Gaius Publius: Comparing Debate Styles — Trump, Clinton, Sanders

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By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article here

In the second run-up to our next “Look Ahead” piece (first one here, second one here), the piece that will attempt to decide “who beats who” (I know, whom) in the general election, I want to now look at debate styles, in face-to-face debates specifically, but also in combat on the campaign trail, since the two intertwine. I don’t think many people who have looked at the general election have factored in the debates. Most have relied just on polls, both head-to-head numbers and net-favorable numbers (both of which, by the way, are running against Clinton at the moment).

So let’s look at debate styles. Trump has a style, as does Clinton, as does Sanders. What can be said about the various combinations? For an answer, let’s turn to Nathan Robinson, editor at Current Affairs magazine.

He writes (my bolded emphasis throughout):

Unless the Democrats Run Sanders, A Trump Nomination Means a Trump Presidency

… If Democrats honestly believe, as they say they do, that Trump poses a serious threat to the wellbeing of the country and the lives of minority citizens, that means doing everything possible to keep him out of office. To do that will require them to very quickly unite around a single goal, albeit a counterintuitive one: they must make absolutely sure that Bernie Sanders is the Democratic nominee for President….

Then to the comparisons:

[A] Clinton match-up is highly likely to be an unmitigated electoral disaster, whereas a Sanders candidacy stands a far better chance. Every one of Clinton’s (considerable) weaknesses plays to every one of Trump’s strengths, whereas every one of Trump’s (few) weaknesses plays to every one of Sanders’s strengths. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, running Clinton against Trump is a disastrous, suicidal proposition.

Again, all of Clinton’s weaknesses play to Trump’s strength, and all of Trump’s weaknesses play to Sander’s strengths.

He then looks more closely at the paired match-ups, starting with Trump and Clinton.

Trump’s Strengths versus Clinton’s Weaknesses

His first point is that Trump is uniquely able to give Clinton fits, both on the campaign trail and in debates. The campaign trail first:

Trump’s political dominance is highly dependent on his idiosyncratic, audacious method of campaigning. He deals almost entirely in amusing, outrageous, below-the-belt personal attacks, and is skilled at turning public discussions away from the issues and toward personalities (He/she’s a “loser,” “phony,” “nervous,” “hypocrite,” “incompetent.”) If Trump does have to speak about the issues, he makes himself sound foolish, because he doesn’t know very much. Thus he requires the media not to ask him difficult questions, and depends on his opponents’ having personal weaknesses and scandals that he can merrily, mercilessly exploit.

This campaigning style makes Hillary Clinton Donald Trump’s dream opponent. She gives him an endless amount to work with. The emails, Benghazi, Whitewater, Iraq, the Lewinsky scandal, Chinagate, Travelgate, the missing law firm records, Jeffrey Epstein, Kissinger, Marc Rich, Haiti, Clinton Foundation tax errors, Clinton Foundation conflicts of interest, “We were broke when we left the White House,” Goldman SachsThere is enough material in Hillary Clinton’s background for Donald Trump to run with six times over.

The defense offered by Clinton supporters is that none of these issues actually amount to anything once you look at them carefully. But this is completely irrelevant; all that matters is the fodder they would provide for the Trump machine. Who is going to be looking carefully? In the time you spend trying to clear up the basic facts of Whitewater, Trump will have made five more allegations.

Even a skilled campaigner would have a very difficult time parrying such endless attacks by Trump. Even the best campaigner would find it impossible to draw attention back to actual substantive policy issues, and would spend their every moment on the defensive. But Hillary Clinton is neither the best campaigner nor even a skilled one. In fact, she is a dreadful campaigner. She may be a skilled policymaker, but on the campaign trail she makes constant missteps and never realizes things have gone wrong until it’s too late.

Robinson addresses the charges that Clinton will make against Trump, misogyny among them, and how they will be deflected (we’ve actually started seeing this):

Charges of misogyny against Trump won’t work. He is going to fill the press with the rape and harassment allegations against Bill Clinton and Hillary’s role in discrediting the victims (something that made even Lena Dunham deeply queasy.) He can always remind people that Hillary Clinton referred to Monica Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony toon.” Furthermore, since Trump is not an anti-Planned Parenthood zealot (being the only one willing to stick up for women’s health in a room full of Republicans), it will be hard for Clinton to paint him as the usual anti-feminist right-winger.

Robinson also looks at Clinton’s frequent changes of position and notes that this allows Trump to “come at her from both right and left as he pleases.” Now for the debate stage.

Trump versus Clinton in Debates

What will work on the trail will work, as I see it, in head-to-head debates as well. Trump has a fairly agile mind, if not always well anchored, and is a practiced live performer. What he did to the Republican “deep bench,” none of whom was able to counter him effectively, he can do to Clinton, who is a skilled policy wonk, but not a skilled knife-fighter in the improvisatory sphere of live debating.

Clinton’s strengths shine in debates with real debaters, people like Sanders who generally stick to the issues. In that sphere, her prepared zingers (“Sanders opposed the auto bailout” or “Sanders’ Vermont is responsible for New York gun deaths”) have some force.

Note, though, that these are prepared zingers, and Sanders’ standard counter, “Uhm, no,” was still fairly effective. Debating with Donald Trump will be all zingers, some invented on the fly, and she’s going to have to match and counter him … also on the fly. Her deep knowledge of policy — whether you love or hate her neoliberalism, you have to admit she understand it — will be pointless. Trump can’t compete on policy, and he won’t try. A Trump-Clinton debate will be a world of attack, a knife fight, as I suggested above, and frankly, as a live performer and combat artist, Trump is just better at it.

I therefore expect the debates to be his to lose, and should she be pulled off-balance some evening and make a dreadful “why did I say that?” slip, something she’s prone to, it won’t go well for her. After all, you can assume the Republicans will be united, voters and elders, behind Trump no matter what he says or does. You can’t say the same for the 43% of the voting public who identify as “independent.” Every slip will cost her.

Sanders’ Strengths versus Trump’s Weaknesses

Back to Robinson on the other pair of candidates, Sanders and Trump:

Trump’s various unique methods of attack would instantly be made far less useful in a run against Sanders. All of the most personal charges (untrustworthiness, corruption, rank hypocrisy) are much more difficult to make stick. The rich history of dubious business dealings is nonexistent. None of the sleaze in which Trump traffics can be found clinging to Bernie. Trump’s standup routine just has much less obvious personal material to work with. Sanders is a fairly transparent guy; he likes the social safety net, he doesn’t like oligarchy, he’s a workaholic who sometimes takes a break to play basketball, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. Contrast that with the above-noted list of juicy Clinton tidbits.

Trump can’t clown around nearly as much at a debate with Sanders, for the simple reason that Sanders is dead set on keeping every conversation about the plight of America’s poor [and middle class] under the present economic system. If Trump tells jokes and goofs off here, he looks as if he’s belittling poor people, not a magnificent idea for an Ivy League trust fund billionaire running against a working class public servant and veteran of the Civil Rights movement. Instead, Trump will be forced to do what Hillary Clinton has been forced to do during the primary, namely to make himself sound as much like Bernie Sanders as possible.
For Trump, having to get serious and take the Trump Show off the air will be devastating to his unique charismatic appeal. …

Trump is an attention-craving parasite, and such creatures are powerful only when indulged and paid attention to. Clinton will be forced to pay attention to Trump because of his constant evocation of her scandals. She will attempt to go after him. She will, in other words, feed the troll. Sanders, by contrast, will almost certainly behave as if Trump isn’t even there. He is unlikely to rise to Trump’s bait, because Sanders doesn’t even care to listen to anything that’s not about saving social security or the disappearing middle class. He will almost certainly seem as if he barely knows who Trump is. Sanders’s commercials will be similar to those he has run in the primary, featuring uplifting images of America, aspirational sentiments about what we can be together, and moving testimonies from ordinary Americans. Putting such genuine dignity and good feeling against Trump’s race-baiting clownishness will be like finally pouring water on the Wicked Witch. Hillary Clinton cannot do this; with her, the campaign will inevitably descend into the gutter, and the unstoppable bloated Trump menace will continue to grow ever larger.

He concludes, correctly I think:

Sanders is thus an almost perfect secret weapon against Trump. He can pull off the only maneuver that is capable of neutralizing Trump: ignoring him and actually keeping the focus on the issues.

“Almost perfect secret weapon” indeed.

Bottom Line

In Clinton, both in debates and on the trail, Trump has a target rich environment for scandal-mongering and name-calling. Much of it won’t be fair, but much of what Clinton herself has said and done in the primary hasn’t been fair as well, so it’s easy to see the campaign descend into the mud, where Trump has a clear advantage, at least as I see it.

Clinton can be premeditatedly dirty (well, “tough” if you’re a supporter). But Trump can be spontaneously dirty, and he will have the best Republican oppo team they can assemble to handle the premeditation. I’m not sure Clinton can counter when she has to improvise.

And like her or not, much of Trump’s attack against Clinton will be fair. Her shifting of position; her ties to bankers and lobbyists, the money people of the world; the appearance of being “lobbyable” for the right fees; her reluctance to release her speeches; plus several areas that Sanders has not touched — the Foundation “flow of funds” and appearance of quid-pro-quo in her years as Secretary of State, her secret-server scandal, plus whatever toxic content the deleted emails may contain — all that and more be brought out and dragged like a bloody flag throughout the campaign.

In addition, whatever revelations come from the various investigations and FOIA requests will be spotlighted. Guesses will be spotlighted. Rumors will be presented as fact (and a few will turn into fact, trust me).

I think it’s at best an even match, Trump vs. Clinton … at best. The election won’t go much better for her than a narrow win, maybe, but it could also go much worse, just on this basis alone. (I’ll consider the full range of bases when I roll all of this thought together. We aren’t considering the added element of “event risk” — black swans — yet.)

In Sanders, on the other hand, there’s nothing for Trump to hit with. The nation is past caring about “socialist,” and none of the made-up dirt that the Brock-Clinton brain trust has devised is sticking. I therefore have to agree again with Robinson’s assessment: “Sanders is thus an almost perfect secret weapon against Trump.” Sanders can keep the focus on the issues, and devastate him. No wonder Sanders has been obviously eager to debate Donald Trump.


Do these people care if Sanders is a socialist? Or do they like that about him? (Source; click to enlarge.) Christopher Dilts / Bloomberg via Getty Images

By the way, have you missed the fact that Bernie Sanders is very hard to intimidate? The DNC and Party leadership people is going nuts, throwing everything they have against him to get him to stop his campaign. Do you see him stopping, or do you see his grit and determination? In his way, Sanders is as tough and aggressive as Trump.

I hope we have the pleasure of a Trump-Sanders match-up. And I fear for the outcome of a Trump-Clinton battle. There really is too much at stake.

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  1. voteforno6

    Sanders is a brawler, something that Democrats used to be. I don’t think that the establishment really appreciates what it took for Sanders to get where he is now. He certainly didn’t have a Senate seat handed to him, and he hasn’t relied on big money to win his elections. Yet, for whatever reason, the Clintonistas insist that she is the “battle tested” one.

    1. Tammy

      “He certainly didn’t have a Senate seat handed to him, and he hasn’t relied on big money to win his elections.” Do you have any proof to back your assertation?

      1. Arizona Slim

        The 2006 Senate race featured Sanders vs. the richest man in Vermont. And Rich Tarrant’s money didn’t get him elected.

          1. John Wright

            The Tammy supplied Wolfers link makes no mention of Sanders.

            Yet Tammy wrote: “which I suspect gives one a clue to the Bern’s financial backing”

            Are you suggesting the weakness in the economy is providing Bernie’s financial backing, perhaps from a lot of small donors unhappy with the economy?

            Or are you suggesting there is a clue linking some big money behind Sanders buried in this Wolfers Op-ed?

            Please help me read between the lines.

            1. Vatch

              In think someone has been confused by the similarity between the words “Bernie” (as in Bernie Sanders), and “Bern” (as in Ben Bernanke).

      2. Norm Norton

        …and consider the fact that after 35 years in office, Sanders is listed (Money Nation) as having total wealth of less than $1Million. Compare that to the obscene wealth of the Clintons, gained while in office, and most of Congress. Sanders is beholden to no one.

      3. voteforno6

        Take a look at Clinton’s 2000 Senate run. I can’t think of many states in the country that would’ve elected her, especially one she had no ties to, prior to establishing residency there a year before the election.

        1. Arizona Slim

          She was in a race against Giuliani but he had to drop out. Cancer was the reason. Her replacement opponent was Rick Lazio. Beating him was easy.

  2. sleepy

    While I think that Sanders would beat Trump by a larger margin than Clinton would, I still think Clinton would win by a relatively comfortable margin.

    The media will portray Trump–it already has–as this scary madman and Clinton as the business-like, boring yet non-scary wonk. She will be able to avoid a discussion on the consequences of her own neoliberal and neoconservative policies by focusing on Trump’s temperament. That’s already evident in the media’s treatment of her recent soundbyte/photo op masquerading as a foreign policy address–crazy Donald, sane Hillary, but no talk of regime change, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.

    Yeah Trump will go after her character in a debate and she will go after his. I think that plays more to whatever strengths she has than if Trump would actually go after her on the stats and facts of her policy agenda, past and present. Far better for Clinton to take it on the chin over emails and cronyism, than on what her brand of ideology has actually wrought.

    1. Pat

      Now the media may do a better job of selling crazy unqualified Trump then they did during the Republican Primaries, but they’ve been selling that story since day 1 and look how that worked out. There will be no ‘comfortable margin” for Clinton and a bunch of states that have been in the Democratic column are up for grabs or lost in that match up – making the supposedly unsurmountable electoral math shaky at best. Even in supposedly blue states like NY, NJ and Massachusetts the numbers are going to be far closer than any of the usual suspects want to believe. Too many people would rather roll the dice with the unknown crazy then continue the not so slow decline. She has nothing to offer them, and fear the other guy is not a winning campaign strategy.

      The only way that changes is third party voters, and frankly I’m not so sure that does.

      1. sleepy

        “Fear the other guy” has worked in the past and imho is the main component of the lesser of two evils strategy, though with the unfavorables that both candidates have, lesser evilism might be stretched to its limits this go around.

        “Vote for the crook, it’s important” was a bumper sticker during the 1991 Louisiana governor’s race pitting crooked Edwin Edwards against klansman David Duke. It worked for Edwards. Maybe the Clintons should put Louisianan James Carville back on the payroll to hit that sweet spot of evil-the-lesser.

        I would really like to have one of those bumper stickers, though if I slapped it on my car, plenty of folks would think I actually support her.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          The empire is indeed pushing the limits of believable. This whole campaign looks like a crude 1910-20’s burlesque where every character and every prop is exagerated to the breaking point of recognition. In burlesque, it was for comic effect mixed in with crude sexual titillation; here it is the somewhat uniquely American conclusion of the “lessor of evil” strategy requiring a bigger and more peculiar monster at each and every iteration.

        2. rcthweatt

          As a resident of NewAwlins during that particular election, I have often regretted not saving a few of those stickers. Recently, like you, I had the thought they might be appropriate right about now.
          Some guys I knew at that time gigged as”Eddie and the. Indictments”(one was a lawyer).There were t-shirts, IIRC. Wished I’d snagged one.

        3. Olaf Lukk

          Wasn’t the 1991 Louisiana campaign the one that also had the slogan, “Vote for the Wizard, not the Lizard”?
          Or was it the other way around?

    2. RP

      This comment sounds less like you are trying to convince us and more like you’re trying to convince yourself.

      She’s unelectable and in a world with any justice whatsoever would be indicted by the FBI.

      1. sleepy

        I’m really not trying to convince anyone of her electability, just making a prediction. Given the track record of the media, I think they will do that themselves with nonstop rants about Trump’s racism, misogyny, maniac-with-a-finger-on-the-trigger. That’s going on right now. Aside from one day of negative coverage of the IG’s report on her emails, I haven’t seen that much about her negatives in the msm, certainly little if anything about the money-laundering scheme of the Clinton Foundation. Trump edges her out on the unfavorable ratings, and I think that will continue.

        Yes, the media pounded Trump during the gopper primaries to little effect, but the target was just that–gop primary voters which do not necessarily equate to general election voters.

        Barring some blowup like an indictment or FBI leak I think she’s the odds on favorite.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The polls and the trajectory of polling contradict your personal views. Her negative ratings increased by a huge amount, IIRC 20 points, in a single month, while Trump’s barely budged.

          We’ll need to see the latest polls, but Hillary’s negative ratings keep rising based on mere increased exposure, with the media pumping for her.

          By contrast, most people seem to think they know Trump’s negatives already. The further media barrages may please the insiders, but they don’t seem to be changing opinion all that much in the electorate.

          You seem to miss the overriding facts: the Obama administration presided over mass foreclosures, continued bank bailout (the mortgage settlement of 2012, HAMP, the AIG bonuses), a “recovery” where the income gains went only to the 1% while McJobs and job instability increased. He also implemented health care reforms” which are a Rube Goldberg machine that enriches insurers and Big Pharma while health care and insurance costs continue to rise, and gave us more warz. Why should anyone vote for more of that? The Republicans are making clear they can run Caligula’s horse against that record and it will win.

          Hillary is set to lose this fall unless Trump decides to throw the race. I keep saying he cannot want the job if he understood it.

          1. John Merryman

            I would agree, but if he want to throw the race, he would have debated Bernie.

          2. Fiver

            Trump against Hillary was the plan to throw the race – and he’s done everything to help her short of a selfie of him molesting a goat. But at some point it hit him that he’s king of the world if he plays it right – and here we are, he can either be President or he can crown the President with that one tweet too far he’s kept sitting in his back pocket for when he closes the deal.

    3. HotFlash

      Trump’s particular talent is intuiting what other people feel. This is what makes him such a great dealmaker, or at least what makes him want to make deals. He will sniff out and go for Hillary’s insecurities and he will be mean, mean, mean to her. My prediction is that he will have her in tears by debate #2. Anyone like to make a friendly wager?

      BTW, I keep reading this biz about Hillary the “policy wonk”. I have known wonks, and I do not see that she is a wonk. Can anyone ‘splain this to me?

      1. ian

        Re Hillary the policy wonk: I think she’s just running a different kind of scam. She puts together these complicated solutions that require all the moving parts to come together perfectly – like a 4 cushion shot in pool. They are larded with detail and journalists and pundits applaud her command of policy. And of course, they are her intended audience.
        But the real world doesn’t work that way. They say a battle plan survives about 30 seconds after engagement with the enemy. Analogously, her detailed plans are going to have to be negotiated with congress and sold to the public. They won’t be recognizable once (if) they become law.
        Personally, I put more faith in people who give you a strong sense of what their priorities are, who are flexible, have a good sense of opportunity and timing (whether in business or politics) and good persuasive skills. Odd as it may seem, I think Trump fits this description better than Hillary does – he is a non-ideologue, a complete pragmatist and I have a very good sense of what his priorities are.

  3. YY

    It is truly wishful thinking to believe that HRC’s downward trajectory will suddenly reverse itself with the nomination. While Trump having explored the envelope of A-hole behavior can easily, with some common sense advice, clean up his act, HRC does not have the option of becoming less abrasive and therefore has no possibility of expanding her support unless Trump digs deeper holes (and why should he or why would the Republicans let him after a certain point?).

    This is before more wrenches in the works such as indictment on the E-mail server bizzo and possible leak of GS speech transcripts. Compared to this, issues such as Trump University is much more easily handled (by payoff and it would be a finite cost).

    The gamble is worth it only if one is totally oblivious about the odds. Smarter move would be to look at the trajectory of Sanders over time and assume that it will continue through to the general election.

  4. Bahb

    I’m bookmarking this one.

    By the way, and hoping Yves and Gaius, what would be the effect of Sanders running under the Green Party banner once the Democratic convention is over.

    1. unfangus

      The Green Party is only on the ballot for President in 21 States.Completely irrelevant regardless of whomever their candidate is.

        1. marym


          The map below shows the Green Party’s ballot access status for 2016 (the Presidential election). As of May 2016, we are on the ballot in 20 states, reaching 55% of the population. Another 35% of the population is in states where we have active ballot access campaigns.


          The Green Party was on the ballot in 37 states and DC and Jill Stein met the state’s requirements for write-in in an additional 6 states.

          This is one of the reasons some of us recommend voting third party rather than abstaining. Depending on state laws, if a party gets a certain percentage of votes, it can eliminate the need for repeated efforts to regain ballot access year after year.

          1. edmondo

            So, in 2012, Jill Stein “won” 469,000 votes (or about 10,000 votes in each of 43 jurisdictions ) and somehow I am supposed to take her seriously as a candidate in 2016?

            yeah, OK

            1. Vatch

              You don’t need to take her seriously as a candidate in 2016. You need to be thinking ahead to 2020 and 2024. In 2012, there wasn’t nearly as much overt disillusionment with the Democratic and Republican candidates by members of their own parties as there is this year (assuming that Clinton wins the nomination). Because of that disillusionment, this year there’s a real chance that both the Greens and the Libertarians will each win at least 5% of the votes, which will qualify them for federal grant money. That seed money will be crucial for future elections.

    2. different clue

      Sanders would diminish himself by joining such a frivolous dilettante “party”. His supporters would march up a blind box canyon to nowhere while foregoing the chance they have to learn about politics and governance from the level of school board member and drain commissioner on up. . . step by step . . . to conquering and re-staffing a major political party.

  5. R. Post

    I was watching the Bill Maher/Scott Adams interview on Real Time and Mr. Adams was making the point that Trump, childish as it is, is using techniques of persuasion that play to people’s implicit biases. Not racial biases, but informational biases such as the confirmation bias. For example, in addition to testing insults in huge focus groups (campaign rallies, where he has his audience test which epithets are “better” by asking if he should call Hillary “crooked Hillary” or “heartless Hillary”). From what I’ve seen “crooked Hillary” is the one that resonated with his audience and now whenever something comes out that is the least bit questionable, the phrase “crooked Hillary” is going to leap to mind and a lot of people will just say to themselves (and their circle of acquaintances) “there she goes again”. I don’t know how she can battle off attacks like that. T-Rump doesn’t even have to make the attack because he already got people to associate “crooked” and Hillary and the confirmation bias will do the rest.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Agree that interview was good.
      And I found myself thinking, “If the creator of Dilbert thinks that Trump/Drumpf will will in Nov, this is a guy who has a sixth sense for the public pulse.” Apparently, he’s a lifelong studier of the persuasive arts.

      Here’s a link to the Scott Adams and Bill Maher discussion at Real Clear Politics, edited just for Adam’s analysis, which is comes from a really interesting perspective:

      On that same episode, venture capitalist Nick Hanaeur unpacked the nonsense behind trickle down.
      More here:

  6. EndOfTheWorld

    “Endless supply of material”—-Trump will use this material while observing no niceties whatsoever. They got nothing on Trump: (1) Trump U.–all universities are ripoffs, in the final analysis. (2) Trump likes pretty women.

      1. Code Name D

        But LU is not unique here. All universities of this type do the same thing under the rules set out by the neoliberlas.

        1. nycTerrierist

          Well, ‘they all do it’ is no excuse. Bill Clinton’s payola from LU is despicable, profiteering by exploiting poor people who want to get a degree, however mis-guided.

    1. James Levy

      So, Trump holds no bad positions AND despite being an avaricious capitalist real estate speculator has led an exemplary life and made all that money by earnest work and the sweat of his brow.

      My god, it’s like 2012 all over again–must not say anything bad about Obama BECAUSE REPUBLICANS! Now it’s must not say anything bad about Trump BECAUSE HILLARY! No criticism need apply.

      1. jgordon

        Everyone here acknowledges that Trump is a deeply flawed candidate. In fact, he’s so deeply flawed that you have to put him next to Hillary or Biden before he starts looking kind of acceptable. This is not about the merits or lack thereof of Trump as a candidate, but rather about the utterly astonishing feat Democrats are managing to accomplish of making Trump look good by offering up Hillary/Biden to him, like lambs to a slaughter. Hell what’s even more stunning is that Democrats actually think they’ve got a good strategy here.

        These people are completely delusional. The Democratic leadership and Hillary supporters are oxygen bandits–they’re stealing and wasting perfectly good air that normal people with at least half a brain could be using. They’re going to give America Trump, and these self-righteous, deluded individuals will keep on trucking with their misguided scheme right up until Trump is president elect. And then they’ll excoriate the American voters for being “stupid”. I’m super amused that so many are still missing the point, not to mention insanity/depravity of it all. Posts like this are a last ditch effort to derail the Trump train, yet some people insist on seeing it as an ode to Trump. Trump’s going to become president due to this kind of wilful blindness. Shaking my head.

        1. Roger Smith

          Exactly, the entire point is that Trump is in no version of reality a serious presidential candidate. Yet in this farce the Democrats have helped catalyze a fiction in which he looks equal or better to their fake candidate. It is literally unreal.

        2. John Wright

          And what does it say for the world’s most prominent (and “promoter” of) Democracy?

          With an adult population of 242 million to select suitable presidential candidates from, the election may be a choice of a reality show star/businessman of inherited wealth or the wife of a former president.

          Admittedly, TPTB wanted the brother/son of former presidents to be the Republican choice, but the reality show star got in the way.

          The US population was estimated at about 2.5 million in 1776 and now it is about 318 million, a more than 100x increase in size.

          This primary campaign might indicate to the world that American Democracy does not age/scale well, as we have moved from Washington, Adams, Jefferson to HRC/Trump.

        3. different clue

          If it means the extermination of the Clintonite-Sh*tobamacrat Party, then it is a good thing.

      2. Pat

        Trump is a despicable human being. He has some great positions and some hideous positions – many on the same issue. But if you actually look at Clinton’s record, particularly at State, her positions are pretty hideous and proven to be not wrong. She also has some really troubling ethics issues. So does he.

        Here’s the thing for most of us here, we don’t like either candidate. The argument is who is the lesser evil. For most here Trump wins for being the devil you don’t know AND the probability of some sanity in Congress. For some here and a huge portion of the Democratic party and so-called liberal web denizens, it is Hillary because of the crazy man shouting on the big stage loses to the Devil you know. For some, like me, there is no lesser evil and we won’t pick between them and will be voting for some other.

        He ran a diploma mill pseudo university for money and is getting sued for it. Meanwhile the Clintons have never met a neoliberal grift of the education system they didn’t like, and in at least one obvious case made lots of money promoting something similar.

      3. Steve C

        Which do you prefer? The on-going Fukushima nuclear disaster or Love Canal? That’s what this election’s like.

    2. TK421

      Well, they do have stuff on Trump: he’s a tool of the wealthy who had everything he’s achieved handed to him and failed at everything else. Unfortunately for Hillary, those all apply foursquare to her as well.

  7. Brooklin Bridge

    Two significant issues for Trump. I could be wrong, but from where I sit, the media has coalesced overwhelmingly against him since the early primary campaigning and two, Trump seems to have shifted his approach toward his opponent. Either the media is burying any and all zingers of the Bush=9/11 caliber, or I see little evidence of Trump taking advantage of all the “fodder” at his disposal. Instead, rants about judges of Mexican descent. It’s as if he is purposefully trying to make himself look like a buffoon, but I suspect the media is playing a significant role.

    With the media’s help, and I think Hillary can count on that from virtually every network up to and including Fox (only more oblique), Hillary may be able to get away with her extraordinary arrogance in making things happen that would ordinarily be called as foul. If her team decides that the debates will cause her problems, then reduce or eliminate them with the media’s help in crafting public reaction. If they can not be entirely eliminated, make sure the ones that do happen have carefully managed questions that minimize Trump and ham string him at every possible turn or encourage him to ham string himself. Watch for the headlines of Hillary crushing Trump after each and every debate. And so on….

    Finally, since the serious adults in the room control the voting process, and even the Republicans seem to secretly prefer Hillary to Trump, no one will mind if the vote tabulating machines don’t quite get it right all the time. I know, shocking -who would ever even think of such a thing?

    1. Jack Heape

      Some good comments, but I have to disagree. The media, and the “serious adults in the room” did all they could to try and keep Trump from getting the Republican nomination and how did that turn out? Also, the media was extremely one sided in their support of Clinton over Sanders and he still almost beat her. I would venture to say that if Sanders had been given a fair shake from the get go (number and timing of debates, fair media coverage, super delegates not voicing a preference for Clinton so early) Sanders would today be the winner. Also imagine if Trump actually picks a half way reasonable running mate? It then becomes his to lose against Clinton. I think the Clintons miscalculated in assessing her chances in a Presidential election, where she is the Dem nominee. One, they didn’t figure on running against a non-establishment candidate (i.e. one who would have no problem dredging up supposedly “old” and “minor” scandals). Two, they didn’t figure on the sea change of anti-establishment bias (and still don’t get it I don’t think). You would think that the Dems would be examining Warren’s success and reflecting on what kind of candidate they could win with. And that they would look to after the election. No one is really discussing that now, but what is a Clinton win going to look like? You think the Republicans went after Obama? They HATE Clinton. Never mind some neo-con ramblings of support for her. Plus, the security state hates her as well (NSA and CIA). If Clinton wins she will get no grace period I believe and will be assailed from all sides even before the inauguration.

      1. mhead110

        …..not to be too much of a nudge, but “……Sanders … still almost beat her.” well, I know it’s unlikely, but it actually isn’t over yet. Even after Teusday’s primaries, HRC will not have enough pledged delegates before the convention…. so it will be up to the superdelegates, and they can do whatever they want.

      2. Brooklin Bridge

        Great response! In the main, I hope you are right – anything is better than continuing with the more effective destroyer.

        But I’ll quibble nonetheless. True, the media always had a bias against Trump, but initially they still reported -almost objectively- on a great deal of what he said which included a lot of truth almost never before spoken by a public figure about main stream candidates; the Bushes in particular. I think they, the media, were taken by surprise – they assumed that even moderately objective reporting would allow Trump to hang himself and that simply didn’t happen. Being taken off guard, they also felt compelled to actually “compete” with each other in reporting Trump’s activities and supposed fum-pas (faux pas). which turned out not to be such missteps after all.

        Now move ahead 3-6 months. The media have had considerable time to mull over how Trump works and have coalessed into a single method of attack: “end of the earth” fear slinging and distortion (they don’t need to distort very much :=)) But also silence on anything he says that makes sense – either that or as I implied, he has purposefully stopped making sense or embarrassing the establishment at least with regards to his presumed opponent.

        I suggest you are wrong or missing part of the picture regarding the supposed hatred between main stream Republican politicians and Hillary. Their very existence as politicians is predicated on knowing which side of the bread has butter and as to that there is simply no contest on who the establishment wants for president.

        As to the Democrats, they are a moribund party and of course don’t get the depth of anti-establishment feelings; indeed they could care less about them (all fuc*ing retards). It’s important to realise, though it is quite a stretch, that they would PREFER Trump to Sanders. Trump can and will be bought, with money, ego balm, threats, blackmail, you name it – but he will be brought to heel. Not so with Sanders. But that doesn’t mean they will not pull out all the stops for Hillary; it simply means that the race must be between two fakes – you can’t throw a real politician of change into the mix.

      3. MED

        Both VP picks need to looked at. DT might get impeached and HRC might/should be indicted

    2. Lambert Strether

      > the media has coalesced overwhelmingly against [Trump]

      Yes. If you look at the front page of WaPo, it might as well be the front page of Talking Points Memo.

      > It’s as if he is purposefully trying to make himself look like a buffoon, but I suspect the media is playing a significant role.

      Very much agreed. Not that Trump has ever been much troubled by policy consistency, but I’m sensing that some narratives are being amplified, and others damped down, and that the press has thrown off any pretense that they aren’t players, with a preferred candidate. It’s even more amazingly open than 2008, when the press annointed Obama after February.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        A slam dunk for Trump doesn’t seem evident – though it could change. I also wonder what in the world are they going to produce for an encore next time round? What sort of animal, extant , can be found that will outdo Trump for sheer theatrics, or – shiver – Hillary for the sinister? Of course I wondered the same thing when it was Palin, but we seem to have lifted off into new astronomical frontiers of “more – or perhaps nearer- is always better” in creepy event horizon politics in the neoliberal age.

        1. Fiver

          Good exchange. But I think the most important thing is the response of Sanders supporters – do they, or do they not call the bluff re ‘lesser evil’ at least insofar as the Democratic Party is concerned. They are the most coherent, activated, aware and by dis-enfranchisement immediately aggrieved portion of the electorate (Note: AP is running an “It’s Over’ story even as I peck) now and going forward insofar as seriously considering sitting on hands or even positively punishing a Party that has so thoroughly disgraced itself.

  8. dingusansich

    It’s a rock-paper-scissors race. Clinton’s paper covers Sanders’ rock; Trump’s scissors cuts Clinton’s paper; but Sanders’ rock breaks Trump’s scissors.

    On paper Clinton looks good to the Democratic bigwigs, but Trump’s tabloid scissors will cut her paper trail to pieces. The Dems hate Sanders for rocking the boat when he’s giving it the ballast it needs to sail a stormy populism. Trump’s insults and putdowns won’t cut it against an opponent with conviction rather than dodged convictions, integrity rather its simulacrum.

    If you’ve played the game as a kid you know it’s about luck and timing. Sanders has until the convention for Clinton’s paper victories and cover-ups to go up in smoke.

  9. Ralph Reed (@RalphWalterReed)

    Interesting points about the connotations of “socialist” and an “almost” perfect candidate. Though three-quarters of the american electorate recognize the irrelevancy of McCarthyite cant, the phantasmagorical iconoclasm of expatriates and aristocrats fuels the industrial speed-up of weapons development and force structure and AI controlled SIOP.

  10. jgordon

    I honestly hope that I’ll be able to vote for Sanders–since at the end of the day he is the only decent person running. However if Democrats insist on foisting Hillary or Biden onto the public, well I’m not only going to be giving money to Trump, I’ll probably even be out there manning phone banks for him. Democrats simply deserve to be sunk if they insist on screwing this one up.

  11. Watt4Bob

    The two parties, both of which represent TPTB, are united in their resolve that Bernie not upset the applecart that is the status quo.

    There is only one thing standing in the way of their mutual efforts to keep Sanders out of the contest, and that is voter turn-out.

    The biggest threat to the oligarchs is an engaged electorate, and the Trump and Sanders campaigns have delivered an electorate more engaged than I have seen in my lifetime.

    The resultant push-back has seen unprecedented efforts on voter suppression, fraud, dirty tricks, and of course, a full-court-press on the part of the MSM to convince the people that they can’t believe their lying eyes.

    Deep down, in their collective black hearts, the two parties will be happy to accept what, to their way of thinking is an ‘unusual’ contest, but one which poses no real threat to the status quo.

    Both parties want a Clinton/Trump contest, and it’s not at all clear that it really matters to them who wins, because;

    Sanders threatens real change, an end to kayfabe, and the constant rotation of villains, and worst of all, Sanders promises to openly address the problems that impact the ‘little people’.

    There is nothing going on in Washington, now, or for a very long time as far as that goes, that indicates any of our elected ‘representatives’ gives a second thought to the problems faced by the ‘little people’.

    Unless the people who are yet to vote do so, and in vast numbers, for Sanders, we are about to be treated to more of the same.

    A Sanders nomination, and subsequent win, poses the ultimate threat to the current system, that Americans might come to believe that it is actually possible to organize for change.

    1. Roger Smith

      “There is only one thing standing in the way of their mutual efforts to keep Sanders out of the contest, and that is voter turn-out”

      Which is what Sanders has been riffing on this whole time. This whole season has consistently reminded me of the film A Bug’s Life. There’s even been a bird too! Now it just needs to come back and eat Clinton at the right moment.

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘Both parties want a Clinton/Trump contest.’

      .01-percenter Hillary vs .01-percenter Trump: plutocrats who care.

      1. Vatch

        Hey, maybe Hillary can claim that she’s one of the common folks, since Trump is really a .001-percenter!

      1. ocop

        Possibly, but it’s being advertised as the lead headline “exclusive” on Drudge, which yesterday (not so) slyly noted it was buried at 60,000+ on the Amazon best sellers list, and is now crowing about it being #1.

        So I suspect its the rabid right moving preorders, but the rest of us may still benefit. These sorts of things always warrant skepticism, however. The timing is obviously quite convenient.

      2. Jim Haygood

        Hey, it worked for Hillary! :-)

        Bet Byrne didn’t get a $14 million advance, though. :-(

    1. Arizona Slim

      Friend of mine has a relative who was on the Clintons’ Secret Service detail. And let me put it this way: The agents and the Clintons didn’t get along.

  12. Gaylord

    Why don’t we hear from Jill Stein? Elections should be about issues as well as candidates, and Jill Stein has well reasoned statements on all the important issues.

    1. marym

      During the 2012 campaign CNN actually interviewed her. At the time she and Roseanne Barr were both running for president in the Green primary. The segment started with a photo of Barr and quoted a statement of hers advocating for publicly funded college education. Then the interviewer turned to Stein asked her if she too was in favor of this. It seemed clear that what CNN was going for was “Crazy Ladies Offering Free Stuff.” If you’ve heard Stein speak you know she’s very articulate, and speaks very rapidly – provides lots of info and not much chance to interrupt. She said she agreed, invoked the GI bill and its economic return on the dollar, and went on to own the interview. I doubted she would be invited back!

  13. readerOfTeaLeaves

    This is a terrific post, articulating dynamics that I suspect a lot of NC readers have intuited but could not lay out. Agree that Sanders is a brawler, with a huge heart, who will not get distracted by Trump’s b.s., and who will remain focused on issues — which will completely eviscerate Trump’s sources of ‘power’ (the nature of that power is dark and dirty). A weird kind of matchup between Griffendor and Slitherin.

    Add on to all this, Trump’s main campaign guide — more darkness. There’s no doubt there is plenty of filth under the rug, and plenty of dark money:

    The DNC and super delegates need to see just who they are up against.

  14. nat scientist

    How can Clinton go on to this date claiming ‘Everybody does personal email’ and not yet to date be challenged to provide ONE name of any Government official who installed and had maintained an exclusive private SERVER receiving any secret US Government information on the private property of owners of a private family foundation with global interests, by a person without security clearance. If she knows of any, she would be guilty of a criminal conspiracy were she to remain silent about it.

  15. Jess

    The idea of Hillary trying to debate Trump reminds me of the old saying, “Never wrestle with a pig. The pig likes it, and you’ll get dirty.”

  16. Jim Haygood

    Cuomo circles the wagons to defend apartheid:

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York ordered agencies under his control on Sunday to divest themselves of companies and organizations aligned with a Palestinian-backed boycott movement against Israel.

    Mr. Cuomo made his announcement in a speech at the Harvard Club in Manhattan to an audience including local Jewish leaders and lawmakers, describing the B.D.S. movement as an “economic attack” on Israel.

    “We cannot allow that to happen,” the governor said, adding that, “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.”

    Mr. Cuomo’s signed the executive order just before he marched in the Celebrate Israel parade in New York.

    “Having lost many battles for hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel has adopted a new strategy to criminalize support for B.D.S. from the top,” [B.D.S. founder Omar Barghouti] said in an email.

    Mr. Barghouti added that Israel was supporting efforts by states to try to “delegitimize the boycott, a time-honored tactic of resisting injustice in the U.S. and a form of protected speech.”

    If Cuomo had been governor of Alabama in 1955, he would have put down that damned Rosa Parks bus boycott in a hurry. /sarc

    1. Fiver

      Yes. The weakest people on earth must not have freedom, nor any means at all for redress of wrong – and that wrong is very great. And that’s supposed to be OK, so much is it not a problem soon even talking about it at all will be effectively banned.

  17. Jeff W

    Thanks, Gaius Publius—this post expresses a lot of what I’ve been saying to my Clinton-supporting friends for months.

    I think one of the most important aspects is this:

    …much of Trump’s attack against Clinton will be fair.

    It’s easy to shrug off attacks that are unfair or patently untrue. But, as you say, a lot of what Trump says will be fair. Rather than address it (because she can’t or won’t), Clinton will divert attention away—“But look over there! He’s nuts!” which is consistent with the image of her being anything but forthright. And the substance of what Trump will refer to—Clinton as the quintessential establishment politician awash in money, her neoliberal policies—are the very things voters detest. It’s difficult to imagine Clinton doing well under those circumstances.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Somehow it never occurs to the Clintons that sending out the Pantsuit Panderer to grovel and frig herself before the MIC in San Diego, while the senile, smegmatic old child molester “Bill” makes the rounds croaking about how great things were twenty years ago, only accelerates their collapse.

  18. Jamie

    Sanders is not a great debater. He doesn’t seem to prepare as much as Hillary. In every debate i’ve watched, she has hit him hard early … and he staggers around like a punch-drunk fighter. She then plays with him like a cat toying with a doomed mouse. Sanders mistakenly thinks his knowledge on the issues will make up for his lack of preparation and his metaphorical ‘glass jaw.’ Trump could just mention the F35 fighter and have Sanders on the ropes.

    His fans need to address his colossal debate mistake of proclaiming that he was ‘sick’ of hearing about the ongoing FBI investigation into Hillary’s email server. Yet when the IG report came out, he admonished people to pay attention to it.

    1. nat scientist

      Not so fast, Jamie. Bernie makes his own rules like ignoring playing ad- hominum police rather allowing the criminal vice to close within its own well-know time-frames and monitoring by everyone else who is alert enough to notice the hole she has blown open in her Titanic hullary…
      and to be sure, there are professionals in the hunt who have better axes to grind and all the time undisturbed by politics:

      May 26, 2016

      Clinton’s Imperious Brush-off of Email Rules

      By Ray McGovern

      [The State Department’s Inspector General issued a blunt report criticizing Hillary Clinton’s imperious refusal to follow email rules as Secretary of State, adding to Clinton’s credibility problem, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern]

      (abstract, vide link)

    2. oh

      Your point is well taken. I’m a great Sanders fan but I’ll have to agree that he doesn’t think on his feet and therefore he has pretty poor repartees, if any.

  19. KFrtiz

    If Hilly’s nominated, the ideas here make a best possible case for Al Franken as VP candidate. Although Trump can use the Hollywood meme, Al Franken is every bit as quick with a quip, and much smarter. He’d be the perfect stalking horse for Madame Clinton (with a nod to the Ancien Regime) to use against The Donald.

    1. Code Name D

      I had the same thought.

      In fact, I think Publius is giving Hillary too much credit. If she is a policy wonk, it’s with unpopular policies like the TPP, the sort of policies that she must run away from.

      Instead, she uses triangulation, basically adopting the platform of her opponent and morphs into that which she is running against. This is how Bernie “dragged her to the left.”

      In the start, this strategy didn’t work so well because Sanders kept one-uping her. She would adopt one policy, and then have to wait until Sanders talked about another before she could adopt it as well. In the mean time she would take the hit about not being sincere. In time though, she has time to refine her ideological disguise.

      This is why she is so desperate to pivot to Trump. Because she knows she will need time to electively mimic his platform.

      But Trump doesn’t actually have a platform. Just an endless list proclamations that he may or may not contradict the next day. So there is nothing for Hillary to mimic, no mater how much time she manages to get to refine her cloning of Trumps platform.

      She is going to have to create one herself – something that she is not going to do because Triangulation says she shouldn’t have too.

      Hillary strikes me as a paint-by-numbers type. She is good at following established rules. But when things start to go off script, she lacks any ability to read the situation and to adapt. She did well with Sanders because Sanders never tried to change things up. He remained to predictable.

      But even Trump himself probably doesn’t know what he is going to say in the next ten minutes. He doesn’t do predictable. The question is – just how smart is he when it comes to the political game? If Trump can read and adapt, then Clinton is toast.

  20. mrtmbrnmn

    dreadful Donald vs hideous Hillary?
    I can see the end of the world from my porch!

  21. TG

    I respectfully disagree that Trump is ‘issue free’ and can’t fight Hillary on matters of substance. He can, and he already is. Here are some attacks he can make that are very much about substance and Hillary would have a hard time countering

    Hillary Clinton, you support open borders and cheap labor for your wealthy patrons. I intend to enforce the law, just as you demand that local police enforce the law against trespassers for your own houses.

    Hillary Clinton, you support stupid pointless wars and have attacked and destroyed countries that didn’t threaten us and we’ve wasted trillions of dollars and thousands of lives and left much of the middle east in flames and there are desperate refugees everywhere. If elected you promise us only more of the same. If elected I promise restraint and sanity.

    Hillary Clinton, you support anti-American job-destroying trade agreements. I don’t. I intend to put American workers first.

    Hillary Clinton, you have gone out of your way to put us in conflict with Russia, still a major nuclear power. You threaten a war that could drag us all down. I intend to do what presidents like Eisenhower, and Nixon, and Reagan did, and talk to Putin and settle things down. Putin is not a saint but he’s not the second coming of Hitler and we need to deal with him.

    Hillary Clinton, you have put Wall Street over main street, and supported massive bailouts of your friends in the big banks while gutting the real economy. I’m not a socialist, but I think we need some balance here.

    Hillary Clinton, you and your husband have floated the idea of gutting social security in order to further enrich Wall Street. I will defend social security benefits for ordinary people.

    etc. This is not just about style. It’s about substance.

    1. EndOfTheWorld

      I agree. There is some substance floating around in Trump’s sea of inanity. He’s said the Iraq war was a mistake, shocking, SHOCKING Mr. Jeb Bush, who thought his whole family was untouchable. We owe an everlasting debt of gratitude to The Donald just for finishing off the Bush family. Unpredictable as he is Trump is a peace candidate compared to Hill. He stated we are constantly getting screwed on trade deals so maybe he won’t make any more disastrous trade bills. Americans are sick of war—this will get Trump elected. Ain’t no way Hill can act like a peacemonger.

  22. Linda Galindo

    Can’t “we the people” make a difference by demanding more of the media and their questions? They cooperate with this:
    “Thus he requires the media not to ask him difficult questions, and depends on his opponents’ having personal weaknesses and scandals that he can merrily, mercilessly exploit.”

    We don’t have to cooperate with this, do we?

  23. Fiver

    Interesting discussion. To me, what matters is that Sanders hangs in until Clinton is out of the race. In other words, no deals – the process was illegitimate, the other candidacy is illegitimate and unless Sanders is the nominee, there is no unified Party. That’s the credible threat that penetrates even the thickest of the head plates at DNC. ‘Sorry, Mrs. Clinton, but I just can’t do it’ Bernie says.

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