Candidates will try to avoid mistakes, win swing voters

Published: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 @ 6:45 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 @ 7:24 AM


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We will have coverage of the debate in Thursday’s newspaper. On Friday, we’ll examine the accuracy of what the candidates said. On Sunday, we’ll have a roundtable discussion with local voters about the debate.

We all remember those moments: President George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch in 1992; Vice President Richard Nixon’s sweaty face and loose shirt collar in 1960, Vice President Al Gore’s long sighs in 2000 and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in November 2011 trying in vain to remember what cabinet department he wanted to eliminate.

Those are just a few of the debate blunders etched in the public’s memory that both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will try to avoid tonight in the first of three presidential debates that could decide one of the most contentious elections in American history.

“It only takes one mistake or one extraordinary comment before some important people re-evaluate the race,’’ said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “A majority of Americans don’t have to change their minds based on the debates. We’re talking a few swing voters in a few swing states.’’

Both candidates enter tonight’s debate with competing objectives. Obama will try to poke holes in Romney’s plans to overhaul Medicare and the tax code, while Romney has an opportunity to persuade undecided voters that he has a plan to ignite the nation’s sluggish economy.

“No matter how the campaign downplays it, it is a very important night for Mitt Romney and his campaign,’’ said Curt Steiner, a Republican consultant in Columbus. “There is a potential for a brand new ballgame at this stage and while the Romney campaign is down by a touchdown, there is still plenty of time left.’’

Dan Birdsong, a lecturer of political science at the University of Dayton, said that Obama’s “challenge is not to remind people, but solidify with people that what he’s been trying to do is the right course and that things are turning around, albeit slowly.’’

Unlike the Democratic and Republican conventions this year — which failed to generate massive TV audiences — the presidential debates tend to attract millions of viewers.

More than 63 million people watched the second debate in 2008 between Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain while 62.5 million watched the first debate in 2004 between President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Yet even with huge audiences and the networks endlessly replaying in the following days any mistakes committed by the candidates, some are convinced that presidential debates are simply not that decisive in deciding the outcome of an election.

They point to Nixon’s dreadful appearance in the first of four debates with Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. Three physicians at the time told reporters Nixon looked as if he had suffered a coronary. Yet polls showed the race tight before the debates and Kennedy eventually prevailed by less than 120,000 votes in one of the closest elections in history.

In the 1980 debate in Cleveland, Republican Ronald Reagan’s dismissal of President Jimmy Carter – “There you go again’’ – was regarded as a moment of high drama. But even before that debate, polls showed that Reagan had crawled into a lead which he never relinquished.

In an interview last week in Ohio, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said that “in the final analysis when we get past the impact of some extraordinarily inaccurate attack ads on (Obama’s) part and when we get a chance to actually talk about the real issues in the debates, then people will make an informed decision.”

Romney said he hopes to get the audience to focus on Obama’s record, saying that “these have been very difficult years for the people of this country and I think I can make peoples’ lives a good deal better. People understand that the president’s policies have not worked.’’

By contrast, Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said that “we’ve heard Governor Romney has prepared some zingers. We will leave that to David Letterman. We don’t think that’s what the American people want.’’

Instead, LaBolt said that Obama’s “goal is to lay out the economic choice between building the economy from the inside out and not from the top down.’’ He said that viewers will be “looking for specifics from Governor Romney and he should explain how he will be paying for a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest without raising taxes on the middle class.’’

But even as Romney and Obama say they will focus on issues, Birdsong of Dayton said that viewers “learn from the debates and it’s not just necessarily issue-based learning … What people learn in the course of debate is candidate characteristics or in some sense, character.’’

Joe Hallett of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

AP: Flynn to assert Fifth Amendment rights, won’t honor subpoena in Russia probe

Published: Monday, May 22, 2017 @ 10:19 AM
Updated: Monday, May 22, 2017 @ 10:20 AM

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will not honor a subpoena for documents from a U.S. Senate panel investigating election interference by Russia, as the one-time aide to President Donald Trump will instead assert his Fifth Amendment rights, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

That report came several days after the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), told reporters that Flynn’s lawyers were not going to honor the committee’s subpoena.

A spokesperson later said last Thursday that Burr had been mistaken – but now that exact story line seems to be developing today.

“Gen. Flynn¹s lawyers said he would not honor the subpoena, and that¹s not a surprise to the committee,” Burr said at the time, “but we¹ll figure out on Gen. Flynn what the next step, if any is.”

Flynn’s lawyers had previously sounded out the idea of getting immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony before the Congress, but that was not accepted by the House and Senate Intelligence panels, which are leading the Congressional probe into Russian actions in 2016.

Flynn has come under scrutiny for several things – his contacts with Russian officials during the Trump transition, not disclosing payments from Russian groups in 2015 as required for former top military officers, and belatedly disclosing that he was working as a paid agent of the Turkish government, even as he was campaigning for Mr. Trump last year.

During the campaign, Flynn himself had raised questions about legal troubles for Hillary Clinton over her private email server, questioning why one Clinton IT aide refused to cooperate with that investigation.

“When you’re given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime,” Flynn told NBC’s Meet the Press on September 25, 2016.

With the President on the road, what’s next for the Trump agenda in Congress

Published: Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 8:03 PM
Updated: Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 8:03 PM

Even as President Donald Trump is on an extended foreign trip, there will be a lot of domestic news developing this week as his budget for 2018 is released, though action on the Trump spending plan and a number of other major agenda items is still uncertain on Capitol Hill.

Here is where we are on major issues in the Congress, as lawmakers get ready to leave Washington later this week for a ten day break, anchored by Memorial Day:

1. Health care overhaul legislation. In terms of major legislation, this is the brightest spot for the agenda of the Trump White House and GOP leaders. The House passed its version of health care on May 4, and now that political hot potato is in the hands of Senators. There have been frequent meetings involving Republicans, and even some bipartisan negotiations as well, but no indications as yet of an emerging deal. Remember – all other major legislation is waiting on health care in the Congress, because of the unique parliamentary situation involving this bill. The longer it takes for the GOP to forge a deal, the longer everything else stays on hold. Oh, and did I mention the possibility that the House might have to vote on the health care bill again? We’ll save that for later this week.

2. Waiting for the details of tax reform. Republicans held their first hearing on tax reform last week in the House, and will have another hearing this coming week in the Senate. But apart from that, there is no timeline on when lawmakers will come forward with the details of a bill. The White House only issued a one page summary with some bullet points on what the President wants to in terms of tax changes – as that rundown left dozens of issues unaddressed. Tax lobbyists are gearing up to do a lot of work in the months ahead. Speaker Paul Ryan said this past week he still hopes to get tax reform done by the end of the year. It will not be easy.

3. Trump budget coming out on Tuesday. After sending Congress what is known as the “skinny budget,” President Trump’s administration will now fill in the details of his spending plans for 2018, and there will be a lot of headlines about reductions in entitlements like Medicaid. With the Trump White House ready to cut all sorts of discretionary programs as well, these details will spur all sorts of press stories and lawmaker statements about what should not be cut and more. Remember, the Congress doesn’t have to do anything with this budget document, but it is still is a good indicator of what the President would like to see done in terms of spending at the federal level. Whether it goes anywhere in Congress is another issue entirely.

4. Don’t hold your breath on a balanced budget. As I reported earlier this month, the Trump budget details to be released this week are not expected to bring about a balanced budget for ten years – after President Trump has left office. That is a standard GOP plan from Congress. The last time the feds balanced the budget was at the end of President Bill Clinton’s time in office. The budget deficit is estimated to be around $500 billion this year.

5. Congress behind on spending bills – again. Lawmakers have only just started holding some hearings on the 2018 budget – those will accelerate with the release of the Trump budget details this week. But the bottom line is that the Congress has almost no chance of finishing its budget work on time – by September 30 – as there will almost certainly be the need for a temporary stop gap budget later this year, with the threat of a government shutdown thrown in for good measure. I’m old enough to remember the days when Congress had real debates and real votes on the House and Senate floors about spending during the months of June and July. That doesn’t happen much anymore.

6. The Congressional schedule. Congress will work next week, and then take a ten day break from Washington, wrapping around Memorial Day. From there, lawmakers are scheduled to be in session for four weeks in June, and three weeks in July, followed by a five week break until after Labor Day. If you hear a member of Congress tell you that they didn’t have enough time to tackle certain issues, you can lob something at the TV screen, because that’s not true.


From an old newspaper column, echoes of current political arguments

Published: Saturday, May 20, 2017 @ 10:20 AM
Updated: Saturday, May 20, 2017 @ 10:20 AM

In recent weeks, I’ve been compiling a list of frequent arguments that are being made to me on social media about the troubles of the current administration, thinking I would put together a blog about the daily reaction of President Donald Trump’s supporters, as backers of both parties do battle over the Trump Presidency.

And then an old column from Art Buchwald surfaced, with threads that were almost identical to today.

As a kid, I always enjoyed reading Buchwald columns; not only did they involve politics, but the way that Buchwald used humor to jab at those in charge was often enlightening.

On Twitter in the past few days, someone pulled up a Watergate-era column from Buchwald, which talked about the response of supporters of President Richard Nixon to the difficult situation facing the White House at the time.

“As a public service, I am printing instant responses for loyal Nixonites when they are attacked a party,” Buchwald wrote.

“Please cut it out and carry it in your pocket,” he added.

In this column from Buchwald, there are a variety of echoes of some of the current arguments that I see in response to current events of the day.

“Everyone does it,” Buchwald leads off with. That’s still accurate today.

The fourth item – “The press is blowing the whole thing up” – certainly is a reminder of how many people on the Republican side feel today about the news media, and their relationship to President Trump.

It wasn’t much different back in the Nixon years.

“The Democrats are sore because they lost the election” – the 2017 version from my social media comments is that Democrats are “butt hurt.”

“What about Chappaquiddick?” was listed several times, by Buchwald in this over forty year old column.

That reminds me of what I see almost daily from listeners and readers – ‘What about Hillary?’ or ‘What about Obama?’ doing certain things – those are frequent responses, along with a verbal back of the hand for the press corps.

“I am sick and tired of hearing about Watergate and so is everybody else,” was one Buchwald item from his old column.

This past week, I had a number of people tell me that they would no longer read my materials and follow me on Twitter or Facebook, aggravated by stories about the Russia investigation, and possible troubles for the Trump Administration.

“Damn Jamie, you sound as bad as CNN now,” one person wrote me last night.

“Yeah, why are the media repeating one fake story with unknown sources with partial facts and assumed lies so much?” another said to me on Facebook.

This old Buchwald column and the ready comparisons to today is not to say that Trump equals Nixon.

Instead Buchwald’s column is a simply a reminder that not much is new in Political America when it comes to how the arguments are made in the public square.

Trump told Russian officials firing 'nut job' Comey relieved pressure on him: report

Published: Friday, May 19, 2017 @ 3:46 PM
Updated: Friday, May 19, 2017 @ 4:50 PM

U.S. President Donald Trump (C) shakes hands with James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a

President Donald Trump told Russian officials during a meeting last week that firing FBI Director James Comey relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a report from The New York Times.

>> Read more trending news

Trump spoke about the decision to fire Comey one day after dismissing the top cop, The Times reported, citing a document that summarized the May 10 meeting. The document was read to the newspaper by an American official.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump shared classified, sensitive information related to the fight against the Islamic State May 10 during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.


The White House has denied the report. 

"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said at the meeting, according to the Times report. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. ... I'm not under investigation.”

Multiple investigations into ties between Russia and Trump and his advisers are ongoing. At least one is focused on whether Trump obstructed justice by pressuring Comey to drop his investigation into former National Security adviser Michael Flynn.

>> Related: Report: Trump asked Comey to drop Flynn investigation

The White House has denied any wrongdoing by the president. Trump has characterized the investigations as being part of a "witch hunt."

In a statement released to The Times, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Comey put "unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia" because of Comey's "grandstanding and politicizing (of) the investigation into Russia's actions."

>> Related: Who are key players in the Russia/Trump saga?

"The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it," Spicer said. "Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

>> Related: House committee wants Comey to testify about Trump, Russia probe

American journalists were barred from the May 10 meeting between Trump and Russian officials, although a photographer working for Russian state-owned media was allowed to photograph the event.

National Security adviser H.R. McMaster was also present for the meeting. He denied on Tuesday that anything inappropriate was discussed by Trump.