideffect of having extra states to protect.
Hillary may want a younger running mate for contrast but needs to make sure the choice is viewed as a capable commander-in-chief as she’s pushing 70 and is likely planning on two terms. Trump may want to go younger for contrast, but most GOP rising stars are showing hesitation about teaming up with him. The majority of names you hear are towards the end of their careers.
No easy answers. Remember, candidates don’t make these decisions in a vacuum. Not only will they have several weeks to evaluate how things are going before anyone gets picked, but the second candidate to pick their mate will have the advantage of knowing what the other ticket looks like and how the choice was received.
In recent cycles, candidates have begun announcing their pick ahead of the convention. The Republicans are up first, and Trump has indicated he will not make his final decision (or at least announce it) until then. He’s determined to make the convention more interesting and get more TV coverage and holding back his choice is a help to that end.
If Clinton wants to keep the advantage of knowing what she’s up again before making her choice, that means she waits until the Democratic convention. Depending on how much of a ruckus Bernie Sanders and his followers make over the next several weeks, she may or may not attempt to reach a pre-convention accomodation. The choice of running mate may play in to this.
Let’s assume Trump goes first. Let’s further postulate he decides on Newt Gingrich, who I already think is his most likely choice. By most likely, I mean less than 50/50, but more likely than any other single option. He has several things going for him. Trump has indicated he wants someone to serve as his liaison to Capitol Hill. The most accomplished GOP speaker of the past 80 plus years would qualify.
Newt is very willing to go on Sunday shows and do any type of media hit. He’s good at it. Over the weekend, he faced off against a Kansas congressman regarding the suitability of Trump for conservative voters. Newt made a solid case. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas was left spluttering himself into a logic circle. Normally, Newt’s capacity to occasionally commit a gaffe would qualify as a problem, but on a Trump ticket, nobody would notice.
In a pre-Trump world, he seemed controversial. Now he looks like an elder statesman. He would add policy heft. Even if Trump mostly sought his own counsel, Newt can at least explain things in depth and make it sound like the ticket (or future administration) had thought things through. He’s someone Paul Ryan would take seriously after a win, someone to help keep him in check during the campaign.
Newt has indicated there are conditions. He doesn’t want to sit in a corner during a Trump administration. Whether he would want more control/influence than The Donald is willing to give him is another matter. That’s one of the many reasons we shouldn’t assume this will happen. However, it’s hardly insurmountable. This is Newt’s last chance at getting back in the arena.
If Trump chooses Newt and Hillary continues to struggle with getting Berners on board, Elizabeth Warren starts looking more and more viable. She has not dismissed the possibility of serving on her ticket. Joe Biden directly discussed the idea with her last fall, and while she didn’t tell Joe he could count on her, she didn’t say no either.
Again, this choice comes with strings attached. Hillary likes saying that she would put her husband in charge of the economy. Warren would not be ok with that. Hillary would prefer a running mate with less clout, less ability to speak directly to voters. Less defined policy positions and ideology.
But she’s going to have a problem with the progressive side of the party, particularly those who identify based on an ideology not party membership. Twenty somethings aren’t going to vote for Trump en masse, but they may well stay home. If they do, Hillary could lose, or narrowly win and then face a Republican Senate.
She’s already losing the media war to Trump. Add in the TV-friendly Newt and she will find herself outgunned. Warren has shown a strong willingness to duel with Trump over Twitter. She can get headlines. It’s quite possible the Clinton campaign decides they can’t choose an older white guy and that Julian Castro isn’t ready for prime time.
So let’s say for a variety of reasons Hillary picks Warren. I don’t think she’s the most likely pick, but you can give it at least 1 in 10 odds. If Newt is already on the GOP ticket, the odds go up. Trump/Gingrich v. Clinton/Warren is a real possibility. Not super likely, but possible.
Such an alignment would lead us to the largest gender gap in the history of American politics. We begin with the normal GOP/Dem split, which is good for 5 to 7 points at a minimum. Add in how toxic Trump is with women, how allergic men are to Hillary. At the moment, we’re sitting around 20 points.
When Hillary leads Trump in polls, she’s up 20ish with women, he’s up 15 plus with men. When Trump is ahead, it’s reversed. In a non-Trump world, Newt has a larger gender gap than almost any other GOP figure. He did as speaker and as a candidate in 2012. Meanwhile, outside of strongly progressive voters, men don’t like Warren very much.
Take two male Republicans who don’t do well with women and line them up against two female Democrats who don’t connect with men. Add in a brutal, negative campaign, with candidates who aren’t shy to take shots at their opponents. The result is the maximum possible gender gap.
There are a few limitations. Voters under 30 of any gender will lean Democrat. African American men will vote Democrat. Latinos will lean Democrat, but will Latin men over 40 or so feel comfortable with a Clinton/Warren ticket? We could see more divided households than usual.
In this scenario, each campaign would try to win over and turn out as many voters who look like the candidates as possible, as each abandon trying to win over the other side. It would lock Trump into needing record turnout and support from older white men, but might give him just the opponent to get it.
Going forward, we’ll look at other combinations and scenarios, but I can’t imagine one that would get us a larger gap than the Four Candidates of the Gender Apocalypse.