That Better Part of Valor

Whoever said discretion is the better part of valor – it was Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henny IV by the way, explaining why played dead to avoid a fight, to save his sorry ass – meant no more than it’s best to pick your fights. There’s no point in getting the crap beat out of you. Live to fight another day. The words have now been decoupled from Shakespeare’s famous drunken coward. Discretion is a good thing. Don’t get goaded into pointless fights that cannot be won, or pointless fights that can be won. Stay focused. Keep your eye on the prize, and so on and so forth.

That’s good advice, and hard to follow, and hard for Donald Trump to follow. He keeps getting hammered with things that must make his blood boil, and he’s a man that reacts to the slightest slight – always. Someone hit him hard. He hits them back harder, and then he belittles them. He has no use for political correctness either. He intends to hurt people’s feelings, lots of people’s feelings, because they deserve to be hurt.

That’s what so many people like about him, for better or worse. He has no impulse control. They wish they could get away with what he gets away with, calling women pigs or sluts or whatever, suggesting everyone should get nukes and we settle things everywhere once and for all. They prefer valor without discretion.

That, however, may be political suicide. This man, proud to be on his third trophy wife, who doesn’t seem to care that he comes off as a sexist pig to all the losers out there, will soon find that discretion is kind of useful. Things catch up with you. That just happened way out here:

Donald Trump wanted to fire female employees he considered unattractive and replace them with better-looking women at a golf resort he owned, according to court documents from a 2012 lawsuit.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the court documents detail a lawsuit that alleges Trump pressured employees at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes to replace those he viewed to be unattractive female employees over a number of years in the 2000s.

Yeah, yeah, this would be a minor matter, but not now:

The report comes as Trump has faced renewed criticism that he disrespects women, a narrative fueled by his controversial remarks about a former Miss Universe that he worked with when he owned the beauty pageant. Hillary Clinton raised in Monday’s debate the fact that he called Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” after she won his 1996 Miss Universe pageant.

Now it all fits together:

Hayley Strozier, an employee at the golf club until 2008, alleged in a sworn declaration she “had witnessed Donald Trump tell managers many times while he was visiting the club that restaurant hostesses were ‘not pretty enough’ and that they should be fired and replaced with more attractive women.”

According to the LA Times report, the employees said in their lawsuit that they rotated employees schedules “so that the most attractive women were scheduled to work when Mr. Trump was scheduled to be at the club.”

The Trump Organization called the allegations “meritless.”

Of course they did. Donald Trump has always respected women. That’s why the polls will turn around and they’ll all vote for him. And of course there wil be no response to this Los Angeles Times story. That’s settled and done, a fight that’s not worth fighting now. Move on. Discretion is the better part of valor, but that’s not happening:

Donald Trump and his allies are refusing to let up on their attacks on former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, with Newt Gingrich shaming her for gaining weight during her reign and Corey Lewandowski suggesting she’s an attempted murderer.

The sustained assault has provided a wide opening for Hillary Clinton’s campaign to drive home the narrative that Trump is a misogynist and a horrible role model for voters’ children.

It also represents another self-inflicted wound for Trump, who went into Monday night’s debate having almost closed the gap with Clinton in many crucial battleground states.

But Clinton sprung a trap on the debate stage, bringing up Trump’s past public shaming of Machado as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” and Trump has since been struggling to break free.

Trump has since been struggling to break free by obsessing about this:

Even after receiving blowback for doubling down on Tuesday morning, when Trump said Machado had “gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem,” the Republican presidential nominee again stepped in it Wednesday night, claiming to have spared Machado when others wanted to fire her as Miss Universe.

“I saved her job because they wanted to fire her for putting on so much weight,” Trump told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in a pre-taped interview broadcast Wednesday evening. “And it is a beauty contest. You know, I mean, say what you want, Bill, I mean, they know what they’re getting into. It’s a beauty contest.”

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and top Trump surrogate, echoed Trump’s attack line during a dinner address to the Log Cabin Republicans in Washington on Wednesday.

 “You’re not supposed to gain 60 pounds during the year that you’re Miss Universe,” Gingrich said, eliciting laughter from the room of Republicans.

It seems women are to look svelte and sexy, but there was other laughter:

“You got to be kidding me,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri tweeted in response to Gingrich’s comment. “I am sorry, I can’t get past this. Newt Gingrich is criticizing someone for their weight.”

Well, Newt is a fat guy, but that didn’t matter:

The attacks didn’t stop at the dinner table, though. Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager who still has ties to the campaign and contributes regularly to CNN, launched a new attack during the breakfast hour Thursday, resurfacing a decades-old allegation that Machado was involved in an attempted murder in Venezuela.

“The Clinton campaign took a person and brought her into a debate, a person who has been part of a murder,” he said on CNN. “We know that. True.”

That’s not a fact:

Machado was accused of being an accomplice in an attempted murder in 1997 for allegedly driving the getaway car after her boyfriend wounded his brother-in-law in a shooting. While her boyfriend was indicted, the charges against her were dropped over lack of evidence.

This was not a fight worth picking, but they’re having it anyway, along with this one:

For his part, Gingrich praised Trump’s chivalrous conduct during Monday’s debate by refusing to go after the former president.

“He thought about it, and I’m sure he said to himself, ‘A president of the United States shouldn’t attack somebody personally when their daughter is sitting in the audience,'” Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity during a radio interview Thursday. “And he bit his tongue, and he was a gentleman, and I thought in many ways that was the most important moment of the whole evening. He proved that he had the discipline to remain as a decent guy even when she was disgusting.”

But Clinton’s campaign has already prepared itself – all but inviting Trump to launch such an ill-advised attack they say would have an adverse effect, propelling Clinton, not Trump, to the White House.

“After his disastrous debate performance and his sexist attack on a former Miss Universe over her weight, Donald Trump is now trying to deflect by going after Hillary Clinton about her marriage,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement on Thursday. “While Trump and his lieutenants like Roger Stone and David Bossie may want to dredge up failed attacks from the 1990s, as many Republicans have warned, this is a mistake that is going to backfire.”

Don’t do it, Donald, don’t do it, but then he does it:

Everyone but Donald Trump and his most ardent supporters recognize that Donald Trump lost Monday night’s debate. And because of the candidate’s stubborn disbelief in his ability to do anything but win, Trump lost the post-debate period too.

Now he’s doubling down.

Despite warnings from fellow Republicans against insulting a beauty queen he disparaged for gaining weight and launching an attack on Hillary Clinton for her husband’s well-known infidelities, Trump is now directing his surrogates to do just that.

“Mr. Trump has never treated women the way Hillary Clinton and her husband did when they worked to destroy Bill Clinton’s accusers,” reads one of the talking points the campaign sent to surrogates on Thursday as the controversy surrounding the story of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado continued to dominate headlines of the race.

And during a rally Thursday afternoon in Bedford, N.H., Trump himself referenced the scandals of the 1990s that he’s been congratulating himself for not talking about all week. “The Clintons are the sordid past,” he said. “We will be the very bright and clean future.”

Yes, he’s going there, and there’s chaos on Fifth Avenue:

Inside Trump Tower, his inner circle of advisers has been in turmoil: while some have attempted to reach to the hard-headed candidate by suggesting to reporters that he must prepare more thoroughly for the second debate, others have spit-balled ideas aimed at changing the subject, including a last-minute trip to Israel that might replicate the more presidential optics and media saturation coverage they achieved with last month’s surprise summit with the Mexican president.

Trump himself has reportedly chided aides who have privately acknowledged to reporters that Clinton bested him on the debate stage.

But that private uncertainty and unease about what was so clearly a disappointing performance has oozed into public view. Since the debate Monday night, surrogates and Trump himself have both praised and criticized the moderator, Lester Holt. One of Trump’s closest confidants at the moment, Rudy Giuliani, said immediately after the debate that he’d advise Trump to skip the next two and on Wednesday indulged a conspiracy, propagated by a Russian state-controlled news site, that Clinton might have gotten the questions in advance. And on Thursday, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she had indeed told her candidate not to call women “fat pigs” but quickly tried to dismiss his insults as “beside the point” because he in fact supports women.

“With Trump, it’s always the tyranny of the urgent and right now it is he has to have people believe he won, or that if he didn’t it was rigged and unfair,” said Rick Tyler, a GOP operative who worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

It seems no one knows which fights to pick, so the Clinton folks will do that for them:

Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, is starting to put the pedal down. Even before the candidate mentioned Machado, her communications and rapid response operations had laid the groundwork. Machado had already done a photo shoot and interview with Cosmopolitan that popped online less than 24 hours after the debate. The campaign quickly organized a press call with Machado. They cut a video encapsulating the debate exchange and Machado’s story, which has been a staple of cable news coverage for 48 hours now. In swing states, women surrogates have been amplifying Clinton’s argument.

And Democrats have said they would love to see Trump try to tar Clinton for her husband’s cheating past, something veteran Republican operatives and GOP lawmakers desperately want their candidate to avoid.

“What you’ve seen in the last 48 hours is that Clinton actually has a campaign,” said Stuart Stevens, the GOP strategist behind Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “What you see is the Clinton campaign has an extra gear they can go into, and the Trump campaign really doesn’t.”

All they have is this woman:

Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said she’s not advising the Republican nominee to bring up former President Bill Clinton’s past infidelities as a way to attack his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not advising him to go there,” Conway said in an interview on “The View” Thursday, adding, “It’s fair game to think about how Hillary Clinton treated those women after the fact. She called Monica Lewinsky a loony toon.”

But she’s not advising him to go there. She knows that discretion is the batter part of valor, often to save your sorry ass. Slate’s Michelle Goldberg knows that:

Earlier this year, it seemed like Donald Trump was going to try to use Bill Clinton’s infidelities against Hillary Clinton. “She’s married to a man who was the worst abuser of women in the history of politics,” Trump said at a rally in Spokane, Washington. “She’s married to a man who hurt many women.” Later that month, Trump released an Instagram video of Bill Clinton chomping on a cigar as unnamed women accuse him of sexual harassment and assault; the spot ends with the sound of Hillary Clinton’s witchy cackling. Trump apparently saw this as a winning line of political attack. On July 13, the New York Times reported that the Republican National Convention would feature a “presentation detailing former President Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct.”

But the presentation never happened, and Trump mostly dropped the subject. The reasons seem obvious. As a notorious philanderer, it wasn’t in Trump’s interest to make adultery a campaign issue. Further, as many Republican consultants know, women – including Republican women – really don’t like attempts to hold Hillary liable for Bill’s affairs. Earlier this year, I spoke to Katie Packer, Mitt Romney’s 2012 Deputy Campaign Manager, about right-leaning women’s attitudes towards Hillary Clinton. “One thing that causes them to come to her defense is when they feel like she’s being blamed for her husband’s bad behavior,” she told me.

Doesn’t trump know better? Goldberg suggests not:

Before entering politics, Trump criticized Bill Clinton not for mistreating women, but for failing to find hotter mistresses. He once called Paula Jones a “loser” and said of the Lewinsky scandal that “people would have been more forgiving” if Clinton had slept with “a really beautiful woman of sophistication.” Trump’s message in bringing up Bill’s adultery now is the same as the right-wing slogan he retweeted last year: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

His belief that Bill Clinton’s affairs reflect badly on Hillary demonstrates something key to his psyche: For Trump, the only salient distinction when judging a women’s worth is whether she is fuckable or unfuckable.

That’s one way to put it, probably accurately:

Trump is hardly the first man to judge women based on their looks. He is unusual, however, in being unable to admire, or even pretend to admire, any human qualities in women other than sexual attractiveness. He praised his daughter Ivanka’s “very nice figure” and said that if she “weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.” (In other words, he called her fuckable, but in a paternal way.) He even discussed his infant daughter Tiffany in terms of her future erotic allure. Appearing on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1994, he said that Tiffany, then a baby, had inherited the long legs of her model mother, Marla Maples. Then, holding his hands in front of his chest as if he were cupping breasts, he added, “We don’t know whether or not she’s got this part yet, but time will tell.”

Consider, also, the way Trump has spoken of his wife, Melania. “She’s a great beauty, but she’s a great beauty inside, which is almost as important,” he told Howard Stern in 2005. (Note the “almost.”) Stern asked Trump if he’d stay with Melania if she were disfigured in a horrible car accident. “How do the breasts look?” A bit of jovial banter over whether Trump will abandon his wife if she loses her looks follows. “It is Melania’s job, in a sense, to stay beautiful,” says Stern. Trump doesn’t disagree.

The man is a bit creepy, and Goldberg adds this:

It’s hardly unusual for men to prize their trophy wives for their beauty, but they usually at least pretend to a deeper connection. Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. But Trump doesn’t realize his shallowness is a vice, because he’s not aware that other systems of value exist. Hence his conviction, against all evidence, that reminding American voters of Bill Clinton’s affairs will delegitimize Hillary Clinton. He’s gone after Hillary on her emails, on Benghazi, on the Clinton Foundation. The race has tightened, but now he’s slipping behind again. So he’s hitting her with what seems to him to be her most obvious failure.

In short, he has no sense of discretion. He’ll fight those pointless fights:

Donald Trump is angry that his aides and advisers have conceded to reporters – largely without attribution – that the Republican nominee struggled in his first presidential debate.

In a conference call with surrogates Wednesday afternoon, Trump aides made clear the Republican nominee is upset that his allies publicly acknowledged they pushed him to change his preparation and tactics before his next bout with Hillary Clinton. And he wants them to stop it immediately.

The message was “not subtle,” a source familiar with the call said.

And he has a plan:

Ahead of their October 9 town hall style debate in St. Louis, part of the problem, one source said, is that Trump doesn’t yet seem to grasp that he needs to expand his base of supporters to bring in new voters who are not yet sold on his temperament, policy positions or readiness to be president.

When Trump was told Tuesday that he should do some things differently, he responded that his approach is what his base likes.

Now add this:

Donald Trump complained about every part of the first presidential debate, from his opponent to the moderator to the subsequent poll results, during a Thursday campaign appearance.

“I had to put up with the anchor and fight the anchor all the time on everything I said,” Trump said of the debate’s moderator, Lester Holt, at a rally in Bedford, New Hampshire. “What a rigged deal.”

He also cited online polls as evidence of his success, saying that “every single online poll said we won.”

It was all rigged, and then Fox News abandoned him:

On Tuesday afternoon, a Fox News executive sent a memo to staff that was leaked to Business Insider reminding them that online polls like the ones Trump touted should not be cited as though they were scientifically sound.

Since online polls don’t survey a population selected from randomized phone numbers and internet users, Fox’s vice president of public-opinion research, Dana Blanton, noted in that memo that “the sample obviously can’t be representative of the electorate.”

Now he gets to say Fox News is out to get him. Everyone is out to get him – but perhaps he’s just trying to be presidential, if that means being paranoid and impulsive, with the authority to use nuclear weapons.

That’s a problem, and Chris Cillizza points to this paragraph in the New York Times story headlined New Debate Strategy for Donald Trump: Practice, Practice, Practice:

The team had primed Mr. Trump to look for roughly a dozen key phrases and expressions Mrs. Clinton uses when she is uncertain or uncomfortable, but he did not seem to pay attention during the practice sessions, one aide said, and failed to home in on her vulnerabilities during the debate.

Cillizza is a bit appalled:

Donald Trump is one of two people who will be president next January. Monday night was, inarguably, the most important day of the general election campaign to date. Every person in politics – and not – had circled the first debate as a major moment in the campaign, Trump’s best chance to fight back against the narrative that he lacks the policy chops and the temperament to be president of the United States. The audience for the debate was expected to be somewhere between 80 and 100 million, the largest for a political event ever.

All of these things pointed to the absolute necessity for Trump to perform well. And, what happened? His debate prep team couldn’t get him to pay attention. That is, literally, stunning…

Put yourself in a comparable situation. You are applying for a job you really want. Your interview is in five days. You hire an interview coach to help you do well. Then you just can’t bring yourself to pay attention to the advice he or she gives you.

It’s hard to imagine that happening, right? After all, it’s your dream job. You’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. You know it won’t likely come around again. With all that in the balance, you would be far more likely to over-prepare than under-prepare, right? Can you imagine simply not being able to bring yourself to pay attention with the most important day of your professional life on the horizon?

All that Cillizza can offer is this:

What I think is going on here is that Trump has prided himself on unpredictability and a seat-of-the-pants approach throughout his adult life. He proudly recounts how he would turn up to work every morning with no definite plan for the day – preferring to just let things come to him and react. He has total and complete confidence in his instincts and, at some subconscious level, believes that preparation dulls those instincts.

The problem for Trump is that a presidential general election campaign isn’t analogous to anything else he’s done in his life. You can’t wing it in a debate in front of 80 million people against someone who has spent virtually her entire life preparing for this one moment. You can’t ignore the advice of people brought in to give you advice because you are convinced you know better. In short, you have to pay attention.

That’s what Falstaff was saying in the Shakespeare play. Pay attention. Don’t react to every challenge, immediately, by hitting back as hard as you can, no matter what. You’ll live longer. Trump’s debate prep team talked to him about discretion. He tuned out and the rest is history, or will be.

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The Elusive Root Cause of Trump

Donald Trump has kept the media busy. Every four to six hours he says something offensive to someone – to women, to minorities, to economic and foreign-policy experts, and often to fellow Republicans. These are mostly naughty-schoolboy insults – intended to sting and embarrass others. He needles people – friends and foes alike – in what many see as a game of dominance. Others will whimper and fold if he keeps up the name-calling, and thus everyone will see his alpha-male awesomeness, and that’s worked for him. He could win this election – and when someone calls him out for the stupid thing he just said – Obama founded ISIS or whatever – he’ll say he was only kidding. The next day he’ll say he hadn’t been kidding at all. It’s exhausting, and every few hours it’s something else, and that’s on purpose. He can’t be touched if he keeps moving on, and there’s no point in anyone making a list of the outrages. Only the last three or four have everyone upset. The others have been forgotten.

The latest, as if it will matter in another twelve hours, seems to be this:

He’s called for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

So on Wednesday, when Donald Trump – jokingly – asked supporters whether he should give the boot to non-Christians at his rally in Iowa, it raised some concerns from, among others, Muslim groups.

“Raise your hand if you’re not a Christian conservative. There’s a couple of people,” he said at a rally in Council Bluffs. “… Should we keep them in the room? I think so.”

Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. last December following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. His comments have been assailed by Democrats and Republicans alike.

His statements Wednesday were castigated by some on social media, who didn’t seem to care they were apparently made in jest and that Trump did not ask for the non-Christians to leave the room.

Yeah, but what a man jokes about is who he is. Even as a joke this is alarming, but it too will be forgotten. There’s no way to keep up with it all.

How did it come to this? Why is this insult-machine with no knowledge of public policy – and not much interest in it either – one of the two realistic choices for president? How did this happen?

Those who are tired of listing the outrages have decided to step back and think about that. One of those is Heather Parton, and she thinks this all started in 2008:

As the vehicle for social progress and the home of most racial minorities and women, the Democratic Party was naturally the institution that would advance two breakthrough leaders in succession. The time had come, the country had changed and I naively thought it would be easy.

As it turned out, there was an immediate, fierce backlash against the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency, called the Tea Party. It was portrayed as a revolutionary anti-government movement but when scholars studied these folks, it turned out that they were simply garden-variety conservatives after all – and they were very, very angry.

But that may have been wrong. Parton cites Harvard’s Theda Skocpol, the co-author of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, explaining that something deeper was going on here:

There’s no question that at the grass roots, approximately half of all Republican-identifiers who think of themselves as Tea Partyers are a very conservative-minded old group of white people, some of whom do go all the way back to [Barry] Goldwater and the [John] Birch Society. They are skeptical of the Republican Party as it has been run in recent years. But they both hate and fear the Democratic Party and Obama. We argued in many ways that anger comes from alarm on the part of these older conservatives that they’re losing their country – that’s what they say – that they’re the true Americans, and they’re losing control of American politics.

Parton runs with that:

Nothing symbolized that “loss of control” more than the African-American president sitting in the White House. Sadly, it turns out that these older, more affluent conservatives weren’t the only ones who felt that way. White working-class Americans, particularly men, were growing more and more angry about losing their place in the hierarchy of privilege. These two groups make up the Republican coalition that is now expressing the right-wing backlash in the form of explicit white nationalism.

After dealing with a black president and his family occupying the White House for eight long years, accepting a woman taking the job immediately thereafter is more than they can bear. As the National Rifle Association’s president, Wayne LaPierre, quipped, “I have to tell you, eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.”

The right-wing opposition’s response to the “demographically symbolic” female candidate has been to nominate a famously crude misogynist to restore white male authority once and for all.

That explains Trump, or Rebecca Traister explains Trump:

Of course Hillary Clinton is going to have to run against a man who seems both to embody and have attracted the support of everything male, white and angry about the ascension of women and black people in America. … Of course a woman who wants to land in the Oval Office is going to have to get past an aggressive reality-TV star who has literally talked about his penis in a debate.

Parton sees how that hobbles Hillary:

This explains to some extent why we don’t see the kind of rapturous excitement at this “first” that we saw in 2008 for Obama. The sense of violence and hostility that was bubbling just under the surface then, and that churned throughout the Obama years, has now exploded. It’s frightening and disorienting and it forces optimism to the down-low. The atmosphere is more like a war than a movement.

Clinton’s ad campaign shows the terrain on which this war is being fought. There have been plenty of standard issues ads and character studies, but her most effective spots are those that simply use Donald Trump’s own words against him, showing him insulting people and expressing himself in crude, bullying fashion. They’re presented from the point of view of kids, veterans, seniors, individuals with disabilities, people of color and women who can see how this man who tells his voters “I am your voice” talks about them.

The ads are not about Clinton and they aren’t really about Trump. They are about us and what Trump’s followers really think of us.

There’s no hiding that, so the lines have been drawn:

Many fathers who see the ads are appalled that their daughters have to live in a world where someone like Donald Trump is an acceptable leader. That’s why the experience of Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe who has come forward with her story of being humiliated at Trump’s hands, has such resonance with women and Latinos.

It’s why people with disabilities and their families are frightened by Trump’s cruel mockery of a reporter. It’s the reason that African-Americans feel a chill down their spines when they hear Trump say that the way to achieve racial healing is “law and order” and “stop-and-frisk.” It’s why millions of Americans of all races and creeds were stunned at his blithe dismissal of Khan family members and their sacrifice. These are the people on the other side of all that angry white grievance.

So here’s the theory:

It’s not a coincidence that the first African-American president may be followed by the first woman president… But it also shouldn’t be a surprise that the first would enter office on a high note of inspiration and the second would face the inevitable backlash. We should have seen it coming. I get the feeling that Hillary Clinton did.

Perhaps Clinton did, but Slate’s Will Saletan has another theory. We got Trump because of the Iraq war:

In 1995, the Republican Party had occupied the White House for all but two of the previous 14 years. The Soviet Union was dead. Foreign policy was a national afterthought. Violent crime was at a peak, a staple of Republican campaigns. The country had just suffered its worst terror attack, a bombing in Oklahoma City by white extremists. In the 1994 elections, the GOP had picked up 10 governorships, eight Senate seats, and 54 House seats, seizing control of Congress. When people talked about a war in Iraq, they meant the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91, led by President George H. W. Bush and hailed as a triumph of international law enforcement.

Two decades later, that landscape is unrecognizable. Democrats are likely to retain the presidency for a third consecutive term, a feat unseen since the GOP reign of 1981 to 1993. Russia is a resurgent predator. Republicans in Congress talk more about criminal justice reform than they do about crime. Several of this year’s Republican presidential candidates campaigned against the National Security Agency, and most recoiled from the idea of sending troops to the Middle East. The party’s nominee, Donald Trump, brags that he opposed the Iraq war, a lie that reflects how far the political winds have shifted.

That damned Iraq war changed everything:

The war left two political vacuums. One is in Iraq, where the post-Saddam government can barely hold its own against ISIS and other sectarian forces. The other is in the United States. The war discredited Republican management of the presidency. George W. Bush devoted six years to a massive policing and nation-building project, and he failed. His failure destroyed the GOP’s self-confidence and led many Americans to turn away, embracing alternatives on the left and right.

And one of those alternatives was Trump, the alternative to this:

Not many people, even on the right, praise Bush today. Budget hawks wince at the deficits he piled up by cutting taxes while failing to tackle entitlements. Republican politicians pretend their party had nothing to do with the financial crash. Conservatives are still choking on the bailouts. But the party’s biggest black eye is Iraq. In every Gallup Poll for the past 10 years, most Americans have said the war was a mistake. Two years ago, in an Economist/YouGov survey, 69 percent of Republicans said Iraq probably would never become a stable democracy. A plurality of Republicans, 47 percent to 34 percent, said the United States had failed to accomplish its objectives. 

That hurts, but that was inevitable:

Bush and Cheney made the 2004 election a referendum on Iraq. They attacked the patriotism of anyone who criticized their conduct of the war. This ruthless strategy secured their re-election, but it came at a price. As the occupation soured and the body bags piled up, public unease turned to unrest and anger. Were Iraqis better off than they had been under Saddam? Was America safer? Where were the weapons of mass destruction? Why had we invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11? How had a party that ridiculed the competence of government at home led us into a bloody, multi-trillion-dollar nation-building project abroad? In 2006, voters stripped the Republican Party of its majorities in Congress. In 2008, they evicted it from the White House.

Today, the GOP is a failed state.

It failed at fiscal management, economic stewardship, and military judgment. Then, when sectarian forces rose up on the right, GOP leaders failed to confront them. Anti-government, anti–gun control, and anti-immigrant zealots seized control of Republican primaries and cowed Republican lawmakers. Now these militants have put their own warlord, Trump, on the throne. He spurns everything the establishment stood for: internationalism, free trade, migrant labor, decorum, expertise. To his critics in the Republican elite, Trump has a one-word answer: Iraq. These are the geniuses who wrecked our country, he says. Ignore them.

Voters are ignoring them, and ignoring Hillary Clinton too – she voted for the war. Bernie Sanders kept reminding her of that, until she won the nomination, because she said, repeatedly, that she regrets that vote, and most Democrats believe she does. No Republicans can bring themselves to say that they now regret their own vote for the war. They got Trump instead – at least that’s the theory.

George Will, however, says no. The problem is that Donald Trump’s rise reflects American conservatism’s decay:

His trade policy is liberalism’s “industrial policy” repackaged for faux conservatives comfortable with presidents dictating what Americans can import and purchase at what prices, and where U.S. corporations can operate. Trump “wouldn’t approve” Ford manufacturing cars in Mexico. He would create a federal police force to deport 450,000 illegal immigrants a month, including 6.4 percent of America’s workforce in two years. Yet the 25 million jobs he promises to create would require more than doubling the current rate of legal immigration to fill them, according to economist Mark Zandi. Of the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision diluting property rights by vastly expanding government’s powers of eminent domain, Trump says, “I happen to agree with it 100 percent.” Even Bernie Sanders rejects Kelo.

When Trump says “people are not making it on Social Security,” he implies that people should be able to “make it” on Social Security for a third or more of their lives, and that he, like Clinton, is for enriching this entitlement’s benefits. He will “save” the system by eliminating – wait for it – “waste, fraud and abuse.” Trump is as parsimonious with specifics regarding health care (“Plans you don’t even know about will be devised because we’re going to come up with plans – health-care plans – that will be so good”) as regarding foreign policy (“I would get China, and I would say, ‘Get in [North Korea], and straighten it out.’ ”).

“Charismatic authority,” wrote Max Weber in 1915, seven years before Mussolini’s march on Rome, causes the governed to submit “because of their belief in the extraordinary quality of the specific person… Charismatic rule thus rests upon the belief in magical powers, revelations and hero worship.” A demagogue’s success requires a receptive demos and Trump’s ascendancy reflects progressivism’s success in changing America’s social norms and national character by de-stigmatizing dependency.

Ah, that’s the problem. Ever since FDR came up with Social Security people have decided that the government could do something useful for everyone – and that created a culture of dependency, said the man who never walked on a government sidewalk. So, Trump is as bad as FDR, or worse:

Urban without a trace of urbanity, Trump has surrounded himself with star-struck acolytes (Mike Pence marvels at Trump’s anatomical – “broad-shouldered” – foreign policy) and hysterics (Rudy Giuliani: “There is no next election! This is it!”). When Ferdinand VII regained Spain’s throne in 1813, he vowed to end “the disastrous mania of thinking.” Trump is America’s Ferdinand.

And thus this stupid country lost its way:

The American project was to construct a constitutional regime whose institutional architecture would guarantee the limited government implied by the Founders’ philosophy: Government is instituted to “secure” (the Declaration of Independence) preexisting natural rights. Today, however, neither the executive nor legislative branches take this seriously, the judiciary has forsworn enforcing it, and neither political party represents it because no substantial constituency supports it.

What explains Trump? That would be a nation that refuses to stigmatize dependency and thinks its government can do lots of good things. George Will knows why Trump – stupid people who don’t see the obvious virtues of real conservatism.

Well, that’s a theory, but Dana Milbank covers the Greatest Generation’s rebuke of Trump:

John Warner, veteran of World War II and Korea, speechwriter in the Eisenhower White House, secretary of the Navy in the Nixon Pentagon, Republican senator from Virginia and longtime chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee before his retirement in 2009, performed one more act of public service Wednesday.

He urged those who love the military and care about American leadership to defeat Donald Trump.

Warner – endorsing the Democratic ticket while standing in Alexandria, Va., with fellow Virginian Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate – spoke bitterly of Trump’s description of the military as a “disaster” and a “shambles” with the generals reduced to “rubble.”

“We have today the strongest military in the world; no one can compare with us,” Warner said. Though the military needs to be modernized, he added, “no one should have the audacity to stand up and degrade the Purple Heart, degrade military families or talk about the military being in a state of disaster. That’s wrong!”

And you don’t want to argue with a man who was once married to Elizabeth Taylor, although this was about the basics:

Warner is a throwback to a different time, one of unflinching patriotism, civility, of recognition that your political opponent is not your enemy, and a dedication to consensus for the good of country.

These were the hallmarks of Warner’s generation, the Greatest Generation, “tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace,” as John F. Kennedy put it in 1961.

“I look back with deep respect for those who taught me the fundamentals of duty and honor and country at the age of 17” when he enlisted, Warner said. “I’m here solely because of what I learned then.”

Everyone has forgotten about duty and honor and country. That’s the problem, and this old man is a reminder of that:

Warner, in his decency, is everything that Trump is not.

He governed by consensus. “I had partners in Barry Goldwater and Sam Nunn and John Stennis and John Tower… old Scoop Jackson, and I learned from those men,” Warner said Wednesday. “That’s why I feel distressed about some of the comments made by the opponent to this ticket.”

He was unfailingly civil. “Candidate Clinton maintained [her] composure throughout the debate; the other candidate, in my judgment, did not,” Warner said. “She was firm but fair and, underline, respectful. That’s one word that’s totally lacking on the other side of this ticket.” Warner hailed Kaine, a longtime friend, as a “beautiful man” of “unquestioned integrity.”

And Warner was diligent. “We are, like it or not, the leader of the free world,” he said, and the president must “have a very firm and fundamental understanding” about America’s role and responsibility. “You don’t pull up a quick text like National Security for Dummies,” he said. Presidents “have got to understand there are times they don’t know everything, but they can learn, and particularly they can learn if they’ve got a foundation of their own experience to build upon – not go out and try to create it out of whole cloth after you read two or three brief sheets. Ridiculous.”

Has everyone forgotten about duty and honor and country, and decency? If so, you get Trump.

Of course there are the Republican enablers. E. J. Dionne discusses those folks:

Let it be said that at least some in the party will be able to stand proudly after this god-awful election is over. We’re witnessing real courage among those members of the party of Lincoln willing to say openly how genuinely dangerous a Trump presidency would be.

For those whose livelihoods depend on building big audiences among pro-Trump rank-and-file conservatives (think radio talk-show hosts and commentators of various kinds), joining the Never Trump camp carries real risks. For liberals, opposing Trump is about the easiest thing in the world, so we should honor the daring of our temporary comrades.

Sure, but there aren’t enough of those:

Unfortunately, the Never Trumpers are a minority on the right. More typical are House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the most prominent among the GOP contortionists who are hedging their bets.

They send signals that they know how ridiculous and bigoted Trump is, calling out this or that statement when it’s convenient to do so. But they endorse him anyway to save their down-ticket candidates while hoping that, should he lose, they can curry favor with the now-large Trump wing of the party after November.

They have made another bet as well: They believe Trump has so little interest in policy that if he were to win he would sign whatever bills a conservative Congress put before him. Trump, they hope, would be quite content just occupying a nice piece of real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue to go with the one, as he mentioned on Monday, that he’s presiding over just down the street.

Trump has encouraged this view. He may be unpresidential but he is conversant in making deals and finding the other side’s weak spot. He knows that the only thing that many conservative politicians and interest groups truly care about are big tax cuts for the rich. So he let supply-side conservatives write him a tax plan…  Besides, he’s now told us that he thinks it is “smart” for wealthy people like him not to pay taxes.

He’s played them for suckers:

It’s a cozy arrangement – and entirely rational as far as it goes. But for it to work, Trump has to keep himself under some control, becoming sufficiently conventional not to cause too much heartburn to the establishmentarians. If he did it right, he might even win. But at the least, his job is to run well enough to give the Republicans a chance to hold the Senate as well as the House.

Trump showed on Monday that he may not keep his part of the deal, either because he doesn’t want to or because he’s incapable of it. And the risk for the party is high. A Trump who exudes sexism, traffics in racism, exhibits a resolute indifference to facts and demonstrates an inability to do his homework will turn off better-educated suburban voters without whom Republicans cannot build their majorities. If more normal Republican politicians continue to collude with Trump, these voters could turn against the whole ticket.

The theory here is that these coldly-calculating Republican enablers gave us Trump, and they badly miscalculated. That may be so, but the other Theories of Trump are just as plausible.

Maybe they’re all true. That’s a depressing thought.

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Spinning the Loss

Perhaps politics is like sports. Someone wins, someone loses, and the same things matter, game-planning, skills and raw talent, situational awareness, and sheer physical strength. That’s how Donald Trump sees things. He keeps saying that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the “stamina” to do the job. And there’s the trash-talk and the taunts, to get the other guys off their game – make ’em worry – undermine their self-confidence. That’s done in cable news interviews – but sometimes you lose. That happens in a long season of game after game.

That has to be explained to the fans, and in sports there’s a model for how to handle that:

Getting handed the franchise’s worst loss in 27 years – a 31-point meltdown against Philadelphia – has a way of limiting your options.

Even 48 hours after a three-hour reality check that put the brakes on his team’s promising start, coach Mike Tomlin was hardly in a mood to search for any sliver of a silver lining.

“We got our butts kicked,” Tomlin said on Tuesday.

A whipping that magnified cracks in the defensive front seven that Pittsburgh’s offense was able to gloss over through the season’s opening two weeks. The Steelers (2-1) barely laid a hand on Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz and put on an exhibition of poor tackling that turned modest gains into big ones.

“We do it hard,” Tomlin said. “We need to do it smarter than what we displayed on Sunday.”

When you lose you don’t blame the refs, or the weather, or anything else. You say you’ll do better. That won’t happen again. You own it and you’ll fix it.

Donald Trump didn’t get the memo:

Donald J. Trump lashed out on Tuesday in the aftermath of a disappointing first debate with Hillary Clinton, scolding the moderator, criticizing a beauty pageant winner for her physique and raising the prospect of an all-out attack on Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities in the final stretch of the campaign.

Having worked assiduously in recent weeks to cultivate a more disciplined demeanor on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump cast aside that approach on Tuesday morning. As Mrs. Clinton embarked on an ebullient campaign swing through North Carolina, aiming to press her newfound advantage, Mr. Trump vented his grievances in full public view.

Yes, he blamed the ref, and more:

Sounding weary and impatient as he called into a Fox News program, Mr. Trump criticized Lester Holt, the NBC News anchor, for asking “unfair questions” during the debate Monday evening, and speculated that someone might have tampered with his microphone. Mr. Trump repeated his charge that Mrs. Clinton lacked the “stamina” to be president, a claim critics have described as sexist, and suggested that in the future he might raise Mr. Clinton’s past indiscretions.

He was feeling terribly wronged:

Defying conventions of political civility, Mr. Trump leveled cutting criticism at a beauty pageant winner, Alicia Machado, whom Mrs. Clinton held up in Monday night’s debate as an example of Mr. Trump’s disrespect for women.

Mr. Trump said on Fox he was right to disparage the former Miss Universe because of her weight.

“She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem,” said Mr. Trump, who was the pageant’s executive producer at the time.

He had no idea how petty that sounded, and boorish, and he certainly didn’t realize the trap he had walked into:

Mrs. Clinton has already been broadcasting an ad highlighting crude remarks from Mr. Trump about women; she answered his taunts about her marriage with a rhetorical shrug, telling reporters Mr. Trump was free to run whatever kind of campaign he preferred. On board her campaign plane, she plainly relished her moment of apparent triumph, and poked fun at Mr. Trump’s morning lamentations.

“Anybody who complains about the microphone” she said, “is not having a good night.”

There would be no more good nights:

Having drawn closer to Mrs. Clinton in the polls, Mr. Trump now faces an intensified clash over his personal temperament and his attitudes toward women and minorities – areas of grave concern for many voters that were at the center of the candidates’ confrontation on Monday.

And the hammering began:

Against Mr. Trump’s brooding, Mrs. Clinton cut a strikingly different profile on the campaign trail on Tuesday, emerging emboldened from her encounter with the Republican nominee. At a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Mrs. Clinton, brandishing her opponent’s debate stumbles, assailed Mr. Trump’s comments suggesting he avoided paying taxes and welcomed the 2008 financial crisis as a buying opportunity.

“What kind of person would want to root for nine million families losing their homes?” Mrs. Clinton asked the crowd. “One who should never be president, is the answer to that question.”

Before the debate he had been hammering away on trade, immigration, and national security, and now he was getting hammered, so, if he knows what’s good for him, he should stop whining, if he can:

Mr. Trump’s comportment on Tuesday threatened to undermine his gains of the past month, and recalled his practice during the Republican primaries and much of the general election of belittling political bystanders in language that alienated voters, like attacking the Muslim parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq and a Hispanic federal judge.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Trump will approach the remainder of the race with the unfiltered abandon of his comments Tuesday morning.

By the day’s end, Mr. Trump had returned to a caustic but somewhat more conventional script, attacking Mrs. Clinton in bitter language at a rally in Melbourne, Fla.

Blasting Mrs. Clinton as a “vessel for her friends, the donors,” Mr. Trump exhorted the crowd, “We’re going to get rid of that crooked woman.”

He was back on track, and then he started whining about Lester Holt again. He couldn’t help himself, and that’s a worry:

The fear among Republicans is that Mr. Trump will confront adversity by continuing to swing impulsively at politically inopportune targets, dragging the party again into needless and damaging feuds, as he did for most of the summer.

The notion of raising Mr. Clinton’s infidelity is particularly controversial among Mr. Trump’s advisers, who have sent conflicting signals about that line of attack.

Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in a CNN interview that he deserved credit for holding back from that particular subject, saying Mr. Trump had been “polite and a gentleman.”

But Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and a close confidant of Mr. Trump’s, called for a far harsher approach. Mr. Trump, he told a reporter for the website Elite Daily, had been “too reserved” in his confrontation with Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Giuliani recommended attacking Mrs. Clinton for having questioned Monica Lewinsky’s credibility in claiming an affair with Mr. Clinton. He also called Mrs. Clinton “too stupid to be president.”

Trump’s political base loves that attitude, but no one else does, and the other side knows it:

Democrats signaled on Tuesday that they would welcome an extended battle with Mr. Trump over matters of temperament and personal character. Priorities USA Action, a “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton, released a television ad highlighting a debate exchange in which Mr. Trump said his temperament was his “strongest asset,” along with clips of Mr. Trump using obscene and violent language.

And Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, said in a television interview that Mr. Trump had appeared “flustered” and “ran out of gas.” During a campaign stop in Orlando, Fla., Mr. Kaine suggested that Mr. Trump was too unsteady for the White House.

“If you’re that rattled in a debate,” he said, “try being president.”

They have his number, and Slate’s Isaac Chotiner notes this twist:

With two debates remaining between the candidates, the question is: Should Trump actually attend the remaining showdowns?

This was, at least, the question Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani’s floated Monday night – “If I were Donald Trump I wouldn’t participate in another debate unless I was promised that the journalist would act like a journalist and not an incorrect, ignorant fact checker.”

Chotiner, oddly enough, thinks that Rudy’s right:

If Trump were to do what he normally does and distinguish the interests of himself and his country, he would skip the rest of the debates. Canceling would prompt some bad press and even (briefly) more concerns about his suitability for the presidency. But that’s preferable to two more nights like the one he had on Monday, especially since the American people have repeatedly proven, both before and during the rise of Trump, that they don’t care as much as one might think (or hope!) about the violation of political norms. For this unfortunate reason, declining to debate Hillary Clinton again might just be Trump’s best strategy.

It may be time to hit the man who drops everything to lash back at anything that might be an insult:

Would another debate be much different? Decoding whether Trump is capable of doing something, such as preparing for the next debate, is always a difficult task, so it’s near impossible for any non-philosopher or non-expert in the mechanisms of the universe and freewill to say whether Trump “could” have prepared for last night’s debate or “might” be capable of doing so next time. What is certain is that he didn’t, and as the night wore on his answers got closer and closer to gibberish, his lack of knowledge strikingly apparent. I don’t see that changing.

But it isn’t just the debate that hurt Trump; it’s the cycles that follow. Perhaps Clinton’s most successful attack featured Trump’s reportedly cruel treatment of a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who (she claims) he fat-shamed two decades ago. But what might have been a debate night story is still going strong the next day; the candidate, predictably unable to help himself, went on television Tuesday morning and shamed Machado some more…

Can his campaign withstand the repercussions of two more bad performances and the resulting effect on his psyche? And why should it?

Yes, hide him:

As occasionally ridiculous as they are, the debates remain one of the better ways for viewers to learn about the candidates. If Trump walks away, he just might benefit.

There’s a lot to hide, as Time’s Samantha Cooney notes here:

Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 28 times during Monday night’s debate, according to data compiled by TIME.

By the end of the night, Trump accounted for 55 out of the 84 of the debate’s total interruptions (all of the times Clinton, Trump, debate moderator Lester Holt or the audience cut off the current speaker.) By contrast, Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major political party ticket, only interrupted Trump four times throughout the debate, and had a total of 11 interruptions.

Most of Trump’s interruptions came during moments where Clinton criticized him, including a handful when Clinton question Trump’s treatment of women near the end of the debate.

Don’t let him do that:

Many were quick to criticize Trump’s frequent interruptions as sexist, noting that being ‘manterrupted’ is a common microaggression directed at women in the workplace. And studies have shown that men are more likely to interrupt women than they are men.

And women vote, although there was this:

Trump’s running mate Mike Pence had a different take during his round of morning show interviews on Tuesday.

 “He took command of that stage,” Pence told CNN on Tuesday morning, “and that in the contrast of a kind of avalanche of personal insults from Hillary Clinton.”

But he commanded the stage by shouting down the bitch, not with his brilliance and insight. That’s a problem that Amanda Marcotte addresses here:

Most voters are women, a fact that only becomes more true every election cycle. Under the circumstances, one would think that the man running for president and his male supporters would be diligent in their efforts to not remind the female voter of every sexist boss, condescending ex-boyfriend and street-harassing chump she’s ever encountered.

But apparently, the sexist id is stronger than common sense, as demonstrated by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his legion of piggy defenders. One could nearly hear Kellyanne Conway’s teeth grinding as Trump abandoned the pretense of respect and swiftly devolved into the living incarnation of mansplaining – the art of pompously lecturing a woman who is clearly smarter than you – during the debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Marcotte, however, notes this part of the debate:

It was a performance that culminated in Trump, in a fit of anger, saying, “But you want to know the truth? I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.'”

It’s a classic Trump move, to bring a topic up by claiming that he’s above mentioning the thing he just mentioned by claiming he didn’t mention it. But in case you didn’t get the implication, Trump made it clear backstage that he was talking about former president Bill Clinton’s infidelities. Because the best way to prove to female voters that you’re not sexist is to blame the wife for a man’s infidelities. Women love hearing that men only cheat because their wives are failing to please them. I highly recommend that Trump continue to use this as his outreach strategy to female voters.

He did the next best thing:

Clinton directly accused Trump of being a sexist pig during the debate, noting that he calls “women pigs, slobs and dogs” and bringing up the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who claims that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Rather than deny the charges, Trump went on Fox News Tuesday morning to basically defend his God-given male right to tell ridiculously hot women that they are failing to do enough to please his boner.

That’s one way to put it, but Marcotte is fed up with all of it:

This is what women have to put up with if they believe they have just as much of a right as a man does to be in public, to be ambitious and seek power. And then they have to put up with men scoffing at them and telling them they’re imagining how hostile the world is to a woman who truly thinks she is equal. Monday night, however, exposed the ugly truth: Women are not making this up, sexism is real and a lot of men are the worst.

It might be a good idea to hide this guy now – no more debates – and Jonathan Chait makes the other connection:

Before the first presidential debate, the defining confrontation of the general election was an inspiring speech by Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American Gold Star father. Khan’s speech was delivered before prime time, and its unexpected power might have been wasted had Donald Trump not taken the bait by repeatedly attacking Khan and his wife for days afterward. During the closing moments of Monday night’s debate, Clinton provided another Khan moment, and Trump, once again, could not help but reveal his own ugliness.

But this time, this was fully intended:

Clinton had been signaling her intent to focus on Trump’s longtime habit of humiliating women based on their appearance. A few days before, her campaign released an ad counter-posing some of his most infuriating comments about women with images of adolescent girls looking at themselves:

It is clear that Clinton planned to create this moment in the debate, because the question did not arrive organically. Trump had been talking about Iran, and moderator Lester Holt was trying to bring up the final question, when Clinton interrupted to spring her trap.

She mentioned this woman, he was caught off-guard, and the trap was sprung:

You can easily see why Clinton’s campaign decided this was the perfect anecdote to display his grotesque personal qualities. It contains several elements all at once. There is Trump’s lecherous habit of creeping around beauty contestants, which is its own deep vein of gross behavior. There is the cruel reduction of women to their appearance. And there is the anti-Latina racism.

But what truly made the set piece work was Trump’s response, which Clinton could not have scripted better if she tried. Unlike the previous allegations, he did not deny them, but instead burst out – three times! – “Where did you find this?” I have seen villains in Disney movies presented with damning evidence react this way, but I have never seen an actual human being do it, until now.

Then Clinton capped it off by noting that Machado plans to vote…

Of course she does:

Here it was again, the perfectly selected victim fighting back against Trump by voting, precisely the action Clinton hopes to encourage. Clinton’s campaign immediately capitalized by releasing a new web ad with Machado telling her story. And Trump, despite the entire Republican Party beseeching him to walk away from the Khan fight and never engage in attacks against ordinary Americans, insisted, in a Fox & Friends interview, on attacking Machado for being too fat:

That was telling:

You can watch the Fox hosts cringe as Trump launches into the diatribe, and then, as they gently try to steer him away, insists on returning to the subject. They can see him destroying himself again, in real time, in exactly the way they begged him to stop doing earlier in the summer, yet they cannot stop it.

It seemed impossible that this happened again, but it did:

Life rarely works out in such a simple and dramatically perfect way. Terrible human beings usually know how to conceal their terribleness. Even a villain as impulsive and egotistical as Trump has the benefit of an entire political party and associated media apparatus throwing itself behind the task of concealing his hideous character through Election Day. Trump, however, is not only a horrible human being but a congenitally incompetent one.

Clinton simply had to set up the situation and let him be who he is, although Josh Marshall argues that she did win this on her own:

Trump didn’t have a terrible night last night. For anyone who’s watched him closely for a year and a half he was simply himself. Cocky, angry, lashing out as an opponent increasingly dominated and embarrassed him. This wasn’t a bad showing. It was him. But it’s a good moment for all of those who constantly complain about Hillary being a terrible candidate, making this or that mistake, screwing this or that up, her performance last night was pitch perfect.

Yes, he did badly. But she brought it at least as much as he blew it.

Yes, she was well prepped. But it’s a bit more than that.

That would be this:

Clinton had an important challenge in front of her. Being substantive comes easy for Clinton. That’s who she is. And she’s been in dozens of debates. But in this case she needed to be positive, buoyant and optimistic in her tone while also needling him into outbursts. That could easily come off as baiting or nasty, especially when she had to counter his confusing mix of taunts and attacks and word salad digressions. She made it seem close to effortless.

Her answer-ending asides and bemused taunts had him getting angry within 15 minutes. By 30 minutes in, she was dominating the debate. Sure, he attacked here and there. He was louder. He interrupted more. But he was always responding to her. She had him on the ropes. She was setting the tone and the terms. And the fact that he could feel it made him angrier, more impulsive and more unable to sustain any kind of consistent message that would help him in political terms.

In fact, no one should underestimate her:

Sure he was bad. But she was at least as good as he was bad. And the quality of her performance made him much worse. As I’ve noted so many times over this ugly, antic cycle, being dominated spurs a reflexive run of outbursts from Trump, in a slashing effort to reassert dominance. He’s already out this morning lashing out at Alicia Machado for her weight, accusing the Debate Commission of sabotaging his mic, saying Lester Holt wasn’t fair.

She dominated him, the worst punishment Donald Trump can suffer. And she made it seem effortless.

And she’s a GIRL! He couldn’t assert dominance with a GIRL! His world must have been crumbling, so it’s no wonder Donald Trump was lashing out and whining that this just wasn’t fair – it wasn’t his fault.

Curiously, at the same time, in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin was saying that his Steelers would do better. That kind of loss won’t happen again. He owned it and he’ll fix it, so perhaps politics should be more like sports, not less. There, of all places, there’s total honesty. You lose, you fix it, or you’re gone. Keep saying that dropped pass or that missed tackle wasn’t your fault and you’re gone. That’s a bit brutal, but refreshing, and somehow impossible in politics. There, spinning the loss is everything, and that’s not worth watching. It’s only depressing.

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Simpleminded Braying

Well, that’s over. As the first presidential debate approached, Hillary Clinton was the needlessly obsessive-compulsive, cramming for the big night, and Donald Trump was the snide goofball, the rich kid who knows he’ll always do fine, because he always has, blowing it off. The snide rich kid would try to get by on quick wit and charm, and the obsessive-compulsive policy wonk would try to look loose and open and pleasant, but she’s still a wonk – and Donald Trump had caught up to her in polls. Trump was going to win this thing. No one likes a nerd, and perhaps he could look just presidential enough so that folks would stop worrying that he’d crash the economy, start a race war, and get us all killed in a worldwide religious war that would go nuclear. He’d show that he wasn’t all that dangerous, and that she was boring, and a loser.

That wasn’t to be. She got to him and he lost it, temperamentally, and literally. Everyone saw what happened:

Donald Trump unrelentingly blamed the nation’s chronic problems on “typical politician” Hillary Clinton, yet he found himself mostly on the defensive in their first debate here Monday night as she denounced him for racial insensitivity, hiding potential conflicts of interest and “stiffing” those who helped build his business empire.

After circling each other for months, Clinton and Trump finally took the stage together for the first time, and each tried in a series of combative, acrimonious exchanges to discredit the other.

Trump, the Republican nominee, spent much of the evening explaining himself – over his temperament, treatment of women and minorities, business practices and readiness to be commander in chief, as well as over his long perpetuation of a falsehood about Barack Obama’s birthplace to delegitimize his presidency.

That led to exchanges like this:

“He has a long record of engaging in racist behavior, and the birther lie was a very hurtful one,” said Clinton, the Democratic nominee. “Barack Obama is a man of great dignity, and I could tell how much it bothered him and annoyed him that this was being touted and used against him.”

Trump, who earlier this month at last acknowledged Obama’s birth in Hawaii, replied by invoking Clinton’s 2008 rivalry with Obama: “When you try to act holier than thou, it really doesn’t work.”

That’s hardly a response, but people heard what they wanted to hear:

Both candidates delivered performances likely to please and energize their core supporters. Clinton eviscerated Trump’s character and record while championing progressive ideals. Trump directly confronted Clinton over her email scandal and general trustworthiness. Less certain was how the debate might shape the perceptions of the slivers of the electorate still up for grabs, especially college-educated white women.

But it wasn’t an even match:

Clinton poured forth with policy details and practiced catchphrases – “Trumped-up trickle down” to describe his tax plan, for instance – and tried to sow doubts about the seriousness of Trump’s proposals. She seized on his comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin to suggest that Trump does not understand the global threats the country faces.

Where Clinton was measured in her attacks, Trump was a feisty and sometimes undisciplined aggressor. He regularly interrupted Clinton, as well as the moderator, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, and raised his voice. At times, Trump delivered rambling, heated and defensive answers.

In fact, he stopped making sense:

Clinton mocked Trump’s discussion of national security, suggesting he is uninformed and even unstable. “Whoo,” she said with a laugh, when Trump finished one oration about NATO and the Islamic State.

Earlier, Trump grew visibly frustrated by Clinton’s critique of his economic plan and declared: “Typical politician. All talk. No action. Sounds good. Doesn’t work. Never gonna happen. Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs, in terms of what’s going on.”

But he didn’t defend his own plan. It hadn’t occurred to him that he’d have to. Preparation matters. He was winging it. Oops.

There’s much more detail, but the reviews are in, like this from Andrew Sullivan:

What can one say? I was afraid that Trump’s charisma and stage presence and salesmanship might outshine Hillary Clinton’s usually tepid and wonkish instincts. I feared that the facts wouldn’t matter; that a debate would not take place. And it is to Clinton’s great credit that she prepared, and he didn’t, and that she let him hang himself.

His utter lack of preparation; his doubling down on transparent lies; his foreign-policy recklessness; his racial animosity; his clear discomfort with the kind of exchange of views that is integral to liberal democracy; his instinctual belligerence – all these suggest someone who has long lived in a deferential bubble that has become filled with his own reality.

So there was a winner here:

Clinton was not great at times; her language was occasionally stilted; she missed some obvious moments to go in for the kill; but she was solid and reassuring and composed. I started tonight believing she needed a game-changer to alter the trajectory of this race. I may, of course, be wrong, trapped in my own confirmation bias and bubble – but I thought she did just that.

I’ve been a nervous wreck these past two weeks; my nerves are calmed now.

One of Sullivan’s readers added this:

A blinking, huffing manifestation of incoherent 21st-century white male rage – he is offended by the temerity of his public servant opponent while incredulous that he is clearly in the presence of a sane person who is in possession of facts and reason. Cheap country-club vulgarity. The only question is – is America seeing that too?

That question won’t be answered until the next round of polling, but Jonathan Chait saw this:

Before the first presidential debate, a conventional wisdom had formed that Donald Trump merely needed to appear “presidential,” which the campaign media had defined as “non-sociopathic.” He failed to clear that bar.

Chait sees that Trump started out well and then just faded:

Trump enjoyed his greatest success near the beginning of the debate, where he pounded home his nationalist-populist message on foreign trade and cornered Hillary Clinton, who has changed her stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Clinton used the first portion of the debate to try to define her opponent as an advocate of conventional Republican trickle-down economics, but only managed to mention his support of tax cuts for the rich. She failed to bring up his increase in taxes on the middle class, and when Trump proposed to reduce regulations, she neglected to tie his promise to its unpopular specifics, like deregulating Wall Street, polluters, and opposing the minimum wage. It was possible for a while to imagine low-information voters buying his self-styled image as a truth-telling, nonpolitical outsider who would shake up the system.

And he was on a roll:

Trump managed to tell a number of lies without consequence. He insisted he had never called global warming a Chinese hoax, when that very claim is still up on his Twitter feed. He insisted crime has risen in New York, when it has fallen. He insisted that, contrary to his public support for the Iraq War, he had opposed it in private, inaccessible conversations with his lickspittle Sean Hannity – who, if called upon to do so, would probably vouchsafe that Trump indeed won the 1985 American League Most Valuable Player Award.

He was firing up his base, but that proved useless:

What did work for Clinton was sowing doubts about Trump’s character. She mentioned his $14 million loan from his father, and Trump aggravated the damage by calling the loan “small” without disputing the sum. He gave no coherent reason for why he could not release his tax returns. He admitted to failing to pay contractors, insisting they had all done poor work, an excuse hardly any person who had done work for hire could find plausible or acceptable. He defended his record of refusing housing accommodations to African-Americans by saying he had signed a consent decree with no admission of guilt, and then, years later, built a club in Palm Beach that did not exclude people by race. His defense of the charge of fomenting birtherism was a disaster. When he tried out his campaign line that he merely wanted to force Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate, Lester Holt noted that he continued to question its authenticity in each of the next four years, at one point sputtering, “Look, it’s all words.”

What did that mean? But he was proud that he, as America’s sheriff or something, had finally forced that uppity black guy to show his papers and prove he had a right to be in office, which is not a way to win over any who are undecided about Trump’s seeming racism, but it didn’t stop there:

The final exchange of the debate was the most devastating. Clinton lacerated Trump for his dehumanization of women – the kind of sexualization that offends social conservatives and social liberals alike. She brought up his abuse of one of his beauty-pageant contestants – noting, as an aside, his fondness for hanging around them – and that he called one contestant “Miss Piggy” and, because she is Latina, “Miss Housekeeper.” When Trump fell for the trap by demanding her name, Clinton supplied it: Alicia Machado, driving home the justifiable impression that Clinton sees her as a human being, unlike her opponent, who sees her as a piece of meat. His response consisted of whining that her campaign was spending money to attack him in advertisements.

No one likes a whiner, and Clinton won by contrast:

She maintained her composure and her dignity, something no Republican who confronted (or was bullied by) Trump in the primary debates managed to do. She had facts at her disposal, she apologized for her poor choice of email systems, and she conveyed that she is sane and competent. The contrast between an obviously and eminently qualified public servant and a ranting bully was as stark as any presidential debate in American history.

Josh Marshall agrees with that:

Clinton clearly went into this debate not looking for one or two big “Have you no decency” moments but rather looking to hit Trump with a rat-tat-tat series of taunts and jabs to see if she could get him to lose his cool and throw him off his game. It ended up happening a lot more quickly than I expected. No more than fifteen minutes in, he was getting visibly angry. And he stayed that way for the next hour plus.

From maybe a half hour into the debate Clinton had almost entirely seized the initiative. She was attacking while he responded, sometimes angrily, sometimes with new attacks and very often by doubling down on demonstrable falsehoods he’s been pilloried for, for months. At various moments he shuffled in and out of parts of his stump speech. But through most of the exchange he constantly interrupted Clinton, talked over her, denied claims she made which are easily validated…

Trump had no good answer on why he refused to release his taxes. And I think on live television, watched by maybe 100 million people, the fact that he’s lying about this was pretty obvious. On birtherism he tried to resurface the argument that Clinton was the real birther, just not as effective as he was. “I think I did a great job and a great service in getting the President to give his birth certificate.”

There was a winner here:

If we’re going to use boxing metaphors, my read was that for the last two thirds or so of the debate she had him almost constantly on the ropes. He was almost always reacting to her. He was swiping, swinging, sometimes nasty, sometimes getting in applause lines – but he was reacting to her almost throughout. Most of the time he was ranging between outbursts, denying claims, saying how many people loved him and are happy. At other times, he talked about how she’d spent more money on ads than he had, and how his poll numbers were going up.

Hardcore partisans care about this stuff. Not anyone else. It’s the stuff you grouse or brag about to your staff. Not the stuff you use in a debate. In the most basic sense, Trump spent most of the debate talking about himself and complaining about how he was being treated.

And he offered nothing new:

In this debate, Trump repeated virtually every lie he’s told through this campaign. He settled birtherism. He opposed the Iraq War. He can’t release his tax returns because of an audit. This time he said them in front of a hundred million people. Those things will each come up again now.

And he really didn’t prepare:

We heard a lot about Clinton preparing in depth for this debate. Trump, we’re told … well his advisors couldn’t get him to do any real debate prep. He had bull sessions with Christie and Giuliani and Gen. Flynn. I now find those claims quite believable. Her preparation and his cocky indifference to doing so showed in both cases. Clinton was poised and unflappable. She needled him, but not in a way that seemed nasty or petulant. She was poised throughout. It was equally clear that he had no clear strategy for what to do. For that among other reasons she took control of the debate within a half hour.

That may change things:

I don’t know that it will move the polls dramatically. But Trump was scattered, swaggering and stumbling. He lied a lot and repeatedly refused to answer big questions in a way that was fairly obvious and transparent. If you hadn’t heard him refuse to release his taxes before, how do you think it came off here? I think most people who had doubts about him won’t have those doubts assuaged. People not inclined to like him likely found him bullying and rude – and not even successful at it at that. I’m not sure this is any game changer. It simply confirms what a lot of people already know: Trump is not suited to be President. Clinton is competent, prepared and in this exchange buoyant and dynamic.

But that comes with a warning:

If I know anything about Trump he’ll feel wounded by this encounter. Low-stamina Hillary, almost a foot shorter than him, a weak women … well, she controlled him and owned the floor. Like we saw with Pastor Timmons and so many others who have hurt him, he’ll lash out.

He’ll lash out? That won’t help matters either, and Kevin Drum adds this:

I guess the only thing anyone cares about is who won. I’d give it to Hillary Clinton pretty easily. She handled her facts well, she spoke well, she didn’t get baited, she laughed at some of Trump’s more ridiculous statements, and she attacked him pretty effectively. “Just listen to what you heard,” she said when Trump tried to pretend that he did everyone a favor by forcing Obama to release his long-form birth certificate. I suspect that even Republicans in the audience laughed at that.

Trump, by contrast, was like a manic version of his usual manic self. He spoke too fast, he got practically red faced at times, he repeated the most obvious lies, and he could barely keep a coherent though together for more than a few seconds before wandering off to something else.

But then again, what do I know? Basically, Clinton acted like Clinton and Trump acted like Trump.

That’s what did him in of course:

If you like either one of them, you probably liked what you saw on the screen. And to Trump’s credit, he got his talking points across. Law and order. Politicians like Hillary are all talk, no action. Foreigners are stealing our jobs. I’m going to destroy ISIS big league.

But Trump’s howlers were just too numerous. He’s the son of a millionaire but said he started out with a “very small” amount of money. He claimed yet again that he absolutely opposed the war in Iraq – just ask Sean Hannity. He never said Clinton didn’t look presidential. NATO started a terror division because of him. He never said climate change was a hoax. Hillary’s people were responsible for birtherism, and he’s the guy who put an end to it. The IRS deliberately targets him, and only him, for audits. He never said he didn’t care if Japan built nukes. And then there was his bizarre riff about his pride over opening a club that doesn’t discriminate against African Americans…

Trump got called on all this, of course, and his strategy was simple: just deny everything. “Wrong,” he said repeatedly, talking obnoxiously over Clinton. Then, against all expectations, Lester Holt fact-checked Trump twice, but Trump just raised his voice and rode roughshod over him. Does this kind of simpleminded braying work? It all seemed like pretty obvious charlatanism to me, but maybe not to everyone else. Maybe they just came away thinking that Trump says one thing and Clinton says another, and who knows, really?

I have a little more faith in the American public than that, though. I think Trump did poorly, both in what he said and how he said it. He was manic about proving that he was the alpha male in the room, but I think he took it at least three or four notches too far. It was not a winning night for him.

The New York Times’ Gail Collins is a bit more pointed about that:

Trump lost. Really, I think we can work under the assumption that when a candidate is accused of cheering for the housing crisis, it’s not a good plan to reply: “That’s called business, by the way.”

There had been some speculation that all Trump needed to do was speak in complete sentences to beat expectations, and if that was the bar, the man did great. When Hillary Clinton suggested he might be withholding his federal returns because he never paid any taxes, he responded: “That makes me smart.” Complete sentence.

This was a disaster:

There’s something terrifying in the way Trump can’t admit error, even in a case where the incorrect statement in question has become world-famous. There are undoubtedly people in Chad who know that Trump supported the invasion of Iraq before it happened. But when it came up on Monday, he denied it once again, arguing that his much-quoted interview on “The Howard Stern Show” was something else entirely: “I said very lightly I don’t know maybe who knows. Essentially.”

Got that? No wonder he felt there was no need to practice for the debate.

And there’s this:

Is it fair to point out that Trump kept sniffling? All I know is, if Clinton did it we would never have heard the end of it. But forget nasal congestion. He made faces. Viewers had to sit all night in front of a split screen, watching one of the candidates grimacing, pouting and smirking. Over on her side, Clinton looked – pretty darned normal. Historically speaking, Americans tend to expect more than that of a debate winner. But we’re in new territory this election cycle.

It does make a difference. Do we want the rest of the world thinking of the United States as the Land of Weird Facial Contortions? Both of these candidates have a lot of baggage and Clinton got past her email burden by admitting she was wrong and saying she was sorry. Not the perfect apology, but it got her through the night.

Trump, for his part, could have anticipated that the business of calling women pigs, slobs and dogs would come up. The correct answer, as his advisers undoubtedly hinted, was to say he regretted it, and hoped he’d be a better example for his ten-year-old son. His actual response was to: 1) Claim that nobody likes Rosie O’Donnell; 2) Congratulate himself for not saying “something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family”; and 3) Point out that the polls are looking good.

It was kind of – wow.

Then there’s the central problem:

The night was totally about Trump. Clinton is not a very interesting speaker, and her failure to say anything stupid made her side of the debate all the more unexciting. People tuned in to see Trump and he didn’t disappoint. Not every politician would respond to a comment about how he got his start in business with $14 million in family money with: “My father gave me a very small loan.”

Remember when we made fun of Mitt Romney for his privileged background?

At least he didn’t walk out on stage, announce, as he had said before, that he has a very big wang, and then walk off stage and leave the building, assuming he had won the election – but he came close.

His folks will stick by him, of course. Hillary stood there, smug and smirking, because she knows the issues and makes sense, as if that matters. They hate her for that, but there aren’t quite enough of them to win the election in November. Trump’s advisors will now have to figure out a way to sell a shallow, uniformed, impulsive, easily-provoked, instinctively cruel and nasty man, to the American public, as their next president. Maybe the next debate will go better for him.

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Expecting Lies

Everyone expects politicians to lie. If they like the lies, knowing full well they’re lies, they vote for that candidate. A little exaggeration never hurt anyone. Mexico isn’t really going to pay for that wall. There may be no new wall at all. It’s the thought that counts. If, on the other hand, they hate the lies, they’ll not vote for a blatant liar. The truth matters, and if that candidate actually believes the nonsense they’re offering, that candidate is dangerous. Those we elect to office should live in this world, not in some imaginary paradise, or dystopia.

That’s the Donald Trump problem. There are a few Americans who believe we live in a hell-hole where everything is falling apart and the economy is in ruins, and where there’s someone on every corner – Muslim or black or brown or gay – who wants to kill us all, right now. There is scant evidence for any of that, but scant evidence is enough for these folks – a subset of all Republicans, who are, in turn, a minority subset of all Americans. Everyone else kind of wonders what the hell, or what hell, Donald Trump is talking about.

The first presidential debate, scheduled to begin in a few hours, should settle some of that. Lester Holt, the moderator, will no doubt ask Trump what the hell he’s talking about. He’ll ask Hillary Clinton the same thing. That’s his job, to ask that for the American people. He represents all of us, for better or worse, but the weekend before this Monday night debate there was a bit of prepositioning going on, although some of it was simply trash-talk:

Donald J. Trump’s campaign moved on Sunday to squelch reports – set off by the candidate himself – that Gennifer Flowers, the woman whose claims of an affair with Bill Clinton imperiled his 1992 presidential campaign, would be Mr. Trump’s guest on Monday at his first debate with Hillary Clinton.

In television interviews on Sunday morning, Mr. Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, flatly denied that Ms. Flowers would attend the debate, at Hofstra University on Long Island. And Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said that in threatening on Saturday to invite Ms. Flowers, Mr. Trump had merely been making a point.

“He wants to remind people that he’s a great counterpuncher,” Ms. Conway said on ABC’s “This Week.”

This was the “punch” he was countering:

Mark Cuban, the voluble billionaire who owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and is supporting Mrs. Clinton, announced on Twitter on Thursday that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign had given him a front-row seat at the debate to watch her “overwhelm” Mr. Trump.

For good measure, Mr. Cuban – who once hosted a short-lived reality television show called “The Benefactor,” and more recently offered $10 million to the charity of Mr. Trump’s choice if the Republican nominee would let Mr. Cuban interview him for four hours about his “policies and their substance” – suggested the debate would become known as the “Humbling at Hofstra.”

Mark Cuban wants to be the one that asks Trump what the hell he’s talking about, unrelentingly, point by point, but if that cannot be, he’ll sit in the front row and stare. Perhaps that will rattle Trump. Oh yeah? Gennifer Flowers will rattle Hillary Clinton, unless Clinton shrugs, or even worse, turns that against Trump:

The thrice-married Mr. Trump, whose second marriage grew out of an affair during his first one, has repeatedly raised Mr. Clinton’s infidelities as a character attack against Mrs. Clinton. Several of Mr. Trump’s advisers have a long history of calling attention to Mr. Clinton’s scandals.

She could call attention to his, and point out that she’s the one running for president this time, not her famously horn-dog husband. Gennifer Flowers will watch the debate from home.

But Mark Cuban was onto something. Slate’s Jim Newell says that one way to beat Trump in this debate is to ask him to explain pretty much anything:

The large Republican primary field didn’t just help Trump by allowing him to cruise to early victories with relatively modest pluralities. It also helped him in the minute-to-minute unfolding of the early debates. He could get in his insults against Jeb Bush or Rand Paul or some other foil, and then, as the conversation – as it occasionally did – ventured into more substantive policy grounds, he could go into hiding for tens of minutes at a time as, say, Paul and Chris Christie argued about surveillance programs or medical marijuana. The stage will be smaller Monday night, as Trump competes in the first one-on-one presidential debate of his life. There will be no hiding.

It’s not necessarily in Clinton’s interest to turn this into a patronizing quiz show. Voters don’t cast their ballots based on which candidates best trill the consonants in foreign leaders’ names. But there are things that people expect their presidents to know, and on this count Trump tripped up a few times during the primary debates.

Newell can count the ways:

In the Dec. 15 debate held in Las Vegas, CNN guest questioner Hugh Hewitt asked Trump which element of the aging nuclear triad he felt was most urgently in need of an upgrade. Trump’s response was a jumble of nonsense about Iraq and Syria that made clear he had never heard the term, which refers to land-, air-, or sea-based systems for delivering nuclear weapons. That’s not great. But it’s deeper than terminology: It was clear that he had never considered the question of nuclear arsenal maintenance. He did, however, say that, “I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation, is very important to me.” Indeed, big bomb go boom.

And there’s this:

Trump is running strongly against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Hillary Clinton claims to be against TPP, too, though no one really believes her.) When asked for even modest details of the trade pact, though, Trump tends to stumble. In the Nov. 10 debate, Trump went on about how “It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door, and totally take advantage of everyone.” For all of the trade deal’s opacity and complexity, it is indeed not “designed” to allow China to do that. It is designed to corner China into reforming its economy. Rand Paul chimed in after Trump’s spiel to point out that China is not a signatory to the deal, and Trump had little to say in response.

Oops. So there’s a plan here:

Clinton doesn’t need Trump to name the presidents and prime ministers of foreign countries. What she – or the moderators – could do, though, is ask him to explain the details of any of the policy proposals other people have written up on his behalf. How many weeks of paid leave are offered in Trump’s child care plans? Who would and wouldn’t be covered? Trump could be asked the cost of either his tax or education plan. Even better: What are his tax and education plans?

But she doesn’t even have to be that specific:

She could ask him to explain anything. How does Medicaid work and how would he change it? What does he dislike most about the Iranian nuclear deal? What’s the latest from Syria? Don’t wander too far in the weeds, but try to find some way to get him to move past the superficialities he’ll have memorized. Remember: Trump does not know what he’s talking about. Ever. This fact gets obscured from time to time whenever we start talking about Trump pivots and message discipline and the like, as if the problem simply were a lack of grace. And we should be careful to avoid the fallacy so common on the left that politics is about knowing more stuff than the other guy. But the simple truth is that Trump does not understand the basic grammar of the job he’s seeking.

That could hurt, or not. Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates has declared that the debates should be fact-check-free:

I think personally, if you start getting into fact-checking, I’m not sure. What is a big fact? What’s a little fact? And if you and I have different sources of information, does your source about the unemployment rate agree with my source? I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Trump’s folks breathed a sigh of relief:

Trump’s campaign spokesperson told ABC’s “This Week” that it isn’t the media’s job to fact-check the presidential debate.

“I really don’t appreciate the campaigns thinking it is the job of the media to go and be these virtual fact-checkers,” Kellyanne Conway said, in an apparent attempted jab at the Clinton campaign. She also opposed debate moderators questioning the candidates’ truthfulness in any way.

That might not be helpful to the rest of us, but it has been done before:

Conway went on to praise Matt Lauer’s performance during a candidate forum earlier this month, during which he pressed Clinton on several issues, but accepted Trump’s (false) claim that he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.

“We thought he did a great job,” Conway said.

Of course they did, and on the other side:

The Clinton campaign says it’s not her job to play “traffic cop” to Trump’s lies while also trying to present her ideas to the American public.

“All that we’re asking is that if Donald Trump lies, that it’s pointed out,” spokesperson Robby Mook said Sunday, also speaking on “This Week.”

Is that too much to ask? The Trump folks think so, but a curious thing happened on the weekend before the debate. The media suddenly ganged up on Trump. They decided to call him a liar – not someone who exaggerates – not someone who presents an alternative point of view. They finally called him a liar. The Los Angeles Times offered this:

Donald Trump says that taxes in the United States are higher than almost anywhere else on earth. They’re not.

He says he opposed the Iraq war from the start. He didn’t.

Now, after years of spreading the lie that President Obama was born in Africa, Trump says that Hillary Clinton did it first (untrue) and that he’s the one who put the controversy to rest (also untrue).

Never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has. Over and over, independent researchers have examined what the Republican nominee says and concluded it was not the truth – but “pants on fire” (PolitiFact) or “four Pinocchios” (Washington Post Fact Checker).

But that was the idea all along:

Trump’s candidacy was premised on upending a dishonest establishment that has rigged American political and economic life, so many of his loyalists are willing to overlook his lies, as long as he rankles the powerful, said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman.

“It gives him not only license, but incentive to spin fantasy, because no one expects him to tell the truth,” said Stutzman, who worked against Trump during the primaries. “They believe they’re getting lied to constantly, so if their hero tells lies in order to strike back, they don’t care.”

That, however, also caused chaos:

Trump’s pattern of saying things that are provably false has no doubt contributed to his high unfavorable ratings. It also has forced journalists to grapple with how aggressive they should be in correcting candidates’ inaccurate statements, particularly in the presidential debates that start Monday.

At a time of deep public mistrust of the news media, the arbitration of statements of fact, long seen as one of reporters’ most basic duties, runs the risk of being perceived as partisan bias.

But so does the shirking of that role. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, one of the debate moderators, has faced a storm of criticism for telling CNN: “It’s not my job to be a truth squad.”

After a Sept. 7 town hall on NBC, critics skewered moderator Matt Lauer for failing to correct Trump’s false statement that he opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl drew milder reprimands for letting Trump repeat the same lie twice in a July interview on “60 Minutes,” responding “yeah” both times with no correction.

And this seems to have torn the country apart:

PolitiFact, a Tampa Bay Times site that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the 2008 election, has rated 70% of the Trump statements it has checked as mostly false, false or “pants on fire,” its lowest score. By contrast, 28% of Clinton’s statements earned those ratings.

“As we noted when we awarded Trump our 2015 Lie of the Year award for his portfolio of misstatements, no other politician has as many statements rated so far down the dial,” PolitiFact writer Lauren Carroll reported in June. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

At a recent Trump rally in downtown Miami, supporters vouched for his trustworthiness.

“I think he has been very straightforward, whether people like it or not,” said Rosario Rodriguez-Ruiz, 42, a Republican real estate broker and accountant.

We now have two separate realities, and that’s a worry:

Marty Kaplan, a professor of entertainment, media and society at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has two theories on Trump’s falsehoods.

Perhaps he’s just putting on an act, like P.T. Barnum – a “marketer, con, snake-oil salesman who knows better, knows how to get the rubes into the tent.” Or maybe, Kaplan suggested, Trump is just “completely unconstrained by logic, rules, tradition, truth, law.”

“I’m confused,” he said, “whether the whole fact-free zone that he’s in is a strategic calculation or a kind of psychosis.”

Psychosis is a worry, and a day earlier it was the New York Times:

All politicians bend the truth to fit their purposes, including Hillary Clinton. But Donald J. Trump has unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies in the general election, peppering his speeches, interviews and Twitter posts with untruths so frequent that they can seem flighty or random – even compulsive.

However, a closer examination, over the course of a week, revealed an unmistakable pattern: Virtually all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods directly bolstered a powerful and self-aggrandizing narrative depicting him as a heroic savior for a nation menaced from every direction. Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist, described the practice as creating “an unreality bubble that he surrounds himself with.”

The New York Times closely tracked Mr. Trump’s public statements from Sept. 15-21, and assembled a list of his 31 biggest whoppers, many of them uttered repeatedly. This total excludes dozens more: Untruths that appeared to be mere hyperbole or humor, or delivered purely for effect, or what could generously be called rounding errors.

The list follows, but Trump’s campaign dismissed their compilation as “silly” – and maybe it was, to them, but the Washington Post did the same thing:

Donald Trump’s week began in the wake of explosions in New Jersey and New York. It ended in the aftermath of shootings and riots. For a candidate whose strategy relies on painting a dystopian view of the nation – often based on inaccurate and questionable claims – the tragedies yielded a trove of political opportunities.

Shortly after the first bomb went off – Trump boasted that he had been ahead of newscasters in calling it a “bomb” – he seized upon the terrorism act as justification for some of the most disputed things he has said since announcing his presidential bid.

Terrorism wouldn’t have happened if others had opposed the Iraq War as he did, Trump said, even though he had said at the time in a radio interview he supported the war. The problem increased because Hillary Clinton has “been silent about Islamic terrorism for many years,” Trump claimed falsely. Trump called for profiling people, but insisted he “never” suggested targeting Muslims, even though he held an event specifically to propose a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and has called for “surveillance of certain mosques.”

They showed him no mercy:

Trump’s campaign is hardly the first to spin things its way, and Clinton has made her share of questionable claims, but Trump has nevertheless revealed himself to be a candidate who at times seems uniquely undeterred by facts.

An examination by The Washington Post of one week of Trump’s speeches, tweets and interviews shows a candidate who not only continues to rely heavily on thinly sourced or entirely unsubstantiated claims but also uses them to paint a strikingly bleak portrait of an impoverished America, overrun by illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists – all designed to set up his theme that he is especially suited to “make America great again.”

And they know where this is headed:

Trump is expected to employ this approach, in both style and substance, at the first debate between the two major-party candidates on Monday night. Expecting that the moderator, Lester Holt of NBC News, will serve as a real-time fact-checker during the debate, Trump has repeatedly said that Holt should not do so. (Trump initially criticized Holt, saying: “Lester is a Democrat. It’s a phony system.” But after reports surfaced that Holt has registered Republican, Trump said he thought the moderator would be fair.)

Yeah, it’s getting absurd, but Politico piled on too:

As August ended, a new Donald Trump emerged. Coached by his third campaign management team, he stayed on message, read from a teleprompter and focused on policy. It lasted about a month.

After he lied on Sept. 16 that he was not the person responsible for the birtherism campaign to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency, POLITICO chose to spend a week fact-checking Trump. We fact-checked Hillary Clinton over the same time.

We subjected every statement made by both the Republican and Democratic candidates – in speeches, in interviews and on Twitter – to our magazine’s rigorous fact-checking process. The conclusion is inescapable: Trump’s mishandling of facts and his propensity for exaggeration so greatly exceed Clinton’s as to make the comparison almost ludicrous.

Though few statements match the audacity of his statement about his role in questioning Obama’s citizenship, Trump has built a cottage industry around stretching the truth. According to Politico’s five-day analysis, Trump averaged about one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds over nearly five hours of remarks.

In raw numbers, that’s 87 erroneous statements in five days.

That’s three different extensive lists of lies, all told in just the last week, the week before the first debate. Something is up, but Politico also reports the reaction to their list:

Jason Miller, Trump’s senior communications advisor, responded in an email: “There is a coordinated effort by the media elites and Hillary Clinton to shamelessly push their propaganda and distract from Crooked Hillary’s lies and flailing campaign. All of these ‘fact-check’ questions can be easily verified, but that’s not what blog sites like Politico want people to believe. Mr. Trump is standing with the people of America and against the rigged system insiders, and it’s driving the media crazy. We will continue to speak the truth and communicate directly with the American people on issues they care most about, and we won’t let the dishonest, liberal media intimidate us from speaking candidly and from the heart. A Donald J. Trump presidency will make America great again.”

It seems truth is a slippery thing, or reality is, but Miller is right – there is a coordinated effort by the media. They like reality, and Nicholas Kristof explains why:

If a known con artist peddles a potion that he claims will make people lose 25 pounds and enjoy a better sex life, we don’t just quote the man and a critic; we find ways to signal to readers that he’s a fraud. Why should it be different when the con man runs for president?

Frankly, we should be discomfited that many Americans have absorbed the idea that Hillary Clinton is less honest than Donald Trump, giving Trump an edge in polls of trustworthiness.

Kristof finds this depressing:

I can see how the endless media coverage of Clinton’s email evasiveness might incline some casual voters to perceive Trump as the more honest figure. Of course we should cover Clinton’s sins, but when the public believes that a mythomaniac like Trump is the straight shooter, we owe it to ourselves and the country to wrestle with knotty questions of false equivalence.

In watching the campaign coverage this year, I’ve sometimes had the same distressing feeling I felt in the run-up to the war in Iraq – that we in the media were greasing the skids to a bad outcome for our country. In the debate about invading Iraq, news organizations scrupulously quoted each side but didn’t adequately signal what was obvious to anyone reporting in the region: that we would be welcomed in Iraq not with flowers but with bombs. In our effort to avoid partisanship, we let our country down.

Well, not this time:

Lately, news organizations have displayed greater resolve, including a blunt willingness to refer to egregious Trump falsehoods as “lies.” I hope we’ve reached a turning point that will frame the debates.

Some traditionalists are horrified at the recent journalistic toughening, and it’s true that fact-checking is a high-wire act for moderators. In a 2012 presidential debate, the moderator Candy Crowley backed President Obama when Mitt Romney accused him of not having promptly called the Benghazi attacks terrorism. In fact, the point was ambiguous – Obama had used the phrase “acts of terror” but wasn’t clearly referring to Benghazi.

So, granted, fact-checking on the fly is difficult, Clinton supporters are trying to goad the media to thump Trump, and truth is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Good journalism is challenging.

But do the job anyway:

Our job is to share with our audiences what we know. And we all know that Trump will not build a wall that Mexico will pay for (estimates are that it would cost $25 billion). If we know this, we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.

Skeptics note that more rigorous coverage might not make a difference. Only six percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the press. After all, few facts are clearer than that President Obama was born in the United States, yet only 62 percent of American voters say he was born here. Facts may be stubborn things, but so are myths.

Yet even if Trump seems to be a Teflon candidate, to whom almost nothing sticks, we must still do our jobs. We owe it to our audiences to signal that most of us have never met a national candidate as ill-informed, deceptive or evasive as Trump.

And the job has been done before:

In the early 1950s, journalists were also faced with how to cover a manipulative demagogue – Senator Joe McCarthy – and traditional evenhandedness wasn’t serving the public interest. We honor Edward R. Murrow for breaking with journalistic convention and standing up to McCarthy, saying: “This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent.”

Likewise, in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, it was not enough to quote from news conferences by each side. Great journalists like Claude Sitton and Karl Fleming took enormous risks to reveal the brutality of the Jim Crow South.

Our job is not stenography, but truth-telling. As we move to the debates, let’s remember that to expose charlatans is not partisanship, but simply good journalism.

That may be so, but Kathleen Parker says that might not matter:

Is anyone really going to change his or her mind based on what the candidates say Monday as opposed to what they said last week? Trump lovers are set in stone, as are Clinton haters. That’s one voting bloc. Clinton supporters (I don’t think there are many lovers around) are solid and entrenched, as are those who find Trump utterly unfit to be president.

It’s all over but for showing up at the polls.

Everyone expects politicians to lie. Take it from there.

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Cramming for the Finals

You either know your stuff or you don’t. That’s how some of us approached finals in college, a long time ago. There was no point in cramming – if you’d been paying attention, and thinking, all term, all possible answers to all possible questions were already in your head. If they weren’t, there was no way to force-feed them in there in an all-night session or two. They wouldn’t stick anyway. If you hadn’t been engaged in the subject for four months, because you were always thinking of other things, it really was impossible to suddenly find it all fascinating and think deep thoughts about whatever it was. You can’t fake fascination with what actually bores you – so some of us played pool during finals week, and aced all our finals. It was just another day in class. Those who crammed barely got by, at best.

Of course there were the obsessive-compulsives, those who knew their stuff but crammed anyway. A good night’s sleep before each final would have served them better, but some people have to make sure they’ve got everything exactly right. Nothing would be left to chance. They had a plan for every possible contingency – and bloodshot eyes – and they did just fine anyway. They were unpleasant tight-ass people, but understandable. It takes all kinds – and then there were the snide goofballs. They didn’t give a shit about economics or literature or chemistry or whatever the course had been about. They hadn’t studied all term and they weren’t about to cram now. They’d take their chances with their quick wit and charm. Things would work out. They’d do fine – and sometimes they did do fine. More often than not – they didn’t. People tend to overestimate their quick wit and charm. Those were generally the rich kids whose parents had covered for them for years. They mistook that for their own personal wonderfulness. They were irritating too.

They wouldn’t ever change, and the obsessive-compulsives would also never change, and as the first presidential debate approaches, Hillary Clinton is the needlessly obsessive-compulsive, cramming for the big night, and Donald Trump is the snide goofball, the rich kid who knows he’ll always do fine, because he always has, blowing it off.

The New York Times lays it out:

Hillary Clinton is determined to get under Donald J. Trump’s skin at Monday’s debate, and is testing attack lines to try to rattle him.

Mr. Trump is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of Mrs. Clinton’s best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities.

She’s cramming and he isn’t:

Mrs. Clinton has a thick dossier on Mr. Trump after months of research and meetings with her debate team, including analysis and assumptions about his psychological makeup that Clinton advisers described as critical to understanding how to knock Mr. Trump off balance. Mrs. Clinton has concluded that catching Mr. Trump in a lie during the debate is not enough to beat him: She needs the huge television audience to see him as temperamentally unfit for the presidency, and that she has the power to unhinge him.

Mr. Trump, in turn, is approaching the debate like a Big Man on Campus who thinks his last-minute term paper will be dazzling simply because he wrote it.

He has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.

We all remember that guy from college, and that determines their preparations:

Clinton:

She is mentally readying herself for multiple Trumps: the disciplined opponent who sticks to big themes, the no-holds-barred adversary who goes on the offensive, and the snide antagonist who calls her a “loser” to her face. Her advisers are hurling a host of Trumpian assaults and counterattacks at her to test her responses and adjust them as needed.

Mrs. Clinton is eager to play offense and try to get under his skin, by doing things like calling him “Donald” and questioning his net worth.

Yet she is also testing out whether and how to interrupt Mr. Trump, as she does not want to be seen as pushy and play into gender stereotypes. In practice sessions, she has come across best when she waits to pounce confidently on Mr. Trump for lying or misstating facts, rather than trying to talk over him.

Trump:

He does not like practicing an answer over and over until it is letter-perfect and appropriately brief. But this weekend’s work will be geared to running through questions while Mr. Trump is on his feet and aware of a countdown timer when he is speaking.

His advisers will try to throw him off balance, and measure his response to possible Clinton jabs like “You’re lying, Donald.”

He believes debates are not won or lost on policy minutiae since most viewers will not remember them in an hour. His advisers see it as a waste of time to try to fill his head with facts and figures. Instead, they want him to practice staying focused on big-picture themes (jobs, terrorism, protecting the homeland and closing borders, “Make America Great Again”) rather than picking fights on side issues or taking the bait from Mrs. Clinton.

She’ll know the subject matter and he won’t, but he assumes his quick wit and charm are what really matters.

Jonathan Chait puts that this way:

There are two ways to read today’s New York Times report from Donald Trump’s debate preparations, or lack thereof. One is that Trump’s advisers are deliberately setting expectations at rock bottom, so the media will proclaim him the winner if he can merely remain upright for the entire time. A second possibility is that they have come to the horrifying realization that their candidate is delusional, uninformed, lazy, and utterly unsuited to the presidency, and they’re hoping without evidence that these traits can somehow be hidden from the viewing public.

The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. In either case, Trump’s advisers are advertising that their candidate is a man-child. Trump cannot read and must be shown videos instead…

His own campaign did tell the New York Times that Trump is not doing much more than watching video of Clinton’s “best and worst debate moments” and only skims briefing materials, if he reads them at all, and he won’t even practice standing still:

He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers … He prefers not to do a full-length mock debate, and has no set person playing Mrs. Clinton.

He is not using a lectern for mock debate drills, despite suggestions from some on his coaching team that simulating a one-on-one debate is good practice after the primary debates that featured several rivals …

Some Trump advisers are concerned that he underestimates the difficulty of standing still, talking pointedly and listening sharply for 90 minutes.

And he may be uncontrollably abusive:

His instinct in debates is often to attack and insult opponents, which had an upside during the circuslike primary debates but could be grating during a 90-minute one-on-one debate.

Chait also notes that Trump’s attention span is so limited that his advisers have given up on getting him to focus on preparation and simply hope he can pay attention throughout the actual debate:

Mr. Trump can get bored with both debate preparations and debates themselves. His advisers have been reinforcing the importance of listening and focusing on every word Mrs. Clinton says and looking for ways to counterattack.

And there’s this:

He may not like debate preparations, but he is very competitive and wants to vanquish Mrs. Clinton on Monday night. His team has been emphasizing the best ways to win: Do not pick stupid fights with her or with the moderator; explain yourself rather than get defensive; and deliver the answers you want rather than worrying about directly answering the question.

Chait thinks that’s pathetic:

If Trump is legitimately as stupid, lazy, and childlike as his advisers portray him to be, they should stop helping him get through the debate and instead warn America not to let him become president.

Maybe so, but Jonathan Freedland sees this:

So low are expectations for his performance on Monday – where it is assumed that his opponent, a seasoned debater, will wipe the floor with him – that if Trump manages to speak in vaguely coherent sentences and not deliver a misogynist insult to Clinton’s face, his advocates will declare that he looked “presidential” and anoint him the winner. If he can somehow persuade wavering voters that he is not so ridiculous as to merit automatic disqualification, he will have cleared a crucial hurdle.

And for all her experience, Clinton heads towards this first, and therefore most important, debate facing some serious obstacles. She’s been advised that she mustn’t interrupt too much or talk over Trump: apparently voters react badly to seeing a woman act that way. According to a New York Times report well sourced from inside Hillary’s debate preparation team, “she does not want to be seen as pushy and play into gender stereotypes”. This was not something Barack Obama, or husband Bill, ever had to worry about.

And she has other problems:

If she calls him a liar, he’ll hit back over her use of a private email server, calling her Crooked Hillary, knowing that some 60% of Americans believe she’s dishonest. The risk is that he’ll use her experience and expertise against her, casting her as the boring know-it-all against the freewheeling, entertaining guy who relies on good old gut instinct.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a show we’ve already seen. In 2000 Al Gore was clearly the more accomplished, ready-for-office candidate. But he came across as impatient and pompous against the looser, backslapping George W Bush. Never mind that one was a visionary on the issue of climate change while the other would lead the US into the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. On the night, Bush came across better on TV.

Which brings us to a core problem facing Hillary Clinton: Polls show there are millions of voters, especially young ones, who agree in big numbers that Trump is a racist and a sexist, unqualified for America’s highest office – but who are refusing to back Clinton. One survey of 18- to 34-year-olds recorded dire numbers for Trump, but still found only 31% supporting Clinton, with 29% preferring libertarian Gary Johnson and 15% the Green candidate Jill Stein. If those numbers are replicated on Election Day, Trump will win.

This too stirs queasy memories of 2000. In that year, a small but significant bloc on the left voted for Ralph Nader instead of Gore. More than 90,000 voted for Nader in Florida, a state Gore was eventually deemed to have lost by just 537 votes. Had even a tiny fraction of those Naderites decided to hold their nose and choose Gore instead, there would have been no Bush presidency – and no Iraq war.

And that’s not sour grapes:

You might think this is all so obvious that it barely needs stating. But 2000 can seem like ancient history to those who don’t remember it. And here, younger voters are not to blame. Older liberals haven’t seared the Bush calamity into the minds of the next generation. They never turned 2000 into a cautionary tale of the cost of third-party indulgence. As the New Republic put it this week, “Liberals have failed to teach millennials about the horror of George W Bush.”

So now even though the hour is late this is the case Democrats must make – that this is an exceptional election because Donald Trump represents an exceptional menace, to America and to the world. It is indeed a referendum on Trump and the only way to vote no in that referendum is to vote Clinton. She may not be the candidate of your dreams, but she’s all that stands between you and an American nightmare.

You don’t have to love her. You don’t even have to like her. You’re not saying she’s flawless (though the current Democratic platform is its most progressive in 30 years, thanks in part to the challenge of Bernie Sanders). As Joe Biden puts it, “Don’t compare her to the Almighty. Compare her to the alternative.” And the alternative is President Trump.

Still, she should worry, except that Marissa Payne notes that Clinton has a secret weapon:

Donald Trump critic Mark Cuban won’t be on stage during Monday’s first presidential debate between his nemesis and Hilary Clinton, but he’ll be pretty darn close: The Dallas Mavericks owner announced that he scored front-row seats to the spectacle at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Cuban tweeted about it Thursday night, and a Clinton campaign aide later confirmed the news to CNN – “Just got a front row seat to watch @HillaryClinton overwhelm @realDonaldTrump at the Humbling at Hofstra on Monday. It Is On!”

“He has the best seat we have access to,” the aide told the cable news network Thursday. “Cuban has proven to be singularly effective in making the case against Trump and for Clinton. That is why we invited him.”

Well, Cuban has been a pain in the ass to Trump:

Cuban has repeatedly questioned Trump’s qualifications, most memorably calling him “batshit crazy” at a July campaign event in Pittsburgh, where he also formally endorsed Clinton.

“Trump scares me,” Cuban said (via CNN) directly after addressing the crowd. “Donald, initially, I really hoped he would be something different, that as a businessperson, I thought there was an opportunity there. But then he went off the reservation.”

In his latest effort to dog Trump, Cuban offered Trump $10 million to the charity of his choice in exchange for an uninterrupted four-hour interview about Trump’s policies that would supposedly “make America great again.” Trump, who has been notoriously tight-lipped about laying out specific plans for the country, has so far declined that offer.

This could be good:

Cuban hasn’t specified whether he’ll try to speak with Trump at the debate on Monday, but one thing’s probably certain: We’re all hoping there will be an intense stare-down, judging from the boxing allusions he included in his tweet on Thursday (“It Is On!”).

That’ll be interesting, but Andy Borowitz offers this:

At a campaign rally on Friday, Donald Trump warned that Hillary Clinton is scheming to “rig the debate by using facts” in their first televised face-off, on Monday.

“You just watch, folks,” Trump told supporters in Toledo, Ohio. “Crooked Hillary is going to slip in little facts all night long, and that’s how she’s going to try to rig the thing.”

“It’s a disgrace,” he added.

The billionaire drew a sharp contrast between himself and the former Secretary of State by claiming that his debate prep “involved no facts whatsoever.”

“I am taking a pledge not to use facts at the debate,” he said, raising his right hand. “I challenge Crooked Hillary to take that pledge.”

He also warned that unless CNN, which is hosting the debate, promises to forbid the use of facts, he might pull out of Monday’s contest. “I’m only going to debate if I’m treated fairly, and facts don’t treat me fairly,” he said.

At CNN, a spokesperson assured Trump that the network would do everything in its power to keep the debate “as free of facts as possible.”

“We have a well-established practice at CNN,” the spokesperson said. “If the candidates start straying into facts, data, or other verifiable information, we have instructed the moderators to cut them off.”

That’s satire, or perhaps not. It’s hard to tell these days, but Kathleen Parker thinks that everyone is making too much of this first debate:

Is there anyone left in America who doesn’t know what each candidate thinks and what they’re going to say?

The only surprise would be if Trump were suddenly fluent in policy particulars and Clinton started making faces and giving the thumbs-up every time she thought she was winning.

Is anyone really going to change his or her mind based on what the candidates say Monday as opposed to what they said last week? Trump lovers are set in stone, as are Clinton haters. That’s one voting bloc. Clinton supporters (I don’t think there are many lovers around) are solid and entrenched, as are those who find Trump utterly unfit to be president.

It’s all over but for showing up at the polls.

This is not some college final:

It will be a popcorn-and-brew event – entertainment pure and simple. To the extent there’s a contest, it will be one of senior superlatives. Who’s smartest? Funniest? Quickest? Deepest? Most important, whose voice do you want to listen to for the next four years?

Questions of substance – who is going to keep us safe, build our economy, stanch the flow of immigrants, rally the troops, protect the innocent and elderly – have been asked hundreds of times in a variety of forums…

Everything you need to know for Monday’s debate, you learned in high school – how to size up a person, get their gist, seek their weak spot and watch closely how they handle themselves in the tightest sort of squeeze – exposed as 200 million eyeballs (that’s assuming two per person) are watching.

That’s about it:

Showing viewers who they really are is all that’s left. This, I think, is where people are today. The moderator who can get to the core of the individual rather than simply elicit yet another rote recitation of either facts or nonsense, as the case may be, will have provided a public service indeed.

So who are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

We know their résumés. We know their histories. We know their foibles and weaknesses. But do we know their characters? Clinton has asked who the American people want to answer that 3 a.m. call. In past campaigns, other questions have arisen. With whom would you leave your children? With whom would you like to grab a beer?

These are somewhat silly questions, obviously, but human beings aren’t so terribly complex after all. Most people think they’re pretty good judges of character. Most times, they can’t put a finger on what precisely tips the scale or sends the signal that this or that person is a mover or a maker.

It may be a simple gesture, a slight movement at a specific time, a tightening of the jaw, a sag of the shoulder, eyes that can’t stay with you. Or it can be something more discreet – an absence of presence, a missing something you sense rather than see.

Parker argues that people will watch, not listen – so no amount of cramming on policy will work, nor will all the contingency planning, either way, on what to do if the other says this or that. This is one of those finals where the best preparation may be to shoot some pool and catch up on your sleep. You know your stuff or you don’t – it’s too late now to do anything about that. The snide rich kid will try to get by on his quick wit and charm, even if that means he won’t look “presidential” – and the obsessive-compulsive policy wonk will try to look loose and open and pleasant, but she’s still a wonk. And they will each be judged on other things, to be determined. That’s how the American people will grade the first of these three final exams. There’s no way to prepare for that.

Posted in First Presidential Debate, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Absurd Choice

There’s no quick fix. There’s no good choice. In November it will be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. She’s plodding and conventional, if not a bit boring, with an extensive list of quite reasonable detailed policy positions that no one reads, and she’s defensive about the few bone-headed mistakes she made in all her years in public service. That defensiveness seems to be a red flag to voters, but Donald Trump is absurd. He’s never held public office and knows nothing about public policy or, really, about how the world works. He’s a reality show star who used to be a real estate developer but now sells his name to anyone who wants to put it on their product, which has made him richer than he was when he started out, which was pretty damned rich in the first place – and he’s on trial for fraud about his fake university, and now in legal trouble over his fake foundation. And of course two thirds of Americans think he doesn’t have the “temperament” to be president – he could get us all killed. Every week there seems to be another letter from a hundred former diplomats or whatever, saying this guy is totally unfit to be president – but at least he’s not defensive. He says he’s a genius. Trust him on that.

That’s the choice. America is free to choose one or the other, but that’s an absurd choice, in an existential way, if you remember your Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Sartre’s primary idea is that people are “condemned to be free” – and that’s a bitch. We have to make up our own meaning, by what we choose. The world is indifferent to the individual – there’s no external help for you, sorry. You’ve got to figure it out on your own. He wrote of Nausea and then of Being and Nothingness – and Camus wrote of absurdity, using the metaphor of the Myth of Sisyphus – the guy condemned to roll the same big rock up the same big hill forever. That damned rock rolled back down each time, so Sisyphus had to roll it up that hill again. It’s absurd, but life is like that. You cannot choose not to roll the rock up the hill. That would be giving up entirely, accepting a life of not doing anything at all, thus not being anything at all. So here, now, you have to vote for one of these two, even if that damned rock rolls down the hill again and nothing is ever any better.

The existentialists weren’t a cheery lot. They specialized in ennui – they’d seen it all and weren’t going to be fooled by this or that enthusiasm that had claimed to be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything – and maybe that’s a French thing, or a universal thing. At Amazon there are three pages of products with the logo “I Already Hate Our Next President” – on mugs, t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies and infant onesies. Indulge your inner Sisyphus. There’s no good choice.

Trump, however, may be the worse choice, and Daniel Drezner, that professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, cheers himself up by arguing that Trump won’t win:

At a moment when the American populace no longer trusts itself (or, rather, other Americans), why am I so calm that things will work out?

My model of this election is that Trump has a rigid core of supporters but also a hard ceiling on that support. Clinton has more voter support but also more “soft” support. These are voters who become easily disaffected when she has a bad news cycle or two. (It’s also possible that those on the left get disaffected when she appeals to moderate Republicans and vice versa.) So when the race looks close, it’s not because Trump is attracting Clinton voters, it’s because possible Clinton voters are not feeling all that good about Clinton and might choose not to vote – or answer a pollster.

In this way, the very tightening of the race prevents Trump from winning. There is a bevy of voters who are not jazzed by Clinton but are petrified by a Trump presidency. Once polls start to show that it’s close, they will decide to vote for Clinton or say so in a poll. When the lead expands, they get more complacent and disaffected by Clinton’s flaws.

Given the good recent economic news – and the failure of terrorism threats to benefit Trump – my baseline of the 2016 election is that any tightening of the race creates endogenous effects that prevent Trump from taking the lead.

That’s an interesting theory, backed up by this:

There are a few additional factors that make me even more confident about a Clinton victory:

Contra Trump’s claims that he will change the map by bringing out lots of new voters, none of the data I have seen suggest that this is true. There’s no hidden “reserve army” of Trump supporters in places such as Connecticut or Oregon.

Although Trump has surged in places such as Ohio and Florida, recent polling in crucial swing states for Clinton’s bare-minimum electoral path to 270 continue to show her with a comfortable margin of victory.

I’m assuming that Clinton’s vastly superior ground game and data operation will give her a boost of one to three percentage points above the polling averages, which could make the difference in places such as North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

The last major moment endogenous to the campaign, when Trump can overtake Clinton, is the debates. And I think Clinton’s extensive debating experience, combined with her recent one-on-one debates with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, leaves her far better prepared than Trump.

On that he cites James Fallows:

Significantly, Clinton, unlike Trump, comes to this fall’s debates as a veteran of five one-on-one debates with Sanders (plus five in the 2008 election cycle against just Barack Obama after John Edwards dropped out, and three against Rick Lazio in her 2000 Senate race). Donald Trump, by contrast, has not been through even one head-to-head live debate. After the multiplayer scrum of the early Republican field, the smallest field he ever faced was Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio in Miami in the very last GOP debate. These are entirely different experiences: facing one person, with a moderator, versus being part of a crowd. With three or more contenders onstage, each participant is mainly fighting for airtime and looking for chances to get in planned zingers. …

In a head-to-head debate, participants know they will get enough airtime. The question becomes how they use it. Example of the difference: In several of the GOP debates, Trump went into a kind of hibernation when the talk became too specific or policy-bound, letting John Kasich or Marco Rubio have the microphone. It didn’t matter, because he’d have a chance to come back with a one-liner – “We’re gonna win so much.” In debates like the ones this fall, it will be harder to answer some questions and ignore others.

Drezner finds comfort in that:

Trump’s best chance of persuading voters to back him over Clinton is in a venue where Clinton is far more likely to shine.

So that’s how I’m thinking about this election right now. Maybe there’s some motivated reasoning in there in which my brain, believing that Trump would be an unmitigated disaster as a president, can’t possibly, actually win. But until something happens that alters those assumptions of mine. I’m still feeling copacetic.

Good for him, but Catherine Rampell notes this:

Millennials are souring on Hillary Clinton. Again.

Not that they were ever so sweet on her to begin with, at least relative to how they swooned over other Democrats. Both Bernie Sanders in the recent primary campaign, and Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 general elections, received far more love from young voters. But in any case, Clinton’s already weak millennial support has gotten much weaker in the past month.

The polls show that:

Quinnipiac, for example, found last month that Clinton had a big fat 24-point lead over Donald Trump among 18-to-34-year-old voters (48 percent to 24 percent). Now that margin has shriveled to just five percentage points (with Clinton at 31 percent, Trump at 26 percent).

Nationwide Fox News polls of registered voters also found that Clinton’s lead has narrowed to nine points, from 27 points in late July and early August. And a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times national poll has Clinton’s August lead not only disappearing but reversing, with Trump now ahead among millennials by six points. There were outliers, but the trend was clear.

Polls in battleground states have likewise shown Clinton’s lead among millennial voters shrinking. In Michigan, for example, Clinton’s 24-point August lead among young voters has shriveled to just seven points. Clinton has just 31 percent of the youth vote there, compared with Trump’s 24 percent.

Then add the complication:

In most of these polls, the young supporters ditching Clinton seem to be shifting not to Trump but to third-party candidates, particularly Libertarian Gary Johnson. The Michigan poll has Johnson tied with Trump; the national Quinnipiac poll actually has Johnson slightly ahead of Trump among under-35 voters.

These trends have been met with liberal teeth-gnashing and garment-rending, plus a lot of sanctimonious scolding of Kids These Days. How dare these ungrateful young hooligans turn their backs on the only serious candidate who actually cares about their issues! Are they really too young to remember the horrors that resulted when Ralph Nader played the spoiler in 2000? Quoth one columnist, “I know you’re young, but grow up!”

That happens when there’s no good choice, but Clinton is fighting back:

That means a flurry of college visits, including from progressive heartthrobs such as Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Obama. The Clinton campaign explicitly advertised these events as an appeal to prodigal young voters.

The surrogate speeches haven’t always gone according to plan, though. Obama’s speech at George Mason University was at one point met with chants of “four more years” – her stumping apparently got the crowd pumped for the wrong politician.

The Clinton campaign has thus also been desperately seeking coverage in millennial-tailored media. She whipped up an inane essay for Mic titled “Hillary Clinton: Here’s What Millennials Have Taught Me.” (The lesson: Millennials are totes awesome.) And she sat for an awkward, if amusing, interview on “Between Two Ferns” with actor Zach Galifianakis.

This seems pretty hopeless, but there’s a hopeful explanation:

Several recent polls, anyway, suggest that younger voters are much more likely to see a Clinton presidency as a fait accompli. Per Quinnipiac, 71 percent of voters younger than 35 believe Clinton will win in November; just 49 percent of voters older than 65 believe the same. YouGov also finds that 58 percent of voters under 30 expect a Clinton victory, versus 47 percent of those over 65.

If you believe a Clinton presidency is inevitable, then casting a ballot for a third-party candidate probably doesn’t feel like it has much consequence. It’s a mere protest vote, a victimless expressive gesture, like angrily tweeting into the void, kneeling during the national anthem or, I don’t know, sending unhinged hate mail to unsuspecting columnists.

But that’s not harmless:

A tighter race – one, ironically, made tighter largely because of millennial defections from the Clinton camp – changes the calculus. It’s riskier to “throw away” your vote, either by supporting someone who has no chance of winning or by abstaining from the polls altogether.

But not to worry:

See, millennials may not adore Clinton, but they really, really hate Trump. Six in 10 young voters view him “strongly” unfavorably, and the same-share describes him as “racist.” Don’t be surprised if their third-party crushes start to fade as the prospect of President Trump begins to feel all too terrifyingly real.

That can be put another way. There’s no good choice, there never is, but some things are simply unacceptable.

John Judis, however, examines how Hillary Clinton made herself a bad choice:

If I had to bet on this election, I’d still put my money on Hillary Clinton. But there is a big question about why she is not doing better. When presidential candidates face opponents who can’t even command the support of their party’s leadership and leading interest groups, it’s usually landslide time. Think of Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Richard Nixon against George McGovern in 1972. And Trump has less support in his party’s leadership than either Goldwater or McGovern had. Yet if the polls are to be believed, the race between Clinton and Trump is close.

I don’t accept some of the explanations proffered by her supporters: that the media tilts toward Trump or that there is a silent majority of racists and sexists in America. I think she does suffer from representing the party that has controlled the White House for the last eight years and for 16 of the last 24. In these cases, voters accumulate grievances with a long half-life that affect their view of the current candidate. And the candidate finds it difficult to advocate dramatic change without appearing to repudiate her predecessors.

All that may be so, but Judis argues that the real problem is that Hillary Clinton has turned herself into Michael Dukakis:

Beyond not wanting her opponent to be president, I have my reasons for supporting Clinton – and they begin with Supreme Court nominations – but I can’t think of three positive reasons why the average voter would support Clinton. Her own ads have been almost entirely devoted to warning about a Trump presidency, which is why complaints from her camp that the media devotes too much attention to Trump run hollow. Voters want to know what she really wants to do as president.

When I presented this conundrum to a friend, he pointed me to Clinton’s website, where there are detailed proposals on 38 issues – from climate change and campus sexual assault to HIV and AIDS and protecting animals and wildlife. But that’s not really what I mean by standing for something.

Political campaigns are thematic. They are not about detailed proposals. That’s what governing is partly about, although politics is crucial to governing, too. The most successful campaigns can be summed up in slogans and simple demands. I think of Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H. W. Bush in 1988 (who had to face the third term problem), Bill Clinton in 1992, George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008. These campaigns had easily remembered slogans — yes we can, compassionate conservatism, putting people first, kinder, gentler nation, making America great again (Reagan and Trump) and they had simple programmatic proposals – end welfare as we know it, an across the board 33 percent tax cut, read my lips; no new taxes, withdraw from Iraq, and not a dime from special interests.

Trump’s campaign is very much along these lines, which is one reason he has gotten this far. Clinton’s is not. Nor was that of Dukakis (competence, not ideology) who at one point in the summer of 1988 was 17 percentage points up on Bush.

It seems she forgot the one thing that matters:

What a candidate is against is as important as what a candidate is for. And I am not referring to being against your opponent. It’s a simple principle of linguistics. Positives are defined by negatives, and vice versa. As the philosopher John Austin once remarked, what “real” means depends on whether it is being used in opposition to being toy, artificial, virtual, insincere, or apparent. Franklin Roosevelt was famously against “economic royalists,” Reagan was against “welfare queens” and the “evil empire.” Presidential candidates can’t declare too many enemies for fear of losing votes. Clinton dumping Trump’s supporters into a “basket of deplorables” certainly wasn’t good politics. But if candidates have no enemies, their message becomes fuzzy.

Judis gives an example of that:

Compare for a moment Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton’s response to the consumer fraud perpetrated by Wells Fargo. During Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s appearance before the Senate Finance Committee, Warren told Stumpf, “You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

By contrast, Clinton’s response was an open letter to Wells Fargo customers. “I was deeply disturbed when, last week, we found out that Wells Fargo had engaged in widespread illegal practices over many years… Today, Wells Fargo’s CEO will appear before Congress. He owes all of you a clear explanation as to how this happened under his watch. There is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America.”

Clinton then went on to present a raft of proposals for reforming the banking system.

Here’s one:

First, we need to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau… Second, we need real consequences when firms on Wall Street break the law…it’s frustrating that a bank can simply pay a fine and keep doing business as usual – with massive compensation for the executives responsible. That compensation should be clawed back. I’ve put forward an agenda to enhance accountability on Wall Street. Executives should be held individually accountable when rampant illegal activity happens on their watch. .. Third, we need to make sure that no financial institution is too big to manage. I’ll put additional safeguards in place to address the risks that the big banks continue to pose to our system. .. I’ll appoint regulators who will stand with taxpayers and consumers, not with big banks and their friends in Congress.

Judis:

These are reasonable proposals, but they belong in a transition committee’s report on financial reform. Did Clinton expect that many of Wells Fargo’s customers would actually read this letter? By not singling out Stumpf and not taking the kind of tough stance that Warren did, Clinton missed a golden opportunity to tell voters what she really cared about – and do so without alienating a significant bloc of voters. And it certainly wouldn’t have put her at odds with Obama. I simply don’t understand why Clinton and her campaign took a pass, but it’s more or less characteristic of her campaign, and it is one important reason Trump has pulled close to her in the polls.

She is kind of hopeless:

Clinton and her campaign do see a problem. They recently put out a positive (non-Trump) ad showing, in the campaign’s words, “Hillary Clinton’s lifelong record fighting for children and families.” But I’m not sure that kind of ad does the trick. Sure, she’s for families and children, but the ad lacks any edge and dramatic demand and there isn’t an enemy lurking in the back yard that needs to be slain. Will average voters, after seeing this ad, feel Clinton cares about their own family and children? I doubt it.

Clinton’s got demographics on her side in this election, and she’s facing a damaged opponent. She should win. But by this time, she should be well ahead, as Johnson was in 1964 and Nixon in 1972, but she’s not, and I think some of the fault lies in the kind of campaign she and her advisors are running.

She could have made herself the one good choice this time around, and somehow couldn’t, perhaps because she is plodding and conventional, and rightfully defensive after all the years of mostly bullshit attacks, but Heather Parton argues that this year was just not her year:

In recent days we’ve seen most prescriptions directed at the Hillary Clinton campaign, as the always nervous Democrats are waking up the startling reality that the flamboyant, white nationalist demagogue on the other side might just pull this off. And they have as many different ideas as there were GOP all-stars Donald Trump smoked in the primaries. These range from “She needs to take the fight to Trump and call him out” to “She should attack the Republican officials who endorse him” to “She should stop attacking him and lay out a positive policy agenda so people have a reason to vote for her” – which, to be fair, sounds like a good idea.

But the question is, if someone lays out a positive policy agenda and nobody hears it, did it really happen?

That was never going to work:

It’s an old truism that negative campaigning works, so it’s no surprise that Clinton’s campaign would try to leverage Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric against him. But there is plenty of positive material out there as well. It’s just the press isn’t interested, and there isn’t a lot of evidence that the voters are either. This doesn’t seem to be that kind of election.

The armchair strategists who think a more positive, uplifting message is what Hillary Clinton needs to put this election away may be right. But the question is whether anyone could hear such a message above the din of cynicism and negativity that characterizes the coverage of this campaign.

That din of cynicism and negativity has created what Sartre and Camus would have called an absurd world, one where there are no good choices. What can one do? Push that rock up that hill, even if it rolls down again. To do nothing is to disappear. And you can always buy that “I Already Hate Our Next President” shirt.

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