Monday, October 10, 2016

Observations before the debate

Expectations among bloggers and columnists and strategists seem to converge on two things. (1) Trump and the GOP are in serious trouble with defections by Trump supporters happening almost by the hour. (2) Because of (1), Trump is playing the only card he has left - to wage war on Bill Clinton and then to implicate Hillary as an accomplice. That this tactic might alienate even more voters, especially women, does not appear to be a factor in Trump's strategic decision about tonight's debate. And doing right by the GOP is not at all on Trump's agenda.

Speaking of the apparently fractured GOP, there is talk out there about how the RNC will divert resources to down-ballot candidates. Steve Benen has some interesting observations on the GOP split.

How severe is the division within Republicans?

Quite a few Republican officials, staffers, strategists, and donors gave up on Trump after Friday afternoon’s revelations, but a striking number of die-hard Trump backers remain defiant. Some of this was on display outside Trump Tower on Saturday, and note that some of Trump’s GOP critics faced hecklers during public events yesterday. There’s also some preliminary polling that suggests much of the rabid Republican base is sticking with Trump, even if party leaders are not, which will only bolster the candidate’s resolve (and ego).

Indeed, this morning, Trump made no effort to hide his public feud with his own party. The Republican nominee is now urging his surrogates to go after anti-Trump Republicans with vigor.

Observe that the question about division within the GOP is not whether but how bad.

You can read more about this Republican nightmare in this piece by Ezra Klein at vox.com and this review at the Daily Kos.

But if Trump does follow through and go after Hillary because of Bill, Andrew Prokof at vox.com lists the ways that his attack can go wrong.

But though Trump’s instincts — and certain of his advisers — seem to be leading him down this path, there are just so many ways in which it can go wrong.

First, there’s the simple truth that this line of attack doesn’t poll well. A little over a week ago, Politico asked voters whether it would be appropriate or inappropriate for Trump to bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs and “allegations that Hillary Clinton tried to silence women who accused her husband of infidelity or sexual misconduct,” only 33 percent said this would be appropriate, and 56 percent said it would be inappropriate.

Second, it is really difficult to strike a balance between appearing contrite and going on the attack as Trump appears to want to do. The story since Friday has been about Donald Trump’s conduct. So if he tries to change the subject, it will be interpreted as him trying to change the subject. His video apology statement was hammered for just this reason — the apology just seems less sincere when you throw in “Bill Clinton is worse.” Either the apology or the attack is going to come off as weak.

Third, there’s the question of just what Hillary Clinton will say in response — she’s deliberately said nothing about the leaked tape so far. That’s because, according to a report by Politico’s Annie Karni, her team wants to maximize the impact of her first response by having it take place live on the debate stage, in front of an audience of tens of millions of people.

Fourth, the leaked Trump tape is already out there, voters are widely aware of it, and what it portrays is indisputable. So Hillary Clinton can afford to use a lighter and more subtle touch in discussing it, if she feels that’s the best option. But if Trump truly wants to portray Hillary Clinton as “an enabler of sexual violence,” he is going to have to be the one to do it — all those ugly and disputed allegations are going to have to come out of Donald Trump’s mouth onstage.

Damon Linker tweets:

When Trump lays into HRC about Broaddrick, et al., his fans will go, "YEEEAAAHHHH!!!"

Rest of U.S. will go, "OMG, this guy's a scumbag."

Fifth, the optics of Trump aggressively confronting Clinton might be quite bad. Her best moments in past political debates have often come when arrogant male opponents have aggressively overplayed their hands, and Trump has already been hammered for interrupting her too many times in the first debate.

Sixth, there’s the fact that this debate takes place in a town hall setting. The room will be full of undecided voters who will ask pre-selected questions, and most will likely focus on more traditional policy issues. How does Trump press a sexual misconduct-focused case against Bill and Hillary Clinton in an environment when the questioners will likely want to talk about other things? It’s much easier to ignore the question and completely change the subject when it’s a moderator talking rather than a flesh-and-blood voter.

And finally, Trump’s mental state does not seem to be the greatest at this moment. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman writes that he is “increasingly isolated and upset.” And he couldn’t manage to seriously commit himself to debate prep even before his campaign entered this recent tailspin, after all.

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