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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

To the Streets of Philadelphia

One person, without a vote, is the very definition of inconsequential - but there has long been a nagging sense that it would be best to watch the end of this crazy race from the front row, so to speak.  After watching Kerry fail in 2004 from the confines of an Oxford college, the mood was more positive in Petra four years later as they called Ohio just in time for me to hit the Siq alone for 6AM in my Obama T-shirt.  2012 similarly joyous in London, as Coop tracked Nate Silver's predictions exactly to a rousing night of champagne into the early hours.

Those stakes felt high, but none compare to this year.  The danger and absurdity of Trump, felt first up close in Plymouth months ago, now agonizingly possible.  Comey's recent announcement could not be more ill-timed for the final weeks.  In this strangest of elections, is the final twist to be that there is no final twist?  And that the luckiest candidate in many a cycle will surge above Clinton just at the worst of all possible times to nick it away?

Fear the worst, hope for the best.  And rather than wait it out here at my desk, why not hop on the direct flight down to a city I have never visited, to check in with Rocky's statue on the famous steps for the first time, see the craziness of a swing state battle up close, and raise the meekest of symbolic hands against what seems a real threat.  In the process, to sneak in a quick look at the Liberty Bell and proper cheese-steak, before hightailing it to Manhattan and just maybe get in the building under that largest of glass ceilings to complete the circle.  Or - just as good - a late-night Irish bar.

And if the worst comes to pass?  A plan is in place to turn the page.  Regardless of the overnight vote tallying, wake up in the morning in time to hit Battery Park, take a first trip out on the Hudson, set foot on Ellis Island, and check in with the Mother of Exiles.  No matter how the future plays out this time next week, hard to think of a more fitting place to spend the morning after than atop her pedestal.  For now, here's hoping the present fears prove unfounded.  If not, oh my.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Unshackled

Just 15 days since the first debate.  Hard to imagine, given all that has unfolded since.  Those focusing on the fact that there is now less than a month to go until the vote should recall just how many news cycles are left, how much potential for craziness remains in this most unpredictable of races.  It is far from finished.  The good news is that Hillary is surging, and Trump is being revealed as the base and loathsome character we all knew him to be from the outset.  Let's hope that nothing significant upsets that narrative in the days to come.

I watched the first debate over cigars and scotch, and before checking in with the commentariat had felt pretty comfortable that the candidates had basically each done what they were hoping to do.  So a draw, in my eyes, which favoured Hillary in that she was already ahead going in.  It was a pleasant surprise to read that others felt she was the clear winner, and then to see her efforts to get under Trump's skin proved so effective in prompting ridiculous, off-message tweet storms.  Great example of how the post-debate spin can come to define the event itself.

The VP debate is never important, so I did not pay attention, although seems the consensus is that an over-excited Kaine was the less impressive of the two.  You would think that since Trump was criticized for his constant stream of interruptions, Kaine might have taken a different approach, but alas.  At least he was successful in raising Trump's statements, hilariously Pence seemed to be judged the winner in part because of his repeated denials of his running mate's positions.  Pretty farcical.

Which brings us to the Hollywood Access tapes and the second debate.  I will admit that in the midst of the pre-debate fall-out, I worried (as James Carville did on Bill Maher) that Trump might use this as an excuse to drop out and avoid a humiliating loss, and that this would throw the race into a new sort of chaos with a more likeable and unvetted Republican nominee.  I should not have worried.  The Trump double-down (triple-down? quadruple-down?) strategy has been amazing to watch unfold.  All the instincts of the reality TV star on display - hoping the appeal to ever-more extreme and unconventional behaviour will save him from himself. 

But what worked in the Republican primary is showing signs of failing "big league" with the general electorate, if the most recent polls hold up.  Rightfully so.  I was actually fairly nervous at the start of the second debate, wondering how Hillary would keep her composure throughout.  I thought she was pretty solid, and that Trump looked completely unhinged in his incessant recitation of his stump speech talking points.  I was surprised to see the pundits seemed to suggest afterward that he had not in fact imploded, that he had stopped the bleeding or such.  I suppose that is true if considered narrowly, as seen solely from the persepective of whether he will hold on to his base.

That, of course, is not enough to win a Presidential election.  Thankfully.  Yet after being lauded for a performance that (although ridiculous and, frankly, outrageous from my perspective) would make Republicans cheer, here we are, two days later, and instead of clearing the airwaves for review of the Wikileak documents, Trump is on Twitter calling Paul Ryan "weak and ineffective" and John McCain "very foul mouthed."  Talk about strategery.  All the funnier given that the immediate polling released today showed Trump pulling back precisely because of support from Republicans.

It is to laugh, which hopefully we can do, once the remote possibility of his election is behind us, and I can stop checking Twitter incessantly for the next crazy story to break.  Trump unshackled is a scary thought in this post-fact climate of election coverage.  Looking forward to a sporting break to London this coming Friday, and then (hopefully) Toronto to keep me properly distracted until e-day.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tonight's the Night

At long last, the day of the first debate has arrived.  Needless to say (so why say it - ed.), it comes at a time when the race is delicately balanced, and so the pressure on both candidates, particularly Clinton as the front-runner, should be all the more intense leading into the Hofstra matchup tonight. 

It has been more than seven months since my return from New Hampshire, in which I first appreciated the reality of the Trump phenomenon up close.  It was destabilizing enough then, when his path through the Republican field was by no means assured.  Now, as he continues to clear additional hurdles on this most unlikely path to the Presidency, the cold fear of his possible election is all the more real. 

Since February, Trump has continued to operate in the same clown-like fashion, pushing the absurdity boundary to ever new extremes.  And yet his combination of celebrity and brazen shamelessness is resonating, and he has drawn close enough that history may yet look back at the debate to be held in a few hours as a defining moment.

Who will win, who will lose, who will beat expectations, who will seem Presidential, who would you rather have a beer with, what role will the moderator play in it all?  All the questions can be distilled down to essentially the same one - what impact will these crucial 90 minutes have on the ever-changing narrative of this race?

There is so much to anticipate from a game theory perspective, how the candidates will treat each other as they make their case.  It is an utterly fascinating moment, given the stakes.  A moment that Hillary has been waiting and preparing years, if not decades, for.

Oh, how I wish her well tonight.  Game on.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Post Convention Polling Sanity

Two weeks of pomp and craziness in Cleveland and Philadelphia in the books, and the early signs seem to indicate the American voters saw those events largely as I did.  The plagiarism and the "lock her up" chants and Cruz non-endorsement and extraordinary negativity of Trump's acceptance speech contrasted sharply with the more polished (and normal) state of affairs put on by the Clinton team.  Some solid speeches by Michelle and Barack, Bill was Bill (although the recounting of the love affair seemed a bit off in the circumstances), Biden was Biden (malarky!), Kaine showed himself to be the very model of a VP (anonymously bland and uncontroversial), and Hillary did what she had to do.

"I, alone, can fix it," is pure Trump, and encapsulates the threat he poses and his unfitness for office as succinctly as it gets.  So it was especially good to see the Dems use those words to hammer him.  His inability to leave the Khans alone and his eagerness to double down on all relentless attacks do seem to have helped push Hillary back to a place in the polls where the world can breathe a little easier going into the end of summer.

A little.  Next key event up on the schedule is the first of the debates in late September.  Will Trump try and back out?  Which candidates will be invited?  Format?  Who will moderate?  Such fascinating theatre to come.  Hopefully Hillary will maintain her margin until then.  But who knows?  The manic nature of this campaign defies explanation or prediction.  "Donald Trump Lashes Out At Crying Baby" is an actual headline today.  For serious.  With a full three months to go, there is surely plenty of madness left.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"He is a Dangerous Man for a Dangerous Moment"

That title's from the last line in this TPM piece summarizing Day 1 in Cleveland.  Well worth a read.

The start of the party conventions seems a good time to check back into the state of the race, post-footballing holiday.  France was an absolute ball.  10 games in all, most of the Tour de Mont Blanc, and copious wine and other delicacies consumed.  Felt like the longest of 3 week vacations, such that the return to actually sitting at a desk for stretches of time is proving difficult indeed.  The mind straying as it does - with speed - to future voyages.  London, Ireland, Bali, New Zealand, New Orleans, Chile, etc.  Oh so much to see. 

This RNC is a shambles, an embarrassment.  Astonishing theatre in its craziness and unpredictability, but mostly just scary in the way the Trump phenomenon has successfully brought the most outlandish and ridiculous aspects of American politics into the mainstream.  The amount of votes this guy is going to get, no matter what he says or does or promotes or sanctions, is truly frightening when considered in the larger context.  Hopefully this week will help signal the beginning of the end of Trump, but in the most unpredictable of campaigns, no one would bet on it. 

I was surprised in looking up the dates of the Democratic convention today to find it will be rolling out immediately following, starting next Monday.  That's a short window for the announcement of Hillary's VP, which I now assume will be Kaine or Vilsack.  Safe hands from a swing state, and why not?  Would have liked the idea of Warren, but can see her playing a big part in the administration regardless, and likely from a more important position than the #2 spot anyway.  Surprised that Trump went with the safe Pence pick, but you can see the rationale, especially if Gingrich/Christie were the only alternatives.  Neither will matter, which means continued advantage to the Democrats.

Looking forward to seeing what stories the rest of the convention season holds in store, and what it may all mean for the race itself.  Since the identities of the nominees crystallized at the end of May, it feels a bit as though everything has been in a holding pattern, awaiting a small but solid Clinton win and (thumbs held) the utter humiliation of Donald J. Trump.  No need to panic until the fundamentals change, but there is a lot of time left to run off the clock until the first Tuesday in November, and a lot can happen in the interim that might trigger the unimaginable - which makes the watching of this live-action history all the more compelling.

And as potentially destructive as Trump may yet prove to be, it bears remembering what an alternative RNC week in a sane universe might have been.  In this article, Vox has nicely laid out the doomsday scenario for Democrats that I most feared would unfold back in January, when I was on my way down to New Hampshire.  My, how much has happened since.   

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Clinton vs. Trump

The June 7th primaries have arrived, the last super Tuesday until the big one in November.  A bit shocking to consider that it is Hillary, and not the Donald, who in all likelihood will finally wrap up the nomination after California's votes are counted tonight.  Sanders and his campaign have struck a chord that will resonate through and beyond the election this fall, but ultimately he failed to win the votes and delegates necessary.  He didn't do enough to win the nomination.  It is, really, as simple as that.

Yet over the last few weeks, Bernie and his supporters have managed to channel their inner Kasich, insisting that victory remains possible in the face of all rational signs to the contrary.  Kasich dropped out when I least expected him to - just as he had Trump one on one - and I am hoping that Bernie makes the same decision tonight despite his comments otherwise.  The idea that he will go on all the way to the convention trying to sway superdelegates to overturn the results of the primaries is surely no longer a defensible position once all the actual votes have been counted.  To persist is only to assist Trump in the important election ahead.

So, as has been apparent for some time now, it is going to be Clinton vs. Trump.  Once they settle on the debates, I will be marking them in my calendar, not to be missed as entertainment or a live viewing of history for all the world.  Trump is showing signs of melting down in his recent comments about the "Mexican" judge and otherwise, and I look forward to the same continuing.  The more the polls turn against him, the more desperate he is likely to become, and given that he has no incentive whatsoever to hold anything back, the depth of the implosion could be spectacular.  From the VP selections to the conventions and then into the homestretch, it promises to be a most fascinating and unconventional race to watch.

Updates here will continue to be few and far between, at least for the next while.  This Thursday night, I'm off to France for the better part of a month to recreate the magic of Brazil as Coop and I have tickets to 9 Euro 2016 matches.  For good measure, I am throwing in the small matter of a hike around Mont Blanc as well.  Perfect time for a holiday that will treat me ever so well, I have no doubt.  Check back for further musings when we know who will serve on the tickets and for thoughts on the convention, which at least on the Republican side should make for some hilarious viewing. 

And that's about the only prediction I am willing to make.  Have a good rest of the merry month of June, all.  Enjoy wherever you are. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Back Home Again in St. John's

The last of the important Tuesday primaries tonight for at least a month, and so just a quick report from the Rock befitting the anti-climax it looks likely to be.  The Veep gambit hasn't helped (Carly's most notable contribution so far being this classic clip of her falling off the stage, and Trump mocking Cruz for not helping!).  Ted's unpopularity is hurting him, and the rank and file have just made the decision that enough is enough.  Assuming tonight follows the polls, the fat lady will be bursting to belt into song in California.

Definitely a shame.  The contested convention would have been excellent.  Even so, I suppose, Trump's involvement will add an element that makes it unwatchable regardless.

The current polls that show Clinton trouncing Trump make me nervous.  Hopefully she sails through from now until November.  But inevitably (perhaps) there may come a time when it gets closer, and Trump's unpredictability is a real wild card.  It seems that his unfavourables are a deal-breaker, but this race has totally reinforced the old "expect the unexpected" cliche.  In a year when a 5000 to 1 longshot can win the Premier League (well played Foxes!), it is not a stretch to say that, truly, anything can happen.

As an old Turkish flatmate of a friend once memorably said: "Time will show."