The Scary Boring Stuff

It’s only the middle of September but Democrats are suddenly worried. Perhaps they should be worried. Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment about half of Donald Trump’s supporters being rather awful people really didn’t do much damage. The press keeps asking Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, if David Duke, the Klan guy who loves Trump, isn’t actually deplorable, and Mike Pence keeps saying that David Duke is a bad man, and they don’t want his support at all, but he won’t call him deplorable. He doesn’t call people names. The press keeps asking what the difference is between bad and deplorable. Why won’t he use the word? This happens two or three times a day, and there’s this:

Gov. Mike Pence came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday on a mission to promote Republican unity, attacking Hillary Clinton for describing many supporters of the GOP ticket as bigoted “deplorables” and urging Republicans to rally behind their nominee, Donald J. Trump.

But Mr. Pence struggled to press the attack: In separate news conferences, House and Senate Republican leaders declined to join Mr. Pence, the Indiana governor and vice-presidential nominee, in rebuking Mrs. Clinton over her remark.

They know better. Defending a few or far too many embarrassingly angry bigots among them, as bad but not deplorable, is a losing proposition. It’s too easy to prove that Clinton was right about a significant subset of the Republican base. Many have, because it’s kind of obvious. Clinton trapped them on this. Go there and you end up defending the indefensible. It’s best not to talk about such things. Now Mike Pence has to do that. He can hang alone. They’re not going there.

Clinton won that one, but that’s not the problem. The problem is the mild case of pneumonia that kept her from campaigning for a few days. This wasn’t much – these things happen and she’ll be just fine – but now her “fitness for office” is now a nagging issue – that, and all the polls tightening. Trump still doesn’t have much of a chance to win in November, but he’s surging. He’s been out there. She hasn’t. That hurt her, but it may be more than that. He’s been “surging” for a few weeks.

Maybe it is time to worry, and Josh Marshall addresses that:

The polls have been slowly trending in Trump’s direction for a few weeks. That is happening. There are various sources of noisiness in the data. But when you step way back the trend in Trump’s direction is real and indisputable.

It’s particularly disquieting from a Democratic perspective to see Trump now holding apparent leads, albeit small ones, in Florida and Ohio. As we know, from sad history, winning Florida and Ohio (by whatever means) made George W. Bush president twice.

But there are some significant differences between then and now. In the intervening years, there have been significant changes in the electoral map which gave Democrats very plausible paths to victory even if they did lose both Florida and Ohio. The key is their upper south beachhead in Virginia and North Carolina as well as a strong hold on Colorado. There are other states that are in the mix too. But those are the big three. The upshot is that Democrats can very plausibly lose those two states and still win the election. That said, it would create a dramatically closer race. And it’s a very big deal if Trump opens up real leads there.

Scared yet?

It’s the boring stuff, the situation in specific swing states, that’s scary, but Marshall offers this:

Another national poll, from another premium pollster (Quinnipiac) came out today showing Clinton up 5 points nationwide. And Quinnipiac has tended to have a moderate GOP ‘house effect’, which means their results have been friendlier to Republicans. (Quinnipiac’s previous poll from the third week of August had Clinton +10 in a two person race. That’s a substantial move in Trump’s direction but still a significant Clinton lead.) That comes a few days after the WaPo/ABC poll – another premium phone poll – showing Clinton +5 in a four way race and Clinton +8 in a two way race.

That’s good, in spite of individual swing states:

It’s possible that those polls of Ohio and Florida, also by premium phone pollsters, are going to show up in tighter national numbers. It’s also possible that Clinton had a really bad weekend which either temporarily depressed her numbers or shifted something substantial in the race. There’s another possibility. To date we’ve seen lots of oscillations in the polls over months. In the national horse race numbers Clinton has had as much as a 10 point lead and as little as a 1 point or sub-1 point lead. But Trump has never moved even into a tie, let alone an actual lead… going by the absolute numbers, we’re not even that close. Clinton’s margin is currently 3.4 points.

That’s good, maybe:

It is possible but not at all likely that the results of the national popular vote and the Electoral College vote will diverge. It’s obviously possible. It happened 16 years ago. But it is not at all likely. So if you’re thinking the electoral vote will hold out against the popular vote or vice versa, you’re fooling yourself. If you think the Dems have an “electoral lock” that will defy the popular vote, you’re fooling yourself.

The truth is I don’t think we have enough data to know whether this is another pro-Trump oscillation or the beginning of a real shift that makes a Trump victory substantially more likely. The polls tell us clearly that Trump has closed a substantial part of the gap that opened up in August. It’s not clear he’s made headway on breaking through the wall he’s been locked under all year. It is also important to note that as of now, even with the states he’s doing well in, he still has to essentially run the electoral board to win the presidency. I continue to believe that there are structural factors with voting blocs that makes a Trump victory unlikely. But theories always need to give way to data.

Data is boring but scary, and Donald Trump suddenly being boring is scary too. Ever since he hired Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to run his campaign he really has calmed down quite a bit. He hasn’t gone off-script for days and days. These two have “tamed” him, as Monica Langley of the Wall Street Journal explains:

The new team, said supporters, has fostered a more disciplined candidacy. “Actually I’m freer now, relying on my instincts and working with a team I trust,” Mr. Trump said in an interview…

After Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announced late Sunday that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia, many expected Mr. Trump to pounce on the news, arguing that it proved his claim she lacks the stamina to be president. Instead, Mr. Trump told campaign advisers deluged with media calls to stand down. The response struck opponents as uncharacteristic, and some supporters attributed Mr. Trump’s restraint to his new campaign organization.

Mr. Trump said efforts by previous campaign leaders to remake him into a politician were “dishonest.” And, Mr. Trump said, he resisted at times by going off script.

The Republican nominee said he was more comfortable with his new team, which, ironically, has succeeded in some of the same changes sought by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort: Mr. Trump is sticking closer to a teleprompter, giving more policy details in speeches – and making fewer off-the-cuff remarks, which hurt his campaign after the GOP convention this summer.

They finally made him boring, and he is actually fine with that now, and Kevin Drum argues that now Democrats should really worry:

This is actually kind of scary. I still doubt that Trump can keep this up, but if he does, he could be dangerous. I’ve always figured that if Trump really did manage to calm down a bit, it wouldn’t take more than a few weeks for him to put his old reputation to rest. Pundits would start saying the campaign had “matured” him. Skeptical voters would move in his direction. Republicans would breathe a sigh of relief and embrace him.

Can he keep it up? No telling. But if he does, it will be the greatest con job ever from a man whose entire career has been built on conning the public. He’d probably enjoy that.

Trump is probably giggling about that right now, but if he does win the presidency, it’s the boring stuff that few are paying attention to at the moment that may be really scary.

Jeremy Diamond and David Wright explain that:

The author of a new report that alleges Donald Trump’s businesses overseas have conflicts with America’s interests said Wednesday that the Republican presidential nominee “makes money by aiding the people whose interests don’t coincide with America’s.”

“The interests of these businesses, the interests of these politicians, often go directly against the interests of American national security. So right now you have Donald Trump in a situation where he makes money by aiding the people whose interests don’t coincide with America’s,” Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald told CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota on “New Day,” adding later, “The important thing here is this is an entanglement that can’t be unwound.”

This cannot be fixed:

Trump has said he plans to entrust his business to his children if he is elected president, a move that would only partially distance Trump from his massive corporation and do little to quell questions about influence-peddling and conflicts of interest.

The Newsweek report itself makes that clear: 

The Trump family rakes in untold millions of dollars from the Trump Organization every year. Much of that comes from deals with international financiers and developers, many of whom have been tied to controversial and even illegal activities. None of Trump’s overseas contractual business relationships examined by Newsweek were revealed in his campaign’s financial filings with the Federal Election Commission, nor was the amount paid to him by his foreign partners.

It would also be impossible for Trump to untangle these conflicts of interest:

Trump’s business conflicts with America’s national security interests cannot be resolved so long as he or any member of his family maintains a financial interest in the Trump Organization during a Trump administration, or even if they leave open the possibility of returning to the company later. The Trump Organization cannot be placed into a blind trust, an arrangement used by many politicians to prevent them from knowing their financial interests; the Trump family is already aware of who their overseas partners are and could easily learn about any new ones.

In fact, Diamond and Wright report this:

“From what I’m hearing, Trump is planning to say that he will put the company in a blind trust – which is sort of like saying ‘I have 100 million shares of Apple stock and I’m going to put it in a blind trust,'” Eichenwald said. “He would know what’s there, he knows who his partners are and he knows, you know, he will know going forward.”

“Now, in the future, you’re talking about giving money to either the family of the President of the United States or money that will go to the President of the United States if his company is in this, you know, blind trust.”

CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment on the report and has not yet received a response.

Oh, not to worry:

Ivanka Trump also discussed the future of the Trump business empire if her father wins the presidency during an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday. Asked what the family would do to prevent potential conflicts of interest, she said that “as a private business, we can make decisions that are not in our best interest.”

“There’s something so much bigger than our business at stake, and that’s the future of this country,” she said. “We can say, you know what, we’ll do less deals, and not going to do that deal even though it’s a fine deal and economically reasonable because it could create a conflict of interest. And we’ll act incredibly responsibly, and my father already said he would put it into a blind trust and it would be run by us.”

In short, trust the children just like you trust the father. That’s asking a lot:

The report outlines a series of potential conflicts of interests, from Trump’s dealings with businessmen who have been the subject of government investigations in India and Turkey to his ties to powerful Russian oligarchs.

On “New Day,” Eichenwald explained why Turkey would be problematic for the Republican nominee. He said that a failed business deal between Trump and a politically-connected organization in the country had created potential tension between Trump and the President Recep Erdogan, who had called the deal a “mistake.”

“What I am being told is that Turkey’s cooperation with the United States, in terms of providing an air base where we are able to launch bombers against ISIS would be at risk if Donald Trump was president,” he said.

And where Trump has suggested significant changes to US foreign policy, the Newsweek report magnified some of Trump’s business dealings.

Trump, who has floated the idea of Japan and South Korea obtaining nuclear weapons, maintains an ongoing business relationship with Daewoo Engineering and Construction, according to Newsweek. Daewoo is one of the top South Korean companies involved in nuclear energy projects.

In India, Newsweek raised questions about Trump’s ties to powerful businessmen and political parties in the country, particularly in light of promises from Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to build “a very aggressive pipeline” there with “exciting new projects” to come.

“If he plays tough with India, will the government assume it has to clear the way for projects in that ‘aggressive pipeline’ and kill the investigations involving Trump’s (Indian business) partners? And if Trump takes a hard line with Pakistan, will it be for America’s strategic interests or to appease Indian government officials who might jeopardize his profits from Trump Towers Pune?” Eichenwald wrote.

And then there are “problematic connections” between Trump and Russian oligarchs, Vladimir Putin’s guys: 

One such connection comes from a deal in which the GOP nominee attempted to license the Trump name to an organization in Russia. Eichenwald said that “the head of that organization, who, again, is very politically connected – very tied-in to the Putin government – backed away from the deal because Trump wanted too much money.”

And the man who wanted too much money may be our next president. With Hilary Clinton at death’s door, and Republicans continually being forced to say that obvious bigots are bad people but not really deplorable, this may seem like fine-detailed hypothetical boring stuff, but it’s the boring stuff that’s scary:

Trump would undoubtedly have the most expansive and complex international business portfolio of any president in US history, which would bring an added layer of scrutiny to nearly every foreign policy decision Trump would make as president.

And from her death bed Clinton pounced:

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign sought to jump on the story Wednesday by tweeting 20 questions that they would like Trump to answer about Eichenwald’s report.

“Will you sever ties with your company linked to foreign leaders, questionable organizations, and criminals if you become president,” read the first.

The questions also hit Trump for not releasing his tax returns, his business connections and his ability to separate his responsibilities as president with his businesses ventures.

“How can we be sure you’d be willing to be tough on any nation if necessary, if it would put your interests and profits at risk?” asked another question.

The question about the tax returns is the one that matters. Those would show specific sources of income and specific write-offs for losses, and Trump has said he will not release them. It’s easy enough to see why, and Paul Waldman has had just about enough of this:

Think about his tax returns. At first Trump promised he would release his returns. “I have everything all approved, and very beautiful, and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time,” he said in January. Pressed on exactly when that might be, he said, “At the appropriate time, you’ll be very satisfied.” Then he said he’d release them if Hillary Clinton released her personal emails. But “the appropriate time” turned out to be never, making Trump the first nominee since the 1970s not to release his returns. This isn’t something trivial – in fact, there has never been a nominee whose tax returns we needed to see more than we do Donald Trump’s. He has a large business with hundreds of partnerships and entanglements throughout the world, which raise the potential for all kinds of conflicts of interest…

Trump and his family have a direct financial interest in many places where his decisions as president could shape events. He has said he’ll just step away from his company and let his kids run it while he’s president, which doesn’t even begin to address the conflicts of interest at work.

The fact that Trump thinks he can get away with this lack of disclosure, and we’ll just take his word for it that everything’s cool and there’s nothing to worry about, is absolutely astonishing. What’s worse is that that’s exactly what has happened up until now.

Yes, there’s a pattern here, and a solution to the problem:

We in the media should treat these stories about Trump the way we treated the story of Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia. When she got light-headed and stumbled three days ago at that 9/11 commemoration every major news organization swung into action. They assigned multiple reporters to the story, had them out investigating every aspect of it they could think of, published story after story and filled hour after hour of cable discussions about it, all of which created enormous pressure on Clinton to be as forthcoming as possible. The Clinton campaign has promised that they’re going to release more detailed records about her health, and they’re going to follow through, because they know that if they didn’t there would be a storm of criticism from the media about how secretive she’s being.

The Trump campaign, on the other hand, probably thinks they can just wait it out, when it comes to his medical records or foreign business deals or anything else, because they’ve seen it before. They’ve watched as we devoted enormous amounts of critical attention to the Clinton Foundation, which actually does a tremendous amount of good in the world, while we all but ignored the Trump Foundation, which appears to be little more than an outright scam set up for the purpose of getting other people to pay for giant paintings of Donald Trump and allowing Trump to charge genuine charities to use Mar-a-Lago for events at which they honor him for donations he didn’t actually give them.

They get away with that by waiting things out until everyone is bored with the whole thing and just forgets about it, which infuriates Waldman:

It’s unbelievable that it’s the middle of September and just now people are finally wondering whether Trump’s intricate web of foreign enterprises might be problematic if he were to become president. So that needs to be investigated too, down to the last detail, so we know exactly what all his interests are and how they might affect American foreign policy and national security.

There are a hundred reporters who have spent the last three days trying to determine if Hillary Clinton ever had a hangnail – at least that much energy should be put into finding out what we need to know about Donald Trump.

But that’s boring!

Say that and he will be the next president. Boring really is scary. It’s deplorable too.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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