Sunday, August 21, 2016

Clinton's Fragile Lead

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.  In 1969, the Cubs had a 9 1/2 game lead over the New York Mets in the middle of August, but ended the season 8 games behind the Mets after losing 17 of 25 games to close the season.  

The average of the latest national polls shows Clinton with about a 5 percent lead over her Republican opponent, Donald Trump.  But Trump has had a rough two weeks, and has now shaken up his campaign staff.   Gone is campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was brought in to make the campaign more professional.  On Tuesday, Trump brought on Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon as campaign CEO, and Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.  

In an article last October, a Bloomberg Businessweek headline read, "This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative In America."   Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker and documentary maker who took over Breitbert, a conservative website created in 2007, when its founder, David Breitbart, died suddenly in 2012.  "The recruitment of Bannon will release Trump to be the outsider that won a primary in historic fashion," wrote reporter Joseph R. Murray in The Hill. "Bannon will encourage Trump to be the very person the (Republican National Committee) warned against and, for that reason, Trump stands to win because this election is not about Republicans versus Democrats; it is about outside change versus insider corruption."  Murray's piece was entitled, "Trump's recruitment of Bannon means war and everyone knows it."  

Conway is a long time Republican operative and Trump friend.  Conway earlier ran a PAC for Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  She is a lawyer, a mother, and founded The Polling Company in 1995, which advised many Republicans, especially on women's issues.  Conway is an effective communicator who will work to focus Trump and his campaign on issues.   She reportedly was influential in getting Trump to express regrets last week for derogatory comments he has made in the past, although he was not specific.  

Bannon and Conway will work to turn voters against Clinton.  But reining in Trump may be difficult. And already he has taken many controversial positions that may be hard to clean up.  For instance, last October Trump said he would have a deportation force that would remove undocumented immigrants from the United States.  On Sunday, Conway said the creation of a deportation force by a Trump administration was "to be determined."   A softening of Trump's immigration position, which played a huge role in getting him the nomination, could alienate some of is most ardent supporters.

Nonetheless, Clinton has lots of baggage.  She has been dogged by scandals most of her public career.  Most recently, the Clinton Foundation has come under intense scrutiny for possibly trading favors for donations during Clinton's term as secretary of state.   Sunday's New York Times reported that, "The Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries that the State Department -- before, during and after Mrs. Clinton's time as secretary -- criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues."  Because of the controversy, former President Bill Clinton announced Thursday that the organization would not longer accept foreign or corporate donations should his wife be elected in November.  But that will do little to quiet critics.  Several leading Democrats have called for the foundation to immediately stop taking donations.

Of course, the controversy surrounding Clinton's use of a private email server while at the State Department continues to trouble her campaign.   In July, FBI director David Comey recommended against prosecuting Clinton, but called her use of a private email server "extremely reckless."  Last week the bureau turned the case documents over to Congress, and Republicans are pressing that she be charged with perjury.  

Clinton has maintained a strong lead in recent polls, and has been pulling ahead in several key battleground states.  She is also doing well with women and minorities.  But likely voters view neither candidate favorably.  Clinton is most vulnerable on the trust issue, although Trump is as well.  And more that 60 percent of all Americans surveyed believe the country is on the wrong track.  

For sure, the team of Bannon and Conway will attack Clinton mercilessly on trust in an effort to disqualify her from being president while helping to improve Trump's position in the polls by keeping him "on message" as the candidate for "change."  Expectations for Trump doing so are low, so any improvement can build momentum.  Bannon and Conway know the media prefers a horserace.  

This year the Cubs are dominating major league baseball, and they are currently the favorites to win the World Series. But long-suffering Cub fans remember 1969, including Hillary Clinton.  She must do a better job of winning over uncommitted voters, and with addressing her weaknesses in order to prevail in November.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Trump and the Press

A sure sign that a campaign is failing is when the candidate blames the press for his problems.   The latest example is Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.   

Trump took to Twitter Sunday to attack the press for his sinking campaign.  "It is not 'freedom of the press' when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false," Trump wrote.  In the words of Khizr Khan, directed at Trump during last month's Democratic Convention, "Have you even read the Constitution?"   Apparently he hasn’t.    

The U.S. Constitution is clear: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  The First Amendment was adopted in 1791 by the Founding Fathers to protect the rights of individuals to express themselves through publication without interference from the government.  

This is a founding principle of the United States, and it has withstood many challenges since its enactment more than 200 years ago.  Trump's assault on the Constitution is just another in his tirades against the press.  "I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I have ever met," he told a press conference last May.  

Trump has regularly called the press "slime," "scum," "dishonest," "sleazy," and the "worst human beings" at his campaign rallies.  His supporters greeted his attacks with boos and hisses directed at the members of the press assigned to his events.  NBC News correspondent Katy Tur has covered Trump since the beginning of his campaign.  In an article this month in Marie Claire, Tur recounted how Trump singled her out harshly at a rally last December.  "It's unlikely, however, that any of Trump's future attacks will be as scary as what happened in Mount Pleasant (South Carolina), where the crowd, feeding off Trump, seemed to turn on me like a large animal, angry and unchained," she wrote.  "It wasn't until hours later, when the Secret Service took the extraordinary step of walking me to my car, that the incident sank in." 

Trump is the candidate of fear and anger.  He has sought to divide the country into winners, those who support him, and losers--all those who are against him.  He has insulted war heroes, the disabled, Muslims, Mexicans and women.  Rather than offering specific solutions he relies on schoolyard taunts to describe his opponents, like "crooked Hillary Clinton," "lying Ted Cruz," "little Marco Rubio," and "low-energy Jeb Bush."   His campaign has been chaotic and disorganized.  And now he is sinking in the in the polls, and many key Republicans are abandoning ship.  

Trump is desperate to reboot his campaign, but he has not changed his tune.  Instead, he continues to attack the press.  "If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn't put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%," he wrote on Twitter Sunday.   Constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams told CNN Monday, "The very notion that the press can't say what it wants, or what it thinks is right about a candidate for president, is at war with the First Amendment."

Trump is at war with more than the First Amendment.  He is the man who masqueraded as publicist John Miller to brag about himself to reporters earlier is his career.  The thin-skinned Trump is at war with his advisors over his campaign tactics.  

It should come as no surprise that as Trump is losing ground in the arena of public opinion he blames the messenger.   Maybe it's time to bring John Miller back?  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Trump Troubles

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had hoped that Monday would be the day he could reboot his failing campaign. Instead, it would be a day filled with more bad news and further setbacks.

The latest blow came in the form of a Washington Post op-ed piece by respected Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  "I will not be voting for Donald Trump for president," she wrote, adding, "Donald Trump does not reflect historical Republican values nor the inclusive approach to governing that is critical to healing the divisions in this country."  Senator Collins is the latest in a growing list of Republican elected officials who have said they will not support Trump. 

Trump received another devastating blow Monday when 50 former national security officials, who all served under Republican presidents, released a harshly critical signed letter stating that, "(Trump) would be the most reckless president in American history."  The officials included Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, both former secretaries of homeland security, Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and the NSA, and John Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state.  

"He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws and institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary," the letter says.  The officials continued, "he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends.  Unlike previous Presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.  He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics." 

Meanwhile, a Monmouth University national poll released Monday showed that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had opened a double-digit lead over Trump.  Clinton received support from 46% of those registered voters survey compared to Trump's 34%. Even more troubling for Trump was that 67% of the registered voters believe he does not have the right temperament to be president.   In contrast, 61% of those surveyed believe Clinton does have the right temperament to serve.  To make matters worse for Trump, he has fallen behind in polls in several key battle ground states that he must win if he is to be elected. 

Trump had hoped to get his campaign on track with a major economic address in Detroit Monday.  Reading from teleprompter, and holding his emotions in check during more than a dozen interruptions from protestors, Trump proposed major tax cuts and huge investments in infrastructure.   "My plan will reduce the current number of brackets from 7 to 3, and dramatically streamline the process," he said.  "We will work with House Republicans on this plan, using the same brackets they have proposed: 12, 25 and 33 percent.  For many American workers, their tax rate would be zero."  However, the rich will benefit the most from this plan, and Trump did not explain how he would pay for it.  Further, Trump said he would end estate taxes, but that would only benefit a few thousand families with multimillion-dollar estates.  And his proposal to allow parents to deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes would most benefit families making more than $75,000 in reportable income.

Trump also promised to lower corporate taxes, and to reduce regulations on corporations, saying, "It is time to remove the anchor that is dragging us down."  However, he offered no specifics, and many regulations have been enacted to protect health and safety.  He also said he would renegotiate America's trade deals.  "I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers," he said.  But many Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, support trade deals.  And in calling for major investments in infrastructure, like roads and airports, he never explained where the billions of dollars needed would come from.  

Trump said, "There will be no change under Hillary Clinton--only four more years of Obama."  But Trump's "Make America First plan" sounded like a hodgepodge of re-cycled supply side GOP economics.  Some change!  If enacted, his plan would add trillions of dollars to the debt over the next decade.  But his plan would sure be great for the Trump family.  It would mean lower taxes, less regulation and more construction projects that they could manage. 

Trump's campaign is collapsing with just three months to go before Election Day.  And he alone can't fix it.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton: "Stronger Together"

Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination as their candidate for president, a historic moment in American history. "When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit," she promised convention delegates.   Her speech reflected the party's progressive platform in an effort to rally her base, but it offered little for Republicans uneasy about Donald Trump.

This was arguably the most important speech of Clinton's political career.  She has been plagued by concerns about her trustworthiness, and had overcome a difficult primary challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders, whose loyal delegates still had to be convinced about her candidacy.  

Speaking directly to Sanders' supporters, Clinton said, "Our country needs your ideas, your energy, and passion.  That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America," she said.  "We wrote it together -- now let's go out there and make it happen together." 

Referencing the courage of the Founding Fathers in standing up to a king, she said, "America is once again at a moment of reckoning." She then asked for unity, "We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together."  The theme of her campaign is "Stronger Together" and much of her speech carried that message, which she described as a guiding principle for the country.  

Clinton's speech was filled with attacks on Donald Trump.  "He's taken the Republican Party a long way from "Morning in America" to "Midnight in America," she said.  "He wants us to fear the future and fear each other."   She asserted that, "We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against...but we are not afraid."   She continued, "We will not build a wall.  Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one."   She called for a clear path to citizenship for immigrants, and said she would not ban a religion.

"Don't let anyone tell you our country is weak.  We're not," she proclaimed.  "And most of all, don't believe anyone who says, 'I alone can fix it," she said referring to Trump's claim in his acceptance speech a week earlier.  "Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again-- well, he could start by actually making things in America again," she said of Trump's off shore manufacturers. 

Clinton attacked Trump's lack of temperament and experience.  "Imagine, if you dare imagine--imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis.  A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Clinton, who was affectionately introduced by her daughter Chelsea, talked about her upbringing, her family and her career.  It was part of an effort to re-introduce herself as genuine, authentic and a person committed to service.  President Bill Clinton, who was at times emotional, watched his wife from the seats below the stage.

Hillary Clinton covered many of the issues important to progressives.  She called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen's United, expansion of voting rights, comprehensive immigration reform, Wall Street reform, equal pay, expanded social security and health care, and she declared climate change is real.  Declaring that Donald Trump is in the pocket of the gun lobby, she said she would not repeal the Second Amendment, but would enact common-sense gun reforms. 

Clinton's speech came on the final night of a convention that had heard from many impressive speakers over the course of the week.  Perhaps the most powerful moment in Thursday night's program was provided by the father of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim American soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004.  "Have you read the Constitution?" Khizr Khan asked Trump while pulling a copy out of his suit pocket.  "Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?  Go look at the graves of brave Americans who died defending the United States of America." he said.  "You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.  You have sacrificed nothing."

In contrast, Hillary Clinton's speech was not powerful, it was not soaring, it was not inspirational.  It certainly did nothing to excite Republicans, and it failed to convert Hillary haters to her campaign. While she is the first woman to be nominated by a major party as their candidate for president, her speech will not standout in history. 

Clinton will almost certainly get a bump in the polls because of the highly polished Democratic Convention.  But she will have a fight to the finish in November against a flawed candidate who is promising change and that he alone can fix everything. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obama: Passing the Baton

"America is already great," President Barack Obama proclaimed to delegates at the Democratic Convention is his speech that highlighted his accomplishments in office, attacked Donald Trump, and enthusiastically endorsed Hillary Clinton to be his successor. The president's speech was brilliantly written and masterfully delivered.  

Delegates welcomed the president with thunderous applause, the man who first appeared before them 12 years earlier as an Illinois State Senator.  It will be the last time that he addresses delegates as president, and this may have been his best speech.  "I stand before you again tonight, after almost two terms as president, to tell you I am even more optimistic about the future of America,"  he told delegates.

The president highlighted his achievements in office, including guiding the country out of the worst recession in 80 years, saving the auto industry, creating 15 million new jobs, enacting the Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance coverage to millions, the growth of clean energy, a global climate agreement, a nuclear agreement with Iran, the opening of relations with Cuba, and the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.   He also highlighted his actions on immigration, student loans, consumer protection and marriage equality.  "By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started," the president asserted.   

"I am here to tell you yes, we have more work to do," the president continued.  He pointed to those still in need of jobs or a raise, paid leave, a decent retirement, and to children in poverty, and called for safer streets and a fairer criminal justice system.  "That work involves a big choice this November," he said.  "This is a more fundamental choice about who we are as a people."

President Obama then said, "But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican -- and it sure wasn't conservative.  What we heard was a very pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn from the rest of the world."  He continued, "There were no serious solutions to pressing problems -- just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.  And that's not the America I know."

The president then made a strong case for Hillary Clinton, describing her as a leader with plans to break down barriers, blast through glass ceilings, and to give opportunity to more Americans. "That's the Hillary I know.  That's the Hillary I've come to admire.  And that is why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or woman, not me, not Bill (Clinton), nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."  

President Obama then harshly attacked Trump.  "He's not really a plans guy.  Not really a facts guy either," he said.  "Does anyone really believe that a guy who's spent his 70 years on the earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion?"   President Obama then criticized Trump for calling America's military a disaster, for suggesting America is weak, for cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for praising Iraq's late dictator Saddam Hussein, and telling NATO allies they will have to pay for U.S. protection.    

Saying that Trump just offers slogans and fear, he countered that, "America is already strong.  And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump."  Later, he added, "Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order.  We don't look to be ruled."  

President Obama then returned to the spirit, values and character of the American people, "The American Dream is something no wall will ever contain."  He said that America is about what we can achieve together, "not about what one person says he'll do for us."  Then, acknowledging the "vocal and persistent" supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, he urged delegates to vote for Democrats up and down the ticket.  

Calling Hillary Clinton a fighter, a stateswoman, a patriot, he said, "That's the America she is fighting for."  He concluded his speech by saying, "I am asking you to join me--to reject cynicism, to reject fear, to summon what's best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States, and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss described Obama's speech on MSNBC as the best endorsement ever given in convention history by an incumbent president for his party's nominee.   The president's speech spoke to independent voters and Republicans who are uneasy with Trump.  Obama was poised, confident, warm and presidential in his delivery.   His speech was a rich tapestry of words and ideals meant to unite the delegates behind their party's candidate.  

All in all, Wednesday was a fabulous day for Democrats, and it may well be an important pivot point for their convention. President Obama now has handed the baton to Hillary Clinton, who will give her acceptance speech Thursday evening.  And it very well may will the most important speech of her political career.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Democratic Convention Opens

The opening night of the Democratic Convention was emotional and raucous.  It reflected a hard fought primary campaign between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.  

Many Sanders' supporters were fighting mad as a result of the release of emails by Wikileaks which showed that the Democratic National Committee was working against their candidate.   The resignation of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairperson, did little to quell Sanders' supporters.  As a result, they made their voices heard throughout the proceedings.  So much so that comedian Sarah Silverman, who had been a devoted Sanders supporter but now endorses Clinton, admonished them from the dais.  "Can I say to the Bernie-or-bust people," she said, "you're being ridiculous!" 

Democrats had hoped to exhibit a unified party to the millions of viewers watching the convention on television, which is taking place in Philadelphia.  But Sanders led a massive and passionately loyal movement that garnered nearly 45% of the delegates.  While polls show that 90% of Sanders' supporters will vote for Clinton, it was still hard for his delegates to accept they had lost.

In contrast to the dark and disjointed Republican Convention a week earlier, the Democrats wanted to present a united front and a progressive vision for the future.   They did so with a powerful and diverse array of prime time speakers.  New Jersey Senator Cory Booker railed against complacency and cynicism.  He attacked Donald Trump, saying, "When Trump spews insults and demeaning words about our fellow Americans, I think of the poem by Maya Angelou.  You know it begins: 'You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I'll rise.'"  He concluded, "With Hillary Clinton as our president, America, we will rise."

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, whose impassioned remarks quieted even the most ardent Sanders' supporters.  "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," she said.  "And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters--and all our sons and daughters--now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States."  She then directed her remarks to Trump.  "So don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again.  Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth."   

Senator Elizabeth Warren, beloved by progressive Democrats, attacked what she called the "great Trump hot-air machine."  She charged, "Donald Trump goes on and on about being a successful businessman but he file for bankruptcy six times, always to protect his own money and stick investors and contractors with the bill."  She added, "So what kind of man acts like this?  What kind of man roots for an economic crash that caused millions of people their jobs, their homes, their life savings?"  She continued, "I'll tell you what kind of a man--a man who must never be president of the United States.  And for one low, low price, he'll throw in a goofy hat."  

But this was to be Bernie Sanders' night whose appearance brought the house down.   "I think it's fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am," he said speaking of his primary defeat.  "But to all of our supporters--here and around the country--I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved," he said as many of his delegates watched with tears in their eyes.  Sanders detailed the party's platform, which now reflects many of his progressive positions.  He then forcefully concluded, "Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her tonight."

Even with the rocky start, the Democratic Convention offered a more positive outlook for the country.  Perhaps time will heal all wounds for even the most ardent Sanders supporters.  And maybe the thought of a Trump presidency will help convert them.  But uniting the party will take more than a great convention week and an opponent who plays on hate and fear.  

Even with Monday evening's impressive endorsements, Hillary Clinton has a lot of work to do to overcome questions about her trustworthiness.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump: "I Alone Can Fix It"

"I am your voice," Republican nominee Donald J. Trump told convention delegates in Cleveland as he accepted his party's nomination in a speech filled with anger but lacking soaring rhetoric. His delivery was not presidential, rather it was harsh and indignant. It resonated with resentful Trump supporters who feel they are the victims of an America that has left them behind.
Trump railed against a rigged system. "No one knows the system better than me," he said pausing to smile, "which is why I alone can fix it." Declaring that he is the "law and order candidate," he said, "Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and terrorism is our cities, threaten our way of life." He promised, "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, very soon, come to an end. Beginning on January 20 (Inauguration Day) safety will be restored."
Trump said, "The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year." He then played on fear, "Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens." He promised to build a wall along the Mexican border, but didn't mention that Mexico would pay for it. By the way, under President Barack Obama immigration is down, killings of police officers is down, and illegal immigration is down compared to previous presidents.
In his one-hour and fourteen minute speech he listed a series of domestic initiatives. He promised to renegotiate trade deals, reduce taxes, invest in infrastructure, reduce government regulations, lift restrictions on American energy, and "repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare!" He said he would address the student debt problem and appoint justices "who will uphold our laws and constitution."
Trump failed to recognize members of the American military, including those serving overseas. But he said he would "rebuild our depleted military." "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect." He spoke of NATO, and said, "Countries we are protecting at a massive cost to us will be asked to pay their fair share."
Trump attacked Hillary Clinton's record as Secretary of State. "Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West." He continued, "After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before." He concluded, "This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness." Trump said, "We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS and we are going to defeat them fast."
He took time to that the evangelicals who supported him, noting, "I am not totally sure I deserve it." And he thanked his wife Melania, and his children for their support. The Trump children were impressive, especially Ivanka, who introduced her father.
Trump concluded, "I'm with you, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you!" He continued, "We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America Safe again. We will make America great again!"
Trump's speech was not about optimism, hope, the American spirit, or President Ronald Reagan's "Bright shining light on a hill." Instead, it was filled with the same themes that secured him the Republican Party's nomination. It wasn't a typical Republican speech, especially his attacks against business and free trade, and it was short on specifics. It will not appeal to Democrats who support Hillary Clinton, and it may not play well with independents.
But nothing about Trump's campaign so far has gone according to conventional wisdom.