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

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Live Blog: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in their final live televised debate

Debate Time: 6PM Pacific Time / 2AM UK Time

Watch Online: Live Stream Here

Contact: semipartisansam@gmail.com

 

7:48PM Las Vegas / 3:48AM London

Summarising the final debate

Well, that was by far the best of the three presidential debates. Chris Wallace had by far the most gravitas of all of the moderators called to undertake this most difficult of tasks (shaming those who questioned his abilities simply because he works for Fox News), and broadly kept things on track. I particularly liked the way that he ordered his questions, ensuring that the debate started with substantive policy discussions, with the more contentious issues (the personality based stuff) sandwiched in the middle.

Others seem to agree that this debate was a cut above the rest:

The headline that most pundits will take away is the “shock” revelation from Donald Trump that he will not necessarily accept the result of the presidential election if he is not declared the victor. I have no idea why they are surprised – Trump has been essentially making that very point continually for weeks now, with his accusation that the election is being “rigged” by Hillary Clinton and a compliant media. If you really do believe that the election is stacked against you (as Trump seems to have persuaded himself), why on earth would you concede in the event of defeat? This isn’t a matter of agreeing with Trump, it’s a matter of logic.

Will Trump’s refusal to accept the validity of the election upfront actually harm him? Well, in terms of everything else that he has done over the course of this campaign I don’t see how this will be any more off-putting to undecided voters than his other antics. And of course it will be red meat to his most ardent supporters.

But from a policy perspective, what did we actually learn from this most policy-focused of the three debates? Well, essentially the candidates simply reinforced what we already knew. Hillary Clinton sees government and the state as the answer to nearly every question, even those questions which nobody has asked yet. She wants to “invest” in the American people, which sounds positive until you remember that investors tend to demand a dividend or some other type of return for their largesse.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, gave no more evidence that he has actually studied the issues or gained a level of expertise (or even curiosity) beyond the same glib soundbites that one would expect from a first-term congressman in a very safe Republican district. Repealing and replacing Obamacare, but with what? We still don’t really know. Rebuilding the military, but in what areas and to what levels? We don’t know. Eliminating the budget deficit and tackling the national debt? Sure. But how? Donald Trump will tell us later.

And so the decision before American voters remains as unappetising as ever:

https://twitter.com/LouiseMensch/status/788932030037946372

Hillary Clinton remains this blog’s choice, for the simple reason that she is the type of uninspiring, statist technocrat that Americans have had before (and proven that they can endure), while Donald Trump represents a leap off a cliff. It is a thoroughly depressing choice, but the only conceivable choice that this blog can make.

Andrew Sullivan seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid and actually mustering enthusiasm for Clinton, which is more than I can do:

I mean, he’s not wrong in terms of Trump’s temperamental unsuitability for office. But was this a “devastating” defeat for Trump from the perspective of viewers? I think not. In fact, Trump may have just squeaked another points victory in this debate. What may well be devastating from Trump, though, is the fact that he failed to score the kind of knock-out victory that he really needed.

Points victories and incremental improvements will not save Donald Trump at this point. And Democrats, together with conservatives of conscience, should probably be very grateful that he failed to do much better.

7:36PM Las Vegas / 3:36AM London

Apparently the candidates did not agree to closing statements. Chris Wallace blindsides them by demanding one anyway, one minute each. Good for him. These debates have all suffered for not having the candidates try to wrap up their message and key themes (as far as Trump can claim to have a “theme” at the end.

Clinton says she will do “everything I can to ensure you have good jobs and rising incomes”.

Trump says “she is raising money from the people she wants to control. It doesn’t work that way”. Whereas Clinton painted a positive message (as one would expect from the continuity candidate), Trump paints a dark vision of America where “you get shot walking to school”, the military is run down and everything is bad.

“We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get with her”, Trump concludes.

And that’s a wrap.

7:32PM Las Vegas / 3:32AM London

Good final question by Chris Wallace, asking candidates whether they would adopt a “grand bargain” to save entitlements incorporating benefit cuts and tax increases to share the pain.

Trump immediately pivots to the need to “repeal and replace ObamaCare”. He won’t ask anything of Americans or suggest that difficult decisions or sacrifices might have to be made. No, everything is easy in Trump Land. Everything can be fixed by signing another great trade deal or standing up to China. This is just infantile, superficial stuff.

Clinton says that she will “raise taxes on the wealthy”, and makes a witty remark that she would raise taxes on herself “and on Donald, assuming he doesn’t find a way of getting out of it.” But she “will not cut benefits”.

7:30PM Las Vegas / 3:30AM London

Clinton wants “to invest in you, to invest in your family”. Again, there is no role which she does not envision the state playing in the lives of Americans. But her line about American growth being powered by the middle class rather than the wealthy few will resonate.

7:29PM Las Vegas / 3:29AM London

Hillary Clinton guns for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan again, affirming that America already is great. These Canadians would agree:

7:27PM Las Vegas / 3:27AM London

Hillary Clinton again specifically describes the picture of the Syrian boy “sitting in an ambulance with blood coming down his face” in an attempt to sentimentalise the need for military action in Syria. Of course, this enlightened humanitarian was also part of an administration which dramatically stepped up drone warfare against numerous targets, including American citizens, and which has been highly reluctant to reveal civilian casualty estimates.

7:19PM Las Vegas / 3:19AM London

How things stand so far

I generally concur with this assessment:

By the greatly warped standards with which we now judge presidential debate performances, this is probably on the money. Trump has been hitting Hillary Clinton very hard, quite effectively in some places, displaying open contempt and derision for her in some places – “Thanks a lot, Hillary, great job!”, he said at one point.

But because of his manifold personal flaws, Hillary Clinton has always had at least ten ready comebacks and zingers to every criticism that Trump has made. Even where he was effective on the email scandal and on foreign policy, Clinton has been able to wriggle her way out of trouble.

From a Clintonian perspective, Hillary can look back with satisfaction thus far. She has remained calm and composed, avoided committing any obvious gaffes once again, and effectively rendered Trump ridiculous-looking (to all but his most committed supporters) at several points. There have been no magisterial moments of brilliance, but then Hillary Clinton isn’t a brilliant political candidate. Agree with her or not, she is a shrewd political operator. But a candidate, not so much.

7:18PM Las Vegas / 3:18AM London

Hillary Clinton says that Trump is “the most dangerous person to run for president in the modern era.”

7:16PM Las Vegas / 3:16AM London

Donald Trump hammering Hillary Clinton for the Obama administration’s policy of drawing down troops in Iraq, and the subsequent fall of Mosul and other cities to ISIS.

This would be a whole lot more effective if Donald Trump was not stubbornly and transparently lying about having supported the initial invasion of Iraq.

7:13PM Las Vegas / 3:13AM London

Cynical Democratic posturing on taxes – and their subverting of language by speaking of “undocumented” rather than “illegal” immigrants – knows no limits:

7:10PM Las Vegas / 3:10AM London

Hillary Clinton accuses Trump of “whining”, and “denigrating our democracy”, and says that she is “appalled” that a major party nominee would take that position.

Both candidates are now finally starting to have some success steamrollering over Chris Wallace when they really want to make a point or land an attack.

7:08PM Las Vegas / 3:08AM London

“She should not be allowed to run. She’s guilty of a very serious crime”, says Trump, speaking about Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and “so many other things”.

Well, he’s coming out fully swinging now, that’s for sure.

7:07PM Las Vegas / 3:07AM London

Chris Wallace putting Donald Trump on the spot as to whether or not he will accept the outcome of the presidential election if he loses.

Trump responds: “I will look at it at the time. What I’ve seen is so bad. The media is so corrupt”.

So that’s a no, then.

7:05PM Las Vegas / 3:05AM London

“Everything he says about charity or anything else – you can’t prove it”, says Clinton, finally bringing up Donald Trump’s undisclosed tax returns. Fair criticism.

What is not fair, though, is criticising Donald Trump for offsetting his income tax liability against past business losses. Clinton is in no position to clutch her pearls in faux moral outrage about this – if you don’t want people to take advantage of legitimate tax loopholes, don’t create them and don’t tolerate them.

7:04PM Las Vegas / 3:04AM London

Hillary Clinton complaining that Donald Trump used money given to his foundation to buy a portrait of himself. Fair enough. But Hillary Clinton hired Sidney Blumenthal to the Clinton Foundation – after the Obama administration forbade her from hiring him at State – for the expressed job of polishing the Clinton legacy. She is in absolutely no position to criticise Donald Trump for being vain.

7:01PM Las Vegas / 3:01AM London

Chris Wallace asking Hillary Clinton about “pay to play” allegations relating to the Clinton Foundation.

My take on the foundation:

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.

6:59PM Las Vegas / 2:59AM London

It’s worth pointing out that Hillary Clinton would not be able to make herself look good by reeling off a list of all the indefensible things that Donald Trump has said if the Republican Party had nominated somebody remotely serious. But they didn’t, so here we are.

6:57PM Las Vegas / 2:57AM London

If we are going to call out devious pivots, then it is only fair to criticise Donald Trump for his evasions too:

6:55PM Las Vegas / 2:55AM London

Clinton rightly rakes Donald Trump over the coals for scoffing at the possibility that he might have sexually assaulted several women because they were not good looking enough.

“Trump goes after [women’s] dignity, their self worth. And I don’t think that there’s a woman out there who doesn’t know how that feels”, says Clinton. A powerful line.

She then descends into bland platitudes about diversity, and America being great, and our children and grandchildren and blah blah. But it was a calm, measured and broadly effective denunciation of Trump’s character.

Donald Trump denies saying something that he blatantly did say, and accuses Clinton’s campaign of being “sleazy”.

6:54PM Las Vegas / 2:54AM London

Chris Wallace asks why so many women would make up stories about Donald Trump behaving inappropriately toward them.

Trump responds by alleging that the Clinton campaign fed the stories to the media, and then goes further, accusing Hillary Clinton of fomenting violence at his campaign rallies. In any other presidential campaign that would be an incendiary statement. This time…it’s about average.

6:52PM Las Vegas / 2:52AM London

I’m not sure that Hillary Clinton’s broad, beaming smile when Donald Trump alleges that “she gave us ISIS” is the best reaction shot…

6:51PM Las Vegas / 2:51AM London

Looks like Clinton has come with a prepared response to Trump’s “thirty years” criticism this time. She reels off a list of all of her past jobs, contrasting what she was doing at certain points in time with what Donald Trump was doing.

“When I was in the situation room for the Osama Bin Laden raid, he was hosting Celebrity Apprentice”, snaps Clinton. Ouch.

6:49PM Las Vegas / 2:49AM London

Donald Trump resurrects his “you’ve been around for 30 years; why didn’t you do all these things earlier?” line. It’s effective. I mean, it also completely overstates the political power of a first lady and first-term junior senator, but it is still an effective line.

6:49PM Las Vegas / 2:49AM London

I’m with Giordano’s:

6:46PM Las Vegas / 2:46AM London

Again, Donald Trump unfavourably compares the GDP growth of the United States (a developed country) with that of India and China, both developing countries. This is infantile, sheer economic illiteracy. No advanced economy in the world grows at a clip of 8-10%. What is Trump’s secret formula?

6:44PM Las Vegas / 2:44AM London

Andrew Sullivan concurs with me on Donald Trump’s effective call-out of Hillary Clinton’s “open borders” evasion:

She has no good answer on her private remarks about her dream of open borders in the Western hemisphere. And so she tries to shift the question to Putin’s role in Wikileaks. Trump is right: that was a nifty pivot, and he exposed her.

6:42PM Las Vegas / 2:42AM London

Amazing “free trade deals” are not going to eliminate the budget deficit, Donald Trump, let alone tackle the national debt. It’s a glib answer worthy of a junior congressman, not a presidential candidate.

6:40PM Las Vegas / 2:40AM London

Clinton mocking Trump’s “trickle-down economics on steroids”.

Well, it’s better than “Trumped-up trickle-down”, I guess.

6:38PM Las Vegas / 2:38AM London

Naturally Hillary Clinton sees the state as saviour, promising “the greatest jobs program since World War 2”. This is all so predictable, a cookie-cutter Democratic nominee’s response.

6:37PM Las Vegas / 2:37AM London

And we’re on to the economy.

6:36PM Las Vegas / 2:36AM London

Stefan Molyneux has a great rebuttal to Hillary Clinton’s sudden concern about foreign powers wielding influence over American policy:

6:34PM Las Vegas / 2:34AM London

So far, Trump has failed to have the kind of stand-out moment that he really needs. There’s still an hour to go, but he is not winning on the Russia argument and there are a decreasing number of remaining openings available to mount a fightback.

6:33PM Las Vegas / 2:33AM London

Getting very tired of Hillary Clinton’s opportunistic, cynical scaremongering about Russia. This is everything I detest about Clinton. This blog is no fan of Putin’s Russia, but Clinton is vastly over-hyping any possible threat Russia poses to the United States in her pursuit of power.

6:31PM Las Vegas / 2:31AM London

Good response from Trump, calling out Hillary Clinton’s pivot and evasion. Wanting open trade and open borders is a perfectly legitimate political position, but if that is what Hillary Clinton really wants then she should have the courage to own her leaked statement and defend it. But she won’t, because she lacks principle.

If only the alternative wasn’t Donald Trump…

6:28PM Las Vegas / 2:28AM London

Excellent! Chris Wallace brings up Clinton’s speech in which she revealed her dream of a “hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”.

Clinton has no response – she immediately pivots to scaremongering about Russia, a country with a GDP less than Spain who are no longer the powerful Evil Empire of Reagan’s era. Nice pivot, but will Wallace allow her to get away with it?

6:28PM Las Vegas / 2:28AM London

One of Trump’s weaknesses is that he cannot restrict himself to criticising Hillary Clinton, and veers off to criticise her husband as well:

6:25PM Las Vegas / 2:25AM London

“We are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws” says Hillary Clinton, whose nominating convention in Philadelphia featured lots of illegal immigrants standing on the convention stage being cheered for their lawbreaking.

6:24PM Las Vegas / 2:24AM London

And Clinton naturally begins with an anecdote about a young girl worried about her illegal immigrant parents being deported, sentimentalising the issue and waxing about how she doesn’t want to “rip families apart”.

And of course she refers to “undocumented” rather than illegal immigrants. Because this is all part of the leftist agenda to control thinking through use of language, softening the language to make people tacitly accept – even celebrate – illegal immigration.

6:22PM Las Vegas / 2:22AM London

Seems that Trump has brought four women who have lost children or relatives to murderers who turned out to be illegal immigrants. Looks like he is taking the “law and order” approach to the immigration issue rather than the jobs issue.

“We have to have strong borders; we have to keep the drugs out of the country .. We absolutely cannot give amnesty” says Trump.

“One of my first actions would be to take the drug lords – we’re going to get them out”, he continues. It’s that easy, apparently.

6:22PM Las Vegas / 2:22AM London

Oh good, we’re on to immigration. At least Chris Wallace might distinguish between legal and illegal immigration in his questioning, unlike much of the left-leaning media.

6:18PM Las Vegas / 2:18AM London

Good to see Chris Wallace putting Hillary Clinton in the spot as to how far she would go in support of abortion rights. Clinton, of course, is of the opinion that the foetus has no Constitutional rights. It’s easy to mop up votes by waxing about the “right to choose”. Much harder to grapple with the thorny questions to emerge from that blanket pronouncement.

Clinton gives a solid answer – clearly she has prepped well, knowing to expect some more socially conservative questions in this debate.

Trump talks about “ripping the baby out of the womb” in an abortion just prior to birth. Clinton says that the language Trump used is “unfortunate”. Yes, it is – because Trump didn’t sanitise the issue as Clinton so desperately wants to do.

6:16PM Las Vegas / 2:16AM London

The US Libertarian Party, a refuge for many principled conservatives this election cycle, is providing some liberty-minded commentary of this debate as it proceeds:

6:14PM Las Vegas / 2:14AM London

Hats off to Chris Wallace. Ten minutes into the debate and we are talking about real, thorny issues and matters of policy relating to gun control and the Second Amendment. Neither of the first two debates managed to get so serious so quickly. That an anchor from “evil” Fox News has managed to do so should be a matter of shame for the others.

Dreher agrees:

6:12PM Las Vegas / 2:12AM London

Rod Dreher rightly warns that Donald Trump didn’t mention anything about religious freedom. And that, of course, is because deep down he doesn’t care about religious freedom. Because he isn’t a real conservative.

6:10PM Las Vegas / 2:10AM London

Interesting choice by Chris Wallace, diving into the debate by talking about the Supreme Court and judicial process. Neither candidate is able to come out swinging in dramatic fashion – will this more measured opening set the tone for the debate?

6:08PM Las Vegas / 2:08AM London

Donald Trump predictably starts talking about how the Second Amendment is “under siege”, a reliable vote winner for Republicans. Note how the great federal gun seizure is always planned for “tomorrow” though. GOPers have been warning that Obama is coming for America’s guns since before he took the oath of office, and yet the Second Amendment remains intact. But Trump is happy to keep peddling an existential threat which is largely non-existent.

6:07PM Las Vegas / 2:07AM London

Hillary Clinton immediately politicises the Supreme Court, saying that it should stand on the side of “the people” (meaning her leftist policies). I’m sorry, but no. The Supreme Court should stand on the side of the Constitution, not on the side of whatever basket of special interests Clinton decides to label “the people”.

Clinton sees the Supreme Court as an essential vehicle for continual, aggressive social change, far beyond anything that can be reasonably inferred from the text of the document and the original intent of the Founders. Not good.

Unfortunately, Clinton is able to score a point by pointing to Republican obstructionism over the nomination of Barack Obama’s appointment for Justice Scalia’s replacement.

6:05PM Las Vegas / 2:05AM London

Chris Wallace’s first question is about the Supreme Court, and where both candidates “want to see the court take the country”. He follows on to ask whether they believe the Constitution is a living document or set in stone.

6:04PM Las Vegas / 2:04AM London

And they have taken the stage. Both look serious – no handshake.

6:01PM Las Vegas / 2:01AM London

David Harsanyi rages against the media’s moralising against Donald Trump in a piece for the Federalist. Harsanyi writes:

So forgive me if I don’t take liberal concern-trolling about the GOP’s wicked presidential choice too seriously. After all, even if Republicans had nominated the most qualified, competent, and chaste moderate in the existence of the republic, there still would be no #NeverHillary movement within the Democratic Party. No matter how many scandals were uncovered. No matter how many lies she told. What they’ve done is normalize Hillary’s behavior. Because Trump.

Actually, many of these same people treated a competent and ethically upright moderate like Mitt Romney just like they treat Trump. And even the most sexist-sensitive liberal would likely support a lecherous Bill Clinton over a virtuous Republican nominee. Because state power is the virtue. So spare us.

It’s been something to watch the media engage in this smug, self-satisfying, feigned outrage — much of it aimed at real Trump scandals, and plenty of it hyper-parsing and overreactions — after giving him nearly unlimited and uncritical airtime during the primaries to ensure his nomination for the ratings and to help Hillary.

It’s hard to disagree with some of this. While Donald Trump fully deserves enormous criticism for his behaviour any many of his ill-considered policies, much of the media’s excessive pearl-clutching has been more than a little cynical and contrived.

5:59PM Las Vegas / 1:59AM London

Chris Wallace admonishing his audience not to “hoot and holler” as the candidates debate. It will be interesting to see if he enforces this rule across the board, or if he criticises Trump supporters for cheering while letting Clinton supporters scream to their hearts’ content.

5:56PM Las Vegas / 1:56AM London

We’re about to get underway. The warm-up act is regaling the audience with a riff about how great an opportunity this debate is for the students at the University of Nevada, many of whom are helping out with logistics. Unless this debate is much better than the previous two, I think that this “opportunity” is a decidedly mixed blessing.

My wife and I are due to spend a few days in Las Vegas with family after Christmas – hopefully this debate will not reduce the city to a smoking crater in the ground.

5:48PM Las Vegas / 1:48AM London

Is this the launch of Trump News Network?

This blog has recently speculated that Donald Trump’s intentions may have either shifted away from winning the presidency towards stoking up his supporters enough to turn them into loyal viewers of a future Trump cable news network.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds:

As a serious attempt to build an election-winning coalition of voters or persuade a majority to abandon their doubts and embrace his “ideology”, Trump’s continued behaviour has been entirely counterproductive. But as a strategy to enthuse his most ardent supporters and drive a further wedge between them and all mainstream sources of news (even including Fox News) it has been a masterpiece. Journalists are now routinely booed at Trump rallies, while the candidate himself accuses the media of being part of an organised establishment plot to swing the election for Hillary Clinton.

Currently these voters are served only by the more fringe conservative media – sites such as World Net Daily, Breitbart, InfoWars and alt-right personalities like Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich. And while many of these outlets are professionalising their operations, there probably still exists a gap in the market for a well-funded, professional-looking television news network that looks like CNN but talks like Alex Jones.

And now there are further intriguing signs that the grounds may be being prepared for a move into the news media:

If you don’t like the coverage you are receiving from existing networks, just create your own. Putin and Berlusconi would be proud.

5:42PM Las Vegas / 1:42AM London

And we’re back. Apologies for the pause. Semi-Partisan Politics is operating using rather ancient computing power, and things crawled to such a halt that an emergency reboot was necessary. Perhaps this is not a bad time to mention that if you find this blog’s coverage useful and entertaining, donations large and small are most welcome.

 

 

High on the list of upcoming necessary purchases is a laptop which doesn’t die when you try to open more than five tabs, and which doesn’t give off the heat of a nuclear reactor.

5:03PM Las Vegas / 1:03AM London

Donald Trump’s debate prep guru has apparently thrown in the towel and given up trying to teach Trump the Unteachable.

In advance of the debate, The Hill reports:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes are reportedly no longer speaking.

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman revealed that “Ailes’s camp said Ailes learned that Trump couldn’t focus—surprise, surprise—and that advising him was a waste of time.”

“These debate prep sessions weren’t going anywhere,” Sherman added during the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday.

Quite why it took Roger Ailes this long to realise that Donald Trump is a dud candidate is anybody’s guess – perhaps the man who taught George H. W. Bush to swagger is finally losing his touch, what with also having been drummed out of Fox News.

4:57PM Las Vegas / 12:57AM London

When Rudy Giuliani has to act as your chief character witness, you know you’re in trouble:

4:55PM Las Vegas / 12:55AM London

Fiscal conservatives will appreciate this one:

4:35PM Las Vegas / 12:35AM London

CNN continue to promote the presidential debate as though it were a heavyweight boxing match:

4:18PM Las Vegas / 12:18AM London

What would it take for Trump to win the election?

The National Review paints a stark picture of the uphill battle faced by Donald Trump to win critical bellwether swing states like Ohio:

If Trump does win Ohio, he will achieve something many thought was impossible, winning a hard-fought swing state without any long-standing major campaign get-out-the-vote operation. It will obliterate everything every campaign professional has ever taught or learned about the importance of preparation.

On the plus side: Trump’s biggest fans would seemingly walk through fire for him, with an army (of indeterminate size) of volunteers willing to give up their own time and money to get people to the polls in an impromptu, uncoordinated get-out-the-vote operation. And while all comparisons between the UK’s vote for Brexit and the Donald Trump campaign are vastly overblown and often offensive, one common feature is that both anti-establishment insurgencies are buoyed by people whose political engagement seems to have gone from near zero to off-the-charts.

On the negative side (for Trump): Hillary Clinton has been waiting for this moment her entire life, and her professionalised get-out-the-vote operation will build on all of the success of the previous George W. Bush and Barack Obama political operations. Hillary Clinton has had political operatives laying the crucial groundwork in states since well before Donald Trump even threw his hat into the ring.

4:10PM Las Vegas / 12:10AM London

Yes, the Clinton email scandal matters

In the wake of further Wikileaks email revelations from the hacked account of Clinton campaign apparatchik John Podesta, the National Review reminds us exactly why Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while serving as Secretary of State – and her subsequent evasiveness and liberty with the truth when held to account for her actions – is an entirely legitimate point of criticism.

Their editorial states:

Although it was ostensibly investigating Clinton and her State Department staff (many of whom had become her campaign staff), the Justice Department kept campaign officials in the loop about developments in Freedom of Information Act cases related to Clinton’s e-mails, and about administration efforts to delay and minimize disclosures. The DOJ worked with the Clinton team’s defense lawyers to restrict the FBI’s ability to ask key questions and examine critical evidence. It also declined to present the case to a grand jury, which the DOJ must do in order to subpoena critical evidence and indict culpable suspects. Instead, it gave the suspects immunity from prosecution and made other gratuitous concessions in order to acquire evidence the production of which could have been compelled.

Meanwhile, as the former secretary’s claims about never having sent or received classified information were exposed as lies — in fact, some of her e-mails contained information classified at the very highest levels of secrecy — the State Department colluded with Clinton aides to control the fallout. Newly disclosed FBI documents suggest that high-ranking State Department official Patrick Kennedy leaned on the FBI, and perhaps other agencies, to downgrade classification of Clinton’s e-mails (which might bolster her false denial of transmitting classified information) and to exploit Freedom of Information Act exemptions (which would allow the State Department to withhold disclosure of e-mails that would be politically harmful). This news should come as no surprise. FBI reports had previously indicated that State Department brass were pressuring career officials to change designations to minimize Clinton’s apparent misconduct.

While Kennedy and others were applying pressure from Foggy Bottom, Podesta sought help from a different source. Months ago, the State Department grudgingly acknowledged that Clinton and President Obama had exchanged at least 18 e-mails over Clinton’s private account, and FBI reports obtained by Congress revealed that Obama used an alias on those occasions. Prior to that revelation, Podesta suggested to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s top aide at State and a key campaign adviser, that the White House invoke executive privilege to shield those exchanges from a congressional subpoena.

This isn’t partisan point-scoring. This is really bad. And while it may not have the telegenic allure of a good old fashioned sex scandal, it speaks to character every bit as much – and it probably speaks to Hillary Clinton’s likely governing style as president even more strongly.

In any other presidential election, Hillary Clinton’s actions with regard to her email would be immediately disqualifying. The fact that she remains preferable to a potential Donald Trump in this dismal election cycle is a reflection on just how bad of a candidate (and a person) he is, and is certainly not a reflection of any virtue or worthiness on Hillary Clinton’s part.

3:56PM Las Vegas / 11:56PM London

Left-wing anxiety about the “Fox News debate”

The New York Times is paranoid that the final presidential debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, will fail in his duty of impartiality:

A major topic at tonight’s presidential debate — maybe the first topic — will be “debt and entitlements,” according to Chris Wallace, the Fox News host who is moderating the debate.

I encourage you to watch for whether Wallace bases his questions on budget reality. Much of the public discussion of the national debt isn’t based on reality. It instead relies on facts that are badly outdated.

[..] Reasonable people can disagree about how much to emphasize the decline in the projected debt versus how much to emphasize the debt itself. But it’s simply irresponsible to talk about the debt while ignoring the enormous change.

Wallace has a reputation as a serious journalist, not a Fox News partisan like Sean Hannity, and I hope Wallace lives up to that reputation.

A reasonable concern? I suppose so. But Chris Wallace, like Shep Smith, is one of the good guys at Fox News, and I have no reason to doubt that he will chair the debate in a professional manner.

Besides, for impartiality to come into question would require the debate to actually focus on the detail of fiscal policy rather than devolving into glib soundbites and insults, a level of discourse which neither of the first two debates managed to reach.

3:45PM Las Vegas / 11:45PM London

What to expect from this final presidential debate? Who knows. Read ten different press previews and you’ll get ten different answers. But one thing is clear enough – if Donald Trump really wants to turn his campaign around and actually make a Hail Mary pass for victory rather than simply continuing to stoke the resentments of his supporters, he needs to do something extraordinary.

What precisely that “something extraordinary” looks like is difficult to say. He could try going after Hillary Clinton even harder – really hammering her on things like the email scandal and her relationship with Wall Street. But attacking harder is likely to just make him look deranged to more moderate voters, people who don’t necessarily buy the Hillary Is Satan schtick that his hardcore supporters love. The only way that attacking harder might benefit Trump is if he actually manages to achieve a moment of combustion and really make Clinton lose her temper or composure. And even then, it’s hard to see how Clinton injures her own prospects more than Trump.

As for Hillary Clinton, I fully expect her to spend most of the debate in cautious, defensive “home stretch” mode. Sure, we might see the odd flash of steel as she tears into Donald Trump’s character, particularly around the new sexual assault allegations (which conveniently emerged not when Trump was being a reality TV star, not when he was being a birther, not when he was fighting for the GOP nomination but only in the final month before the presidential election. I’m not saying the allegations are false, but I am saying that their convenient timing doesn’t do anything to allay Trump supporters’ paranoia that the whole thing is rigged against them).

But aside from a few more cheesy, canned one-liners and a few telegenic “shame on you” moments (which, don’t get me wrong, Trump fully deserves), I expect we will see Hillary Clinton behaving like the England football team protecting a one goal lead against Slovakia with 45 minutes left to play. Dull, uninspiring, and acceptable only if she doesn’t self-destruct and concede a last-minute equaliser.

3:00PM Las Vegas / 11:00PM London

Yes, I’m blogging the final Trump v Clinton 2016 presidential debate. I’m doing it again. Goodness knows why – it’s certainly not for the benefit of my mental health or circadian rhythm. But it seems right and proper to see this thing through to the bitter end.

As always, I welcome your feedback and company as we watch along together. Please feel free to use the Comments feature, or contact/troll me on Twitter or by email.

You can read my live-blog of the first debate here and the second debate here. New readers – welcome, see my About page here for a brief bio.

 

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Top Image: Joe Raedle/Getty, Rolling Stone

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Donald Trump’s Second Presidential Debate Performance Was Red Meat To The Alt Right

Who is Donald Trump trying to impress? And why?

If you were wondering exactly what audience Donald Trump was playing to with his combative debate performance in last night’s second presidential debate, here’s a clue.

Donald Trump’s “braggadocious” threats to prosecute Hillary Clinton if he wins the presidential election will do nothing to temper the fears of undecided voters who have no love for Hillary Clinton but harbour reservations about throwing their support behind an authoritarian wannabe strongman.

But this kind of language is absolutely lapped up by Trump’s strongest source of support – the conspiracy-tinged alt-right, who see Hillary Clinton not merely as an ethically challenged creature of Washington D.C., but as evil incarnate – the “wicked witch of Benghazi, cackling over her cauldron” as one pro-Trump social media user put it.

And the conspiratorial InfoWars site certainly lapped up Trump’s second debate performance, as seen in the instant reaction video shown above, and again at far greater length in that site’s six-hour coverage of the debate at Washington University in St. Louis.

But in the midst of the pro-Trump cheerleading, InfoWars reporter Owen Shroyer actually makes a very pertinent observation:

You know, it is an amazing dynamic where it seems like if you like Donald Trump, no matter what, he wins, if you like Hillary Clinton, no matter what, she wins. How do we break any ground on that? How do we break through that paradigm where only your candidate can win the debate? I think that that illustrates the polarisation that we’re seeing in this country in this election cycle.

Indeed, different sites and journalistic outlets have called the debate in line with their partisan leanings or the supposed proclivities of their readers, preferring to pander than to challenge or upset. The Guardian declared a victory for Clinton, while the Spectator and numerous American conservatives (even those opposed to Trump) declared him the victor.

As this blog commented following the debate:

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 it seems that we do now disregard facts and adherence to them when judging a candidate’s debate performance. While Hillary Clinton certainly was not consistently truthful during the debate, Donald Trump made significantly more blatant falsehoods. But can he still be said to have “won”, by virtue of having been more combative in tone and unapologetic about his deceits? Apparently so.

What is clear is that more than ever – even more than four years ago, when Republicans trapped in an ideological echo chamber of their own making were convinced that Mitt Romney was going to lead them to victory – is that both sides have retreated to their respective ideological bubbles, hermetically sealed safe spaces of bias confirmation in which awkward facts or revelations are diminished or entirely ignored in order to avoid the slightest cognitive dissonance in the minds of their supporters.

Donald Trump’s combative performance and willingness to step into unprecedented territory in his attacks on Hillary Clinton will have been red meat to those of his supporters already firmly ensconced in the bubble. Threatening to send “crooked Hillary” to jail is red meat to the ascendant alt-right movement.

But will it have done anything at all to convince wavering voters that Donald Trump is capable of carrying out the duties of the presidency in a calm and measured way, or that he represents a safe choice for those unwilling to vote for Hillary Clinton? Almost certainly not.

And with less than a month to go until the election, Donald Trump still has all of his work ahead of him to reach that low but mysteriously elusive bar of acceptability.

 

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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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Jonah Goldberg On Conservatism In The Age of Donald Trump

Jonah Goldberg says it best when describing the existential danger facing American conservatism in the Age of Trump.

On Trump’s unearned reputation as a happy warrior against political correctness:

This is just flatly not true. I also don’t believe it is true that Trump is appealing to minorities based upon their status as citizens, it’s not in his rhetoric, it’s not what he says; nor do I think he gives a rat’s patoot about the Constitution, which he thinks has twelve articles. He is just making it up as he goes along, riding a populist wave.

[..] This idea that Donald Trump is against political correctness is just a fiction. He’s against being held accountable to people to political correctness for himself but he is delighted to use the exact same bullying tropes of political correctness against other people. He’s done it against me when he tried to get me fired from National Review, saying I was insulting to women and that I have to apologise or resign or be fired because I was so insulting to women. What did I do that was so insulting to women? I said that Donald Trump is staying up late into the night like a teenage girl, tweeting. Which was A, accurate, and B, accurate.

During the primaries when Jeb Bush had a completely understandable and forgivable gaffe about women’s health issues, for weeks Donald Trump was talking about how horrible Jeb Bush was on women’s issues, playing these politically correct cards. He’s a nearest weapon to hand arguer in all things because he does have no philosophy, he has no intellectual grounding whatsoever, and I understand saying “well, we don’t need any more intellectuals, what did intellectuals get us, look at Woodrow Wilson, look at Barack Obama”, I get all that.

But Donald Trump is not a practitioner or a believer in American exceptionalism. He’s rejected the term outright, explicitly, more than once, nor does he represent what we mean by American exceptionalism. His core values, as he says over and over again, are strength and winning. Getting him to talk about the Constitution is like getting my daughter to eat brussel sprouts. I mean, she’ll do it, but it’s not a pretty picture and she tries to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Interestingly, Jonah Goldberg seems to broadly agree with my assessment of the first presidential debate, awarding Hillary Clinton the win, but not by a massive degree:

I thought Trump lost the debate, but not overwhelmingly. He was clearly the winner of the first 30 minutes or so, and if he’d stayed that guy for the full 90 it would have been a hugely consequential rout. But then, Hillary implemented “Bait Trump Protocol Alpha-1,” when she brought up how he got his start with a $14 million loan from his father. (She got the details wrong, but it doesn’t matter. When you’re baiting fish or Trumpzilla, the lure doesn’t have to be real, it just has to be shiny. In fact, getting the bait just slightly wrong makes it even more irresistible, because we all have a natural instinct to correct falsehoods aimed at us, and Trump more than most.)

So Trump bit the shiny thing, and for the rest of the night, plodding, dull Hillary Clinton led Trump around the stage like a matador with a red cape. And, four days later, Trump is still charging around like an enraged bull. At first I thought Clinton’s use of Alicia Machado was odd. There are so many Trump victims out there, why use one with such a weird past? But that’s what was so brilliant about it. If Machado were a nun, it’d be harder for Trump to attack. But Trump thinks he can win this one on the merits and so he won’t let go of it. He didn’t learn the lesson of his feud with the Khan family: The only way to win such fights is to not engage in them at all. The debate wasn’t a disaster but how he handled the post-debate spin was, and continues to be.

If Trump could stay on message, if he could be a disciplined candidate, I think he’d be ten points ahead by now. But realistically, this is no different from saying if he could control anything metal with his mind, he would be Magneto.

In the immediate aftermath of the debate (at 4AM UK Time, with no opportunity for reflection or benchmarking against the reaction of others) I wrote:

Clinton did become more effective during the final 30 minutes, which her campaign will be very relieved about. And did she manage to rile Donald Trump? Yes – but no more than the country is used to seeing after his tussles with Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

[..] My gut says that this was a victory for Hillary Clinton on points, but a score draw in terms of public reception. Time will soon tell.

All but the most extreme Trump partisans have indeed admitted a Clinton victory on points, substance and tone. And once again, Donald Trump is crowdsourcing advice for how he should tackle the upcoming second debate at Washington University in St. Louis – advice which he will surely reject again, whether it comes from his army of supporters or his despairing, demoralised campaign team.

American conservatives who have chosen to collaborate with Donald Trump have hitched their wagon to the wrong train – in victory or defeat, he will lead them nowhere good.

 

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Donald Trump Crowdsources Debate Prep Advice, Again

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There you go again…

After performing so magnificently in the first presidential debate against Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University on Monday night, Donald Trump has once again reached out to his supporters to solicit their advice on how he should tackle the upcoming second debate at Washington University in St. Louis.

Among the searingly introspective questions the Trump campaign is asking this time:

4. Should Trump lay out how his business, private-sector experience will directly benefit the economy?

Well, what else has he got to run on? If not a highly polished and idealised version of his track record in business, on what possible grounds is Trump even running for office?

6. On the subject of Hillary’s emails, should Trump have brought up the fact that Hillary jeopardized our national security?

This is actually a good question. From a purely tactical perspective, Trump utterly failed to properly go after Clinton on any of her biggest perceived weaknesses – her private email server, the Benghazi attacks, the Clinton Foundation and her secrecy over her health – despite being gifted golden opportunities to do so.

9. Should Trump have called out Hillary’s massive Wall Street fundraising and the paid speeches that she refuses to release to the public?

Again, another legitimate point of concern left totally unaddressed by Trump in the first debate, so busy was he exhorting viewers to “call up Sean Hannity” to supposedly get confirmation that Donald Trump was against the Iraq war from the beginning, honest.

12. Should Trump double down on the need to rebuild our infrastructure, and draw on his own experience in construction to get the job done?

Because clearly experience in building gaudy hotels and phallic skyscrapers translates directly to updating the electoral grid, building roads, bridges and airports.

20. Should Trump attack Hillary for referring to tens of millions of American men and women as “deplorables”?

Why the hell not? Soaking in victimhood is probably his best and only shot, at this point.

22. Should Trump point to his history of employing thousands of Americans as evidence of his firsthand experience and ability to create jobs?

While there might normally be some kind of link between that most hallowed of Republican deities, “job creators“, and an understanding how to create the conditions in which economic growth and job creation (frustratingly no longer as intertwined as they once were), in Trump’s case this is far less certain. Trump advocates protectionism on a major scale, which is likely to raise prices – and lower living standards – for all consumers.

27. Should Trump paint Hillary as the epitome of D.C. corruption and the close relationship between lobbyists and politicians?

Maybe if Donald Trump didn’t have a track record of making political donations to carefully selected state attorneys general in an effort to squelch legal actions against him then this might have been a sensible approach. But sadly he does have such a record, so even whispering the word “corruption” is likely to provoke a devastating rebuttal from Hillary Clinton.

A different Republican candidate – someone like John Kasich or Ted Cruz – could likely have made the corruption argument stick, to potentially devastating effect. Donald Trump, however, will almost certainly see the corruption grenade explode in his hand if he even tries to throw it at the next debate.

My advice – not that I remotely wish Donald Trump to follow it – would be far more straightforward than this self-aggrandising survey, and encapsulated in these three points:

  1. Take the time to actually do some policy research. In the first debate, Hillary Clinton came armed with facts and figures to back up her remarks. It wouldn’t hurt to do the same.
  2. When you are caught out in an obvious lie (like your nonexistent brave and principled opposition to the Iraq War), just be grateful when the moderator doesn’t haul you up on it even harder. Don’t spend the next five minutes angrily rebutting the plain truth, you are simply writing the Huffington Post’s next day headlines for them.
  3. Stop shouting about how great your temperament is. Even your ardent supporters know deep down that your temperament is, uh, not your chief selling point.

But since Donald Trump is congenitally incapable of receiving negative feedback (or even constructive criticism) it is probably a safe bet that we will see exactly the same ill-prepared, thin-skinned brute that showed up for the first debate.

Donald Trump could still lose the debates and go on to win the presidency – particularly in the current highly charged climate, where every time he falls flat on his face or gets caught in an obvious lie is interpreted by his supporters as only more evidence of an all-pervasive anti-Trump conspiracy.

But if there was any doubt left – and at this point there really shouldn’t be – then Trump’s proven inability to remain calm and remotely serious for even half of a ninety minute debate shows that however much one may dislike Hillary Clinton, she remains the only viable choice in this election.

 

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