Saturday, September 24, 2016

Uh-Oh. This Doesn't Look Good For Hillary

The New York Times ran a recent article chronicling 31 lies Donald Trump has told in the last week. Which I might think would hurt him, except for the nature of one lie that jumped out at me. Apparently Trump said that Hillary had 13 phone destroyed with a hammer to keep the messages on them from being found.  The Times said it was only two.

Hot new flash.  When you are accused of destroying 13 phones to conceal their contents, no one is going to be much impressed by the defense that really it was only two.  Thirteen or two is going to make little difference to your average American (myself included).  The important point is that Hillary had phone destroyed to hide their contents.

If Trump raises that point in the upcoming debate -- well, it is going to hurt.  So presumably he will raise it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Advice to Hillary that She Will Never See

Well, it was premature to panic when Trump's ratings went up in May after he secured the Republican nomination and premature to become complacent when then went down in July.  It was also premature to become complacent when Hillary's ratings soared following the conventions, but not as premature.  And it is premature to panic now with Hillary's extended string of bad luck -- but not as premature.

It appears to be the e-mail scandal that is hurting her.  The press has been paying extended attention to that scandal and treating it as a very serious matter, so it can hardly be surprising that the public treats it as a serious matter as well.  In the meantime, there are any number of shocking stories about Trump out there, but none of them has caught on in the same way that the Hillary e-mail scandal has.  Why is that?

I am inclined to think first and foremost that there is just so much stuff out there on Trump that none of it is really sticking because there is always a new bright, shiny object to move on to.  The e-mail scandal, on the other hand, is one thing to latch onto.  Or rather, it is not.  It is actually three or four things going on at once.  One is that Hillary Clinton sent State Department e-mails over a private server, which she was not supposed to do, and which makes them more vulnerable to hacking.  Or maybe it was an attempt to hide them from investigators, and she did, in fact, delete some 30,000 personal e-mails before handing over the public ones.  Also the e-mails include a number of large donor to the Clinton foundation asking for special favors, although there is no evidence that such favors were ever granted.  All of these are separate, but they are similar enough to (understandably) be conflated in the public mind.  There was also the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee, which was not related and did not involve national security or classified documents, but also tends to become conflated because both scandals involve e-mails and electronic security.  Besides, Trump tended more to conflate them by joking that he hoped the Russians had recovered those 30,000 e-mails she deleted.  One comes away with the impression that either Hillary Clinton endangered national security by sending e-mails on a private server that was hacked, or that she is engaged in a massive cover-up of corrupt dealings.  Or both.  

Trump, in the meantime, has any number of crooked dealings in his past, but there are so many that it is hard to focus on any one.

Also, badly organized as his campaign may have been in the past, he has now mastered the importance of message discipline.  His response to any accusation is simply to turn the subject to those damn e-mails.  During the primaries, Trump joked that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and it wouldn't cost him any votes.  Just to be clear, that was purely a joke, and I do not believe that he would every shoot anyone, on Fifth Avenue or anywhere else.  Nonetheless, imagine if Trump did shoot a political or business rival in the middle of Fifth Avenue.  

Some reporter would ask if that made him look "unpresidential."  Given his record, Trump might deny having shot anyone, despite the innumerable witnesses and possibly even being caught on camera.  But if he couldn't get away with denying it, he would say oh yeah, well what about Hillary's e-mails?  Campaign surrogates would say that the United States is a very big country, with some 300 million people.  Out of that vast number, Trump shot exactly one.  But Hillary put all of us in danger by sending State Department e-mails on a private server.  Someone would point out that it is not unprecedented for a President to shoot someone.  After all, Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel.  But no President up till now has ever sent State Department e-mails on a private server.* News stories would solemnly report that new questions were being raised in the Clinton e-mail scandal, setting forth the latest donor to request a favor, with the careful caveat that the favor does not appear to have been granted.  In further news today, Donald Trump shot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue.  Others would solemnly purse their lips and declare that both candidates were running into trouble, Hillary over unanswered questions on her e-mails and Trump over shooting a rival on Fifth Avenue.  Though to be fair, if Trump denied the shooting Politifact would no doubt give him a "Pants on Fire" rating for it.

Is it any wonder given all the attention it is getting that large numbers of people are now convinced that sending State Department e-mails on a private server is the worst offense a candidate can possibly commit,  They may conclude that Trump may be a crook, he may have built his business empire on fraud, he may be utterly corrupt and make no distinction between personal and public interest, he may not know or care a thing about policy, he may appeal to prejudice and hate, he may have a wildly unstable temperament and lash out wildly at personal insults, he may even wonder why we can't use our nuclear arsenal, but at least he never sent State Department e-mails on a private server.  We have to focus on what is important here.

So what can Hillary do about all this?  My advice is, learn a lesson from Trump about message discipline.  He has committed so many outrages that no one can keep up with all of them, and any attempt to raise all will make most people's eyes glaze over.  So do a bunch of polls and focus groups to find of of all the dirt there is on Trump, which offends people most.  Which one really has legs? So next time someone asks her about those blasted e-mails she should deflect the question back to whatever scandal on Trump gives the most offense.  And she should instruct all her campaign surrogates to keep raising the same issue.  And she should get Democrats everywhere to also start talking about it at every possible opportunity.  

And funny thing, but before long whatever Trump scandal turned out to have the most mileage will be in the news.  And once the news media get going, it is very difficult to stop them (as Hillary knows all too well).  So hurry up, Hillary.  There isn't much time left.

*And that would, in fact, be true.  While in the early 19th Century a President's Secretary of State was practically his designated successor, the Secretary of State to become President was apparently James Buchanan, who, of course, served long before e-mails were invented.

Why It Might Not Be Wise to Portray Trump as a Con Man

Hillary Clinton has been running an anti-Trump ad that shows one of the many people Trump has stiffed.  This one was an architect who designed one of his club houses.  First a bunch of Trump people ganged up and refused to pay more than a third of bill.  So he sent a bill for that amount, but Trump again refused to pay more than half.  He complained that Trump thinks he can only win by making the other guy lose.  The sub-text here is clear -- Trump is not on the side of the little guy, and he doesn't keep his promises.

There's just one problem with the ad.  I don't think it will hurt Trump with people inclined to favor him.  Why not?  Because supporters are apt to see another subtext.  Trump drives a hard bargain, and he wins.  The other guy knuckled under.  That is just the sort of person they want for a leader.

You see, Trump supporters are the sort of people who think in terms of Us and Them.  And not just that but people who think it is immoral to give any ethical consideration to Them because it means a lack of commitment to Us.  So who are They?  Well, foreign countries, clearly.  And illegal immigrants.  Muslims.  Those liberal elitists who look down on the white working class.  And the Republican leadership who sold out to the Democrats.  And probably others, too.  In fact, it is best to be a bit vague on who they are because it allows each listener to fill in the blanks for himself.  Basically They are anyone who is not one of Us.  It is pointless to worry about distinctions among Them like the difference between Mexicans and Arabs, Muslims and atheists, Communists, socialists, and fascists, because the mere fact that you are parsing such fine distinctions among Them is proof enough that you aren't one of Us.

And then consider how this looks to someone who thinks They have no ethics whatever and have been taking unfair advantage of Us for a long time, at least since Obama has been President.  Again, it doesn't matter whether They are China selling cheap goods, Mexico sending in illegal immigrant, Iran making a nuclear deal or allies not paying their fair share.  Nor does it matter whether They are Democrats who always seem to get their way in government showdowns or the Republican leadership that keeps caving, illegal immigrants stealing US jobs or black people crying racism whenever they don't get their way.  Nor does it matter whether these perceptions are factually accurate.  The point is, you want someone who knows how to fight dirty to champion Us against Them.  And who could be a better champion than a man who first tricked some sucker into accepting a third of the payment he proposed and then chiseled that down to half.  Now there is someone who could stand up for Us and give Them a taste of their own medicine.

All right, you may say, and it is understandable if people applaud when Trump stiffs the banks and other high rollers who really are Them and really do deserve it to some degree.  But this architect is the little guy Trump claims to champion.  Isn't he one of Us?

To this I assume most Trump supporters would agree that, okay, Trump was kind of unethical with this guy, and he really shouldn't have done it, but just think what those skills will look like when deployed against our enemies.  Or, put otherwise, there is no reason to believe that the architect is one of Them, but neither has he quite established sufficient credentials as one of Us to have any special claim on our sympathies.  This was, after all, simply an arm's length business deal and not something that gives the architect any special claim on Trump's loyalty.  Or maybe we should use more chilling language -- it wasn't personal strictly business.  If you want to make Trump supporters outraged about their hero's lousy ethics, you have to make it personal.  Instead of Trump is an unethical businessman, the subtext has to be, Trump is a sociopath with no loyalties to his supporters.

That's why I think this story would have a lot more legs than the architect.  This was the story of a kid band that sang songs like, Deal from strength or get crushed every time.”  The band and their adult manager were faithful Trump supporters who played at one of his rallies. Naturally he showed his gratitude by failing to pay them.  It wasn't a large amount, only $2,500, but presumably that is a lot more money to a kiddie band than to Donald Trump.  Instead he offered to allow them to make up the money by giving them a free table to sell their CD's.  Of course, he didn't keep that bargain either, although it would not have cost him any more than a little space at his event.  And when they failed to learn their lesson and foolishly agreed to fly to Iowa to play at another rally, Trump wouldn't even reimburse their travel costs.

So how is this different from the architect story?  Obviously both are about Trump chiseling the little guy.  But I see two differences.  One is that here Trump is cheating children, and mistreatment of children trips a lot of triggers.*

The other is that these aren't just some random guy he is dealing with at arm's length.  These are supporters who went all out for Trump and got the shaft.  They have clearly established themselves as belonging to Us (i.e., Trump supporters), but he treated Us just as badly as he promises to treat Them. It needs a bit more subtext, but that basic point is that it isn't just Them that Trump plays for suckers. He is trying to play Us for suckers too.

*Something similar occurred to me when Trump joked that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn't hurt his support.  My comment at the time was that he probably could get away with shooting a person, but if he was ever caught strangling kittens that would be the end.  And just to make clear, I have no evidence whatever that Trump strangles kittens.