Live Blog: Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton, Second Presidential Debate

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Live Blog: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in the second of three high-stakes live televised debates

Debate Time: 8PM US Central Time / 2AM UK Time

Watch Online: Live Stream Here

Contact: semipartisansam@gmail.com

 

9:43PM St. Louis / 03:43AM London

Initial post-debate reaction

Well, how to respond to all of that? Donald Trump clearly had the harder task going into this debate, having to defend his indefensible historic statements about women and try to staunch the bleeding of endorsements from prominent Republicans.

Trump certainly came out swinging, remaining combative throughout rather than flaming out in the second half as he did during the first debate. Donald Trump didn’t have the kind of breakout moment that he probably needed to really alter the trajectory of his campaign, but he probably succeeded in steadying the ship.

And in a way, that probably makes it harder for establishment Republicans trying to decide their next move. If Donald Trump had imploded, the momentum towards disowning Trump or even replacing him at the top of the presidential ticket would have gained traction. As it stands, they are probably stuck with him.

My initial assessment: if you disregard actual facts (as we now seem to do), Donald Trump probably had the better of this debate. He went on the (nuclear) attack, hit Hillary Clinton hard, gave his supporter base something to cheer about and managed to do enough incendiary things to bump the Trump Tapes story fallout down the news agenda. Hillary Clinton didn’t commit any significant gaffes and was more poised, but again there was nothing tremendously inspiring about her sales pitch for the presidency.

And as for the overall impression:

Yeah, that just about sums it up.

9:38PM St. Louis / 03:38AM London

And that’s it, until 19th October at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, when the final presidential debate will take place.

9:36PM St. Louis / 03:36AM London

Rod Dreher is looking ahead, and having declared a Donald Trump victory thinks that it will be very difficult for uneasy GOP elites to now disown their presidential candidate or continue rescinding endorsements:

9:34PM St. Louis / 03:34AM London

Oh, what’s the point of that last question? Getting each of the candidates to choke out something positive about the other when they clearly loathe one another adds nothing to our understanding of the issues.

9:32PM St. Louis / 03:32AM London

A lot of conservative discontent (naturally) with Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the Supreme Court:

9:29PM St. Louis / 03:29AM London

For a supposedly Town Hall-style debate, there have been remarkably few questions from the audience, with most of the time given over to the two candidates railing at one another.

9:27PM St. Louis / 03:27AM London

Hillary Clinton wants new Supreme Court justices to have more “life experiences”. Sounds good as a glib soundbite, but is she right? Surely a good potential justice should understand and revere the constitution, and seek to be as neutral and fearless arbiter of constitutional questions as possible. The only reason one would want someone to bring their “life experience” to bear is if someone wants to usher in much more judicial activism, and have Supreme Court justices who bend their interpretations to fulfil a progressive ideological bias.

Donald Trump says that he favours candidates who “respect the Constitution”, which is the much better answer, even if his own constitutional literacy is near zero.

I don’t normally quote Michelle Malkin, but she’s not wrong in her observation here:

9:23PM St. Louis / 03:23AM London

To be fair, there has been a lot of pacing as well as lurking. Trump has certainly been more energetic in this debate, addressing one of the key criticisms of his debate in the first debate:

9:21PM St. Louis / 03:21AM London

Dreher thinks that Donald Trump’s continued skirmishing with the debate moderators will actually do him good:

9:20PM St. Louis / 03:20AM London

Hillary Clinton put on the spot about her “deplorables” insult of Donald Trump’s supporters. She doesn’t seem very contrite.

9:18PM St. Louis / 03:18AM London

It’s amazing how quickly we normalise all of the unprecedented things which have happened in these presidential debates, and indeed the campaign in general. One candidate standing mere feet from the other, pointing at them and declaring them a liar – even that they should be sent to jail.

Hillary Clinton seems unable to believe her luck at times – the broad smile on her face is reminiscent of the recent SNL skit, in which a jubilant Clinton (played by Kate McKinnon) keeps breaking out in smug laughter:

9:14PM St. Louis / 03:14AM London

Trump’s whining about Hillary Clinton supposedly being allowed extra time to speak by the moderators is really starting to grate. Even if true, he should adopt the pose of a happy warrior, fighting under the circumstances in which he finds himself rather than railing against them. But of course that would require Trump to be something other than a thin-skinned sore loser.

9:13PM St. Louis / 03:13AM London

Donald Trump loves to bring up ISIS at every turn, yet has remained curiously vague about his Secret Plan to tackle the terrorist quasi-state:

9:10PM St. Louis / 03:10AM London

And Bill Kristol weighs in:

Well, at least he isn’t a trigger-happy neocon itching to wage war with everyone…

9:05PM St. Louis / 03:05AM London

Rod Dreher concurs with Tim Stanley. Interesting:

And Rich Lowry:

9:04PM St. Louis / 03:04AM London

Tim Stanley thinks that Donald Trump is having a better debate than Clinton:

I would concede that Trump has been more combative and made some genuinely newsworthy attacks on Clinton. That will probably fire up his base, some of whom will have become dispirited after recent polls and the Trump Tapes revelation. It may rally the faithful, but will it turn the needle on Trump’s poll ratings and trajectory? I remain doubtful.

9:01PM St. Louis / 03:01AM London

Hillary Clinton takes the opportunity to talk about her 30 years in politics, and hopefully set a rather more positive spin on it than Donald Trump has been doing.

8:59PM St. Louis / 02:59AM London

Anderson Cooper gets an honest answer out of Donald Trump – that yes, he used his near $1bn loss in 1995 to offset his future federal income tax. To which the correct response is “so what?”. Trump followed the tax code. If deductions and loopholes exist, nobody should be rending their garments in horror when they are used.

8:57PM St. Louis / 02:57AM London

Hillary Clinton: “Everything you’ve just heard from Donald Trump is not true. I’m sorry to have to keep saying this, but he does seem to live in an alternate reality”.

Clinton has been cool and competent for much of the debate thus far, even when under quite sensational and withering fire from Donald Trump. She has perfected the resigned, bemused but entertained smile as Trump rails on. Donald Trump, by contrast, is now gripping the chair in front of him and staring fixedly ahead – has he hit the wall again?

8:55PM St. Louis / 02:55AM London

Donald Trump is comparing the GDP growth of China (a developing nation) with the United States (an advanced nation). Economically illiterate.

8:54PM St. Louis / 02:54AM London

Donald Trump is now referring to himself in the third person.

Rather more successfully (from his perspective) he is making the point that somebody marinated in DC political culture for 30 plus years can scarcely claim to be an agent of change with any plausibility.

8:53PM St. Louis / 02:53AM London

You can release your tax returns even if you are under audit by the IRS! Will nobody ever ask a determined follow-up question when Trump makes his now-standard evasion?

8:52PM St. Louis / 02:52AM London

“I have no knowledge of Russia, I don’t know about the inner workings of Russia”, says Donald Trump. Reassuring, from someone who wants to be Commander in Chief.

8:51PM St. Louis / 02:51AM London

Aaaand Donald Trump seizes on the opportunity to draw a contrast between Hillary Clinton and President Lincoln.

Trump, of course, claims to have “the best words”, so he would doubtless get on like a house on fire with the author of the Gettysburg Address.

8:49PM St. Louis / 02:49AM London

And Hillary Clinton’s speeches come up – regarding her statements about financial regulation. A questioner asks “is it okay for politicians to be two-faced?”

Hillary Clinton evokes Abraham Lincoln’s dealings with Congress trying to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (abolishing slavery). Nice try, attempting to cloak her own political dealings with Lincolnian nobility. Not sure it will pass muster, though.

https://twitter.com/matthew_sitman/status/785296411697016837

8:46PM St. Louis / 02:46AM London

Clinton hammering Trump on his plan to freeze Muslim immigration, rightly noting that it violates the Constitutional right to freedom of religion.

8:45PM St. Louis / 02:45AM London

Not everyone in Europe is in a retreat to their safe space in response to Donald Trump’s words:

8:43PM St. Louis / 02:43AM London

And Martha Raddatz brings up Donald Trump’s planned “total shutdown” on Muslim immigration. Was that panicked policy announcement wise, and does he rescind it, goes the question.

Trump tries to wriggle away, Raddatz admirably holds him to the question. Trump now talking about “extreme vetting”, whatever that might involve.

8:40PM St. Louis / 02:40AM London

Andrew Sullivan notes:

Trump is now hovering over her in the background, looming like a predator. Her response on Obamacare was pretty good – although her proposals to fix it weren’t actually honest or relevant.

How have we come to the position where “yeah, she’s obviously lying but at least she isn’t Trump” is the best reason to vote for a candidate?

8:38PM St. Louis / 02:38AM London

I’d be remiss if I didn’t flag my blogging hero Andrew Sullivan’s excellent live blog of this debate. Check it out – but don’t forget me!

8:37PM St. Louis / 02:37AM London

It’s not good when NBC’s Chuck Todd runs out of words to describe this debate:

8:35PM St. Louis / 02:35AM London

“If we were to start again, we might come up with a different system. But we have an employer-based system of health insurance” says Clinton, nicely summing up her political philosophy of late. Namely: don’t attempt anything ambitious, focus on grinding out incremental improvements.

The question of this debate: will the American people accept the promise of incremental progress this electoral cycle?

8:33PM St. Louis / 02:33AM London

Some people seem to be prematurely predicting a Trump victory in this debate – not very wise, given the way that Trump lost energy and began flailing as the first debate dragged on:

8:32PM St. Louis / 02:32AM London

Finally we are actually talking about policy – specifically the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. Hillary Clinton details her assessment of the law’s flaws and a plan to address some of them, scorning Donald Trump’s plan to simply repeal the bill.

Trump, predictably, spends most of his time talking about how “disastrous” ObamaCare is, without detailing any policy prescriptions beyond its repeal.

8:29PM St. Louis / 02:29AM London

Trump being more combative, openly mocking Clinton’s answers and pretty much calling her a criminal. He doesn’t have much to lose, so why the hell not?

And he takes a swipe at Anderson Cooper for not spending long enough on the subject of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Lobotomised Trump didn’t gain any traction, let’s see what flame-throwing Trump can do.

8:27PM St. Louis / 02:27AM London

“There is no evidence that any classified information ended up in the wrong hands” – a classic Clintonian non-denial.

8:26PM St. Louis / 02:26AM London

If Trump knows what is good for him, he needs to not let Hillary Clinton wriggle off the hook on the question of her homebrew email server and continued evasions / changed stories about that howler of a security lapse. At the first debate he barely pressed the issue. He needs to go for the kill this time – though perhaps not by openly threatening to send her to jail…

8:25PM St. Louis / 02:25AM London

Wait, did Donald Trump literally just say that Hillary Clinton should be in jail?

8:24PM St. Louis / 02:24AM London

Hillary Clinton directs people to the fact-checker on her website again, saying that she cannot possibly refute all of Trump’s falsehoods in real time.

8:24PM St. Louis / 02:24AM London

Trump needs a game-changer in this debate, something that might actually somehow draw a line under the unmitigated disaster (though entirely predictable revelation) which was the Trump tapes. And so far we aren’t seeing it.

8:21PM St. Louis / 02:21AM London

And Trump calls into question the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s victory in the Democratic primary, with the benefit of the Wikileaks email release. A fair point. It would be helpful to be whiter than white when going up against Trump. Sadly, Hillary Clinton is decidedly grey.

8:20PM St. Louis / 02:20AM London

And Clinton gets in her crowd-pleasing line: “When you go low, I go high”.

The moderators, who admonished Trump’s supporters for cheering, allow Hillary Clinton’s supporters to cheer without comment.

8:19PM St. Louis / 02:19AM London

Donald Trump asked by a questioner on social media whether he is still the same man from 10 years ago who made the derogatory remarks in the Trump Tapes, or whether the campaign has indeed “changed him” as he claims. Again, he apologises for the locker room talk, clearly hating every moment.

And then Trump hits back, talking about a rape victim whose alleged attacker was successfully defended in court by a young Hillary Clinton. Trump contrasts his words with Clinton’s supposed action – and the audience applauds. Could this be the gloves coming off?

8:16PM St. Louis / 02:16AM London

Is anyone else getting tired of the wheedling, finickity “but he/she interrupted me!” complaints?

8:14PM St. Louis / 02:14AM London

Hillary Clinton calls for America to signal its virtue to the world by rejecting Donald Trump. Finally an instance of virtue signalling which this blog does not automatically reject out of hand.

8:13PM St. Louis / 02:13AM London

Now Hillary Clinton gets to weigh in on the Trump tapes.

“I never questioned their fitness to serve” says Clinton of past GOP presidential nominees, but not this time.

“He has said the video doesn’t represent who he is. But it is clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is. Because we have seen throughout this campaign him insult women, rate women … embarrass women. We saw him, after the first debate, spending nearly a week denigrating a former Miss Universe in the most harsh terms. So yes, this is exactly who Donald Trump is”.

Ouch.

8:11PM St. Louis / 02:11AM London

And Anderson Cooper goes in for the kill, pointing out that Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” amounts to an admission of sexual assault. Somehow, twenty seconds later Donald Trump is talking about wars and trade. Anyone looking for an expression of genuine contrition will be disappointed.

Cooper: “Did you kiss women without their consent?”

Trump: “I have great respect for women” – and then pivots back to making America safe again.

8:09PM St. Louis / 02:09AM London

Trump doing his usual masterful job describing, restating and restating again the problems which supposedly ail America. And as usual, his solutions consist of “doing things that haven’t been done” – with the juicy detail missing.

8:07PM St. Louis / 02:07AM London

Bright start from Clinton, pivoting quickly away from question about the vulgar tone of the campaign to talk about her policies. A potential punch pulled by Clinton?

8:06PM St. Louis / 02:06AM London

Ooh, no handshake as the candidates take the stage. That will get the cable news channels aflutter, saves them from having to analyse boring points of policy.

8:05PM St. Louis / 02:05AM London

As the debate gets underway, Martha Raddatz reminds us that all of the audience members at this town hall debate are currently undecided voters from the St. Louis area. One wonders how anyone can possibly be undecided in this election campaign – rather calls to mind this blog’s take on undecided voters.

8:04PM St. Louis / 02:04AM London

The republic may be crumbling, but that’s no reason we can’t all have a laugh as the debate unfolds:

8:02PM St. Louis / 02:02AM London

Would Trump be the first immensely vulgar president? No. Does dismal historical precedent make his words any more acceptable? Also no.

https://twitter.com/LouiseMensch/status/785279395233730560

8:00PM St. Louis / 02:00AM London

Yes, there is something very artificial about the pre and post-debate handshakes and smiles:

7:58PM St. Louis / 01:58AM London

And the moderators, Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, have taken the stage. We’re about to kick off.

7:55PM St. Louis / 01:55AM London

I know Washington University in St. Louis, have spent a significant amount of time on the campus and even sat in on some of the classes. It is a great institution. However, the president of the WashU Students Union, now citing Lincoln as he tries to set an appropriate tone for the coming debate, is quite probably setting our hopes too high with his ringing paean to American democracy.

There is nothing poetic or praiseworthy about the example America is setting to the world in this presidential election campaign.

7:49PM St. Louis / 01:49AM London

Newsweek gives us a reminder of where things stand in the polls as the second presidential debate is about to get underway:

As it stands, current polls are in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, even before #TrumpTapes roiled the Republican party. The New York Times election forecast has Clinton ahead of Trump by 4 percentage points, at 45 percent versus 41 percent, with an 82 percent chance of her winning the presidency.FiveThirtyEight’s forecast also indicates the Democratic nominee has an 82 percent chance of winning, with Clinton commanding 329.6 electoral votes to Trump’s 208.3, as well as 48.8 percent of the popular vote versus Trump’s 43.2 percent.

So rather less close than the polls stood ahead of the first presidential debate…

7:47PM St. Louis / 01:47AM London

I’m not going to go on a massive Social Justice tangent here, but it is telling that self-identified progressives love to support every victim group under the sun, unless they happen to support or benefit a conservative cause, in which case they are either evil or being used as pawns:

7:43PM St. Louis / 01:43AM London

The fact that we are even talking about the possibility of one of the two major party presidential nominees dropping out less than a month before the election is testament to the recklessness and democratic self harm of nominating somebody like Donald Trump:

Of course, if the Clinton email scandal had ignited a bit more we could well be making the same point about the Democratic Party nominee.

7:26PM St. Louis / 01:26AM London

Chris Matthews on MSNBC just compared Donald Trump’s likely approach to this debate to a suicide bomber strapping on an explosive vest and preparing to bring the whole building down on everyone – a rather crass comparison, even if it is evocative of the desperation of a man with his political back against the wall.

If Trump does go nuclear, will we see an “at long last, have you left no sense of decency” response from Clinton, the moderator or an audience member?

7:26PM St. Louis / 01:26AM London

Watching along online

As well as the BBC feed, I will be watching along on MSNBC here (for more partisan pro-Clinton coverage) as well as CNN. MSNBC have veteran Clinton political operative James Carville on as a guest, which should be entertaining if nothing else.

7:20PM St. Louis / 01:20AM London

Donald Trump, unable to resist hitting back and fighting fire with fire when provoked, has decided to make sexual assault a theme of this utterly depressing presidential election. And in the hour before the debate is due to begin at Washington University in St. Louis, Trump decided to hold a press conference with four women – including Juanita Broaddrick – who accuse Bill Clinton of sexual violence.

From Politico:

In a dramatic move less than 90 minutes before the second presidential debate on Sunday night, Trump made a surprise move in St. Louis in a desperate attempt to shift the focus from his own bragging of sexually aggressive behavior by appearing with four women who have alleged they were victimized by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

It was the first shot in an increasingly ugly battle expected to play out on national television later in the evening before tens of millions of Americans.

Trump, flanked by the four women, ignored shouted questions by a small group of reporters ushered in for the photo-op, as he introduced them. “These four very courageous women have asked to be here and it was our honor to help them,” Trump said, “and I think they’re each going to make an individual short statement.”

And so they did. Whether this indirect nuclear attack on Hillary Clinton pays off for Donald Trump remains to be seen.

7:17PM St. Louis / 01:17AM London

Rod Dreher makes the important point that to fully-committed Trump supporters, these revelations will not be a deal-breaker. They will support their man regardless of the Trump Tapes or any future revelations, no matter how scandalous:

6:45PM St. Louis / 00:45AM London

The “watch Donald Trump squirm” debate

This debate of course takes place in the aftermath of shocking, unexpected and totally out of character revelations that the Republican presidential nominee is not the humble, politely-spoken, women-respecting saint of a man we all unanimously believed him to be prior to the release of certain audio recordings from 2005.

Amid all of the media outrage (much of which is justifiable) there are a couple of nagging questions – like whether Trump’s words, however coarse and unbecoming to someone seeking high public office, are really worse than known physical transgressions by presidents past (Kennedy and Clinton come to mind) who retain the respect of the establishment. Expect to see Donald Trump use some variant of this discussion as he tries to wriggle off the hook during what will undoubtedly be a barrage of hostile questions from the Town Hall debate audience and attacks from Hillary Clinton

Received wisdom seems to be that Trump will try to paint a false equivalence and suggest that Hillary Clinton was somehow complicit in the supposed sex crimes of her husband. It won’t work as a tactic, and if Trump tries it then he will only succeed in making this presidential election campaign even more tawdry, shameful and sensationalist than it already is. Far better from a purely tactical standpoint that he tries to choke out the words “I apologise” early on, and then try to keep his head in the game for more than the first 45 minutes of this debate.

Of far more interest to this blog has been watching the reaction of big-name Republicans who previously endorsed Donald Trump, either enthusiastically (Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie) or through gritted teeth (John McCain, Ted Cruz). To some extent, this blog appreciates the difficult situation in which Republicans find themselves, confronted with a candidate overwhelmingly chosen by their party base but anathema to their own values. And when covering British politics, this blog has firmly taken the side of the Labour Party base over the centrist interloper MPs in the parliamentary party.

But this situation is different. Semi-Partisan Politics supports Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing takeover of Labour because no matter how outdated their vision, it is they who more closely resemble anything like the socialist principles on which the Labour Party was founded. The centrists – as two leadership elections in the space of a year have plainly revealed to us – stand for absolutely nothing beyond winning and holding power.

However, in the case of American conservatism it is Donald Trump and his Republican grassroots supporters who have drifted away from core Conservative principle, replacing it with their own zesty blend of authoritarianism, protectionism and proud ignorance. To be sure, the GOP elite and mainstream conservatives brought this fate on themselves by governing in a self-interested way and continually betraying those voters who have defected to Trump in sheer exasperation (or despair for their futures). But nonetheless, if one holds that the Republican Party is supposed to be the small-c conservative party of American politics then supporting Trump is indefensible.

And yet many household name Republicans have willingly thrown their arms around Trump, despite knowing who and what he is. The revelations from the Trump Tapes are hardly surprising – anybody who was genuinely shocked that Trump holds demeaning and unreconstructed attitudes towards women is so naive that they probably belong in an institution of some kind. And while some braver Republicans have withdrawn their foolish endorsements of Trump, far more have shamefully fudged the issue and hunkered down until the media storm passes, hoping to then be able to continue cheerleading for Trump without being sullied by charges of sexism.

To this blog, that is an unforgivable cop-out. Either defend the man you endorsed (maybe condemning his comments but going on record that you don’t think that such character flaws disqualify him from the presidency) or rescind the endorsement. Trying to keep a low profile in order to benefit from any eventual outcome is cowardly.

And as the Washington Post notes, the stain of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy will prove impossible to wash out in any case:

Trump’s turbulent campaign, on display here at Sunday night’s second presidential debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, has damaged far more than his own White House prospects. It threatens to diminish an entire generation of Republican leaders who stood by him and excused his behavior after attacks against women, the disabled, Latino immigrants, Muslim Americans, Syrian refugees, prisoners of war, Gold Star parents and others.

“There is nobody who holds any position of responsibility who in private conversations views Donald Trump as equipped mentally, morally and intellectually to be the president of the United States,” said Steve Schmidt, a veteran GOP strategist. “But scores of Republican leaders have failed a fundamental test of moral courage and political leadership in not speaking truth to the American people about what is so obvious.”

[..] “Everything Trump touches dies,” said Republican consultant Rick Wilson, who is advising independent candidate Evan McMullin.

[..] Wilson fears that the legacy of Trump’s campaign could haunt Republican candidates for many election cycles to come, just as Democrats in the 1980s and 1990s were hurt by their ties to former president Jimmy Carter and iconic liberals like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.).

“This is going to last forever,” Wilson said. “For years now, Democrats will be able to roll out TV ads and say, ‘When John Smith says today he’s for a brighter future, remember who he stood by: Donald Trump. He stood by Donald Trump’s misogyny, racism, sexism and stupidity.’ ”

The mere fact this debate is going to focus in large part on Donald Trump’s decade-old X-rated language (and long standing, long-excused character flaws) is depressing enough. But given that he begins with such a handicap it is difficult to predict anything other than a second Hillary Clinton victory, this time on public perception as well as technical points.

4:55PM St. Louis / 10:55PM London

Welcome to the Semi-Partisan Politics live blog of the second 2016 presidential debate between Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican).

Yes, I’m braving the insomnia and doing it all over again.

I’m out of Red Bull but I have a constant stream of coffee brewing, and will be glad of your company as I live-blog the second debate. Please feel free to use the Comments, or contact/troll me on Twitter or by email.

Read my live-blog of the first debate here. New readers – welcome, see my About page here for a brief bio.

 

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Top Image: RTE

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Donald Trump Wants Your Help With His Debate Prep

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Trump needs YOUR help to prepare for his debate with Hillary Clinton

No, not really. But his campaign have sent out a survey to supporters, asking them a series of leading questions about what subjects Donald Trump should raise in the first presidential debate on Monday, as well as precisely which insults and zingers he should hurl at Hillary Clinton.

Naturally, the landing page once you complete the survey is a donation form in favour of the Trump Make America Great Again committee (the real reason for the mailshot).

But even though the survey is utterly pointless and will have zero bearing on what Donald Trump decides to do on stage at Hofstra University, some of the questions are quite amusing:

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What self-respecting Trump supporter is ever going to select “No” to Question 9?

Meanwhile, other questions just cry out for an honest answer:

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But the most amusing part has to be the introductory email:

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The message concludes:

I want your honest input. If you disagree with something, tell me you disagree. Look, I never made it in business surrounding myself with people who tell me what I want to hear. Our campaign is about telling it like it is — and that’s not changing. Not now. Not ever.

Because that’s the Donald Trump we all know and love – the humble and collaborative team player who actively solicits constructive criticism and goes to great pains to respond to just criticism.

Of course there is nothing new about surveys like this – the Hillary Clinton campaign sends out its fair share, too. But it is interesting to see how formulaic and transactional the online campaign still is – fill in this fake survey which nobody will ever read so that we can get our hands on your credit card details too.

And with the emergence of one stop shop political organising software like Nationbuilder, and those incessant, overly personal emails which overuse your name in every sentence (or substitute it with “Friend” if your name can’t be found in their database) in a desperate bid for familiarity, the online campaigns have perhaps never been as divorced from the individual candidacies and personalities of the candidates. There is certainly none of the “authenticity” of the Howard Dean online campaign, or even the Obama ’08 campaign.

As this Politico piece notes, contrasting the pioneering Howard Dean campaign with today’s professionalised and sanitised web outreach:

The question of authenticity is one that many Dean alums mull. Dean for America was a genuine, organic grass-roots movement that used Internet tools to empower volunteers and supporters to take ownership of the effort, but today’s campaigns use the Web to collect data and control the message.

It rather makes one pine for the pioneering 1996 Bill Clinton / Al Gore campaign website, in all its dial-up, Windows 3.1 glory – if for no other reason than it offers definitive proof that contrary to his own claims, Bill Clinton does use email.

At least once, anyway.

 

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The Clinton Foundation – Noble Charity Or Grubby Political Pay-To-Play Scheme?

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Hillary and Bill Clinton continue to insist that there is nothing untoward in the way that their Clinton Foundation sought donations or interacted with the State Department when Hillary was Secretary of State. But how much smoke can there possibly be without fire?

It has been three days now since the Associated Press’s big investigative story detailing potentially concerning links between the charitable Clinton Foundation and individuals who managed to secure private meetings with Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.

A flavour of the story:

More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation. It’s an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Donors who were granted time with Clinton included an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran; a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton’s help with a visa problem; and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm’s corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.

The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.

Obviously, the Clinton campaign sees it slightly differently.

From the Washington Post:

She dismissed as “ridiculous” Trump’s accusation at a rally in Tampa on Wednesday that Clinton had run the State Department like a “Third World country,” doling out favors and access in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation.

“My work as secretary of state was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policy decisions based on what I thought was right,” Clinton said. “I know there’s a lot of smoke and there’s no fire.”

Last week, the Clinton Foundation announced that it would no longer accept foreign donations or donations from corporations if Clinton is elected president in November.

So something which would be unacceptable if Hillary Clinton were president (taking money from foreign donors and entities) was perfectly fine when she was “only” the nation’s top diplomat?

Lots of smoke and yet no fire, the candidate’s own (rather smug) words.

There’s nothing to see here, we are continually told. Move along. Sleep easy in your beds. Everything about the Clinton Foundation is pure, noble and virtuous. There have never been dubious financial dealings, and nothing which might even fall into a morally grey area. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign isn’t resting on top of a powder keg of suspicion and scandal which could see Donald Trump snatch the election, or at least weaken Clinton to the extent that she effectively becomes an instant lame duck. No, nothing like that. Honest.

The American Conservative’s Patrick Buchanan – perhaps unsurprisingly – disagrees:

The stench is familiar, and all too Clintonian in character.

Recall. On his last day in office, January 20, 2001, Bill Clinton issued a presidential pardon to financier-crook and fugitive from justice Marc Rich, whose wife, Denise, had contributed $450,000 to the Clinton Library.

The Clintons appear belatedly to have recognized their political peril.

Bill has promised that, if Hillary is elected, he will end his big-dog days at the foundation and stop taking checks from foreign regimes and entities, and corporate donors. Cash contributions from wealthy Americans will still be gratefully accepted.

One wonders: will Bill be writing thank-you notes for the millions that will roll in to the family foundation—on White House stationery?

By his actions, Bill is all but conceding that there is a serious conflict of interest between his foundation raking in millions that enhance the family’s prestige and sustain its travel and lifestyle, and providing its big donors with privileged access to the secretary of state.

Yet if Hillary Clinton becomes president, the scheme is unsustainable. Even the Obama-Clinton media might not be able to stomach this.

In one sense, Hillary Clinton is right. At present there is lots of smoke – huge, billowing clouds of the stuff – but not one visible lick of flame. It may well remain like that. It may be that the remaining emails still to be released (and think on that: the world’s superpower having its democracy influenced by shadowy outside actors based on the poor decision-making of one of its presidential candidates) point to more potential tawdry sleaze, but with no smoking gun.

And let’s face it: both Hillary Clinton and her husband are highly accomplished lawyers and politicians – if they did engage in corruption, are they really likely to have left a smoking gun or to have dealt with people who could not be trusted to keep silent? Hardly.

So rather than any concrete ethical scandal which may or may not emerge, I think it again comes down to a question about bad decision-making by Hillary Clinton. The decision to go rogue and conduct State Department business from a bootleg private email server was appalling. Even if the State Department did not have clear protocols in place for how departmental emails should be managed, simply going off on one’s own and setting up a home server is an appalling idea. Under the American system of course there was nobody to stand up to Clinton when she made the decision. In countries like Britain, with a permanent civil service running the show in the background, Clinton’s homebrew server plan would have been slapped down within minutes of it being suggested.

And then there’s the Foundation. I get it: it must be difficult transitioning back to normal life after being president of the United States. One can hardly go back into business working at an ambulance-chasing law firm or a lobbying firm or corporate America. Neither is there an established tradition of ex-presidents seeing out their days as a small town mayor or state governor, charming as the thought may be. After the Oval Office, lesser offices of state understandably seem less appealing.

So what is one to do? Well, George W. Bush provides a very helpful template for us, though sadly too late for Bill Clinton to have followed. After George W. Bush left office with an abysmal 22% job approval rating, he retired to Texas and resolved to see out his days painting unconvincing watercolour pictures of dogs (and some of his less fortunate counterparts and colleagues). Sure he’ll pop up to give a speech every once in awhile, but generally George W. Bush has maintained a dignified and most welcome silence.

Or one can go the other way, and do as Jimmy Carter did, enthusiastically throwing himself into real charitable work – not the running of giant foundations with all the perks that doing so entails (first class or private jet air travel, five star hotels, swanky fundraisers with billionaires, nurturing relationships with the politically active and an occasional conscience-easing cash disbursement to a worthy cause) but rather doing God’s honest work for Habitat for Humanity.

Actually physically building homes for disadvantaged or struggling people – that’s real charitable work. The Clinton Foundation in many respects is quite praiseworthy as some 88% of funding goes on charitable mission, but on $2bn revenue up to 2016 that is still $120 million on “overhead”, which in a family foundation has potential to conceal a whole world of ethical grey areas or outright abuses.

The point, I suppose, is that a family charitable foundation is a perfectly legitimate option for an ex-president and his family who intend to quit the political game after leaving office. But when this is not the case – when Hillary was pursuing senatorial ambitions and later becoming Secretary of State – conflicts of interest are inevitably going to occur.

When one is as rich and well-connected as the Clintons, acquiring more money becomes of limited interest. Instead, the reason for getting up in the morning after having left the White House often becomes the building of power, influence and legacy – and, of course, keeping the family in the style of living to which they have become accustomed (i.e. minimal contact with ordinary people). A family foundation accomplishes all of these objectives wonderfully. But when one or more members of the family are still politically active it is highly questionable.

It would have been far better, when there are still active political careers in play, for the Clintons to have put ego aside and thrown their support behind an alternative, existing foundation – much like Warren Buffett is giving away much of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recognising that it makes little sense to build up his own philanthropic expertise from scratch and create all the overheads which come from a second foundation when a perfectly good one already exists.

Why did the Clintons not take the Warren Buffett approach? Three reasons – ego, power and prestige. It is great that the Clintons are philanthropically active. But nearly all of their philanthropic work is done through the Clinton Foundation ($1 million to the foundation in 2015 and just $42,000 to another charity), meaning they want to do charity on their terms. It is a few distinct shades further away from pure altruism, and more to do with continuing to exercise power after the White House.

When Bill Clinton’s presidency ended in 2001, like a shark he had to keep swimming or surely die. Sitting at home in front of the television was never an option. But neither was Bill Clinton about to show up to work for Bill and Melinda Gates, or Habitat for Humanity. He wanted the benefits of his charitable work to accrue to him and his family, not to the Gates family or anyone else. And so the Clinton Foundation was born.

And since the Clintons choose to conduct philanthropic activities on their own terms and through their own foundation, in a way which aggrandises the Clinton family name and brings them power and influence, it is perfectly reasonable to ask questions about any other “fringe benefits” which Hillary Clinton pursued while holding the immeasurably valuable bargaining chip of being a senior part of the Obama administration. And when there is smoke, it is not churlish or unreasonable for journalists to have lots of questions about these activities.

And yet…

None of this is yet sufficient grounds to choose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Indeed, it is difficult to say just how large an ethical scandal would have to befall Clinton to make her less preferable as president than Donald Trump, a lying, authoritarian would-be strongman who delights in his own ignorance and capitalises on the ignorance of others.

But while the Clinton Foundation smoke machine is no reason to elect Donald Trump, it does paint an even more worrying picture about the quality of decision making and the ethical firewalls which may or may not exist in a second Clinton White House. And it makes one marvel that the Democrats could not follow Barack Obama with a presidential nominee capable of remaining scandal-free at least until Inauguration Day. Nearly every other heavyweight Democrat was intimidated away from the field because 2016 is, we were constantly told, “Her Turn”.

I can’t help but wonder if the Democrats will yet come to regret granting that extraordinary privilege so carelessly and cheaply.

 

Hillary Clinton

Top Image: The Atlantic, Lucas Jackson/Reuters

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On Flirting With Social Conservatives

How many people does it take to give traction to a political story?

Two. Rand Paul, and the editor of Politico.

Not again.
Not again.

Rand Paul has been popping up here, there and everywhere in the US media recently, reminding us of all the sins from Bill Clinton’s two presidential terms and suggesting that Clinton’s actions from the late 1990s somehow represent a current-day Democratic Party war on women in 2014.

The whole thing is a fairly transparent effort by Rand Paul, a principled and capable first term senator, to increase his popularity with the wary social conservatives from the base of his party and (as a convenient bonus) to tarnish Hillary Clinton’s image a little in the event that she decides to run for president in 2017. I said as much as far back as 27 January:

Senator Paul is absolutely right to call out Bill Clinton’s behaviour for what it was – an abuse of his presidential power and symptomatic of a predatory attitude toward women. What makes this different from what the Republican Party has been doing, however, is the fact that the Lewinsky affair was a private indiscretion, and the harm done to women took place in the course of interpersonal relationships between those people directly involved. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has sought to push for legislative outcomes – around contraception, abortion and equal pay to name a few – that would impact all women in the United States. Private action vs. public legislative action. False equivalence.

Others said the same, and this should have been case closed. But Politico, knowing a click-generating story when they see one, happily takes the bait with a full-length feature by Liza Mundy in their magazine:

Like it or not, we’re having a national flashback to the 1990s—replete with images of thong underwear near the Oval Office, semen-stained blue dresses and all manner of sordid details we thought we’d outgrown. These nostalgic tidbits come to us courtesy of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, the possible 2016 presidential contender who, anticipating a matchup against Hillary Clinton, has lately been determined to remind America what happened the last time the Clintons occupied the White House. In a series of recent interviews, Paul has resurrected the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which first surfaced in sensational fashion in 1998, when the president was accused of having an affair, of sorts, with the 20-year-old White House intern.

Paul, to his credit, hasn’t dawdled on the lurid details—rather he’s framed the discussion as a matter largely of workplace behavior, challenging Democrats’ self-image as the party friendly to women. “If they want to be credible in saying they defend women’s rights in the workplace,” Paul said in an interview last week, Democrats should “disown” Bill Clinton, whom Paul considers “a predator, a sexual predator, basically.”

Like it or not? We could all have avoided the flashback if Politico had chosen not to play along by devoting a whole feature to achieving Rand Paul’s ends, but then Politico are not known for taking the high road.

Given the fact that the reanimation of the Lewinsky scandal is just part of a grand plan by Rand Paul to curry favour with the socially conservative base of the Republican Party, surely he could have picked a better issue to make his own personal cause? After all half of the congressional party has been guilty of similar indiscretions at one time or another – the only thing separating their actions from Clinton’s being their proximity from the Oval Office at the time they were committed. If Rand Paul hopes to make himself look good by contrast, it will be fellow GOPers against whom the contrast is drawn just as much as it is Bill Clinton. And those guilty Republicans – the likes of Newt Gingrich, for example – may not take kindly to a Rand Paul campaign whose main platform is a repudiation of the very actions that made them notorious.

But on closer examination, it appears that Rand Paul has few other options given his need to improve his standing with social conservatives without alienating his support from the younger, more libertarian wing of the party. The Atlantic sums it up well:

Given that one of his key selling points in the GOP primary will be his (relative) support among younger Americans, Paul can’t exactly crusade against gay marriage or the legalization of pot. Bashing Bill Clinton provides a politically safer way to champion moralism. It certainly helped George W. Bush, who in 2000 won Christian right votes, despite playing down social issues, because he played up his personal, anti-Clintonian religious and moral code. Paul seems to be attempting something similar, telling Maureen Dowd, “In my small town, we would disassociate, we would in some ways socially shun, somebody that had an inappropriate affair with someone’s daughter or with a babysitter or something like that.”

This is right on the money. Rand Paul is generally principled in his libertarianism and has few outlets with which he can appeal to socially conservative voters, many of whom grant an exception for big government when it comes to forcing people to conform to their moral code. There is no point in Rand Paul launching a crusade against gay marriage – it would sound false coming from his lips, and besides, that ground is doggedly occupied by Rick Santorum and (less plausibly) Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani et al. The same can be said for the issue of marijuana legalisation, where a U-turn would do harm to his younger base.

The one area where Rand Paul can really show his moral “uprightness” – since his libertarianism does not allow him to force his beliefs on others through law – is by recalling tawdry behaviour from a past Democratic president.

If this is done carefully, Paul may reap rewards. By emphasising Bill Clinton’s predatory attitude toward women, he also effectively criticises many of his Republican peers and rivals without having to go on the record as having explicitly done so.

The danger, as I have previously pointed out, will come about if Rand Paul persists in trying to create a narrative of a Democratic “war on women” comparable to that waged by the bulk of the Republican Party. The electorate is more than capable of distinguishing the difference between the private actions of an individual (Bill Clinton’s affairs and womanising behaviour) and the concerted legislative efforts of an entire political party to attack the rights of half the population.

There are certain former and likely future Republican presidential candidates  – think Cain, Bachmann, Palin, Perry and Santorum – who can run and maintain their popular support on a platform of deliberate, even joyful ignorance, and not suffer as a result. Rand Paul is not a member of this group. His popularity rests more on principles and reason, and on people who admire these things in a politician. Continuing his efforts to equate a presidential sexual indiscretion from the 1990s with the general policy platform of his party will begin to test their patience.

By all means, talk about the persecution of Christians abroad and the moral shortcomings of the forty-second president of the United States if you want to. They are real, legitimate issues and there are real, indisputable facts to back them up, even if some of them do date back to 1998. But to go any further in an attempt to court social conservatives – a volatile and unpredictable part of the Republican party – is dangerous for a libertarian.

There is only so much common ground that a libertarian can find with a social conservative. And if the libertarian knows what is good for him, he stops trying once he has found and exploited it.

Rand Paul’s False Equivalence On Women’s Rights

 

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has been fighting some rearguard defensive action in an attempt to counter claims from the Democratic Party that the GOP is waging a “war on women” in their legislative efforts.

Dredging up the memory of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Paul took to NBC’s “Meet The Press” to make the slightly odd argument that the Democrats have no right to call out the GOP for their retrograde attitude towards women’s equality and freedom because a former Democratic president abused his position of power and treated certain specific women disrespectfully.

Politico reports:

Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that Democrats and those in the media criticizing Republicans for a so-called “War on Women” give a free pass to former-President Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior” against Monica Lewinsky.

“The Democrats — one of their big issues is they’ve concocted this, ‘Republicans are committing a war on women,'” Kentucky Republican said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “One of the work place laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn’t prey on young interns in their office. I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20-years-old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that and that is predatory behavior.”

“It should be something we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl. This isn’t having an affair — this isn’t me saying, ‘Oh, he’s had an affair. We shouldn’t talk to him.’ Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office — I mean really, and then they have the gall to stand up and say that Republicans are having a war on women? So yes, I think it’s a factor. Now it’s not Hillary’s fault. But it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history.”

Senator Paul is absolutely right to call out Bill Clinton’s behaviour for what it was – an abuse of his presidential power and symptomatic of a predatory attitude toward women. What makes this different from what the Republican Party has been doing, however, is the fact that the Lewinsky affair was a private indiscretion, and the harm done to women took place in the course of interpersonal relationships between those people directly involved. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has sought to push for legislative outcomes – around contraception, abortion and equal pay to name a few – that would impact all women in the United States. Private action vs. public legislative action. False equivalence.

He waged war on specific women, not all of them as a group. Image from AP.
He waged war on specific women, not all of them as a group.
Image from AP.

 

When it comes to Republicans and standards of personal behaviour, it is all too often a case of “do as we say, not as we do”. Rand Paul now seems to be trying to change this motto into “don’t do as the Democrats say, because of what Bill Clinton did”. It is a flimsy argument, because the uncomfortable truth is that large swathes of the Republican Party have not been marching under the banner of gender equality, even in 2014. And I suspect that it will take more than rushing Rand Paul out on stage to remind us of Bill Clinton’s wandering hands to divert attention from the Repubican Party’s manifold shortcomings in this area.

I find a lot to admire in Rand Paul, who I find infinitely preferable to the GOP’s other main rising star in the US Senate, Ted Cruz. Where Cruz is abrasive and haughty, Rand Paul seems somewhat more collegiate, able to press even his more strident causes (such as his lengthy filibuster against the US policy of drone strikes and targeted assassination of US citizens without trial) without ruffling too many feathers or unduly making enemies. However, by making this false equivalence between the actions of a politician in his private life and the legislative goals of a whole political party, Paul is doing himself, and us a disservice.

Democrats have what Sen. Paul calls “the gall” to accuse Republicans of waging a war on women because unfortunately, a lot of them are. For every tirade by Rush Limbaugh accusing women of being sluts for daring to want birth control to be covered by their health insurance, there is an elected Republican legislator or governor diligently working to actively chip away at women’s rights in slightly more palatable, legislative language.

And so for as long as the Republican Party remains in thrall to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his unenlightened attitude toward gender equality, they will likely continue to be perceived as “warriors against women”. If Rand Paul is unhappy with this reality it is within his power to do something about it. He has a bully pulpit, and his words command attention. But it is some of his own colleagues that he will need to publicly disown; not Bill Clinton.