Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Hingeless

Alec Baldwin plays the Donald on Saturday Night Live,
reportedly using the Sarah Palin method of satirizing him
in Trump's own words.
Once again, we give the opening words to Politico, in their story headlined: Bombshell report on Trump taxes sends GOP nominee reeling:

"It took less than a day for October to produce an "October surprise."Donald Trump reported a nearly $1 billion loss on his 1995 tax returns and could therefore have avoided paying federal income taxes for almost two decades, the New York Times reported on Saturday, putting another unexpected exclamation point on what had already been one of the worst weeks for any presidential nominee in recent memory."

The New York Times story (released tonight, likely to be their front page Sunday) explains how they got portions of Trump's 1995 returns, how they verified them (with the man who did Trump's taxes) and what their experts said was likely to happen afterwards--Trump pays no taxes for perhaps 18 years.  The Trump campaign issued a non-denial denial (check your Watergate reporting for what that means) and of course threatened to sue.

But as Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald wrote at NBC, the story "fed into three lines of attack that Hillary Clinton had used to needle him in Monday's debate. One: That his refusal to release his taxes suggested he was concealing something important. Two: That his returns might show his business acumen was overstated. Three: That he paid little or no taxes despite his vast wealth.

And it lent credence to her larger argument that Trump is a heartless scrooge who left a trail of financial destruction on his path to wealth, and who according to the Times even refused to check off a box on his tax form to donate to a veterans' memorial fund."

(Their NBC story then summarizes the other events of Trump's epic fail week, with stuff that happened so much and so fast that you may already have forgotten it.)

Then as the Times story was burning up the Internet, Trump went on stage (considerably late) and fell farther down the rant rat hole.  He implied Hillary was unfaithful, mocked her by acting out her stumble when she was ill leaving the 9/11 memorial event, said she was probably crazy.  At this point, saying Donald is unhinged implies that there ever was a hinge, which may be a false assumption.

This particular rant was in Michigan, though not in the city of Detroit.  The reason he didn't go to Detroit may be this: a Detroit News survey shows Trump with zero support in the city.  Zero.  Nada.  Tied with Jill Stein.  He does better in the rest of Michigan but is still 7 points down to Hillary. Correction: some of these statements were made in a rally in PA.

All of this--the Times story, the rant-- will play out on the Sunday talk shows and reverberate into next week, though already some are saying that this tax revelation is likely to be the fatal blow.

Meanwhile, a poll says that 7 out of 10 voters backing a third party candidate say they could still change their minds. When asked to choose between Trump and Clinton, two-thirds did, and split evenly.  But one-third refused or suggested they might not vote at all.  What this suggests to me is that the third party candidates are going to get negligible votes as usual, and probably be a non-factor in the outcome, though if it's close in certain swing states, even a percentage or two can hurt.

As for the major party candidates, Ed Kilgore analyzes recent stories purporting to read their closing month strategies--and both are base strategies.  Trump will continue to rant to solidify his base of conspiracy theorists, stupid angry white men while hoping to pick up enough white women to squeak out a win.  Clinton deploys surrogates, plays small ball, uses intel and the ground game to get Ds to the polls, while the candidate makes her case at key moments in key places.

Finally (for the moment), Trump unveiled his latest scurrilous attacks after warning that Hillary is nasty but he is nastier.  He complains about Clinton's nasty ads about him, but as this story points out, most of the ads simply quote him, usually showing him making the statements he denies he's made.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Unhinged

"While Hillary Clinton is riding high after the first presidential debate, Donald Trump is jumping down into the gutter," begins the Politico article by Louis Nelson.

 "In the wee hours of Friday morning, the impulse-control-deficient Republican nominee let loose a torrent of tweets, calling former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado “disgusting” and accusing her of having a sex tape."

Alicia Machado, a Latina Miss Universe who has reemerged as a Latina celebrity, refuted Trump again on social media---in Spanish.

And where was Hillary Clinton when she talked about Trump's tweets?  Florida.  Richard Luscombe reports in the Guardian:

Hillary Clinton took another swipe at Donald Trump’s mental stability on Friday, declaring at a campaign stop in South Florida that the Republican nominee is “temperamentally unfit” for the White House. "Why does he do things like that?” Clinton demanded at a rally in Coral Springs, referring to Trump’s early morning social-media assault on former beauty queen Alicia Machado, which dominated the day’s political debate.

Who gets up at three o’clock in the morning to engage in a Twitter attack against the former Miss Universe?” “I mean, his latest Twitter meltdown is unhinged, even for him,” Clinton said. “It proves, yet again, that that he is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander-in-chief. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not be anywhere near the nuclear codes.”

New polls show Clinton leading in Florida.  This day was an additional gift. (Even apart from news of Trump's violation of the Cuban embargo.)  Without Florida, Trump doesn't stand a chance.  One story today suggested the Dems aren't meeting their registration goals there but it's pretty clear where the momentum is.

Clinton's upward poll movement and Trump's serial derangements are happening as North Carolina and Iowa among other states have started voting.

Another Republican newspaper has endorsed Hillary.  The San Diego Union-Tribune, which endorsed Romney in 2012 and all Republicans back to Lincoln, wrote:"Vengeful, dishonest and impulsive, Trump is no Romney. This is why Hillary Clinton is the safest candidate for voters to choose in a complex world."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Blame It On Google

Is the Trump campaign self-destructing?  At the moment it looks that way.  After bragging that he won the presidential debate on Monday, the Donald has been complaining to his crowds about nearly everything involved in the debate and the reaction to the debate.  Including, yes, that the debate was rigged.

He's caressing the alt.right conspiracy theory in which everybody is in on it, from the moderator to the network (or whoever gave him a "defective" microphone) to Google for somehow distorting search results.

There's even a report that his kids are mad that the campaign is bad for their businesses, and they want to fire everybody (again.)

A couple of stories in the NYTimes about Trump's non-existent debate prep and the need to prepare a more disciplined approach for the next two have reportedly caused some internal strife, including a rebuke passed on from the Donald himself, who signals that he doesn't intend to prepare any differently.  (Maybe it's because he can't.)  But Paul Waldman is pretty persuasive that his next debate--town hall style--could be even worse.

Meanwhile, the fact checkers keep digging deeper into Monday's debate.  Interesting to me is the WPost deciding that Trump's answer on the 1973 racial discrimination suit against him and his father's real estate company was false and misleading.  For instance, the suit that he said was brought against many, many companies was called United States of America v. Fred C. Trump, Donald Trump and Trump Management, Inc.

Another couple of unprecedented newspaper endorsements, including the first ever from USA Today which declares:This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency."  So it's an anti-endorsement, like some others.

A couple of stories suggest the Trump campaign has decided on a focus--a "follow the money" mantra about Clinton and the Clinton foundation.  But Trump seems so far to be talking about almost anything else.  He and his surrogates are increasingly muttering about Bill Clinton and impeachment in the 90s.  (Which some Rs think is dumb if not dangerous, in that Hillary's own favorables tend to go up when the tawdry aspects of Bill Clinton's presidency are unearthed.)

And Trump can't stop talking about the Miss Universe who he called Miss Piggy, which keeps alive his very troubling attitudes towards women, which his campaign manager, in a Freudian slip, characterized as abuse.

But even if Trump could keep to the topic, bringing up money and corruption opens him to the kind of charges that are increasingly in the news.  The NY state investigation into the Trump Foundation and how Trump used it as a tax-free bank reportedly may be broadening.  WPost is additionally reporting that the Trump Foundation may not meet legal requirements to raise large amounts of money in New York.

 And today there's a report that Trump may have violated the embargo on Cuba with spending there in the 1990s.  Not only is this another potential lawbreaking, but it is a potent issue with Cuban exiles in Florida--and Marco Rubio immediately demanded that Trump come clean on it.  I really don't see how Trump can win Florida, but in any case this won't help him there.  And it's a cold dish of revenge for Rubio.

All of this is happening while the Clinton campaign suddenly looks competent, even skillful.  In general (according to the US News report) Clinton herself is accentuating the positive in her campaign appearances, giving people something to vote for as well as against.  Meanwhile, her heavy hitting surrogates are doing the Trump dump, even (very effectively) the transcendently popular Michelle Obama, who pointed out that the presidency requires a grownup.

Meanwhile the campaign is also playing small ball, going after specific constituencies, like Eastern Europeans in swing states like PA and Ohio who are troubled by Trump's putative Putin embrace.

Meanwhile, mindful of their emotional preferences, President and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden emphasize to millennials that even if they aren't crazy about Clinton, a vote for anyone else is a vote for Trump.

On the other hand, the Clinton campaign's apparent calculation (at least according to the NYTimes) that Ohio won't be important this year seems risky.  Apparently they don't see it as winnable, though it seems to me it is.

Along with the strong surrogate strategy there's the rolling out of Republicans who support Clinton, and the WPost's article on John Warner is special, both for its nuanced portrait of Warner (once wed to Elizabeth Taylor, by the way) and what it says about the values of a generation now fading away, the World War II generation.

Speaking of World War II, there was some buzz about Michiko Kakutani's NY Times review of a new book on Adolf Hitler.  I don't know about the book itself, but the review drew attention because pretty much everything Kakutani said about what the book said about Hitler was directly applicable to Donald Trump, without his name being mentioned.

So even if Trump seems to be spiraling down (with the next set of national polls emerging this weekend), it's necessary to be mindful of the danger he still is.

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.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: A Disqualifying Debate

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was otherwise engaged during the presidential debate.  So this, for the record, is a selection of responses by folks who did watch it...

Andrew Sullivan:

"I was afraid that Trump’s charisma and stage presence and salesmanship might outshine Hillary Clinton’s usually tepid and wonkish instincts. I feared that the facts wouldn’t matter; that a debate would not take place. And it is to Clinton’s great credit that she prepared, and he didn’t, and that she let him hang himself.

His utter lack of preparation; his doubling down on transparent lies; his foreign-policy recklessness; his racial animosity; his clear discomfort with the kind of exchange of views that is integral to liberal democracy; his instinctual belligerence — all these suggest someone who has long lived in a deferential bubble that has become filled with his own reality.

Clinton was not great at times; her language was occasionally stilted; she missed some obvious moments to go in for the kill; but she was solid and reassuring and composed. I started tonight believing she needed a game-changer to alter the trajectory of this race. I may, of course, be wrong, trapped in my own confirmation bias and bubble — but I thought she did just that."

Jonathan Chiat:

"How did Clinton come across? She maintained her composure and her dignity, something no Republican who confronted (or was bullied by) Trump in the primary debates managed to do. She had facts at her disposal, she apologized for her poor choice of email systems, and she conveyed that she is sane and competent. The contrast between an obviously and eminently qualified public servant and a ranting bully was as stark as any presidential debate in American history."

Josh Marshall:

Clinton clearly went into this debate not looking for one or two big "Have you no decency" moments but rather looking to hit him with a rat-tat-tat series of taunts and jabs to see if she could get him to lose his cool and throw him off his game. It ended up happening a lot more quickly than I expected. No more than fifteen minutes in he was getting visibly angry. And he stayed that way for the next hour plus.

From maybe a half hour into the debate Clinton had almost entirely seized the initiative. She was attacking while he responded, sometimes angrily, sometimes with new attacks and very often by doubling down on demonstrable falsehoods he's been pilloried for for months. At various moments he shuffled in and out of parts of his stump speech. But through most of the exchange he constantly interrupted Clinton, talked over her, denied claims she made which are easily validated. In terms of body language and style it was thermonuclear Rick Lazio.

Clinton was poised and unflappable. She needled him but not in a way that seemed nasty or petulant. She was poised throughout. It was equally clear that he had no clear strategy for what to do.

 I'm not sure this is any game changer. It simply confirms what a lot of people already know: Trump is not suited to be President. Clinton is competent, prepared and in this exchange buoyant and dynamic.

I think the night went badly for Trump. We'll have several days again going over his list of lies. And the pressure on him will go up for the second debate.

Taegan Goddard:

On the substance of the debate, Clinton was the clear winner. She was controlled and methodical in making her case. Trump was constantly interrupting and spit out jumbled talking points that sounded like they came from some obscure corner of the Internet. It wasn’t even close. Clinton crushed him.

In our polarized country, both candidates probably solidified their bases. But for those still undecided or those leaning towards a third party candidate, it should be clear that Clinton is the one better prepared for this moment.

Chris Cillizza (WPost):

"Clinton was head and shoulders better than Trump...This was a clear win for her on virtually every front."

Jonathan Bernstein (Bloomberg)
"The entire 90-minute debate on Monday night was a demonstration that Donald Trump doesn't have the temperament to be president."

John Cassidy (New Yorker)
"Words matter when you run for President,” Hillary Clinton said toward the end of Monday night’s happening at Hofstra University, on Long Island. Clinton was criticizing Donald Trump for his loose language regarding America’s allies in Asia, but she could have been summing up the lopsided debate, which saw her doing virtually everything she needed to do while Trump indicted himself with his own words."

"To this viewer, at least, Trump seemed oblivious to the harm he was wreaking upon himself. Instead, he seemed almost to be revelling in it. Perhaps Trump believes that soccer moms in suburban Philadelphia and janitors in Ohio will warm to him for his ability to avoid paying taxes on what he refereed to as his “tremendous income.” Perhaps he also thinks the voters will reward him for stiffing his workers, cheating his suppliers, and reneging on his businesses debts."

Other responses:

The New York Times summary of the blow-by-blow.  Decision: Clinton.

Both CNN and Washington Post had headlines saying Clinton put Trump on the defensive.  The Guardian also: Clinton kept her cool, Trump lost his.  The Guardian panel members differed on how well Clinton did, but not on how badly Trump did--very badly, unfit for office.

Politico: subhead: Clinton hits him where it hurts, and Trump's boorish reaction hands her a win.  The story begins:There were a couple of not-so-very-subtle signals here inside of Hofstra University that Donald Trump lost Monday night’s highly-anticipated debate against Hillary Clinton, and badly.

NBC got detailed reaction from a panel of three Latino commentators.  They all praised Clinton's responses and dissed Trump.

 The Hill experts unanimous decision for Clinton.  Said one: With record viewership, I cannot imagine any undecideds still being on the fence after this debate — or how Trump can win moving forward.
Here's pretty much the consensus so far: Trump did pretty well for the first 15 to 30 minutes, then fell apart, with anger, insults, lies and incoherence.  Clinton was precise, poised and prepared, if not spectacular.  Moderator Lester Holt was so passive that Borowitz claims CNN sent out a search party. (Others thought he was admirable in letting the candidates go at it.)

The actual CNN:

Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night's debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate.

Update:  Now I have seen the entire debate, and can judge comments better. Scanning columns and stories for Tuesday morning papers etc., every one I've seen says that Clinton clearly won the debate, and Trump badly lost.

Some make interesting additional points.  E.J. Dionne in WPost:

"The surprise of the debate was that Clinton put before voters a new Trump to dislike. Trump has campaigned as a populist paladin of the working class. But the Trump that Clinton described was a plutocrat who walked away from debts and obligations to his own employees. She pushed the debate into an extended discussion of how Trump had become wealthy and turned what he sees as one of his central assets, his business acumen, into what could become a big liability as the campaign goes forward.

If one use of a debate for a candidate is to change the trajectory of the campaign discussion, Clinton may well have succeeded in opening a new front against Trump."

"One major encounter does not necessarily decide an election. But this one showed a Trump who was ill-prepared, disorganized, petulant and — ironically, as he became ever more flummoxed toward the end of the debate — short on stamina. Clinton’s calm dissection of her foe reassured jittery supporters and no doubt shook many voters who were considering Trump. Clinton shifted the contest her way during her party’s convention. She did it again during Monday night’s debate."

Karen Tumulty at WPost also made the point (as Dionne does) that Clinton's performance may well have closed the "enthusiasm gap" in the polls that showed more Rs enthusiastic about Trump than Ds about Clinton.  (If memory serves, this was also a worry about Obama v. Romney.  Turned out to mean nothing.)

A point that Cillizza made may turn up especially in TV analyses (which mostly I don't watch, so maybe it has already): the split screen that was present for the entire debate also made Trump look grumpy, dismissive and lost. For those actually listening, he interrupted frequently, attempted to shout over Clinton and moderator Holt.

On the other hand, Roger Cohen in the NYTimes (who generally agreed that Clinton did very well and clearly won) believed she was too wonkish at times and didn't have an authentic moment.  An example of her wonkishness was referring interested viewers to her website for policy details.

However, according to Internet stats, a lot of people evidently were interested enough to actually go to her website during the debate, and otherwise looked for information on her policies.  And as for a spontaneous moment, she said laughingly that Trump was going to blame her for everything bad that ever happened.  His rejoinder "Why not?" completely exposed his desperate cynicism.