Archive

October 2nd, 2016

Debate round one goes to Clinton

    Near the end of Monday night's first presidential debate, Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed champion counter-puncher, led with his chin when asked by moderator Lester Holt of NBC News what he meant by saying rival Hillary Clinton did not have "a presidential look."

    "She doesn't have the look," Trump replied. "She doesn't have the stamina." But as the television split screen captured them standing side-by-side after 90 minutes of intensive verbal combat, Clinton seemed as alert and on her game as he did, despite the bout with pneumonia that had temporarily forced her off the campaign trail.

    She pounced on Trump's answer, converting it deftly to cast it in sexist terms. "He tried to switch from looks to stamina," she said, "but this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs." In one phrase, she kept Trump on the defensive as he had been most of the night.

    After the opening minutes, in which he presented a deferential and insult-free Donald, Clinton's relentless reminders of the more aggressive and intemperate Donald seemed increasingly to get under his thin skin.

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Clinton sends troops to battle of Pennsylvania

    For Hillary Clinton, Pennsylvania is a fail-safe state. If she wins there, Donald Trump's path to electoral victory becomes much harder. Her debate performance on Monday night brightened what Democrats believe were already good odds.

    That was evident on Tuesday when Vice President Joe Biden highlighted a get-out-the-vote rally at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He brought up the debate often, praising Clinton and flaying Trump to an enthusiastic crowd.

    Democrats have worried about how to motivate young voters, so they were relieved that some Drexel students said the debate made them more likely to vote for Clinton. Black voters also came on board, according to Dwight Evans, a veteran Democratic state legislator favored to win a Congressional seat in November in a mostly-black Philadelphia district.

    "When Trump demeans Barack Obama with the crazy birther issues and others it makes people mad," Evans said. The Republican nominee repeatedly criticized the Obama presidency at the debate, and refused to take responsibility for spreading the lie that Obama wasn't really born in the U.S.

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Cheer up. History will forget this dismal campaign.

    With its insults, lies, rancor and racism, this has been the most depressing election cycle of my lifetime. So it's worth reminding ourselves that there's plenty of good news for the U.S. of 2016, and that the good news probably far outweighs the bad.

    When historians look back on our era, the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump campaign probably will be a modest footnote to broader and mostly uninterrupted positive trends. For instance, in a remarkably short time, America has gone from clunky, joke-worthy cell phones, to having most of its citizens connected to much of the world's information, and to most of the world's people, at a moment's notice. That is actually one of the greatest achievements of human history, even if we are far from realizing its full practical benefits.

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Americans actually don't hate trade agreements

    There has been a lot of heated debate in the news media and the election campaigns about international trade. In the first presidential debate, candidate Donald Trump relentlessly flogged the issue, declaring that trade had hollowed out American industry. On the left, antitrade sentiment continues to simmer, much of it focused on opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Meanwhile, the economics field is still dealing with the fallout from a recent paper by some top economists showing that trade with China in the 2000s hurt U.S. workers more than it helped.

    But amid all this uproar, the general public has remained remarkably calm and composed on the issue. A number of recent opinion polls show that the majority of Americans remain quietly optimistic about the benefits of trade. For example, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that more Americans view international trade as an opportunity than as a threat. Other recent polls, including one by NBC/WSJ, another by Washington Post/ABC and a third by Pew, find the same thing -- U.S. residents are still broadly positive about trade.

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Women of America, this is how much leading Republicans hate you

    The "war on women" started as a Democratic talking point intended to delegitimize Republican positions on abortion, rape and domestic violence. But over the past couple of days, we haven't even needed a policy debate or a slightly hyperbolic political slogan for a number of Republicans to do a truly impressive job of demonstrating just how much they personally hate women.

    First, Donald Trump created a pre-debate stir by suggesting that he would invite Gennifer Flowers, who claims she had an affair with Bill Clinton, to attend his first contest with Hillary Clinton. Trump's suggestion was a response to Clinton's decision to give tickets to Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a businessman who has consistently questioned whether Trump's business successes and claims of charitable giving are real.

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Why nobody's talking about the Supreme Court

    The U.S. Supreme Court didn't come up Monday in the first presidential debate, and so far, it hasn't been an important campaign issue. Given the unprecedented vacancy during an election season, that seems weird. But there is an explanation: The election's consequences for the court are asymmetrical for the two political parties.

    If the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, is elected, it will change the court's balance, either through the confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in the lame-duck session or with the appointment of Garland or another liberal after she takes office. If the Republican, Donald Trump, is elected, all he can do is replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia with another conservative. That won't change the court's political balance. For that to happen, Trump would need Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Justice Stephen Breyer to be unable to serve, which won't happen voluntarily for either in the first four years of a Trump presidency.

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Trump takes Clinton's bait and hooks himself

    The entire 90-minute debate on Monday night was a demonstration that Donald Trump doesn't have the temperament to be president.

    Hillary Clinton was prepared -- she always is -- and she baited Trump early and often. And Trump got caught each time. He also hooked himself, including in at least two exchanges with moderator Lester Holt (who did an excellent job, allowing both candidates to talk). Here are some examples.

    In Clinton's very first response to Trump, about trade, she managed to work in that the reality-television star "started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father." Trump could have let that go. Trade is a pretty good issue for him, and one on which he scored one of his few debating points of the night. But he just couldn't pass up the challenge to his claim to be a self-made man, and he got diverted into defending himself against her jab.

    This one didn't cost him much momentum. But it established a pattern that continued for the rest of the night. She would bait him about something, and he would defend himself.

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Trump lost the battle against himself

    Like countless other viewers, I wondered which Donald Trump would show up to debate Hillary Clinton: hyper Donald or sedate Donald.

    Hyper Donald is the one we usually see on the campaign trail screaming himself hoarse or delighting crowds with his ad-libbed speeches like a stand-up comedian. Hyper Donald is the one we usually read in snarky Twitter tweets that he sends out almost daily.

    Sedate Donald is the one whose impulses constantly pose a challenge to his advisers as they urge him to stick to his Teleprompter.

    After boasting that he wasn't going to spend a lot of time preparing himself for his first debate with his Democratic opponent, the Republican nominee's lack of preparation and impulse control showed themselves, as Trump might say, "big league."

    He apparently had prepared himself enough to stick to his talking points for about the first 15 minutes of the 90-minute debate. From there on, former Secretary of State Clinton played him like a violin.

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Sympathy for the Donald

    Go ahead and laugh at Donald Trump’s claims that he was foiled by a finicky microphone on Monday night, but I can relate. When I write a bad column, it’s all my keyboard’s fault.

    The other columnists have reliable keyboards. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but they do. Reach your own conclusions. When one of them taps out a beautiful sentence, a beautiful sentence appears on the computer screen, just the way it’s supposed to.

    When I try to tap out an even more beautiful sentence — and my sentences are amazing sentences; you can’t believe these sentences — I have to press and bang and hunch closer to the desk and bang even harder and still you never know.

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President Obama's fierce urgency of forever

    Barack Obama began his quest for the presidency speaking of the "fierce urgency of now." After more than seven years in office, Obama's urgency hasn't departed. But it has been tempered, and his vision has stretched in both directions, past and future.

    His remarks last weekend celebrating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture were a product of the long views he has acquired in the White House. The speech is a companion to one he delivered in March 2015 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery.

    Like the Selma speech, it picked up black history in all its sprawling, messy complexity and moved it from the margins to the center of the American story. Citing a stone on display in the museum, Obama said:

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