By Molly Moore
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off again on October 9 in a Town Hall meeting. This year, the presidential debates have reached the same live audience as the Superbowl.
Barely a month before US Election Day, Republican Donald Trump has had the worst week of his campaign so far. It started with his petulant performance in his first debate against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and it continued with the bombshell revelation by The New York Times that he may have used loopholes in US tax laws to legally avoid paying taxes for 18 years. Trump’s steady gains in public opinion polls prior to the debate have taken a slide this week as he has appeared to go off the political rails, sending out 3:20 a.m. tweets ranting about a former beauty queen and giving a rambling, nearly incoherent speech over the weekend. The New York Times reported that it had received copies of several pages of Trump’s 1995 tax returns which showed he could have taken advantage of real estate investment tax rules that would have allowed him to apply a $916 million loss to offset future taxes for up to 18 years. The newspaper said the pages were mailed to a reporter anonymously.
The decision to not release tax returns
The story’s impact has been magnified because Trump has refused to make his tax returns public. Every other US presidential candidate for decades has released tax returns prior to Election Day. Democrats seized on the story, with Senate Minority leader Harry M. Reid issuing a statement that said, “Trump is a billion-dollar loser who won’t release his taxes because they’ll expose him as a spoiled, rich brat who lost the millions he inherited from his father.” Trump supporters, including former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, declared trump “a genius” for figuring out how to game the tax code to his benefit. Clinton and Trump face off again on October 9 in a town hall format, which plays to Trump’s strengths. He feeds off the energy of live audiences and is far more comfortable in more casual, impromptu arenas. Trump let Clinton off the hook on some of her most vulnerable issues – a continuing email scandal, allegations that she strong-armed potential donors to make contributions to the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state, and her husband Bill’s marital transgressions while he was in office. Trump’s campaign officials, many of whom angered the candidate with their anonymous comments to the news media criticizing the boss’s performance in the first debate, say Trump will go for Clinton’s jugular in the next encounter. They say he will bring up Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, hit hard on the investigations of her private server e-mail while she was secretary of state and go after the Clinton Foundation and its methods of fund-raising.
A debate with a live audience as big as the Superbowl’s
US political debates this year have been elevated to the same television audience mega viewing levels as Superbowl football games. But this massive audience is not tuning in to see who offers up the most profound ideas and vision for the country, but rather to see which of the two most disliked presidential candidates in American history will stumble and fall. Like the Superbowl, the debates have become rabid spectator sports. The post-game analysis after the first debate gave Democrat Hillary Clinton big points for appearing more presidential in her demeanor and responses than Republican Donald Trump. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote, “Hillary Clinton was knowledgeable, unflappable and — dare we say it? — likable. Donald Trump was ignorant, thin-skinned and boorish.” Trump, who guzzled water and sniffled through a good part of the debate, came across as rattled, under-prepared and petulant. Even his most ardent supporters sounded half-hearted in their “praise” of his performance. Even more damaging than Trump’s performance, was his bizarre behavior going after a former Miss Universe winner with personal attacks, including pre-dawn tweets. While the debates themselves, may not move the poll numbers significantly, this race has become so close that every vote will count. The gap between the two candidates in national polls has narrowed so dramatically that the difference between them is within the margin of error in post polls. An aggregation of national polls by the website RealClearPolitics.com shows Clinton supported by 47.5% of voters polled and Trump at 45%.
A presidential race with an unpredictable result
An increasing number of conservative-leaning newspapers in America –some of whom have never endorsed a Democrat—have joined the stream of news organizations criticizing Trump and favoring Clinton. The morning after the first debate, The Arizona Republic –long an editorial bastion for the Republican Party, wrote: “Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. “This year is different. The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and is not qualified.” But even before the next confrontation between the two candidates, the only poll that matters is already underway in states across country—early voting. Election officials are reporting that voters casting and requesting early ballots are far larger than previous elections at this point in the campaign. In the past, Democratic voters have tended to dominate early voting with Republicans tending to vote on Election Day itself, which is Nov. 8 this year. With a race as tight and unpredictable as the 2016 presidential contest, Clinton and Trump know two factors will determine the outcome: Voter turnout and each candidate’s ability to sway the small, but significant number of independent voters to go to the polls for them.