This is exactly what I’m worried about:

Good on Mike Pence for challenging it. Kind of.

Using divisive rhetoric to win support is kind of double-edged sword. Pence can’t exactly say to the crowd, “I know we’ve been *saying* that demons will erupt from the earth to devour your children if Hillary is elected, but you guys know we’re only saying that so you’ll vote for us, right? We don’t actually *mean* it.”

On The Second Debate

Trump did better than expected in the second debate, better than the first debate, in my opinion. I’d probably call it a draw, in the sense that neither candidate wiped the floor with the other. Trump’s still struggling, but everyone expected (hoped, perhaps) he would implode–and he didn’t.

When I watch the debates, I’m purposefully trying to look past the surface stuff and see things that will get buried later. The media tends to focus on the more sensational things that happen, but I guess I’m more interested in the boring stuff.

For example, I noticed that Chelsea Clinton snuck into the friends box with Bill after the big introduction of the spouses. (She may have done this in the first debate too, but I didn’t notice.) The obvious conclusion is that she didn’t want to shake hands with the Trump crowd. I don’t remember anybody in the media mentioning that, but it might have something to do with this:

Later, we learned from a Washington Post article that Trump wanted to put those women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault into the Trump friends box, so that Bill Clinton would have to confront them on national television. A cunning plan, and the kind of power play you’d expect to see only on HBO’s House of Cards.

CNN’s post-debate coverage team lost their minds over Trump’s comments about appointing a special investigator to jail Clinton. I personally thought it was a laugh line (Trump is objectively better at comedy than Clinton), didn’t take it seriously, and I don’t believe he would or could follow through with it. The Clintons are a pretty big political force in this country and it seems like a bad business move to alienate them, regardless of party affiliation. On the other hand, if Trump doesn’t at least make a serious effort to follow through, his base could turn on him. (I’m pretty sure the left still hasn’t forgotten that Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay.)

Speaking of CNN and boring details, I was captivated by a guy in the background behind the analysts who kept walking around holding up a giant head of Wolf Blitzer on a stick. Every time the camera focused on a different analyst, the guy with the Wolf Blitzer head-on-a-stick walked into the background of the shot.

Back to the debate, Clinton did better at connecting with the audience questions, so maybe she won that handful of votes on the stage. The “town hall” format definitely favored her.

I thought most of the questions from the audience were shallow. Half of them amounted to, “Can’t you guys just be less terrible to watch?”

  • Do you think you’re being good role models?
  • What will you do to make Obamacare more affordable?
  • Can you be president to all Americans?
  • What would you look for in a Supreme Court Justice?
  • What’s your energy policy?
  • Can you name one positive thing about your opponent?

Of those, I only thought the Obamacare and energy policy questions were relevant. The Supreme Court question should have been blindingly obvious for anyone to answer: The Republican will nominate conservative justices, the Democrat will nominate liberal justices, and every case from now until the end of time will be a 5-4 decision with half the country hating the outcome.

I noticed that Clinton gave a weak answer to the WikiLeaks emails and then changed the subject to Russia.

Russia and our growing Cold War-style proxy war in Syria is my current concern du jour if you haven’t noticed from my previous posts. Clinton sent another pretty strong message opposing Russia propping up Assad and the Syrian government, while Trump suggested we should work with Russia to fight ISIS. That’s a pretty sharp contrast. (On that particular topic, I submit that Clinton might be farther right than Trump.) If you’re concerned about wars with foreign superpowers, it’s pretty clear that Clinton is more likely to lead us into a confrontation with Russia. (Or continue to lead us down that path, I should say.)

On the other hand, Trump is more likely to lead us into becoming a vassal of Russia. So pick your poison.

Then again, if you subscribe to the theory that if Trump is elected, Mike Pence will be running the country (which I kind of do), he’ll probably take an even more aggressive stance against Russia than Clinton. I believe he mentioned air strikes in the veep debate.

Trump’s answer on that last question about something they admired in their opponent sounded more sincere than Clinton’s.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what the white ribbon on Clinton’s lapel meant. Couldn’t figure it out.

I’ve always liked Martha Raddatz so for me she has the journalistic and war correspondent cred to pull off her editorial remarks regarding warning the enemy about upcoming attacks. I probably wouldn’t have bought it from Anderson Cooper though. Overall I thought the moderators were okay, but I do think they went a little easy on Clinton until Trump started complaining.

Where do they get these debate audiences? Can they stop letting noisy partisans into them? If the debates are supposed to be for the American people, put them in an empty auditorium. I expect Trump is going to try to pack in even more partisans for his side in the last one.

One thing I’ve been wondering the last couple of days in the wake of all the Bill-Clinton-did-this and Trump-said-that, and after what seemed to be a clear theme in the audience questions: Should it be important for the American president to be a good role model for the kids? Electing someone based solely on whether you’d let your kids hang out with them seems … I don’t know … naive maybe? I’m not sure it’s healthy for a democracy to try to view their president through that lens. (I realize I’m basically making Trump’s argument here, but I’ve said before that he often has valid points, even if the way he makes them is, um, let’s say off-putting.)

On The Newest Trump Scandal

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the election, but here I go again, talking about everyone’s favorite emotional trigger.

Twitter exploded Friday night and Saturday with a new controversy over Trump saying some terrible stuff about women in a video from 2005.

My first reaction: I guess I’m confused. Didn’t everyone already know Trump was a horrible person and still nominated him for president? I mean, it wasn’t a secret. His very un-electability is exactly what appeals to his supporters.

So I guess I’m wondering why anyone (by which I mean all the people talking up the scandal on Twitter) thinks this scandal will suddenly be the one that brings him down.

If this scandal does sink Trump, it will give us a great indication of just how little America pays attention to the candidates prior to October. Because, I mean, seriously, this should not have been a surprise to anyone. Indeed, the general consensus among Trump supporters seems to go something like, “Yeah? So?”

By the way, WikiLeaks dropped a counter-scandal about Clinton (arguably, one considerably more substantive) this weekend, too, but it’s been pretty amusing to see how little traction it’s getting. One can imagine Julian Assange jumping up and down, wildly waving his arms around, screaming, “Look at this juicy dirt on Clinton! We worked really hard on getting this you guys! Guys? Anyone?” I see it pop up occasionally in a headline, but it’s typically buried in an avalanche of hundreds of Trump scandal headlines.

Anyway, many Twitter folks are calling for Trump to “step aside” or “step down,” but he can’t at this point. At least here in Virginia, he’s already on the ballot, and people have already submitted absentee ballots votes. If by some chance Trump withdraws, there would essentially be no Republican candidate, as whoever the party replaces him with would probably have to be a write-in with roughly zero chance of winning.

By the way, here’s a couple of nightmare scenarios to ponder: Trump wins the election and then has to resign or is impeached. Or, Trump withdraws, leaving Mike Pence at the top of the ticket, and Pence wins the election in a landslide because he’s more likable than Clinton. Either way, Mike Pence becomes president. Ultra conservative, pro-life, evolution-denying Mike Pence. If that happens, I’ll be directing a very sarcastic slow golf clap toward the American people. “Yay! We got rid of Trump! Oh, wait…”

Humor aside, I’m genuinely worried that we might be in the initial stages of an American civil war. All those Trump supporters (and they are not just a tiny fringe group) are not going to quietly accept a loss to the political establishment (both Republican and Democrat). They’re going to feel extremely disenfranchised (again!), and the only question is how they’re going to respond. They’ve been simmering since 2008.

One last thought: It’s really disturbing to see the number of people who believe that someone’s voting choice is equivalent to a personal attack. For example, I saw someone on Twitter have a melt down because someone they knew was voting for Trump, and felt personally insulted by it. I’ve seen it more than once, actually. I humbly submit that voting isn’t supposed to be like that. Just because you vote one way or the other doesn’t necessarily mean you have the same beliefs as the candidate. Given that we only have two viable choices, it’s statistically unlikely that anyone will have all of the same beliefs as either candidate. We have to pick out maybe one or two things in a candidate’s platform to agree or disagree with and hope for the best.

Okay one other last thought: I think one of the basic problems with political discourse in this country is the constant framing of one candidate as representing the destruction of a way of life (on Twitter, cable news, campaign ads, etc.). People believe that stuff, and they don’t forget. It’s going to have long-term consequences. People out there actually believe Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will destroy everything they know and love about their country. People on the losing side of these elections are increasingly going to get hostile about losing, thinking they’re in real danger, and eventually that hostility is going to turn into something bad. Protests in the streets. Riots, even. Police confrontations on a massive scale. Military involvement. That’s kinda how everything started in Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

Hopefully I’m just being paranoid and pessimistic.

Have fun watching the debate! Ahem, I mean, “debate.”

On The Veep Debate

Tim Kaine is a known quantity for me, since he was my governor and now he’s my senator. Granted I didn’t pay much attention to what he did, but that’s the kind of politician he is: He doesn’t make waves unless you’re into hyper-partisanship. I’ve always seen him as your basic run-of-the-mill politician, stamped out of the politician factory, with the party switch set on “Democrat.”

So my main interest in the veep debate though was sizing up Mike Pence, who I imagine we might be seeing run for president in 2020 or 2024 or both. (I mean, who else is there?) Pence is white and handsome and likable and articulate and funny … and very conservative … and lacks a southern accent. He’s the complete package. If the alt-right adopts him we’ll probably be seeing him again. (I actually don’t know what Trump supporters think of Pence.)

Kaine seemed out of his depth playing the role of attack dog. He’s not good at interrupting people and talking over people and acting like a jerk. Some people can get away with that (*cough* Trump *cough*) but Kaine’s not one of those people. Pence played it smart by playing the victim, although toward the end he started to sound a little whiny.

As for who won, I’d call it for Pence. He was the less annoying of the two. I think it was a mistake for Kaine to keep harping on the sound-bite gaffes that Trump has made. It made him sound like an Internet troll. Those gaffes are in the past now. Pence had an effective counter for it anyway: Essentially laughing it off as gossip that was beneath the dignity of him and the campaign and all of America, or turning it around with, “Okay, you got him, Trump isn’t a polished political speaker like the career politicians that you and Clinton are.” That’s probably the best and only way to handle that situation, and it’s fairly persuasive. I imagine that the kind of people who are seriously undecided, and seriously looking for how to vote, would be turned off by Kaine’s continual return to diversions from policy. A serious undecided voter (by which I mean someone who genuinely cares about making the “right” decision) would be looking for substance, and I think Pence did better there.

Then again, he did dodge a lot of questions about his boss. “I’m happy to defend Trump! Let’s talk about Russia.”

Speaking of which, this time, I noted that it was the Republican ticket bringing the hammer down on Russia. (No pun intended.) Pence said a lot of strong words against Russia, whereas Kaine was mostly all like, “Did you guys hear what Trump said about Putin?” During that discussion it seemed pretty clear that if Trump is elected, Pence will be handling the foreign policy while Trump works on negotiating trade deals and building walls and tweeting at 3 AM. Which again reminds me of your friend and mine, Dick Cheney, who had a big hand in Bush’s administration (that’s historical fact now, isn’t it?).

Elaine Quijano did a much better job as moderator than Lester Holt, or at least tried to. The questions were definitely better. It would be nice if the debate commission would figure out a way to stop the cross-talking though. The easiest solution would be to give the moderator some buttons to turn off microphones after the time limit. But I doubt that’s going to happen. The television sound engineers wouldn’t allow it, for one thing. Anyway it would just end up being distracting. I vaguely remember one year there was an actual “shot clock” that would count down and then buzz when time ran out. It didn’t make for great television, and the candidates just made fun of it.

I was a bit surprised to hear in the pre-debate spiels that among the list of sponsors for the debate was one Anheuser-Busch. I wondered what big corporations could possibly get out of sponsoring debates, but apparently they get free tickets to sit in the audience and (maybe) talk to the candidates. So if you were wondering who those people were in the audience, that’s who they are. Rich CEOs.

The debate had a lot less impact on Twitter (outside of political spheres) than the first presidential debate. Hardly any memes evolved. Which I take to mean that in the end, the debate didn’t matter at all, and it won’t change the election in any way.

And finally, here’s my public service announcement again: Don’t forget to read up on what else is on the ballot. It’s more than just the presidency. Somebody might be trying to change your state constitution. Google for your state’s election board or whatever.