Welcome to the 10th issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
We’re past the conventions and into the meat of the Presidential campaign now. Less than 100 days from the November elections. First I’ll go over a general overview of the 2016 election as we look forward to November. Next I’ll provide some analysis on President Obama’s political maneuvering and how that is affecting Republicans. Followed by a look at the excuses already coming from the Trump campaign on who he blames for a potential loss. I’ll wrap up with a look at two devastating stories in foreign policy that decimate the President’s foreign policy. As usual, the quick slants and must read links follow the analysis.
The Presidential Race: Where we stand one week after the conventions
Both conventions have finished. We’re one week outside the DNC convention. Trump’s convention bounce has faded. Clinton is in the midst of her convention bounce. In a nut-shell, that is where we stand. The polls are noisy and the news cycle is moving quickly. Sean Trende provides an excellent summation (which I recommend you read):
So the normal take on the race begins like this: Hillary Clinton’s pre-convention, post-nomination lead peaked at 6.8 percentage points on June 28, when she led 46.4 percent to 39.6 percent. It settled down to about 4.5 points, before dropping to around 2.5 points in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s press conference about her emails. Donald Trump got a decent bounce of about three-to-four points out of the Republican convention, which culminated in him seizing a 0.9 percentage-point lead on July 28. This may, however, understate the size of his bounce, as the Comey revelations may have begun the process of bringing low-hanging fruit on board.
But Clinton clearly received a nice bounce out of her convention as well. She now leads by 5.1 points in the RealClearPolitics Average, 46.5 percent to Trump’s 42 percent.
As he goes on to explain, in a normal election, Clinton’s convention bounce would fade. We would instead be focusing on things like the weak GDP report, the jobs report, the Obama admin giving $400 million Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, and Clinton’s continued poor answers to questions over her mishandling of classified documents. This avalanche of news should have Clinton on the defensive and falling in the polls. Instead, Donald Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, whose son died in service to our country in 2004, has dominated the news cycle. Along with stories of his campaign falling apart at the seams. Trump has taken all the bad storylines away from Clinton and refocused the news on himself. It’s not even good attention, it’s bad.
With all of that said, we have to remember where we are in the current campaign: August. It’s a long way off from the actual election. There are many more news cycles to come and many more stories which will impact this election. As Trende and others have noted: terrorist attacks, economic downturns, Wikileaks dropping more documents, and more could happen and change the outcome of the election.
In the end, we do have to remember that it is only August, that the “fundamentals” of elections – the economy, presidential job approval, incumbency, and so forth – do not give Democrats much, if any, advantage, and that there are plenty of events that could derail either campaign. While it certainly feels as though the Trump campaign is approaching a precipice, in reality that probably still lies a bit down the road. With that said, however, a precipice probably is what awaits him on his current path.
As I’ve said many times now: buckle up. This campaign has only just begun. The national polls that come out towards the end of this month / beginning of September will set the real levels this race is on for November. State polls in particular will be key to watch. As are election fundamentals like the President’s job approval number (currently above 50%), economic satisfaction markers, and other economic measures. Headwinds are against the Democrats. But if the GOP continues to self-inflict wounds and the fundamentals shift, it will place Democrats in better position to capitalize in the election. Trump needs a perfect storm of those markers going south with bad news stories hitting the news cycle to win. It’s not impossible, but it’s not guaranteed either.
Obama’s political tactics have tied Trump to the GOP for this election
Judd Legum of ThinkProgress wrote a tweetstorm on Twitter, beginning here, that covers a number of thoughts I had regarding GOP leadership attempting to walk a fine line in regards to Trump:
This election is a hot mess but today has been a fascinating game of political tactics. Trump’s attacks on the Khans risk major long term damage to the GOP brand. [It] forced establishment to ramp up criticism. Both Ryan and McCain signaled, to various degrees, that they may withdraw their endorsement at some point if this keeps up. So Trump goes out preemptively, and announces that HE doesn’t support Ryan or McCain. This is the equivalent of Trump saying: “You aren’t breaking up with me, I’m breaking up with you.” Now, if Ryan withdraws his endorsement it looks petty. He tolerated the attacks on a gold star family but not himself. Enter Obama, who is playing this perfect. He’s advising all Republicans to withdraw their endorsement from Trump, effectively making it impossible to do so. So you have Trump and Obama working in concert to lock people like Ryan and McCain into their endorsement of Trump. Fascinating. Ryan and other top Republicans had a plan to nominally endorse Trump and then at the end say “I opposed everything he stood for.”
On that last point: Obama is making it impossible for the GOP to try and have it’s cake and eat it too. They have to embrace Trump fully, or reject Trump fully. There is no in-between ground. They cannot wait until an opportune time arrives to dump Trump while reaping any of the benefits of his fanbase in the meantime. Trump is toxic. You’re either getting off the ride now, or drinking the poison with him. There is no other option. The White House is trying to ensure all the GOP drinks the poison.
The Republicans are boxed into a corner they cannot leave. Since they refused to dump Trump early on, as I and many others suggested they do, they’re now stuck with him. And they have no one to blame but themselves.
If Trump loses the election, it will be because of him, not other people and not because the election is rigged
As Trump has predictably sunk in the polls after Clinton’s bounce, Trump and his surrogates have trotted out two arguments: 1) That the election in November is rigged. And 2) that if Trump loses, it’s the GOP Establishment’s fault.
On the first point, let’s just be blunt. The American Presidential campaign is not a rigged election. Period. A rigged election looks like something in Russia or Syria. Putin and Assad were both “elected.” No one believes the results because no opposition is allowed, nor are votes tallied properly. It’s an illusion of democracy. In America there is no illusion. The election is not rigged. Trump is lying to take attention away from his horrible campaign.
The second point is being pushed by so-called conservative media types like Sean Hannity.
On his Wednesday radio show, Hannity named and shamed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), along with former primary candidates Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as the parties he’ll blame if Trump loses to Hillary Clinton, but called the election “completely winnable.”
“I have watched these Republicans be more harsh towards Donald Trump than they’ve ever been in standing up to Barack Obama and his radical agenda,” he said. “They did nothing, nothing – all these phony votes to repeal and replace ObamaCare, show votes so they can go back and keep their power and get reelected.”
“Sorry, you created Donald Trump, all of you because of your ineffectiveness, because of your weakness, your spinelessness, your lack of vision, your inability to fight Obama,” Hannity continued. “I’m getting a little sick and tired of all of you. Honestly, I am tempted to just say I don’t support any of you people ever.”
It’s worth noting here: Hannity is merely parroting Trump. Whatever Trump says, Hannity parrots with slightly different wording. It’s also worth noting the second issue: these people didn’t create Trump. Hannity did. Hannity never questioned Trump or the rise of Trump. He embraced Trump early on and helped Trump along. Trump exists only because of free media and Hannity has been a Trump infomercial for the last year. While these people in Congress were busy opposing the Democrat’s agenda, Trump was funding Democrats. The votes to oppose Obamacare came from people like Hannity. Now he pretends faux outrage when Trump is being criticized for shooting himself in the head and foot.
Why is Trump being criticized? He attacked a gold star family. He kicked a baby out of his rally. He refuses to attack Clinton. He attacks the GOP and is a dead anchor to down-ballot races. He’s re-litigated his primary wars with Megyn Kelly and Ted Cruz. And that’s ONLY the past week. Trump chose these actions. He chose to sink his own campaign and make himself an unelectable narcissist. No one else made Trump do these things. No one made Hannity parrot Trump like a loyal subject. He chose to do that. Hannity is the establishment he rails about and that establishment chose Trump.
As Trump continues to falter, surprising even the most hardened Never Trump cynics with the sheer extent of his malice and ignorance, the search for scapegoats will only accelerate. The GOP will be consumed with bitterness and finger-pointing. But Trump voters, there’s no need for recriminations or blame-shifting. When considering who’s at fault for the debacle we face, there’s only one person you need to blame. The man in the mirror. This is the world you made.
Trump is losing because he chooses to lose. He is not running a winning campaign. You can’t blame anyone else for those choices by the man running it. You also can’t blame anyone but the men and women acting as surrogates for Trump.
This week we witnessed the last piece of Obama’s foreign policy strategy crumble
Three stories this week sunk the last remaining vestiges of hope for Obama’s foreign policy gambits in Syria and Iran. In Syria, we’ve learned that Assad is still using chemical weapons against his own people. Assad is using chemical weapons both in and outside the agreement he signed with the US and Russia. Secretary of State John Kerry even went so far to say that the deal, brokered at the last minute with the Russians to avoid enforcing Obama’s red line mandate, made sure that 100% of Assad’s chemical weapons had been removed. Assad is violating that agreement with no blowback from the Obama administration. Russia never cared about chemical weapons to begin with, so this is purely about the US not responding.
Secondly, the WSJ reported that the DOJ tried to object and stop the US from sending $400 million in cash to the Iranians right at the same time the Iranians released US soldiers. The State Department overruled them. Republicans called this a ransom payment for the prisoners, a charge the administration denies. The admin claims it was merely coincidence and they are say this was merely a settling of old debts with the Iranians.
Believe whatever you want on that front because the troubling part of the story is this: The US Government gave $400 million to a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran will funnel that money into their terrorist organizations and nuclear program. They will use it to attack Americans, Israelis, and western allies. Iran isn’t just any state sponsor of terrorism. According to the US’s own State Department: Iran is the TOP state sponsor of terrorism in the world. And the Obama administration gave that money up “coincidentally” at the same time it wanted prisoners released.
Whatever good the Obama administration thought it was doing the world, it was wrong. Syria is still using chemical weapons despite signing a deal with the US to stop. Iran is still funding terrorism and expected to be a nuclear power in shorter time than the administration promised.
Topping matters off, the lone bright spot from the Obama administration, the TPP trade deal in Asia, is also being undermined. By Clinton. Claiming she doesn’t support it. Which means after 8 years the President will have nothing to point to as a foreign policy legacy. Iran is headed towards nukes, Syria is still using chemical weapons, and TPP is being opposed. These were the last deals the President struck. They’ve been made irrelevant before he leaves office.
Quick slants and must reads
Larry Sabato’s Election Update: Clinton in a landslide right now – GOP risking losses in AZ, UT, and GA
Defense and Foreign Policy
Other items to read
“Wells, Hitler, and the World State” by George Orwell, August 1941. 75 years ago this month. I’ll be writing on this in a column.
Quote of the Week
Things are so bad for Trump, Mark Sanford is on Hardball giving him advice on damage control. – Wyeth Ruthven
What I’m reading
“A Clash of Camelots” – Vanity Fair
This is a long form article in Vanity Fair on the official commissioned book by the Kennedy family on the death of JFK. Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned the book herself. But after it was written, the details created a public controversy for Robert Kennedy and Jacqueline. They tried to prevent the book from being published and removed from the public eye. This piece traces the controversy and how it took a toll on the author William Manchester. An engrossing read.
Thanks for reading!