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Donald Trump

Donald Trump tries and fails to explain away his tax troubles

10/04/16 04:33PM

Late Saturday, the New York Times broke the story on Donald Trump's billion-dollar loss in 1995 and his apparent 18-year period of not paying federal income taxes. The immediate response from the Republican campaign was ... odd. Neither Trump nor anyone associated with his operation denied the accuracy of the reporting or the authenticity of the document obtained by the Times.

Instead, by Sunday morning, the best Trump's surrogates could come up with was assertions that the GOP candidate is a "genius" for exploiting tax laws and letting others pay federal income taxes while Trump paid nothing.

After taking a couple of days to craft a more detailed response, the Republican nominee took his pitch to Pueblo, Colorado, where NBC News' Ali Vitali reported on Trump's best attempt at spin.
Donald Trump on Monday sought to turn an October surprise to his advantage, spinning his recently uncovered tax returns and losses in the 1990s as an American comeback story that could be writ large for the country.

Responding on the trail for the first time to a New York Times report on his leaked 1995 tax returns, Trump made the case for his loss of $916 million as the cost of doing business in a period of economic downturn and painted himself as an all but written off businessman who came back to win against all odds.
Let's break down Trump's response into its component parts, because in some respects, the candidate's response to the questions is actually worse than the underlying controversy itself.

1. Trump said his businesses struggled in the mid-1990s because the economy was in terrible shape. That's not even close to being true.

2. Trump said he had a "fiduciary responsibility" to reduce his tax bill to its lowest possible point. That's also plainly false.
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Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson gives acceptance speech during National Convention held at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Fla., May 29, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters)

Johnson tries to sell the virtues of foreign-policy ignorance

10/04/16 02:52PM

Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson has been struggling with some self-inflicted wounds lately. The former Republican governor's troubles began about a month ago when Johnson appeared on MSNBC and was asked to reflect on the crisis in the Syrian city of Aleppo. He replied, "What is Aleppo?"

Last week, MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked Johnson which foreign leaders he respects. Drawing a blank, the Libertarian candidate said, "I guess I'm having an Aleppo moment." When Matthews tried to help, naming specific countries and continents, Johnson still came up empty, saying he was having a "brain freeze."

Earlier today on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell reminded the White House hopeful that foreign policy is an important part of a president's portfolio, As TPM noted, Johnson responded by defending the virtues of ignorance.
"You know what? The fact that somebody can dot the Is and cross the Ts on a foreign leader or a geographic location, that then allows them to put our military in harm's way," Johnson argued.

"We wonder why our men in service and women suffer from PTSD in the first place," he continued. "We elect people who can dot the Is and cross the Ts on these names and geographic locations as opposed to the underlying philosophy, which is, let's stop getting involved in these regime changes."
It's an argument that's so astonishingly bad, I'm amazed an adult would repeat it out loud. Johnson's pitch, in effect, is that the United States would benefit from having an ignorant president, because if the Commander in Chief doesn't know where foreign countries are, he or she won't be able to deploy U.S. troops anywhere.

By that reasoning, maps and globes should be barred from the White House complex -- since it's a surefire solution to ensure that our military is out of "harm's way." (Anyone with a Google Maps app on their phone should be denied access to the Oval Office, naturally.)

I'll look forward to the Johnson/Weld administration's employment announcements in early 2017: "Geography majors need not apply."
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 Indiana Gov. Mike Pence leaves a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty)

To see Mike Pence as 'normal' is to grade on a generous curve

10/04/16 01:07PM

Last week, ahead of the first presidential debate, Donald Trump seemed to have certain structural advantages: expectations were so low, many pundits said he'd win simply by showing up and pretending to be normal for 90 minutes. It was a bar the Republican nominee failed to clear.

Ahead of tonight's vice presidential debate, Mike Pence is in a tougher spot. His ticket is struggling and his GOP partner is at the center of a variety of damaging controversies, each of which are difficult to defend, suggesting the Indiana governor will have to play some defense during his showdown with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Complicating matters, NBC News noted this morning that Pence "has the toughest job in politics tonight," not only because of Trump's troubles, but also because the far-right governor "has to defend Trump on issues where the two men are at odds." It's not a short list: Pence supported NAFTA, voted for the Iraq war, backed the TPP, and opposed Trump's Muslim ban. Pence also endorsed congressional Republican leaders when Trump would not, praised the Khan family when Trump criticized them, blasted Saddam Hussein when Trump praised him, and condemned Russia's computer hack when Trump was urging Russia to do even more.

In a debate, it's a recipe for some awkwardness.

But in one important area, Pence has the advantage of being perceived as a mainstream pol. Politico published a piece yesterday that characterized tonight's vice presidential debate as "Battle of the Normals," and a "sane moment" in a campaign cycle that's often seemed insane.
It looms as the most normal political encounter of this paranormal political year: two middle-aged career politicians, experienced legislators and governors, debating for 90 minutes over their sharp but presumably civilized policy differences on the issues of the day.

There'll be no Donald Trump-style invective. No Bernie Sanders ideological fireworks. No crowded field of GOP contenders vying to outdo each other for one good sound bite or memorable attack. Just two conventional pols reverting to form.
On a certain level, I can appreciate where analysis like this is coming from. As a matter of tone and temperament, Mike Pence is hardly scary: the governor is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Midwesterner. Unlike the man at the top of the GOP ticket, no one would ever expect Pence to start tweeting at 3 a.m. about his disgust for a beauty-pageant contestant and encourage Americans to seek out a "sex tape."

But to shift one's focus from tone to policy is to see one of the most extremist politicians to seek national office in over a generation.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.4.16

10/04/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* At a campaign rally in Ohio yesterday, Hillary Clinton asked, "What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?" She added soon after that Donald Trump "is taking corporate excess and making a business model out of it. He abuses his power and games the system and puts his own interests ahead of the country. It is Trump first and everyone else last."

* Yesterday, the Clinton campaign unveiled a new television ad slamming Trump on tax avoidance. Around the same time, Priorities USA, a leading Democratic super PAC, released an ad on the same issue.

* It seems a little hard to believe, but a new Elon University poll shows Clinton leading Trump in North Carolina by six points, 45% to 39%. Some other recent polls have found Clinton ahead in the state, but by smaller margins.

* In Pennsylvania's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the new Franklin & Marshal poll shows Katie McGinty (D) leading incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), 41% to 35%.

* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, which featured a big debate last night, the latest WBUR poll found Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) narrowly leading incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), 48% to 46%.

* In Oregon, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce's spokesperson quit yesterday, citing his comments about successful women being less susceptible to domestic abuse. He later apologized for the off-the-cuff debate remarks.

* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, there's a reason Republicans have effectively given up on defeating Sen. Michael Bennet (D), once seen as the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbent. The latest Monmouth University poll shows Bennet leading Darryl Glenn (R), 53% to 35%.

* On a related note, Republican officials are starting to cut ad spending in Wisconsin, working from the assumption that Sen. Ron Johnson (R) will lose to former Sen. Russ Feingold (D).
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Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) campaigns on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., July 29, 2016. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Kaine faces 'Willie Horton-Style' attack from Republicans

10/04/16 11:00AM

On the eve of tonight's vice presidential debate, the Republican National Committee unveiled a new attack against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton's running mate, which Roll Call described as a "Willie Horton-style attack" on the senator's record on the death penalty.
In a new web ad that recalls the Willie Horton attack on 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the Republican National Committee is highlighting two of Kaine's clients when he was a defense attorney.

Richard Lee Whitley was convicted of murdering a 63-year-old neighbor in Fairfax County, while Lem Tuggle was found guilty of raping, sodomizing and murdering a 52-year old woman from Smyth County.... The RNC spot also references the commutation of the death sentence of convicted triple murderer Percy Levar Walton.
As the Roll Call report added, during Kaine's tenure as governor, Virginia carried out numerous executions, but as a defense attorney, Kaine worked "to keep people convicted of capital offenses from facing the death penalty."

It's hardly a scandalous position to take: U.S. support for capital punishment has reached a four-decade low.

The RNC's video is online here, but note that it's nearly a minute and a half -- far too long to run on television. As a practical matter, this was put together and released in the hopes of generating media chatter and directing pre-debate conversation.

And as it turns out, the video has received a fair amount of attention, though it's probably not the kind of attention the Republican National Committee was looking for.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks on during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on Sept. 26, 2016 in Hempstead, N.Y. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

The sole rationale behind Trump's candidacy starts to crumble

10/04/16 09:47AM

Eric Trump, one of Donald Trump's sons and campaign surrogates, recently boasted on Fox News about his father's "entrepreneurial" skills. The Republican presidential hopeful, Eric Trump added, has "become the epitome of the American dream" after starting with "just about nothing."

It was, of course, unintentionally hilarious. Donald Trump didn't begin his business career with "just about nothing"; he started with millions of dollars in family assistance. Despite this extraordinary head start -- the kind of advantage the vast majority of Americans could hardly imagine -- it didn't take long before the New York Republican's enterprise was hemorrhaging money, and as the New York Times reported today, "it was decisions Mr. Trump made at the helm of his business empire during the 1980s that led to its nearly imploding."
By 1990, Mr. Trump had amassed $3.4 billion in debt, much of it in the form of high-interest junk bonds. He was personally liable for $832.5 million of that. He had bought a yacht for $29 million, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan for $407 million and a failing airline for $365 million. All were losing money.

Details of the losses are not available, because the entities were privately held. But reviews by New Jersey casino regulators and securities filings related to debt offerings show a grim picture.... The measures he promised to take repeatedly did not work, casino regulators noted. At several points, he turned to his family fortune.
The Washington Post reported that by 1990, Trump's enterprise had "piled up more than $3 billion in debt." He couldn't afford to pay the interest on the money he owed, but Trump "persuaded his bankers and bondholders to extend the terms of his loans" until 1995.

That, of course, was the year he reported a $916 million loss, potentially freeing him from paying any federal income taxes for nearly two decades.

A Times editorial added yesterday, "Every new revelation about Mr. Trump's business career shows that he's built his millionaire's lifestyle on debt, tax avoidance and other people's money. From bankrupt casinos to a so-called university, he milked them for all he could and left workers, students and taxpayers holding the bag."
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A group of Hofstra University students stand in front of a CNN trailer with images of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra University, Sept.25, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Latest polls make clear: Trump's bad week made a big difference

10/04/16 08:48AM

Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but pretty much everyone can agree that Donald Trump had a rough week last week. An NBC News analysis described it as possibly "the worst week in presidential campaign history." What was less clear is whether or not voters would notice and/or care.

There's some fresh evidence that suggests last week did, in fact, matter. Take the new CBS News/New York Times poll, for example, which shows Hillary Clinton better positioned nationally than she was a month ago.

Four-way race: Clinton 45%, Trump 41%
Head-to-head match-up: Clinton 49%, Trump 43%

This is roughly in line with the results of the new national CNN poll:

Four-way race: Clinton 47%, Trump 42%
Head-to-head match-up: Clinton 51%, Trump 45%

And the new national NBC News/Survey Monkey poll:

Four-way race: Clinton 46%, Trump 40%
Head-to-head match-up: Clinton 50%, Trump 44%

As for the overall averages, the major poll aggregators now point to Clinton ahead by four to six points, which is an improvement for the Democratic nominee when compared to her recent pre-debate rough patch. Indeed, early last week, it looked like the 2016 race was effectively a dead-heat -- a phrase no one is using now.

And what about the state-based polls? To the relief of Clinton and her supporters, they're generally moving in her favor, too, at least for now.
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Image: Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham

In debate, GOP senator says Trump is 'absolutely' a role model

10/04/16 08:00AM

Sen. Kelly Ayotte is in an awkward position. The New Hampshire Republican, hoping to earn a second term in one of the nation's most competitive Senate races, is literally the only senator in New England to support Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.

It's a fact that Ayotte has struggled with all year, with the GOP incumbent repeatedly saying she sees a "big distinction" between publicly announcing her intention to vote for Trump and endorsing her party's controversial nominee. Two weeks ago, Ayotte was asked whether or not she believes Trump is fit to be Commander in Chief, and she wouldn't give a straight answer.

This awkwardness reached a new level last night when Ayotte debated her Democratic rival, Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), and one of the moderators asked the Republican senator whether she'd point to Donald Trump "as a role model" for children. Ayotte responded:
"I think that, uh, certainly there are many role models that we have and, um, I believe that he can serve as president and so absolutely I would do that."
Even many of Trump's die-hard fans would have a tough time making the case that the Republican presidential candidate is a proper role model for kids. Trump has worked hard to cultivate a reputation as a vulgar, narcissistic blowhard who doesn't do his homework, plays by his own set of rules, and bullies anyone who stands in his way.

For Ayotte to argue, live and on camera, that she would "absolutely" point to Trump as someone children should try to emulate was, at a minimum, deeply strange.

And with that in mind, it didn't come as too big of a surprise when Ayotte's campaign announced after the televised debate that the senator has changed her mind.
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Ignorant Trump remarks a setback for veterans

Ignorant Trump remarks a setback for fight against PTSD stigma

10/03/16 09:11PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the outrage over remarks Donald Trump made about veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, and explains that while Trump may have meant well, his framing of the issue not only demonstrated his ignorance but was actually damaging to the cause of destigmatizing PTS and mental health for veterans. and getting them the... watch


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