Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Myth of the "Shy" Trump Voter


As we approach the final days of this gut-wrenching, stomach-churning presidential campaign, some Republicans are blasting the polls, accusing them of missing what they refer to as "shy" Trump voters. These are people who intend on voting for Trump but who are just too "shy" to say so in an opinion poll. To hear them put it, these shy folks will make their voices heard on election day and carry Trump across the finish line.

While I realize that there are some people who are reluctant to tell a pollster who they might vote for, the very idea that there is such a thing as a "shy" Trump voter is laughable. It is the very definition of an oxymoron. If there's been one constant throughout this election, it's that Trump supporters have been anything but shy. Indeed, they've been extremely outspoken in their support of the GOP nominee. Trump, himself, in a moment of candor, admitted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and not lose any of his supporters. If that's what shy looks like, I'd hate to see what brash looks like.

Face it, the polls, if anything, have been remarkably accurate throughout this campaign and for both parties. During the Democratic primaries, we heard some Bernie supporters complain that they were being under sampled. As it turns out, the sampling rate wasn't the problem for Sanders; it was a lack of votes.

The same was true during the Republican primaries. Trump, very early on, became the front runner in virtually all the polls. It was the pundits who didn't believe what the polls were saying, not the polls themselves, that turned out to be the problem. Even reliable statisticians like Nate Silver were taken by surprise over the popularity of Trump among his supporters.

But now in a general election, with a much more diverse electorate, Trump's poll numbers just haven't been as strong. He still has a solid base that has not abandoned him, even throughout all his scandals, but he has been stuck in the high 30s to mid 40s since the conventions. The closest he's gotten to a tie in this race was in mid September when he pulled to within a point of Clinton in the RCP average.

If you'll recall that was immediately after Clinton's near collapse during the 9/11 memorial service. Trump, for his part, had managed to go several weeks without a major mishap, thanks largely to the advice he was getting from his then new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.  For the first time possibly in his life, Trump was listening to someone who could help him and the results were clearly visible.

Then came the first debate against Clinton, which he lost badly, followed by his tweet storm against a beauty pageant contestant. Soon after came the infamous Access Hollywood tape and the wheels came completely off. His poll numbers tanked and he went into conspiracy mode, claiming the system and the election were being rigged against him.

The only one rigging anything in this election is Donald Trump. He has managed to make a mockery of the entire election process of this country. He has riled up his base to such a fever pitch that if he loses in November, he will have set the stage for the greatest Constitutional crisis this nation has seen in its history.

The truth is his supporters aren't shy; they simply don't represent the majority of voters in the country. In 1968, Richard Nixon was successfully able to employ what he called a Southern strategy to help him win the presidency. That strategy depended largely on ginning up fears within the white population that their country was being taken from them.

Donald Trump is trying to replicate the Nixon strategy. Unfortunately for him, this electorate looks nothing like the one in 1968.

James Comey's October Surprise


So much for drip, drip. FBI Director James Comey, with eleven days to go before the election, delivered a giant kick in the teeth to Hillary Clinton that might not cost her the presidency, but could severely undermine her administration before it even begins.

To be clear, what Comey did was stunning and beneath contempt. It's also clear from the statement he released and the additional information that has been learned, the emails in question are not from Clinton's server; indeed they're from Anthony Weiner's computer. And for all we know these emails may be duplicates of emails that have already been vetted.

Democrats are well within their rights to cry foul here. Comey can say this is about transparency all he wants, the political damage has been done. And the ironic thing about all this is that three months ago he made it a point to tell the world that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring charges against Clinton. Now with a week and a half left in the campaign, this supposedly reasonable prosecutor has decided to prosecute Clinton in the court of public opinion, and for a crime she may not have committed.

Former prosecutors were justifiably quick to pounce on Comey. Nick Ackerman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, was particularly critical of Comey's motives, calling them "totally inappropriate."
"It is not the function of the FBI director to be making public pronouncements about an investigation, never mind about an investigation based on evidence that he acknowledges may not be significant. The job of the FBI is simply to investigate and to provide the results of its investigation to the prosecutorial arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. His job is not to give a running commentary about any investigation or his opinion about any investigation. This is particularly egregious since Secretary Clinton has no way to respond to what amounts to nebulous and speculative innuendo.”
There's no way to tell how much damage this new revelation may cause. Hillary was already having a pretty bad week, what with the latest batch of Wikileaks emails concerning the Foundation and the spike in premiums for those enrolled in the Obamacare exchanges. But this much is certain: the timing could not have been worse for her.

At a time when most presidential candidates look to make their closing arguments for why the country should vote for them, Clinton will have to once again deal with the scandal that has dogged her from the moment she entered the race. And, to be fair here, it's a scandal she created all by herself with no help from the Republicans, the Russians or Julian Assange.

Look, it's possible that none of this will matter in the long run. Many pundits have concluded that her trust issues, like Trump's misogyny, are already baked into the electorate's opinion of both. And we know this because even with the Access Hollywood tape and the litany of women who have come forward to say Trump sexually accosted them, he still remains within striking distance of Clinton.

Likewise, with all the scandals that have rocked her campaign, Hillary continues to lead in both the head to head and four-way polling. This indicates that there may be a saturation effect at play here. Ironically, the very thing people hate most about her - her untrustworthiness - could end up being her saving grace.

But it's also possible that this latest revelation could be the straw that breaks the camel's back for some voters. Clinton has struggled with millennials throughout this campaign, and there are still quite a lot of Bernie supporters who haven't forgiven her, don't like her and are want to vote for her. If enough of them stay home November 8, this could be a very close election, perhaps a little too close for comfort.

Let's face it: Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner because she is up against the worst candidate in U.S. history. Had Ohio Governor John Kasich won the GOP nomination, it'd be a much different story, I can assure you.

And if you're looking for a glimmer of hope to hang your hat on, that might be as good as it gets.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bill Weld Does the Right Thing


Gary Johnson's running mate - the one who actually has a clue what day it is - did something incredible the other day. Bill Weld issued a statement that every "undecided" voter toying with the idea of voting third party or Republican should read carefully and take to heart.

No, it was not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, as many progressive websites are intimating; and no Weld is not stepping down as Johnson's running mate, nor is he urging Johnson to end his candidacy. But Weld did the next best thing: he made it crystal clear just how dangerous a Donald Trump presidency would be.
From the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Trump has conjured up enemies. First it was eleven million criminals in our midst, all bent on obtaining the benefits of citizenship, at our expense. Over time, the enemies became any trading partner of the United States. He says they are nothing but foreigners seeking to threaten our livelihoods. Now we have reached the point where his idea of America’s enemies includes almost anyone who talks or looks different from him. The goal of the Trump campaign, from the outset, has been to stir up envy, resentment, and group hatred. 
This is the worst of American politics. I fear for our cohesion as a nation, and for our place in the world, if this man who is unwilling to say he will abide by the result of our national election becomes our President. 
This great nation has weathered policy differences throughout our history, and we will do so again. Not in my lifetime, though, has there been a candidate for President who actually makes me fear for the ultimate well-being of the country, a candidate who might in fact put at risk the solid foundation of America that allows us to endure even ill-advised policies and the normal ebb and flow of politics. 
In the final days of this very close race, every citizen must be aware of the power and responsibility of each individual vote. This is not the time to cast a jocular or feel-good vote for a man whom you may have briefly found entertaining. Donald Trump should not, cannot, and must not be elected President of the United States.
I'll say this for Weld, he doesn't mince his words. He cuts right to the chase. And the fact that Weld has heretofore made no similar statement regarding Hillary, should imply that he does not view a Clinton presidency as a "lesser of two evils," as so many people have been foolishly saying. In fact, in an interview with Chuck Todd, Weld said, "I'm not sure anyone's more qualified to be President of the United States than Hillary Clinton."

Throughout this campaign, a number of Republicans have done the unthinkable: they've soundly rejected Donald Trump. It is an unprecedented move in American politics to have so many members of a major political party turn their backs on the party nominee for president. Not even Goldwater in '64 had such a defection.

To be clear, Hillary Clinton has many flaws and even more enemies, most of them Republicans. And you don't need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that there is no love loss between her and the GOP, or for that matter the vast majority of conservative writers and pundits, many of whom have spent the better part of the last quarter century trashing her. So it is nothing less than extraordinary that anyone within this lot would even contemplate not voting for Trump, knowing what that could mean.

What that tells you is that while they may hate her, they're terrified of him. In Trump, they see someone who doesn't just pose a threat to their party, but to the country as a whole. The fact that Bill Weld has now added his name to the growing list of conscientious objectors, hopefully will induce most if not all the fence sitters and third-party fanciers to wake up and smell the caffeine.

If the running mate of a presidential candidate who didn't know what Aleppo was and couldn't name a single world leader he admired could figure it out, no one has any excuses.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why the IBD/TIPP Poll is Wrong This Time Around

By now you've heard that the Trump campaign is touting the recent polling by Inventor's Business Daily as evidence that they are actually ahead in the polls; and, further, that all the other polls are wrong. Their evidence? IBD has been the most accurate pollster over the last three presidential elections, according to them. And as of Monday, IBD had Trump leading 43 to 41 in a four-way race*.

And Investor's Daily, for their part, has proudly repeated this claim. So I decided to check it out for myself by going back to the 2008 and 2012 elections. Is the Trump campaign and Investor's right in their assertion? Well, not quite. Here's why.

In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain by 7.3 points (52.9 to 45.6). The final RCP polling average was 7.6 points (52.1 to 44.5). IBD had Obama up 8 points (52 to 44). On first look, you'd probably think IBD was spot on.

There's only one problem. Most of the polling was pretty spot on that year. In fact, the pollster that came the closest to the actual margin of the election was, oddly enough, Fox News, which had him up 7 points (50 to 43). NBC News/Wall Street Journal also had Obama up 8 points. The range was from 2 points (Battleground Tarrance) to 11 points (Gallup and Reuters).

In 2012, the polling was a bit more inconsistent. That year Obama beat Mitt Romney by 3.9 points (51.1 to 47.2). The final RCP polling average, though, showed Obama with a slight .7 point lead. (48.8 to 48.1). I remember going to bed election eve night thinking Obama might be a one-term president.

IBD had Obama up by a point (50 to 49). Not bad. Until you look at the other polls and find that ABC News/Washington Post had him up by 3 points (50 to 47), which, as it turns out, tied them with Pew Research as the closest to the actual result. Three pollsters had the race tied, including CNN, and Gallup had Romney with a one point lead.

So, far from being the most accurate pollster in both elections, IBD appears to have been in the middle of the pack. Good, but hardly the stuff of legends.

Which brings us to 2016. The RCP average, as of now, shows Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump by 5 points in the four-way race (44.9 to 39.9) Included in that average are polls by Rasmussen and IBD, which show her trailing by 2 points and ABC News, which shows her up by 12. Apart from the LA Times, which shows the race tied in the head to head poll, but has been polling the same sample voters for the past three months, every other pollster shows Clinton with a sizable lead, including Fox News, which has her ahead by 6 points.

Either IBD knows something that everyone else doesn't, or their polling is flat-out wrong. I'm going with the latter here. The fact is that the RCP average corresponds with much of what we see in the state polling, including the all-important swing states, which show Clinton with a commanding lead in enough of them to get her across the finish line. Indeed, Clinton is polling better than Obama did at this point in 2012, and almost as well as he did at this point in '08. This puts her on track for an electoral college win somewhere between 330 and 365 votes.

How bleak are things in Trumpland? This is how bleak: Rush Limbaugh, the gas bag of the Right, won't stick his neck out like he did in 2012, when he confidently predicted Romney would win. You know your goose is cooked when you can't even count on Limbaugh to back your paranoid delusions.

Look, I get it. Anything can happen. We've still got two whole agonizing weeks to go until this race is over. And it's not like Clinton is FDR or something. As I've mentioned several times, she's a flawed candidate running against a sociopath. In the end that might just be her ace in the hole.

Then again, maybe IBD is right and we're all fucked.

* IBD now shows the race tied.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Unprecedented


When historians write about the 2016 campaign, they will likely look back on this third debate as the moment Donald Trump hopefully committed political suicide on national TV. His answer to one of the easiest and simplest questions ever posed by a moderator wasn’t just beyond the pale, as one Republican called it; it was unprecedented in American politics.

Donald Trump stood before the American people Wednesday night and not only reiterated that the election is rigged against him, he said he might not accept the results if it doesn’t go his way. His exact words were: “I’ll keep you in suspense. Okay?”

No, it’s not okay. It’s not okay for a grown man to behave like a four-year old who needs a time out, gin up centuries of racial bigotry for political gain, encourage violent outbursts at his rallies, scapegoat others for his own depraved conduct and, above all, cast into doubt a pillar of this Republic regarding the peaceful transition of power that its leaders have accepted for 240 years. And it’s certainly NOT okay to draw a false equivalence to the 2000 presidential election to justify such an absurdly offensive answer. That election came down to a Florida recount and a Supreme Court decision that many have questioned but that Al Gore ultimately accepted for the good of the country. To suggest that the two are similar is to add insult to a profound injury.

The truth is that there is only one presidential candidate who, from the moment he entered the race, has complained about the process being rigged against him. Throughout the Republican primaries, he railed against a rigged process whenever he lost a primary or caucus, but then praised it when he won; he has ridiculed the media for holding him accountable for his outrageous accusations, while at the same time conveniently forgetting he has received over a billion dollars of free advertising from that same media; he has attacked his opponents in the most juvenile of ways, belittled leaders in his own party - leaders he would need in the event he actually won the presidency - and managed to offend virtually every voter demographic in the country with the exception of white males.

He has made a mockery of the political system of this country, threatened its alliances throughout the world and so deeply divided the electorate, it will take years to repair the damage. Even now, a majority of his supporters, following in his footsteps, have vowed not to accept the results of the election if he loses. Some have thrown around words like revolution to describe what they'd do in that scenario. Such a prospect should frighten all of us.

Michael Tomasky's piece on Trump's "concession" speech, at first read seems humorous. And if this were simply the case of an ignoramus ascending to the top of his party's food chain, I might've chuckled along. But this isn't some Sarah Palin or George W. Bush spoof on Saturday Night Live we're talking about here. This man is the greatest threat this nation has ever faced, and now is not the time for lighthearted - you'll pardon the pun - banter. This is the time for responsible men and women, regardless of party of political predilection, to rise up and collectively reject his hateful and destructive rhetoric.

I cannot think of a time when the resolve of this country was so thoroughly tested and strained by the antics of a compulsive lying, race-bating, xenophobic, sexist, thin-skinned, narcissistic sociopath. How he won the GOP nomination is a question Republican leaders will have to grapple with in ernest if they ever wish to be taken seriously again as a national party. How the general electorate grapples with him November 8 may well determine the very future of the Republic itself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Protect the Football, Hillary

It's come down to this: one last debate; one last opportunity for Donald Trump to humiliate himself on a national stage. And if the first two debates are any indication, this might be the ugliest 90 minutes the nation has ever seen.

Unlike the first two debates, where I thought Hillary needed to go for the knockout, I actually think the best strategy for her tonight is to play it cool. She's ahead by double digits in the head-to-head polls and ahead by nine in the four-way polls; she's doesn't need to take any chances. If the election were held today, she'd win convincingly.

It's clear Trump is going to do everything he can to drag her down to his level, like he did with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. She cannot let that happen. When he blows a gasket, which he will, she needs to do what she's been doing since the conventions: act presidential, let it slide off her shoulder. If she could keep her composure during the second debate when Trump "invited" four of Bill's accusers to sit in the front row, she should be able to handle the half-brother of the President and the mother of a Benghazi victim.

The moderator, Chris Wallace, may try to pin her down on the email server, the alleged quid pro quo regarding the FBI and State Department and the Wikileaks hacks. Her best course of action is not to try and deflect. Own what's hers and above all else avoid getting into a pissing contest with Wallace. Trump will do his best to help her out anyway, so there's no need to overreact.

When you're ahead by two touchdowns with two minutes to go in the game, you actually don't have to score; you just have to make sure you don't turn the ball over. Trump will do everything in his power to force a turnover. It's his only chance - assuming he has any - to make this a horse race.

So my advice is simple: Protect the football, Hillary. The floor is literally caving underneath Trump's feat. Let gravity have its way and you'll be the next President of the United States.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Trump's "Blame the Victim" Strategy Will Backfire


In a 1992 episode of Law and Order, titled "Helpless," Dr Elizabeth Olivett is raped by a gynecologist, Dr. Alexander Merritt. The ADA, Ben Stone, prosecutes Merritt, but cannot get a conviction because of Olivett's close ties to the detectives who were investigating the assault. Stone, however, has an idea. He decides to hold a press conference on the steps of the courthouse, and Merritt, with his attorney, shows up. Merritt looks at the camera, smiling, while his attorney lauds her client's innocence.

A couple days later, Stone has Merritt arrested and brought to his office. Both he and his attorney are aghast that Stone would do such a thing, knowing that double jeopardy was attached in the acquittal. Stone reaches for a case, throws it on the table and says to Merritt:

"Fifty-four women you either raped, molested or abused. In the future, sir, stay off the evening news."

There's an old saying in corporate America: Nothing kills a bad product better than good advertising. And for the last week, Donald Trump has been doing an awful lot of "good" advertising. Good to the extent that he has chosen to blame the women who have come forward in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape and accused him of sexually assaulting them. He has declared himself as the true victim in a giant conspiracy between the media and the Clinton campaign to get him.

It's the sort of strategy that will, undoubtedly, solidify his base, but I submit it will end up costing him whatever shot he has of winning the presidency. The reason could not be clearer. For women, sexual assault is not a made-up issue; it is one that many of them have dealt with throughout their lives. The sight of a man on a stage not only failing to acknowledge his transgressions, but then blaming the victims of the abuse, is triggering to them. It not only dredges up the hurtful memories they have - memories that many of them have suppressed - it has the unintended consequence of riling them up and providing the impetus to come forward and be heard. Michelle Obama's poignant speech spoke to these points.
It is cruel. It's frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It's like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you're walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. 
It's that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they've said no but he didn't listen — something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.
This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn't matter what party you belong to — Democrat, Republican, independent — no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.
And I know it's a campaign, but this isn't about politics. It's about basic human decency. It's about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer — not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now. 
Because consider this: If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children? What message are our little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations? And how is this affecting men and boys in this country? Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.
The men that you and I know don't treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don't tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models of what it means to be a man.
As a man, I was deeply moved by the First Lady's words, but I was also ashamed; ashamed of the scars so many men have left on women over many, many decades and centuries. None of us can ever know the cross so many of them have had to bear. The catcalls, the whistles, the rationalizations of disgusting behavior that cannot be defended. But Trump and his surrogates defend it nonetheless. Without the slightest bit of remorse or empathy, he defiantly exonerates himself from any wrongdoing while shaming the wronged.

But like that gynecologist, who smugly mocked his victims on camera, the wrath that is coming for Trump, hopefully, will be just as definitive. My gut tells me that an overwhelming majority of women in this country are going to make their voices heard loud and clear on November 8. And it wouldn't surprise me if a large percentage of men do the same. Hillary Clinton may not get a majority of them to vote for her, but Trump's deplorable conduct will slice into his lead with them.

It is both ironic and sort of sad that this, of all things, should be the last straw in his pitifully depraved campaign. Over the last seventeen months, Trump has defamed and slandered Mexicans, Muslims, war heroes, the handicapped, African Americans, reporters, and every opponent who has gone up against him. And none of those attacks has been enough to bury him. But going after women - predominantly white women - has proven to be his Waterloo.

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. If that is true, I suspect Trump is about to find out just how hot the fires of hell can be.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Day After


It’s been four days since the second debate and Trump’s decision to go scorched earth has netted him a total of two points. When paired with the fallout from the Access Hollywood video, he is trailing Clinton by 9 points in the latest polling with just under four weeks to go before the election. As things stand now, she still has a solid lead in the all-important battleground states. If the election were held today, she would win with 340 electoral votes. And while, if I were team Clinton, I would resist the urge to do a victory lap, it’s looking more and more like the election is hers to lose.

And that leads me to my greatest concern: the day after the election. What happens on November 9 to all those Trump supporters, like the woman who said she’s “ready for a revolution,” if Hillary wins the presidency? How are they going to take defeat? More importantly, what happens if Trump, himself, doesn’t concede? We could be looking at a Constitutional crisis that would make Bush v. Gore look like a pinky swear gone bad.

We've never seen anything like this in the history of the country. The nominee of a major political party not just suggesting, but flat out stating, that the election has been rigged before it's even held, and that the only way he can lose is if certain people - you know, those people - vote more than once. His call to place "monitors" at polling sites is straight out of the Nazi playbook.

And the worst thing about all this is how he's managed to create an alternate reality for himself. The polls? Don't believe them. His own party? A bunch of weak-kneed traitors. The media? They're nothing but lackeys for Clinton. In Donald Trump's universe, everyone is out to get him. I swear, there are mental patients at Bellevue that aren't this paranoid. Unshackled? Try unhinged! Or how about we just put Donald in a straight jacket and be done with it?

With less than four weeks to go before voters go to the polls, Trump isn't merely a loose canon; he's an entire platoon. He sounds more like Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now than a candidate for the office of President of the United States. Forget his misogyny and his racism, I think the guy is bat-shit crazy. Seriously, when Glen Beck is the one calling you on the carpet, you haven't just gone over the edge, you've disappeared into the abyss.

I'm really scared about this. Think about it. Hillary Clinton is likely going to inherit the keys to the kingdom and there's a very strong probability that 40 percent of the country will not accept her. Even worse: depending on how bad Trump loses, the entire GOP might spend the next four years making the last eight look like a glee club. Not only won't she be able to govern, but her whole presidency will be undercut and undermined by the alt-right, which will stop at nothing to make her life a living hell. If you thought things were bad now, just wait until January.

And then there's Russia. It is now crystal clear that the Russians were behind the hacked emails from both the DNC and the Clinton campaign. For the most part the revelations from those emails have been more embarrassing than damaging. But intelligence officials are growing more and more concerned that an attempt might be made to hack into some of the voting machines on election day. I doubt Putin would want Trump to win, as some have suggested. He's a despot, he's not crazy. But if he could produce a situation where Hillary won a narrow decision - say 272 electoral votes - that could play right into his hands. A crippled Clinton Administration would allow him to get away with murder in the Ukraine, perhaps even the Baltics.

I actually do not know how we get out of this looming disaster. It's like watching a movie on the Titanic. You know what's about to happen, yet there's nothing you can do to prevent the inevitable. The Republican Party may have created this monster we know as Trump, but come November 9, they and the entire nation will have to contend with his unholy offspring. 

In the words of Stevie Wonder, Heaven help us all.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Moving the Chains


Okay, so she didn't "finish him off," as I implored her to do. Why? You'd have to ask her. I thought she should've gone for his jugular. He was badly wounded and his campaign was hanging on by a thread. By any and all accounts, she could've wrapped up the election last night and she didn't. Only time will tell if that ends up boomeranging on her.

My overall first impression of her performance was she was good but hardly dominating, at least not nearly as dominating as her performance in the first debate. Her only blemish was her answer to the Wikileaks email about her having a private and public position. Even I thought the Abraham Lincoln reference was weak. You don't give your opponent that kind of a layup in a debate. Trump, for his part, was better in this debate than the first, but that's not saying much, given how unhinged he was that night.

So who won? If we judge these debates based on the all-important criteria of who scored better with undecided voters, then I'd give the decision to Clinton. Trump's decision to go gutter might've been popular with his base, but apart from the red meat he flung at them, I don't think he did anything to move those undecided voters off the fence. If anything, he might've pushed a few Clinton's way.

Think about it. At one point Trump actually said that if he became president, he would appoint a special prosecutor with the express purpose of jailing Clinton. For the first time in the history of this country we have the nominee of a major political party proposing jailing his opponent. That sort of thing goes on in dictatorships, not democracies. Small wonder he's enamored of Putin.

While that was the low point in the debate, it was by no means the only scar on the evening. One particularly bad moment for Trump occurred early in the debate when he was asked to comment on the leaked video of him bragging about sexually assaulting a married woman. His insistence that what he said was simply locker room talk I can assure you won't win him many votes among suburban women - the constituency he desperately needs to make inroads with in order to win the White House.

And then there was the sight of four women, three of whom have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, being used as pawns by Trump. Besides being beneath contempt, it wasn't a particularly smart move on his part and for the following reasons: one, Bill isn't on the ticket, Hillary is; two, using the past sins of the spouse of your opponent as an excuse for your own is lame even for Trump; three, it has the unintended consequence of actually making Hillary look more sympathetic, especially in the eyes of married women, and lastly, the last time Republicans went after Bill and Hillary in this manner, it didn't go well for them. In fact, they lost seats in the '98 midterms.

But I think there were two moments in this debate where Clinton may have done herself a lot of good. The first one came on the opening question from a member of the audience who expressed concern about the divisive nature of the campaign and wanted to know if she felt she was "modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today's youth." I thought Clinton's answer was particular effective. She talked about "celebrating our diversity" and "working together" to be the president of "all Americans." Trump replied that he agreed with her and then spent the next two minutes contradicting himself.

The other moment came when a Muslim woman asked both candidates about the growing Islamophobia in America. While Clinton I thought did a good job trying to allay her fears by pointing out that we've had Muslims in this country since George Washington was president and that scapegoating and banning them would only play into the hands of the extremists, Trump proved that her concerns are valid. He actually responded to a question about Islamophobia by being Islamophobic.

My conclusion is that this debate was not a game changer and that is bad news for Trump. Yes, he was more aggressive and put Clinton on the defensive, but apart from a few fleeting moments, he was unfocused and all over the place. He never put the video issue to bed, nor did he make a convincing case to undecided voters that he is the better choice in November.

Clinton, for her part, I thought was smarter in her approach. Like a good football team with the lead, she protected the ball and moved the chains to get enough first downs to run out the clock. Trump spent most of the evening trying to strip the ball from her, but was unsuccessful. No, she didn't score the knockout punch we all wanted, but she kept Trump off the scoreboard. And in football, they call that a win.

As for the polls, my gut tells me they will stay pretty much where they are, which means Hillary will still hold a solid lead in the electoral college when the dust settles. She played not to lose and her measured and mature responses proved a stark contrast to the otherwise loose canon she shared the debate stage with last night. And, for now, that will have to suffice.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Finish Him Off, Hillary!


It is a sports axiom that when you have your opponent down you keep him down. That axiom applies to politics, as well. Hillary Clinton scored a huge victory over Donald Trump in her first debate and that resulted in a significant bump for her in the polls. What was beginning to look like a dire outcome in November, now looks considerably more promising. As of now, the RCP no tossup poll has her winning with 322 electoral votes. Each day that passes brings Hillary closer to the finish line.

This Sunday, when Clinton takes to that debate stage, she has an opportunity to deliver a knock-out blow to Donald Trump. And based on how this race has gone, she'd be wise to take advantage of that opportunity. Trump will, no doubt, do his best to hand her the debate, just like he did in the first one. The man has shown zero interest in preparing and, in a town-hall forum, where questions are submitted by the audience, his responses are likely to be as comical as they are fatal.

But that doesn't mean Hillary can coast. It won't be enough to watch Trump stick the knife into his own chest, she has to push it all the way through. After Sunday night, she must remove all doubt within the hearts and minds of the electorate that a) this man is simply unfit for the presidency, and b) she is. I have a sneaky suspicion the latter might be a bit more difficult for her. And that's because she's bound to get a couple of questions concerning her email server and the Clinton Foundation. How she handles both will determine whether she routs Trump or merely edges him out.

So here's my advice to Mrs. Clinton, for what it's worth. Since you know those questions are coming, own your part. You were wrong about having the email server in the first place. Admit it. Avoid saying that James Comey said you didn't lie; instead just stick with, "I was wrong, I've apologized for it and I apologize for it again. And that's a lot more than my opponent has ever done. As far as he's concerned, he's never made a single mistake or done anything wrong." You also might want to add that there's been no evidence that any of your emails were hacked and then remind the audience that your opponent was imploring Russia to do just that.

Regarding the Clinton Foundation, here's what you say: "My husband and I are very proud of the difference the Foundation has made in the lives of millions of people around the world. Not one policy of the State Department was affected by the Foundation's activities, nor has my opponent been able to come up with any evidence to the contrary. And to make sure there are no conflicts of interest in the future, if I'm elected my husband will step down and our daughter will take over the reigns."

Then pivot and go after the Trump Foundation as a slush fund for Trump's cronies that was recently fined for making an illegal campaign contribution to the Florida Attorney General. You might want to turn to Trump and ask him, "How's that muriel of yours look, Donald? I hear your foundation paid quite a pretty penny for it."

The important thing is to not deflect when asked a tough question. These aren't moderators, which means they know how to frame a question. We know Trump will deny and obfuscate all over the place. The best way to expose him is to let the American people know you're not only qualified, but that you're human. The latter has always been your biggest challenge. It's the reason this race is still close.

And last, but not least, the first chance you get, use the leaked tape of Trump's lewd remarks about women. Don't be afraid to go there. Millions of women will be tuning in and now's the time to drive home how repulsive and offensive his comments were. And if he hits you with Bill's indiscretions, remind him and everyone watching that he isn't running for president; you are. And then, for good measure, say this: "The last person on earth who should be preaching about morality is you, Donald."

This Sunday you can go along way towards allaying any remaining doubts the voters may have about you. You'll never be warm and fuzzy or even endearing. Face it, it's not in your DNA. But you can at least try to make a connection with the voters. All they want is to know you give a shit. Hell, if your husband was able to feel their pain, the least you can do is acknowledge that they have some. Against the most self-absorbed, ego maniac on the face of the planet, a little empathy is all you need.

The good news is that this format is right up your alley. Town halls are your forte. Without a teleprompter and his minions in front of him, Trump is lost. Your job is to make sure he stays that way until November 8. With the polls showing that you're starting to pull away, now is the time to keep your foot on the gas pedal and bury this creep.

This is your moment, Hillary. Finish him off.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Locker Room Banter, My Ass


Okay, I'm going to get real here for a moment. It pains me to have to admit it, but as a man I've occasionally made lewd and obnoxious comments about women. I've also turned my head from time to time at the sight of one. And, like many men, I've dabbled in the time-honored tradition of exaggerating a bit about how lucky I've been with the opposite sex. Spoiler alert, for most of my adult life I couldn't get lucky in a den of ill repute. Truth be told, I've said things in private that I would never utter in public.

That's why I wasn't all that surprised about the comments Donald Trump made on a hot mic regarding women. Given what we know about him, I would've been surprised if he hadn't said those things. But the thing that stands out most isn't his misogyny, or even his infidelity. Face it, he cheated on two wives. Was it really that revelatory that he cheated on his present one?

The most offensive part of the video for me occurred much later. You probably missed it because you were too busy choking on your bile. The part I'm referring to was when he said this:

"When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

The most profoundly disturbing thing about that statement was the sheer arrogance of the man; a man who believes his power and stature entitle him to do anything he wants with a woman and actually get away with it. It's the sort of thing a predator would say. He isn't just being a sexist pig; he's reveling in being able to grope women celebrities without recourse and with no more thought than you would give to reaching for a soft drink in the fridge.

We have talked an awful lot about equal pay for equal work, but precious little attention has been paid to equal respect. The fact is that in certain circles within both the entertainment and business communities, women are still thought of as entitlements. There's an assumption that their successes aren't earned the same way men's are. If a woman rises to the top, it's because they either slept their way there or they were the beneficiaries of government quotas. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with their abilities.

Donald Trump and his ilk belong to a world that still lives in the 1950s when men ran everything and women were there to serve them, whether sexually or otherwise. Indeed he has been quoted as saying that the reason he doesn't want his wife working is because "when I come home and dinner's not ready, I'll go through the roof."

Christ, the man is the walking embodiment of the series Madmen, even down to the ridiculous hair piece. Seriously, do you know anybody so obsessed with not letting people know they're bald that they would wear a rug that decrepit? Well, in the good old days, that happened a lot, because virility and a full head of hair went hand in hand. Why else do you think he carried on so when Marco Rubio questioned how big his penis was? Who else does that except an extremely insecure man?

But, you see, for the Donald Trumps of the world, size matters - A LOT! They have to be bigger, richer, more famous and more desired. Their egos will not accept anything less. Women aren't merely sex objects; they're a means to an end. Trump snaps his fingers and they get wet. Why? Because he's rich and famous. And since he lives by a different set of rules than the rest of us, he thinks he can get away with it.

Well this time he didn't get away with it. This time he got caught, and his campaign was forced to acknowledge his malfeasance. Trump himself issued a non-apology apology. Some pundits have publicly said this is finally the last straw. Pardon me, but we've heard that all too often before and each time he has managed to somehow survive. If Donald Trump were a cat, he'd have about thirty lives.

There's a reason why so many women are repulsed by Trump and that tape only validates that sentiment. The man represents everything that is wrong with America and the only just outcome this November would be if the nation sent him back to the scrap heap of history where he belongs.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Method To Kaine's Madness?


I've been scratching my head the last couple of days trying to figure out why a politician as disciplined and experienced as Tim Kaine would go full boggie shit head on a national stage with five weeks to go before the election. Frankly I don't get it. It makes no sense. Why do it? Unless, of course, Kaine intended to do it all along.

I'm only guessing here, but I think Clinton asked Kaine to take a bullet for the team. His marching orders were two-fold: 1. Defend Hillary at all costs; and 2. Force Mike Pence to do the same for Trump. On count one he succeeded. He vehemently refuted every single attack levied against her by Pence, often interrupting the Indiana governor in mid-sentence.

But on count two, despite Kaine's best efforts, Pence never once defended his boss's outlandish statements. Rather, he did something even better: he issued one denial after another. Mexicans are rapists? Only a few. A ban on all Muslims? Only from countries that harbor terrorists. Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader that Barack Obama? He said no such thing. As far as Pence was concerned, Trump was Father Flanagan.

The preliminary consensus was that Pence had a great night and Kaine got owned. But as I noted in my last piece, Pence and Kaine aren't at the top of the ticket; they're on the bottom. And since voters vote for the top of the ticket, the only valid question was how did they do?

Well, as it turns out, Hillary did okay, thanks in large part to her running mate's loyalty; whereas Trump didn't fare nearly as well. That's because for the last 48 hours all those denials Pence made are being fact checked by, of all people, the media.

Imagine that, the Fourth Estate is doing its job and, once again, Trump is in the spotlight. Lie after lie after lie, have been exposed to the light of day. Pence - no doubt making a play for GOP conservative standard bearer - may have come off looking like Clark Kent, but unfortunately Trump is still Lex Luther. And by either refusing to defend him, or, worse, lie on his behalf, he only further cemented the view many voters already have of this ticket.

If you're team Clinton, you have to feel pretty good with how things turned out. Yes, Tim Kaine was an obnoxious ass. Big deal. In the grand scheme of things it won't matter one iota come November 8.

After all, if VP debates truly mattered, Michael Dukakis would've beaten George Bush in 1988.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pence By A Nose


I'll say this much: If Mike Pence were running against Tim Kaine for president, I'd be worried. Fortunately for all of us, that isn't the case. Donald Trump is running against Hillary Clinton. That being said, this vice presidential debate will likely not move the needle much. In fact, I'd be surprised if the polls change at all. But it was Pence's night. He was calmer, smoother and smiled a lot, compared with Kaine, who I thought looked, dare I say it, too prepared, overly eager and at times a bit of a dick. On style - not so much substance - Pence did his job. He deflected and danced around effectively enough and, unlike his running mate, was unruffled by Kaine's attacks and, yes, interruptions.

The reason I don't give him the night on substance is because Kaine, for the most part, had the facts on his side. In one exchange when Pence denied he had ever said that Vladimir Putin was a better leader than Barack Obama, Kaine correctly called him out on it. On several occasions Kaine invited Pence to defend Trump's outrageous comments about Mexicans, women and African Americans, but Pence declined to do so. I also liked the way Kaine defended the Clinton Foundation by saying it had helped millions of people while the Trump Foundation was recently fined for giving an illegal contribution to the campaign of the attorney general of Florida who just happened to be investigating Trump University.

I also think that while Kaine's demeanor might've left something to be desired, Pence's non answers or outright false statements will no doubt provide more fodder for the Clinton campaign to run negative ads against Trump in the weeks ahead. That's what happens when your running mate digs a hole halfway to China; you wind up at home plate with two strikes already against you.

But I keep coming back to the 2012 VP debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Obama had just gotten shellacked in Denver the week before and all eyes were on Biden to at least stop the hemorrhaging and allow Democrats to exhale. Biden delivered that night. No, it also didn't move the needle, but it gave Obama the space he needed to come out strong in the Town Hall debate, which he did. Obama won that debate going away and wound up being reelected to a second term.

It is doubtful that Donald Trump will take advantage of the opportunity Mike Pence has afforded him, primarily because he's constitutionally incapable of doing so. Indeed, even during the debate, Trump couldn't help himself; he tweeted that Kaine looked like "an evil crook out of the Batman movies." Seriously, if you don't have enough impulse control to at least wait until your running mate finishes his debate, building off that momentum is pretty much off the table.

And that's the biggest advantage the Clinton campaign has going for it over the next five weeks. They are running against the most xenophobic, ridiculously uninformed, delusional, self-absorbed, temperamental and unhinged candidate in the history of American politics. No amount of style and calmness can offset that.

So, in the end, what we were left with were two fairly inconsequential men who didn't make any major gaffes and, by default, didn't hurt their tickets any. It was more combative and more feisty than anyone thought it would be, but hardly riveting. I doubt many people tuned in to watch it, and the majority of those who did will be hard-pressed to remember much of it by the end of the week.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Time To Stick A Fork In Ohio


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is A Genius?


Let's just cut to the chase here. Nobody likes paying taxes. I sure as hell don't. Left to our own devices, most of us would do everything possible to claim every deduction we thought we were owed. We may think it's our civic duty, but deep down it's about as popular as going for a colonoscopy.

The real problem I have with Donald Trump's 1995 tax return isn't the fact that writing off almost a billion dollars allowed him to possibly pay no taxes for up to 18 years; sadly that's what the law permits. The problem I have is that this so-called "genius" actually lost a billion dollars in the first place.

I have been saying this now for over a year, but Trump is a snake-oil salesman "selling snake oil to a gullible and frustrated people whose patience has run out and who are too tired and fed up to wait any longer." And like a magician, he has nothing up his sleeves. David Brooks has called him the wrong answer for the right question, among other things.

When Hillary Clinton asks, "What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in one year?" she isn't just being snarky. She's asking a legitimate question, perhaps the essential question of this entire election. Think about it: of all the claims that Trump has made throughout this campaign, none have been repeated more than his so-called business acumen. He's a tremendous success; he knows what it takes to run a company, therefore, he would be the perfect man to run the government.

His 1995 tax return just shot that claim to hell. Go through a list of successful billionaires like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc... None of them have written off a billion dollars, and I can assure you none of them thought it was "smart" not to pay any taxes. Buffet, for his part, has publicly stated how wrong it is that his secretary pays more of her income in taxes than he does. I suppose in Trump lingo that would make Buffet a big fat loser.

Another problem I have with all this is that nowhere in Trump's economic plan does he state that if elected he would remove the very loopholes that allowed him to write off that kind of debt. In other words, a Trump presidency would do squat to fix the problems with the tax code; if anything, by giving away billions of dollars to his crony friends - assuming he actually has any - Trump would exacerbate things. The gap between the rich and poor would continue to grow, the national debt - supposedly such a concern to Republicans - would soar and all those trillions of dollars of off shore money that Trump says he wants to repatriate would remain right where they are: out of the U.S. treasury.

If I'm team Clinton, I ride this horse as far as it will take me. Hillary must make the case that Trump isn't just temperamentally unfit for the presidency; she must once and for all destroy this illusion that he is a successful businessman who can deliver us from ourselves. Deliver us? Shit, he can't even deliver himself.

The guy is a charlatan playing us for fools. Like the Wizard of Oz, there's nothing behind that curtain except a lot of smoke. The good thing about smoke is that eventually it clears and all you're left with is the truth.

And that truth, pray God, will inevitably sink Trump.