George Orwell’s “1984” Will Receive A Public Reading In London – But Have We Forgotten The Message?

Senate House London - 3

On June 6, hundreds of people will gather at London’s Senate House as a parade of actors, politicians and other notables read George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” in its entirety. But how many of us actually understand Orwell’s message?

Besides a few posts on Twitter, I haven’t written anything about the heinous Manchester terrorist attack. What more is there to say? The locations change, as do the names and backgrounds of the victims, but the rote mourning processes, the denialism and the furious virtue-signalling always remains the same. Why jump into that toxic mêlée all over again?

But I did watch the BBC general election leaders’ debate on television earlier this week, when naturally the subject of terrorism and Britain’s proper response came up, and I was depressed as ever by the paucity of the “discussion” that took place.

Brendan O’Neill picked up on the section of the debate which also caught my attention, writing in Spiked:

Consider BBC TV’s General Election debate this week, which brought together leading figures from the main parties to talk about the problems facing Britain. There was an extraordinary moment during the debate. A member of the audience asked a question about security post-Manchester and the leaders talked about the need for better policing and intelligence and also for rethinking British foreign policy. It is possible, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, that our meddling overseas has exacerbated the terror problem.

Then UKIP leader Paul Nuttall chimed in, and he said this: ‘Politicians need to have the courage to name [the problem]: it’s Islamist extremism.’ The reaction was swift and pretty scary. Nuttall was jeered at by the other panellists. ‘NO!’, one said. ‘Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul’, interjected Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. Nuttall has gone ‘straight for Muslims’, said a furious Robertson. Green leader Caroline Lucas said Nuttall was being ‘completely outrageous’ with this suggestion that ‘the violence in Manchester was somehow representative of Islam’.

Nuttall tried to explain himself. ‘Islamism, Islamism, Islamism’, he said over the din that his comments provoked. His point was that he had not said the word ‘Islam’. He hadn’t even used the phrase Islamic terrorism; he had said Islamist extremism. But his protests went unheard. The other leaders and some in the audience continued to shout over him and drown him out; to accuse him of being outrageous and prejudiced for using the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’.

This is an almost Orwellian level of linguistic denialism. For ‘Islamist’ is a perfectly legitimate and apt word for the terrorism that is impacting on cities in Western Europe. The Oxford dictionary’s definition of ‘Islamist’ is an ‘advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism’. Is this not the right name for those in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester and elsewhere who have carried out extreme acts of violence in the name of the Islamic State or radical Islamist ideology? To boo and demonise Nuttall for using the word ‘Islamist’ to describe those who blow themselves up in the name of ISIS is as nuts as it would be to boo and demonise someone for saying Oswald Moseley was a fascist: these are simply the correct words.

The response proved Nuttall’s point, which was that few politicians have the nerve even to say the word ‘Islamist’, even though it’s a political term in the actual dictionary. This live-TV pummelling of Nuttall for saying ‘Islamist’ really confirmed what the accusation of Islamophobia is all about today: it isn’t about protecting Muslims from genuine prejudice or abuse but rather has become a means for suppressing difficult political and moral questions about our society, its values and the divisions that exist either between communities or within them. That someone can be called ‘outrageous’ and anti-Muslim for using the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’ shows how deep and worrying our instinct to silence discussion about terrorism has become.

There isn’t much I would add to Brendan O’Neill’s warning, except for this: on 6 June, there will be a live public  reading of the entirety of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, given at London’s Senate House. There has of course been a significant spike in interest in reading 1984, driven predominantly by people who believe that Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump herald the end to what was apparently a Utopian liberal era, and the start of an unprecedentedly authoritarian dystopian future.

The new converts to George Orwell seem to believe either that the architects of these particular geopolitical events used 1984 as some kind of How To guide, or that they themselves might find some clues within the novel to aid their survival during the coming apocalypse.

But here’s the thing. I’ll wager all the money in my pocket that many of the people who show up to this public reading of 1984, or who watch the live stream, will be the same people who never really had much to say about civil liberties violations in the War on Terror (at least when Democratic presidents and Labour prime ministers were in charge), or about the extra-judicial killing of American citizens by drone strike under Barack Obama.

I’ll wager that many of them will have said nothing when their fellow citizens have been tried and imprisoned for singing songs, writing offensive signs, asking impertinent or stupid questions, posting “offensive” tweets or expressing conservative religious views in the town square.

But I’ll also wager that a fair number of them will have reported posts that they found “offensive” on social media in an attempt to get the offending statements removed and the posters banned. I’ll wager that many of the younger student types will have called for The Sun and The Daily Mail to be banned from their university campuses, and for their Students Unions to stop playing certain songs with “problematic” lyrics. I’ll wager that they were the first to demand that boxer Tyson Fury be banned from boxing for holding the wrong views on family values, and to call for attention-seeking ex-LBC radio host/troll Katie Hopkins to lose her job last week.

And I’ll wager that a good number of these 1984 listeners, fearless young defenders of society against creeping authoritarianism that they are, will have cheered along when Tim Farron, Angus Robertson, Caroline Lucas and the rest of the lefty nodding head brigade ripped into Paul Nuttall for the high crime of correctly identifying the deadly ideology which killed 22 young people at an Ariana Grande concert, maiming 116 more.

I’m sure their hearts just swelled with pride and warm affirmation as their left-wing political heroes put that nasty, evil brute Paul Nuttall in his place and shouted down his vile, dangerous hate speech. I bet they sincerely believed that doing so was a great victory for Hope over Hate, that this was how society should best respond to terror attacks. By furiously avoiding looking at the source, assigning the blame to unidentifiable random “evil”, singing some John Lennon and angrily vilifying anybody who dared to react in a different way (such as by looking to identify and name the real problem so that it might be tackled and reduced).

And hearts aglow with courage and moral righteousness, many of these same people will assemble at the foot of London’s Senate House on June 6 and fortify themselves by listening to George Orwell’s stern literary warning about the dangers of groupthink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and censorship, utterly oblivious to the fact that they are actively serving as advance guard to the Ministry of Truth.

 

George Orwell - 1984 - Thought Criminal - Almeida Theatre

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General Election Leaders’ Debate 2017: We Get The Politicians We Deserve

BBC Election leaders debate 2017 - Tim Farron jumping from stage

Think that all of these TV political debates are starting to look and sound the same? You’re not wrong. But that’s because we keep demanding (and rewarding) the same destructive behaviour by politicians

Does this sound familiar? It is a distilled version of what we all heard at the televised BBC general election debate in Cambridge this past Wednesday, and at nearly every TV election debate that has ever taken place in this country since we imported a dumbed-down version of American presidential debates back in 2010:

Vote for me, I’ll keep you safe from terror. Just gonna need your Facebook password, please. No, vote for me, I’ll keep the economy strong because we all know the only point of a strong economy is to raise more tax to spend on the NHS. Liar! You want to destroy Our Precious NHS! You want people to die in the streets when they get sick, just like they do in America. No, we are now the true party of the NHS! Anything for Our NHS, oh god, anything and everything, my very life for Our Blessed NHS.

Oi! Look over here, free university tuition! Yeah, it’s subsidised by the taxes of other people who never went to university and whose earning power has not been boosted through having a degree, but still. Fairness! Young people are the future! No, no, no, it’s all about the environment. That evil party wants to build an experimental nuclear fusion plant in your grandmother’s basement, and frack for oil in the middle of Lake Windermere. But we will bulldoze nasty, Brexit-supporting Stoke-on-Trent and replace it with a massive solar panel field. Much better.

No, look over here! We will bring back British Rail; remember how great British Rail was? Who needs Pret when you’ve got a trusty British Rail egg and cress sandwich? Nice and warm, of course, just like the good old days. Let’s have car-commuting taxpayers in Gainsborough subsidise the travel of London-based city commuters, because fairness. British Rail? Scoff. I’ll see your British Rail and raise you British Leyland! Woohoo – nationalisation, baby! For the Common Good.

All immigrants are a godsend, to the last man. If it weren’t for immigrants, your inflamed appendix would have been dug out by a native-born, chain-smoking school dropout with a can of special brew in his spare hand, and don’t you forget it. No, of course we should have a sensible, measured conversation about immigration. It’s just that I’ll stand here and shriek into the TV cameras that you’re an evil, divisive racist if you disagree with me. But please, go ahead. No no, we should listen patiently to people’s concerns and then carefully explain to them why they are wrong. People love that.

Oh, you? No dear, you don’t have to do anything. We, the politicians, are here to promise you stuff, to pander to your every passing whim. If I’m prime minister, I will make it my overriding personal concern to fix the broken chairs at your GP surgery waiting room – I’ll come round and do it myself, I’ve got some tools in the shed – and make sure that New British Rail adds free wifi to your single-carriage metro train between Stoke and Crewe. Seriously, no worries. I’ll call the boss at 6AM every day until it happens. NATO summit? Geopolitics? Statecraft? Boring! Why be a statesman when I can be a glorified town councillor for 65 million insatiable people? I’m on the case for you, and your every last petty concern. I’ll read foreign policy briefings when I’m on the can, that stuff doesn’t matter.

Heavens no, of course we don’t need to properly empower local politicians to make decisions in the local interest, raising and spending taxes independently of Westminster. For I am running to be Comptroller of British Public Services, and my sole job, my only care in the world is to make your passage through life as easy and painless as possible. You and 65 million of your fellow citizens. The buck stops with me, because public services are everything. After all, Britain didn’t do anything of value or renown on the world stage until we starting implementing the Beveridge Report. Not a damn thing. And now we’ve jacked up the size of the state so much and you have to deal with it so bloody frequently that we’d darn well better make sure you come skipping away happy from every last interaction – too many bad experiences for you are political suicide for us.

All hail the NHS!

All hail the NHS!

All hail the NHS!

The problem is not that television debates cannot be substantive – they can. While US presidential elections in recent years have devolved into tense shouting matches with cringeworthy one-liners and a partisan audience clapping and whooping along like trained seals, this was not always the case. Go back even a few election cycles and you’ll find issues discussed in depth and sometimes even thoughtfully, even if they still adhered to the ludicrous “one minute response and 30 second counter-response” format.

No, the problem is with us. As I wrote in more depth immediately after the BBC’s general election party leaders’ debate in Cambridge, we have been trained and willingly led to a place where we expect our politicians to do nothing but flatter and bribe us all day long. We sit in the television studio audiences at Question Time or other venues, sullenly waiting to hear how politicians will come up with new ways to ease our passage through life, divesting ourselves of more and more responsibility with every passing day.

(It also doesn’t help when you have four irrelevant party leaders clogging up the stage who command no more than a handful of MPs between them and whose tiresome leftist bloviating and virtue-signalling hugely detracts from what should be a no-holds-barred slugfest between the two people with a plausible chance of running the country.)

A friend reminded me on Facebook that immediately after the BBC election debate, they aired an ad featuring a montage of British voters staring into the camera and barking out phrases such as “But what will the parties do for me?”, “What’s in it for me?” and “How will these policies affect me?” – the clear inference being that by watching the BBC’s election coverage we can learn all about how policy will personally benefit us, Number One, me me me. Because that’s all that matters. No need for voters to think in a broader, more strategic way about what’s good for the country or society. No, just keep demanding more and more goodies for ourselves.

But then a wise commenter made the following observation on Twitter:

Interesting but the ‘public’ is not infantilised, people talk about political, social & ideology at length & intelligently…

… arguably it’s the media that does the infantilising. People are patronised by the broadcasters.

True, to an extent – possibly even a large extent. Go back to the Kennedy – Nixon debates, for example, and you’ll find a serious, measured discussion of issues. Seriously, watch them. Even as recently as two election cycles ago you might expect a proper in-depth discussion of foreign policy, war and peace, national security, America’s place in the world, economic policy, domestic and social policy. The standard has of course greatly declined of late – as anybody who watched Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fling faeces at each other for 2 hours on three separate evenings last year can attest.

And it is hard to point to anything other than the fracturing of the media landscape – something which should have been a promising development but which has led instead to shrill partisan outlets of all stripes catering to their niche audience’s basest fears and prejudices. And that goes for “prestige” outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times, with their soft and persistent bias, as much as it does with those outlets that peddle in outrageous, obviously fake news.

Interestingly, the media market in Britain is not yet as fractured. The BBC (particularly the news website) and the major newspapers (whose websites have worked tirelessly to suppress the independent blogosphere) still have considerable reach. There are no strongly partisan news channels, and political sites have much smaller reach. But like America, Britain’s politics has been upended by the internet and social media. And just as we now expect our Facebook, Twitter or Instragram feeds to serve up a constant diet of things that we like and with which we already agree, so we now seem to demand the same of our politicians. Nothing challenging, nothing which shocks us out of our preconceived ideas and prejudices, nothing which threatens to change or undermine our worldview.

The soundbite-ification of the television news also certainly doesn’t help, and is the principle reason why there has not been a good or memorable political speech by a major British politician (at least outside the House of Commons) in the living memory of anybody my age. When speeches are written so that the campaign’s key message is included in every other line, to ensure it gets picked up in a 30-second TV news piece, they essentially become meaningless word clouds of platitudes and focus-grouped phrases. Strong and stable, anyone? It is very difficult to inspire, to lift people’s thoughts above their own petty daily concerns to higher and more noble subjects when you have to keep saying “coalition of chaos” twice in each paragraph.

But again, who is to blame? Yes, it’s the fault of the media and the politicians who accept the terms of engagement and play along with the whole artificial construct. But it is also our fault. We watch the news bulletins. We buy the newspapers and take out the web subscriptions. We reward the godawful work that so many establishment Westminster journalists do, day in and day out.

Expecting the herd to change on their own is a recipe for disappointment. We need one brave politician, or perhaps a few, to just stop playing along with the rules. To stand up and give speeches where audiences and journalists actually have to listen to the whole thing before they understand the purpose or can write their Op-Eds. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn probably comes closest at present. As anathema as his politics are to this blog, Corbyn is capable of giving a speech – such as the one to the Durham Miners’ Gala earlier this year – which is actually formed in complete sentences and paragraphs, not one-liners and soundbites. The fact that Jeremy Corbyn is a conviction politician with a coherent worldview goes a long way to making this possible, and also explains why Theresa May so often sounds like a malfunctioning android.

Of course, another politician to break the mold is Donald Trump – but not in a good way. His long, rambling and unpredictable speeches were also free of canned lines and soundbites (or at least pre-planned ones) but he kept the television news networks transfixed, giving him hours of unearned airtime simply because you never knew what he might say next or what incendiary thing he might do. But Trump also won the presidency by promising things which he could likely never deliver, and many of which are actually deeply un-American, such as security over opportunity, protection from every conceivable harm and turning back to an easier past time rather than boldly facing the future.

So clearly what we need to do is genetically engineer a hybrid of Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump, and indoctrinate them with some good solid small-government impulses before letting them loose on Westminster. We need somebody with Jeremy Corbyn’s consistent worldview and fixed principles, though each of those principles should be reversed almost 180 degrees. And we need somebody with Donald Trump’s watchability and pseudo-charisma, but only after extracting the egotism, ignorance and vengefulness. And when these two forces collide, like matter and anti-matter, it will create more power and political energy than we can possibly imagine.

Okay, maybe not. But something needs to give – or somebody needs to step up; somebody who is not a cautious careerist who intends only to get to the top of the Westminster pole by being as blandly inoffensive as possible and by playing along with the media’s prescribed game. Someone needs to take a chance and dare to hope that the British people might actually respond well to somebody who talks up to them rather than down to them, who levels with them about difficult issues and necessary sacrifices, and who can present an attractive and believable vision of a future Britain worth striving to attain.

The alternative is that we will continue being bribed, flattered and lied to by a cohort of vacuous and craven politicians who never even think of calling us to any form of real citizenship or higher common purpose because their own political and moral horizons have been so limited by the infantilising system under which we labour. A system which encourages the people to shout petulantly for treats like angry toddlers with a gun, and exhorts our would-be leaders to frantically dance for us in response.

There may just be a small window of opportunity before the dust settles from the election results on 9 June. Future Thatcher, if you are out there, it’s time to emerge…

 

john-f-kennedy-richard-nixon-first-televised-american-presidential-debate

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

presidential-debate-unlv-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-2

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

donald-trump-hillary-clinton-first-presidential-debate-1

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

Debate Time: 9PM East Coast / 2AM UK Time

Watch Online: Live Stream Here

Contact: semipartisansam@gmail.com

 

10:42PM New York / 03:42AM London

INITIAL SUMMARY

CNN pundits seem very quick to call this debate for Hillary Clinton. And yes, she won on points (as we knew she probably would). But in terms of what the pundits say vs what the country feels, I can’t help but think that the media class might be getting out ahead of the country, rather like the British media declared the 2014 Nigel Farage v Nick Clegg European Union debates a victory for Nick Clegg, and then had to eat their words as post-debate polling showed the British people considered it a resounding triumph for Farage.

As I said about 45 minutes ago:

To me, this seems very much within the bounds of a normal presidential debate. Sure, it might have been a bit more tetchy in places than Obama-McCain or Obama-Romney, but visually and in terms of subject matter this is relatively unexceptional.

And that is bad, bad, bad for Hillary Clinton. Clinton needs Trump to blow his top and say something really incendiary, insensitive or uncommonly stupid. And he isn’t rising to the bait. Clinton may have had a couple of good pre-canned zingers that Trump lacked, but he has had her on the ropes a couple of times, too. At no point as Trump been stumped for words, and at no point was he pinned down on what people commonly perceive to be his weak points: his taxes, climate change, trade.

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.

I’ll do a fuller analysis later (bed beckons now…) but 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.

And that’s me signing off for tonight. Many thanks for following along!

10:42PM New York / 03:42AM London

On points, probably, yes. But a points victory is not what Hillary Clinton really needed.

10:40PM New York / 03:40AM London

And that’s it. The debate ends, and an audience member shouts out loud “Donald Trump, we love you!” Strange to have no real closing statements.

Handshakes and family huddles now.

And let the spinning begin.

10:39PM New York / 03:39AM London

Oh, pipe down. As if angry liberals didn’t use the same language all the time to talk about George W. Bush.

10:37PM New York / 03:37AM London

Hillary Clinton rightly calls out Donald Trump’s attempt to switch focus from looks (Lester Holt’s original question) to stamina. Hillary Clinton goes for the jugular, rattling off some of the many ways in which Donald Trump has publicly and crassly disrespected women.

10:35PM New York / 03:35AM London

Donald Trump reiterates his belief that Hillary Clinton does not have the stamina to be president.

Trump: “You have so many different things you have to be able to do [as president], and I don’t believe she has the stamina”.

Rather set himself up for Hillary Clinton’s well-drilled list of her workload and accomplishments as Secretary of State. Audience cheers.

Trump: “She’s got experience, but it is bad experience. More audience cheers.

10:29PM New York / 03:29AM London

Yeah, that was definitely a wobble:

10:27PM New York / 03:27AM London

Clinton: “A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes”.

Quite.

Donald Trump responds by reiterating his statement that NATO members that do not pay their fair share should lose US protection. Now, the free rider problem is real and this will go down well with a number of Americans, but it doesn’t suggest the world’s greatest grasp of realpolitik.

10:25PM New York / 03:25AM London

This has been the first real, significant chink in Donald Trump’s Teflon armour tonight:

10:23PM New York / 03:23AM London

Trump: “By far my strongest asset is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win”.

Really?

Okay, perhaps the wheels are starting to come off Donald Trump’s performance in a way that might be favourable to Hillary Clinton, now. She rightly pushes back on Trump’s fanciful plans for NATO by schooling the debate audience on Article 5.

10:21PM New York / 03:21AM London

Trump really going to the wall denying that he ever supported the Iraq war – it’s all a figment of the mainstream media’s imagination, apparently. I’m not sure that this is really the hill Donald Trump wants to die trying to storm.

But apparently America needs only to “call up Sean Hannity”, and the Fox News presenter will then provide a cast-iron alibi for Trump…

10:20PM New York / 03:20AM London

So Donald Trump wants to use NATO to “knock the hell out of ISIS” now? Not sure how keen the allies will be to embark on a vague, open-ended commitment like that…

10:17PM New York / 03:17AM London

Hillary Clinton rightly taking Donald Trump to task for his extreme and unconstitutional plan to halt immigration of all Muslims into the United States. I’m surprised she didn’t go stronger on this – where was the fire, where was the outrage? Trump was allowed to wriggle free with a rambling rebuttal.

10:14PM New York / 03:14AM London

Donald Trump’s fair point about the vacuum in which ISIS formed is rather undermined by his false statement that he initially opposed the Iraq war, and his glib plan to “take the oil” in payment for America’s troubles.

10:10PM New York / 03:10AM London

Hillary Clinton doing her best to link Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin. Clinton’s hawkishness on Russia is rather offputting. While America’s national interests must absolutely be defended robustly and while Russia’s backsliding into anti-democratic authoritarianism is extremely troubling, Russia is an economically diminished country with a relatively shrivelled military, more concerned with defending its shrinking field of influence than truly grand pretensions on the world stage. Let’s not make more of the threat they pose than is accurate.

10:05PM New York / 03:05AM London

Good to see Hillary Clinton rake Donald Trump over the coals for his tawdry birtherism. Despite his attempts to pin the genesis on people in the Clinton ’08 campaign, Donald Trump was the unapologetic face of American birtherism for over a year, keeping incredibly dodgy company and stirring very ugly sentiments.

10:00PM New York / 03:00AM London

Good line from Clinton: “I think Mr. Trump just accused me of preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I also prepared for being president of this country. And I think that’s a good thing”.

That effective zinger won a small audience applause.

And another: “Well, just listen to what you heard.”

9:59PM New York / 02:59AM London

My thoughts so far, two thirds of the way into the debate with one hour gone and thirty minutes to go. To me, this seems very much within the bounds of a normal presidential debate. Sure, it might have been a bit more tetchy in places than Obama-McCain or Obama-Romney, but visually and in terms of subject matter this is relatively unexceptional.

And that is bad, bad, bad for Hillary Clinton. Clinton needs Trump to blow his top and say something really incendiary, insensitive or uncommonly stupid. And he isn’t rising to the bait. Clinton may have had a couple of good pre-canned zingers that Trump lacked, but he has had her on the ropes a couple of times, too. At no point as Trump been stumped for words, and at no point was he pinned down on what people commonly perceive to be his weak points: his taxes, climate change, trade.

Hillary Clinton has 30 minutes to make Donald Trump seem more unacceptable than Trump has made himself appear throughout the Republican primary process and the general election campaign so far.

9:55PM New York / 02:55AM London

Hillary Clinton: “If you are too dangerous to fly, you are too dangerous to have a gun”.

Neat catchphrase, but ignores the fact that there is no due process when it comes to putting someone on a watch list. People will therefore be denied their Second Amendment rights under the Constitution – so more thorny an issue than it looks.

Nonetheless, Trump agrees in principle.

9:50PM New York / 02:50AM London

Trump actually making a fair point on the need for better police/community relationships, and the costs of police withdrawal from inner city communities.

I lived in Chicago – a real Democratic Party rotten borough – back in 2010-2011, just as things were about to tip into the current violent lawlessness. Gun control and wall-to-wall Democrat control are not tremendously good for violent crime rates.

9:48PM New York / 02:48AM London

Donald Trump predictably takes a more “law and order” stance, and gets to brag about his endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Trump: “We have to protect our inner cities because African American communities are being decimated by crime”.

9:45PM New York / 02:45AM London

A change of pace now, as Lester Holt moves the debate on to the subject of recent police shootings.

Clinton :”Everyone should be respected by the law, and everyone should respect the law. Right now that’s not the case in a lot of our neighbourhoods”.

9:43PM New York / 02:43AM London

Trump, explaining his business bankruptcies and refusals to pay suppliers: “I take advantage of the laws of the nation”.

Well, it won’t hurt him among his existing supporters, not sure how that semi-amoral approach will register with the broader country though…

9:41PM New York / 02:41AM London

Clinton: “I’ve met dishwashers, painters, architects … who you refused to pay when they finished the work you asked them to do. We have an architect in the audience who designed one of the clubhouses at your golf courses … Do the thousands of people you have stiffed in your businesses not deserve some kind of apologies?”

Good from Clinton, attacking Trump’s unscrupulous business practices.

9:40PM New York / 02:40AM London

Hillary keeps pounding away, but Donald Trump keeps deploying his “bemoaning the state of America” evasion, and by and large getting away with it:

9:39PM New York / 02:39AM London

Donald Trump, the Shakespeare of our times:

9:36PM New York / 02:36AM London

And Hillary Clinton deals with her email “mistake”. She doesn’t sound very contrite, and Donald Trump rightly hammers her for it: “That wasn’t a mistake, it was deliberate … And I think it’s disgraceful”.

9:35PM New York / 02:35AM London

And Trump pivots away more successfully by raising the subject of Hillary Clinton’s emails. This raises a loud cheer from pro-Trump factions in the audience, and an admonition to the audience from Lester Holt.

Hillary Clinton: “Well, I think you’ve just seen a classic example of bait and switch”.

And proceeds to goad Trump: “Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Maybe he is not as charitable … We know he owes about $650 million to foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want you to know he has paid nothing in federal taxes … And that means zero for troops, zero for health, zero for schools”.

Ouch.

9:32PM New York / 02:32AM London

Aaand Lester Holt asks  Donald Trump about his tax returns.

Trump tries to wriggle off the hook by repeating his “I’m under audit” line, immediately pivots away to how America is being “ripped off by every single country in the world”. This is a rather desperate evasion, and if Lester Holt wants to avoid the criticisms levelled at Matt Lauer after the Commander in Chief forum he will ask the question again and demand a better response…

9:29PM New York / 02:29AM London

Clinton: “I have a feeling by the end of this debate I’ll have been blamed for everything!”

And her first snide put-down of Trump: “Sure, let’s keep saying crazy things”

9:28PM New York / 02:28AM London

Now squabbling about ISIS. Trump says “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire life”. What?!

9:26PM New York / 02:26AM London

First stunt of the debate – Hillary Clinton has supposedly turned the front page of her campaign website into a “fact-checker” to call out Trump’s lies. And so she has:

hillary-clinton-website-front-page-fact-check-presidential-debate

9:22PM New York / 02:22AM London

Agree with him or not, Trump sounds a lot more confident and almost righteously angry when he is inveighing against NAFTA. And he actually has Clinton on the ropes now. “You called it the gold standard, you called it the finest trade deal you’d ever seen”.

Facts aside, Clinton has a habit of taking credit for things that happened during the Bill Clinton administration or during her term as New York senator while ducking blame for any areas where she is criticised. Was she “in power” then or not? Trump may be on to something by trying to pin Clinton down on this.

9:19PM New York / 02:19AM London

Good from Clinton – “Let’s not assume trade is the only challenge we have in the economy”. True. Trump can often sound like a one-trick pony on this.

9:17PM New York / 02:17AM London

Andrew Sullivan thinks that Clinton had the brighter start:

9:09 p.m. Trump begins by denying reality – that jobs are leaving the U.S. in droves. He has almost nothing substantive to counter Clinton’s policies, except a massive tax cut. A weak start for the Donald.

If we were scoring on points, I would agree. But Clinton could well win this debate on points, and still lose (or draw, which would be the same thing). Trump just needs to appear calm and acceptable.

9:16PM New York / 02:16AM London

So protectionism, basically. That’s what Donald Trump is advocating.

9:13PM New York / 02:13AM London

Donald Trump on his politest behaviour: “In all fairness to ‘Secretary Clinton’ – is that okay? I want you to be very happy”.

I hate to say it, but so far Trump looks quite…presidential?

9:12PM New York / 02:12AM London

Hillary Clinton seems to have digressed into a lengthy explanation of the process of silk screen printing…

9:11PM New York / 02:11AM London

“Trumped up trickle down” – really, Hillary?

Not that Donald Trump offered anything more meaty for Hillary Clinton to sink her teeth into, policy-wise.

9:10PM New York / 02:10AM London

Donald Trump begins by doing what Trump always does when asked a question – he spends 90% of the time restating and rephrasing the question in various ways, bemoaning the state of America. “We need to stop our jobs from being stolen from us, we need to stop our companies leaving the United States”. And he runs out his opening 2 minutes without having to offer a real answer beyond “reducing taxes tremendously”. But it’s going to be “a beautiful thing to watch”, apparently.

9:09PM New York / 02:09AM London

Decent opening statement from Clinton – gracious to Donald Trump, spoke firmly but in platitudes about the nature of the economic challenge. A steady start.

9:06PM New York / 02:06AM London

So we begin with job creation. I’m not sure either candidate has a good answer to this. Easy to talk about “building an economy that works for everyone”, much harder to talk about how to embrace globalisation while helping displaced people and low-paid workers adapt to it.

9:01PM New York / 02:01AM London

However this debate goes, one person who will likely get no thanks is moderator Lester Holt. Any perceived favouritism toward Trump or Clinton, however slight (or imaginary) will be immediately jumped on:

8:59PM New York / 01:59AM London

How long until Donald Trump declares victory? Not long, predicts Tim Stanley. Indeed, there is speculation that Donald Trump may enter the post-debate spin room himself to help things along in that particular regard…

8:57PM New York / 01:57AM London

Okay, we’re getting underway now. Here goes.

8:52PM New York / 01:52AM London

I should bloody well hope so:

No Gennifer Flowers, though.

8:49PM New York / 01:49AM London

A reminder that the more conspiratorial fringes of the American Right will be keeping their eyes peeled for any signs of residual illness in Hillary Clinton:

This blog does not share in the extensive conspiracy theories, but Clinton’s dishonesty and downplaying of her pneumonia is part of a broader problem the Democratic nominee has with full and proper disclosure.

8:42PM New York / 01:42AM London

We seem to be into the self-congratulatory grandstanding part of tonight’s programme, where the organisers congratulate themselves for having successfully wrangled two egotistical and highly risk-averse presidential candidates onto a stage where they have almost nothing significant to gain and everything to lose.

8:40PM New York / 01:40AM London

This from Ben Shapiro sums up the low bar we seem to have set for both candidates:

8:32PM New York / 01:32AM London

Well, at least somebody is actually enjoying this spectacle…

8:26PM New York / 01:26AM London

Good news – Andrew Sullivan is also live-blogging the debate, for New York Magazine:

Just a heads up that I’ll be liveblogging the debate tonight – and will take a Xanax beforehand.

For those of you who can’t bear to watch, read the liveblog!
For those prepared to watch the republic crumble in real time, join me!

It’s at 9 pm, and at nymag.com.

Know hope

Andrew

Read along here – but don’t forget about me!

8:22PM New York / 01:22AM London

Wow, CNN leaking some last-minute spin from unnamed Trump campaign sources, suggesting that they fear their candidate has not prepared enough and *isn’t ready*. This is some masterful expectations-lowering going on here, the culmination of a weeks-long effort to talk down Trump’s chances. At this rate, he’ll be declared the victor if he manages not to fall down.

8:20PM New York / 01:20AM London

Just a reminder that as we go into this first presidential debate the polls are essentially tied. From Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight:

Well, folks, this is getting tight. Donald Trump is in his strongest-ever position in FiveThirtyEight’s polls-plus forecast, which gives him a 46 percent chance of winning the election. Trump’s chances are about the same, 45 percent, according our polls-only forecast, his best standing since it showed him with a 50 percent chance in the midst of his convention bounce.

Our models have been on the move toward Trump for roughly six weeks. But with dozens of polls coming out over the past few days, he’s no longer much of an underdog at all. Hillary Clinton leads narrowly — by 1.5 percentage points — in our projection of the popular vote. But polling weakness in states that Clinton probably needs to win, particularly Colorado and Pennsylvania, makes the Electoral College almost even.

It is hard to think of any other plausible Democratic Party candidate who could be making such a struggle of running against Donald J Trump. Mostly because were it not for Trump’s sky-high unfavourables, Hillary Clinton’s unfavourables would also be setting a dismal record.

8:10PM New York / 01:10AM London

The Battle of the Foundations

The Washington Post has a rather forensic exposé of the financial wheelings and dealings of the Trump Foundation:

Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has received approximately $2.3 million from companies that owed money to Trump or one of his businesses but were instructed to pay Trump’s tax-exempt foundation instead, according to people familiar with the transactions.

In cases where he diverted his own income to his foundation, tax experts said, Trump would still likely be required to pay taxes on the income. Trump has refused to release his personal tax returns. His campaign said he paid income tax on one of the donations, but did not respond to questions about the others.

That gift was a $400,000 payment from Comedy Central, which owed Trump an appearance fee for his 2011 “roast.”

The suggestion is that by diverting income through his “charitable” foundation, Trump may have avoided paying income tax – something we will likely never know until (if) Donald Trump finally deigns to release his tax returns.

While Trump’s foundation trickery is of the more overt kind, the ethical concerns surrounding the Clinton Foundation are hazier. This blog’s conclusion:

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.

In short, there is billowing smoke on both sides. But Trump could very easily go a long way to proving his probity regarding the Trump Foundation by actually releasing his tax returns.

7:56PM New York / 12:56AM London

Mike Pence on CNN trying and failing to make the case that Donald Trump epitomises the American Spirit. Eventually the moderator, pitying him, moves on to another question.

7:48PM New York / 12:48AM London

It’s worth remembering the context in which this presidential debate is taking place – a stultifying new age of censorship, in which infantilised young students and pandering professors seek to cocoon themselves in an ideological bubble in which Bad Ideas (generally conservatives ones) are prohibited.

MRC TV reports:

Hofstra University has posted a “trigger warning” sign to warn students about the potentially disturbing content that may be discussed during Monday night’s presidential debate.

According to CBS New York reporter Tony Aiello, a sign inside of the student center at Hofstra reads, “Trigger warning: The event conducted just beyond this sign may contain triggering and/or sensitive material. Sexual violence, sexual assault, and abuse are some topics mentioned within this event. If you feel triggered, please know there are resources to help you.”

Utterly pathetic – though it should be noted that this particular trigger warning relates to a previous event which took place on campus, and not the presidential debate.

You can read this blog’s extensive coverage of the trigger warning / safe space / social justice phenomenon here.

7:26PM New York / 12:26AM London

This is turning out to be a great interview with Bernie Sanders on CNN right now. The vapid talking head / presenter keeps trying to switch the focus to style and appearance rather than policy content and character, and Sanders keeps swatting down that assertion.

“But we all know that style matters a lot –” says the presenter, trying to drag the interview onto the petty, personality-based politics which is CNN’s only real strength.

“No, no, I don’t agree” says Senator Sanders, sticking to his guns.

This is partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more that pundits and cable news channels obsess over style and appearances, the more they will be magnified in importance – and vice versa.

7:22PM New York / 12:22AM London

“This is not a night of entertainment. This is not the Superbowl, this is not the World Series…” – Senator Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s defeated Democratic primary foe, making what should be (but sadly isn’t) a very obvious point on CNN right now.

UK readers can view a CNN live stream on YouTube.

7:18PM New York / 12:18AM London

This reference to Hillary Clinton’s description of half of Trump supporters as “deplorables” should serve as a timely reminder that sneering disdain and condescension toward Donald Trump supporters during the upcoming debate will only harden Trump’s support and win Clinton no new fans:

This debate is many things, but it is absolutely not a wise moment for Hillary Clinton to play to the gallery of smug, virtue-signalling leftists.

6:59PM New York / 11:59PM London

Jonathan Chait is panicking, and thinks that you should be, too:

Should the wisdom of the markets comfort Democrats, non-authoritarian Republicans, and other people who are fond of life on Earth as we know it? No, it probably shouldn’t. Betting markets do not appear to have any special knowledge. The prediction markets badly missed the outcome of the Brexit vote. Markets also gave Trump less than a 50 percent chance of securing his party’s nomination in February, and less than a 60 percent chance as recently as April. In both of these cases, prediction markets diverged from what the polling suggested, and the polling proved correct. The other commonality between these events is that conventional wisdom reflected the preferences of social and economic elites, who refused to take seriously beliefs held by very few people in their own circles.

So what do the polls say? FiveThirtyEight, Silver’s site, gives Clinton a 51.5 percent chance of winning. The Upshot, the New York Times calculator, gives her a 69 percent chance. (Both forecasts are based mostly on polling results.) Silver’s forecast makes Clinton the equivalent of a football team that is a 1-point favorite. The Upshot’s forecast makes her the equivalent of a 5.5-point favorite.

If your football team is either a 1-point favorite or a 5.5-point favorite, then you should be deeply concerned about the chance of losing. If the outcome is not a football game but the chance that the Executive branch falls under the control of a bigoted, uninformed, dictator-admiring man-child, you should be more than concerned. You should be freaked out.

Jeremy Corbyn. Brexit. Who is still going to offer swaggering, cast-iron certainties given this year of huge and unexpected political turmoil?

6:37PM New York / 11:37PM London

From Daniel Larison’s preview in The American Conservative:

Trump has never been interested in outlining policy proposals in any detail during debates, and he isn’t going to start now. That gives him a slight advantage in that most voters don’t especially care about policy specifics, and tend not to react well to candidates that are absorbed with them. If there is one thing Trump knows about, it is how to perform on television, so I don’t know that it matters so much that this will be the first head-to-head debate he has done as a candidate. Clinton has considerably more experience with these formats from both her Senate and presidential campaigns, but she has never faced off against an opponent quite as shameless and unconventional as Trump. Clinton probably has the edge in being able to give the canned, scripted answers that these events demand. Trump’s willingness to say almost anything means that he may surprise her with an attack or proposal that she isn’t anticipating.

The debate “topics” that have been announced in advance are very vague, but I assume “securing America” will be the section of the debate related to foreign policy and national security. Because of her tenure at the State Department, this is the section during which Clinton will be expected to dominate Trump, who knows little and understands even less about the rest of the world. However, because of her record of poor judgment on foreign policy, especially as it relates to military intervention, Clinton will be vulnerable to attacks that Trump won’t hesitate to make regarding the Iraq and Libyan wars. Trump may be a lousy messenger for these criticisms, but they are attacks that she was mostly spared during the primaries and for that reason she hasn’t had much practice in defending against them. This section of the debate seems likely to serve as a microcosm of the election as a whole: Clinton has experience but also has lousy judgment, while Trump is a shameless opportunist who doesn’t know much except for how to take advantage of his opponents’ poor records.

Hard to disagree with this assessment. Despite all the hype, I anticipate a tense and nervous affair in which both candidates attempt to limit their exposure and avoid any kind of genuine, extemporaneous thinking that may result in a “gaffe”. The winner will be the candidate who avoids going out on a limb.

6:04PM New York / 11:04PM London

The National Review’s Ian Tuttle is pessimistic about the debate, saying that it cannot possibly reveal anything we don’t already know – that both candidates are terrible:

At 9 p.m. EST tonight, the two major-party presidential candidates will take the stage for the season’s first general-election debate. One candidate is a pathological liar and egomaniac. The other is Donald Trump.

Whether their sparring match will actually matter is an open question. Political scientists are more skeptical than pundits about the influence of presidential debates, several studies having shown that even the most memorable debates occasioned only small polling shifts. Nonetheless, tonight is being billed as a potentially “epic” “battle royale.” The Washington Post suggests that 80 to 100 million people — that is, a quarter or more of the country — could tune in for at least part. That would make the debate not just the most-watched political event in modern American history but quite possibly the largest communal act of masochism in human history.

Tuttle concludes:

In other words, there are no good outcomes to this. It’s a contest to determine which candidate we’d be marginally more chagrined to see devoured by crocodiles, or stricken by plague. There’s the candidate who silences sexual-assault victims, or the candidate who calls women “dogs” and “pigs”; there’s the candidate who hides from the press, or the candidate who wants to sue them; there’s the candidate who “Hispanders,” or the candidate who calls Mexicans “rapists.” Take your pick.

I think he goes too far. While Hillary Clinton is certainly a flawed candidate and no conservative’s obvious choice for president (what with being a Democrat ‘n all), she is a known quantity, and whatever questions may exist about her judgment she at least understands the machinery of government.

Besides, I simply don’t buy the most egregious alarmism about Clinton from the American Right. They say that she is gunning for the Second Amendment. Well, Republicans made exactly the same accusation of President Obama. Each year was supposed to be the year when the Evil Marxist Kenyan would finally reveal his true colours and begin confiscating America’s guns. This whipped-up paranoia manifested itself in higher gun and ammunition sales across America. And yet with only 115 days of his presidency left, he really is waiting until the last minute.

And when conservatives overreach like this for political gain (making Americans fear unnecessarily that the Second Amendment is about to be “abolished”, as though that were possible with this Congress and Supreme Court) it calls into question some of their other more shrill accusations against Hillary Clinton.

So yes, both candidates are bad. But Hillary Clinton’s sins are grey ethics and a lack of vision, while Trump’s are unknown and potentially far worse. Given the choice, is reluctantly endorsing Clinton not the real conservative thing to do?

5:45PM New York / 10:45PM London

Why is politics so bitterly partisan yet so emptied out of meaningful, ideological policy discussion? Well, it doesn’t help when the news channels promote a presidential debate as though it were Wrestlemania rather than a serious, sober public event:

Next up on CNN: a re-enactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, in 3D IMAX.

5:37PM New York / 10:37PM London

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf ruminates on Donald Trump’s unnervingly cruel streak:

In national politics, harsh attacks are to be expected. I certainly don’t fault Trump for calling Hillary Clinton dishonest, or wrongheaded, or possessed of bad judgment, even if it’s a jarring departure from the glowing compliments that he used to pay her.

But even in a realm where the harshest critiques are part of the civic process, Trump crossed a line this week when he declared his intention to invite Gennifer Flowers to today’s presidential debate. What kind of man invites a husband’s former mistress to an event to taunt his wife? Trump managed to launch an attack that couldn’t be less relevant to his opponent’s qualifications or more personally cruel. His campaign and his running-mate later said that it was all a big joke. No matter. Whether in earnest or in jest, Trump showed his tendency to humiliate others.

And concludes:

People disagree about the ideal traits to have in a leader. But almost no one wants a president who has proven himself an addict to being cruel, mean-spirited, and spiteful. For decades, Trump has been deliberately cruel to others, often in the most public ways. He behaves this way flagrantly, showing no sign of shame or reflection.

What kind of person still acts that way at 70? A bad person.

It is that simple.

Giving a cruel man power and expecting that he won’t use it to inflict cruelty is madness. To vote for Trump, knowing all of this, is to knowingly empower cruelty.

Better to recoil in disgust.

Even if every single ethical allegation against Hillary Clinton were definitively proven true, it would do nothing to set at rest this blog’s gnawing unease that Donald Trump either suffers from some undiagnosed personality disorder or is literally just so coarse and brutish that he will humiliate friend and foe alike for his passing amusement.

5:20PM New York / 10:20PM London

The expectations game

David Graham at The Atlantic notes the effective job done by the Trump campaign in lowering expectations:

It’s well-established that Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t do most of the things a traditional political team does. There’s scarcely any policy, weak fundraising, and no ground game. But in one classic area of political positioning, the Trump team has proven it is historically great at one classic tactic: expectations setting.

With a few hours to go before the first presidential debate, it’s hard to see what the Republican nominee could do to avoid the meeting being judged at least a tie. Through a combination of months of campaigning, leaks about his debate prep, and aggressive working of the referees, Trump has set expectations so low that it’s hard to imagine how he finishes the debate without getting positive reviews from mainstream commentators.

[..] Separately, aides told Politico that Trump’s team has constructed an elaborate psychological profile of Clinton that he’s using to prepare. It’s hard to tell what is a psych-out and what’s real, but the effect of the balance of these leaks is to present Trump as so bumbling that simply standing up straight is an achievement.

We’ve seen all this before, of course. Famously weak debater George W. Bush went to great pains to raise expectations of his opponent John Kerry, with one Bush aide going so far as telling the media – with a straight face – that the rather staid, wooden Kerry was “the best debater since Cicero”. It seems that no hyperbole is too ludicrous when it comes to trying to give your candidate an edge.

While we have had no individual statements or acts of expectation-setting as ridiculous as the Kerry-Cicero comparison, the cumulative effect of the Trump campaign’s expectations-lowering has likely been greater. As the anti-establishment challenger, Trump has been held to a different standard since he first launched his campaign. But now, for the first time, Hillary Clinton’s much-vaunted experience – the “most qualified candidate ever to run for president”, we are continuously, implausibly told – will be a dead weight around her neck.

If Trump can avoid self-immolating and land one or two punches, that may well be enough to count as a “victory” or at least a draw, even if Hillary Clinton wins on points (as she almost certainly will). In other words, being graded on a very generous curve could well be to Donald Trump’s great advantage.

5:06PM New York / 10:06PM London

Putting my cards on the table

I’m a small government conservative, but I won’t vote for bold-faced authoritarians or unashamed ignoramuses just because they cloak themselves in the mantle of conservatism. This blog supported Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008, because John McCain fatally compromised his own judgment and principles by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate and unleashing that force on an undeserving world.

On the same grounds, this blog cannot support Donald Trump, a man who makes George W. Bush’s mockery of fiscal conservatism look like the strictest observance, whose ignorance of policy is matched only by his disregard for the Constitution and whose temperament and character flaws make him a reckless choice in an unstable world.

That said, this blog is no fan of Hillary Clinton – as outlined in this rather tortured explanation of my decision to support her candidacy over that of Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is nothing if not a continuity candidate, which is fine for those who are currently prospering under the status quo but dreadful for those who are struggling. There are real concerns of character and ethics too, which would be disqualifying if her Republican opponent were anyone but Donald Trump. But we are where we are.

And this blog believes that it is not enough for fellow conservatives against Trump to quietly sit on the sidelines out of some perverse, unearned loyalty to the Republican nominee. While one has to respect the mandate bestowed by GOP primary voters, that does not mean suppressing dissent or deserved criticism. And while the 2016 presidential election offers a most unpalatable choice, principled conservatives should have the courage to declare their intention to vote for the least worst option, Hillary Clinton.

Here’s my reasoning:

A Hillary Clinton presidency gives the Republican Party four more years to come up with a more palatable option than John McCain, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. In those four years, precious little will happen to fill conservative hearts with glee. But it is also highly unlikely that anything cataclysmicly, unfixably awful will happen either. That, to this blog, seems like a much better deal than letting Donald Trump loose on the Oval Office and potentially having him tarnishing the conservative and Republican brands even more than he has been able to as a presidential candidate.

Many of Trump’s desperate apologists try to trip up the #NeverTrump brigade by pouring scorn on the idea that Hillary Clinton is more conservative than Trump (see Ace of Spades’ sarcastic description of Clinton as “the One True Conservative in the race”). This misses the point. Many of us see Hillary Clinton exactly for what she is – namely a very calculating centrist with no core political convictions whatsoever. She was never the swivel-eyed leftist that Newt Gingrich tried to suggest – witness her glacial movement on gay marriage, only cautiously signalling her support once she was sure that Joe Biden and Barack Obama had not done themselves any political damage.

So the question is not one of whether Hillary Clinton is “more” of a conservative than Trump (though Donald Trump certainly is no conservative). The question is one of temperament and basic competence to execute the job. And while Hillary Clinton may be dogged by many legitimate ethical questions, few doubt that she could handle the levers of government, if only to maintain America on its present course.

Donald Trump, by contrast, is a complete unknown quantity, and a hugely volatile one at that. When he goes off-script he is liable to say or do anything (insulting the most sympathetic of characters or getting into Twitter wars with D-list celebrities) which comes to mind, and when he is on-script (as at his recent summit with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto) he sounds like he has been lobotomised. I have about as much confidence that Donald Trump has read, understood and respects the US Constitution as I believe his claim that “nobody reads the bible more than me“.

The choice, then, is not between a leftist ideologue and an honest, hard-workin’ conservative whose only crime is to be a bit politically incorrect sometimes, as Trump’s loyal cheerleader Sean Hannity loves to put it. The choice is between an ideologically rootless centrist who will likely maintain the status quo because she and her family have too much vested in it to see it fail, or a madman.

So that’s where I stand. This blog is opposed to Donald Trump, though I respect and sympathise with many Americans who are drawn to his candidacy. But that does not make this an ardently pro-Hillary blog – I will continue to call out shortcomings and failures as I see them.

And that’s how I’ll be live-blogging the debate tonight, and covering the remainder of the election in general. With scepticism and no small amount of disillusionment directed at both sides.

4:00PM New York / 9:00PM London

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

For newcomers to this blog, I write from the perspective of a British guy and future American citizen married to a proud Texan girl, currently living in London but ultimately destined to move back to the United States (timing potentially dependent on the outcome of this election!)

I have lived and worked in Chicago and the Mid West, travelled widely throughout America, follow American politics as closely as British, and so feel more than justified in weighing in with my many opinions. Those still in doubt can read my brief bio here, and a more long-winded version here.

Politically, I lean classically liberal or (depending on the definition) conservatarian. My positions in a nutshell: Catholic, small state, maximum personal liberty, pro civil liberties, free speech, pro-Second Amendment (with common sense gun control), anti-death penalty, separation of church and state, pro-legal immigration, anti attempts to ennoble illegal immigration, anti identity politics, anti-SJW. If it’s remotely socialist, I generally oppose it.

Click on US Politics or US Current Affairs for my American coverage.

 

 

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