David Petraeus would be the most ironic appointment to Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

President-elect Donald Trump.

Throughout the Presidential Campaign much of Donald Trump’s pitch for the job rested on his promises to “drain the swamp” and clean Washington D.C. of corruption. By this he meant (and generally said) that he wanted to reduce the impact that special interests and Wall Street had on policy making. In addition, he repeatedly looked to whip up anger around Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, with chants of “lock her up” commonplace during his rallies, as well as at the Republican National Convention. Although Trump’s promises to clean up Washington undoubtedly gained him some of his support, those that he is now considering for appointment to his Cabinet have proved that it was simply empty rhetoric.

To start with, his transition team is a who’s who of K Street lobbyists. Given that many of these people undoubtedly know what it takes to create a government, then you could argue that it isn’t the worst thing in the world, however it flies directly in the face of what Trump campaigned on. In addition, just look at some of the names that Trump has suggested for Cabinet appointments. For Treasury Secretary, Trump is said to be considering ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, as well as investors Wilbur Ross, Carl Icahn, and Tom Barrack. There was even a suggestion that Trump had offered the role to JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon (a high profile supporter of Clinton and the Democratic Party), only for him to turn the role down, probably in large part because of his opposition to Trump. Those being considered for many of the other Cabinet roles are much the same. Trump is said to be considering venture capitalist Robert Grady, as well as oilmen Harold Hamm and Forrest Lucas for Secretary of the Interior. He is said to be considering the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, as the Secretary of Commerce; and a variety of oil executives have been suggested as Secretary of Energy. Although many of these people directly supported Trump’s campaign, are they not the exact people Trump pledged that he was going to remove from Government?

The latest irony comes with the consideration of retired general David Petraeus for the role of Secretary of State. Now, experience wise, Petraeus would arguably be a pretty good pick for the role. Petraeus was key during the invasion of Iraq, he has led the US Central Command, he has served as the Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, and he has served as the Director of the CIA. In short, his experience is close to unrivalled. However, the scandal which led to his departure from the CIA in 2012 would surely make it difficult for him to be appointed. In 2012, Petraeus resigned from his position as Director of the CIA following the fallout from his affair with the author of his biography, Paula Broadwell. Later, in January 2015, Petraeus was charged with providing classified information to Broadwell. Ultimately, in March of the same year, Petraeus pled guilty in Federal Court to a charge of the unauthorised removal and retention of classified information, for which he was sentenced to two years probation and a fine of $100,000. Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticised Clinton for her handling of classified information, despite the fact that following an investigation by the FBI, James Comey chose to recommend that she not face any criminal charges, but describing her as careless. Whilst Clinton was careless yet not actually guilty of any criminality, Petraeus pleaded guilty to a charge of mishandling classified information, yet he is now being strongly considered for a place in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Retired general David Petraeus, under consideration for the role of Secretary of State in Donald Trump’s Cabinet

Republican Senator for Kentucky, Rand Paul, recognised the problem were Petraeus to be appointed when he said on Monday: “You know, I think the problem they’re going to have if they put him forward is there’s a lot of similarities to Hillary Clinton as far as revealing classified information.” And Paul is right, how can you spend an entire campaign criticising someone for their alleged mishandling of classified information, and then appoint someone who was actually guilty of mishandling classified information to your Cabinet? The same way that you can fill the rest of your Cabinet and your transition team with special interests only days after pledging to eliminate special interests from Washington, I suppose.

What this proves is that, as many suspected all along, Trump’s pronouncements over the course of the campaign were simply empty rhetoric designed to curry favour with a neglected part of the electorate and get him elected. I suppose that really it is no surprise that he is already going back on so many of the promises that he made during the campaign.

Take the polls with a pinch of salt.

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When writing the title to this piece, I got a sense of deja vu. I was pretty sure that I had written the piece that I am about to write before. On looking back through my archive I found that I had indeed written a similar piece on 11 September, but entitled ‘Why you shouldn’t read to much into polls which show Trump in the lead’. This is a similar article.

Earlier this week, polling released by ABC News and The Washington Post suggested that Trump had moved into a one point lead in national polls for the Presidency. Now it was expected that Trump would gain some support following James Comey’s disclosure that the FBI were re-opening their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, however the result of this poll was particularly remarkable because just a couple of weeks earlier it had found a twelve point lead for Clinton. I would dispute both these findings. It is almost impossible for support for candidates, in what has generally been a pretty close election, to swing by thirteen points in the space of two weeks — it simply does not happen. It strikes me that for the poll to turn up such a swing, then there must be something seriously wrong in their methodology. Now before you say so, this isn’t simply me not wanting to accept that Trump may be in the lead. I expressed the same doubts when the same poll showed that Clinton led by twelve points. It was simply such an outlier from other polls and the polling average, then it surely can’t have been correct.

One of the reasons for this huge swing could be that supporters of candidates often stop responding the polls in quite the same number when their candidates are having a bad day. For Trump, this was following the release of the Access Hollywood tape and following a couple of relatively poor debate performances, when his campaign was arguably at its lowest ebb. For Clinton, this was when it was announced that the FBI was re-opening its investigation into her use of a private email server. This means that it is hard to build up a picture of what it actually going on by simply looking at a single poll in isolation.

In my opinion, it would be far more productive to look at the polling averages, which tend to be pretty accurate in terms of predicting the final result. Currently the RealClearPolitics polling average gives Clinton a 2.2 percent lead in a four way race, which seems to be a pretty plausible reflection of where the race currently stands.

In addition, it is worth comparing the polls in this election, with what the polls said at the same stage in previous elections.

In 2012, Mitt Romney led Barack Obama by one point (49–48) with one week to go in the campaign. In 2004, John Kerry led George W. Bush by one point (also 49–48) with one week to go until election day. Both Romney and Kerry lost. Even if Trump is one point ahead at this stage, it does not mean that he is going to win. If anything, what it might do is increase turnout on the Democratic side, with many other unenthusiastic voters coming out to vote in order to prevent a Trump Presidency.

Although this election clearly isn’t over yet, Clinton remains the likelier victor. Given past history, you should certainly be taking the polls with a pinch of salt at this stage.

James Comey’s letter to Congress was extremely careless.

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The Director of the FBI, James Comey. 

 

On 5 July, the Director of the FBI James Comey released his statement regarding the end of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Although Comey said that he was not recommending criminal charges, he did rebuke Clinton for being “extremely careless” in her handling of “very sensitive, classified information”.

Given the furore of Clinton’s use of a private email server, it’s hard to argue that her actions were quite careless. By this I mean that you would think that this scenario could have been easily avoided by Clinton and her team. However, given that no criminal charges were recommended by the FBI, then it seems fair to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt. Throughout this election, it has seemed that although the email controversy has harmed Clinton’s favourability somewhat, it hasn’t harmed it enough to stop her winning the election. For she has the divisiveness of Republican candidate Donald Trump to thank. Had the Republicans nominated a candidate which the whole party were united around, then it may have been harder for her to prosper under the shadow of the email controversy. However, up to now, she has managed to do just this.

However, on Friday, James Comey intimated in a letter to Congress that he would be re-opening the investigation into Clinton’s use of private email server, after emails deemed to be pertinent to the investigation were found during a separate investigation into former Congressman Anthony Weiner. I would argue that this letter from Comey was just as careless as Clinton using a private email server in the first place, but for rather different reasons.

The real problem with this letter to Congress was the opacity of the statement given by Comey. In his letter Comey wrote the following:

In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation. I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.

Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony.

From this letter, it is clear that the FBI has little or no idea of the content of the emails found during the investigation into Anthony Weiner — the emails in question are believed to have been exchanged between Hillary Clinton and her closest confidant, Weiner’s estranged wife Huma Abedin.

Indeed, at the time of sending the letter the Justice Department had yet to obtain a warrant to even look at Abedin’s emails (a warrant was only granted yesterday). This means that the FBI hadn’t read the emails, and so had no idea at all of their content.

Given the already extensive investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, the chances are that the FBI will have already read the emails in question, which would mean that the FBI’s recommendation would once again be that Clinton and her aides face no charges.

The likelihood of this discovery simply comprising emails that the FBI have already seen, means that the public disclosure that the investigation was both unnecessary and careless, especially just eleven days before a Presidential Election. The FBI do not routinely inform Congress about the status of ongoing investigations and so it makes no sense that they should do so now, particularly when the stakes are so high.

It leaves Clinton in a position where she can’t really fight back, because she has no idea what the FBI have discovered. Donald Trump can attack her and claim the new discovery constitutes anything he chooses, and because no one has any idea what the emails contain, Trump can’t face any sort of scrutiny. As for the public, they also naturally have no idea what this new discovery contains. This means that they are extremely vulnerable to the cascade of leaks which have come from the FBI in recent days. When the re-opening of the investigation was announced, it seemed that every news organisation had a different idea of what the new findings comprised. This leaves the public in a very difficult situation, in the absence of any semblance of factual knowledge about the ongoing investigation, where do they go for information?

This shows just how dangerous Comey’s letter was. The sheer opacity of his statement causes real problems. This is because the re-opening the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton could well influence the result of the presidential election. It could then be revealed that the new findings were not at all significant. What it clear is the investigation will not be completed until well after the election is over. Therefore, why reveal now that the investigation has been re-opened?

There is good reason for the Justice Department having a formal policy of avoiding public law-enforcement activity on the eve of elections. In an article for The New Yorker, Jane Mayer states that a Justice Department official has stated that the reason for this is that, “it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.” This is clearly true, as we have seen with the ongoing Clinton emails controversy. It was announced back in July that Clinton hadn’t done anything illegal, and although she has clearly been less than transparent, the number of people who retain the view that she is corrupt is astonishing. It seems clear to be that the very public investigation into her affairs, tainted her reputation hugely, and the public re-opening of the investigation threatens to do the same at a time when the stakes are much higher — just a week and a half before election day.

For this reason Comey, to use his own words, was ‘extremely careless’ in writing to Congress in the way he did on Friday. He should have known the effect that this could have had, and should have refrained from doing so in order to avoid influencing the outcome of the election. He should make a public statement as soon as possible in order to clarify the situation, to ensure that the public know exactly what it going on. Failing to do this, could have disastrous effects.

Will the re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server affect the outcome of the election?


Just a quick post on the relevance, or rather irrelevance, of the news that the FBI has re-opened their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.

Reports have suggested that these new emails have come to light through a separate investigation into former Congressman Anthony Wiener. Wiener, the estranged husband of Clinton’s closest confidante Huma Abedin, is being investigated for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a fifteen year old girl in North Carolina. It has been said that the emails found by the FBI belonged to Huma Abedin, and were found backed up on Wiener’s computer. There have been conflicting reports over the quantity of emails found, but the FBI have made clear that they have yet to examine any of them, and it seems clear that any examination won’t be complete until after the conclusion of the presidential election.

The Director of the FBI, James Comey, said that the FBI was taking steps to “determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” For Clinton and her team, the timing of this finding (just eleven days before the election), as well as the lack of clarity in Comey’s statement must be extremely frustrating. As expected, Donald Trump seized upon the news, and at a rally in New Hampshire said, “Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before. We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.” On the face of it, its hard to see how this news could be anything but bad for Clinton’s White House ambitions. Subsequent changes in the financial markets and betting markets, suggesting that Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency had been dented by this news.

However, I’m not so sure about this.

On 5 July, the results of the FBI investigation (which has now been reopened) were revealed. This found that Hillary Clinton had not broken the law by using a private email server, but that she had been ‘careless’. Given that the FBI were unable to find any evidence of illegal activity at this stage, it is hard to see how the result would be any different this time around. Indeed, given that the FBI clearly performed such a forensic investigation into Clinton’s emails, it seems unlikely that these ‘new’ emails will tell them anything that they do not already know.

As for harming her election chances, the timing is awkward. Just eleven days out from the election, Clinton and her campaign team are having to field questions on emails rather than doing any actual campaigning. This is obviously not ideal. However, whether this latest release will convince voters that Hillary Clinton is corrupt is another matter entirely.

Surely this is an issue which people have made their minds up about by now? They’d probably even made their minds up about it prior to 5 July. If you’re a Trump supporter (or a Republican) you tend to think Clinton is corrupt, if you’re a Democrat you think she’s not corrupt. As for undecided voters, they’re in all probability sick and tired of hearing about emails. Although this new batch of emails will solidify the views of those who already think Clinton is corrupt, I would be surprised if they persuade anyone who doesn’t already hold those views. In short, I don’t think they’ll have much of an impact on the election.

And yes, I think most people can agree that Clinton acted carelessly in her use of a private email server. But, she didn’t do anything illegal, so what’s the big deal? When it comes to Trump and US cyber security, this is someone who has encouraged the Russian hacking of the emails of US citizens. On this issue, Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Coming back to the new emails, when it comes to Clinton’s emails, voters have already made up their minds. These new findings aren’t going to change that, and therefore they aren’t going to change the outcome of the election.

Debate Debrief.

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Trump and Clinton face off last night in Las Vegas. 

Both Clinton and Trump had their best debate, but the Democrat came out on top.

Last night the final presidential debate of this marathon of a campaign took place at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. For the first half an hour, we were treated to something we hadn’t seen so far in this year’s presidential campaign: an actual policy debate!

The forceful moderating of Fox News’ Chris Wallace led the candidates to discuss some actual issues. The debate touched upon the Supreme Court, gun control, abortion rights, and immigration; and for this first half hour, both candidates did pretty well.

For the first time, Trump put forward some actual policy, and it was clear that he had been well coached in what he needed to say to reassure the Republican base. He was clear about how he would appoint pro-life Justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, putting the issue of abortion rights back into the hands of individual States; although his knowledge of what actually constitutes a partial-birth abortion was lacking. He was clear on his opposition to any form of gun control, and made a big thing about his endorsement from the NRA. He then went on to talk about how he was the only one of the two candidates who could reduce immigration, reinforcing his commitment to building the impossible border wall, and once again falsely claiming that he had been endorsed by ICE. Throughout this, Hillary Clinton was calm and collected, giving strong policy answers, which were typically almost opposite to Trump’s views.

At this stage, it would be fair to say that Trump and Clinton were neck-and-neck, both debating strongly, and putting forward strong policy based answers.

But then, Trump decided he’d had enough of being Presidential, and the classic Donald Trump re-emerged. He became short-tempered, and began to constantly interrupt his opponent.

In one exchange, Clinton was asked about the details of her paid speeches which had been revealed by the hack on John Podesta’s emails. She managed to successfully pivot onto a point about Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin, and whether Russia was behind the hacking. Trump then stated that Putin didn’t have any respect for Clinton or President Obama, to which Clinton responded: “that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as President.” In typical Trump style, the only response he could conjure was “You’re the puppet.”

This was pretty much how it went for the rest of the debate, Trump veered a long way off-piste from his original plan to look more Presidential and put forward actual policy (a plan to which he was actually adhering for the first 30 minutes of the debate).

In a question that Trump was surely expecting, he was asked about the sexual assault allegations that have been levelled against him in recent weeks. However, despite the sheer obviousness of the question, he didn’t appear ready for it. Trump claimed that the allegations have been “largely debunked,” suggesting that he isn’t completely denying them; and once again claimed “no one has more respect for women than me,” which is clearly untrue regardless of the veracity of these latest allegations. Clinton countered with a stirring answer headlined with, “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger.” This was perhaps one of the few moments, where we have seen some real emotion for Clinton in these debates, and she did well.

Both candidates struggled in questions about their respective foundations, but Clinton then came out on top in a question on experience. When Trump reused a favourite line about how Clinton had been in public office for thirty years but hadn’t, in his opinion, done anything, she had a strong (albeit pre-prepared) response. She did well to compare her career with Trump’s, explaining how their respective life experiences made her the better candidate. Trump had little in response, and by this point he was largely beaten.

This meant that he wasn’t well prepared when asked whether he would accept the result of the election. In answer to this he produced the soundbite that will be played over and over again, the only real takeaway from this debate: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now,” suggesting that he would consider not accepting the result. Clinton responded that the remarks were “horrifying,” and put forward a catalogue of times when Trump had also cried ‘rigged’, including when he didn’t win three Emmys in a row, to which he interjected: “should’ve gotten it.”

Although Trump began the debate well, and acted calm and Presidential, this soon changed, to the extent that at times the debate resembled a slanging match between a brother and sister. Petty responses like “you’re the puppet” and “should’ve gotten it” only add more ammunition to those who say Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be President. They would be right. It seems fair to say that anyone that can get as riled up by Twitter as Trump, shouldn’t have the nuclear codes.

Overall, although this was probably Donald Trump’s best debate performance, it won’t have done much for his chances in this election. He started well and things were looking good for him, but he quickly lost interest in proper debate and things descended into name calling, with Trump using his closing statement to call Hillary Clinton, “a nasty women”. For Clinton, all she had to do was turn up, and barring any revelation about a serious scandal she would be ok. She did this. For Trump it was a last chance to appear Presidential. Although he did this for the first thirty minutes, the way he lost his cool later on completely wrecked his progress.

Now the only question is how close this election will be, because surely Trump cannot win. I remain of the view that the popular vote will be relatively close, but it looks as though Clinton could win a huge victory in the Electoral College. All we can do now is wait and see.

What to expect from the final Presidential debate.

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It’s finally arrived, the final debate in this marathon Presidential campaign.

With Donald Trump having lost a lot of ground in the race to the White House, polling suggests that Hillary Clinton has a national lead of around six percent, Trump certainly has a lot to do in this debate.

Expect Trump to go on the attack from the beginning, in an attempt to make up some of this ground. It would be no surprise to see Trump continue his claims that the election is being rigged against him by the media. Given that this debate is being moderated by Chris Wallace from FOX News, it is perhaps less likely that Trump calls the moderation biased than he did in previous debates. However, Wallace is a registered Democrat (although he says that this is just so he can vote in the primaries) and he did say earlier this year that he felt the media weren’t hard enough on Donald Trump.Therefore, if Trump feels that he’s losing the momentum, don’t be overly surprised if he decides to claim that everyone is ganging up on him, as did in the first debate when he suggested that it was “three against one”, with Clinton, and moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz all ganging up against him. A repeat of a similar scene would not be unexpected.

In addition, with the continual dumping of John Podesta’s hacked emails by Wikileaks, expect information gleaned from these to make up a large proportion of Trump’s attacks. The emails which suggested Clinton knew CNN debate question in advance during the Democratic Primary feed into his rigged election narrative. In addition, the revelation that the government of Qatar (who have a sketchy human rights record) had donated $1 million to the Clinton Foundation could prove slightly embarrassing to Clinton. Trump claims that these emails have been completely ignored by the media. He is wrong. The media have reported them, and in normal times they would be front page news. However, the recording of Trump’s derogatory remarks on the set of Access Hollywood in 2005, and other reports of sexual misconduct, have drowned out the stories about Clinton. This means that this final debate is the only chance Trump will have to confront Clinton about these allegations.

One thing notable about this debate, is that a full fifteen minute section will be devoted to the topic of immigration. It was surprising how little immigration was discussed during the previous two debates, and it was quite surprising that Trump didn’t look to steer the conversation towards one of his stronger topics. This debate will give Trump the opportunity to talk about one of his keynote policies: the wall on the US-Mexico border. Of course, this debate also gives an opportunity for this policy to be properly scrutinised. It seems pretty obvious that building a wall on the whole border is completely unrealistic. For a start, we’re talking about a full-blown wall, not just a fence. This means that the cost will be completely exorbitant, with it having been estimated that costs could rise at high at $25 billion. In addition, the wall would have to cover a border which is almost 1,900 miles long. Much of this land isn’t owned by the US Government, which would push the cost even higher. All in all, the policy of building a wall on the US-Mexico border is completely unrealistic. This perhaps explains Trump’s reluctance to bring it up in a debate, as he realises that it would be picked apart by Clinton and the moderators. Nonetheless, it seems likely that this debate will force him to discuss it. Whilst the issue will likely further energise his base, it seems unlikely to be one which will gain him any undecided voters. I mean, if you wanted a wall on the US-Mexico border, then surely you’d be supporting Trump already?

These undecided voters, are who Trump chiefly needs to target in this debate. With polling suggesting he is six points behind Clinton, and this being the final televised debate, he is rapidly running out of opportunities to appeal to undecided voters. This is where a debate strategy that involves continuous attacks on Clinton could fall flat. Undecided voters are tired of hearing about this. Instead, they want to hear about policy. With debate topics including: debt and entitlements, the economy, and foreign hot spots; both candidates have a chance to show off their policy ideas, in an attempt to woo some of these undecided voters. If Trump’s policy knowledge is as lacking as it was in the first debate, then he could well seriously struggle with this.

As well as appealing to swing voters, Trump needs to try and persuade the traditional GOP supporters, who are deserting him in droves, to vote for him in November. Polling currently suggests that traditionally safe Republican states such as Arizona, Georgia, Utah, and even Texas, are now considered toss-ups. It is the polling from Texas which will have most alarmed the Trump campaign. Although, there is a growing Hispanic population in Texas, it was still considered to be safe. Indeed, just one month ago Trump had a lead of eleven points in Texas, but this has now fallen to just four points, which is within the margin of error. Trump needs to be clear on his commitment to traditional Republican policies, otherwise he risks losing these kind of states. Given that he is already up against it in the swing states, losing perceived ‘safe’ states would be disastrous.

Equally, Trump has to ensure he appeals to those in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa. All in all, this means that Trump has to carry out an unenviable balancing act, to try and keep voters from many very different constituencies on side.

Given these competing priorities, it would be no surprise to simply see Trump fall back on his usual tactic of insulting the competition, but not actually offering much substance. He has already announced the slightly baffling news that he has invited President Obama’s half-brother, Malik Obama, to attend the debate. Malik has previously said that he supports Trump, but this invite feels just like a publicity stunt, much the same as when Trump invited Bill Clinton’s accusers to the last presidential debate. The stunt didn’t have an impact then, and it isn’t going to work now. Trump has a misguided knack of attacking people who aren’t on the ballot, at the last debate it was Bill Clinton, throughout the past week it has been Paul Ryan, and at this one it looks as though it will be Barack Obama. This isn’t going to do anything to help Trump in this election, and seems totally unnecessary.

Overall, this debate gives Trump one final chance to appeal to undecided voters in the swing states. This is the most important thing for his campaign, and is absolutely what he should be focusing on. However, things like inviting Malik Obama to the debate suggests that Trump is going to fall back on his strategy of getting the odd good soundbite. This hasn’t worked so far as a way of persuading swing voters to back him, therefore there seems no reason that it will work now. For populist actions like this, Trump can use his mass rallies to energise his base. There seems little point in using the final presidential debate to do what he can do in fifteen minutes at one of his mass rallies. Instead he must use his debate to put forward some substantial policy, or his chances in this election are numbered. The indications suggest that once again Trump will avoid actual policy, and as a result the Hillary Clinton campaign must be licking their lips, a result like this couldn’t be more perfect for them, as it further consolidates Clinton’s position as the only candidate in this race who has put forward any real policy.

With Clinton’s poll numbers now pretty good, all she has to do is turn up and perform as competently as she did in the first two debates. For Trump, he must now put forward some proper policy, or he has got no chance.

Debate Debrief.

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Trump and Clinton face off last night in the Second Presidential Debate.

Trump keeps his campaign afloat, but his performance won’t affect the final result.

The expectation was that last night’s Second Presidential Debate would be dominated by the fallout from the derogatory comments made by Trump during an appearance on Access Hollywood in 2005. Early on in the debate, this prediction rang true. Previously, Trump had addressed his recorded comments with a short video, which didn’t include an actual apology but attempted to explain away his behaviour. During the debate, he addressed the scandal in a similarly brief fashion.

He disputed the view espoused by Joe Biden that the recording amounted to “sexual assault”, instead dismissing it as “locker room talk” and following this up with, “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” He then quickly pivoted to a monologue about his plans to destroy ISIS, and although this plan was relatively incomprehensible, it did prove somewhat successful in drawing the debate away from the subject of the tapes.

But when Clinton, in her strongest passage of the debate, offered a strong rebuke of Trump’s “fitness to serve”, Trump responded by bringing up historic allegations of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton, which followed a pre-debate press conference that he held with several women who allege to have been assaulted by Bill Clinton. Although this was effective in distracting from the problems with his own campaign, it was in no way the best way to bring undecided voters to his side. Prior to the debate, polling suggested that a large majority of voters felt that it would be inappropriate for Trump to bring up Bill Clinton’s alleged misconduct. So although Trump may have reassured his base that he is someone who will stand up to the Clintons, what he won’t have done is persuaded any undecided voters to come aboard. Ultimately, the Trump base is in no way large enough to win an election. No candidate can expect to win without appealing to undecided centre-ground voters, and in bringing up Bill Clinton, Trump did precisely the opposite.

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Bill and Chelsea Clinton look on nervously. 

 

But one thing Trump did well throughout the debate, and which will have gone a long way towards keeping his campaign afloat for the time being, was that he stayed on-message throughout. With Trump, there is always the danger that he goes off on a complete tangent and brings up things completely irrelevant to his campaign, which is something we certainly saw during the first debate. However, this time Trump did well to keep to his long-term script of pitching himself as the only person who can make progress in Washington, as well as consistently disavowing the moderators (and in extension the whole mainstream media) for what he perceived as their biased coverage of him. He regularly interjected whilst Clinton was answering with something along the lines of, “It’s just words, folks,” looking to advance his analysis that throughout her career Clinton has been all words and no action. In addition, when moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper cut him off for going over his two minute limit, he consistently complained that Clinton didn’t get the same treatment (even though she did), with Trump describing the debate as, “one on three”. Again this is a tactic that will further cement Trump’s approval amongst his base of supporters, many of whom believe that the mainstream media is lying to them. But it is unlikely to bring any new supporters into the Trump tent.

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Trump consistently interrupted Clinton’s answers with comments like, “It’s just words folks.”

 

Perhaps the most astonishing moment of the debate came when during an exchange about Hillary Clinton’s emails, Trump said that if he wins, he is “going to instruct my Attorney General to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.” When Clinton then suggested that given Trump’s loose grasp of the facts it was a good thing that he wasn’t in charge of law and order, Trump hit back with “Because you’d be in jail!” I thought that I’d heard it all in this election, but the threat of jailing the loser is certainly a new one. Making a threat like this is a pretty dangerous game to be playing. Despite the FBI saying that Clinton’s conduct over her emails was “extremely careless”, they concluded that she hadn’t acted illegally. Therefore, Trump is seemingly suggesting that he would imprison Clinton because of her political viewpoint, a tactic used by dictators around the world. Although it may have been meant in a tongue in cheek way, Trump should be disavowing this comment immediately, although don’t count on that happening anytime soon.


Trump did provide us with the best line thus far of any of this election’s debates. In a discussion about a leaked email from Hillary Clinton in which she suggested that politicians needed to have both a public and a private position on certain issues, Clinton gave a unconvincing response that she was referring to the example of Abraham Lincoln using different techniques to get lawmakers to agree with him. Trump responded with: “She lied. Now she’s blaming the lie on the late great, Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe.” This was easily Trump’s best line of the debate, reflected by the subsequent cheers from some members of the audience.


The second half of the debate was relatively civilised in comparison.

As always Trump answered questions without any reference to his prospective policies, which in any case seem to change from day to day.

When asked about how he would improve Obamacare, Trump responded by saying that he would repeal it and institute “the finest health care plan there is,” in its place. Naturally, there was no indication of what this plan might entail.

On every other subject Trump came up with more of the same. There was nothing in way of policy at all. Trump’s pitch rested on basically saying that he will make things better, but not telling anyone how he plans to do this; much like his oft-repeated (and oft-mocked) ‘secret plan’ for fighting ISIS.

But realistically, Trump didn’t need to put forward any substantial policy. If putting forward substantial policy was a requirement in this presidential election, then Trump would not have got this far.

The fact of the matter is that all Trump needed to do last night was come out and keep his cool, and show that his campaign wasn’t imploding in the way that the week’s events suggested it might be. He achieved this. He debated with much more confidence than in the first debate, and Clinton seemed less sure of herself, missing multiple opportunities to castigate Trump for his lack of policy knowledge.

Immediately prior to this debate, for Trump’s campaign to not completely implode whilst on stage, would have been considered a success.

With this in mind, Trump arguably won this debate. Although Clinton answered the questions better, actually put forward real policies, and showed far better temperament; the standard that Trump needed to hit was much lower. Given the events of the past few days, Trump actually turning up for the debate was a victory in itself. Unlike in the first debate, he wasn’t as eager to take the bait offered by Clinton, and Clinton herself was strangely reluctant to go after him when he made mistakes.

On this basis, it can objectively be said that Trump won the debate. Clinton had the chance to end the election then and there on the stage at Washington University, St Louis; but she blew it. Trump needed to win to survive, and there can be little doubt that he managed this. For Clinton, this debate was far less essential. Despite Trump’s narrow win here, she surely retains the momentum, and with the prospect of further tapes surfacing containing worse comments, there are sure to be many further opportunities for Clinton to trash Trump.

But, for now, the race continues. Will this debate have had any effect on the ultimate result of this election? No, I don’t think so. Clinton remains in pole position to take the White House. But Donald Trump lives to fight another day.

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