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The past catches up with Trump

  • Published at 06:03 pm October 10th, 2016
The past catches  up with Trump

This is DEFCON 1 moment for the Republicans and their presidential nominee Donald Trump.  For 17 months since declaring himself a candidate for the US presidency in June 2015, Donald Trump had successfully operated under the radar. With only a month to go before the November 8 election, Trump had hoped to run out the clock on any damning revelation that could derail his presidential bid. That was not to be.

The New York Times and The Washington Post delivered the Trump campaign two devastating one-two knockout punches in early October. The Trump campaign is now in the ICU, on life support.

On October 2, The Times published Trump’s 1995 tax return that claimed a loss of about a billion dollars the previous year, which meant that he may not have paid federal income taxes for 18 years. The loss flies in the face of Trump’s braggadocio that he is a successful businessman, who will do for America what he has done for himself.

What happened to Trump’s tax returns?

Trump has criticised 50% of Americans who avoid, or are not required to pay, federal income taxes. Polls show that 86% of Americans consider paying income taxes a civic duty. Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and Mike Pence have all released their tax returns. That Trump refuses to release his, under the pretense that his are under audit, although he has offered no proof that they actually are, made people think he is hiding something. Trump’s refusal to show his tax return was always suspicious. Now it appears that he was hiding the fact that he has paid no federal income taxes for 18 years.

Accusations of misogyny have dogged Trump throughout his life. Last Monday, it was reported by ABC news that Trump had behaved loutishly with women contestants while taping the show The Apprentice. The Trump campaign vehemently denied those allegations stressing that Trump always treats women with respect.

What does Trump think of women?

On October 7, The Washington Post presented America with the second “October surprise” -- a real bombshell. An audio and video released by The Post showed that in 2005, on a Hollywood Access bus, Trump made utterly vulgar and predatory sexual comments about women, bragging about his attempt at bedding a married women, his habit of grabbing women by their genitals, forcing himself on them, adding that “they would let you do anything to them if you are a star!” -- Trump actually confessed to committing sexual assault, a felony.

Outrage was instantaneous and universal. Several prominent Republicans such as the Bush family, Condi Rice, Senator John McCain, and several Republican governors, senators, and congressmen not only rescinded their endorsement of Donald Trump for president, they also asked him to withdraw his name as the Republican nominee.

It was under the backdrop of these controversies that Trump appeared at the second presidential debate at Washington University in St Louis on Sunday evening. Another disastrous performance by Trump would have opened the floodgates for Republican legislators fleeing any association with Trump.

The second presidential debate

The debate itself was weird to say the least. The hostility between the two candidates was palpable. They did not shake hands as they entered the stage. The format of the debate was Town Hall meeting, where undecided voters in the St Louis area, selected by Gallup organisation, asked the candidates specific questions.

Unsurprisingly, the first question was about Trump’s lewd audio/video.

Sounding anything but contrite, labeling his conduct as “locker room banter,” Trump apologised to his family and America, but not to those he had abused.

Instead, Trump went after President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs and accused Hillary of being his enabler. Republicans were dismayed by Trump’s non-apology, arguing that a 59-year-old male does not use “locker room banter,” which is the lingo of trash-talking college jocks.

It is hard to see how this helps Trump with the women voters, who constitute 53% of the electorate.

Having participated in numerous town hall meetings, Clinton engaged with the questioners and answered their questions in depth. Trump was clearly uncomfortable on the stage, stalked Hillary with a scowl, and did not answer most of the questions in full.

Instead, he pivoted to his talking points, blamed Hillary for everything, and promised to put her in jail if he was elected president. He was incoherent on foreign policy, and threw his running mate Mike Pence under the bus on their Syria policy, claiming that he had not spoken to Pence recently, and that his Syria policy was different than Pence’s.

In the vice presidential debate on October 4, Mike Pence articulated a muscular anti-Russia Syria policy which was at variance with Trump’s pro-Putin policy.  Besides, Pence stated that he was “offended” by Trump’s lewd video, and refused to substitute for Trump at a Wisconsin rally on October 8, when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan disinvited Trump. This was payback time.  A CNN poll of debate watchers declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the debate by 57% to 34%.

Trump went after President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs and accused Hillary of being his enabler. Republicans were dismayed by Trump’s non-apology, arguing that a 59-year-old male does not use “locker room banter,” which is the lingo of trash-talking college jocks

Does Hillary need Trump?

Hillary Clinton probably did herself a favour by not knocking Trump out in the second debate, because she wants Trump to be her Republican opponent. If Trump had performed very poorly in the debate, there would have been tremendous pressure on Trump to withdraw. If Trump were to withdraw, and were to be replaced by someone like Mike Pence, the dynamics of the race could change in favour of the Republicans. After all, with a two-term Democratic president retiring, this is a change election.

Republicans worry about down ballot candidates -- senators, congressmen, and state office holders --  if Trump is at the top of the Republican ticket. Many Americans vote top to bottom in either the Democratic or the Republican column.

If someone is unwilling to vote for Trump, he/she may not show up to vote, or may vote for the Democrats. There is no way the Republican Party can oust their nominee.

Events have moved polls in this election cycle.

After a lacklustre Republican convention and a flawless Democratic convention, Hillary Clinton surged ahead by double digits, and her chance of victory improved to 89% by August 14, according to Nate Silver. However, as Clinton faltered, and her email scandal became the main news story, and as she collapsed while attending the 9/11 memorial on September 11, Trump nearly caught up with her.

After her superb performance in the first debate on September 26, Clinton has now opened up a six-point lead nationwide, and has an 82% chance of victory according to Nate Silver.

Trump’s lewd audio/video aired two days ago, and Clinton’s emphatic victory over Trump in the second debate will only improve Clinton’s chances of victory on November 8.

Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed is a Rhodes Scholar.

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