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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait blisters NBC moderator Matt Lauer for his weak interviews of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum” sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. “Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking…Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them…is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.” Chait adds that “a third of Lauer’s questioning time” focused on Clinton’s private email server. As for Lauer’s softball interview with Trump, Chait cites Lauer’s “completely ineffectual technique of asking repeatedly if he is ready to serve as commander-in-chief,” while giving Trump a fairly easy ride on his relations with Putin. Chait’s summation: “The average undecided voter is getting snippets of news from television personalities like Lauer, who are failing to convey the fact that the election pits a normal politician with normal political failings against an ignorant, bigoted, pathologically dishonest authoritarian.”

Also at New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore faults Lauer for weak follow-up: “Worse yet, the fast pace seemed to have emptied moderator Matt Lauer’s brain of any goal other than asking hard-hitting questions and moving on, providing the impression that the two candidates’ answers were equivalent expressions of reasonable approaches to U.S. security challenges.” Regarding Lauer’s Trump interview, Kilgore notes the Republican nominee’s “calls for much higher defense spending, a larger military, and the elimination of any restraints of use of military force against civilians.” Kilgore cites Trump’s “expressions of admiration of Vladimir Putin,” which did nothing to alleviate concerns that “Trump might emulate his Russian friend in “uniting” his country and Making It Great Again via radical curbs on dissent and diversity.”

Michael M. Grynbaum’s New York Times report on the interviews, “Matt Lauer Fields Storm of Criticism Over Clinton-Trump Forum,” noted the complaint that Lauer allowed Trump room to ramble, while clipping Clinton’s remarks at several points: “Lauer interrupted Clinton’s answers repeatedly to move on. Not once for Trump,” Norman Ornstein, the political commentator, wrote in a Twitter message, adding: “Tough to be a woman running for president.”

The headline for Aaron David Miller’s CNN report on the interviews, “A good night for Putin and those damn emails” puts it well. Miller elaborates, “it’s striking how many serious foreign policy issues weren’t covered. Indeed, instead of asking tough questions on China, nuclear weapons, under what conditions would a candidate use force, NBC chose to play off the same thoroughly politicized and well-worn themes: support for the Iraq war and Clinton’s emails. There was very little that was productive or new…What the night demonstrated clearly, though, is that Trump is not comfortable with the substance of foreign policy issues, nor is he able to engage in detailed or even general conceptions of how to formulate policies…On balance, Clinton acted and sounded more serious and more presidential.”

Shane Goldmacher has a revealing Politico story explaining the central role of the largely unknown Elan Kriegel, the Clinton campaign’s director of analytics. Goldmacher writes, “What cities Clinton campaigns in and what states she competes in, when she emails supporters and how those emails are crafted, what doors volunteers knock on and what phone numbers they dial, who gets Facebook ads and who gets printed mailers — all those and more have Kriegel’s coding fingerprints on them….When Clinton operatives talk about their “data-based” campaign, it’s invariably Kriegel’s data, and perhaps more importantly his models interpreting that data, they are talking about. It was an algorithm from Kriegel’s shop — unreported until now — that determined, after the opening states, where almost every dollar of Clinton’s more than $60 million in television ads was spent during the primary…To understand Kriegel’s role is to understand how Clinton has run her campaign — precise and efficient, meticulous and effective, and, yes, at times more mathematical than inspirational. Top Clinton advisers say almost no major decision is made in Brooklyn without first consulting Kriegel.”

A widely-cited CNN/ORC national poll that showed Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton by two points failed to re-weight the survey sample to match the 2012 electorate. Correcting the sample to reflect demographic reality shows a four-point lead for her. As Louis Nelson explains at Politico, quoting NBC’s Chuck Todd, “Whites without a college degree appear to make up nearly half of their sample. In 2012, by the way, whites without a college degree was slightly more than a third of all voters,” Todd said. “The point is, your numbers may not be wrong but your weighting may be, your assumptions. So the CNN folks assumed an electorate that is not an impossible scenario for Trump, but it would be an historic shift if it occurred….With the numbers adjusted to reflect how the electorate shook out four years ago, Clinton’s two-point deficit shifted to a four-point lead, 46 percent to 42 percent.”

The New York Times editorial on “Voter Suppression in North Carolina” reveals the GOP’s strategy “one month after a federal appeals court struck down the state’s anti-voter law for suppressing African-American voter turnout “with almost surgical precision…Election boards in 23 of the state’s 100 counties have now reduced early voting hours, in some cases to a small fraction of what they were in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis by The Raleigh News & Observer. Boards in nine counties voted to eliminate Sunday voting. Both early voting and Sunday voting are used disproportionately by black voters…While boards in 70 counties voted to expand the number of early-voting hours, the counties that moved to cut hours back account for half of the state’s registered voters. In heavily Democratic Mecklenburg County — the state’s largest, with about one million residents — Republican board members voted to eliminate 238 early-voting hours despite near-unanimous appeals from the public to add more. In 2012, African-Americans in Mecklenburg used early voting at a far higher rate than whites.”

Matt Zapotosky’s Washington Post report “Former secretary of state Colin Powell told Hillary Clinton he used personal computer for business” includes the following: “Former secretary of state Colin Powell told Hillary Clinton in 2009 that he used a personal computer attached to a private phone line to do business with foreign leaders and State Department officials and was generally scornful of the notion that his mobile devices might be accessed by spies, according to an email exchange released by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) on Wednesday…In a statement, Cummings suggested the exchange showed that Republicans were unfairly singling out Clinton and alleged that Powell “advised Secretary Clinton with a detailed blueprint on how to skirt security rules and bypass requirements to preserve federal records…If Republicans were truly concerned with transparency, strengthening FOIA, and preserving federal records, they would be attempting to recover Secretary Powell’s emails from AOL, but they have taken no steps to do so despite the fact that this period — including the run-up to the Iraq War — was critical to our nation’s history,” Cummings said.”

Paul Waldman’s Plum Line post, “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?” should be distributed to every swing voter in America. Waldman cites a dozen major Trump scandals glossed over by the same media who badger Clinton relentlessly email mistakes and paranoid conspiracies promoted by sleazy tabloids. “If any of these kinds of stories involved Clinton,” adds Waldman, “news organizations would rush to assign multiple reporters to them, those reporters would start asking questions, and we’d learn more about all of them. In his column, “Trump’s best example of political corruption is himself,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. also notes, “Trump would have us believe that it is pure coincidence that the Trump Foundation’s $25,000 contribution to Bondi on Sept. 17, 2013, was made four days after the Orlando Sentinel reported that Bondi’s office was considering joining a class-action lawsuit against Trump University. It was brought by customers who felt victimized by what sure looks in retrospect like a shameless rip-off operation. Weeks later, Bondi announced that Florida would not join the lawsuit after all.”

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