Sunday, October 23, 2016

UUntitled Reaction to the Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere

This post contains spoilers for the Walking Dead's Season Seven Premiere.

This post is untitled because I don't want to spoil the Episode for People on the West Coast. It's title would be "When You Cheat Your Audience, You Declare a War You Cannot Win."

We all knew that season six was going to end with Negan braining someone with Lucille. The only reason to watch that episode was to find out who.  The producers decided to cheat the audience of that moment because they knew the "Who Shot J.R.?" factor would create a lot of buzz.  But it was a cheat of the fans that was destined to fail for two reasons. The first reason is that the deaths were inevitably going to leak in the age of social media and camera phones.  And leak they did. In fact, good portions of the script were out there for the past week.  Once that cat was out of the bag, the episode was doomed to failure because the melodramatic emotion of the cast members could never play straight without the suspense or shock factor of the deaths.

This cheat was especially bad because they had to know that lots of super devoted fans would obsess on figuring out who the kills were. The most convincing case based on the evidence was for Michonne.  The finale contained several POV shots.  The first few were all from Michonne's perspective.  The last one was from the victim's. If you respect the audience, you would keep that commitment.  And I will admit that even as the show started, I hoped it would be Michonne. Michonne is one of the best characters in the show but the integrity of the show required her death. I was really hoping to not be cheated. I hoped the leaks were disinformation. That would have really been something.

You put your audience into suspense, those who really care enough are going to find a way to end the suspense. So some of those devoted fans scoped out the shooting locations and figured out who was missing. Then someone put their mitts on a script and shared its contents online.  I normally avoid spoilers because I'd rather enjoy a show than play "I've got a secret" with its creators. But I had no hesitation in reading these spoilers and watching the associated YouTube videos.  If you don't respect me enough to present an honest work of art, I do not feel bound by the normal rules of fandom. And I'm obviously not along.

To be fair, the episode could have been worse.  My initial expectation was that Lucille's victim would be Abraham.  He's important enough for the other characters to care about but not so important that his absence would undermine the show. Glenn is a great character, so his death upped the stakes considerably. But the moment was so anticlimactic that I actually chuckled at the detail, meant to be shocking. that his eye was hanging loose from the socket. I had a similar reaction to Carol shooting Lizzy in the back of the head while she looked at the flowers.  This show overestimates its emotional range.

The storyline of Negan feeling the need to break Rick made sense. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems capable of carrying the story forward as a villain with the right mix of pathos and mischief. That's very encouraging.

If I could give one note to the creators going forward, it would be to shift away from the relentlessly dark tone toward something more constructive and at least occasionally amusing. They went all in on making Negan's arrival frightening.  They need to step in the other direction for a bit.

AMC's lousy spin off, Fear The Walking Dead saw its ratings plummet this year and I think the cliffhanger was part of that. It was probably the first tangible fallout from mistreating the mother ship's audience so blatantly.  But none of this will immediately impact the show.  Tonight's ratings will be huge and people will stick with the show for the rest of this season.  If they follow the comic books, season eight should contain some great action that might give the show a revival.

AMC needs this show and the cash it generates. There are enough die hard fans that it will go for at least another four seasons. I"m not giving up on it, because the premise remains fascinating and there are still a handful of characters that I feel invested with. But the show's best moment probably passed, and there is now one fewer death that had the potential to be truly shocking.  Damn shame they ruined that moment by provoking their fans.

What Happens Next.

Keeping Darryl as a hostage was a good wrinkle and I am looking forward to what happens between him and Dwight.  The Kingdom shoul introduce a handful of new characters and at least the tiger will be cool. The coming arc is pretty obvious: Rick and his people will rebuild and reform. We've seen that before, but never from such a low starting point.

So yes, I'm still on board. I might even blog about the mid season finale or some other milestone. But if Rick and the gang looked down, they would probably see a dorsal fin sticking out of the water.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Third General Election Forecast: Clinton 50, Trump 43, Johnson 4, Stein 2, McMullin 1 (Electoral College Clinton 359, Trump 179)

I did my first forecast before the conventions.  I stood pat with that prediction until three weeks ago, when Trump's enduring poll surge forced me to modify a 50-44 Clinton result just slightly to Clinton winning 49-45. Since then, we've had 3 debates and a never ending string of dumpster fires for the Republican ticket have tilted the race back in Hillary's favor. I am therefore adjusting my projection back toward the Democratic nominee. I now project Clinton to win 50 percent of the vote to Trump's 43 percent. One new wrinkle: I think Evan McMullin will get one percent of the vote. With a little bit of luck he could catch Jill Stein for 4th place.

First (July 10th)Clinton 50, Trump 44, Johnson 4, Stein 2.Clinton 348-190(From 2012) Clinton wins NC and NE-2
Second (Sep 26th)Clinton 49, Trump 45, Johnson 4, Stein 2Clinton 340-198Trump wins IA, NE-2 & ME-2
Third (October 16th)Clinton 50, Trump 43, Johnson 4, Stein 2, McMullin 1Clinton 359-179Clinton wins IA, NE-2, ME-2 & Arizona

Specific Changes.

For the second time I'm updating only to move a few electoral college votes in one direction. In fact the four changes in this update cancel out the three changes from the first. Here are my thoughts on each:

Iowa and Maine 2nd District: These are places that Obama won twice and I don't think Trump is going to ouperform Romney anywhere. Maine's 2nd district is mostly white and rural, so that's probalby his best pickup opportunity but I think his oafish behavior has turned off enough people to prevent him doing better than Romney even there. This behavior simply does not fly in Iowa.  He will lose for the same reason that he lost the caucuses there: there is a more palatable alternative.

Nebraska 2nd district:  My hunch is that this will be be the closest jurisdiction on election night. Warren Buffet is fighting hard for Hillary there and I think she will out perform Obama in 2012, when he lost it but probably fare worse then 2008 when he won it.  Nate Silver gives Trump 51% of winning it.  I think Hillary will finish strong, so I'm tipping this over to him.

Arizona: This would be a significant pickup for Hillary. It's only voted for a Democrat once in the last 68 years. But the states Latino population is booming and Hillary is putting resources there, something that Obama never did. (In part because it was McCain's home state.)  I think the state has progressed and will flip blue.  

Four Scenarios for Election Night.

In a close election the battle grounds would be Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida.  This is not shaping up to be a close election. THe battlegrounds are instead Arizona, Iowa and Georgia.  But how big will the margin be?  I think the race will take one of 4 paths. 

1. Clinton wins by more than Obama's 2008 Margin.  Barack Obama won the popular vote in 2008 by nearly 10 million votes. That translated to 7.36% and was good enough for 365 electoral votes.  I think Hillary has a tough rode to get to 365.  She should win all 332 of Obama's 2012 states plust North Carolina. That gets her to 348.  NE-2 and Arizona only get her to 360. (Note: the electoral college has been updated since the 20120 census, which tilted it a few points toward the Red, because Illinois, New York and Pennsylania all lost electors.)  To get past 360, she would need to add a true upset.  Georgia and or Utah would do the trick. So would Missouri.  Montana would only get her to 363. A sweep of all these states would get her to 395.  I think that's very unlikely.  Chances of Hillary winning with 365 or more electoral votes?  About 10%.

2. Clinton wins by less than Obama's 2008 margin but more than 2012.
Obama was re-elected by a margin roughly 1/2 the size of his first win.  He won the popular vote by just over five million votes, which worked out to 3.86% and 332 electoral votes  I think Hillary is very likely to win North Carolina and is only really needs to worry about Iowa and Maine's second district. If she wins NC but loses those 2, she still comes out ahead of Obama in 2012, gaining 15 but losing 7. That would be 340-198.  Chances of Hillary winning 333-364?  About 60%.

3.  Clinton Wins an Election Closer than 2012.
This would take a substantial shift towards Trump.  He presently seems incapable of making that happen, but outside events could intervene.  If Trump defends NC, he will probably add Iowa and ME-2 to Romney's pile.  That gets Hillary down to 325.  Trump might also win Ohio and Florida under these circumstances. That would get Hillary down to 278.  Chances of  Hillary winning with 270-332?  About 20%.

4. Trump Wins, Barely.
In my second forecast I went to some pains to describe Trump's likeliest path to 270.  That involves
1. Defending NC to keep Romney's 206 votes.
2. Add Iowa and ME-2. (213)
3. Add Ohio (231)
4. Add Florida (260)
5. Add Nevada (266)
6. Add New Hampshire (270)

That's still his likeliest path, but Nevada and New Hampshire seem to be trending towards Clinton in a big way. To replace those 10 votes, he would need a substantial upset in a largish blue state.  Michigan, Wisconsin and (of course) Pennsylania would do the trick. Nate Silver gives Trump about a 10 percent chance in PA and WI, slightly less in MI.  Chances of keeping Hillary below 270?  Less than 10%.

Enter McMullin.
Evan McMullin has emerged as a sane alternative for conservatives who are repulsed by Trump.  He is only on the ballot in 11 states but that doesn't really matter because he's only campaigning in Utah. He is running a de facto favorite son campaign, albeit in a state that is no longer his home. (He was born in Utah but raised in Washington State.)  He is a Mormon and a BYU alum.  His appeal is obvious especially to social consservatives that don't want to vote for a brigand like Trump but are reluctant to vote for the Democrat or Libertarian.

Some recent polls have him getting around 20% of the vote in Utah.  With a little luck he could make a 3 way race.  He is selling a fantasy scenario of winning Utah withe around 500,000 votes and somehow depriving Hillary of 270 electoral college votes.  The race would then go the House of Representatives, where he would have to persuade 26 delegations to vote for him.  This will not happen as it would require asking Republicans to ignore about 50 million votes case for its nominee in favor of a guy who probably will get around one million votes.

But Trump has turned off a lot of voters. There are a lot of people do not want to tell their kids and grandkids that they voted for a monster over the first female candidate for president. One optin is to lie, the other is to indulge McMullin's fantasy. At least some public intellectuals on the right are going to do just that.  With some luck, he could lap Jill Stein and the Green Party, especially if Hillary finishes strong and convincnes enough young people not to waste their votes on the profoundly unqualified Jill Stein.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sometimes the Smallest Crimes Are the Most Revealing

In the 1997 Neil Labute film "In the Company of Men" there is an early scene that takes place in a men's room.  The film's villian, Aaron Eckhart leans on a sink while his co-worker and best friend occupies a stall. When the friend lowers his pants, about a dozen coins fall out of his pockets and spread out over the floor.  Eckhart teases him for a moment, then tells him not to worry about the coins. He stoops down to the floor and begins to pick up the scattered change.  When he's done he looks at the accumulated coins and picks out three or four coins, worth no more than 45 cents.  He puts them in his pocket and leaves the rest in his hand, presumably to return to his friend.

It's a small gesture, but very revealing. He's the kind of man who would steal a couple of dimes from his best friend. Over the course of the film, Eckhart becomes the clear villian and turns the friend into an unwitting henchman in a series of depraved acts against an innocent hearing-impaired woman.  The theft of those coinss is easy to miss on first viewing but it establishes so much about where these characters are headed.

Eight days ago tape surfaced of the Republican nominee for president bragging about being able to get away with extremely lewd behavior towards women because he is a celebrity. Since then at least nine women have come forward to describe outrageous, lascivious agression by Mr. Trump.  As a result, the campaign has descended into an argument about the meaning and boundaries of sexual assault versus behavior that is merely crude and boorish.  I find some of these women very credible and I believe he has committed multiple sexual assaults.  The accounts are horrific but they can't be independently verified.

Trump has responded, predictably, by assailing the veracity of the women's accounts and questioned both their character and (God help us) their physical attractiveness.  Just two weeks ago we learned that Mr. Trump once claimed losses of nearly a billion dollars on one year's tax returns and less than a week since he admitted that he used those losses to not pay taxes for many years afterwards.  This behavior was apparently legal under the convuluted tax code provisions in place at the time. In an oridinary election season, this would have been the defining moment of the campaign. But we have sunk only lower since then and there's little hope of a rebound.

But I write today to discuss a much smaller transgression. It is not a crime as serious as sexual assault or financial chicanery on the scale of Mr. Trump's tax dodge.  You can't even buy a pizza for the amount of money involved.  I write about this not becase I think it will change anyone's vote on October 15th. If you still intend to vote for the Republican nominee, it will take something unfathomable to change your mind.  But petty crimes are sometimes the most revealing.

One of the few bright spots of the 2016 media coverage has been the yeoman work of David Fahrenthold. Writing for the Washington Post, he has doggedly tracked down every charitable contribution that Trump has claimed ot make and every single line item on the tax returns of the Trump Foundation.  This week Mr. Faharenthold found an entry from 1989 for a donation to the Boy Scouts of America.  The donation was in the amount of  seven dollars.  It was annotated with the word "Membership".  Fahrenthold Tweeted this out to his followers and they pointed out that this number could have been for the membership fee for Donald Trump Jr. The younger Mr. Trump was 11 years old at the time of the donation.  The Boy Scouts of America did indeed confirm that the annual membership for their organization was seven dollars in 1989.

That's who Donald Trump is.  Rather than write a seven dollar check for his son's Boy Scout troop he wrote the check from his charitable foundation.  This is a very minor violation of the tax code.  But think of the families who have to scrape together the funds for their children to participate in extra cirricular activities. It is so revelaing of his character. Mr. Trump is a nasty, petty individual who will cut every corner to gain an advantage, however small.

It is a common trait among unsavory types.  The boxing promoter Don King has been sued numerous times for having defrauded boxers out of various sums of money. Hector "Macho" Commacho was once called to testify at one of these trials and he testified to a variety of penny-ante ways that King swindled him out of money over a period of years.  Asked at one point why he thought Mr. King would behave that way, Commacho said "Because Don King would rather steal a nickel than earn a dollar."

That case was settled out of court and Don King kept untold millions, some earned, some stolen a nickel or two at time. Don King is a prominent supporter of Donald Trump's campaign for president. They have been friends for a long time, going back to various boxing events held at Donald Trump's casinos in Atlantic City. They did a lot of business together and somehow never ended up in court against one another.  I guess they got along in bussiness

In 1966 Don King was convicted of non-neligent homicde. He did nearly four years in prison.  His victim, Sam Garrett worked for King at an illegal gambling den.  King stomped him to death because he owed him $600.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Questions I Would Ask at the Debate

Before the first Republican presidential primary debate I posted on Facebook that I felt like a wedding guest who just realized that the Best Man, who is getting up to give his toast, is visibly drunk.  Before tonight's debate, I feel like a wedding guest again, but this time I'm at the church.  The preacher just asked if anyone knows of a reason why the couple should not be married.  In the pew behind me, I just heard the bride's ex-boyfriend clear his throat, and he is rising to his feet.  I turn around to look, and I see that there are note cards in his hands.  I look closer, and realize that they have pictures.

To put the past week in some broader context context, consider that the last debate was 13 days ago. Since then we learned that one of the nominees lost almost a billion dollars in on tax year.  And no one is talking about that.

I started thinking about questions for this debate a week ago and I realized something: it's difficult to phrase good questions for Donald Trump.  Whatever you ask, he will just pick up a bead and run with it. The debate rules prohibit the audience members from asking follow-up questions, although the moderator can do so.  They will have their work cut out for them.

Donald has a pretty good knack for reading rubes.  He normally might be well suited to this debate. He might, for instance, be able to read the mood of the qestioners well enough to give them the feeling that he is relating to them, even as the words he deliversa re indecipehrable nonsense.  Of course, he will have to deal with an extra heaping of anger and resentment tonight, of the media, of his opponnent and of the party establishment that is abandoning him by the hour. He may think that his best tactic is to attack, attack, attack.  That will be an epic mistake and very awkward television history, sort of like if somone stood up at Westminster Abbey and interrupted the Pincess Diane/Prince Charles weddding by bringing up Chuck's love for Camilla Parker Bowles.

For Donald Trump.
1. You have spoken at campaign rallies about recent incidents between the United States Navy and the Iranian Navy.  You have remarked on the fact that some Iranian sailors make obscene gestures to our destroyers and that if you were the commander-in-chief you would order the commanders of those ships to kill the offending sailors.  When told that this would constitute an act of war, you claimed that it would not.  Let's suppose that after you take office, an American sailor fliped of an Iranian vessel and the Iranian ship responded by shooting that sailor dead.  How would you respond to the death of that American sailor?

2.  You often brag about having graduated from the Wharton School of Business. Whenever discussing trade deals you refer to trade deficits that the United States runs with other countries as those countries "stealing" or "taking" money from "us."  Why do you think trade imbalances are theft?

3. You have said that Climate Change is a hoax created by the Chinese to undermine American manufacturing. What evidence do you have for this and how much time have you spent analyzing the scientific evidence for climate change, which has been accepted by virtually every climate scientist on the planet.

Bonus Retread Question:  In your campaign speeches you oftne say that business experience and knowledge of how to get business deals done as the most important qualifiction you have to serve as president.  You have blamed a lot of President Obama's failures on his lack of business experience.  Why then did you choose Mike Pence, a man with absolutely no business experience to be your running mate?  (Incredibly, the Republican party has twice nominated buisness men for president on the theory that those skills translate well to being president. And yet both men choose as their would-be successor men with literally zero such experience.)

For Secretary Clinton.

1. Throughout your career you have shown a prediliction for secrecy. Recent examples include your refusal to release transcripts of speeches given to private banks and your decision to use a private email server so as to minimize having your communications be subject to disclosures required of official documents. Often the consequences of this sercrecy is more sever than the consequences of prior disclosure would have been  Have you learned this lessoon and will you pledge to err on the side of transparency going forward

2. The United States gives about 3 billion dollars of foreign aid to Israel every year.  Israel is a wealthy country that continues to violate international law by occupying Palestinian territory and building illegal settlements there. What does the United States get for this aid and will you be willing to withhold those funds if Israel continues to refuse to work towards an indpendent Palestinian state?

3.   The current opiod addiction problem relates back to the decision of the FDA to approve Oxycontin for pain-relief in the 1990s.  Many doctors are now reigning in their presciption rates for those drugs, but many users have turned to the black market to get their fix and are now being prosecuted for drug crimes.  What would your policy priorities related to this epidemic be?

Bonus Retread Question  Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was intentionally killed under your orders issed by President Obama whil you were Secretary of State.  What policies will you put in place to ensure that no one will be denied due process during the process of adding names to this list.  (I barely had to change the wording of that one.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What to Expect When You're Not Expecting Much: Preview of the Vice-Presidential Debate

The only conventional thing about the 2016 race is that both major party nominees picked safe, solid, dull running mates.  Trump chose Pence to shore up his bona fides with the Christian conservative base.  Hillary chose Kaine to put Virginia out of reach and to strengthen her ability to reach Spanish speakers.  By November 9th, Tim Kaine will know the name of every morning DJ on every Spanish language radio station in the country. That same day, Mike Pence can begin to daydream about being a top tier contender for the 2020 Republican nomination.  But first they have  a job to do tonight.

Pence's first job is to stop the bleeding.  At the start of the first presidential debate, had the race at 68% Hillary, 32% Trump. Eight days later it's up to 81% Hillary, 19% Trump. Almost every poll since the debate has moved in a Democratic direction, and the news this week has been about Trump (probably) not paying income taxes for 18 years and his ill-considered comments implying that getting PTSD has something to do with a lack of strength.  (For the record I think that off-the -cuff comment was less egregious than some of his other gaffes this year, but it will hurt him with some demographics that he can't afford to lose.)

Pence has to convince people that voting for Trump is not insane.  He must be the voice and face of reason. I expect that he will use words like "conservative" and "responsible" a lot.  He will also hit the high notes when trying to scare people about refugees from Syria and the "dangers" of the world we live in. He can lean pretty far to the right, because that's where his credibility is deepest and even far-right is better than the unstable mess of a half-personality at the top of his ticket.

Kaine is playing with the lead and he's on his home turf of Virginia.  He's also a pretty cagey debater and I expect him to be very well prepared.   A couple days ago the Republican party released a video implying that Kaine was some how to blame for the crimes committed by his clients when he was a public defender.  I'm very curious to see if Pence brings that up because I remember watching one of the debates when Kaine ran for governor of Virginia.  His idiot opponent, George Allen, brought up this line of attack and walked right into a trap.  Tim Kaine's response was that anyone who loves to lecture people about the Constitution ought to know that it includes the right to counsel and that any lawyer given that role has a duty to zealously represent their client, no matter how serious the crimes they are charged with.  If this comes up tonight, I expect Kaine to throw the name John Adams back in Pence's face.

I hope that Kaine at least goes after Pence on two important points: one is the disastrous decision to defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana.  There were real consequences to that decision including a spike in HIV transmissions and (of course) unwanted pregnancies.  Kaine should also raise the issue of Climate Change to show that even a potty-trained Republican can't be trusted to tell the truth aobu the most important issue facing our long term future.

But I don't think either candidate will be especially aggressive. Pence knows that Kaine is loaded for bear on the issue of being a public defender. His target is Hillary.  The GOP web site prematurely updated to show that Pence won tonight's debate about 2 hours before it began.  Those talking points list that Pence won on the economy and by highlighting Hillary's scandals. So that's the game plan.  Trump was actually coherent on trade during the first 15 minutes of the presidential debate.  We'll probably get more of that, especially since Kaine was a TPP supporter up until being chosen by Hillary. So we'll get that and probably a lot about emails and at least one Benghazi for old time's sake. Kaine will defend her, and I expect he will leave a very good impression on the viewing public.

This won't matter much.  In 2016 all of the celebrity rests on the top half of each ticket. Tonight will be a fleeting glimpse of a world run by boring but generally competent people.  The insults will be few and the inspiration rarer still.  That probably means a small audience and almost no movement in the polls.  But fear not, we're just five days away from the 2nd Hillary-Trump debate.

Monday, September 26, 2016

First Debate, Immediate Reaction

The first presidential debate ended one hour ago.  The consensus on cable news is that Hillary Clinton won big.  I agree.

Donald Trump got off to a reasonably strong start.  The first question was about jobs, and Donald Trump has a pretty good rap about trade deals that he can spit out on demand.  The substance of this argument is pretty weak but there are definitely a lot of voters out there who think that NAFTA and other free trade deals are the reaons that manufacturing jobs have left the rust belt.  So 15 minutes in, it was more or less a drawer.

But slowly, Trump rode into a ditch.  He was sniffling constantly and interrupting Hillary with great frequency  Hillary for her part was very sure of the facts and very well-rehearsed in her delivery. Tonight at least, Hillary's dilligence paid off.

I think the most important reprecussion of tonight will be that Trump cam across as so damn rude to his opponent. I think women in particular recognized him as the loud mouthed jerk who dominates a conversation even when he no facts on his side.

But Trump was bad in a lot of small ways too.  He completely lied his way through the birther question and he somehow managed to brag about having been mean to Rosie O'Donnell.  For me the worst momen was when he cited imaginary phone conversations with Sean Hannity as proof that he opposed the Iraq war in 2002.  Hannity's show is a nightly hour of Sean performing fellatio on Donald Trump.  But Donald can not understand why no one takes Sean at his word about the contenst of these secret conversation that were unspoken about for 14 years.

Hillary won on style and on substance. She won on temperment and on veracity.  The prediction markets tilted her way by about 5 points over the course of 2 hours.  She should get a bounce out of this. But it's still six weeks from the election and Donald will adjust before the other debates.

Report Cards:

Hillary Clinton:  A.  You can always find flaws in 90 minutes of live speaking, but I don't think Hillary missed any of the points she wanted to make and I don't think she gave Trump any terrible sound bites to use in commercials.

Donald Trump:  C-.  This is the gentleman's C-. He didn't call Hillary any misogynist slurs, so that's something.  The most damning criticism of his perofrmance may be that right now all his spinners are on the airwaves complaining that Hillary prepared too mcuh for the debate.

Lest Holt:  A-.   I read a lot of criticism of Holt for not interfering more, especially when Donald Trump kept interrupting Hillary.  It's a reasonable point but I don't think that's the role of a presidential debate moderator.  The debates should be about the candidates and if one candidate is being a jerk, the jerk candidate is the only one who suffers for that.

I was worried about Holt when the topic were announced.  These topics, remember were: "Achieving Prosperity", "Securing America" and "America's Direction."  This sounds like the parameters for an award four outstanding achievement in the field of excellence. But Lester Holt asked good questions tonight and raised all the subjects that have dominated the conversation so far, including Donald Trump's horrific record on birtherism.  I think he did well.

Second General Election Forecast: Hillary 49, Trump 45, Johnson 4, Stein 2 (Electoral College 340-198)

I published my first general election forecast on July 10th. I thought I would be publishing a new forecast every two weeks or so.  But it's been over 2 months and I haven't updated it before now.  Simply put, I didn't think the election had changed much.  Of course the polls went up and down a few points, but I stuck with my fundamental premise that this election is likely to be similar to 2012. Trump has polled better than expected over the past few weeks and the race is definitely closer than I expected it to be.  It's time to update the projection accordingly.

Today seemed the perfect day for an updated forecast.  The first debate is tonight and we will know a lot more about this election 10 hours from now.  Donald Trump has not done a one-on-one debate yet and I'm not sure how the format will suit his temperament.  But he is first and foremost a TV star and I don't expect any really dramatic outbursts or stunts. He will be his usual annoying, stupid, childish self. But he won't call her a vulgar name or set the podium on fire.

Hillary will be extremely well-prepared and she will hit him on a variety of predictable fronts: his horrible record of offensive comments about women, his racist immigration policies and his penchant for ignoring the constitutional limits of federal authority.  I think that Trump's main counter-attacks will focus on Hillary being implicitly corrupt because she is an insider and that she represents a continuation of Obama's foreign policies, which he will call weak.  (We will hear that word out of Trump a lot.  Hillary/Obama = weak, Trump = strong and smart.)

Presidential debates are more about impressions than fine points of policy.  In 2000 Gore dusted W. on substance, but his bracing exasperation with the stupidity of his opponent came off as arrogant.  Al Gore over-corrected in the next two debates and came across as inauthentic.  Enough people put faith in the idea that a governor of Texas and son of a likable president couldn't really be that dumb while it was easy to believe that a politician could be phony.  Sixteen years later, we are still paying for that price.

There will be some temptation for Hillary to bait Trump into a fight. It might happen organically, and that will be good for her.  But I don't think she should focus on provoking that responses.  She needs to make the case for herself and to point out the shallow stupidity of his ideas. Trump will want to lash out at her in personal terms, but he has to be careful with that.  He can drop a "Crooked Hillary" or two, but he could really hurt himself by bringing up Monica Lewinsky or other skeletons of  the right wing nutosphere.   I think he will avoid any of the nightmare scenarios that have probably kept Kelly Anne Conway up at night.

Why I'm confident.

Trump's relatively strong polling has endured for several weeks now.  He definitely walks on to that stage tonight believing that he will win on November 8th.  There's plenty of empirical data to support the idea that he might.  But the choice between two viable candidates will be very clear tonight. And I still believe that she will win this race.

I think the polling has been distorted, for lack of a better word, by Gary Johnson.  After tonight people who don't want to vote Hillary will begin to admit that Trump is simply unacceptable and their own personal grievances against what Clinton represents do not justify taking a chance on four years of Trump. Nate Silver's model says that if the election were held today, Gary Johnson would get 8.1% of the vote. His forecasts of November 8th have that number receding to 6 or 7%.  I think it will recede more than that.  I'm putting his number at 4%.

Jill Stein will benefit from a bunch of people too young to remember 2000 and too stupid to accept the idea that one candidate thinks global warming is a hoax and that if that candidate wins he will appoint the next head of the EPA. I hope that number falls below one percent but I think it will be closer to 2 percent.

Specific Changes.

I am making three Electoral College changes from my first forecast.  I do not think Hillary will pick off Nebraska's second congressional district.  And I think she will lose Iowa.  I also think Trump will pick of Maine's second congressional district, which is overwhelmingly white and rural. That is a gain of eight electoral votes from my first forecast.

But I want to acknowledge that this race could become very, very close.  If the election were held today, Trump would do better than Romney.  He would win Ohio and Nevada and if he also won Florida, it would put the electoral college at Hillary 279, Trump 259.  That's really damn close.

But the election is not today and I still think we will move back towards our 2008 and 2012 political maps. Trump deserves credit for keeping overwhelming percentages of his party in the fold. (Republicans in turn deserve a lot of shame for that very same fact.)  A return toward the prevailing political coalitions favors Hillary, on balance. I think she will do better on November 8th than she is doing on September 26th.

If Things Get Worse.
North Carolina is a a pure toss-up, just as it was 4 years ago.  I think the bathroom bill  has made the state a national joke and that will motivate enough progressives to show up in big numbers but the result will be very close.  Trump also could win Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire and Florida.  The only good  news is that he probably has to win all of them to take the White House.

Trump's best route to 270 looks like this:

1. Defend North Carolina to retain all 206 of Romney's electoral votes.
2. Pick up Maine's 2nd congressional district. (207)
3. Add six for Iowa (213)
4. Add 18 from Ohio (231)
5. Add 4 from New Hampshire (235)
6. Add six from Nevada (241)
7. Add 29 from Florida (270)

The path is there.  Hillary's job tonight is to prove to everyone why the destination is so dangerous. With any luck, Donald will do that for her.