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.