Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Time To Stick A Fork In Ohio

Look, I hate losing. It drives me up the wall. Whether it's my favorite sports teams or a sales transaction, the very idea of defeat is anathema to me. But as a salesman, I also know that nobody has a 100 percent closing ratio. Like it or not, not everyone says yes. Successful salespeople get this. They take their best shot and if it's not enough to convince the customer, they tip their hat and move on. Throwing good money after bad is a losing formula.

Politics isn't all that dissimilar. Every successful politician knows that, despite their best efforts, not everyone is going to vote for them. Even Ronald Reagan in his 1984 trouncing of Walter Mondale, only got 58 percent of the vote, and that election is widely considered by many to be the most lopsided in modern times.

Thanks to a solid debate performance by her and a dreadful one by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton received what appears to be a four-point bump in the polls. Moreover, in the all-important swing states, she has reversed a few negative trends and is now ahead in Colorado, North Carolina and Florida. Her one-point lead in Pennsylvania is now back up over four. And a once bleak electoral map is starting to look a bit kinder to her. If the election were held today, she would win with 322 electoral votes. Not the landslide some foolishly predicted in early August, but a damn sight better than the alternative, which was a narrow defeat.

There remain, however, two rather stubborn states: Iowa and Ohio. The former comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I really didn't think Iowans would go for Trump given how well Ted Cruz did in the GOP caucus and the fact the Hillary edged out Bernie Sanders in the Democratic one. Just goes to show you that anything can happen.

But Ohio? That's another story. What's going on in Ohio is as predictable as dirt. In a nutshell, Hillary is paying the price for some pretty bad and misleading statistics. The NAFTA trade deal is about as popular here as a Hitler rally in Jerusalem. Ask anyone on the street and they'll tell you that NAFTA has cost their state hundreds of thousands of jobs. Were it not for Bill Clinton signing that trade deal, Ohio would be a paradise.

Well there are just two problems with the above statement. The first is that while Clinton did in fact sign the final agreement, George H.W. Bush actually negotiated and signed the preliminary one in December 1992, a month before he left office. It was Bill who worked to get labor protections added to the original deal. Few, if any, give him credit for that.

Secondly, and most importantly, NAFTA was not responsible for the huge job losses that occurred throughout the Rust Belt region of the country in the first decade of this century. Indeed, it was a net positive for job creation overall. So says Robert Reich. In 2008 he wrote,
When NAFTA took effect, Ohio had 990,000 manufacturing jobs. Two years later, in 1996, it had 1,300,000 manufacturing jobs. The number stayed above a million for the rest of the 1990s. Today, though, there are about 775,000 manufacturing jobs in Ohio. What happened? The economy expanded briskly through the 1990s. Then it crashed in late 2000, and the manufacturing jobs lost in that last recession never came back. They didn’t come back for two reasons: In some cases, employers automated the jobs out of existence, using robots and computers. In other cases, employers shipped the jobs abroad, mostly to China – not to Mexico.
Ironic that it was China, not Mexico, that proved to be the culprit behind the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and Michigan. False claims by the Sanders and Trump campaigns have kept this canard going throughout the entire election, so much so that it is now baked into the collective conscience of the electorate. Even those not directly impacted by factory job losses, including people who have benefited greatly from expanding markets as a result of NAFTA, now insist that free trade is a bad thing. The issue ranks as one of the most important among likely voters.

And Trump has managed to make considerable political headway with this issue, especially in Ohio. Indeed, the only bright spot for him in last week's debate came when he hit Clinton on NAFTA. Had he not gone completely off the rails, there's no telling how the night might've gone for him. One thing's for certain, we wouldn't be talking about a huge bump for Hillary with five weeks to go.

That's why, while it may pain them to admit it, I think team Clinton should move on and call it a night in the Buckeye state. Face it: Trump is ahead by five points. Five points is easy to make up in July or even August, but this late in the game, it's like trying to come back from a three touchdown deficit in the final two minutes of the contest. Yes, I know it's possible. As a football fan, I've seen it done. But in politics, you don't expend those kind of resources into a losing cause. Especially when it's not necessary to win the election.

The Clinton campaign needs to shore up support in places like Colorado, North Carolina and Florida; states where she is ahead, but only by a small percentage. They can lose Ohio and still cross the finish line with room to spare. But if they get bogged down trying to prove a point, they could still end up losing Ohio, as well as those other states, and with it the whole ball of wax. And with Rob Portman up by double digits against Ted Strickland, the odds of a comeback are looking bleak at best.

Like it or not, the moment Clinton acquiesced to Sanders on trade during the primaries, she became a marked woman in the general. She made a tactical decision that embracing Sanders' position on NAFTA and TPP was the best way to consolidate her base of support, and in the short run she was proven correct. Now she's stuck with that decision. The worst possible move for her now would be to attempt to relitigate the matter so she could deny Trump a win in a state both her husband and Barack Obama won twice.

They say pride goeth before a fall. For Hillary Clinton, if she's not careful, it could end up becoming her epitaph.

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