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Monday, October 31, 2016

October Surprise: Clinton has more emails

FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress on Friday.  The letter said that the FBI had found another source of emails that might be relevant to the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton violated laws handling classified materials.

The letter did not indicate whether the new source might actually find any emails that proved a violation of the law, only that another pile of emails exists that the FBI needs to examine.  The emails exist on a computer owned by Anthony Weiner, being investigated for sending pornographic messages to a minor.  His wife, Huma Abedin is a top staffer for Clinton, both in the State Department, and now in the campaign.

Comey's letter itself is really nothing.  He gave no indication that he has any reason to believe this new source will show anything new.  He is obligated to inform the House Committee investigating Clinton's emails if he finds any new potential evidence.  This is what he did.  Of course, the timing, less than two weeks before the election has everyone up in arms.

The Republicans immediately pounced on the letter as somehow being proof that Clinton is guilty of a crime.  They are using the issue to pummel Clinton over the continuing email scandal.  There is, of course, no evidence that there will be anything new in these emails.  The FBI has not even examined the contents of the emails yet, as they only received a warrant to review them late Sunday night.  But the final days of a campaign are no time for calm and reasoned analysis.  Republicans are focused on the FBI's continued investigation as evidence of Clinton's guilt.  Trump immediately seized on the letter as proof of Clinton's criminal corruption.

Some Republicans think if they can revive this scandal right before election day, it might have some impact on the election.  Certainly, it takes coverage off of Trump's many scandals and puts them back on Clinton's scandals.  That cannot be good for the Clinton campaign, but with Clinton so far ahead and with no smoking gun, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on voters.

The Democrat reaction to letter is also overblown.  Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid and others are accusing Comey of a crime for sending his letter to the House.  Reid argues this violates the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their government positions to interfere with an election.  To be a crime, Comey would have to have done this for no reason other than with the goal of throwing the election to Trump.  Reid argues that the timing of this announcement somehow proves that was the goal.

This is an absurd accusation.  There is no evidence that Comey, a Democratic appointee, is attempting to subvert the election.  The timing is based on the fact that the FBI only came into this information a few weeks ago and needed time to decide how to react.  If Comey had waited until after the election, especially if some damning evidence does show up in the emails, the Republicans would be accusing Comey of a criminal cover up.

Still, the Democratic accusation against Comey is a way to deflect attention away from Clinton and put it on the FBI.   The media and voters start talking more about whether or not Comey committed a crime and less about whether Clinton created a crime.  It is the same "blame the messenger" deflection that they have been using against Wikileaks.

The whole blow up has created a little more uncertainty.  Sadly this seems to bring out the worst on both sides.  Few want to get to the truth.  Both sides are looking to spin any story they can if it works to their advantage.  The resulting public disenchantment and distrust only makes governing harder for whoever wins.

How this may impact the election is still a question.  It may work slightly to Trump's advantage, but probably not enough to change things.

Early voting is already underway in many States.  Early voters, though, tend to be solid Republicans or Democrats,  Undecideds tend to wait.  Those are the same people likely to be swayed by last minute issues.

Even a small shift in Trump's favor may swing a few important States.  Trump has had tenuous leads in Arizona and Ohio.  This last minute issue may help Trump nail down those States in his favor. Similarly, Florida which has been a virtual tie for months may swing in Trump's favor.  If Trump wins all of those, we would still have to win all of the other Clinton leaning toss up States: Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina, to win the election.

I just don't see that happening.  I think Colorado, has remained in the Clinton camp by at least several points in every poll since the Conventions.  North Carolina may be a little more likely than Colorado to flip, but even North Carolina has shown a consistent 2-3 point advantage for Clinton for months now.

Even if Trump wins all of these states, Independent candidate Evan McMullin appears to be ahead in the polls in Utah.  If Trump wins all of the swing States mentioned above, but loses Utah, he would be one vote short of a majority, thus throwing the election to the House of Representatives.  If that happened though, it is quite likely that the Republican majority there would give the Presidency to Trump.

In short, there is a path to victory for Trump, but it seems like long odds.  Nate Silver puts the odds of a Trump victory at 21%.  I would argue less than that, maybe 5%.  But again, Trump has defied conventional wisdom before.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Entering the Home Stretch

The general election is less that two weeks away.  The third and final debate did not seem to have much of any impact on polls.  The state by state predictions based on current polling show no states have flipped since last week.  Clinton remains in a decisive lead over Trump, 333 to 205.  That is a huge cushion for Clinton.

Trump has been campaigning heavily in Florida, which is a must win for him.  It is not a must win for Clinton. Even if Trump wins Florida, and three or four other swing States, Clinton still has the necessary 270 vote majority.

Third party candidates have faded quickly.  Jill Stein with the Green Party never seemed to catch on with Sanders supporters.  The Clinton campaign did a great job discrediting her with a few of her fringe issues, like vaccinations.  Gary Johnson got a look and will win significant double digit percentages in some States, but is not likely to win any electoral votes.  His epic fails on foreign policy questions seem to have turned off many voters looking for a viable alternative.

There is one candidate, independent Evan McMullin, who seems to be making waves now.  He is running on a traditionally conservative platform, that seems to resonate with voters who cannot stand Clinton and are appalled by Trump.  Some polls have McMullin winning Utah.  He seems to be doing well in Idaho as well. Although only on the ballot in eleven States, he may end up acting as a spoiler, and possibly may win a few electoral votes.

Even so, none of the third parties seem to have a meaningful impact on Clinton's decisive lead over Trump. Even if McMullin wins one or two states, those come from Trump's column anyway.  They would only make his defeat larger.  Numbers seem to be solidifying at this point.  Absent some massive surprise, it seems over.

Early voting has already started in 31 States.  Even if something radically changes voter positions, many have already locked in their votes.  Candidates are focused on getting their voters to the polls.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump took time off from campaigning this morning to attend the ribbon cutting of his new hotel in Washington, DC.  Possible reasons for doing so:

  • he thinks this will get more publicity for him than yet another political speech,
  • it focuses voters on his work as a private property entrepreneur,
  • he realizes, he is going to lose the election and needs to focus on business, or 
  • it is a sign that his entire campaign has been one long publicity stunt and that he cares much more about his real estate business.
Like any good movie super villain, even after you think he is dead, he rises once more to make that final strike.  Trump's final strike may be is "the election is rigged" gambit.  No, it won't help him win, but it will sow discord and distrust for years to come.  

The notion that he will not accept the results of the election is more pathetic than horrifying.  It would be horrifying if he had an army behind him to overthrow the election results.  But the US military is not likely to overthrow the elected leader, even if the top officers may not be happy with the newly elected Commander in Chief.  Trump may throw a temper tantrum, but their is zero chance it will have any impact on the transition of power.

That said, stirring up millions of disappointed voters and encouraging them to believe that the elections were stolen, rather than the fact that a majority of their fellow Americans really do disagree with them, is a dangerous notion.  It may lead to some violence.  It will poison any attempts to get the parties to work together over the next few years.  

Trump seems to hold to the notion that any publicity is good publicity.  If he really did this for publicity, I have a hard time seeing how to will work to his personal benefit.  Trump's main customer base for his luxury hotels and real estate has been upper income college educated elites.  Most of those people have soured on Trump based on his antics during this election season.  I would think this would impact negatively, any desire to buy Trump products or stay at Trump properties.  On the other hand, perhaps most of his income now comes from his reality TV shows.  If he returns to those, his candidacy may increase his audience among his white working class base, who knows?

But I digress.  My main point to make today is that the Presidential election is essentially over.  The campaigns will continue to get out the vote for the next two weeks.  Clinton has a stronger ground game. Although she cannot turn out black voters the way Obama did, she has a solid get out the vote campaign. With a weak and highly negative opponent, and the failure of any third party to catch fire, Clinton's path to victory seems assured.

The big question now is how the Presidential race will affect Congress.  Clinton seems focused now on getting more Senators and members of Congress elected.  She knows that a Republican majority in the House and Senate will mean her agenda hits a brick wall.  Overcoming substantial majorities in both houses is still a difficult task.

Six years ago, two years into Obama's first term, the Republicans won a landslide victory in Congress. As such, most of the Senators up for reelection this year are Republicans.  No incumbent Democrats seem to have any chance of losing this year, though the open seat in Nevada (currently held by retiring Harry Reid) is in serious contention.  At least two seats seem likely to flip from Republican to Democrat (Wisconsin and Illinois). Republican seats in Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Florida seem up for grabs this year.  Of those, Democrats are on track to pick up another two: New Hampshire and Illinois.  They may also win an open seat in Indiana currently under Republican control.  If they can win those and keep Nevada, they get 50 Senators, with VP Tim Kaine breaking ties.  It is a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless.  Even so, Republicans can tie up things as a minority with more than 40 votes.  It remains a recipe for gridlock.

The House of Representatives is much more likely to remain in Republican hands.  Currently, the Republicans hold 247 seats, 27 seats above the 218 majority.  There are only 21 seats considered toss ups at this point, 17 of which are Republican incumbent seats.  Even if all those go to the Democrats (unlikely) Republicans would still hold a 10 seat majority.  Therefore, President Clinton can expect to have at least one half of the Congress in Republican hands.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On the eve of the third debate

Ok, technically, I'm not posting this on the eve of the last Presidential debate.  I'm posting it on the morning of the debate.  I wanted to establish where things are before the candidates give their last high profile pitch.

Unsurprisingly, after Trump's denial that he actually did the things he bragged about to Billy Bush, at least a half dozen women have come forward to say that Trump did those things to them.  This does not seem to have hurt Trump's numbers since the initial crash following the release of the tape.

Even so, if the election were held today, Clinton would almost certainly win.

Shockingly, Arizona is now trending blue, with Georgia and Utah also in contention.  Clinton is even running some ads in Texas, although I think that is a dream.

Ohio has moved back into the red category.  However, I expect Clinton to win there.  Ohio, which started early voting a couple of weeks ago, gives a benefit to a candidate with a strong get out the vote (GOTV) campaign.  Clinton has one, Trump has none, literally none.  He has made no effort to establish a GOTV operation in any state.  On top of that Trump recently attacked the Ohio Republican Chair, meaning any independent party GOTV effort is likely off the table as well.  As a result, Clinton may have an advantage in Ohio of 2-3% beyond what the polls indicate.  Since Trump is only up by less than 1%, Clinton could win there.

But even if Trump can win Ohio, and Arizona, and North Carolina, and Nevada, and Florida, he still loses.  Here is another map without giving Clinton any states still in serious contention:

The only two States I've listed as blue here that there is really any debate about are New Hampshire and Wisconsin.  These are both reliably Blue States in the last six elections and where Clinton is up in most polls by a good five points.  As such, I don't really consider them in contention.

Even if Trump won all the gray states, Clinton still has the electoral votes for a victory.  Absent some massive October surprise, there is no realistic path to victory for Trump.

Speaking of October surprises, the Trump campaign seemed to be banking on the Wikileaks releases to turn things around.  Unfortunately, the releases, mostly emails from party insiders, have created little outrage.  Yes, Democratic partisan professionals often have a poor view of Republicans and sometimes make fun of people in emails. Yes, Hillary gave speeches to Wall Street Executives where she pandered to them in generalities while committing to nothing -- yawn.  There is no smoking gun showing illegal activity, nor would I expect one given the level of scrutiny that all her behavior has already received.

In the meantime, Trump's Grope-gate had taken up most of the air time.  People seem far more focused on that for now.

It could be that Wikileaks has more shoes to drop, but the Ecuador Embassy has cut off Assange. Whether that will prevent or slow any releases remains to be seen.  Ironically for me, cutting off Assange annoys me more than anything he might release.  It seems clear to me that the block was made under pressure, most likely from the US Government.  Why hasn't Watergate, and numerous scandals since, taught politicians that the cover up is usually worse than the crime?  Let the releases come and let the voters yawn at them.

Numerous pundits have pointed out they hypocrisy of conservatives who support Trump after condemning Bill Clinton for his escapades.  I find it hypocritical too, though I also find the reverse to be hypocritical: former Clinton supporters saying Trump is ineligible based on his wandering hands (or tongue, or whatever -- ew!).

Personally, I think Bill Clinton was one of the better Presidents we have had in recent years, even though I also disagreed with many of his policies.  Despite his personal issues he kept the Country in better condition than his predecessor or successor (not that that is a very high bar).  If I had a daughter, I would not want her alone in a room with Clinton, but I also would not mind him as President again.

I would make the similar argument for Trump, except for the fact that there are numerous other issues that I think make him ineligible as a serious leader.  In short, if this was the only thing that people had against Trump, and he supported all the policy positions I liked, it would not prevent me from voting for him.  I'm sorry, but a personally flawed candidate with the right policy positions and abilities is better than a personally pure candidate that does not have the ability nor the right policy positions.

All that said, I think Trump has numerous character flaws of which his treatment of women is only one small part.  His callousness toward refugees, his tendency to categorize and treat people based on race, religion, or ethnicity, (as well as sex) all contribute to my view that he would be a horrible leader.

But like most of America, I don't see Hillary Clinton as a much better alternative.  Much of that for me is policy.  She wants a larger domestic bureaucracy.  She does not seem motivated to try any new or different solutions, just more money into the same programs that accomplish nothing.  Her main motivation seems to be pandering to interest groups.  She reminds me a lot of Walter Mondale.  On foreign policy, I am convinced she will get the US into a war, almost certainly in the mid-east, but possibly also with China or Russia as they continue to push the US.  Since it appears she will win, I hope I am wrong about this, but cannot in good conscience support her.

In many of my posts, I look at polls and comment "if the election were held today..."  The reality is the election has already begun. Many States have early voting.  Many people have already submitted their ballots.  Even small polling changes at this point may not have as large an impact in States where early voting is well underway.

The one remaining issue that brings uncertainty is voter fraud.  I'm not talking about the nonsense that Trump is spouting, but the ability of hackers to sow confusion on election day by messing with registered voter rolls, or possibly even change results.  I know there are numerous protections that prevent this, but if some states are called for Trump, then backup tapes show fraud and prove the Clinton actually won, imagine the discord that such an outcome would create.  Hopefully, these fears will be allayed.  But trusting in government competence rarely works out well.

Tonight's debate will likely solidify everyone's existing views.  Traditionally the final 2-3 weeks focus on energizing supporters and getting out the vote.  Trump can energize his supporters, but I think Clinton will do a better job in turning out people to vote.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Second Clinton-Trump Debate

The Second Presidential Debate:

Last night Clinton and Trump met again in their "town meeting" style debate, where voters get to ask questions directly to the candidates.  The format itself is rather silly since the moderators know the questions each person asks ahead of time.  They simply call on the person they want to ask the question they think should go next.

Also, the audience was supposed to be comprised of undecided voters.  Anyone really think the Muslim woman was still undecided?  I can't imagine that was the case.

Bragging about Sex:

Of course, the big issue for the night was how Trump would handle the revelation of an audio recording (I'm not sure why the media keeps calling it a video) bragging about his sexual exploits, perhaps even a sexual assault, on an unnamed married woman.

Trump finally seems to have decided that the theory of "any publicity is good publicity" has its limits, and for the first time apologized.  He also denied actually doing those things he bragged about doing in the recording. It will be interesting to see if anyone can find the actual victim and get her to weigh in.

Anyone who is shocked or even surprised to discover that Trump is an adulterer who objectifies women must already have some serious head-in-sand issues already.  There is ample evidence even before this recording became public.  Still, the recording does seem to impact Trump's numbers, which continue to plummet.  I think Trump handled the issue as well as anyone could, which is to say this is simply not an issue that can be spun or avoided.

Clinton Wall Street Speeches

One issue took a secondary role was the release of Clinton's comments to Wall Street firms in private speeches she had given.  Wikileaks revealed the information on Friday based on emails hacked from Clinton confidant, John Podesta.  Clinton's blatant hypocrisy between what she was telling Wall Street and what she was saying to Sanders supporters is classic Clinton double-speak.  It could have hurt her hard had not the Trump sex recording been released the next day.  That really smells to me like the Clinton campaign must have been holding that recording in their pocket, waiting for just such an occasion to use it.  Some reporters have looked into that possibility, but so far it appears that the Clinton campaign has no trail leading back to them over the release.  If the campaign did have any role, I give them kudos for pulling it off without it leading back to them.  It gives me confidence that the political operation is not a bunch of bumbling amateurs like the other side.

Clinton did get a question about her speeches.  I think the parried it well, going into a talk about how she was referring to something Lincoln did as portrayed in the Spielberg movie about his presidency.  She successfully ignored her blatant hypocrisy over assuring Wall Street that she had their back while talking up anti-Wall Street reforms in public.  But the story is classic Clinton.  She did not actually make any explicit promises to each group that conflicted with one another.  Rather, she used vague language to imply to each that she was on their side, without actually committing to anything.

Such behavior is frustrating to voters, which is probably why Trump's blunt speaking style during the primaries got so much support.  But in the end, Clinton's vague innuendos in her public and private speeches are not nearly as interesting as Trump discussing his sexual assaults on women.  Trump tried to condemn Clinton for bringing Lincoln into her answer.  But since she really was referencing Lincoln in her Wall Street speech, Trump's attack during the debate just seemed pathetic.

Send Hillary to Jail

Trump also decided to double down on the "lock her up" theme from the Convention.  He promised a special prosecutor to go after Clinton once he was elected.  Presumably, the special prosecutor would go after Clinton's use of a private email server for confidential documents, or who knows what.

First, a special prosecutor is normally used to investigate one's own administration to avoid a conflict of interest.  Using one to go after a political opponent, when you have a perfectly good Department of Justice just sitting there, seems kind of pointless.

Beyond that though, as I've said before, imprisoning one's political opponents is something we seen in pseudo-democracies in the mid-east or Latin America.  It is a REALLY bad precedent, even if the opponent did violate the law.  It's one reasons many countries have limited immunity for elected officials.  If an official can go to jail after losing power, it encourages them to stay in power by any means necessary, even trashing the Democratic institutions that run the country.  We really don't want that.  It is one reason why President Obama did not pursue charges against Bush and Chaney for their use of torture.  Prosecuting political opponents is not just bad form, it threatens our system of democracy.  That Trump still does not get this point is reason enough to run from his candidacy.

Trump Sets off Bimbo Eruptions

Trump did seem much more subdued at the debate last night, which probably made sense for him.  He did lash out at Clinton for her husband's affairs.  Trump's decision to bring Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathy Shelton to the debate seemed rather ham handed.  The first three women allegedly had affairs with her husband Bill. Broaddrick belatedly accused Bill Clinton of rape.  The fourth woman, Shelton was the victim of a rape by a third party whom Hillary Clinton represented at trial when she had a private law practice.

It seems to me that if sexual assault is the issue on which you are going to vote, you must decide whether you want a presidential spouse who has done such things, or the the President himself.  Sadly those seem to be our choices, unless you are like me and voting for a third party.  Personally, I think Bill Clinton was generally a good President.  If I had a daughter, I would not want her in a room alone with him.  But if a second Clinton Administration is much like the first: a balanced the budget, a booming economy, free trade, and keeping out of foreign wars, I'll take it.

As for Hillary defending a man accused of rape, that is what attorneys do.  Providing legal services for a person accused of a crime does not mean one thinks the accused behavior is acceptable.  Anyone who things otherwise has no understanding of our legal system.

Trump v. Pence

Also disturbing last night was Trump's disagreement with his own VP candidate Mike Pence.  Pence had indicated last week that he would consider essentially going to war with Russia over Syria.  Trump said he had not discussed Syria with Pence and disagreed.  Now I'm sure Presidents and Vice Presidents disagree all the time on matters of policy.  But that is simply not something that gets discussed in public.  For me it was just another sign of how amateurish and uncoordinated the Trump Campaign is.

Also, I still have no idea what a Trump Administration would do in the mid-East.  Trump has said that he would crush ISIS, but that he would not get involved in a war there.  I'm not sure how that works.  He has criticized Obama and Clinton for their decisions to get involved militarily in some mid-east disputes, but has also criticized them for pulling out troops.  Trump seems to have adopted the Republican Congressional position that anything a Democrat does is bad, even if it agrees with something I liked last week.  It's hard to judge then, what they will do if they are in charge.


Trump also attacked Clinton for failing to reform the tax code during her eight years in the Senate.  Clinton tried to point out that a junior Democratic Senator who was in the minority for most of her tenure, and who served with an Republican President, cannot set tax policy.  I think that is right.  Trump's attack shows that he is either incredibly ignorant about how government works, or more likely assumes the voters are.  Either way, it is pathetic.

Trump did actually mention one item of substance, saying he would repeal the carried interest rule.  While I applaud that, it seemed odd.  The rule allows many investors to pay a top rate of 20% on their income rather than the top rate of nearly 40% on regular income.  But Trump also said he wanted to reduce tax rates to 15%, which would make the carried interest rule rate irrelevant, not to mention bankrupt the government. Clinton also said she wanted to get rid of the carried interest rule, so maybe there is some chance of that happening under either administration.  I doubt it though.

Trump Still Falling

Overall, I don't think the debate changed much.  Trump's recorded sex comments seem only to continue his downward slide.  There is no sign of a turn-around.  The electoral map continues to look bad for Trump. Once again, this is what the map would look like if the election were today and all polls were accurate:

The big change from last week is that Ohio has moved from Red to Blue.  Polling is not as up to date in some other States.  I suspect that Arizona, Iowa, and Georgia are places where Trump may have a fight on his hands as well.  Of course, many of those in Blue are also close and could swing back if there is some revelation that hurts Clinton.  Looking at this current map, Trump must win back Florida and North Carolina to have any chance. Even if he can do that, and flip back Ohio, he would still be about 10 votes short of victory.  He needs to win either another big state like Pennsylvania or Virginia, both of which seem highly unlikely at this point, or a couple of smaller States, say Nevada and Colorado, both of which seem pretty solidly blue at this point.  Absent another major October surprise that benefits Trump, I just don't see any path to a Republican win.

Republicans Won't Dump Trump

Republican leaders, when confronted with Trump's personal life thus far have mostly responded by shutting their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and shouting LA-LA-LA-LA-LA until the person stops talking. Now finally, they are being forced to address the issue because of the recording.  Many Republican members of the House and Senate are doing everything they can to disassociate themselves with Trump and condemning him.  Many have even called for him to step down as the candidate.

Of course, even if Trump wanted to step down, it is too late.  Most State deadlines for any ballot changes are over.  Some States have already begun early voting.  There is no way to make a change at this late date. I suppose it might be possible if you have an insane State Supreme Court that is willing to ignore the written law and change the ballot anyway.  The NJ Supreme Court did this in 2002 after the Democratic nominee for the Senate imploded and gave up.  I really don't see that happening here though.  Republicans will go to the polls with the Donald heading their ticket.

If I were a Republican strategist, I would start pushing the notion that we need to elect a Republican Congress and Senate to counteract the liberal agenda that the Hillary Clinton administration will inevitably push when in office.  I think that is a strong argument given that so many people disagree with, or downright hate Clinton.  For those people, the notion that the Democrats take back the White House, Congress, and appoint at least one new Justice off the bat, is a frightening prospect.  As a Clinton win looks stronger, Republicans will need to play their last card - that they will divide the government and prevent an unimpeded liberal Democratic wave of changes.

If I were a Democratic strategist, I would of course keep doing what is already happening - continue to show Trump for the narcissistic, boorish, greedy, sex addicted jerk that he is and hold him up to all and say this is the Republican party.  This is the guy your Republican Congressman or Senator is backing.  Do you really want to stand with that?

In short, a Clinton win is looking inevitable.  The only question is whether the Republican Congress will go down with Trump or appeal to the voters as a check on the unpopular President Clinton.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Vice Presidential Debate

Vice Presidential debates rarely influence a campaign very much.  Even when one candidate dominates the debate, it does not affect the outcome (think Lloyd Bentsen destroying Dan Quayle in 1988).  It mostly gives viewers a chance to meet to people they don't know very well, especially in a year like this one when neither VP candidate participated in the primaries.

For me, I mostly got annoyed by Tim Kaine's repeated interruptions and going off topic.  I have been a fan of Pence in the past, and last year had wished he had run for President.  So I may be biased when I say he did well.  He kept his composure in the face of repeated attacks and interruption.

I really wish both could have been knocked off of their talking points more.  Since neither paid much attention to the questions being asked, they talked about whatever topics they liked.  The one moment they did get knocked off was the question about their faith.

The Democrats evidently thought Trump's taxes were a game changing issue. Kaine seemed to go back to that continually.  Personally, I consider it rather pathetic to question one's patriotism if one takes legitimate tax deductions.  There are a great many reasons I don't like Trump.  The fact that he made legal use of tax deductions available to him, under a tax code written by others, only makes good sense to me.  That said, the issue seems to be moving the poll numbers, so expect the Democrats to keep hammering away on that issue.

Pence focused on this administration's foreign policy failures, including the Russian invasion of Crimea and the nuclear treaty with Iran.  The problem with both of those examples, was that they happened after Clinton left the State Department.  Kaine exacerbated the problem by giving Clinton credit for the Iran deal.

I think Pence scored some good points over the continued violence in the mid-east.  Did "feckless" show up on his word-a-day calendar recently?  He seemed to use that a lot.  He argued that the Administration's decision to leave Iraq created a vacuum for ISIS and that we should have stayed the course.

I guess that is a valid policy criticism, but for me not a winning one.  Yes, the US could have kept hundreds of thousands of US soldiers on the ground in Iraq, and could have moved them into eastern Syria as well.  That, however, would only make the US a greater target for extremist attacks.  It would have led to thousands more American lives lost and perhaps another $1 trillion or so in military costs to do almost nothing.  Perhaps ISIS would not hold real estate, but those same people would almost certainly be engaged in terrorism, with many more US targets rather than going after locals.  If voting Republican means putting more US military in the mid-East, you can count me out.  I get that others feel differently.  Perhaps those arguments will work on them.

Kaine will probably be seen as the winner since he kept Pence on the defensive.  Pence seemed to have some trouble defending everything Trump has said during the campaign and earlier, but who wouldn't?  That means Kaine succeeded in reminding voters that Trump is dangerous and unstable.  As I said at the outset though, VP debates have little impact on voters, even when there is a knockout.  In this case, there was no decisive blow, even if Kaine wins on points.  Pence may get credit for style, since he kept his composure despite Kaine's incessant interrupting.  But style points count for little in the long run.

The polls do seem to be swinging back in favor of Clinton-Kaine.  Before the first debate last week, the electoral map was almost dead even.  If the election were held today and all polling is accurate, the map would swing back clearly in favor of the Democrats.

Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada have swung back from Red to Blue.  Ohio seems to be pulling more red these days.  Clinton, however, can lose Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada and still win the electoral college.  In addition to those four, Trump needs to pull another State like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Colorado.  So far, those remain polling consistently blue.

I don't think the VP Debates will have any impact on the poll numbers, which continue to favor Clinton-Kaine.  Trump-Pence will need to do something to change the conversation or disrupt the contest in some other way via an "October Surprise" if they want to win this thing.  That can happen.  It would not take more than a few percentage points to swing quite a number of States.  Trump is a master of PR.

One other interesting note: The first Presidential debate saw a record 84 million viewers.  However, 88 million have viewed the debates on Youtube.  Personally, I did both.  Yes, I actually sat through it a second time.

The next debate is scheduled for this Sunday, Oct. 9 in St. Louis.