Tag Archives: Clinton

The Only Part of Last Night’s Debate You Need to See

Yesterday’s debate featured exactly the Trumpian performance we’ve come to expect: the Donald’s signature one-two punch of incoherence and lies, paired with enough bizarre non sequiturs—“I have a son who’s 10, he’s so good with computers,” anyone?—so as to border on the surreal.

With such a ‘bigly’ amount of sheer ineptitude, however, genuinely important debate moments are being forgotten. It’s easy to miss the insanity buried amidst the absurd, the moments such as when Trump accused Clinton of fighting for her entire 68 years of life against an organization started in 2004. But one of Trump’s less provocative monologues contains the most substantive policy revelation of the debate. It is a microcosm of the debate as a whole; if you don’t have the time to watch the full debate, all you need to do to understand Round One of Trump v. Clinton is to read this three-paragraph transcript of the Republican nominee’s response to the following question from moderator Lester Holt: “On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?”

The first paragraph seems innocuous at first: “Well, I have to say that, you know, for what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia, she’s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. But Russia has been expanding their—they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. I looked the other night. I was seeing B-52s, they’re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not—we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.”

Did you catch it? After Trump’s vague comments on Secretary Clinton, after Trump’s incorrect statement on Russia’s military capabilities, after Trump’s rambling anecdote about B-52s? The part where Trump says he was in favor of a policy that the U.S. has not endorsed throughout the over 70 years in which nuclear weapons have been existent?  Yes, right there at the end, Donald Trump states that he would never use nuclear weapons unless another country had already done so–a policy change that President Obama recently declined to enact, could signal American weakness, and of which Mr. Trump had previously spoken negatively. But in the next section, surely Mr. Trump must explain the rationale for his about face!

Nope.

“I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.”

Trump tries to explain his reasoning, but what he says is so vague as to defy interpretation. What exactly is this “nuclear alternative” of which he speaks? When he says he “can’t take anything off the table,” is he referring to the nuclear first strike policy he renounced seconds earlier?

What’s frightening about these two passages is what’s frightening about Trump and is emblematic of his performance in this debate. Trump tends to take fringe policy positions, and then indemnify himself from risk by making vague or contradictory statements so that he can change his narrative to fit the political mood du jour. This way, if his answer here is brought up in a critical way, he’ll use the hemming and hawing that immediately followed his answer to justify whatever flip-flop he deems to be politically expedient. Or alternatively, Trump just gave the first answer that came to mind and then equivocated to fill his time because he didn’t actually understand the question asked of him.

Oh, I almost forgot the third paragraph I mentioned; that’s actually just the sentence that immediately follows from where we left Mr. Trump. “And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal.”

This passage is the scariest for hardcore Trump supporters. With their anti-immigrant sentiments, one can but wonder how they could ever bring themselves to vote for a candidate who can’t speak English.

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Image: Flickr

 

 

 

Could Trump Actually Win?

One of the enduring critiques of Donald Trump from conservative Republicans throughout the primary process has been that the businessman’s cocksure temperament and draconian immigration policy proposals, though popular among certain segments of the Republican primary electorate, will all but ensure his defeat in a general election campaign against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. I have levied this criticism against Mr. Trump in the past; after all, his approval ratings among women and Hispanics are awful and are unlikely to improve dramatically before voters cast their ballots in November, even if the businessman makes a concerted effort to soften his image within these critical demographic groups.

But since Donald Trump took his place as the presumptive Republican nominee, the long succession of general election polls which showed the real estate mogul trailing both of his potential rivals by a wide margin has been completely overturned. Before Mr. Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana’s primary on May 3rd forced Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the Republican nomination fight, the GOP frontrunner was polling badly against both potential Democratic opponents. General election polls taken in the month of April showed Mr. Trump trailing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by an average of just about 10 and 12 percentage points, respectively. By contrast, in April 2012, Mitt Romney, who ultimately became the Republican nominee for that year’s presidential election, only lagged President Obama by an average of five points across seventeen general election polls.

But in the polls taken after his ascendance to the status of presumptive nominee, Donald Trump has gained ground rapidly. Though Bernie Sanders still trounces him by an average of 9.4 percent, Mr. Trump has closed what was a double-digit gap between him and Mrs. Clinton to a mere 1.2 point margin. Taking only the polls conducted in the last week, the businessman pulls ahead of Mrs. Clinton, albeit by less than one percent on average. Yet remarkably, these same polls show Mr. Trump to suffer still from the same likability problems which his critics and opponents have identified. According to a Fox News poll conducted this week, Mr. Trump is disliked by nearly three-fifths of the national electorate, yet he still manages to defeat Mrs. Clinton by three points. What gives?

First, though voters still dislike Mr. Trump immensely, they like him more now than they have in the past. Two months ago, the percentage of voters which view him negatively reached 65 percent, a record high for the duration of Fox News’s general election polling so far in this election. In the most recent survey, this number declined to 56 percent. This change could be reflecting a number of factors, including Mr. Trump’s move toward more moderate policy stances and less strident rhetoric as he shifts toward a general election strategy.

Second, Republicans are beginning to dutifully unite behind Mr. Trump as their party’s nominee. According to Gallup, which has tracked the businessman’s favorability among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents since July 2015, conservative voters are now more united behind him than ever, with two-thirds viewing him favorably now. Though many Republicans remain dissatisfied with Mr. Trump as their party’s nominee, they still largely plan to support him, and the once powerful #NeverTrump movement is now greatly diminished in strength and resolve.

Third, voters view Hillary Clinton as a poor alternative to Mr. Trump. According to this week’s Fox News poll, over three-fifths of the electorate—61 percent—view her unfavorably, while only 56 percent view Donald Trump in this way. Among independents, which have been a decisive force in the past several presidential contests, Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating is atrocious, with a whopping 51-point gap between voters who view her favorably (23 percent) and those who do not (74 percent). Independents also dislike Mr. Trump, but his net favorability (-17 percent) is much better than Clinton’s. The former secretary of state also fares poorly on questions of trustworthiness, as many voters view her as the epitome of a slick career politician. Nearly half of voters view her as more corrupt than Mr. Trump, including nearly a fifth of Democrats.

Fourth, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether Mrs. Clinton will manage to unite the Democratic Party behind her candidacy. Though she has received strong support from registered Democrats in several recent surveys, what really matters is whether she will be able to woo Bernie Sanders’s supporters—best characterized as liberals who do not identify as Democrats—to her cause. But as relations between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have soured, her favorability rating among the Vermont senator’s following has cratered. According to a YouGov poll conducted early this month, 61 percent of Mr. Sanders’s supporters view Mrs. Clinton unfavorably, and only 55 percent said that they would vote for Clinton over Trump in November. Of course, much can change between now and the November election, and we will undoubtedly see Sanders’s supporters shift at least slightly toward Hillary Clinton once she clinches the nomination. But unlike Mr. Trump, whose base of support largely consists of disaffected working-class people of independent political persuasions, Mrs. Clinton draws most of her support from older voters who identify themselves with the Democratic Party.

This difference could ultimately prove fatal for Clinton’s campaign. It has long been the case that party identification is one of the best predictors of how people will vote. As one study of voting behavior in the 2008 election explains, “party identification is a perceptual screen: a pair of partisan-tinted eyeglasses through which the voter views the political world.” As such, it goes without saying that Mrs. Clinton will command most of the vote from Democratic Party-affiliated voters in November. But this portion of the general electorate is one which virtually any Democratic nominee would win anyway simply by virtue of his/her party affiliation. The real battle is for moderates and independent voters, who are agents of transformation in an otherwise static political arena, yet these voters do not like Mrs. Clinton at all.

Donald Trump is much better positioned in this respect. Though many Republicans are uneasy about his candidacy, their loyalty toward GOP-affiliated candidates will pull them inexorably toward their party’s nominee. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump will hold onto his core group of supporters—the powerful bloc of independent blue-collar voters which his candidacy has energized—for the November election.

For months, I and many political pundits believed that Donald Trump would be a weak general election candidate. But as the general election matchup between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump has solidified, it is becoming increasingly uncertain just who exactly is the underdog in this year’s fight for the highest office in the land.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Super Tuesday 2.0: The fallout from the March 15th primaries

On the Republican side

Donald Trump marched to victory in four of the five Republican primaries on Tuesday, steamrolling Senator Marco Rubio on his home turf in Florida and holding back an insurgent Senator Ted Cruz in Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina. His only loss came in Ohio, where John Kasich, the state’s popular governor, won handily. After his disappointing loss in Florida, Marco Rubio suspended his campaign, shrinking the GOP field to three candidates.

The only certainty coming out of Tuesday’s primaries is that the uncertainty of the GOP race will persist for some time. Donald Trump had a good night, but it was not quite decisive enough to make his nomination a foregone conclusion. His dominant performance in Florida, though bringing him 99 delegates closer to winning the nomination outright, also pushed Marco Rubio out of the race and strengthened Mr. Trump’s opponents. According to a new national poll by Morning Consult, nearly half of Rubio supporters back Mr. Cruz as their second-choice candidate, while just one in eight view the Donald as their best alternative. A little more than a quarter would support John Kasich. Taken in the context of Trump’s razor-thin margins of victory in Missouri and North Carolina, where he won by 0.2 percent and 4 percent respectively, these numbers indicate that Mr. Rubio’s political demise may compromise Donald Trump in the long run, giving just enough strength to Cruz and Kasich to mount serious challenges to Mr. Trump in critical states like Arizona, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Though posting strong performances in all of Tuesday’s primaries, Donald Trump failed once again to demonstrate his ability to expand his appeal beyond his narrow, impassioned core group of supporters. Though he did manage to exceed his average vote share from the previous contests, the New York real estate mogul was yet again unable to obtain a majority in a single state. The longer he fails to exceed the 50 percent mark in these primary races, the more time will pass before he will be able to credibly claim that he is a consensus candidate who can unite the party, and the more opportunities Messrs. Cruz and Kasich will have to topple Mr. Trump before he can clinch the Republican nomination.

Beyond Tuesday, Mr. Trump will need to win just under 60 percent of the remaining 975 delegates in order to clinch the GOP nomination. With winner-take-all and winner-take-most states dominating the rest of the primary season, his path to the nomination is realistic but far from secure. In order to clinch the nomination and avoid ejection at a contested convention, Mr. Trump will need to string together victories in several of the upcoming winner-take-all and winner-take-most primaries and overcome his narrow appeal within the Republican electorate.

 

On the Democratic side

 After a shocking defeat in Michigan on March 8th, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton redeemed herself with a dominant performance in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries. She swept every state, taking Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio by comfortable margins and fending off fierce challenges from Senator Bernie Sanders in Missouri and Illinois. Though winning the nomination is still a statistical possibility for Mr. Sanders, his performance on Tuesday has made his practical path to the nomination impossibly narrow.

Unlike the Republican Party, which permits states to award delegates on a winner-take-all or a winner-take-most basis, the Democratic Party only allows its primaries to award delegates proportionally. This feature makes late comebacks difficult, since overcoming a large delegate deficit in proportional primaries requires not only victories but also wide margins of victory, like those which Mrs. Clinton has produced throughout the South. With Clinton now leading by over 300 pledged delegates and 400 superdelegates, Mr. Sanders will be hard-pressed to come up with the massive wins he will need in order to shift the balance of the Democratic race and overtake his opponent. Barring an extraordinary change in the state of the race—such as the indictment of Mrs. Clinton over her alleged mishandling of classified documents as secretary of state—Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

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Image Source: Flickr

Iowa Caucuses: What You Need to Know

What are the Iowa Caucuses?

In both parties’ nomination processes, the first state to cast its votes is the state of Iowa, which does so in the form of a caucus. While New Hampshire’s state constitution has a law dictating that New Hampshire must be the first state to hold a primary each election cycle, Iowa skirts this law by remaining loyal to the caucus system. The Iowa caucus rose to prominence in the media in 1972, (in large part due to the long-shot candidacy of then Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter) and has not left the spotlight since. While most states used to use a caucus system, states including Texas, California, New York, and many others have recently opted to abandon them in favor of primaries; most caucus states are smaller (population-wise) than average. Caucuses are far more interactive than the primary system, but actually work quite differently for the Republican and Democratic parties.

During a Democratic caucus, voters are free to discuss and debate their candidates’ merits. After the allotted time period (typically 30 minutes) is up, the organizers take up a head count of the supporters for each candidate. Any candidate with less than 15% of the caucus supporting him/her is eliminated. The caucus goers whose candidate may have been eliminated are given an additional 30 minutes to reassemble themselves and choose a new candidate to support, or abstain from voting. After that time period is up, a second count of the room (or caucus location) is taken and results are recorded. The full caucus takes about an hour and a half.

For Republicans, the process is substantially simpler and more reminiscent of what the primary system normally looks like. Republican voters (you must be a registered Republican to participate in the caucus) make their way to a caucus location, which may be a church, school, or even a private home. Once there, Republican voters cast secret ballots for their choice of candidate by writing down the name of said candidate on a piece of paper, submitting it, and then leaving. This is a much quicker and more intuitive system, in total taking a maximum of around 30 minutes. Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, released a video explaining how to vote in the Republican caucus. Ivanka outlines the process, using the buzzwords “quick”, “easy”, and “simple” no fewer than four times in the brief video. The Iowa Caucuses for Democrats and Republicans have correctly predicted the nominee in 5 of the last 7 contested (non re-elected) nominations.

 

What do the Iowa Caucuses mean for the Democrats?

Symbolically, the Iowa caucus is important for the Democratic party. At this time eight years ago, future President Obama was trailing Sen. Clinton by 20 points. The Iowa caucus was the first  in a string of Obama victories that would propel him to securing the nomination and presidency later that year.

The system the Democrats use will likely undermine what little support candidate Martin O’Malley holds. Because the Democrat ballots in the Iowa caucus are not secret, O’Malley supporters may feel pressure to support either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. This effect likely favors Clinton by a slim margin, and may swing the hotly contested Iowa caucus.

If Bernie Sanders wins Iowa, he will likely prolong the nomination process, and could even become the Democratic candidate. If Clinton cannot quickly and loudly squash the Sanders campaign, both camps face a long, drawn-out primary battle. Such a battle will both eat away at the Democrats’ resources and decrease the candidates’ favorability in the eyes of the voters. A Sanders victory in Iowa will cost both Sanders and Clinton a substantial amount of money as both sides levy negative campaigns against the other in the remaining 49 states and at the DNC, ultimately helping Republicans.

 

What do the Iowa Caucuses mean for the Republicans?

For candidates other than Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, a strong showing in Iowa will be necessary to stay in the running. This doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate has to win the popular vote in Iowa, but coming in anywhere behind the fourth place winner will seriously diminish any candidate’s prospects of winning the nomination. Some of the candidates with stronger polhling in New Hampshire, including Kasich and Christie, will likely hang on to their campaigns, even with a poor showing in Iowa, but Bush (who has name recognition) and Carson (who is polling at a steady 4th in most polls) need a large turnout to maintain their candidacies.

The most notable distinguishing characteristic of the Republican caucus as opposed to a mainstream primary system is that instead of receiving a list of all the candidates and selecting one, the caucus voters are given a blank piece of paper and write down the name of the candidate they support. This helps candidates like Trump, Bush, Rubio, and Cruz–who have spent more time in the headlines–and hurts candidates like Fiorina, Kasich, Paul, and Santorum, who have less name recognition. For voters who are deciding who to vote for in today’s caucus, the candidates with significant amounts of air time will be percolating in the minds of the swing voters, and name recognition will go a long way in bolstering these candidates’ numbers.

The Iowa caucuses carry significant weight, but are not the end of the road for either party by any stretch. Whatever the results in Iowa, the primary contest for both parties will likely draw pundits’ attention for many months to come.