Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- October 2, 2016

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – Sometimes when a major political event happens, the tendency of pundits and politicos is to react right away. Since I only write this column weekly, I like to let things simmer for several days before I weigh in. There is a lot to “brunch” on this week:

“Who Won; Who Lost?” – There was a lot of consternation over that question all week. I quoted a CNN poll, out Tuesday, that said 62 percent of viewers believed Hillary Clinton won, versus 27 percent who thought Donald Trump won. A viewer immediately wrote in asking me why I did not quote any of the online polls that showed Trump won. Here is the difference: CNN’s poll was the only one with a scientifically-drawn, representative sample from the pollster. (Gallup also had one with similar results out by Friday.) As I pointed out to the viewer, online polls are not scientific because anyone can randomly vote, and even vote many times if they wish).

“Where’s the Beef? (I Mean the Bump?)” – If Clinton really beat Trump that badly, then she should have seen a big spike in voter preference polls. Yet a “Los Angeles Times” poll after the debate had Trump leading nationally by five points; and, conversely, a Fox News poll had Clinton up five points. Here is the real preference number that matters: Among Clinton, Trump, Libertarian Gary Johnson, and Green candidate Jill Stein, the last dozen national polls indicate 94.4 percent of the public has made up its mind. Yes, the numbers for each candidate have fluctuated, but apparently only 5.6 percent of the voters are still undecided. Clinton may have won the debate handily, but it hardly moved the needle. This race remains close.

“Is it Over?” – Good lord, no! That 5.6 percent of the electorate is about to choose the next President. The latest Real Clear Politics Composite Poll has it 44 percent for Clinton to 41 percent for Trump (and the Libertarian and Green taking just shy of 10 percent). In reality, Clinton and Trump are duking it out for the final 5 percent of the voters, in a race where the margin is just 3 percent. It’s still a competitive race.

“Bad Debate Death Knell” – There is a myth that if you blow one debate (especially the critical first debate), it’s all over. That’s simply not true. Ronald Reagan was just awful in his first reelection debate in 1984, but won in November by a landslide. Barack Obama was equally befuddled in his first reelection debate in 2012, but came on strong later and easily won a second term. Trump has two more bites at the apple.

“Temperament” – I had Monday night’s debate scored even through the first hour (based on debate style, not on policy points). But in the last 20 minutes, Trump simply melted down under the heat of some provocative questions and issues. His low point was losing his temper, while discussing – of all things - what a great temperament he has. It was rich with irony. He spoke of also having more stamina than Clinton, but kept repeating himself and seemed frustrated. Meanwhile, her health issues were not evident. He argued that he has more stamina and a better temperament, but his performance suggested the exact opposite. The only blessing for him is that Trump's meltdown happened in the last quarter hour, when viewership traditionally dwindles a lot from the start of the debate.

“White House vs. NFL” – I think this is just bizarre, but NBC will not be carrying the next debate on Sunday night, October 9. Sure, it will be on CNBC and MSNBC, but not on the mothership network. Making matters worse is that the game pits two of the original, storied NFL teams - the Green Bay Packers versus the New York Giants. The first debate drew 81 million viewers, while NFL football on Sunday night averages 23 million viewers. You do the math. This may actually be a plus for Trump, who scores his highest marks among adult white males (a big audience likely to watch the game, instead of the debate). Because of that, Trump has a chance to persuade other voters – especially the undecideds - who may still watch the debate.

“The Politics of Anger” – For almost a year now, people have been asking me why Hillary Clinton can’t put the competition away. She has a long resume with lots of experience, but she consistently has trouble sealing the deal. She was supposed to be a slam-dunk in 2008, yet Barack Obama beat her. She was a shoo-in for 2016, but Bernie Sanders almost beat her. Now she theoretically should have a huge lead over the politically-inexperienced Donald Trump; yet he’s right at her heels. Look, the public is very, very mad. That’s how Trump got here; that’s how Bernie Sanders nearly made it to the finish line. Unless Clinton can convince that remaining 5 percent that she "gets" their anger and frustration, she may not win.

“VP Debate” – Tuesday night from Farmville, Virginia, we'll see the one-and-only Vice Presidential debate. The debates for the number-two slot always draw big audiences and usually have some amusing surprises. But they’ve never changed the outcome of the race for the White House in any significant way. Tim Kaine and Mike Pence are two very experienced and astute politicians. It will be an informative debate, but not a game changer,

What are your thoughts on the first debate? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbs.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- September 25, 2016

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – The first of the three 2016 Presidential debates is Monday night at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York. Each candidate could have a make-or-break night in what is traditionally the most watched debate in the series. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Don’t ‘Cough-Up’ the Football!” – For Hillary Clinton, health is a big concern. I am assuming she’ll be rested and recovered from her pneumonia; but, if not, watch out. She had a terrible coughing fit at a campaign stop in Ohio a few weeks ago and has had hoarseness issues in other speeches. If that happens again, it will surely raise voters' concerns about her well-being.

“The Comeback” – On the other hand, being "down for the count" and having underdog status could help. In 1984, President Reagan had a wandering, unfocused debate performance in the first contest. Many worried he was too old for a second term; but, when he was asked about the age issue in the second debate, he quipped, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." The crowd laughed and so, too, did Mondale. The election was over that night. A strong Clinton performance could be similarly disarming.

“First Do No Harm” – In medicine, the Hippocratic Oath states,"First Do No Harm!" The same applies to politics. In 2008, many observers opined that Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin would be crushed by her vastly experienced opponent, Senator Joe Biden. Palin – while not stellar – made no gaffes and held her ground. Biden was a voice of experience; and, in the end, Biden won by his statesmanship. Yet, Palin was a winner, too, because she held her own in a debate where she was projected to be crushed. The lesson for Trump is to be confident, poised, and knowledgeable against someone who has far more debate experience.

“Be Presidential!” – The biggest rap on Trump this year was that he was not Presidential and not diplomatic. That all changed when he went to visit the President of Mexico. Trump looked every bit the part of a national leader, and gained a lot of traction against the sometimes flat-footed Clinton. He needs to reprise that performance. Most observers have high expectations for Clinton’s debate performance, given her years of political experience. Trump needs to counter that by coming across as competent and with the right temperament for the job. If he goes off on some odd tangent or rant, he will be his own worst enemy. He needs to remember this is a one-on-one debate, not the free-for-all chaos of 17 candidates in the original GOP debates.

“The Bush Bombshell” – It’s a matter the moderator must raise during the debate: President George H.W. Bush says he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton. There have been eleven U.S. Presidents in my lifetime, and I can’t remember another former leader casting a ballot for the opposition party nominee. Normally, endorsements – whether by newspapers or special interest groups – don’t amount to a hill of beans. But a former President’s blessing is gold, especially among an uncertain electorate. Only 43 people have ever held this job over the course of 230-plus years. Bush's is one vote - not a formal endorsement - but it carries weight!

“The Attacks” – The attacks have to have a laser-beam focus. There can’t be any nuance. The candidates must get right to the point. No one needs a political science lecture. Trump needs to say: “Hillary, they called for help in Benghazi, and you failed to respond!” and, “Hillary, the FBI Director said you were ‘careless and reckless’ with classified emails.” Clinton, in turn, needs to say, “Republican President George H.W. Bush is voting for me; what does that say about you, Donald?” And, “How can you manage the economy, when you drove four companies into bankruptcy?” They both need to be pointed, succinct, and harsh; and let the chips fall where they may!

“Third Parties?” – It disappoints me greatly to see no third party candidates on the stage, though that could still change in later debates. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green nominee Jill Stein have collectively polled anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the vote. The threshold for any one candidate to be on the debate stage is 15 percent in national polls. But how do you achieve 15 percent unless you have a forum where you can express your views and persuade an audience? The rigged, traditional two-party debates need to lower that threshold to anywhere from five to seven percent. Let people have a voice!

Who is your prediction for the winner for the first Presidential debate, and why? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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