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Debriefing the Second Presidential Debate

From ISIS to Goldman Sachs, we’ve got you covered.


(Photo: iStockPhoto; Wikimedia Commons; Taylor Le/Pacific Standard)

Trump’s Likability—or Lack Thereof

The opening question in tonight’s debate asked each candidate whether they feel they’ve been modeling good behavior in these debates. “I began this campaign because I was so tired seeing such foolish things happen to our country,” began Donald Trump. He ought to know.

During the last debate, we wondered whether Trump might be able to close the so-called temperament gap. The answer is no. Not with the barrage of bombshells that continue to drop about the Republican candidate every week. Since the previous go-round, we’ve learned that Trump a.) avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades; b.) treats women maybe even worse than we thought; and c.) appeared in a soft-core porn video. Not surprisingly, these revelations have destroyed Trump’s chances of winning the White House.

More than 40 percent of respondents in a just-released poll by ABC News and SSRS said Trump should drop out of the race. Fifty-three percent said they were less likely to support Trump after viewing his leaked video, compared to the 46 percent who claimed it wouldn’t affect their voting habits. Now, this poll did not include existing voter preferences, so it could be that a sizable chunk of that 46 percent simply weren’t in favor of Trump to begin with.

In a McClatchy/Marist poll of likely voters released on September 23rd, 44 percent of likely voters felt Trump was “honest and trustworthy,” compared to just 36 percent for Hillary Clinton. And another ABC News/SSRS poll, released just prior to the Washington Post’s story on the video, found 60 percent said they are “very worried” about the future of the United States in the event of a Trump presidency. (Here Clinton scored comparatively better, at 39 percent.)

While Clinton’s numbers may not necessarily go up here — she’s long had difficulty gaining voters’ trust — it’ll be fun, in a grim way, to see how Trump emerges from this myriad of scandals. Max Ufberg

The Wall

Early on, Donald Trump deflected a question about groping female genitals by promising to build a “stronger border.”

Let’s put politics aside for a moment and look just at the feasibility and (again, non-political) implications of such a wall, which Matt Borslaid out in an illustrated piece for Pacific Standard last year:


(Illustration: Matt Bors)

  • It would cost roughly $30 billion for a 2,000 mile wall. (And no, Mexico will not pay for this wall.)
  • A wall would damage hundreds of miles of parkland and wildlife refuge.
  • It would require three times the amount of concrete needed for the Hoover Dam. “That quantity of concrete could pave a one-lane road from New York to Los Angeles, going the long way around the Earth, which would probably be just as useful,” Bors writes.
  • Even when factoring in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 — essentially Congress’ mandate for wall construction — building Trump’s wall would require the seizure of land from thousands of Americans through eminent domain.

As to whether a wall would have the desired effect of keeping out immigrants, Bors says simply: “Boats exist.” — Max Ufberg

The Democrats’ Juanita Broaddrick Conundrum

“There’s never been anybody in the history of politics that’s been this abusive to women.” — Donald J. Trump on William Jefferson Clinton, 9:18 p.m. EST, October 9th, 2016

Donald Trump has a deficit among women voters. His unfavorability ratings have hovered around seven in 10 since the spring, and in a new ABC News and SSRS “rapid response” survey that measures voters’ response to Friday’s leak of Trump talking about grabbing women’s genitals, 62 percent of female respondents said they were less likely to vote for Trump as a result:


(Chart: SSRS Public Opinion Polling)

Trump’s strategy at this debate is to go nuclear, by hitting Hillary Clinton with her husband’s rich and well-documented past of womanizing. In the audience tonight are Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick, three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or, in Broaddrick’s case, rape.

Democrats have a problem here. Most have never reprimanded Bill Clinton for the Broaddrick accusations, but you can be damn sure they would have done so if the alleged rapist were a Republican. (Katie J.M. Baker published a sensitive profile of Broaddrick in BuzzFeed this August.)

That’s a real hypocrisy, but Trump’s instincts have already torpedoed his chance to capitalize on it. Parading these women ahead of the debate — indeed, pulling a bait-and-switch with reporters to trick them into filming the parade — smacks of all kinds of nastiness: a flailing man using three women as props in order to humiliate a fourth.

The consensus so far is that there’s no way this helps Trump; whether it hurts Clinton is unclear. — Ted Scheinman

Clinton’s Enduring Email Problem

Donald Trump went after Hillary Clinton over her infamous emails.While the email scandal won’t do anything to help her low likability ratings, they could damage her credibility as a competent candidate. As Elena Gooraywrote for Pacific Standard:

Researchers have found that snap, appearance-based judgments about a candidate’s competence predicted election results at a significantly higher rate than chance, TheNew Yorker reported. The same did not hold true for judgments of a candidate’s likability or trustworthiness. …

So it’s noteworthy that FBI Director James Comey’s strongest criticisms of Clinton’s email activity suggest sloppiness and lapses in judgment — that the Department of State under Clinton’s leadership played fast and loose with classified information compared to other government departments.

Of course, with the horrific week Trump’s had, Clinton may find some extra room for forgiveness. — Max Ufberg

“This Is a Gift to ISIS and the Terrorists”

Hillary Clinton denounced Donald Trump’s treatment of Muslim Americans. “It’s dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has about Muslims,” Clinton said.

Trump’s response: “Extreme vetting.” He also said Syrians are coming in by the “tens of thousands.” Then he brought up his favorite Trojan Horse metaphor.

So first, a fact check: As of June, President Barack Obama has allowed 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States.

Beyond that, this sort of fear-mongering could play right into ISIS’ hands. Trump’s blustery statements have become prime recruiting material for ISIS, a group all too capable of translating American xenophobia into Western opposition as an enrollment tactic. As Jared Kellerwrote for Pacific Standard last year:

The Islamophobic backlash running through the West is all but a recruitment windfall for jihadists everywhere. It’s part of the logic of the Islamic State designed to build a new generation of loyal militants, a push that lends credence to the idea that, while American arch-conservatives flip out about refugees (like Ted Cruz, who called for a moratorium on U.S. refugee programs, or ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, who tweeted “maybe guard the border before the massacre”), it’s actually the Muslim world that’s under attack from the West — a narrative that has very real ideological roots.

Or as Clinton put it, in reference to her Republican opponent: “This is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists.” — Max Ufberg

Those Pesky Goldman Sachs Speeches

Tonight, Donald Trump knocked Hillary Clinton over her paid Goldman Sachs speeches. This comes two days after WikiLeaks released excerpts from the closed-door paid speeches.

BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramerreports that the transcripts deal mostly with Clinton’s views on trade, health care, and Wall Street. They also make open acknowledgment of her own life of privilege (“I’m kind of far removed because the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy”).

Whether or not the transcripts really contain anything that damaging (they don’t), they underscore the tightrope act Clinton must walk, between her own neoliberal base and a banking industry that’s been quite generous to her over the years.

As Jared Keller wrote for Pacific Standard:

The eventual victory of Clinton … would offer a relatively safe respite from the political backlash to the disparate economic gains made under President Obama’s administration. And this sense of predictability, an econometric certainty that analysts love, is bought and paid for by Wall Street; business interests have donated some $654.7 million already this cycle, far more than any other individual or PAC affiliation. Goldman Sachs alone has already forked over some $4.7 million in donations to both Republicans and Democrats this election cycle, while Clinton herself received a total of $675,000 from the investment bank for three speeches. The same day Blankfein aired his anxiety on Squawk Box, Clinton reminded the country who she reallyworks for: When asked of her speaking fees at the Democratic Town Hall on Wednesday, Clinton responded with “that’s what they offered.” No wonder Wall Street loves Clinton.

Maybe Clinton doesn’t love Wall Street per se, but she at least knows how to give it a good pat on the back. — Max Ufberg

WikiLeaks and Hillary

A viewer in Virginia asked Hillary Clinton whether it’s “OK for a politician to be two-faced.”

The question refers to Friday’s WikiLeaks dump of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, which included excerpts from the speeches that Clinton delivered to closed-door audiences on Wall Street.

Whether you think Clinton is a conspiracist or merely a boring centrist, the excerpts probably confirmed your view.

  • From a May 16th, 2013, speech to a room of bankers: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”
  • Speaking in 2013 at Goldman Sachs: “That was one of the reasons that I started traveling in February of ’09, so people could, you know, literally yell at me for the United States and our banking system causing this everywhere. Now, that’s an oversimplification we know, but it was the conventional wisdom. And I think that there’s a lot that could have been avoided in terms of both misunderstanding and really politicizing what happened with greater transparency, with greater openness on all sides, you know, what happened, how did it happen, how do we prevent it from happening? You guys help us figure it out and let’s make sure that we do it right this time.”

That’s a candidate who has no interest in blowing up the big banks; who triangulates carefully and filters her words in front of voters; who believes that capitalist economic development can elevate living standards in the third world through open trade; who similarly believes in close relationships between business and government; and who would like to make possible freer movement for peoples across borders.

Those are all anathema to large swathes of American voters, on both the left and the right.

That none of them is surprising coming from Clinton will be of little comfort to protectionist supporters of Bernie Sanders, or nativist supporters of Donald Trump.

Clinton has pivoted to talking about the Russians, whom the United States formally accused last week of being behind these leaks: “We have never been in this situation before … where a foreign power is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election,” Clinton said. “And believe me, they’re not doing it to get me elected.” — Ted Scheinman

Can Trump Bring the Country Together? Does He Want to?

One question posed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: “Do you believe you can be a devoted president to all the people in the United States.”

Trump quickly explained that we would be a president for “all of the people.”

But is that what his supporters want to hear?

“There is some data indicating that a majority of Republicans express racially prejudiced and Islamaphobic beliefs,” University of California–Irvine political scientist Michael Tesler, the author of the book Post-Racial orMost-Racial: Race and Politics in the Obama Era,wrote to our own Tom Jacobs in an email.

There’s also a study from 2012, conducted by the American National Election Studies collaboration, which found “that 62 percent of white people gave black people a lower score” on a scale “from hardworking to lazy and from intelligent to unintelligent,” according to the Washington Post.

In a follow-up question, Clinton was asked to address her controversial remarks that Trump fans are “a basket of deplorables” driven by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” sentimentsat a fundraiser last Friday. According to some research, “ignorant” might not be far off. — Max Ufberg

Remember Merrick Garland?

Toward the end, we took a break from misogyny and ISIS to talk about the vacant Supreme Court seat. Well, in case you forgot, there’s actually a real live human who was nominated by Barack Obama earlier this year. And, should Hillary Clinton win, we may finally see him take up the position.

In March, Obama nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland as the United States’ 113th Supreme Court justice. At the time, analysts predicted the nomination challenged Republican senators to stay steadfast in their refusal to consider a nomination in an election year; Garland, a liberal who leans centrist when it comes to issues of criminal defense and national security, should be more reliably progressive than Justice Anthony Kennedy, who, as I previously wrote, has gained a reputation in Washington as “something of a heterodox conservative.���

Of course, as Trump spirals downward in the polls, his Republican colleagues in the Senate are starting to consider confirming Garland. — Max Ufberg