Hoo boy. Every Friday morning, we sit down and review all the news stories from the past week, in preparation for writing this column. After spending a few hours reading and taking notes and copying URLs, the writing begins. But we've learned, over the years, to do a last-minute check on the headlines right before we stop reading the news and start typing. Because every so often, a big bombshell lands that simply cannot be ignored. This is, to put it mildly, one of those times we're glad we checked, because a bombshell just exploded all over the presidential race.
Donald Trump may be toast. We know, we know -- plenty of other people have made that prediction plenty of times over the past year and a half, but it has never actually come true. This time, we really think it might (we weren't among those predicting Trump's demise early on, we should mention -- we took Trump's campaign seriously all along, because we actually read the polls and believed them). But the old clip that somehow made its way to the Washington Post this afternoon might just be the gaffe that sinks Trump's ship for good.
To set the stage: Donald Trump and Billy Bush were both wearing microphones, in a bus that was bringing Trump to a soap opera show's taping, over a decade ago. Trump was going to do a cameo on a soap opera (playing himself), and Bush had either just interviewed Trump, or was about to, for Access Hollywood. But the microphones were still hot, and they caught some locker-room talk about some of the women walking around (assumably outside the bus). Trump just finished telling the story of being turned down by a married woman he had tried to hit on (with some disparaging comments about her "big phony tits"), when Bush and Trump got in a back-and-forth about one particular woman walking by who had just caught Trump's eye. Here's the transcript:
TRUMP: I've gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything.
BUSH: Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
Hoo boy. Even without that last line, Trump's horrendous attitude towards women is on full display. He just sexually assaults random women because he knows he can get away with it? Wow. How presidential!
Suburban women who are still undecided about which candidate to vote for -- are you listening?
This is why we're wondering if this might just be the final straw for Donald Trump's chances of victory. The last time we wondered this -- even in private -- was when Trump objected to John McCain being called a hero "because he was captured." That was way back in the summer of 2015, we should mention. Trump not only did not collapse, his popularity actually went up, afterwards. This is when we realized that normal political rules just simply did not apply to Trump. It's why we ignored all the calls of "Trump's finished!" since, because when the rules don't apply then anything's possible.
This time, however, we're roughly one month away from Election Day. Trump has had a bad few weeks already, so this might be the point historians later look back on as when Trump's campaign really collapsed. Before the first debate, Trump looked like he was within reach of beating Hillary Clinton in the polling. He hadn't actually led yet, but he had narrowed the gap almost to a tie. Since then, Clinton has steadily pulled away from him by winning over women and independents.
Trump's vulgarities will quite likely not harm him among his strongest demographic, because white men who back Trump probably aren't going to be all that offended. They've been in a locker room or two themselves, to put this another way. But a lot of women are going to flee Trump's campaign, that's our guess. Especially those in the suburbs who normally vote Republican. This could be the edge of victory in a large number of states, in fact. So we'll just have to wait and see if Trump truly is toast this time around, but we'd put the chances of it being true higher than ever right now. To put it another way, a lot of women are now going to be "up for grabs." And not just because of the foul language -- more for the attitude towards women that Trump revealed.
There were plenty of other Trump gaffes and revelations during the week as well, but our guess is the Billy Bush comments are going to overshadow everything else for a while. During the course of the week, Trump's taxes were leaked, showing a billion-dollar loss. Trump implied soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder were weak. Trump's namesake foundation was ordered to stop raising money in New York (where it is headquartered) because it was not a registered charity. Trump was hit by a dozen women who worked on The Apprentice for his piggish behavior towards women in general. In Nevada, he instructed the local crowd how to pronounce their state's name correctly -- and he got it wrong. Trump held a practice town hall stuffed with his own supporters, and still couldn't put together a focused answer to a softball question.
On that last one, here's one write-up of how Trump did:
Asked by a recent college graduate who is struggling to find work how Trump's plans would help him, Trump got started by launching into a monologue about the heat in the room that lasted a full 30 seconds. Note that during that ramble, Trump also managed to segue into a complaint about "dishonest" media coverage that had portrayed him as "sweating" at a different previous event.
Trump did then spend a solid minute reiterating his message about trade and about how he'll stop companies like Apple from manufacturing parts of the iPhone in multiple other countries (presumably through Trumpian tariffs). But then, at a moment when he intended to extol the greatness of the people of this country, he veered off once again into a discussion of how big the crowds were at his rallies, and then into a discussion of how those crowds were bigger than those at Bernie Sanders’s rallies, and from there into still another discussion, of how Sanders "made a deal with the Devil" by endorsing Hillary Clinton. When Trump finally found his way back to his trade message, he wrapped up with only the most cursory nod to the person who had originally asked the question.
Oh, and Trump insisted that his warmup town hall was not in any way "debate prep," just for good measure. That was Trump's week, even before the Post released the bombshell on him. Though it all, Trump keeps falling in the polls.
The other big political news of the week was the vice-presidential debate. Few minds are made up while watching the veeps debate, so even the media proclaiming Mike Pence the winner is probably not going to help Trump stop his slide in the polls much, if at all. But we'll get to all that in a moment.
Before we move along, there were two other bits of news worth pointing out. Julian Assange "pulled a Trump" on the media, by breathlessly building anticipation that he was about to drop a big document leak chock-full of embarrassment for Hillary Clinton, and then doing nothing of the sort, even though he had a huge media audience in the middle of the night in America (he was broadcasting from London):
Over the course of two hours on Tuesday -- with the world's media and bleary-eyed Trump die-hards across the United States tuning in -- Assange and other WikiLeaks officials railed against "neo-McCarthyist hysteria," blasted the mainstream media, appealed for donations and plugged their books ("40 percent off!").
But what they didn't do was provide any new information about Clinton -- or about anything else, really.
The much-vaunted news conference, as it turned out, was little more than an extended infomercial for WikiLeaks on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of its founding.
Maybe "pulling a Trump" will become a phrase people use in the future to describe the media getting played like a fiddle in this fashion -- who knows?
And finally, on a somewhat sad note, it seems that the Libertarian presidential ticket has all but thrown in the towel. Gary Johnson just keeps forgetting things while being interviewed, and last week his running mate William Weld said on camera that he's "not sure anybody is more qualified than Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States." Ouch.
Since vice presidents were in the news this week, the Boston Globe wrote an article about Weld. It was pretty eyebrow-raising, since it reports that Weld is no longer even focused on the Libertarian ticket at all. Instead, he's committed to beating Trump however possible. And then bailing on the whole Libertarian thing altogether, afterwards:
While Weld insisted he still supports Johnson, he said he is now interested primarily in blocking Trump from winning the presidency and then potentially working with longtime Republican leaders such as Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour to create a new path for the party after the election.
In other words, look for Johnson's support in the polls to start crumbling.
All told, we're now rounding the final turn and coming into the homestretch, folks. And from where I sit, Hillary Clinton seems to be leading the race and even pulling away. Which is a good way to transition to our weekly awards, in fact.
For the second week in a row, Hillary Clinton wins the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
Hillary herself didn't do anything overly impressive this week, but then she didn't have to. This week brought the full reaction in the polls to her first debate performance last week, with a little reaction to Trump's leaked tax returns added in. Hillary has turned the entire campaign narrative around this week, because she has turned the polling trendlines around so successfully.
In national polling, Hillary is up by roughly five points. But even down at the state level, Hillary is firming up support across the map. A recent poll just put her up in Arizona, even. The best way to gauge a candidate's solid support is to take all the states where they have opened a lead of five points or better and add all their Electoral College votes together. This completely ignores all the battleground states and also ignores all the states where the polls are so close either candidate could win -- instead, it shows how strong a candidate's base support currently is. Take a look at the recent past to see how well Clinton is now doing: in 2012, exactly this many days out from the election, Barack Obama had 257 electoral votes in his pocket -- 13 short of the 270 needed to win. In 2008, Obama was doing even better and had 264 electoral votes sewn up. Right now, Hillary Clinton is doing better than Obama in either campaign, with 265 Electoral College votes currently in her column. Just before the debate, this number stood at only 206 for Clinton -- that's the magnitude of the shift we've seen this week.
Here's another measure of how dramatic this shift has become, which uses polling numbers from Quinnipiac:
The big reason she's extended her lead: Independent voters. In the poll conducted Sept. 22-25, Trump led them by 7 points, 42-35, and in a poll two weeks prior, he led them by 5.
But in the new poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday of this week, Clinton has asserted a 14-point lead among this previously Trump-friendly group, 46-32.
And if you exclude third-party candidates, Clinton has turned a four-point deficit before the debate into a 20-point lead, 57-37 -- a net shift of 24 points.
That is nothing short of stunning, mostly because it happened so fast. And the trend should continue, since vice-presidential debates rarely change anyone's mind. The only thing that could either accelerate this trend or turn it back towards Trump would be if he turned in a brilliant and calm debate performance on Sunday night. Since the chances of that happening are (to be polite) quite low, Clinton might just be on the brink of putting the entire election away.
That is impressive indeed. Two weeks ago, Democrats were getting awfully nervous about Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. Now, Democrats are getting more and more confident of her chances for victory. All week long, as the polling just got better and better, Hillary Clinton showed she was indeed the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, in fact.
[It is our longstanding policy not to provide contact information for campaign sites, so you'll have to find the Clinton/Kaine website on your own, sorry.]
While Hillary had an impressive week, her running mate didn't. Tim Kaine's appearance in the only vice-presidential debate easily wins him the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. But before we get to that, one side note is necessary.
From the hysterical headlines he generated this week, you might have thought Bill Clinton was in the running for the MDDOTW award, but you'd be wrong. Clinton made a long and cogent argument about one particular portion of Obamacare, and one quote from this was taken wildly out of context: "It's the craziest thing in the world." The headlines immediately screamed "Bill Clinton calls Obamacare crazy!" but this was not, in fact, the case. Read the full transcript of his remarks to see why. Clinton was talking about one particular group who were falling into one of those "doughnut holes" in coverage, and explaining how his wife would fix the problem. He was not talking about Obamacare as a whole, and he was explaining how to make it better -- a point most of the headline-writers chose to ignore. So we feel Bill doesn't even deserve a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, because when you read his remarks in context, there is nothing disappointing about them at all, no matter what headlines one cherry-picked phrase generated.
But back to the MDDOTW winner, Tim Kaine. This Tuesday we had the only vice-presidential debate of the season, and it was pretty hard to watch. We dutifully watched to the very end, but doubt many others made it that far. The entire thing had the flavor of two yappy little dogs going after each other at a dog park, in fact.
Both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence were selected for their boring qualities. Both the candidates at the top of the tickets did not want to be overshadowed by their running mates, so they both made ultra-conventional picks of ultra-conventional politicians. Seriously, outside of Indiana and Virginia, how many people even knew these guys' names before this summer?
To Kaine's credit, he did achieve the biggest goal he had for the night: tie Mike Pence to everything crazy Trump has ever said, and get Pence to deny reality. He scored a clean victory on both fronts. But he still "lost" the debate, according to the pundits.
Now, we don't even like the whole "won/lost" construct for debates, because the hair-splitting some pundits do in figuring these victories is so laughable, at times. But it does matter what the media says about the debate, because that is the storyline most people hear for the following week. And, according to this consensus, Kaine lost on style points. Oh, everyone agreed that Pence was in an alternate reality about the things that actually have come out of Trump's mouth, and the fact-checkers the next day were brutal.
But Kaine interrupted too much, the media mavens decreed. That handed the victory to Pence, who used to host a radio talk show (meaning he knows his way around a microphone better than Kaine).
Kaine, to put this another way, caused a lot of disappointment from a lot of sources this week. We wouldn't let that influence our MDDOTW selection all that much, but we're giving the award to Kaine anyway because he failed to attack Pence on a number of issues where Pence is quite weak -- such as gay rights (to name just one). Pence has a record in Indiana, but Kaine largely ignored it. The most cutting thing Kaine could have (and should have) said would have been: "You were overjoyed to become Trump's running mate, because everyone knows you would have lost if you had run for re-election as Indiana's governor."
We do understand that Kaine's strategy was to focus solely on Trump. But Pence wasn't just appearing as a vice-presidential candidate, but also as a possible 2020 candidate for president. Kaine could have done some serious damage to Pence's 2020 hopes, but didn't. That's what really disappointed us about his debate performance, and that's why Tim Kaine is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[It is our longstanding policy not to provide contact information for campaign sites, so you'll have to find the Clinton/Kaine website on your own, sorry.]
Volume 411 (10/7/16)
We've got kind of a mixed bag this week, with some debate reactions and some general reactions to Trump's flailing around on the campaign trail. Then at the end, some good news from polls that haven't gotten a whole lot of media attention at all (not yet, at least). Without further ado, here are this week's Democratic talking points.
A nightmare indeed
Looking back on the week that happened before the debate, some Republicans are getting pretty desperate.
"Did you hear what the chairman of the Republican Party in the swing state of Ohio had to say after watching Trump's first debate and all the rest of Trump's bizarre behavior immediately afterward? Here's a direct quote on what Matt Borges thinks of this election season: 'Can this thing just end -- please? My God, what a nightmare.' And that's from a Trump supporter, mind you."
We had to pick the snarkiest quip tweeted during the veep debate, just because.
"What I saw on stage Tuesday night was Mike Pence beginning his 2020 presidential run. To achieve this goal, he had to pretend that he wasn't actually currently running as Donald Trump's running mate. The best comment from debate night came from Katherine Miller, political editor for BuzzFeed, who tweeted: 'Mike Pence turning in a great performance for his imaginary running mate Mitt Romney.' That about summed it up, don't you think?"
Pry his phone out of his hand! Quick!
Too, too funny.
"Did you hear that Donald Trump had to watch the veep debate surrounded by four aides? I guess it took four of them to grapple the phone out of Trump's hands before he could tweet some idiotic comment or another. Can you imagine how many Secret Service aides it would take to do the same thing on a daily basis, should he become president?"
Tell us what you really feel!
As usual, we have a full anti-Trump talking point provided by Republicans. This week, it is from a letter 30 former GOP members of Congress signed, explaining why they cannot support their party's presidential nominee. Add them to the growing list of other Republicans bailing on Trump. Here's what they had to say:
In nominating Donald Trump, the Republican Party has asked the people of the United States to entrust their future to a man who insults women, mocks the handicapped, urges that dissent be met with violence, seeks to impose religious tests for entry into the United States, and applies a de facto ethnicity test to judges. He offends our allies and praises dictators. His public statements are peppered with lies. He belittles our heroes and insults the parents of men who have died serving our country. Every day brings a fresh revelation that highlights the unacceptable danger in electing him to lead our nation.
You can say it, Ted!
Too, too funny (part 2)
"Ted Cruz is now calling voters up to convince them to vote. The only problem is, he can't seem to bring himself to even say Donald Trump's name. That's pretty sad, really. Cruz left his own credibility in tatters by backing Trump, and now he can't even say Trump's name in a call to voters to try to convince them to vote for a man he obviously hates with a passion. Cruz is essentially saying 'Please vote, for, you know, that guy. That guy that I despise.' It's pretty pathetic, really."
How's that women's outreach going?
Let's hear from a regular voter, shall we?
"So how's Trump doing among women voters? Even before the embarrassing locker-room banter was released today, here's what one 56-year-old Republican voter had to say about Trump's attitudes towards women: 'You just want to smack him.' This is a woman who happily voted for Mitt Romney last time around, and she pretty much sums up Trump's enormous problem with women voters -- which certainly doesn't seem to be getting any better."
Some good news
And finally, some good news to end on.
"In all five states where recreational marijuana legalization is on the ballot (and where polling exists), legalization is winning with the public. If it passes in all of them, the entire West Coast of the continental United States will have legal recreational marijuana sales -- from San Diego all the way up to Alaska. Two states on the East Coast -- Maine and Massachusetts -- will join them as well. I'm still waiting for the national politicians to wake up and smell the burning roach, because the message is quite clear. The people are sick and tired of the monstrous and wasteful War On Weed, and they want it to end, right now. Four states and the seat of our national government have already legalized marijuana for all adults, and the sky has not fallen. Five more states are on the brink of following this path, too. Sooner or later the politicians in Washington are going to have to start listening to what millions and millions of voters are trying to tell them. Either that, or we'll vote in some people who do get it."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article credited Entertainment Tonight with the scoop. Billy Bush actually worked for Access Hollywood. It has been corrected in the text, and our apologies for the error.
-- Chris Weigant