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:
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.