Friday Talking Points -- The Debate Wait

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College Monday, June 13, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. Trum
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College Monday, June 13, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. Trump attacked Hilary Clinton by name in his speech in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. Clinton did not mention Trump by name in her speech an hour earlier. During the national security speech, Trump repeatedly criticized Clinton's immigration plan, her attempts to tighten the nation's gun control laws and for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" when describing recent attackers. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

This past week, normal Americans went about their daily lives. Children endured school once again, the birds twittered merrily, and lovers everywhere fell in love. Life went on for hundreds of millions. Lucky them.

In the world of wonkcraft, though, political observers everywhere are caught in a waiting game, ticking off the moments until the first presidential debate (which happens this Monday night -- which you probably already knew, if you're reading this sort of article.) What will happen? Will Donald Trump melt down? Will he strain his "presidential" muscle? Will he storm off the stage in a tantrum, halfway through? Will Hillary Clinton make it through the evening without stumbling (either metaphorically or physically, one might add)? Will Lester Holt redeem NBC News after the fiasco named Matt Lauer? Will Trump reference body parts (his own, his opponent's, or perhaps even the moderator's)? It's certainly happened before.

The audience, when the debate actually happens, will be huge. Tremendous, in fact. Some (we won't say who) are even predicting it could be a bigger television event worldwide than the 1969 moon landing. We aren't sure we'd go that far, but it certainly will be popular television, that's for sure. But while the vast majority of Americans won't be thinking about the debate until it actually happens, the rest of us in the world of political obsession have been thinking about little else all week long.

Hillary Clinton is spending a lot of time on debate preparation, but Team Hillary has managed to keep quiet who is "playing Trump" in her practice debate sessions. Donald Trump, on the other hand, appears to be comfortable just winging it -- which, it must be admitted, worked pretty well for him in the primaries.

Both candidates are being given conflicting advice on how tough to be. Clinton is being told to essentially ignore Trump and just "be presidential" the whole time, but another faction is urging her to whip out a verbal switchblade and plunge it into her opponent. Hey, why not? Even the Dalai Lama's now mocking Trump! Trump's natural inclination, of course, is to toss verbal hand grenades willy-nilly, but he is being urged by many Republicans to forgo the pleasure of doing so and (again) just to "look presidential" the whole time. Both sides are working the media refs, and will continue to do so right up to Monday night. Trump's team insists that if Trump just refrains from cursing (and/or being vicious), then he'll have "won" the night. Clinton's team has already worked the refs to its advantage, because the spectre of Matt Lauer's fiasco will be hanging over Lester Holt in a big way.

But no matter what happens, and no matter what is said about it afterwards, we've all still got a few days left to wait. To fill the time, let's take a look back at the past week.

One thing we do know for certain about Monday's debate -- there will only be two candidates on stage. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein didn't make the official cut (of polling 15 percent or better nationally), even though this race could indeed be affected by third-party voting in a big way.

A fun fact that few have noticed: Donald Trump hasn't given a press conference in almost two months. What's up with that? Trump used to love sparring with (and taunting) the press, so the absence is notable.

Perhaps there's a reason for this, since yet another conservative newspaper broke a century-old tradition by endorsing Hillary Clinton rather than the Republican candidate (as they usually do). It's getting so this barely even qualifies as news anymore. Trump may go down in history with the fewest newspaper endorsements ever, but (to be fair) that might not matter too much at all.

As we were writing this, there was some breaking news on the Trump endorsement front, as Senator Ted Cruz swallowed the remaining shreds of whatever dignity he possessed, and went ahead and endorsed Donald Trump. For handy reference, the Washington Post put together a list of just some of the nasty things Cruz and Trump have said about each other. Cruz has called Trump: "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen," "a serial philanderer," "utterly amoral," "a bully", and "a sniveling coward." That last one was right before he defended his wife by saying: "Leave Heidi the hell alone."

Cruz was booed at the Republican National Convention for not openly supporting Trump during his speech, after which he explained why he couldn't honor the pledge all the GOP candidates made to support the eventual nominee: "I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander my wife that I am going to come like a servile puppy dog for maligning my wife and maligning my father." Today, servile puppy dog Ted Cruz came crawling to Trump. It'll be interesting to see what Trump has to say about it, because back during the convention Trump had pledged, about a Cruz endorsement: "If he gives it, I will not accept it. I don't want his endorsement. Just, Ted, stay home, relax, enjoy yourself."

Speaking of spineless Republicans who have endorsed Trump, Chris Christie had a pretty bad week, because it came out in court that he probably did know all about the bridge closure while it was happening. Whoops! The New Jersey state congress is now reportedly considering impeaching him, which might guarantee that he'd never get to be Trump's attorney general. To convict Christie, Democrats would need to convince three state GOP senators to vote to convict, though, so it's not a sure thing.

One quick note from the other side of the campaign aisle (if that metaphor isn't too mixed) that few have yet noticed: Hillary Clinton seems to be recovering somewhat in the polls. Now, this trend is recent and could just be statistical noise, and no matter what happens the credit or blame will likely go to her debate performance, but while most pundits are still going with "Clinton down in the polls!" the reality is that she's been doing better for at least a week -- while Trump's numbers have topped out and started to slide backwards. If she does well in the debate, she'll already have a tailwind at her back, to put this another way.

And finally, a last item unrelated to the campaign. Not to be outdone by hating on Obamacare, a whole bunch of mostly-Republican states have now sued the Obama administration to try to stop the new overtime rule from going into effect this December. Obama announced the new rule a while back, which will double the threshold where employees can be called "salaried" -- thereby avoiding pesky overtime payments for their employers. The old limit was decades old, whereas the new limit of $47,500 is much more in line with today's working reality. As it turns out, greedy corporations aren't the only ones abusing low-paid workers by working them 50 or 60 hours a week with no extra pay -- state governments have been exploiting the same loophole! And now they're sad, because they are going to have to stop the practice. What was interesting was what one of the attorneys general suing predicted, should the new rule take effect: "it may lead to disastrous consequences for our economy." Um, yeah, because giving workers more money or more time to enjoy it would certainly be a disaster, right? Yet another difference between the two parties that Democrats out on the campaign trail really should be exploiting.


This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award was pretty easy to pick, as Senator Elizabeth Warren proved once again what a bang-up choice she would have been for Hillary Clinton's veep.

Warren excels at raking Wall Street executives over the coals in Senate hearings, of course, and this week was no different. Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was on the hot seat this time around, for running a scam for five years and then "cleaning it up" by firing a bunch of low-level employees and giving all the executives (himself included) fat multi-million-dollar bonuses.

Warren was scathing in her indictment not only of Stumpf, but of the culture that allows such things to happen. She lit into him with barely-concealed disgust, saying to his face: "You should resign. You should give back the money you took while this scam was going on and you should be criminally investigated." She had plenty of other things to say, as well:

"This just isn't right," Warren said. "You squeezed employees to the breaking point" to drive up the stock price and your compensation, she said, referencing the bank's fierce drive to "cross-sell" or make customers open up multiple accounts. "You went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour" workers.

"It's gutless leadership," Warren said.

Last week Stumpf in a televised interview appeared to blame low-level workers for this behavior, which was widespread throughout the bank -- 5,300 employees were fired for their involvement.

A cashier who "steals a handful of $20s" is held accountable, Warren said. Bank executives aren't.

"The only way Wall Street will change will be if executives face jail time" for criminal behavior, she said.

Amen to that, sister. Elizabeth Warren continues to be the worst scourge Wall Street has seen since Teddy Roosevelt, and she more than earned her eleventh MIDOTW award this week. Since the veep slot is already taken, might we suggest Secretary of the Treasury Elizabeth Warren?

[Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


For the second time inside the same month, our obvious winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award is none other than serial peter-tweeter Anthony "Most Appropriate Last Name Ever" Weiner.

This one may be a whole lot more serious than all the other times he got caught "sexting" with women who were not currently married to him. Because this time, Weiner was reportedly committing digital hanky-panky with a 15-year-old girl. Wow. We really thought he had already hit the lowest part of the gutter, but it turns out he has sunk even further into the slime down there. So far into the slime that he is now facing a criminal investigation, because getting raunchy with underage high school students online is actually against the law (which wasn't true for all his other exploits with adult women).

In fact, we can't even bring ourselves to rake through the sordid details, so we'll just provide one link to an overview story with nothing but the broad details, as well as a link to the original story, which comes complete with all the naughty texts and the eyebrow-raising details (which include rape fantasies and an actual schoolgirl dressing up like a schoolgirl). Choose which link to read, based on the strength of your intestinal fortitude, we suppose.

One thing that didn't give us a moment's pause, however, was to hand Anthony Weiner his sixth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week -- all given out for his amorous online behavior. Four weeks ago, when we gave him his fifth award, we wrote: "Hopefully, three strikes means he will forever be out of the public eye, and we'll never have to give him another MDDOTW award ever again. Hopefully, at any rate."

Our hopes, as it turned out, were dashed -- within a single month's time.

[We do not provide people's contact info who are not currently in public office as a rule, but as it turns out it appears you can send Anthony Weiner a text message quite easily. I mean, it must be pretty easy because it has happened so often, right?]


Volume 409 (9/23/16)

After typing in this week's volume number, we were reminded of a time when music and automotive enthusiasm were one and the same. Yes, we speak of the Beach Boys, and the immortal lines:

She's real fine, my 409

She's real fine, my 409

My 4... 0... 9

These were simpler times, back when a band could include a line like: "My four-speed dual-quad Posi-Traction 409" and everyone knew what they were talking about (without having to have Marisa Tomei explain it in My Cousin Vinny, either). Good times, indeed. Seriously, given the choice between that and the brand name of a household cleaner, we'll choose the Beach Boys every time. Truer words were never spoken: "Giddy up, giddy up, 409."

Ahem. Where were we? Oh, right, politics. Somehow we got distracted there for a moment. We do apologize, it won't happen again.

The business at hand is, of course, attempting to create some zingers for Hillary Clinton to use in Monday's debate. We tried to pick just the things that will really get under Trump's orange skin. He's awfully touchy about certain subjects, so if the moderator isn't hitting them hard enough, Clinton should step in and do so herself. Given the fact that she'll have a couple of minutes for each response, the talking points came out longer than normal this week. But if Clinton even says anything close to any of them, we'll be happy enough.

Trump is pretty easy to bait, and if he hasn't melted down by (say) halfway through, then Clinton should start needling him to provoke the "Mr. Hyde" version of Trump millions of people will be tuning in to see. So here are our seven suggestions to be included in Hillary's debate prep sessions.


   Whose hands?

No, that's not a lead-in to a "tiny hands" joke. Sure, it'd be amusing if Hillary went there, but we seriously doubt she will. Instead, it's an answer to a riff Trump let loose earlier this week.

"Donald, you said earlier this week, and I quote: American hands will rebuild our nation, not the hands of people from other nations. Unquote. I find this a little laughable, because it's a well-known fact that Trump Tower was built using Polish laborers, some of whom were illegal immigrants at the time. Your new D.C. hotel was built with lots of Central American construction workers, also including some undocumented immigrants. Down in Mar-a-Lago, you import foreign workers every summer rather than hire American workers who according to you should have jobs made available to them before any foreigners are even considered. And don't even get me started on all the products -- your signature ties, your suits -- which are made in China and elsewhere overseas. So why should anyone believe you when you say you'll make sure 'American hands' are put to work? After all, you certainly have never operated any of your own business that way."


   Ever? Really?

This one is such an easy shot, we'd be downright surprised if Clinton doesn't take it.

"Last week, you said the following: 'our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they've ever been in before. Ever, ever, ever.' Wow -- that's pretty definite, isn't it? 'Ever, ever, ever.' Really? Can you not even think of one single period of American history where African-American communities were in worse shape? Not even one? Do any of these words mean anything to you at all? Jim Crow. Segregation. Slavery. Lynchings. Race riots. Dred Scott. Separate but equal. Any of these ringing a bell? But according to you, the current situation is worse than all of those bygone eras. I mean, have you ever taken an American history class? Ever? Ever? Ever?"


   Why should anyone believe you?

This subject is going to come up, obviously.

"You know, Donald, you are asking American voters to take a whole lot on nothing but your word. You say you're worth billions -- but you won't let anyone look at your taxes. You say you give millions to charity, but won't prove it in any way. You say you hate all the influence-buying in politics, but it turns out your campaign is handing millions of dollars that other people have donated to you over to your own businesses -- seven percent of all the money you've recently spent went to your own businesses. Now, I've released decades of my tax returns so the public can see how much I give to charity, how much money I make, and where it comes from. You refuse to do the same. You say you're under audit, but you won't even release older tax returns which are not covered by the audit. Why won't you show the public your tax returns for 2006? Or 2005? Or 2001? Or any year before that? What do you have to hide? What are you scared the public will figure out? That you're nowhere near as wealthy as you pretend to be? That you don't pay any taxes at all? I'll even make it easy for you, so you can keep your big secret hidden in every tax return you've ever filed -- just answer me one simple question: how much money did you personally donate to charity last year? How much? Just a ballpark figure -- that won't affect your audit in any way, shape, or form. So how much did you give last year, Donald -- out of your own pocket? It's a pretty easy question, after all."


   Cracks in the foundation

Clinton, of course, will be asked about her family foundation. After answering the question, she should demand equal time from Trump.

"The Clinton Foundation has consistently earned the highest ratings from independent organizations who carefully examine non-profit records. We just earned four stars out of four, as a matter of fact. Meanwhile, the Donald J. Trump foundation has been operated like a personal slush fund by Mr. Trump. He hasn't donated one thin dime to his namesake foundation in over six years, which is rather astonishing. The Trump Foundation just got caught giving a political donation to an attorney general who was thinking about filing charges against the Trump University scam. That's illegal, and led to a fine from the I.R.S. But there's plenty of other questionable activities the Trump Foundation has been caught doing -- like spending tens of thousands of dollars on paintings of Donald Trump that were then hung in his for-profit businesses. That's illegal, too. The Trump Foundation has even been exposed for paying off Donald Trump's personal legal obligations, in court, to the tune of over a quarter-million dollars. Donald, you stiffed a guy who thought he had won a million bucks by hitting a hole-in-one -- since you promised this amount during the tournament -- and then after he had to sue you, you paid the man off by donating to his charity from your own charity, instead of out of your own pocket like you should have. Which is, once again, illegal. My charity does good work all over the globe. Yours seems to be nothing more than a cookie jar for you to dip into whenever you feel like."


   Show me the money!

I considering going with "Where's the beef?" but that's even staler than Jerry Maguire.

"You know, Donald, I hear a whole lot of ideas from you about what you're going to do as president. You make all kinds of promises, but the one thing that you won't admit is that all the things you say you're going to do -- walls, deportations, stuff like that -- cost money. And you never seem to get around to saying how you're going to pay for any of it. Your plans would add trillions of dollars to the national debt, something you say you disapprove of. When I propose a plan, I say how I'm going to pay for it. You don't. Plain and simple. What are you going to do if you actually do pass some of these things into law, and it blows a trillion-dollar hole in the budget? In the real world, things have to be paid for. I know this might be a foreign concept to you, since you're used to stiffing people who work for you and daring them to sue you if they want more than pennies on the dollar of what you promised you'd pay them, and you're also used to just declaring one of your companies bankrupt and walking away from all your debt, but the government doesn't work that way. So I ask you, Donald, for all of these supposedly-wonderful things you're promising you'll do: Where's the money going to come from? Show me the money!"


   Hundreds of millions?

Getting back to those tax returns....

"Why should America trust Donald Trump to set our foreign policy when he won't even tell us how much he owes foreign banks? Rumor has it that Trump has a tough time getting American banks to lend him any money anymore, because he's stiffed them so many times in his convenient bankruptcies. They've learned their lesson -- lending money to Trump is a bad bet. So he had to go overseas to get funding. He finally found some banks in China and Russia that would lend him money, and now I've seen estimates that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars to banks in both countries. So again, because you have such a big secret in your tax returns that we aren't even going to get a chance to see them, let me ask you point-blank: How much money do you owe Chinese and Russian bankers, Donald? It's an easy question, and one that anyone auditioning for commander-in-chief needs to clearly answer. Because you'd better believe that's going to influence our entire country's foreign policy if Donald Trump is elected."


   C'mon, you can say it!

Perhaps it's all the talk of "Where's the beef?" and Beach Boys songs, but I couldn't resist the urge to reach way back for this one. Those who recognize it will immediately get the joke. Those who don't, ask someone over the age of 45 to explain it to you.

"Can you even say the words 'I was wrong,' Donald? Is it even physically possible for you to utter that phrase? So far, there's been no evidence of it. You spent how many years stating Barack Obama was hiding something in his birth certificate, or was perhaps born elsewhere. Then, last week, I guess your political handlers and donors made you dance like a puppet on a string and admit that Barack Obama was indeed born in Hawai'i, just like he had been saying all along. So, he was right. You were wrong. Man up, Donald. Admit it. Just say the words 'I was wrong' once, to prove you can. Otherwise, we'll all just have to believe you've got the same speech impediment that so famously afflicted the Fonz."


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