The Phlip Side: Which landslide election will 2016 emulate?

Editor’s note: This week Sean Phillippi begins a weekly column for TFS with his latest thoughts and observations from around the political landscape. 

By Sean Phillippi

Anyone who says that they know what is going to happen with this November’s presidential election is either lying to you, lying to themselves, or they simply don’t know what they are talking about. In politics, a week is a long time, so very little is definitive almost 6 months out from Election Day. That being said though, the most surprising thing in what has been an unusual and unpredictable election is that we already know what the possible trajectories this race will take are. We know what will likely be the decisive question, even if we don’t know the answer to the question that will dictate who our next president will be. We have seen this movie before, and there is little doubt that our next president will ride a wave into the White House even though we don’t yet know who that president will be.

The presidential election this cycle has mirrored two prior elections that were similar one significant aspect, and those elections, 1964 and 1980, diverged to have two very different endings. In both of those elections the answer to one major question determined who became the leader of the free world: Did the American people trust that the Republican nominee was qualified for the job of president in general, and Commander in Chief in particular. That threshold question of whether we can be confident that Donald Trump is both qualified and competent to lead our country, and can be trusted with the nuclear codes, will largely dictate whether he or Hillary Clinton will be sworn in as our next president. Trump will either clear that threshold or he won’t, and with a question like that close doesn’t count.

Barry Goldwater failed, in 1964, to pass that threshold and he lost by more than 20%. In 1980 Ronald Reagan passed that threshold in the lone presidential debate, and that debate performance catapulted him to an almost 10% win. While we don’t yet know whether Trump will pass that threshold, the early indications do not bode well for him. Trump shows shockingly little knowledge about foreign policy and world affairs, and while he is not a stupid man he has yet to show any interest in learning even the basics about those subjects. This election will vacillate over the next several months, and I suspect that we won’t have a firm answer to this decisive question until the presidential debates that start in late September.

One major component in answering the Commander in Chief threshold question about Trump is temperament. Trump keeps saying that he can be presidential, but has shown almost no self-control. If he can show that he can be diplomatic when it isn’t easy, and prove that he can be calm, composed, and graceful under pressure (especially in the general election debates) he will go a long way towards beating Hillary Clinton. Any unforeseen event that may shake up the election will likely be seen through the lens of, and help provide an answer to, whether Trump is capable of being president. I, for one, cannot wait to see who fills the role of Chief Troll for the Clinton campaign. Pres. Obama, Pres. Clinton, and Sen. Warren are leading contenders for the job right now, and if Trump can’t handle critical Twitter posts then he likely won’t be seen as up to the job of being in charge of the nuclear codes.

If you don’t think Trump can become President, remember that in 1980 Carter viewed Reagan much like we view Trump today. If you think Trump’s negatives are too high, less than 12 months ago Trump’s negatives among Republicans were sky high and he was able to turn those numbers around. Anyone who thinks Trump has no chance to win is naïve. Every major party nominee has a legitimate shot at becoming president. Hillary Clinton is a clear favorite, though, for two reasons. First is that,

unlike Trump, there is no question that Clinton is both capable and qualified to do the job of being president. Second is that it seems more likely than not that Trump will fail to pass the threshold question of whether he is prepared to be Commander in Chief.

Even if Trump fails the Commander in Chief test, and Clinton looks to have her election sewn up, Democrats will need to work that much harder to run up the score. This is because Democrats, especially in Florida, desperately need to start re-building their bench and there will be no better way to do so than by winning down ballot races in a landslide election that might otherwise be out of reach. When you have the political winds at your back, you need to take as much real estate as possible. A lonely landslide for Clinton that maintains the status quo will be an opportunity lost, and an opportunity like this may not come around again for decades.

I will break down the Electoral College map next week, but the reason why it is very likely that this election will be a landslide one way or the other is because Trump opens up the map much more than any other candidate could have. Trump has a lower floor than any other candidate, but he also has a higher ceiling. If Trump proves that he is up to all aspects of the job of being president, he could win states that haven’t gone Republican since the 1980s. Conversely, if Trump fails to prove that he has the basic skills to do the job of president Hillary Clinton could win states that haven’t been won by a Democrat in a generation. The stakes for this election couldn’t be higher, and it is guaranteed to be a wild ride, so buckle up and be sure to invest in popcorn futures if you have any spare cash.

(Author’s Notes: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to I would also like to thank Seth Platt for coming up with the name for this column.)

Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.


  1. Hi Sean, nice to hear from a Buckeye. Now for my counter point. You assume the primary is over as do other Hillary fans and the Corporate Media because you look at numbers.Unfortunately this election has used numbers to legitimize a coronation. How in the world could a 74 year old, self described Democratic Socialist, compete with the most experienced candidate and possibly the first woman President, with the backing of Wall Street, the Corporate Media, the entire Democratic establishment, Former President Bill Clinton, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi etc… , go from 3% to approximately 45%. The primary is not over yet. Given, the odds are in her favor, but that’s been the case in every state that she lost. She still has the ongoing F.B.I. investigation and is disliked by a clear majority of voters. Now let’s talk about the general election. As you said about polls, they are useless at this time and the fact that Bernie is beating “The Donald” by double digits while Hillary is barely beating him is inconsequential except it shows Bernie’s strength with independants. Hillary is going to have to do much better than “I’m not Trump”. You of all people must understand this from our experience with Democratic establishment darling Charlie Crist. Running against the worst and most disliked Governor in history, he still lost. If you don’t give the people a reason to vote beside I’m not him, they will stay home. Hillary’s only chance to become the first woman President is to be liked and trusted by the majority of voters, which is going to be difficult as you must admit. Now, in my humble opinion I would suggest she embrace Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, beg one of them to be her Vice President and reach out to their supporters. It wouldn’t hurt to tell Jaime Dimon and his ilk to go to hell and embrace the Political Revolution and everything it stands for. But then again what do I know. I believe Tim Canova is going to defeat Debate Dodge Debbie.


  2. Sean Phillippi · ·

    Joe, the AP has Hillary 143 delegates from the numbers she needs to clinch the nomination (Sanders is 910 delegates short). So, with all due respect the primary is over. Bernie has the right to stay in until the final vote is cast on June 14th, but there is no viable path to victory for him. That is the mathematical reality. That does include Super Delegates, but they have been and are a part of this process. All of the candidates knew that going in. Bernie would need several hundred to change their mind in order to even make this a contest, and in the 3 months or so he has been going after Clinton Super Delegates how many has he gotten to flip? Would I need more than one hand to count that number?

    Hillary has won this primary by every measure. She has won the most contest, the most votes, and the most pledged delegates. Hillary has won every one of the 8 largest states that have voted to date. Also, don’t start with this “rigged system” nonsense as Hillary would have rigged the primary 8 years ago if she had such grand powers. Hillary will be the Democratic Party nominee.


  3. I didn’t say she won’t be. What I said is it is not over yet. The votes need to be counted at the convention and the bullshit of including Super Delegates by you and Corporate media as if the votes have already been cast is blatant propaganda. They not only shouldn’t be counted until they are actually cast, they shouldn’t even be discussed. Not to mention that money had been promised by Hillary to get the endorsements in the first place. Admit it, the system is corrupt and Debate Dodge Debbie should have recused herself considering her obvious bias and shenanigans.


  4. Sean Phillippi · ·

    Hillary needs less than 35% of the pledged delegates remaining in order to end up with a majority of the pledged delegates. The proportional system of allocating delegates is the only reason Clinton doesn’t have a much larger delegate lead, and it is also the reason that her lead is too large for Bernie to catch her.

    Hillary will end up with the most votes, the most contests won, and the most pledged delegates. The Super Delegates have never overturned the will of the people, and they won’t start this year.


  5. Christine Stephens · ·

    Hillary won some of the states like New York because they have “closed” primaries where independents and “unaffiliated” voters are not allowed to vote on a democrat or republican ticket. In my state, West Virginia, where we have an “open” primary, independents and unaffiliated voters were allowed to request a democrat, republican or Mountain Party ballot. Because our election was open, Hillary got her clock cleaned (lost in ALL 55 COunties), but also we had the highest voter participation in the past 16 years. In states where the primaries are open, Sanders wins by large numbers. Given this, Sanders would be a better candidate to go against Trump because the General Election is an open election. Sanders is the better candidate as he does not have as many “unfavorables” as either Hillary or Trump. This also needs to be considered. The issue of Superdelegates needs to be addressed as the Superdelegate numbers should not be included with the number of delegates won in the primaries for the calculations because it is misleading to say she won them. She outright bought them months ago with her “victory” fund and this process needs to be outlawed.


  6. […] history is usually a good guide to use in determining how current elections might go. As I wrote last week in The Phlip Side, Donald Trump puts more states in play than would have been in play if the Republican Party would […]


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