Trump still alive, but GOP in tat­ters

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Jerome Car­tillier 1. Trump on the ropes but no KO (yet) 2. De­bate the is­sues? Nah 3. Repub­li­cans in cri­sis

Af­ter nearly 18 months of vit­ri­olic cam­paign­ing and two in­cen­di­ary pres­i­den­tial de­bates, it is clear that the 2016 race for the White House is truly like no other. The re­lease of a 2005 video con­tain­ing lewd and sex­ist com­ments made by Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump has fur­ther roiled his party, which was al­ready in tat­ters and without a path for­ward. Now, many party stal­warts have aban­doned their own can­di­date. Here are the key lessons learned so far with four weeks to go be­fore Amer­i­cans go to the polls on No­vem­ber 8 for an elec­tion that will end with ei­ther Trump, 70, or Demo­cratic ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton, 68, suc­ceed­ing Barack Obama as US pres­i­dent.

Team Trump breathed a rel­a­tive sigh of re­lief Mon­day af­ter the se­cond de­bate be­tween the White House hope­fuls. On Sat­ur­day, one day af­ter the bomb­shell re­lease of the video show­ing Trump mak­ing ag­gres­sively sex­ual re­marks about grop­ing and forc­ing him­self on women, it looked like the real es­tate mogul was one step away from po­lit­i­cal obliv­ion. A cas­cade of re­pu­di­a­tion from fel­low Repub­li­cans flooded Twit­ter: one by one, party heavy­weights in­clud­ing Se­na­tor John McCain, the 2008 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, said they could no longer back Trump.

Ques­tions swirled: would Trump drop out of the race? Would his run­ning mate Mike Pence leave the ticket to po­si­tion him­self for 2020? Two days and one de­bate later, Trump seems on bet­ter foot­ing. His com­bat­ive de­bate per­for­mance - heavy on zingers, light on sub­stance - ap­peared to have righted the ship. Pence, who said he was “of­fended” by Trump’s com­ments, changed tack. “No­body is per­fect,” Pence told MSNBC. “I’m hon­ored to be stand­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with him.”

For Ju­lian Zelizer, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory and pub­lic af­fairs at Prince­ton Univer­sity, “Clin­ton missed a knock­out punch” dur­ing Sun­day’s de­bate. Former Obama aide David Ax­el­rod agreed that Trump “did well enough to pre­vent col­lapse,” but added: “Not well enough to change tra­jec­tory - and tra­jec­tory is not good.” An NBC News-Wall Street Jour­nal poll re­leased Mon­day - con­ducted af­ter the video was re­leased but be­fore Sun­day’s de­bate - showed Clin­ton with a dou­bledigit lead over her Repub­li­can foe.

“When she hit me at the end with the women, I was go­ing to hit her with her hus­band’s women, and I de­cided I shouldn’t do it be­cause her daugh­ter was in the room,” Trump said just two weeks ago af­ter the first de­bate. At that time, it looked like the bil­lion­aire wanted to main­tain some sense of the high ground. But on Sun­day, with Chelsea Clin­ton again in the room, a de­fi­ant Trump changed his tune.

By un­earthing decades-old claims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and rape against Bill Clin­ton, and by ap­pear­ing hours be­fore the de­bate with his al­leged vic­tims, Trump took the cam­paign into un­charted ter­ri­tory. The women were then in­vited to the de­bate, and Trump re­port­edly even tried to seat them in his fam­ily box, so the former pres­i­dent would have to face them when he en­tered the room. The level of an­i­mos­ity and ran­cor be­tween the two can­di­dates is now so el­e­vated that it seems im­pos­si­ble to think that at their third and last de­bate on Oc­to­ber 19 in Las Ve­gas, they will ac­tu­ally tackle the po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic is­sues at hand.

Since Trump first an­nounced his can­di­dacy on June 16, 2015, the Grand Old Party has per­formed a del­i­cate - and un­com­fort­able - bal­anc­ing act. In re­cent days, that bal­anc­ing act has mor­phed into a full-on cir­cus. By at­tack­ing Clin­ton on is­sues that fu­eled his suc­cess in the pri­maries - such as her use of a pri­vate email server while serv­ing as sec­re­tary of state, the Beng­hazi con­tro­versy and her “bas­ket of de­plorables” gaffe - Trump ably energized his core sup­port­ers in the party.

But the party’s top play­ers are flee­ing from him, with House Speaker Paul Ryan all but con­ced­ing the race to Clin­ton and say­ing he will fo­cus on down-bal­lot con­tests to try to pre­serve the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress. “There has al­ways been more re­sis­tance to Trump among the party leadership than the rank and file,” veteran po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Larry Sa­bato of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia said in his post-de­bate re­view. “The vast ma­jor­ity of self-iden­ti­fied Repub­li­cans will vote for Trump, and they may be an­gered by the party lead­ers who have re­tracted their en­dorse­ments.”

On Nov 8, vot­ers will not only choose a new pres­i­dent, but also a third of the 100-mem­ber Se­nate, and all of their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the House. With the Se­nate seem­ingly in reach, some Democrats are even dream­ing that the GOP im­plo­sion could put the House within their grasp. “You all need to do what’s best for you in your district,” Ryan told Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, say­ing he would not de­fend Trump or cam­paign for him - and ef­fec­tively giv­ing them his bless­ing to sever ties with the White House nom­i­nee.

Trump re­torted on Twit­ter: “Paul Ryan should spend more time on bal­anc­ing the bud­get, jobs and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and not waste his time on fight­ing Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.” The split was mu­sic to the ears of Team Clin­ton. “Some­what of a civil war is breaking out in the Repub­li­can Party,” her com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Palmieri said Mon­day. — AFP

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