A Debate Primer For Your Sanity

I sat down this weekend with the intention of writing about tonight’s debate and what to expect.  But let’s be honest, its simple.  Trump will say whatever comes to his mind, whether right, wrong, fictitious, or absurd and Clinton will be hamstrung to defend herself. Democracy!

Instead I bring you this preview to what will inevitably increase attendance at AA meetings across the country next week.

Early prediction (based on CNN advertising):

  • Trump and Hillary will each arrive in sequined robes. Trump will decline to weigh in and instead declare that “My weight is phenomenal, truly tremendous.”  Gary Johnson will then rush the stage and bite off part of Clinton’s ear.

How Clinton will win: 

  • She must do the oral equivalent of walking across a Vaseline soaked tightrope, in a hurricane, while wearing ice skates, and after taking 10 shots of Trump Vodka.

How Trump will win:

  • He must not vomit, defecate, or die on stage.

What Clinton will wear:

  • Black suit.  Red power tie.  Flag Pin.  Frank Underwood’s cuff-links.

On fact checking:

  • CNN will fact check, but will then allow Ana Navarro and Corey Lewandowski to debate each “fact.”
  • Fox’s fact checking will be done by Rudy Giuliani.
  • MSNBC will stop fact checking after their team resigns due to exhaustion 10 seconds into Trump’s opening statement.

Drink whenever Clinton says: 

  • “We are stronger together.”

Drink whenever Trump says:

  • “I’ll hire the best people to look into that.”

Finish your drink if: 

  • Someone in the audience shouts “RIP HARAMBE!” during a pause in the action.

You know what, just start drinking now.

If you’re seeking accurate information:

  • Skip this debate and wait for the SNL version next weekend.

How we’ll be saved:

  • CNN’s countdown clock will freeze at 0:00:03 and no activity shall ever commence until its CNN countdown clock has hit 0:00:00.

Late prediction:

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates will have a person whose sole job is to cover Lester Holt’s mouth when Trump declares that “Hillary Clinton not only founded ISIL, but she actually piloted all four planes on 9/11.”


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“Hillary Clinton, meet Don Draper.”

This election has been the darkest in my lifetime. Gone are candidates of hope and from Hope. Gone too are the traditional norms of campaigns. The Republican candidate has bought less air time than companies who sell catheters and the Democratic candidate seems fixated on running a traditional campaign come hell or high water.

The most effective ad of this cycle was the Hillary Clinton ad titled “Role Models” which featured many of Trump’s vociferous soundbites paired with images of impressionable doe-eyed elementary schoolers seemingly watching in paralyzed awe.  The ad was brilliant in its ability to elicit emotion from the viewer, and without stating the obvious put in context what it would be like if Oval Office addresses basically turn into an oral YouTube comment section.

In addition, in this hyper-saturated political climate, ads also serve as a discussion topic for the morning-afternoon-evening-night shows.  An ad may only be played durng commercials in Ohio, but CNN will replay it countless times in order to ask their army of commentators to err, comment.

With that in mind, there are three ads Clinton needs to run to change the game, and namely the conversation.  First, she needs to take a fun, light, and unique approach.  This election has become overly serious and the mere mention of “Clinton” or “Trump” is enough to make most people wish they had taken a Dramamine. Second, she needs another hit like “Role Models” to contextualize Trump’s unfitness. And third, she needs a raw emotional appeal to the Rust Belt.

  • “Everywhere”

The spot opens with the required “I approve this message” bit so that the end effect isn’t ruined. As the federally mandated portion fades out, the opening notes of Johnny Cash’s version of  “I’ve been everywhere man” begin. dum dum dum DUM dum DUM.  

As the lyrics start, quick (¾ second) images of regular plain Jane Hillary Clinton smiling with folks of every color in the rainbow at county fairs, malls, fields, rallies, and little league games all across the country flash on the screen to the beat.  The images would appear match the cities being named, if only to bait the Washington Post into assigning a reporter to fact-check each image.

The ad finishes with a 3 second shot of her lone campaign bus driving on a two lane road through corn fields with “Strong Together” branded across the screen.

This ad is effective because even back when Choice Hotels ran an ad with this song, I would always turn my head when it came on in almost a Pavlovian response to the infectious guitar.  Once eyes are on the screen, viewers will be barraged with a fun and lively Hillary, in contrast to the dark and ominous Donald we have come to know.

  • “Legacy”

This ad features short clips of presidents from FDR through Obama during impactful speeches they made. The run of show would open with FDR and continue chronologically:

    1. FDR: “This day, will live in infamy”
    2. Kennedy in Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner”
    3. LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech
    4. Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
    5. Clinton speech to families of the Oklahoma City bombing victims
    6. Bush after 9/11: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and soon, the people that knocked down these towers will hear from all of us.”
    7. Obama at the memorial service for the Charleston shooting victims: “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.”
    8. Donald Trump: “blood coming of her ears, blood coming out her whatever.”
      1. Screen cuts to snow, rewinds, shows last second of Obama then…
    9. Hillary Clinton finishing her remarks at the DNC

This ad is effective because the first 7 clips illustrate the immense power of the presidential bully pulpit.  They remind people that their choice as president is not only a choice on policy but a choice for the face of the nation.  American presidents have enormous consequence on the world and they often do so through addressing the nation in times of crisis or doubt.

The final clips featuring Trump after President Obama’s remarks in Charleston contrasts a president who bears the responsibility of healing and empathy so personally with someone who shoots verbal bullets from the hip and cares not who he offends.

  • “Hands”

Two workers nearing retirement age, dressed blue jeans and a tucked in shirt, with just enough belly to make you picture them sitting on a porch swing, address the camera through a black and white lens. In between full body shots of them talking, the ad focuses on their hands, calloused and worn, evidence of a lifetime of work.  They explain how contracts for buildings were their lifeblood, how it paid for their kid’s college tuition and for the roof above their head.  Then they raise the point that businessmen like Trump who voided contracts or failed to pay brought businesses like theirs to ruin.

The ad ends with a closeup shot of the man’s hands in his lap going from clasped to open as one does in defeat as his voice can be heard saying “When you trust someone and they stiff you, as the little guy, what can you do?”

Each of these ads are effective in a different way.  The first as a lighthearted interruption, a song that everyone recognizes will certainly make heads turn as it begins. The second would be widely played on CNN and spark conversations about how Trump is viewed as a symbol of America. And finally, the third will remind voters of the little people Trump has made pavement out of on his march to celebrity.

Ads don’t win elections, but they have the power to change conversations and drive narratives.  The infamous “Windsurfing” ad against John Kerry in 2004 devastatingly cemented him as a flip-flopper and made him a target of mockery.

After an especially bad week, where Clinton is on the defense for her own errors and those out of her control, a well crafted, clever advertising campaign could shift the conversation back to where she wants it.

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Why Mitch McConnell wants to remain boring.

Twenty-one days. That is all that remains in the Senate’s legislative year before the apocalypse election on November 8.  Twenty-one days to solve a whole host of issues from fighting Zika to funding the government.  So what can you expect to happen?  Basically nothing, and here is why.

As Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is stuck between two not-so-equal and opposite forces.  On one hand, his Senate majority is dangling from an increasingly frayed rope and on the other hand, the hard right is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of conservative victories he has secured. 

Government funding runs out on September 30.  One way or another McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan will hammer out some sort of funding measure, whether it is a Continuing Resolution (CR) or an omnibus package because there is no way in hell they will let a shutdown happen.  The Republicans know that when the dust settled following a shutdown, they would find Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton measuring the drapes for their new offices.

With that in mind, McConnell has three options remaining, none of which make everyone happy, and only one of which keeps his hopes alive of remaining Majority Leader.

The Senate has only passed two of the twelve appropriations bills, so in order to fund the government through fiscal year 2017, McConnell and Ryan would have a quickly package up an omnibus and moved it through Congress in roughly three weeks.  During that process, both parties would offer a host of messaging amendments and McConnell is too smart to force any of his vulnerable members to go on record voting to kill puppies or deport cancer patients. 

In addition, with Senators Portman, Johnson, Ayotte, McCain, Toomey, and Kirk all in fights for their lives, McConnell doesn’t want them in DC for even a second longer than they have to be.  All politics is local, and Capitol Hill ain’t local to anywhere. Any time they spend on the Senate floor is time that they could be shaking hands, kissing babies, and take hay rides at the county fair

The second option would be to pass a CR through the fall and into next Congress, most likely ending in March.  Federal agencies loathe this option as it would force them to operate on a partial year budget with no reasonable expectation of their future funding levels.  Sadly, their practical concerns matter not.  Hard right Republicans favor this option for two reasons.

1) With wishful thinking, they envision holding onto the Senate and thus being able to sabotage President Clinton’s first few months in office with a bruising budget battle that would distract from her “First 100 Days” agenda. 

2) Conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation believe that lame duck votes tend to yield liberal results. They understand that without accountability to the party machinery, moderate Republicans and those who are retiring are less likely to fight for anti-abortion language in a Zika funding bill.  

While that option is ideal for the conservation wing of the spectrum, Obama has said it is a non-starter and he would veto it.  As I mentioned earlier, Republican’s can’t risk a shutdown and won’t dare ask Obama to play one more hand before he cashes in.

What this leaves us with is the boring inevitability of a two month CR probably passed on September 29th with the promise of an omnibus funding package on the horizon for early December.

Despite all the hooting and hollering McConnell did about how he’d govern differently as Majority Leader and how he’d get the appropriations process back on track, it looks like this fall will be business as usual.  Expect McConnell to begin consideration of a CR through early December within the next week and for all the drama to be left to CNN.


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Another Faux Scandal. Sigh.

The Associated Press ran a widely mocked article last week that basically claimed being a Clinton Foundation donor was a prerequisite to getting a meeting with the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.  They used an absurd definition of “meeting” and then failed to present any other context for those meetings other than the existence of a donation. It would be like saying that I love Disney World because I once travelled to Orlando, while omitting that my grandparents live there, too.  Or in the case of one of those donors who met with Clinton, he was also a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, and Nobel Prize winner.

Republicans are also crying foul that Clinton took meetings with billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates as well as CEOs of the large financial institutions instead of average Americans.  The media reports these meetings as if there is a scandal there. There isn’t. Not even close.

In fact, this shouldn’t be a story at all. This is the way Washington works. No, not because it is corrupt, but because to make and execute good policy, you need the players on board who are not only experts, but have the means to help.  

Take Clinton’s meeting with Nancy Mahon of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder.  They had given to the Clinton Foundation and were also involved in a public/private partnership with the State Department to fight AIDS and gender discrimination in South Africa, something the MAC Cosmetics group had worked on previously.  

Now ask yourself, who would be a better person for Clinton to meet with? Someone who runs a charity similar the program the State Department wants to start, or your buddy Tim who has strong opinions on poor people in Africa?

The same goes for her meetings with Wall Street CEOs.  The US Government works with these large financial institutions on all sorts of issues.  Internationally, they are partners in hunting down financial criminals, routing out terror financing networks, and instituting sanctions.  Clinton isn’t meeting with Jamie Dimon because he gave money to her husband’s foundation, she is meeting with him because the government needs JP Morgan.  

Same question, who would be a better person for Clinton to meet with on global financial issues? The guy who runs JP Morgan, or your neighbor Bill who thinks he’s cleverly saving money by only paying the minimum balance on his credit card?

Working for a member of Congress I have seen this firsthand.  Meetings with CEOs didn’t take place because of donations, they took place because if you want something done, you talk to the person in charge. If the power grid in the state needs fixing, you call the utility CEO, not the technician who has written a few Facebook posts about the government keeping their hands off of his Social Security.

It is no different with celebrities either. Matt Damon doesn’t get a meeting because he has good ideas (maybe he does, who knows), he gets a meeting because the picture of him with the member (and therefore the issue) will be retweeted and garner attention.

The reason these points aren’t articulated on the news is because the pundits and anchors are a part of this giant circle of influence.  Wolf Blitzer and Andrea Mitchell dine with senators and CEOs.  David Gergen worked for four presidents and is on a first name basis with most of Washington.  Mark Halperin is the son of Nixon aide Morton Halperin and was born into the DC hierarchy.  Nearly every person you see on television discussing how scandalous Clinton’s meetings are has been a direct player in that exact system their whole career. There aren’t nearly enough pots and kettles in the world for this scenario.

I’ve been in the green room during each of the four Sunday shows and have watched how the members of Congress and pundits interact, how they chat about their most recent dinner party and their kids and share their two cents on Donald Trump and his tiny hands.  Then they go on air, pretend they don’t know each other and discuss what “average voters” want to hear from Hillary.  

The business, political, and media world don’t exist in a vacuum.  All the players know each other, work with each other, and give money to each other.  The presence of a donation doesn’t signify anything beyond the dollar amount on the check. Much like Woody and Buzz watching Andy pack his boxes without them, the news anchors and pundits must stay silent on their true place in the Washington arena, otherwise the jig would be up.

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Photo Credit: (BBC)

The Donald vs The Media. Who Ya Got?

Since successfully emasculating Chris Christie into serfdom, dueling Paul Ryan to a draw, and hypnotizing Marco Rubio into supporting him, Donald Trump has finally settled on his newest target of bombast.  The media.

Regardless of his ire, the media is the lifeblood of his campaign.  It is estimated he has received over $2 billion in free air time and he has spent less on advertising than Green Party candidate Jill Stein. During a recent interview with the Washington Post, he famously stopped the interview 5 times – including mid-sentence – to stare at the TV and comment on himself.  He is like a dog who barks at a squirrel while you’re trying to get it to sit.  And lately he has been doing a lot of barking.

To hear Trump tell it, in the past week he has been the victim of two media conspiracies to make him look bad after he said a couple completely innocuous words.  First was his apparent reference to encourage assassinating Hillary Clinton and the second was his declaration that President Obama “founded ISIS.” But the media was wrong Trump says, the Clinton comment was “sarcasm” and merely meant to encourage Second Amendment supporters to shoot vote and the Obama comment wasn’t literal, obviously.

The media has such a sensitive gag reflex to his quotes because he has developed a reputation as a caricature of a dictator where it isn’t far-fetched to assume he could intend something as incendiary as an allusion to assassination.  

Remember, the media doesn’t operate in a vacuum. They have chronicled Trump’s history. They live for continuing narratives. If Mitt Romney had said either of those things, the spin wouldn’t have been the same because he didn’t have the same track record that Trump does.  

Unlike Romney, Trump repeatedly employed thinly veiled dog-whistles during the primaries to gin up support among blue collar white voters such as when he played funny with the endorsement of the KKK by pretending to not know who David Duke was.  The media was suspect his explanation of that incident and they will continue to be with others like it.

This style of reporting on the Trump campaign also extends beyond Trump himself.

For example, Trump surrogate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is currently backpedaling at Olympic speed for saying that the United States suffered no terror attacks in the eight years preceding the Obama presidency.  The media jumped it because on its face it is an absurd and insultingly false comment.  Giuliani, after all, was the mayor of New York City on 9/11 and can (hopefully) do math to realize that that is less than eight years prior to Obama.

What upsets Trumpians is that if one looks at Giuliani’s full remarks, only a couple minutes before the quote in question he had mentioned that 9/11 was a foreign attack on U.S. soil during a time of Republican leadership, thus clearly Giuliani was taken out of context.

So is Trump right? Is the media treating him unfairly?

The short answer is that no, they are not.

The media doesn’t think that Giuliani has forgotten when 9/11 was. They are aghast at him for the absurdity of the remark because he and his fellow Trump mouthpieces are so willing to say literally anything to hurt the president and Hillary Clinton that they don’t consider fact, history, or reason before speaking. 

Presidential campaign speeches and talking points used to be some of the most highly vetted words ever spoken, but Trump’s campaign and its surrogates are employing the same vetting process as your drunk cousin at Thanksgiving.  

As I mentioned earlier, Trump and his surrogate’s quotes get written about from an angle of seriousness and shock because he has previously acted in such a way to make those quotes seem intentional.  If a Mormon missionary is found at the scene of a crime, he is much more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than someone who has a rap sheet the length of a CVS receipt.

The other reason that the media treats obviously false statements like “Obama founded ISIS” with such intensity is that Trump says them to play to the whims of conspiracy theory junkies.  Just as Trump’s hesitancy to disavow David Duke was seen as a nod to southern whites, the Obama-ISIS quote was seen as a nod towards those who don’t believe Obama is a patriot.  If the media gives him a pass on these “hint-hint” style allegations, they’d view themselves as abdicating their duty to not perpetuate ugly conspiracies and flat out lies.

The final point is that the media mostly just repeats verbatim what Trump says. They don’t have to skew opinion one way or another because just simply saying “Trump said” and playing the tape does a pretty good job of getting the point across.  President Obama made this point at a fundraiser for Clinton recently saying “I don’t have to make the case against [Trump] because every time he talks, he makes the case against his own candidacy.”

As long as Trump keeps holding press conferences, the media will continue to cover him with skepticism, shock, and dueling panels of “experts.”  Trump can either adapt and save his campaign or continue on his path and save money on confetti and balloons.

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Photo Credit: (Getty Images)

7 Things You Can Expect From Donald Trump This Week

Last week Donald Trump treated us to all new sorts of crazy.  He started the week by hinting at the assassination of Hillary Clinton and finished by declaring that President Obama founded ISIS.

It will be a tough act to follow, but here at Eighteenth&U, we offer you a sneak peak into what Trump has planned for us this week.

7 Things You Can Expect From Donald Trump This Week

  1. “I heard from a reliable source – very reliable, believe me – that Hillary Clinton deleted those 30,000 emails because she actually is the Nigerian Prince. Many people are saying that.”
    1. Turns out that reputable source is an email from a Nigerian Prince.
  2. In a 7-tweet series starting at 11:43 pm, he’ll denounce KFC as “really a terrible establishment” that “even starving African children wouldn’t touch” after he realizes mid-flight that his 10 piece bucket only has 9 pieces.
  3. Trump will write a letter to the editor declaring BuzzFeed a “puny, insignificant website that is so 2014” after they post a listicle titled: “23 Things Bigger Than Donald Trump’s Tiny, Tiny Hands.”
  4. He will insist that Mike Pence twirl around on stage to model his new Trump suit and tie. Trump will add that “Mike is probably the ugliest dude to ever wear one of those.”
  5. At an event in Illinois, he’ll make fun of Senator Mark Kirk for wearing glasses asking “like, how does even check his Twitter mentions without looking like a four-eyed loser?”
  6. Trump will ponder aloud to an audience in Texas; “Thank god Hillary isn’t a beach volleyball player, am I right? She’s barely a hard 6, much less a 10!”
  7. A tweet “revealing” that Obama killed Harambe.


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Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Donald Trump Needs To Call A Timeout

Donald Trump must think he is a shark with the way his mouth and/or thumbs are in near constant motion.  It is like if he is not in front of a microphone, en route to a microphone, or using his tiny fingers to whimsically punch out 140 new characters, he feels like he is dying.  

But alas, he is not a shark.  He is actually closer to a blow-fish bred with a yam, but I digress.  He doesn’t need to keep moving to stay alive and someone should tell him that in fact, moving for the sake of moving is often a mistake in the political world. Sometimes doing nothing is the best action you can take.

Trump keeps “accidentally” insulting new people because he has exhausted so many previous talking points that he must stretch for more material. He’s like a television show entering its fifth season when it never expected to make it past the pilot.

His bigger problem is that he has no articulated policies besides “build the wall” which requires roughly three words to detail.

“What are we gonna do?” “Build the wall!” “Hrmm okay, right, well moving on.”

He doesn’t have a structured stump speech either, so when he wanders up to the microphone he spews a stream of consciousness similar to the keystrokes of your crazy right-wing uncle.

The whole Selina Meyer-esque interaction with a crying baby at one of his rallies recently happened because he was so bored with his talking points that his mind began to wander and like a comedian who forgot his next bit, he turned to engaging the crowd.

At some level Trump may also know that like a comedian, if his material gets stale people will stop listening.  Jokes are only funny so many times and if you know the punchline, it’s hard to stay engaged.  The same goes for a Trump speech. It’s hard to stay fired up about kicking out those darn immigrants through twelve straight months of rallies.

“What are we gonna do?” “Yeah yeah, the wall, we know.” “Hrmm okay, right, well moving on.”

Even the media is bored of his gaffes.  It’s become a cut-and-paste ritual in every article where the author lists Trump’s offenses in the same manner in which you list “proficient in Microsoft Office suite” on your resume.  Everyone knows it, you have to say it, but it isn’t going to impress anyone.

He also doesn’t seem to get that just because he’s making noise doesn’t mean he’s making progress.  He remarked last week that he was confused about how he wasn’t higher in the polls because his rallies were so big.  Trump rallies feature a thousand die-hard crazy folks and the voting public is about 110 million people.  You do the math.

With three months until the election, you can bet that you haven’t seen the last press release from the Speaker’s office attempting linguistic Tai Chi condemning Trump’s latest offense while also still kinda sorta supporting him and also slipping in a Benghazi reference or two.

Trump has morphed into the love child of a Jack-In-The-Box and the Energizer Bunny. You know something crazy is going to pop out at any second, you just don’t know when or how to stop it–and it will continue indefinitely.*

*hopefully not after November 8.

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Photo Credit:  AP