debates-16Note: In quoting Donald Trump, this post includes crude and sexually explicit language.

Just 48 hours before the second presidential debate, the Washington Post released an eleven-year-old video in which, among other things, Trump boasts of sexually abusing women and getting away with it. In any relationship when it gets to the point where one person feels contempt for the other there’s usually no going back and that appears to be the point reached by a large number of senior Republicans. Apart from previous presidents, party nominees, and leading supporters, the list of those who had turned away from backing him by the beginning of the debate included six governors, fourteen senators, and twenty members of the House. That is unprecedented.

not-qualified

CNN/ORC did some scientific polling of debate watchers and they found that awareness of the video was extremely widespread. When asked about their knowledge of it, 52% said they knew a great deal about the video and another 29% said they knew a fair amount. Just 11% said they only knew a little and a tiny 7% said they knew nothing at all. As far as whether the video reflected Trump’s views on women, 59% thought it did and 37% believed it didn’t. Debate watchers were further asked whether Trump’s responses during the debate about the video changed their opinion. 25% said their opinion was now less favourable, 16% said they now felt more favourably towards him, and 58% did not change their opinion.

pussy-1For those few who haven’t seen it, the video included Trump boasting about forcing himself on a married woman:

Trump: I did try and fuck her. She was married… I moved on her like a bitch.

And being able to get away with assaulting women:

Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

(See the full video here and a full transcript here.)

Thus it was with this video in mind that most sat down to watch the second debate.

Only ninety minutes before the debate, Trump held a press conference flanked by four women. One settled a sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton out of court in the 1990s with no admission of guilt. A second accused Bill Clinton of sexually harassing her, and a third had accused Bill Clinton of raping her. Both the latter later withdrew their allegations. A fourth made allegations of rape against a man that Hillary Clinton successfully defended in court. It is likely the man was guilty, but it should be noted that Clinton was appointed to defend him by the court and unsuccessfully tried to get the case allocated to another lawyer. This is also the case where there is a tape of her supposedly laughing about a rapist getting away with it. If you’ve listened to the tape, as I have, you’ll know that at no time did Clinton laugh at the victim as alleged by her opponents. (And you don’t have to accept my word for it – you can read Politifact‘s full analysis here.)

Frank Hancock, chair of the Missouri Republican party, had to intervene to prevent Trump from seating these four women up front in the family section of the audience. The presence of these women in the audience was obviously an attempt to upset Clinton. (Clinton wanted to seat Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) in the Clinton family section and was prevented from doing that also. Trump supporters consider that these two events are of equal significance.)

The public reaction to the video has clearly upset Trump. At the beginning of last night’s debate his breathing sounded asthmatic – he didn’t seem to be able to get enough air into his lungs to get his way through a sentence. As one human being to another, I was genuinely concerned. Towards the end of the evening the sniffing was back too, which to my mind is a sign of anxiety (and not any of the other conspiracy theories being promulgated).

The fact Trump was anxious is one of the few times he’s displayed genuine human emotion throughout the campaign, though the fact that it’s only for himself rather ruins the effect. The effect was also mitigated by his invitation to the debate of the four women mentioned above. Gone were his concerns about upsetting Chelsea Clinton by saying he wouldn’t even mention her father’s sexual indiscretions and abuse allegations (and thus did).

The subject of the leaked video was brought up immediately. Trump dismissed it as “locker room talk”  and pivoted to DAESH after only a couple of sentences, saying what he did was nothing when DAESH needs to be destroyed, which he vowed to do. He then commented on the divisive issue of Clinton’s and Obama’s failure to name Islamic terrorism as such. He didn’t even think to tell young men that what he did is not the way to behave. He doesn’t seem to have grasped that part of the president’s job is to represent the country as a person. The moderators and questioners brought the topic back on track, and asked the candidates about that aspect of the situation.

locker-room-3This time Trump pivoted away from his own egregious behaviour by bringing up that of Bill Clinton. Although advisors like Kellyanne Conway (campaign manager) and Reince Preibus (Republican National Committee chair) have surely told him that is a doomed strategy, he’s determined to go his own way. Trump’s base loves such tactics, but they do nothing to grow the vote. It’s got to the stage where it looks like he’s not actually trying to win the election anymore, he’s trying to build support for a new media network he’ll announce as soon as the election is over. (There have been rumours that this is the case for a few weeks, but now even his staunchest supporters like Fox News’s Eric Bolling are saying it out loud.)

We need to remember that phrase “locker room talk” too. He used it several times and that in itself is telling. There has been a lot of push back from athletes about whether it’s really locker room talk at all. That aside, at the time of the incident Trump was 59 years old and newly (eight months) married. There are men who engage in such banter, but by 59 most have long since grown out of it. There comes a point where most men recognize that carrying on like that is just lewd and crude, and that’s how most of us are viewing Trump – with disgust and contempt.

For her part, Hillary Clinton never addressed her husband’s actions directly. She made more general comments about Trump and said, quoting Michelle Obama from the Democratic convention, “When they go low, we go high.”

debate-7While Clinton said such (admittedly canned) lines as “We’re great because we’re good,” Trump moved in for the attack again. Before the debate was a few minutes old, he had outright called Clinton a “liar” multiple times and said she had “hate” in her heart, “believe me.” Even worse, he literally demonized her – saying she was the “devil.” This is simply outrageous for a debate for the most powerful job in the world.

Imagine what we would be saying if it had been a debate in Russia, Zimbabwe, Iran, or North Korea (if they had debates)? We’d be pointing to it as proof of all sorts of negative things about both the leader and the country. The United States is supposed to be the “shining light upon the hill.”

As the debate wore on, Clinton also said Trump wasn’t being truthful on several occasions. However, in each case she was correct and she never actually outright called Trump a liar.

After getting past the video, Trump said “something [he] thought he wouldn’t say.” He announced that he when he was president he was going to instruct his attorney general to get a special prosecutor to investigate her. He went on at length about all he thought she’d got away with because of her position.

debates-15This is a very popular stance with his base and one that’s bled through to the wider electorate to a certain extent. However, as the head of the FBI James Comey said to the House Oversight Committee, anyone who had all the facts and was viewing the situation through non-partisan glasses would have made the same decision he had – that it was not appropriate to prosecute her.

More importantly, it is not actually legal or appropriate for a president to direct his attorney general to go after certain people as Trump said he would do. Clinton responded to the declaration he would use the office of president to go after her with the comment:

… it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in this country.

Trump interrupted her to respond:

Because you’d be in jail.

And with that, Trump is destined to feature in every presidential pre-debate show until the end of time.

It also brought another well-known Republican Tweeting into the argument:

I gasped out loud when I heard Trump announce he would put Clinton in jail. That was scarier than anything else he said that night, and it seems Ezra Klein of Vox had a similar response:

 

The debates then moved on to Syrian refugees, which, at his xenophobic, paranoid, and fear-mongering best, Donald Trump referred to as a “Trojan horse.” He focused on Clinton’s desire to increase the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the country, and the 550% increase to 65,000 he named is accurate. What’s not accurate is his statement that “we have no idea who they are” or “where they come from.” I have written about this extensively previously. Refugees are actually the safest of all immigrants to the United States. Because the United States, like New Zealand, receives all their refugees via the UNHCR, they are extensively checked out over an extended period (minimum 18 months) before they even enter the country. They should not be directly correlated with the situation in Europe.

debate-6For her part Clinton barely mentioned the leaked video. This was a good tactic. From her point of view it’s better to keep out of the whole debacle. The Republicans are tearing themselves apart over this – Trump has done serious long-term damage to a party that was already in trouble because of his candidacy.

I think there’s more to it than that as well. Clinton is extremely risk-averse. She personally would not want to insert herself into the narrative in case she causes unforeseen damage to her campaign. Anything she says could and would be twisted by her opponents whether or not that was fair. She’s currently winning, and when the polls for the last few days come out her standing will likely have improved even more. Better to leave well enough alone.

After that first half hour, Trump did much better. Who you thought won the second thirty minutes will depend pretty much on where you stand on the issues. As much as Trump wanted to appear like someone who is too good to need to practice, he obviously had. His performance was vastly improved from the first debate and as a result that showed once the debate moved past the issue of the leaked video.

deplorable-1An example of this was that Trump managed to pivot an answer to the fact that Hillary Clinton had called half of his supporters “deplorables” and “irredeemable.” He did get a bit carried away though:

Believe me, she has tremendous hate in her heart, and when she said, “deplorables,” she meant it.

As so often this comment had Clinton grinning because she knew Trump had once again gone too far. for her part, she noted that she apologized the next day then flipped the answer back to a criticism of Trump rather than his supporters by naming all the different groups Trump has insulted throughout the campaign. The list was long but was fact-checked by several news outlets, all of which declared her statement “true.” Nevertheless, the “deplorables” comments was a bad error by Clinton that Trump was able to capitalize on.

At this point of the debate, co-moderator Anderson Cooper asked Trump:

In 2008 you wrote in one of your books that the most important characteristic a leader can have is discipline… “If a leader doesn’t have it, he or she won’t be a leader for very long.”

Cooper then asked Trump about Tweeting at three o’clock in the morning, and Tweeting about a sex tape. Trump denied he’d done that and said that Clinton also Tweeted at three in the morning but “I won’t mention that.” He then pivoted to Benghazi, which in itself was a good move. But before making any actual points against Clinton he said, “I’m proud of it, to be honest with you.” Exactly what he meant was unclear, but as far as the sex tape Tweet is concerned, it exists and is completely unambiguous:

The Tweet also accuses Clinton of illegal behaviour and, by extension, State Department staff. Again, this is completely outrageous.

This part of the debate was also though where Clinton showed she was the one able to make the people asking the questions feel that she cared about them as individuals. It was something she was better at throughout, but because of camera angles and frequent split screens that mostly didn’t come across well. Frankly, it seemed producers were so focused on the relationship between the candidates and making sure they didn’t miss a money shot they all but forgot this was supposed to be a town hall debate.

loom-1This meant that while we got plenty of irrelevant shots of Trump looming creepily in the background and prowling the stage, we didn’t see much of whether and how the candidates related to the questioners. Clinton did a better job of speaking to them as individuals – she has the effective politician’s trick of remembering their names and drawing them in for example. However, viewers were unable to tell if the candidates were even speaking to the questioner or had their back to them, which was an error Trump made from time to time.

Overall Clinton was better on style throughout, but Trump supporters will naturally dismiss this as an experienced politician up against an outsider and see that as a positive for Trump. The problem is that Trump doesn’t need to shore up his base. They will vote for him no matter what he does. Before the first debate he had managed to get the, albeit grudging, support of most Republicans, and was doing slightly better than Clinton with independents. Now I expect the polls to show he’s bleeding from both those groups, and that the loss of women voters after the Machado hit has become a haemorrhage. The “blood coming out of her wherever” line has become an analogy for his campaign.

Although it’s an error that I suspect confirmed voters’ decisions rather than caused new problems, Trump’s ongoing vulnerability on foreign policy was also exposed when he had his own Aleppo moment. Despite being pressed, he could give no answer on what he’d do about the crisis there and kept pivoting away to things like what he saw as tactical military errors in Iraq. He got into an argument with co-moderator Martha Raddatz on the announcement of the impending attack on Mosul. Raddatz was correct in her comments, but they were made with barely concealed contempt for Trump and it was inappropriate for her to insert herself into the debate like that.

smart-2The issue of taxes came up of course and after being pressed by co-moderator Anderson Cooper, Trump admitted that he had taken advantage of the provision in tax law that enabled him to not pay taxes for many years. Trump stated that Clinton’s donors had taken advantage of the same law he had in relation to his taxes, and he knew because he knew them all.

(Which makes you think: they know Trump and they know Clinton, and Clinton would increase their taxes and Trump would reduce them yet still they choose to put their money behind, and vote for, her.)

Clinton talked about her own tax plan, including the Buffet Rule she plans to introduce which would increase taxes for the highest income earners, and re-stated her promise that no one who earns US$250,000 or less would face an increase in taxes. She also stated that Donald Trump’s tax plan would give more than double to the rich what the Bush tax cuts had. This claim has since been analysed at length by Politifact and found to be true.

clinton-trump-tax-cuts

Anyway, Warren Buffet, the billionaire for whom Clinton’s “Buffet Rule” is named, came out with a statement about his taxes following Trump’s statements:

 

putin-2Trump continued his praise of the last few months for Russia, and incorrectly announced that Russia was focused on eliminating DAESH in its bombing campaigns. He also threw his running mate under the bus as described in the Vox video above: when asked about the fact that what he’d just said was completely different from what Mike Pence had said in the vice-presidential debate he said, “He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.” Despite that, Pence remained loyal and tweeted his support for Trump following the debate:

One of the most important parts of the debate, which seems to have received little follow up, is when Clinton and Trump were asked about their choices for Supreme Court justices. Clinton’s list was: reverse Citizen’s United, maintain and improve voting rights for all, maintain Roe v Wade, and maintain marriage equality. She also criticized the failure of Republicans to allow a vote on the Judge Garland.

Trump used his two minutes to praise the late Justice Antonin Scalia and said, “I am looking to appoint judges very much in the mould of Justice Scalia.” He further said that the Second Amendment was under siege then talked about Clinton being influenced by special interests. (I guess the NRA doesn’t count as a special interest.) Clinton came back to say that she supported the Second Amendment but wanted to close gun show and on-line loopholes.

Throughout the debate, Clinton ran over the allotted two minutes for answers on virtually every occasion. However, her answers were also constantly interrupted by Trump. Clinton, on the other hand, almost never interrupted him. Her answers were consistently better crafted than his, which tended to waffle. However, he has made a marked improvement since the last debate. There was much less ramble and more substance than before though he did dodge multiple questions altogether, simply talking about what he wanted to talk about rather than what he was asked. In the CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers, 68% thought Trump spent more time attacking Clinton, 16% thought it was Clinton who attacked more, and 15% thought they attacked equally.

debates-18Trump whined several times that he wasn’t getting equal time to speak and accused the moderators of letting Clinton dominate. However, at the end of the debate, the CNN estimate was that Clinton spoke for 39 minutes and 5 seconds while Trump spoke for 40 minutes and 10 seconds. I can’t help but comment that to someone like Trump, equal time probably feels like he’s missing out. Either way, someone needs to tell him that complaining you’re missing out always looks bad. If you really are, let the media fight that battle for you when the debate is over. Take the high road in the moment.

In the end the CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers had Clinton winning by a wide margin of 57% to 34%. That was despite a majority of them (63%) considering that Trump performed significantly better than they expected him to. 21% thought he did worse than they were expecting and 15% about the same. The figures were very different for Clinton. 39% thought she did worse than they expected, 26% thought she did better, and 34% about the same. Importantly for Clinton, she did much better than Trump with men: 49% thought Clinton won the debate and 38% thought Trump won. Clinton usually wins with women, but this time the win was bigger than usual – 64% to Trump’s 30%.

On individual issues, debate watchers also judged Clinton to have performed better on every issue, including those where Trump often beats her like the economy, which she won 56% to 42%. I was generally surprised by the strength of her win. She did well, and better than Trump, but not so well as to explain these results. I think voters personal feelings towards Trump have influenced their judgment. Further, a Wall Street Journal poll taken before the debate has come out in the last few days which has Clinton eleven points ahead of Trump nationwide. This also surprised me. It may be that the collapse in Trump’s support that those of us who could see he wore no clothes have been predicting for over a year is finally happening.

 

 

re-election-1The release of the tape and Trump’s ongoing inability to appeal to new constituencies via the debates means he has lost any hope of gaining the presidency, and possibly irreparably damaged the Republican party’s ability to hold the Senate and maybe even Congress too. House speaker Paul Ryan announced on Monday that he would not be campaigning with Donald Trump and in addition, would not defend him or his actions. This leaves room for all those Republicans up for election to distance themselves from Trump if they wish to and need to to win their own elections.

Political reporters have announced that the Democratic party will be doing all they can to tie state candidates to Donald Trump in order to try to discredit them. For himself, Trump has stated that he doesn’t care about down-ballot candidates and has, naturally, Tweeted his response:

Ever since Ryan’s announcement Trump has been regularly sending out petulant Tweets, even praising the Democratic Party for sticking together.

There are people who are still supporting Trump strongly of course, but from my point of view, many are people whose opinion I have little respect for. As well as the universally discredited Alex Jones of the ridiculous Infowars, according to the Washington Post, they include “Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. and Focus on the Family founder and Family Talk host James Dobson. Also continuing to support Trump is televangelist Pat Robertson, as he announced on his show the 700 Club.

Pussygate may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. A man who feeds off the Internet should know better than to screw with cats. There’s even a hashtag #PussiesAgaisntTrump, which has it’s own Twitter page. Here are some examples:

https://twitter.com/RuthH_R/status/784879782785871876?lang=en

https://twitter.com/RuthH_R/status/784880478692270081?lang=en

And it seems Trump isn’t too happy about all this:

Pence will forgive Trump anything. Someone gave him some advice for this one:

I noticed Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump talking together in the aftermath of the debate. The two have been friends for many years and I strongly suspect Ivanka apologized for her father, perhaps asking Chelsea to understand the circumstances. Whether or not that guess is an accurate one, Ivanka has a level of class her father will never achieve. I also noticed that when the Clintons were leaving, Bill was holding Hillary’s hand. This showed me the difference between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Both have histories with women that leave a lot to be desired but Bill has the sensitivity to recognize the pain he has caused his Hillary and that with the women that Trump invited to the debate present, she needed to feel the man she loves physically close.

But the last word has to go to #PussiesAgainstTrump:

 


 

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