In the hours and days leading up to Sunday’s second presidential debate in St. Louis, establishment Republicans had been abandoning the Trump campaign in droves; they are now all of a sudden shocked (shocked!) by the latest Trump revelations.
Yet they are really protesting a bit too much. Prominent Republicans such as Senators John McCain and Kelley Ayotte, who were quick to denounce Trump and try to separate themselves from him over the weekend, were plenty aware of Trump’s history of deranged commentary regarding women, including his own daughter, which have been public for years.
Lost in all of this, to Clinton’s great benefit, are new revelations from the leaked e-mails—which come courtesy of WikiLeaks—of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Behind closed doors before big-money audiences at Goldman Sachs, Clinton declared, “You need both a public and a private position” on issues like trade.
Regarding financial regulation, Clinton opined: “People that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.” Clinton also put in a good word for the austerity measures that severely undermined the American recovery after 2008 and continue to choke the European economy.
Like any good neoliberal, Clinton spoke of budget-tightening as the answer to slow growth. “Simpson-Bowles,” said the former secretary of state, “put forth the right framework. Namely, we have to restrain spending, we have to have adequate revenues, and we have to incentivize growth. It’s a three-part formula.”
While the neoliberal vision Clinton laid out before the investment bankers is one that would only serve to prolong the non-recovery, it is important to note that these speeches and policy positions were laid out well before Clinton’s bruising primary against Sanders, who moved Clinton to the left on issues such as financial regulation and free trade.
On the debate stage tonight, it got ugly quickly between the two candidates, who refused to shake hands as they entered the arena.
Trump gave a typically disingenuous and rambling answer to questions about the recent audio tape in which he brags about committing sexual assault and repeatedly and pathetically complained he was being ganged up on by Clinton and the moderators.
And throughout, Clinton tried to link Trump to Russia, claiming at one point that “we have never been in a situation” in which a “foreign power” has so tried to influence an American election. Perhaps—but surely she recalls the last election, in 2012, when Israeli Premier Bibi Netanyahu clearly backed his old friend Mitt Romney. Here’s a Christian Science Monitor report from September of that year:
Some observers claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to tip the scales against President Obama in the elections this November. Judging by his recent behavior—and based on my own research about how such efforts have played out in other settings—these accusations are probably correct.
The Clinton camp must see their efforts at tying Trump to Putin—in the absence on any evidence—as a sure-fire winner; during the debate the campaign released its umpteenth press release claiming, preposterously, “The Kremlin has made clear that it wants Donald Trump to be president and is doing everything possible to make it a reality.”
Yet Trump did make a fool of himself for most of the entire first hour, until the discussion, such as it was, turned to the war in Syria, with a question that demonstrated why the Commission on Presidential Debates should abandon the Facebook format as soon as possible.
A questioner asked: Isn’t what is taking place in “Aleppo a lot like the Holocaust?”
But instead of saying so, Clinton took the opportunity to make yet another pitch for the establishment of “no-fly zones” and “safe zones” in Syria and to blame the unfolding catastrophe on, you guessed it, the “ambitiousness and aggressiveness of the Russians.” This was the second time in the evening Clinton placed the blame for the catastrophe in Aleppo solely on the shoulders of the Russians—never mentioning the role the Gulf state– and US-backed Islamist “rebels” have played in all this.
Clinton, of course, didn’t make mention of the following letter written in July, 2013, by the then–Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey to Congress about the costs of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, which would
require hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling and communications. Estimated costs are $500 million initially, averaging as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year.
To his credit, Trump noted that Clinton supports arming “the rebels” and yet “we have no idea who they are,” which he pointed out is exactly what happened in Libya. Yet ABC’s Martha Raddatz seemed to want Trump to commit to the use of military force in Syria right there on the spot, repeating Governor Mike Pence’s answer from the vice-presidential debate to the effect that the United States should establish “safe zones” in Syria. Trump replied, “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we get too much more involved.”
“What will happen if Aleppo falls?” badgered Raddatz. “Look,” said Trump, maybe it has “already fallen.”
And perhaps he’s not wrong. Not that it matters. After the week he’s had, he will never be president.
It is, of course, worth noting that Raddatz reserved her outrage for the depredations of the Russians and Syrians in east Aleppo, but has kept her own counsel over what the US forces have wrought in places like Iraq.
That aside, there are several possible ramifications of tonight’s sorry display. Internationally, the 2016 campaign is doing for the Russian government what it has so often been said to be attempting to do by stealth—namely, discredit the American democratic system in the eyes of the world. More worryingly, the twin causes to which Trump has so opportunistically attached himself, those of military non-intervention and economic nationalism, have perhaps been fatally damaged by his association with them.