Monthly Archives: October 2016

Why Trump Lost the Debates

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The 2016 election has been defined by Hillary Clinton’s performance in the three presidential debates.  Snap polls indicated she defeated Donald Trump in each encounter.  And since the first debate, Clinton’s lead over Trump has expanded both in terms of estimates of the popular vote and share of the electoral college.  Clinton’s decisive victory was due to her talent and preparation.  Trump lost because of obvious defects.

Trump can’t maintain focus for 90 minutes.  Particularly in the first and third debate, Trump began normally and then decompensated.  Trump lost his composure, grew angry, interrupted Clinton, and blurted insults — “such a nasty woman.” As time passed, his remarks began to ramble and he often lost his line of reasoning.  (In the third debate, Trump’s response to his first question — on the Supreme Court — was to the point; after 90 minutes, his response to his last question –entitlements — was incoherent.)

Some say that Trump — who has made Clinton’s health a campaign issue — has his own health issue: stamina.  Trump brags that he only sleeps three or four hours each night.  Perhaps his stamina problem is due to sleep deprivation.  Writing in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/26/opinion/a-unified-theory-of-trump.html) Timothy Egan argued that lack of sleep explains Trump’s behavior, in general: “Sleep deprivation, we know, can make you cranky and temperamental, and throw off judgment. The severely sleep-deprived are more impulsive, less adaptable and prone to snappish decisions, and they have trouble listening to others.”

My favorite psychologist argues that Trump’s debate performance is actually a consequence of his narcissistic personality disorder.  The psychologist observed that during each debate, Clinton was able to get under Trump’s skin, to attack his fragile self-esteem with a series of barbs.

At the 24 minute mark of the third debate, Clinton clearly unhinged Trump with a remark about immigration: “[Donald] went to Mexico, he had a meeting with the Mexican president.  Didn’t even raise [the idea of a border wall].  He choked…” At that point, Trump decompensated: he became visibly angry and started to insult and interrupt Clinton.  As a consequence, Trump’s responses to questions became increasingly incoherent: At the one hour mark, Trump was asked what he would do as President after Mosul falls: “Will you put U.S. troops into that vacuum to make sure that ISIS doesn’t come back?” Trump never answered the question.  First he argued that the Mosul invasion had been timed to help Clinton and then that it would help Iran.

Trump did not adequately prepare for the debates.  After the third debate, speaking at the Al Smith dinner, Clinton joked: “Donald wanted me drug tested before last night’s debate. And look, I’ve got to tell you, I am so flattered that Donald thought I used some sort of performance enhancer.  Now, actually, I did. It’s called preparation.”

In September, before the first debate, the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/24/us/politics/presidential-debate-hillary-clinton-donald-trump.html?) reported that Trump’s preparation was unorthodox: “[Trump] prefers not to do a full-length mock debate, and has no set person playing Mrs. Clinton.  He is not using a lectern for mock debate drills… Some Trump advisers are concerned that he underestimates the difficulty of standing still, talking pointedly and listening sharply for 90 minutes. In the primary debates he often receded into the background, and only jumped into the debate forcefully when he was attacked. Some advisers worry that if Mrs. Clinton surprises him, he will be caught flat-footed.” Trump’s advisers warned him what might happen during the debates but he did not listen to them.

At the 26 minute mark of the third debate, Clinton observed: “[Donald] used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower.  He underpaid undocumented workers, and when they complained, he basically said what a lot of employers do: ‘You complain, I’ll get you deported.'”  By this time Trump had decompensated and (amazingly) had no response.

At the 27 minute mark, Clinton asked: “Will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are [hacking] and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in in this election, that he rejects Russian espionage against Americans, which he actually encouraged in the past?”  Trump equivocated, mumbling Putin “has no respect” for Hillary.  She replied, “That’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”  Trump childishly responded, “You’re the puppet!”

Media consultant, Joel Silberman (http://www.attn.com/stories/12195/media-strategist-joel-silberman-weighs-candidates-body-language-third-presidential) observed: “The first 30 minutes of the debate suggested that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had actually accepted coaching and was trying to practice self control. Yet, from the beginning, I was struck by his nervous tics, his inability to stand still, his grabbing the microphone, his tight slit eyes, and his turned down mouth… by minute 30, he appeared physically unlikable… Mr Trump’s body and face language was both defensive and bullying.”

In the debates, Clinton needled Trump and he decompensated.  There was nothing that Clinton said that Trump could not have anticipated — tax returns, problems with women, friendship with Putin, etc.  If Trump had taken the time to adequately prepare — Clinton typically took four full days — then he could have controlled his narcissism and prevented his decompensation.

Trump chose to not fully prepare for the debates.  That’s no surprise.  One of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder is “exaggerating your achievements and talents.”  Trump often brags about how smart he is.

Before each debate, Donald Trump believed he needed only minimal preparation because he was inherently more talented that Hillary Clinton.  The debate results proved otherwise.  Trump lost because of his defects.

Updated Top 10 Election Predictions

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As Donald Trump stumbles towards the November 8th election, it’s clear that each week will bring a new Trump screwup. Here are my top ten predictions.

10. Trump’s tax returns will be hacked.  Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns. He (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/28/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-clinton-emails.html ) called upon Russian hackers to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails and release them to the press. Trump’s remark has some (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/hackers-declare-war-on-trump-221442 >hackers promising to make public Trump’s tax returns. On a recent Bill Maher show, the host asked WikiLeaks editor (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/08/06/bill_maher_interviews_julian_assange_it_looks_like_youre_putting_your_thumb_on_the_scale_for_trump.html )Julian Assange when they were going to release Trump’s returns; Assange replied, “We’re working on it.” It’s only a matter of time before someone releases Trump’s recent returns. They’ll likely show zero taxes paid, no charitable contributions, and scary ties to Russian oligarchs.

10/1:  The hacks have begun.  New York Times reveals that Trump took a $916M write off in 1995, which could have kept him from paying any tax for 20 years. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0)

10/21: Waiting for more hacks.

9. Trump will drop any pretense of political correctness.  Trump is in a death spiral: he makes an offensive remark; his ratings lower; his fragile ego is shaken; Trump lashes out with another offensive remark. How low will he go? Recently, he accused Obama and Clinton of “founding” ISIS. Soon Trump will sink lower and call them “traitors.” Trump’s bad behavior will egg on his crowds and poison the presidential debates. (Trump’s August 17th hiring of (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/08/17/donald-trumps-hire-of-the-breitbart-news-chief-is-a-middle-finger-to-the-gop-establishment/?tid=pm_politics_pop_b ) Steve Bannon is proof of this.)

During the September 26 debate, Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times.  His attitude, shown on split screen, was disdainful.  After losing this debate, Trump promised to be “tougher” in the next debate.

During 10/9 debate Trump was caught in 33 lies.  Among other outrages, he was said he would imprison Clinton for email problems, resuscitated Bill Clinton’s infidelities, said Hillary “is filled with hate,” and denied groping women — even though there are lots of witnesses to this.

During the 10/19 debate Trump called Clinton as “nasty woman.”  The next night, at the Al Smith dinner, he abused decorum to attack her.

8. Trump will receive only a limited security briefing because of his ties to Russia.  On August 17th, Trump was given a general (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-briefing-idUSKCN10R25T ) national security briefing. Subsequently, Trump will ask for a detailed briefing on Russia; this will be denied because of the ties between his staff (Paul Manafort and Boris Epshteyn) and Russian interests. Trump will blurt out this news. (This week, the (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/15/us/politics/paul-manafort-ukraine-donald-trump.html?_r=0 ) New York Times published information about Manafort’s ties to subterranean Ukrainian-Russian politics.)

Trump got 2 security briefings but then, on September 7th, implied that security briefers had indicated that President Obama was not following their advice — an outright lie.  Trump was (tactfully) censured by the Intelligence community.  

October: no more briefings.  Intelligence community rebukes Trump for denying that Russia was involved in DNC hacks (made available through WikiLeaks.)

7. Most GOP swing-state senatorial candidates will move away from Trump.   It’s already started to happen; incumbent Republican candidates with tough re-election races – such as Illinois Senator Kirk – disavow Donald Trump. By Labor Day, if Trump doesn’t change his ways, most challenged Republican incumbents will move away from him. This list includes: Ayotte (NH), Blunt (MO), Burr (NC), Grassley (IA), Johnson (WI), McCain (AZ), Portman (OH), Rubio (FL), and Toomey (PA). (If Trump bombs in the September 26th presidential debate, the majority if GOP congressional candidates will abandon him.)

10/10: Blunt, Burr, Grassley, Johnson, Rubio and Toomey stick with Trump.

10/21: Trump is the kiss of death.  If you abandon him (such as Joe Heck), Trump supporters abandon you; if you stick with him (such as Pat Toomey), sensible Republicans abandon you.

6. Trump fundraising will tank.  As an inevitable counterpart to a faltering candidate, Republican presidential fundraising will decline. In order to secure big donations, Trump promised to appear more presidential and to run a conventional campaign. He hasn’t done this and, as a consequence, large donations will dry up. (http://www.newsweek.com/gop-donors-abandon-presidential-race-switch-senate-440956 ) Big Republican donors will give to Senate and House candidates.  This won’t impact Trump’s visibility but it will mean few Trump TV ads and a miniscule get-out-the-vote effort.

For August, Clinton reported $143M and a few days later Trump reported $90M.  The way Trump reported his numbers made me suspicious — I’m suspicious of all things Trump — and when we get the official report, around 9/23, I bet Trump’s numbers are lower.

On the September20th reporting date, HRC had raised $373M and Trump had raised $165M.  Washington Post says Trump on way to historic low fundraising total.  (http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-presidential-campaign-fundraising/)

10/1: HRC raised $154M — Trump has yet to release his numbers.

10/21: Trump did reveal numbers (about $100M) but they seem to be fudged.

5. Trump will escalate crowd anger.  As Donald Trump spirals downward, his anger and frustration will egg on his supporters. His crowds won’t get any smaller – Trump’s base is about 30 percent of likely voters – but they will sense that the election is slipping away. Trump will feed their anger by telling them the system is rigged and accusing Obama and Clinton of being “traitors.” (The Secret Service will warn Trump about his rhetoric but he will continue to ignore these admonitions.)

This is starting to happen. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-rally-protesters-slapped_us_57d73701e4b0fbd4b7bb331d)

10/21: Trump eggs on supporters by implying system is rigged and that, if he loses, he will not support the results of the election.

4. Because of his erratic behavior, two-thirds of Americans will find Trump “unfit” for office.  The current (http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/donald-trump-favorable-rating ) Huffington Post poll of polls  indicates that 64.5 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump (32.5 percent view Trump favorably). Trump’s unfavorability will continue to decline. (Can it get to 70 percent?)

Gallup says Trump’s un-favorability ratings are 65%

3. US/Iraqi forces will drive ISIS out of Iraq.   Politico contributor ( http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/iraq-offensive-2016-mosul-islamic-state-isis-isil-obama-foreign-policy-kurdish-214121 ) Mark Perry writes that Iraqi and Kurdish forces, led by US advisors, are preparing a major push into Mosul that should result in ISIS forces being pushed out of Iraq just before the election. This should bolster Obama-Clinton favorability and further diminish Trump’s chances. (Either this or the leaking of Trump’s tax returns will be the dreaded “October surprise.”)

I continue to think that this will happen (as well as the leaking of Trump’s Tax returns and health records.)

10/3: October surprise has started.  The first of Trump’s tax returns has been leaked.  Today the New York Attorney General issued a “cease-and-desist” order against the Trump Foundation.  Also today news came out that the Trump organization leased space to an Iranian Bank linked to terrorists.

10/10: On Friday, 10/7, the Washington Post leaked a 2005 videotape where Trump bragged about kissing and groping women.  

10/17: US/IRAQ invasion of Mosul begins.

2. Only one presidential debate will occur.   After non-stop whining about the debate format, Donald Trump will show up at the September 26 Presidential debate at New York’s Hofstra University. Even though he understands how important this debate is to his Presidential aspirations, Trump won’t be able to control himself: he will be evasive and irritating. He will refuse to abide by the debate format: six 15-minute segments, each on a particular topic; with each candidate having two minutes to respond followed by an opportunity to question each other. Trump will refuse to honor the time limit; he’ll interrupt Clinton during her response; and call her “crooked Hillary” and other derogatory terms. When questioned, Trump will refuse to give straight answers. Trump will lose the substantive debate and his favorability rating will further decline.

There were 3 debates.  Clinton won each one.  Before first debate the race was essentially tied.  Now Clinton is ahead by 7-8 points.

 

1. Clinton will win by 11 points and garner 348 electoral votes.  After the September 26th debate, the course of the election will be clear: Hillary will defeat Trump by a convincing margin. The MSM focus will turn to competitive Senate races.

I continue to believe that Hillary will win but 11 points seems too much, at the moment.  The race will be decided by the (1) debate and Hillary’s vastly superior GOTV effort.  (I suspect that Hillary will run a much better campaign from here on out.)  I think Hillary will garner around 322 electoral votes.  (The swing state that seems most in doubt is Ohio.)

10/17: It looks like I may be right.  At the moment (on 538), Clinton is ahead by 7 percent (steadily increasing) and on track for 343 electoral votes.

Debate 3: Smackdown at the HRC Corral

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The third presidential debate had the elements of a classic Hollywood western.  A robber-baron, Donald Trump, tries to takeover the town; the inhabitants turn, incongruously, to the local “schoolmarm”, Hillary Clinton. They meet in an epic “battle” and the good woman forces the bad guy into mistake after mistake.  At the end, Hillary walked into the audience, smiling, while Trump remained on stage, petrified.

As she’d done in the first debate, Clinton’s strategy was to needle Trump and force him to make errors.  During the discussion on immigration, Clinton said: “[Donald] used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower. He underpaid undocumented workers, and when they complained, he basically said what a lot of employers do: ‘You complain, I’ll get you deported.'” Trump failed to respond.

Clinton rattled Trump during an exchange of Russian hacking: “Will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in in this election, that he rejects Russian espionage against Americans, which he actually encouraged in the past?”  Trump equivocated, mumbling Putin “has no respect” for Hillary.  She replied, “That’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”

With the puppet comment, Hillary got under Trump’s skin and he got angry.  And sloppy.

Trump’s defense of his economic plan was incoherent.  Clinton responded, “Let me translate that…” She noted Trump’s praise of the Chinese economy, adding, “One of the biggest problems we have with China is the illegal dumping of steel and aluminum into our markets… In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So [Donald] goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.”

Instead of responding, Trump asked a question: What had Clinton accomplished in her thirty years as a public service?  Clinton pounced: “You know, back in the 1970s, I worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. And I was taking on discrimination against African-American kids in schools. [Donald] was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings.  In the 1980s, I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses. In the 1990s, I went to Beijing and I said women’s rights are human rights. He insulted a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado… And on the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, [Donald] was hosting the ‘Celebrity Apprentice.'”

By this point, Trump was visibly angry.  When asked about allegations of groping women, Trump stammered, “Those stores have been largely debunked… I believe it was her campaign that did it.”

Clinton replied: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women.”

Trump shouted, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”  The audience laughed at him.

Trump said, “[Hillary] should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.”

The moderator asked Trump, “There is a tradition in this country — in fact, one of the prides of this country — is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner… Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”  Trump responded, “I will tell you at the time.  I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

Clinton responded: “That’s horrifying. You know, every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is, is rigged against him.The FBI conducted a year-long investigation into my e-mails. They concluded there was no case; he said the FBI was rigged… He lost the Wisconsin primary. He said the Republican primary was rigged against him. Then Trump University gets sued for fraud and racketeering; he claims the court system and the federal judge is rigged against him. There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged against him.”

By this point in the debate, Trump was visibly angry.  His explanation of his plan for Iraq, after Mosul falls, was incoherent.  He began to interrupt Clinton with, “Wrong.”

The concluding debate segment concerned the national debt.  Trump was asked to respond to experts who say his economic plan will increase the debt “to 105 percent of GDP over the next 10 years.”  Trump avoided the entire question.

The moderator asked Trump what he would do to save Medicare and Social Security.  Again, Trump did not answer the question but instead attacked Obamacare.

Clinton responded: “I am on record as saying that we need to put more money into the Social Security Trust Fund. That’s part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it.”

Trump lashed out, “Such a nasty woman.”

What most will remember about this debate is Trump’s failure to commit to support the outcome of the election: “I will tell you at the time.  I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

But what the debate proved is that Hillary Clinton is tougher than Donald Trump.  The robber-baron tried to take over the town and the schoolmarm smacked him down.

 

The Election’s Tipping Point

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Months from now, as we look back at the 2016 presidential election, we’ll argue about several possible tipping points that moved voters towards Hillary Clinton.  Was it when she survived FBI Director Comey’s speech about her emails?  Was it when she decisively defeated Donald Trump in the first presidential debate?  Was it one of Trump’s tweet-storm fugues?  It was Michelle Obama’s speech on October 13th.

Speaking at a New Hampshire Clinton rally, Michelle Obama departed from her prepared speech to deliver a scathing rebuke to Donald Trump. (http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497846667/transcript-michelle-obamas-speech-on-donald-trumps-alleged-treatment-of-women)  The President’s wife is in a unique position to comment on Trump’s sexual avarice.  She’s the most admired woman in the U.S.  And a woman who has experienced sexism.

Since October 7th, the nation had been reeling from the impact of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” videotape showing Trump making aggressively sexual remarks about women.  In the October 9th debate, Trump pushed back suggesting this was “locker-room talk” and when asked, “Have you ever done these things?” responding, “No, I have not.”  On October 11th, several women came forward with stories of their abuse by Trump.

On October 13th, Michelle Obama addressed Trump’s behavior: “The fact is that in this election, we have a candidate for President of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning that I simply will not repeat anything here today. And last week, we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women…  And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. So while I’d love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.”

Michelle Obama continued, “This is not something that we can ignore… This wasn’t just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior.”

Shortly after Michelle Obama’s speech, Donald Trump responded. (http://www.npr.org/2016/10/13/497857068/transcript-donald-trumps-speech-responding-to-assault-accusations)  “These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false.  And the Clintons know it, and they know it very well. These claims are all fabricated.”

Trump continued, “Nevertheless, I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you.  I take them for our movement so that we can have our country back.  Our great civilization, here in America and across the civilized world has come upon a moment of reckoning…  it is our corrupt political establishment that is the greatest power behind the efforts at radical globalization and the disenfranchisement of working people. Their financial resources are virtually unlimited, their political resources are unlimited, their media resources are unmatched, and most importantly, the depths of their immorality is absolutely unlimited.”

In other words, Donald Trump was unrepentant and doubled down. On October 14th, Trump suggested that his victims were too unattractive to assault.  (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/trump-jessica-leeds-accusations-229805) “Believe me, she would not be my first choice.”

The history of Trump’s campaign has been that he says terrible things — such as mocking Senator John McCain for being a prisoner of war — and the media predicts the end but Trump survives and grows stronger.  Indeed, a cornerstone of his campaign has been to flaunt “political correctness.”  Given this history, why would we expect Trump not to survive the revelation of his history as a sexual predator?  Two reasons.

The first is the sequence of the Trump revelations.  It began with the release of the “Access Hollywood” videotape where Trump bragged about his sexual-predator behavior.  Two days later, during the second Presidential debate, Trump denied that he had done the things he bragged about.  Then women began to come forward saying, “Yes, Trump did the things to me that he bragged about on the ‘Access Hollywood’ videotape.”  (According to Mother Jones, “17 women have gone public with more tales of unwanted sexual touching or inappropriate behavior by Trump.” (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/all-women-whove-accused-trump-sexual-assault)

The second is that fact that Trump’s predatory behavior (almost exclusively) affects white women, the single largest voting bloc.  Since the release of the “Access Hollywood” videotape, American women have conducted a national teach-in on sexual assault.

The latest survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm)  indicated that 19.3 percent of American women have been raped during their lifetimes and 43.9 percent have experienced “other forms of sexual violence.”  (15.2 percent of women have been stalked.)  I believe that these numbers are deflated because many women do not report sexual assault; the women in my family tell me that most American women have experienced sexual violence.

In the most important speech of the 2016 political campaign, Michelle Obama not only called out Donald Trump as a sexual predator, she also enabled millions of American women to talk about their personal histories of sexual abuse.

Trump’s October Surprise

 

 

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With less than a month before the November 8th election, the tone of the presidential race is so acrimonious that many voters are turned off.  Nonetheless, everyone who is serious about US democracy should pay attention because there are daily  revelations, mostly about Donald Trump.

On October 1st, the New York Times revealed that it had received the first few pages of Trump’s 1995 tax returns.  They revealed that Trump had taken a $916 million write off — which likely allowed him to not pay taxes for twenty years.  Then, on October 7th, the Washington Post revealed the existence of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html?) where Trump made lewd comments about women.

Meanwhile, also on October 7th, Wikileaks revealed thousands of emails hacked from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta.

Many observers believe that between now and election day there will be dueling revelations: details of Donald Trump’s behavior with women — Trump has the profile of a sexual predator — and emails from Podesta and other Clinton campaign insiders.  Nonetheless, the ultimate “October Surprise” is likely to be the details of Trump’s relationship with Russia.

In August, I wrote a column predicting that before the election Trump’s tax returns would be hacked: “They’ll likely show zero taxes paid, no charitable contributions, and scary ties to Russian oligarchs.”  Today we know that Trump paid no taxes and has next to zero charitable contributions.  But we still don’t understand his ties to Russian oligarchs.  That shoe is about to fall.

During the October 9th debate, Hillary Clinton twice made an unusually strong condemnation of Russia: “Our intelligence community just… said that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is part of that…  we don’t even know if it’s accurate information, and then they put it out.  We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election… They’re doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump.”

Trump responded: “Anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — [Hillary] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia… I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.”

In a debate where Trump told 33 lies, few commented on Trump’s remark, “Maybe there is no hacking.”  But, on October 10th, NBC News (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-was-told-russia-was-blame-hacks-long-debate-n663686) reported that Trump “was personally briefed on Russia’s role in the hacks by U.S. officials.”

We’ve gotten so used to Trump’s lies that it’s easy to dismiss this particular lie as, “Trump continuously lies because he can.”  But in a new book, “The Plot to Hack America,” intelligence expert Malcolm Nance (http://www.newscenter1.tv/story/33267633/skyhorse-to-publish-timely-new-book-the-plot-to-hack-america-by-intelligence-expert-malcolm-nance) suggests that Trump is a pawn in Vladimir Putin’s own version of “Game of Thrones;”  Putin wants to humiliate President Obama and Secretary Clinton and is using Trump, together with Russian spy agencies, to accomplish his objectives.

Nance speculates that Putin has enlisted Trump by appealing to Trump’s vanity and greed.  In return, Trump has taken the most pro-Russia stance of any political candidate in recent memory.  In the second debate, Trump suggested that the US should abandon Aleppo because “it has fallen.”  He “explained”: “Syria is Russia” and “Russia is killing Isis.”  (It appeared that Trump was saying that all of the occupants of Aleppo belong to Isis — something that is far from true).  Trump has called Vladimir Putin a more capable leader than President Obama.  He’s called for normalizing relations with Russia, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia?”

Trump claims he has no financial ties to Russia: “I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.”  Here’s what the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/10/heres-what-donald-trump-needs-to-know-about-the-inner-workings-of-russia/) says:  “There is all kinds of evidence, including statements from his advisers and family members that Trump has done business with Russia. Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008 that ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.’ Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization, told our colleagues in May: ‘I have no doubt, as a company, I know we’ve looked at deals in Russia. And many of the former Russian republics.’ ”

Time Magazine(http://time.com/4433880/donald-trump-ties-to-russia/) reported: “As major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What’s more, several of Trump’s senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians.”

Trump could prove he has no financial ties to Russia by releasing his tax returns, but he refuses to do this.   Conservative columnist George Will observed, “Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing [Trump’s] tax returns is because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others.”

The hacking and publication of Trump’s complete tax returns will be the ultimate October surprise.  Given that Obama/Clinton are very irritated with Putin, coupled with the capabilities of American cyber-security services, it’s very likely that Trump’s tax returns will be released before November 8th.

The 2nd Debate: Hillary Stares Down a Bully

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Update: Trump interrupted Clinton 15 times; Factcheckers say he was caught in 33 lies.

It was the presidential debate I expected but hoped wouldn’t happen.  In the October 9th St. Louis debate, Donald Trump was vicious.  He threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Hillary Clinton, hurling insult after insult, lie after lie.  But Clinton held her ground, managed to look and act presidential, and emerged victorious.

A CNN poll found that 57 percent thought Clinton won, compared with 34 percent who thought Trump won.  A similar YouGov found a smaller margin with 47 percent Clinton and 42 percent Trump.

Five things stood out in the debate:  First, as in the initial presidential debate, Trump lost the battle of optics.  While Clinton seemed relaxed and focused, Trump seemed agitated and angry.  When Clinton spoke, Trump prowled around the stage, sometimes looming behind her.  At one point, Trump appeared so menacing that my wife gasped, “He’s going after her!”

Trump’s appearance came on the heels of the release of his 2005 groping tape.  This did not help his image with female voters.  And this image was not improved by Trump’s St. Louis debate performance where he came off as a stalker.

Second,  more than the first debate, this debate was tailored to appeal to Trump’s base, particularly to that part that reads the far-right Breitbart News (http://www.breitbart.com/) — where today’s Trump ad was, “It’s us against the world!”) It’s difficult to imagine that Trump’s performance appealed to truly Independent voters or that it changed the minds of those Republican women who had decided to vote for Clinton (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/us/politics/donald-trump-women-hillary-clinton.html?).

Third, Trump held nothing back.  In an exchange about Clinton’s handling of State Department emails, Trump promised that if elected President he would appoint a special prosecutor to reinvestigate this matter.  Clinton responded, “it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”  Trump snapped, “Because you’d be in jail.”

As expected, Trump brought up Bill Clinton’s infidelities — he prefaced the debate with a Facebook press conference featuring several of the Clinton accusers.  Trump refused to apologize for the just-released 2005 groping tape: “That was locker room talk.”  And attempted to switch the subject to the Clinton’s, “I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful, and I think she should be ashamed of herself.”  Considering the circumstances, Hillary stayed remarkably calm, “So much of what [Donald]  just said is not right, but he gets to run his campaign any way he chooses… I am reminded of what my friend, Michelle Obama, advised us all: When they go low, you go high.”

That’s the theme Hillary tried to adhere to during the rest of the debate: when Trump went low, she went high.

Hillary noted that Trump still has not apologized the Gold-Star family of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim, who was killed in Iraq.  Trump responded, “if I were president at that time, he would be alive today, because unlike her, who voted for the war without knowing what she was doing, I would not have had our people in Iraq.”  Even for Trump, this was remarkably insensitive.  (There is substantial evidence that, before it started, Trump was not opposed to the Iraq War — (http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2016-09-10/ap-fact-check-trumps-false-claim-of-opposing-the-iraq-war)).

Fourth, Clinton made a strategic choice to not go after each Trump lie — she tried to “go high.”  This often meant that a barrage of Trump lies went unanswered; Hillary responded with a general, “that’s not true.”  For example, after a long riff on taxes, where Trump repeated the falsehood, “our taxes are..,  about the highest in the world,” Clinton responded: “Well, everything you’ve heard just now from Donald is not true. I’m sorry I have to keep saying this, but he lives in an alternative reality.”

Therefore there will be two debates.  The first occurred on the evening of October 9th and the second will occur over the next few days when fact-checkers will pour over the debate transcript and tell us how truthful the candidates were.

Initial findings from the non-partisan website, Politifact, (https://medium.com/@PolitiFact/politifacts-annotated-transcript-of-the-second-presidential-debate-b54f45edeb99#.kfcny8tjw) indicates that more than two dozen Trump assertions were inaccurate.

Fifth, scattered throughout the verbal battlefield were intriguing policy differences.  One was what to do about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Syria.  Clinton said, “I advocate today a no-fly zone and safe zones.”

At first, Trump avoided the question, turning instead to supposed Clinton foreign policy miscues. After two minutes, the moderator, Martha Raddatz, had to remind Trump of the original question.  Trump said he disagreed with his running-mate, Mike Pence, who suggested if the situation deteriorates, “the [US]should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.”  Raddatz asked, “What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?”  Trump replied, “I think that it basically has fallen. OK?”

In other words, Clinton wants to do something to get civilians out of Aleppo.  Trump has given up on them and wants the US to partner with Russia and the Assad regime.

Summary: Before the debate, Trump’s campaign was in free fall and many Republican politicians were abandoning him.  The debate results ensured that Trump will limp on to the November 8th election.  Trump did what he had to to energize his base.  But he didn’t add any new voters and at his current level of support — about 40 percent — he can’t win.

This wasn’t the knockout performance that many of us hoped Clinton would provide.  Nonetheless, it was a win.

 

 

Is it Possible to Reconcile With Trump’s Base?

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The last question asked in the October 4th vice-presidential debate was on a subject all Americans should worry about: “It has been a divisive campaign… if your ticket wins, what specifically are you going to do to unify the country and reassure the people who voted against you?”  Democrat Tim Kaine replied that he was confident that Hillary Clinton could unify the US because she is a proven conciliator. Republican Mike Pence asserted Donald Trump would unify the country by making “America great again.”

If Clinton wins, is unity possible?

The latest Huffington Post Poll of Poll  (http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-general-election-trump-vs-clinton)  shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump 48.4 percent to 41.6 percent.  Probably the hard-core Trump base is around 30 percent of voters.

Two years ago, Pew Research Center (http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/the-political-typology-beyond-red-vs-blue/ ) released a “Typology of American politics.”  The Pew typology distinguished between three classes of voters: the general public, registered voters, and the “politically engaged.” In the category “politically engaged” there were three categories of Republicans: “Steadfast Conservatives: socially conservative populists” at 19 percent; “Business Conservatives: Pro-Wall street, pro-immigrant” at 17 percent; and “Young Outsiders: conservative views on government, not on social issues” at 11 percent.  The hard-core Trump base is probably composed of “Steadfast Conservatives” and “Young Outsiders” for 30 percent — roughly the size of the Tea Party movement.

In March, Bill Moyers (http://billmoyers.com/story/so-who-are-donald-trumps-voters/ ) interviewed Dr. Robert Jones, whose organization conducted the “American Values Survey.” Dr. Jones said that Trump voters: “… are best understood not as values voters, not even as Tea Party voters, but as nostalgia voters, these voters that are looking back to — they’re culturally and economically disaffected voters that are anxious to hold on to a white conservative Christian culture that’s passing from the scene.” [Emphasis added] The Trump voters are united by their skepticism about government: both the perceived failings of the Obama Administration (and, by association, Hillary Clinton) and their negative feelings about immigration.

Berkeley Professor Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies (http://news.berkeley.edu/2016/09/23/rebranding-the-right-republicans-and-the-republic-post-election/) has amplified this description.  Rosenthal says Trump supporters are a new form of right-wing populism — a blend of the Tea Party plus the “alt-right” (“a rebranding of classic white nationalism.”)  They are united by their disdain for immigrants and “elites,” including Wall Street, Washington, and Hollywood.  They feel “their” country slipping away and believe their children will have a tougher life than they do.  (Rosenthal observed that, before Trump, the model for these voters was Sarah Palin, who during her 2008 campaign for Vice President, expressed the same anger and disdain for political correctness.)

In an August 15th study for the Gallup organization, Jonathan Rockwell offered a more nuanced view of Trump voters: ( http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2822059): “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relatively high household incomes… no other presidential candidate from either party received greater support from places with high white mortality, high segregation, and low mobility.”  In other words, the Trump voters live in segregated failing communities.  They are angry and Trump has channeled this anger.

The New Yorker’s George Saunders observed the Trump campaign (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/george-saunders-goes-to-trump-rallies).   Saunders wrote: “From the beginning, America has been of two minds about the Other. One mind says, be suspicious of it, dominate it, deport it, exploit it, enslave it, kill it as needed. The other mind denies that there can be any such thing as the Other, in the face of the claim that all are created equal… The first mind has always held violence nearby, to use as needed.”  Trump voters are those who hold the first mind; who are extremely fearful of “the Other.”

Trump has ruthlessly exploited this base and amplified their fear.   New Yorker contributor Saunders characterized Trump as “a fan of winning by any means necessary, exploiting our recent dullness and our aversion to calling stupidity, stupidity.”

Hillary Clinton will likely become the 45th president.  Her biggest challenge will be unifying the country, particularly the hardcore Trump voters.  It will be a daunting task.

Writing in the Huffington Post, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/trumpism-could-be-more-da_b_11756020.html), liberal commentator Robert Kuttner lamented that Trump has unloosed “the forces of real hate… Trump will have goons as poll watchers. He will find ways to insist that the election was stolen. He will continue to make more mischief, impeaching the legitimacy of our institutions.”

All voters should hope that Hillary Clinton will be as good at reconciliation as her running-mate, Tim Kaine, says she is.  After the election, Hillary will reach out to Trump voters but they won’t take her seriously.  To bridge the social chasm between her advocates and the Trump folks, Hillary will have to provide real economic change (good jobs and a lessening of inequality).  Hillary will have to give Trump voters a reason to be hopeful, convince them that America really is great.

The Vice-Presidential Debate

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The initial presidential debate had a clear winner, Hillary Clinton.

The outcome of the vice-presidential debate was less clearcut: many observers thought that Republican Mike Pence won on style points because Democrat Tim Kaine interrupted too often.  On the other hand, Kaine seemed to score the most political points, repeatedly backing Pence into a corner, forcing him to “defend” Donald Trump and lie in the process.  And Pence made the one obvious faux pas — attempting to defend the Trump characterizing Mexican immigrants as “Criminals and rapists” — “Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

Vice-presidential debates seldom make a difference on a election day.  Trump supporters will be pleased with Pence’s performance.  Clinton supporters will be pleased with Kaine’s performance.

Undecided voters probably turned off the debate and tuned into the MLB playoffs.  But in days to come, these votes will hear the line, “Senator you whipped out that Mexican thing again,” and they will encounter Democratic videos reminding them that Pence could not defend Trump’s most outrageous statements.

 

Debate Recap: Hillary Takes Care of Business

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It’s clear from the polls taken after the first presidential debate (http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum) that Hillary Clinton soundly defeated Donald Trump.  Clinton met her pre-debate objectives while Trump did not.

One of Clinton’s primary objectives was to increase the enthusiasm of her supporters.  A post-debate NBC News poll (http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/data-points/poll-majority-voters-say-clinton-won-first-presidential-debate-n656231) found that 50 percent of registered Democrats said their opinion of Clinton had “changed for the better”  (whereas 46 percent of registered Republicans said their opinion of Trump had “changed for the worse.”).

Moreover, the presidential poll reflected favorably on Clinton.   A Democracy Corps’ “live dial meter focus group” found that during the debate Clinton’s favorability rating shifted by +33 percent.  (http://www.wvwvaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Dcor_Debate-Dials_Memo_9.27.2016_for-release.pdf)  Clinton’s support increased white white unmarried women and white working-class voters.

Besides enthusiasm and favorability, Clinton’s objectives were to tighten her lead among women, Hispanics, and African-Americans.

Going into the debate, female voters tended to prefer Clinton by approximately 10 percentage points (http://presidentialgenderwatch.org/polls/womens-vote-watch/presidential-polling-data/).  This gender gap is likely to increase because of Trump’s statements about women in the debate.   Clinton said Trump, “has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs… he called [Alicia Machado] ‘Miss Piggy’… ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because she was Latina.”  Trump responded, “Somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell.  I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it…”

The NBC news poll (http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/data-points/poll-majority-voters-say-clinton-won-first-presidential-debate-n656231) indicated that after the debate 30 percent of female viewers said their opinion of Clinton had changed for the better (while 27 percent of female voters said their opinion of Trump had changed for the worse).

Going into the debate, Trump sought to improve his ratings with African-Americans.  (A late August PPP poll found that Trump had a zero favorability rating with African-American voters [http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/293752-trumps-popularity-with-african-american-voters-polling-at].)  During the debate, Trump had three opportunities to improve his rating.  The debate moderator, Lester Holt, asked both candidates about healing the racial divide.  Trump responded the answer was “law and order.”    Trump proposed to enforce this with a national “stop and frisk” policy (when questioned, he denied this is a form of racial profiling.)

Lester Holt followed up with question about Trump’s “birther” history: “What do you say to American, people of color, [about this]?” Trump responded, “I say nothing because I was able to get [President Obama] to produce [his long-form birth certificate].”

Clinton responded that Trump “has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our fist black president was not an American citizen.”  She added, “[Trump] has a long history of engaging in racist behavior.”

Donald Trump’s debate objectives included looking presidential and demonstrating mature temperament.  The debate split screen showed a cheerful and confident Clinton contrasted with a dour and truculent Trump — Donald didn’t look presidential.

Late in the debate, Trump boasted, “I also have a much better temperament than [Hillary] has.”  The audience laughed.  At least in the first debate, Hillary Clinton appeared to have a much better temperament than Donald Trump.