First Debate Reactions

[ Posted Monday, September 26th, 2016 – 22:27 PDT ]

Well, the first presidential debate is a done deal, and as always I like to quickly type out my own personal reactions before reading everyone else's, to give you an opinion uninfluenced by the herd mentality of the rest of the media.

Because of this, I apologize in advance for any misquotes, since I am only using my hastily-scratched notes for what the candidates said. Each has at least the flavor of whatever the word-for-word transcript will say, but I may miss nuances of phrasing. Just to get that caveat out of the way... but enough of this debate prep (as it were), let's get right on to the debate itself.


Overall reactions

Did Lester Holt just leave the stage for large chunks of time during the debate? I mean, the cameras weren't on him, so he could easily have stepped out for a bite to eat or something. The absence of Holt, and his downright inability to take any sort of control of the debate, was noticeable, to put it mildly. We can argue about who won the debate, but Lester Holt definitely lost the debate, that's for sure.

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Friday Talking Points [409] -- The Debate Wait

[ Posted Friday, September 23rd, 2016 – 15:04 PDT ]

This past week, normal Americans went about their daily lives. Children endured school once again, the birds twittered merrily, and lovers everywhere fell in love. Life went on for hundreds of millions. Lucky them.

In the world of wonkcraft, though, political observers everywhere are caught in a waiting game, ticking off the moments until the first presidential debate (which happens this Monday night -- which you probably already knew, if you're reading this sort of article). What will happen? Will Donald Trump melt down? Will he strain his "presidential" muscle? Will he storm off the stage in a tantrum, halfway through? Will Hillary Clinton make it through the evening without stumbling (either metaphorically or physically, one might add)? Will Lester Holt redeem NBC News after the fiasco named Matt Lauer? Will Trump reference body parts (his own, his opponent's, or perhaps even the moderator's)? It's certainly happened before.

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Debating The Debates

[ Posted Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 – 17:11 PDT ]

Are the presidential debates a valuable tool for voters to become informed about the candidates, or have they morphed into something which has no real bearing on how anyone would perform the job of president? That was the provocative subject of a Washington Post opinion piece today, and the author mostly came down on the side of the debates having outlived their usefulness.

One main point the author made was that debates are now more entertainment than an exploration of political policy, and more about who has the better comedic timing than how either of them would do the job they're running for. That's all true to a certain extent -- nobody's expecting the spirit of Lincoln/Douglas to appear on the stage next Monday night (this would still be true even if Donald Trump weren't one of the debaters, it's worth pointing out). Modern televised debates are different, and might be more akin to a Roman gladiator battle than Abraham Lincoln discussing slavery with his opponent. The first televised debates ever aired, back in the 1960s and 1970s, might have been a little closer to formal debates (such as those you might see at a high school or college debating team competition), but they have now indisputably changed into a contest to see who can utter the most clever soundbite -- one that will then be replayed endlessly over the networks for the next few weeks.

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Donald Ducking The Press

[ Posted Wednesday, September 21st, 2016 – 16:32 PDT ]

As I write that headline, I have to wonder why we all haven't been using the neologistic verb "Donald ducking" by this point in the presidential race. After all, a large part of Donald Trump's campaign has been built on the foundation of him ducking questions and issues that he doesn't want to talk about. He's a master at the art, in fact. Consider just the birther issue -- up until last Friday, Trump's been successfully ducking the issue for the entire campaign. He never answered the basic question of Barack Obama's birthplace, saying quite bluntly that he just didn't want to talk about it. He got away with not talking about it for almost a year and a half. Donald ducked, and it worked.

But since his makeover into Trump 2.0 (now with TelePrompTer!), Donald hasn't just been ducking the questions he doesn't like, he's been ducking answering any tough questions altogether. Earlier in the campaign season, Hillary Clinton was (quite rightly) derided by the press for not giving a press conference for nine solid months. She finally relented (as a part of her own campaign makeover), and now gives press conferences and answers questions from the press corps travelling with her on a regular basis. Trump, however, has moved in the opposite direction, and hasn't given a press conference in almost two months now.

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Confront Them With Their Own Words

[ Posted Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 – 17:03 PDT ]

Lester Holt has his work cut out for him, that's for sure. Holt, news anchor for NBC, will be the moderator for the first presidential debate. It will quite likely be the most-watched television debate in American history. It will also probably generate a few moments that historians will later endlessly replay when trying to explain the 2016 election. In other words, there will be soundbites.

Holt's job is a tough one. Any presidential debate moderator's job is a tough one, but this year things are so different that it's going to be hard for Holt to keep control of the situation. Nobody knows what Donald Trump will do, and there's a real possibility that he'll essentially hijack the debate and run it on his terms alone. Holt's got to be prepared for this. So does Hillary Clinton.

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2016 Electoral Math -- Hillary's Shrinking Lead

[ Posted Monday, September 19th, 2016 – 18:06 PDT ]

Hillary Clinton's lead in the race for Electoral College votes is shrinking. In fact, it has been shrinking for a solid month now. Two weeks ago (the last time I wrote one of these columns), this hadn't really benefited Donald Trump much. Now, however, Trump seems to be surging in the polls while Hillary slides even further.

Now, I wouldn't say it's quite time to panic for Democrats -- but that time may be just around the corner, unless Clinton can turn things around fairly quickly. The first presidential debate will happen one week from today, so such a turnaround is indeed possible in the near future.

Let's take a look at the overall picture. Two weeks ago, Clinton had lost two big states (Florida and Ohio) into the "Tied" category (white, on the graph below). This time around, Trump picked them up and a few others as well, putting him at his strongest point in the race so far. Hillary still holds an edge, but it is now razor-thin.

All of these charts, in one way or another, graph Electoral Votes (EV) over time. The overview chart shows who would be ahead if the election were held today and all the polling is correct. Clinton starts from the bottom of the graph and goes up, and Trump starts from the top of the graph and goes down. If blue crosses the 50 percent line, Clinton will win, and if red dips below the 50 percent line, then Trump will win.

Electoral Math By Percent

[Click on any of theses images to see larger-scale versions.]

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Friday Talking Points [408] -- Media Gets Played By Trump, Again

[ Posted Friday, September 16th, 2016 – 15:42 PDT ]

The media got played by Donald Trump this morning, once again. Picture Charlie Brown lying flat on his back, wondering why he keeps falling for the old kick-the-football bit. That was cable television, after they had carried -- live -- a full hour of an empty podium (Trump didn't start on time), then a full-on advertisement for Trump's new D.C. hotel, then some surrogates saying how wonderful Trump was. At the very end, Trump uttered the 30 seconds of soundbite the cable channels had been waiting for, and then even though it was billed as a press conference, Trump walked off and refused to answer any questions.

Here's a hint, for the clueless cable networks: if you don't want to feel cheap and dirty afterwards, then don't get in bed with Trump again. If you don't want to hear: "Oh, and there's some money on the dresser, why don't you buy something nice for yourself..." then don't put yourself into that situation in the first place.

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Oldest, Or Second-Oldest

[ Posted Thursday, September 15th, 2016 – 15:08 PDT ]

Up until the past week, there was one aspect of the 2016 presidential race that most had completely overlooked. Barring any third-party surprises, America is about to elect either the oldest or the second-oldest first-term president ever. Furthermore, if Bernie Sanders had edged Hillary Clinton out for the Democratic nomination, we would have been guaranteed to elect the oldest first-term president in our entire history.

To attach some cultural context, this means 2016 might be the last presidential election where the subject of the Vietnam War comes up (as in "what were you doing during..."). Which would mean no more swift-boats, no more Texas National Guard, no more prisoner-of-war stories, and no more questions about draft deferments or protesting in the streets, ever again. The Baby Boomers might not ever again see a candidate from their generation. OK, admittedly, that last one may be a stretch (and depends on what year you cut off the Baby Boom), but it'll definitely be a generational handoff in a lot of ways.

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Emerging From The Great Recession

[ Posted Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 – 16:18 PDT ]

There was some rather important economic news yesterday, which could be summed up as "things are getting better." Incomes are rising, unemployment has stayed low, the number of uninsured Americans has now dropped by half (thanks to Obamacare), and all of these things are happening at historic rates. The Great Recession is finally over, in other words.

This news didn't get nearly the attention it deserved, because bad economic news is always more enticing to the mainstream media. Think about it -- when unemployment was extremely high, each month's numbers were breathlessly reported on the day they came out, as the lead story on the evening news. These days, the fact that unemployment has now stayed close to five percent (5.1 percent or less) for over a full year is barely ever even mentioned. Even when a newspaper runs a headline like: "Middle Class Incomes Had Their Fastest Growth On Record Last Year," it mostly gets ignored on the airwaves. Hey, it's so much more fun to report on the Trump/Clinton daily molehills instead, right?

Digging into the statistics reveals gains not seen in a half-century. That's not hyperbole, either, as the Census Bureau showed (emphasis added):

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Piercing Trump's Tax Deflection

[ Posted Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 – 17:06 PDT ]

You could call this whole article an open letter to Lester Holt, I suppose. But it's really directed towards anyone at all in the media, because from what I've seen so far they all are missing the chance to ask Donald Trump a painfully obvious followup question, and instead are following Trump down a rabbit hole of his own making.

Here's a quick rundown, which should be fairly self-explanatory. The basic question:

Why haven't you publicly released your tax returns, Mr. Trump?

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