Presidential Debate Strategy

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It’s not rocket science. When you’re the challenger or behind in the polls, you want as many debating opportunities as possible to help close the gap. When you’re the frontrunner, you play a “Rose Garden” strategy, eschewing any risks that could torpedo your candidacy.

One wonders though about the effect on Donald Trump. His unconventional strategy and his loyal followers just might overwhelm the laws of political gravity.

That’s why all the Democratic debates were scheduled on a weekend when relatively few people would be watching. The DNC was protective of Hillary Clinton and acted accordingly. Now, all of a sudden, with Bernie Sanders surging, Hillary wants more debates.

A similar dynamic is occurring on the Republican side. With Donald Trump back up in the polls after a scare by Ted Cruz, he does not want to risk his momentum by a poor performance. It’s far more than Megyn Kelly prompting him to avoid the upcoming debate. It’s hardball political strategy.

Only the voters can change these considerations. When a politician is viewed unfavorably because he is avoiding a debate, if his opponents can start to gain traction on the issue, he will reconsider fast.

One wonders though about the effect on Donald Trump. His unconventional strategy and his loyal followers just might overwhelm the laws of political gravity. With the Donald holding an event for veterans in a competing time slot, Fox News might reconsider their staunch support of Megyn Kelly. Losing out on viewers and ratings means real money, and if the viewership declines significantly, Mr. Trump just might find himself back in the driver’s seat for future debate negotiations.

Moreover, the increasingly negative tone the Republican candidates have adopted may start to turn off potential viewers without the entertainment value of a Donald Trump to interest them. Whether a third candidate can emerge while Trump and Cruz battle it out remains to be seen. It’s happened in the past during more conventional years. But don’t bet on it this time around.

Hillary Clinton Strikes Back

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Something tells me we’ve all been underestimating Hillary Clinton. Her performance at the town hall last night was superlative. She was forceful yet compassionate, flexible yet committed to her values. She was every bit at eloquent as Barack Obama was in 2008.

She deserves kudos for her long record of service to this nation, and attempts by the Republicans to demonize her will only backfire.

Here’s the thing about Hillary. She does her homework, and she learns. When she ran for Senate in New York, in her first bid for elective office, she went on a listening tour first. The thing was this just wasn’t a political ploy as so many assumed. She really did interact with people and incorporate their concerns.

When Hillary is playing it safe,  she doesn’t exude a favorable aura. But when push comes to shove, she knows how to deliver. She deserves kudos for her long record of service to this nation, and attempts by the Republicans to demonize her will only backfire. Yes, she lacks the drama of a Bernie Sanders, but does anyone really think Democrats will throw away their chance to confirm President Obama’s legacy, to preserve the Affordable Care Act and the agreement with Iran?

Yes, other qualified candidates in the race for the Presidency demand our attention. Even Donald Trump deserves a nod for his upending of the political establishment and his one-man-against-the-system performance. His speeches are riveting, and there’s more there than just entertainment and the condemnation of Mexicans and Muslims as some would try to depict it.

But this time around, Hillary is poised for a well-deserved victory. She has learned a lot since 2008, and she knows how to fight for her beliefs because she has been doing so for her entire life. This pit bull of compassion speaks out for minorities and the dispossessed as if she were one of them and perhaps in some sense she is. She certainly knows what it feels like to endure public shame, and her poise during the Monica Lewinsky scandal endeared her to the nation. The possibilities during a Clinton presidency are virtually limitless.

Negative Campaigning in Political Horse Race

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The public and the candidates repeatedly express frustration with the negative campaign ad, 30 or 60 second television spots inevitably designed to distort opponents weak spots, shot in black and white for increased effect and repeated over the airwaves again and again ad nauseum.

Empirical evidence shows that negative campaign ads move the polling results more quickly than positive ones.

So why do campaigns continue to create these monstrosities? Unfortunately, they work.

Empirical evidence shows that negative campaign ads move the polling results more quickly than positive ones. So as a campaign winds down to the end, especially if it’s close, these advertisements proliferate.

So that’s one reason why the gloves have come off in the Trump versus Cruz “cage match.” With just a few points separating them in some polls, both sides have resorted to sharp attacks on the other. In a sentence, “the knives have come out.”

However, this is Trump territory, and no one is going to win a trash-talking or trash-advertising contest against him. Cruz’s one foray, an attempt to tar Trump by accusing him of “New York values,” backfired big-time with the New York Post putting the banner headline “Drop dead, Ted,” on its home page. And Trump got to trumpet the city’s recovery from 9/11, causing even Cruz to applaud that response in a recent debate.

The birther issue may become even more potent. The real meaning of “natural-born system” has never been litigated by the courts and Cruz’s birth in Canada has let Trump use it against him with an insidious effect.

And, in a statement with wide consensus, Trump has noted that Cruz “doesn’t have any friends.” Everyone in the Senate hates Cruz, and the Republican establishment has even come around to supporting Trump as a result.

The basic lines of attack have now been opened and expect each campaign to stick to those talking points through the next 10 days. Both sides will accuse the other of political calculation, of not being a true conservative, and they will probably beat each other to a tie over the issue. Then, perhaps, the campaign in Iowa will end the same way it began, with the issue of immigration taking front and center stage.

Axis of Evil

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The virulent criticism of the Iran agreement as support for an axis of evil may involve the United States in new conflicts in the Middle East.

One of the reasons why President Obama does not want to utter words such as “the war on our terror” involves the never-ending conflict it implies.

Those so willing to commit our Armed Forces to new battles, to project American power around the globe, certainly lack empathy for military families and the impact of our aggression on their well being. Many of these “hawkish” individuals have never fought themselves and so fail to understand the unique hell of military conflict and its debilitating effect on our nation.

One of the reasons why President Obama does not want to utter words such as “the war on our terror” involves the never-ending conflict it implies. A Republican, President Eisenhower, understood the nature of the “military industrial complex” and its untoward influence on government policy. President Obama has tried to avoid new engagements in the Middle East; thus, his reluctance to become involved in Syria or to stop Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon through force.

Instead of branding Iran’s government as part of an axis of evil, President Obama understood many of our goals could be achieved through the art of diplomacy instead. And by tightening sanctions, he brought Iran to the negotiating table and pushed through an agreement despite the tremendous odds against it. Secretary of State Kerry deserves kudos for his role in the process as well.

Critics of the deal should remember our key allies in the European Union participated as well, and Iran’s hard-line government reluctantly made some key concessions. Yes, the deal required some sweeteners to convince Iran of its best interests, but we live in the real world, and Iran needed to save some face as well.

No one likes to be called evil, no matter what their ideology, and we must remember we are dealing with human beings on the other side of the table who can be pushed only so far. Talking to our enemies and making agreements for our mutual benefit represents a key goal of diplomacy, and if one member of the military lives because of it, there is no telling what that individual might contribute to society. The next Steve Jobs may very well be puttering around in his parents’ garage.

The Unconventional Candidacy of Donald J. Trump

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Donald Trump is more than an entertainer despite the efforts of his political foes to brand him as such. He is a shrewd and cunning politician who has read the Republican electorate extremely well and knows how to meet its needs.

Mr. Trump continues on an upswing, and no one, no one, knows how far that will take him.

Mr. Trump’s success dates back to his announcement speech when he was willing to adopt a controversial stand against illegal immigration and offer to build a wall across our southern border … and have Mexico pay for it!

This pledge struck all our pundits as nonsense until his poll numbers began to rise as a result. Mr. Trump’s willingness to pepper his speeches with superlatives and, yes, the hugeness of his vision for our country complemented and reinforced that promise, and none of the traditional candidates could match it.

Now, as a liberal Democrat, I do have some problems with some of Mr. Trump’s policy prescriptions, but his willingness to take on the entire system is something this country hasn’t seen since Bob Dylan. That provides an allure to his unconventional candidacy, and it remains to be seen how far it will go.

Already, Republican insiders are starting to say they would prefer Trump over Ted Cruz, an odious individual who can’t seem to get along with anyone. And Trump’s numbers continue to climb while Cruz seems to have peaked too early.

Some pundits say that Trump is made of teflon; nothing seems to stick against him or affect his candidacy. But that ignores the central fuel of his campaign: the American people are sick and tired of being lied to by standard politicians.

One can argue President Obama has accomplished a great deal during his time in office: saving the country from a recession, providing national healthcare, reforming Wall Street through Dodd Frank. He can inspire his base, one reason why Hillary Clinton is trying to cling to him so tightly. But while she has her own struggles, Mr. Trump continues on an upswing, and no one, no one, knows how far that will take him.