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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Clinton Versus Trump Debate – No Clear Winner

The first 2016 Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was held on Monday, September 26th at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. The debate, organized by the commission on presidential debate, a non-partisan non-profit body, had the sports fraternity worried as the Monday night football trump_clinton2viewership took a nosedive as Americans flipped channels to watch it. An estimated 81 million viewers were glued to their television sets making it the most watched debate ever. The debate had also set the social media on fire. With over ten million tweets, it was the most tweeted debate ever. America and many elsewhere in the world were transfixed watching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar at their first debate.

The cable TV networks had spent the entire week speculating and ratcheting up the excitement about the debate. They discussed at length on how the candidates should prepare, what questions to expect and what to wear and so on. This drew sharp comments from some politicians. The indefatigable Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and failed Democratic candidate, blasted the media and its coverage leading to the debate. He wanted the media to focus on the views of the candidates on burning issues – economy, jobs, living wage, healthcare, college tuition etc. rather than their personal styles and attires.

At the debate, the candidates were on their Sunday best – all dressed up and at their behavioral best and displaying dignified courtesies to each other. Many were indeed impressed to see a pleasant side of Trump.

The moderator – Lester Holt of NBC News – drew attention for different reasons. Holt, as a moderator, was at best, tepid. There was a robot-like quality about him– devoid of enthusiasm and passion in his questions and interventions. Like a strict disciplinarian, he admonished the audience for cheering and clapping but said nothing when they cheered Clinton.

Holt had six follow up questions for Trump, but none for Clinton. He tried to pin him down on the birther issue, but conveniently forgot to ask Clinton about propriety of using private email server or hacking of DNC emails that exposed racism.  Many Trump supporters tweeted later that the moderator deftly steered the debate away from issues, reinforcing an anti-Trump bias. It should be pointed out that the Trump campaign had raised doubts about his neutrality even before the debate.

Back at the debate, Trump had a lot of surprises up his sleeve. His responses were measured and controlled. Judging by the post-debate discussions, the pundits were indeed disappointed that they did not see the real maverick Trump. He seemed to be in full control in early part of the debate when the debate was on trade and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in particular. Clearly Clinton was cornered for calling it the “gold standard” and later opposing it. However, she took control in the later half by attacking Trump on his comments on women.

The pre debate polls have given no easy pointer as to who the new President would be. Trump led in Colorado, Nevada and Florida – all key states. He has further consolidated his position in Ohio, a state which Hillary has not visited for a long time. While Trump leads in rural Maine, Clinton holds the rest of Maine. This even fight also played out in many other states. Clinton is way ahead in California, Oregon, and Washington where the lead is substantial. But the respective leads in individual states did not help either of them in the national tally where they are locked even.

The debate itself may not provide any significant bounce for either candidate. While the pundits have had a field day dissecting the performance, they too may not be able to sway the voter’s opinion one way or the other in this rather difficult race. Media analysts who have favored Clinton all along thought that her performance was the best and that she won the debate. But Republican supporters on the other hand were convinced Trump’s performance in the first half cornered Clinton. They were all in admiration for the restraint and statesman-like conduct of Trump. Even many Clinton admirers seem to be in agreement. The next debate may see the return of the true Trump.

But did Clinton win the debate? Clinton’s supporters think she won. But the problem is even if she had won the debate, this may not win her new supporters who will vote for her. The reason is her problems – email scandal, Clinton Foundation, hacked DNC email and other scandals – have weighed her down. Further her personal health issues will continue to dog her in the coming days. Most important, there is no indication that her debate performance has induced a change of heart in Sanders supporters who remain a considerable voting bloc.

Did Trump win the debate then? Most cable television networks don’t seem to think so. But some have pointed out that the Trump we saw at the debate was someone who was clearly exercising self-restraint and reluctant to go after Clinton. Americans have admired this change in him. But the next debate promises to be a no holds barred debate where Trump’s plain speak and absence of political correctness will be evident. This will again play to his supporters and may even influence the fence sitters who do not want to support Clinton.

The debate outcome by itself is a non-issue. Recall how Obama did not do well against Mitt Romney in the debate, but bounced back quickly and the rest is history. It would be political naiveté to rule out Trump at this stage. In fact, the core issues that he stands for – immigration, unemployment and security – continue to resonate very well with most Americans and will be a huge positive for him. Clinton on the other hand continues to be perceived as ‘not trustworthy’ and her truck load of troubles will continue to haunt her.

The big question however is how will the election go. Given that the pre-debate polls have shown that both are almost evenly placed – except that Trump has caught up with Clinton – the answer may be with undecided voters. Supporters of Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Johnson may hold the key and may tip the balance in favor of Trump. However, even at this late stage – with just forty days to go for the big day – it may be too early expect this as the contestants have more wooing to do. Clinton and Trump may have, at best, tied at the first debate. But the real winners were the political pundits and armchair experts on cable networks who had a hell of a day and laughed their way to the banks. The 2016 US Presidential election promises to be another close election.

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Hillary’s Health – Hobson’s Choice for the Democrats

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Hillary Clinton fell ill during a 9/11 commemoration ceremony in New York. Cable TV networks repeatedly showed Clinton being helped by aides to her vehicle. It appeared that she was unable to stand by herself and needed assistance. Law enforcement officers on the scene later told news media that she had ‘fainted” while her campaign said she had a bout of pneumonia. A few days earlier, Clinton’s continuous coughing had made headlines. A few weeks ago a video purportedly showing Clinton falling and being supported by aides while climbing the steps of a building she was entering went viral on social media.

These are some of the known ‘health incidents’ that have been making the rounds on the internet. On Monday, Clinton appeared on CNN and clarified that she had felt ‘dizzy’ and had not fainted. She admitted to ignoring doctors advise to rest. In what seemed to be a desperate firefight, her campaign has said that they should have handled the Sunday episode better and proactively shared her health status. But that seemed like a well thought out afterthought.

There has been lot of questions on Clinton’s health for quite some time now. Americans in general expect the candidates to be in good health so he or she can provide a stable administration after the elections. Hence they expect lot more information than Clinton campaign has shared or is willing to share. This week’s episode has been a public relations disaster for the campaign and has only heightened Americans concern.

In fact, it has given rise to host of rumors on social media and ratcheting up distrust. Many medical professionals have offered their diagnosis of Clinton’s health condition that is far more serious. It is worth noting that doctors unconnected with the Clintons seem to think that she is having a serious neurological or heart related problems and not just pneumonia.

Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, had long called for Clinton’s health records to be published. They claim that Clinton does not have the stamina and strength to be Commander in chief. Clinton has not yet published her medical records. Trump for his part has published a four-para glowing report card on his health. Many doctor have dismissed this since it does not provide enough details for an independent view. Further, it is not from a neutral third party doctor. But the US privacy laws only complicate sharing of medical records and both candidates have taken refuge behind it.

Clinton’s tribulations from this past week’s medical episode raises three important issues. Firstly, it has turned the heat on both the campaigns by raising the bar for transparency. Many Americans do not perceive the Democrats as transparent and cite the hacked DNC emails published by Wikileaks – that revealed lot of behind the scene happenings at the party headquarters – to support their point of view. It has definitely put the Clinton campaign at a disadvantage.

It is time both candidates released detailed medical data that is seen as serious enough for Americans to be satisfied that the candidates are in good health.

Secondly it has her party, allies and support ecosystem worried. From the friendly media to campaign contributors, particularly the super PACS, all are nervous about how this will play out. A former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, has called on the Democrats for a ‘Clinton contingency plan’ or in plain speak a plan B. Influential political analyst Cokie Roberts of the National Public Radio (NPR) has observed that per her sources the Democrats are already considering another candidate.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it has handed a big advantage to Donald Trump. Trump had been trailing Clinton in many states in recent polls. He had failed to take advantage of the series of scandals and Clinton’s unsavory remarks about his supporters. The health episode has come as a godsend to Trump who was desperately looking to reboot his campaign. His response to Clinton’s health episode has been dignified and mature and has drawn positive response from Americans across party lines.

As expected, there is intense speculation on who will replace Clinton in the event she decides to drop out. It must be noted here however, that unless Clinton voluntarily decides to drop out, the party cannot choose a replacement candidate.

Under party rules, “the DNC has the power to fill vacancies in the nominations for the office of the president and vice president” when the national convention is not in session”. The DNC chair – currently Donna Brazile, a close Clinton ally – could call a special meeting, and fill the vacancy by a majority vote of those present. But all this is speculation and an unlikely scenario.

While potentially any Democrat can be the new choice, three potential candidates who can be serious contenders come to mind – Tim Kaine, her running mate, Bernie Sanders and the Vice President Jo Biden. Unfortunately, all three may not find favor with the DNC Chairperson Donna Brazile, even if a situation arises.

My bet is that Bernie Sanders may be reluctant to step in and rescue the party, now that the world knows, thanks to Julian Assange, how he was unfairly treated by the DNC. They probably have to find a dark horse candidate.  Even if they manage to get a candidate, it will be a very short window for the new candidate(s) to convince Americans to vote for them. The odds may not favor the Democrats.

The main stream media in the US has gone out of the way to support Clinton and forgotten its watchdog role. They have been taking the campaign’s word at face value and shown a reluctance to dig deeper into Clinton’s health issues. A major news portal sometime back published a story on Clinton’s health, only to delete it a few hours later for unspecified reasons. Also, CNN abruptly ended Dr. Drew Pinsky’s show fueling a social media buzz that he was allegedly axed because he had expressed deep concerns on Clinton’s health couple of weeks ago. The danger here is that if Clinton’s condition worsens, as many Americans think it will, the media will have egg on its face.

Whichever way you slice and dice it, it seems a disaster for the Democratic Party. It is too late in the game to change the nominee. Even if Clinton bounces back and continues with her campaign after a short recess, it has lost valuable time momentum. It will lack vigor and be exposed to potential attrition of her support base.

Clinton’s health issues – whether it is pneumonia or something far more serious –  has clearly been hidden from Americans for too long. Americans must know the truth if she is fit to lead them over the next four years. Any uncertainty or lack of transparency for whatever reason, will only erode her chances. The Democratic Party really face a Hobson’s choice. Their nervousness is understandable.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2016 in 2016 Election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

 
 
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