Presidential Campaign 2016, General Election Edition
If you have to explain the punch line, it wasn’t a very good joke – or so I’ve been told. Perhaps someone should explain this to Donald Trump and the minions seeking to defend/explain his various statements to the public via the media after any of his recent speeches. His official spokespeople must be either extremely well-paid or among the most masochistic political operatives in recent memory. Watching elected officials tiptoe around the controversies without withdrawing their endorsements is one thing. His spokespeople actually seem to thrive on such rhetorical gymnastics.
President Obama created ISIS, with Secretary Clinton at his side. Given several chances to retract or amend such a statement, Trump doubled down, only to say a couple of days later he was being sarcastic, joking to make a point. But not really being THAT sarcastic. He seems totally incapable of admitting to saying something wrong – only that he is being misinterpreted. His Second Amendment followers statement regarding Hillary Clinton is another case in point. Watching follow-up interviews on any of the networks or news shows has become so predictable as to become a waste of time. About the only time I can remember Trump coming off as sarcastic was when he recently gave what was supposedly a heartfelt apology for saying things that may have caused others pain. He regretted doing so, but neglected to give any specifics about what he had said to warrant the regret, or at whom the wayward comments had been directed.
One of Trump’s most recent forays into political Cloud Cuckoo Land involved a statement he made when he claimed to be addressing African-Americans before a rally crowd of overwhelmingly white Americans in Michigan. He claimed that in four years (presumably seeking re-election) he would receive 95% of the African-American vote. He’s presently polling in the low single digits among members of that group – with good reason. He doesn’t even have 95% support of any group, except maybe his immediate family.
So far, the Trump road show since the end of the primary season has been a series of lowlights. He recently replaced his top campaign advisors for the second time, while spokespeople insisted nothing was amiss with the campaign. He has maintained a rather steady stream of comments which have resulted in increased numbers of down-ballot Republican candidates scurrying to dissociate themselves from him while simultaneously trying to appear to be loyal Republicans. Occasionally, he will speak to point on policy topics (such as taxes, the economy and trade) coherently – reading from a teleprompter, which he abhors when others do likewise.
His economic policy statements have seemed to somewhat mimic standard GOP trickle-down theory which has been tried and untrue for decades now. He advocates a tax cut package which would give maximum cuts to the richest Americans and an end to the Estate Tax – both of which would increase economic inequality in the US even more than the latest recession did, while simultaneously blowing up the deficit to unprecedented levels. His remarks on immigration and trade have remained fairly constant over time, but been slightly modified to take some of the sting out of his initial pronouncements on the subjects. He still gains support by feeding xenophobic, racist and religious hatred – which has earned him little support among any groups other than white blue collar males. Plus some fellow billionaires.
Though specifics on most of his policy positions are scarce, they do generally speak to the fears and angers of his primary base of voters. What he isn’t telling them is that, although he’s talking about bringing jobs back to America, he’s not exactly promising they will be good-paying jobs. He’d like to undo the damage being done by the Clinton ad showing he has Trump goods manufactured in Bangladesh and China by having them produced here – by workers making far less than they were making before their jobs were shipped overseas. Lowering labor standards here is preferable to raising them abroad, at least from his limited corporate capitalist perspective.
Trade policy is one area where Trump speaks to more American voters than any other these days. Both parties passed platforms that included rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Amazingly, Clinton seems willing to concede ground to her opponent on this subject. It could conceivably become a much larger campaign issue before the election is held, but so far little is being made of it by either nominee.
Remember, TPP has been a goal of President Obama for years. He fought hard to achieve fast-track trade authority to negotiate the deal, leave time for quickly debating it in Congress prior to a strict up-or-down vote on ratification without the ability to amend it in any way. Well, it was finalized and signed months ago, but nary a word has been heard since about debating or voting on it in Congress. American public opinion – in both parties – is strongly against ratifying the treaty. Bringing it up for a vote before the election could make it one of the key election issues, with chances of ratification lying in the slim-to-none range. Thus, there is talk of postponing any vote to come in the lame duck Congressional session after the election but before the new Congress (and President) take office.
The problem with this scenario for Clinton is that she was late to come aboard with her opposition to the treaty, having been Secretary of State during much of the negotiations. Although she did recently announce opposition to the pact, she would neither have a vote in ratification nor have to sign it if passed while President Obama still held office. Many Democrats (largely, but not exclusively, Bernie Sanders supporters) are pressuring her to take a public stance against the lame duck scenario in order to back the party platform against a tactic clearly designed to subvert public preference via yet another loophole. So far, she has gotten away without doing so.
Another potential chink in the Clinton armor concerns the potential conflict of interest involving the Clinton Global Initiative. Apparently, someone all of a sudden came up with the notion that there may be some sort of inherent conflict of interest involved when it came to foreign governments making donations to a charity founded and run by influential high ranking US government officials – say, the President. Why this never occurred to anyone when Hillary was Secretary of State boggles the mind. Whether anything untoward ever happened in the world caused by such an event is, to a great degree, irrelevant. Appearances are important. The fact that the charity recently announced that it would not take such contributions should she be elected in November sort of points that out. Why the GOP chose to beat Benghazi and emails senseless all these years when this situation existed is beyond me.
There may be no more to the CGI situation than there was to the email or Benghazi faux scandals, or the recent right wing conspiracy claiming she is deathly ill (yes, Donald Trump played that one up when he said she was physically unable to deal with the threat of ISIS). But whether the potential conflict of interest results in the sort of damage the GOP unsuccessfully sought with their previous costly and interminable investigations remains in doubt. Clinton has certainly withstood far more intensive scrutiny than Trump, the keeper of secret tax returns and numerous pending court proceedings.
I certainly hope the debates more closely resemble the Democratic ones than the GOP farces. Including more than Clinton and Trump might be more educational, as whether Trump can even debate remains in doubt. Might also include some actual policies instead of just personal insults. Libertarian and Green Party perspectives may add depth to discussions of domestic and foreign policy issues that simply wouldn’t exist with just Trump and Clinton in the mix. I’ll grant you, Trump accomplished some feats few thought possible this year. Not only did he wrest the coveted GOP Presidential nomination from a huge field of pretenders, but who would’ve thought anybody could be made to feel any sympathy for Ted Cruz? Do we need a President who prides himself on his ability and willingness to antagonize anyone who opposes or disagrees with him – especially with nuclear weapons on the table?
Less than three months remain until the election. Living in PA, one of the designated key battleground states, that means untold hours of the best and worst pro and anti Clinton and Trump ads. Hopefully, more people will ultimately see through the haze than won’t. Turnout is essential. Voting in the down-ballot races is important, regardless of who is elected President. We need a functional Congress and 50 functional state legislatures to move forward and end gridlock. Getting candidates at all levels of government to discuss fundamental issues and stop the inane mudslinging would help. Hopefully, this will be the worst Presidential campaign in any of our memories. Certainly, the system could use some improvement. The GOP autopsy needs to be more than just another exercise in futility next year.
Some think Trump is throwing the election on purpose. Whether he is or not, he certainly has done nothing to encourage most Americans to vote for him. Many seem to think that Clinton’s greatest selling point is that she is not Trump. She hasn’t campaigned that way, but the message has gotten thoroughly muddled by the 24-hour Trump news cycle. This election should be about US not Donald Trump. He claims that he and he alone can fix America. More likely, he and he alone would be as successful in fixing America as he was in fixing his bankrupt companies and failed marriages. Neither of these immensely wealthy people is one of us. We must decide if either is capable of serving us well, then hold the victor accountable for what happens next. We need to move forward – either with their help or despite their intransigence.
Suggested Further Readings: