Here's Why We Can't Relax For The Rest Of This Election

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the second pr
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Three weeks to go. It would be great if Donald Trump's escalating weirdness gave Hillary Clinton a lock on the race. But we're not there yet.

Large numbers of voters still don't like either candidate. The polls do show a small, steady movement to Clinton. But depending on which poll you believe, the campaign seems to be about a six or seven point race. And in some key states like Ohio and New Hampshire, it's a lot closer -- too close for comfort.

Nate Silver, noticing that the race has actually tightened a bit in New Hampshire since the disclosures of the Trump tapes, pointed out that New Hampshire has lots of swing voters, who haven't made their minds up yet.

The New York Times found the same thing interviewing voters in a Columbus, Ohio diner. Kathy Pappas, who owns the diner with her husband, told reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "I don't know if I'm going to [vote] this year. I just don't care for either one, and I don't trust either one."

It's staggeringly disappointing that wavering voters don't weigh Clinton's relatively minor flaws against Trump's overwhelming ones and conclude that Clinton is the only prudent choice. But not enough swing voters have drawn that confusion for this election to be a lock. Not yet, anyway.

The latest leaks of Clinton's speeches to Wall Street audiences reinforce the impression that she's an opportunist. There is no smoking gun, but clearly Clinton tacks left on the issue of bank regulation banks when that's politically expedient, and tacks to Wall Street in private conversation.

That doesn't make her all that different from too many Democrats, but it draws an unflattering spotlight back onto her -- when Trump's outbursts, which become more bizarre by the day, should be getting all the attention.

As a number of commentators have pointed out, almost any candidate other than Hillary Clinton, especially a women candidate, would be getting a lot more mileage out of Trump's appalling words and actions against women. But because of her own complex history as the loyal wife of a womanizer, Clinton can only sit silently and hope that Trump does himself in. It fell to Michelle Obama to call out, in graphic personal terms, the sheer creepiness of Trump's sexual words and assaults.

It's also appalling that so many Republican leaders who are clearly disgusted by Trump can't bring themselves to put country over party. Instead of dithering, some Republican leader should give a speech in the spirit of Joseph N. Welch, the lawyer who triggered the downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy.

For those too young to remember it, or who missed the story in their history books, it happened on June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the so-called Army-McCarthy hearings, which were being televised live. McCarthy was investigating the Army in his witch hunt for communists.

Welch, Army's the outside counsel, challenged McCarthy to put up or shut up - to provide his supposed list of 130 subversives working in defense plants. McCarthy countered that if Welch was really concerned about communists he should look at his own law firm, Hale & Dorr, where a junior associate, Fred Fisher, had once belonged to the leftwing National Lawyers Guild.

This was Welch's reply:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you.

If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me....Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

From that moment on, Republicans who had been afraid to take McCarthy on began to discover that they had some spine. Some Republican today needs to rise to occasion and give such a speech about Trump. But it's sure hard to think of one.

Paul Ryan is a lightweight, who can't make up his mind. In the absence of other leaders, he passes for a serious person. But he keeps dithering. How about George W. Bush? Maybe Maine Senator Susan Collins? Or Ohio Governor John Kasich? Or Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker? None of these have exactly been profiles in courage.

Trump, contemplating an election defeat, is trying to take down American democracy with him. If he wins, he will surely take our democracy down even more thoroughly.

Decent Republicans -- if there are some -- are temporizing, for fear that a Clinton victory might result in policies they dislike. What are these policies? Let's see... Slightly tighter restrictions on assault weapons, women continuing to make their own reproductive choices, moderately higher taxes on rich people, the Affordable Care Act continuing to live.

The American right has coexisted very nicely with such policies. Really, people: Are these issues worth the destruction of our democracy?

If Trump wins, it will be the result of a collision of bad luck, in that Clinton is perceived by many voters as a blemished alternative -- coupled with the sheer cowardice of Republicans who should know better.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.

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