Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Consequences

Some of the consequences of the Clinton-Trump debate on Monday were starting to suggest themselves on Tuesday.

The nearly unanimous verdict--from left to alt.right--was that Trump lost badly.  A few commentators felt it wouldn't matter.  But some facts and reactions, when combined, suggest it might--a lot.

First, the debate audience.  At least 80 million saw the debate on network television, and when other sources are counted, it could be 100 million.  That's Super Bowl proportions in this era (easily more than the competing Monday Night Football game.)  It was more people than watched the Seinfeld finale.

Even worse for Trump is this: "According to Nielsen data, “viewership stayed high the entire time,” not just for the beginning of the debate."

That's important because Trump had his reputed best moments in the first 15 to 30 minutes.  For the next hour plus, he was mesmerizing in his catastrophic displays of ignorance and ego.  Jeff Greenfield divides debaters into Daffy Ducks (angry) and Bugs Bunnys (genial, in control.)  I kind of resent Trump being called the Daffy Duck of this debate because I like Daffy Duck. The character I thought of was Mister Bluster from Howdy Doody days.

Then there are various bits of evidence that the debate changed minds, particularly uncommitted or uncertain voters, and young voters.

CNN had a panel of 20 undecided Florida voters.  Eighteen said Clinton won the debate.  Republican pollster Frank Luntz had a focus group in PA that also gave the debate to Clinton (16-5)--with Luntz himself tweeting on how effective Hillary was.

WPost followed 5 undecided voters in North Carolina, noting how shocked they were to hear Trump brag that he paid no taxes.  As in most of these "undecideds" conclaves, they remain undecided--but what movement there was, was to Clinton.

The New York Times watched with PA suburban women, and they were horrified by Trump.

Eric Levitz noted:

More critically for Clinton, 63 percent of younger voters saw her as the winner. One of the primary reasons Trump is nipping at Clinton’s heels — even as he’s earned the antipathy of most nonwhite voters and a good many women — is that roughly a third of millennial voters have been pledging their allegiance to third parties. But after Monday night’s debate, 47 percent of voters under 30 told PPP they were more likely to vote for Clinton than before the evening began."

All of this may be temporary in effect, but the less quantifiable may well have greater consequences.  Trump's failures aside, the more important impression may be those made by Hillary Clinton.

With the incredible pressure of this event, she was calm, focused and genial.  She was presidential.  And beyond the enormous sigh of relief from her supporters, there comes the renewed enthusiasm.  People who were not so much for her as very much against Trump, can feel better about choosing her, on her own merits.

In fact it was the perfect combination: Trump was bad enough to scare people into voting against him, and Hillary was good enough to convince people to vote for her.  But in the end, that Clinton was impressive will be more important.  If her voters vote, it doesn't matter whether Trump's voters vote, she'll win.

How important was this moment?  One of Clinton's best moments was when she spoke like a President to reassure America's allies that we keep our commitments, regardless of Trumpery.  American business as reflected in Wall Street stock numbers also breathed a sigh of relief.  If Trump had clearly triumphed we might be facing economic and international consternation today, if not out and out panic.

It also became clearer Tuesday how weak a President Trump would be in terms of ongoing scandals.  With the suit against Trump University moving forward, there's more trouble ahead as evidence accumulates that Trump illegally used his Trump Foundation as a tax haven.  This could be a criminal matter.

The debate seems to make certain that Trump's failure to release his tax returns will remain an issue, and now a bigger one.  When Clinton noted that among the only returns made public show he paid no federal taxes in several years, Trump bragged about it.  As noted above, this was a shocking moment for some watchers and Clinton jumped on it in her first campaign appearances after the debate:
Now, if not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make all the rest of us?” Clinton asked the crowd.

Sooner or later, somebody is going to have to point out that the tax returns that the Clintons have released apparently contain nothing questionable--nothing at all, clean as a whistle.  Apart from noting how much the Clintons made in recent years,  the taxes they duly paid and the hefty proportion they gave to charities, there's been no reporting on these returns at all.

What's Next?  After the first debate is when the campaign gets really intense, and that's starting.  Tomorrow the Clinton campaign will unveil the most recent but unlikely to be the last notable Republican to endorse her: former Virginia Senator John Warner.  The Arizona Republic newspaper endorses Clinton today--the first Democrat in 126 years.  This comes after a similar endorsement by a Cleveland paper.  Again, unlikely to be the last.

Last week the Trump campaign announced it would spend $140 million on TV ads. Turns out their bank account is about $100 million short.  Dems have bought up the spots and the few that remain are more expensive.

Now the Dems unleash the big guns--along with Bernie, Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton, there's Joe Biden, Michelle and President Obama--all with many appearances to come . The Clinton computers are churning out names in early voting states, the players gather for the ground game.  It's on.

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