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HALF OF AMERICANS DON'T PAY INCOME TAX DESPITE CRIPPLING GOVERNMENT DEBT. ~ DONALD TRUMP, February 2012
The period between the end of the national conventions and Election Day typically passes in a flash, but this year these 15 weeks have moved at an excruciatingly slow pace as nearly every day seems to bring new and too often unexpectedly colon-twisting twists and turns. And so it is easy to forget that Hillary Clinton has been the favorite from the outset and has remained so if you didn’t let yourself be distracted by the horse race. (Which you did, right?)
Clinton was going to win because of her insurmountable big-state Electoral College advantage. The only question has been by how much, a squeaker as many people are predicting or by a landslide, which I have kept predicting, which made Politix Update something of an outlier during the doom and gloom of September when Donald Trump seemed to be mounting a comeback.
But Trump is no Pygmalion and never will be. With the Cheeto Jesus again tuning out his handlers, repeatedly going off script, resorting to late-night Tweet storms and losing whatever tenuous grasp he had on reality much as he did during his Khan Gold Star Family meltdown in late July, only worse, it is important to note several things with 36 days to go:
* As I have been saying all along, Trump hit his voter support ceiling long ago. He had no room to grow despite Clinton’s email travails, bout with pneumonia and factors that have been pretty much beyond her control.
* While both candidates are historically unpopular, Clinton has been less so, which suggests what pollsters call “latent support.” That support will become more obvious between now and November 8.
* Stories appearing nearly daily on Trump's shady family foundation, billion-dollar business failures and ability to weasel out of paying federal income taxes have immolated his claims that he is a working-class savior.
* Trump's adolescent imitations of Clinton buckling at a memorial service last month, suggestions that she is "crazy" and should be in prison, claims she is "disloyal" to her husband and threats to bring up his infidelities will backfire badly.
* Thanks to Clinton’s diligence and a big assist from Trump, most recently with his obsessive fat-shaming, she is picking up enough undecided voters to pull away in several swing states -- the difference between merely winning and winning in that landslide I have long predicted.
* The very tightening of the horse race through to the first debate has actually worked in Clinton’s favor because it brings out more people who are petrified by the thought of a Trump presidency.
* Clinton’s destruction of Trump before 83 million viewers in the first debate mattered. The second debate on October 9 has a town hall format, which favors Clinton because Trump does poorly in unscripted settings.
But fear remains the single greatest motivator for people to vote against Trump, which is essential since so many of us seem to have abandoned our ability to think critically.
The response from the Trump camp to The New York Times income tax blockbuster was twofold: It did not deny the report but threatened to sue the paper over using leaked tax documents.
I'm actually a little surprised at the non denial because it finally and unequivocally outs Trump as a blue-collar billionaire fraud. That is, he is not a billionaire unless you consider that he amassed billions of dollars in debt running a business empire -- including casinos, an airline and hotel -- into the ground while screwing investors, contractors and craftsmen, and then took a gargantuan write-off that enabled him to not have to pay federal income taxes for nearly 20 years.
The Times' story of what it termed "balance sheet carnage" is yuge. It won’t change the minds of the people who worship Trump, but it shakes the very foundations of Trump's claims that his greatest success is as a businessman who feels Americans' pain and gives new meaning to his adamant refusal to release his tax returns.
As for the lawsuit threat, the Trump camp doesn't have a pot to piss in, although Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet had said last month he would risk jail to publish the candidate's tax returns.
First of all, the leaked tax documents were probably an inside job. Secondly, it is settled law that a newspaper is not liable if it receives and publishes authentic documents from an anonymous source and no crimes were committed in obtaining them. This is because that pesky First Amendment provides an absolute legal shield to journalists who are sued for publishing lawfully obtained documents that are a matter of public concern.
As a career investigative journalist, I know: Been there and done that.
'THE SIREN SONG OF A DANGEROUS DEMAGOGUE'
I have never believed that newspaper endorsements of presidential candidates particularly matter, but they may make a difference this year for voters who are on the fence and contemplating staying home.
Three reliably conservative newspapers -- the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, Cincinnati Enquirer and Dallas Morning News -- have all endorsed a Democrat for the first time in their combined 300-plus year histories. But it is USA Today that has made a special sort of history in "disendorsing" Donald Trump.
Wrote the nation's most widely circulated paper:
"This year, the choice isn't between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates -- Republican nominee Donald Trump -- is, by unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency . . .
"Our bottom-line advice for voters is this: Stay true to your convictions. That might mean a vote for Clinton, the most plausible alternative to keep Trump out of the White House. Or it might mean a third-party candidate. Or a write-in. Or a focus on down-ballot candidates who will serve the national honestly try to heal its divisions, and work to solve its problems. Whatever you do, however, resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump."
With 36 days to go, Trump has not received the endorsement of a single daily newspaper.
IT'S CALLED SELF SABOTAGE
Peter Wehner, a strategist and political scholar who served in the administrations of the last three Republican strategists, on Donald Trump:
"What we're seeing is somebody who's blowing himself apart in real time. It's a pretty extraordinary thing to see. It's a political death wish, as if at some deep level he doesn't want to be president."
The feeling is mutual.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN