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09/30/2016 07:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- Trump Backs Up Titanic , Hits Iceberg Again

JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images

Our subtitle today is not original, so we've got to start by giving credit where credit is due. David French, a writer for the ultraconservative National Review (and a man once so horrified by Donald Trump's candidacy that he considered running himself), had the funniest metaphor for Trump's performance in Monday's first presidential debate:

After the first 20 minutes, it may have been the most lopsided debate I've ever seen -- and not because Clinton was particularly effective. But you don't need to be good when your opponent is bad. Why didn't he have a better answer ready for the birther nonsense? Has he still not done any homework on foreign policy? I felt like I was watching the political Titanic hit the iceberg, back up, and hit it again. Just for fun.

The extraordinary thing about this is not that a conservative is ridiculing a debate performance of the Republican candidate for president, since he's not the only one who did so this week (more on this in the talking points), and also since the list of Republicans who support Hillary Clinton is growing by the day. No, the extraordinary thing is that the author wrote this before Trump started actually fighting back against former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. French was just talking about the debate itself, but for the entire rest of the week, Trump backed his personal Titanic up again and again, and tried to just ram through the iceberg, over and over. He was even up early this morning, providing yet another day's legs for this story.

The most extraordinary thing about all of this is that Trump is so incensed at Machado, and so wrapped up in his hissy fit, that he absolutely ignored Rosie O'Donnell, who this week tweeted that Trump was nothing more than an "orange anus." Even vicious insults from Rosie didn't get a rise from Trump (which is, indeed, extraordinary -- because it likely has never happened before), because he was so focused on badmouthing Machado.

Before we get to all the debate reactions, though, there was plenty of other bad news for Trump this week. His namesake foundation is generating all sorts of bad press for Trump, and this week's harvest included the fact that Trump seems to be using his foundation to shield his own income from income taxes (which is illegal, if true), and also the bombshell that Trump failed to properly register his foundation in New York. So the Trump Foundation is looking more and more like an unlicensed slush fund Trump uses any way he sees fit. Maybe that's why he didn't bring up the Clinton Foundation in Monday night's debate?

The other bad news for Trump might hurt him in one particular battleground state that he truly needs to win if he's got any chance at all to win the election. It turns out Trump's business traveled down to Cuba a while back, because they thought U.S. relations might be thawing (this was long before Obama became president and made this dream reality, we should point out). Trump wanted to get a foot in the door, in case the chance for making money from Havana luxury hotels became possible. But in doing so, his business spent $68,000 in Cuba itself -- which is a violation of U.S. law.

Now, in most of America, this news won't generate much interest. After all, Obama started the very process Trump was preparing for -- opening up Cuba and ending the Cold War for good. So what does it matter now? Well, for most Americans, it doesn't matter. Not so for the Cuban-Americans living in Florida. Cuban-Americans are unlike most other Latinos in the United States, because they've always been staunch Republicans. Up until recently, Republicans' strong anti-Communist and anti-Castro positions have won them the support of most Cuban-Americans in Florida (and elsewhere). Spending money in the Castro regime could blunt this support more than it already has been blunted by time. Younger Cuban-Americans just want to travel to Cuba to see relatives they've never met -- they're not as concerned about the Castro brothers. But if this new revelation weakens Trump support among the older Cuban-American demographic, that could actually tip the state over to Clinton in November. So while this is a minor story for the rest of us, we'll be closely watching the Florida polling to see if Trump getting caught spending money in Cuba has an effect or not, that's for sure.

In so-common-it's-barely-news this week, another staunch Republican newspaper endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The Arizona Republic is especially notable since it has never endorsed a single Democrat since the paper began in 1890. Donald Trump still has yet to win one single major newspaper endorsement anywhere in the country, and USA Today -- which has never endorsed any candidate -- came out with an "un-endorsement" (disendorsement?) of Trump, stating he would be too reckless and dangerous a man to elect president. In the midst of all this, Trump has still not held a press conference or appeared on any non-Fox network in over two months.

Other bad news for Team Trump: the Trump children fondly remember being introduced to capitalism when their parents provided money for a lemonade stand -- which had to be paid back (they had to turn a profit, in other words). Unfortunately for them, they set up their stand on the lawn of a Trump house in a very wealthy neighborhood's cul-de-sac, meaning there was pretty much zero foot traffic for them to pitch their wares to. Being Trumps, the kids solved their problem -- by browbeating the help into digging deep in their pockets to buy lemonade from them. No, seriously, you just can't make this stuff up. Their charming story might even have been an offering at Trump University, in fact: "How to grift those with less money than you, 101."

Since there's so much material from the campaign trail this week, we have decided we're not even going to make an attempt to run down any of the other political news -- which included Obama's first veto override and Congress actually avoiding a government shutdown (by doing the work on the Zika funding and Flint's water crisis they should have done almost a year ago, but still...). It's been that sort of week -- the campaign has just overwhelmed all the other political news. So let's move along to the awards, and then we'll have some of those conservative reactions to Trump's debate performance, as promised.

There's really no question who won this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Hillary Clinton turned in the debate performance Democrats had been waiting for this Monday, and the rest of the week was filled with stories of Donald Trump shooting himself in the foot. That's an impressive week for a presidential candidate.

Her debate performance was seen as a clear win by the public and by the pundits, giving her a whole week of good news. The polls (the real ones, not the meaningless "vote early, vote often" internet polls) are now starting to come in, and so far they show movement towards Clinton almost across the board. Clinton's up in Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. The one we're personally waiting to see is Florida, after the aforementioned Cuba story broke. That might just change a few voters' minds about Trump in and around Miami, to put it mildly.

But back to Hillary's debate performance. Hillary, as she pointed out herself on Monday, prepared for the debate. Donald (as she amusingly called him throughout the debate) did not. It wasn't just that she knew what to say and how to say it, either. She also was ready to spring the traps she laid for Trump. While Trump has been playing the media like a fiddle for over a year now, Clinton showed she knows a thing or two about a media rollout herself. Consider the details about the prep work done by Team Clinton on the Alicia Machado story alone:

Operatives in Brooklyn had been working with Machado since the summer. They had a video featuring her story ready to go. Cosmopolitan had a photo spread of her draped in an American flag -- to go with a profile -- in the can. Machado had also conducted an interview with The Guardian that was "apparently embargoed for post-debate release," according to Vox. And the Clinton super PAC Priorities USA turned a digital ad to highlight the insults by early afternoon.

The Clinton press shop then set up a conference call for Machado to respond to what Trump said on "Fox and Friends." Speaking with reporters, Machado recounted how Trump "always treated me like a lesser thing, like garbage" and that his new words are like "a bad dream." She said in a mix of Spanish and halting English that she watched the debate with her mother and daughter and cried as Clinton recounted her story.

That is what preparation looks like, folks. Not only do you wave a red flag in front of the bull, you have a full media rollout of the red flag's history ready to go, which you know full well is just going to further enrage the bull. And it worked like a charm. Trump stepped right into the trap, Clinton snapped it shut, and Trump's been wailing and whining ever since. As the Guinness ads used to say: "Brilliant!"

Hillary Clinton used just this one Trump-baiting episode to strengthen her support among women in general, suburban women in particular, and Latinos and Latinas across the board. And that was just one of the traps Trump stepped right into Monday night. By week's end, Team Clinton was expressing outright glee over Trump's overreactions. Brian Fallon just tweeted the snarkiest comment I've seen all week: "Oh look, Trump is dominating the news cycle again. Whatever will we do." Heh. Cracking jokes like that simply wasn't possible this time last week, it bears mentioning.

So for turning around her polling slide, for clearly winning the debate, for getting under Trump's skin in a way no previous debate opponent has, for provoking gaffe after gaffe without once stumbling herself, for getting Trump to all but admit that the big secret in his tax returns is that he pays no taxes, for her overall preparation and for her stamina, Hillary Clinton is easily this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week winner. In fact (to end on a groaner of a pun), it is beyond debate.

[It is our longstanding policy not to provide contact information for political campaigns, so you'll have to find Hillary Clinton's campaign site on your own to congratulate her, sorry.]

There's a clear candidate for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, but after consideration, we've decided that his strong poll numbers disqualify him for the award. After all, if the voters he's trying to woo aren't disappointed in him, who are we to say otherwise?

Joe Morrissey used to be a Virginia state lawmaker. Then he got caught in an inappropriate relationship (to say the least) with his 17-year-old receptionist (Morrissey was 55 at the time). Morrissey went to jail for this relationship, after texting nude photos of her to a friend, bragging that he had had sex with her (while she was underage). Morrissey had previously raised eyebrows with other antics, "including an eight-year disbarment that prevented him from practicing law until 2011; two fistfights that resulted in jail time; brandishing an unloaded AK-47 to the alarm of legislative colleagues during a gun debate in the House of Delegates." Fun guy, right?

Well, now he's running to be mayor of Richmond (an office Tim Kaine used to hold, incidentally). And he's actually using his wife and children (he married the intern after doing his jail time, and has two children with her) on the campaign trail as the reason he's running. No, really. That takes a lot of chutzpah, but the astonishing thing is that he's leading the polls in a seven-way race. Or six, now -- one candidate just dropped out in fear that the wide field would split the vote and allow Morrissey to win.

All of that is pretty disappointing, but like Marion Barry before him, Morrissey is walking the path to redemption with the voters supporting him. Nobody would really care about his candidacy if he weren't leading the pack, to put this another way. And who are we to argue with the voters of Richmond? So his voter support has saved him from this week's MDDOTW award.

This leaves a thin field to choose from, so we're going to go ahead and hand the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to Chelsea Clinton, who got her facts wrong about marijuana, while out on the campaign trail for her mother. We also have to thank Tom Angell, marijuana-rights crusader extraordinaire, for bringing this to everyone's attention.

Chelsea was campaigning in Ohio, and was asked about what her mom thought about the D.E.A. refusing to reclassify marijuana to a lower level (rather than Schedule I, where it currently sits). Hillary Clinton has been notably reluctant to embrace marijuana legalization in any way, although she has incrementally moved her position since she first began her run. She now "supports more research," which is a pretty Caspar Milquetoast-ish position to take in 2016, when over half the United States have already legalized medicinal marijuana and when recreational legalization will be on the ballot in multiple states this November. But Clinton has indeed stated that she now supports rescheduling marijuana -- again, a fairly weak position on the issue, considering how far the window has shifted in the general public.

But then Chelsea just started makin' stuff up, continuing a century-long streak of anti-marijuana propaganda, by stating:

But we also have anecdotal evidence now from Colorado where some of the people who were taking marijuana for [medical] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking.

When challenged by ThinkProgress, a Chelsea Clinton spokesperson had to walk this statement back:

While discussing her and her mother's support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana's interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths.

While we do appreciate the fact that she did walk her inaccurate statement back, the fact that she made it in the first place still makes Chelsea Clinton our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

Maybe this is a "teachable moment" for her mother? Let's see, Team Clinton is extremely worried that she is not generating much enthusiasm from Millennials. The young folks haven't flocked from backing Bernie Sanders over to her side, and many of them may vote for a third-party candidate or even stay home. Hmm... that's a problem. Now what could Hillary Clinton possibly do to fix that problem? How could she entice young Gary Johnson and Jill Stein voters over to her side? If only there were one simple issue -- an issue that the public has already completely shifted on -- that Hillary could champion in order to fix her problem with young voters. If only such an issue could be found... if only....

Sooner or later, Democratic politicians are going to realize that they are flat-out not being leaders on the issue of marijuana reform, and further realize the political benefits they could easily be reaping by getting out in front of the issue. Sooner or later, but not yet -- from Team Clinton, at any rate.

[Chelsea Clinton is a public political figure, but not an actual officeholder, and it is our longstanding policy not to provide contact information for private individuals, so you'll have to let the Hillary Clinton team know what you think of Chelsea's actions on your own, sorry.]

Volume 410 (9/30/16)

While most of this week's talking points are nothing more than conservative reactions to Trump's debate performance, we do have to apologize in advance for our first talking point, because we fully admit it is not only sexist, but appearance-ist (or whatever P.C. term should be used, there), and downright juvenile. Hey, it's been that sort of election, folks.

Normally, we wouldn't stoop to insults a fifth-grader might hurl on a playground here, because even if we are dedicated to the proposition that Democrats can effectively use taunting as talking points -- as effectively as Republicans, even! -- we usually try to keep at least one foot out of the gutter while doing so.

However, Donald Trump has proven this week beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of his sorest sore spots is his well-documented history of misogynistic statements. For some bizarre reason, Trump seems to want to deny that he has said any of the vast collection of put-downs against women he's used in the past. After all, who in their right mind would have thought that during the first 2016 presidential debate, there would be name-drops of Howard Stern, a former Miss Universe, and Rosie O'Donnell (who "deserved" all the things Trump said about her)? Seriously, who could have predicted any of that?

So our first talking point is specifically designed as a taunt to make Trump seethe. It's not even really necessary -- he's already boiling over about the whole Miss Universe thing. We had another talking point ready to go (Bill Kristol: "I'm not positive Hillary actually won the debate. But I'm sure Trump lost it. He choked."), but in the end we decided that getting under Trump's skin even more was a worthy enough goal for us to use language we would normally consider unworthy for these august pages. So with that caveat under our belts, let's get right to it, shall we?

   Beaten like a cheap rug

Ideally, we'd select Chris Matthews to utter this line. Somehow he seems like the most likely candidate to uncork this particular insult to Trump, don't ask us why.

"Trump got beaten up pretty badly by a girl on Monday night, and then all week long he got beaten like a big brass drum by a beauty queen. No wonder he's so upset."

   It's 3:00 A.M....

Many people are pointing this one out. It's a no-brainer, really, after this morning's tweetstorm from Trump.

"If I were giving the Republican National Committee advice, I would tell them to immediately find out who exactly gave Donald Trump his phone back? They had successfully hidden it from him for weeks, but this morning he started spewing conspiracy theories in the middle of the night, once again. It's so embarrassing even John Podesta was offering Trump advice, for when he gets up in the middle of the night: 'safety tip: don't reach for your phone.' Hillary Clinton's response should be an obvious one, since she's already got the footage ready to go -- all it would need would be about five seconds of updating. Yes, I think it's high time for Clinton to re-run her '3:00 A.M. ad' from 2008, don't you? Because Trump is -- obviously -- not the guy you'd want anywhere near a phone in the wee hours."

   20 minutes of material

The next few talking points are all from conservatives reviewing Trump's debate performance. We have to say, it's been a rather extraordinary presidential campaign, because over and over again we don't even have to create Democratic talking points, since the conservatives are offering up better ones on their own -- against their own candidate. All any of these need is a Democrat leading in with: "Did you hear what X just said about Trump?" In this case, X would be Mitt Romney's chief strategist from his 2012 campaign:

Trump brought 20 minutes of material to a 90 minute show.

   Vanity and laziness

Our next conservative debate review comes from John Podhoretz of the New York Post.

He began with his strongest argument -- that the political class represented by her has failed us and it's time to look to a successful dealmaker for leadership -- and kept to it pretty well for the first 20 minutes. Then due to the vanity and laziness that led him to think he could wing the most important 95 minutes of his life, he lost the thread of his argument, he lost control of his temper and he lost the perspective necessary to correct these mistakes as he went. By the end... Trump was reduced to a sputtering mess blathering about Rosie O'Donnell and about how he hasn't yet said the mean things about Hillary that he is thinking.

   Big mistake

Here is Charles Krauthammer on Trump's debate performance. Ah, vanity, thy name is Trump!

His great weakness is his vanity. He is temperamentally incapable of allowing any attack on his person to go unavenged. He is particularly sensitive on the subject of his wealth. So central to his self-image is his business acumen that in the debate he couldn't resist the temptation to tout his cleverness on taxes. Big mistake. The next day, Clinton offered the obvious retort: "If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make all the rest of us?"

   Fireworks train hits nuclear plant

To absolve him of being insensitive, we are duty-bound to point out that Michael Gerson wrote this Homer Simpson-esque metaphor before the New Jersey train derailment happened. It's a metaphor almost as good as the image of the Titanic backing up to take another shot at the berg, though.

Past debate criticism has looked for hints and signs to determine losers -- a candidate, say, looked impatiently at his watch or sighed in an off-putting way. Rhetorically, Trump drove a high-speed train filled with fireworks into a nuclear power plant. He was self-absorbed, prickly, defensive, interrupting, baited by every charge yet unprepared to refute them. During his share of a 90-minute debate, he was horribly out of his depth, incapable of stringing together a coherent three-sentence case. The postmodern quality of Trump's appeal culminated in an unbalanced rant claiming, "I also have a much better temperament than she has" -- an assertion greeted by audience laughter.

   That's the ticket!

And finally, we close with a fairly obvious observation that more people need to be saying out loud.

"It's now rumored that Chris Christie will be taking charge of the effort to prepare Donald Trump for his next debate. The next debate, I might point out, will have a 'town hall' format. So, really, what could go wrong with Chris Christie sharing his wisdom about how to cope with town halls with Trump? Christie is known for his patience with audience questions and also known for never shouting at citizens during such events or belittling them at all. Oh, wait, my mistake -- all of that is exactly what Christie is known for! Maybe Christie can play Trump some clips of Christie screaming at a teacher or telling someone to sit down and shut up -- that'll definitely help Trump keep his cool at the next debate! So I heartily encourage Donald to listen to Christie very closely and to follow Christie's example as much as possible, because who doesn't want to see Trump act like Christie during a town hall debate? I mean -- what could possibly go wrong with that?"

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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