Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Hillary Clinton was NOT right to separate Trump from the GOP on racism, xenophobia, and sheer meanness.*

She was wrong to separate him from the GOP on fiscal and regulatory policy and on court and administrative-agency appointees. It wasn’t a package deal, or rather, it should not have been. She could have made the distinction, but she didn’t; not with specifics and not even generically on any regular basis, anyway.

Washington Post blogger Paul Waldman yesterday posted a lengthy post titled “Why Hillary Clinton was right to separate Donald Trump from the GOP” in which he makes the same mistake that Clinton herself has made since she secured the nomination in early June: conflating the five-decades-long Republican racial/xenophobic/culture-wars Southern-and-blue-collar-white strategy with economic, fiscal and regulatory policy.

For Clinton this explains her decision to highlight to the Democratic Convention delegates her embrace of so much of Bernie Sanders policy agenda by agreeing to incorporate it into the Party platform—and then never mention most of it again.  And to never mention (until very recently, and then only generically and only very sporadically) that Trump’s fiscal and regulatory policy is Paul Ryan’s on steroids, that that his economic advisers are the Koch brothers’ and other Republican donors’ dream-come-true, as will be his Supreme Court and lower-bench nominees and key federal-agency heads.  Trump is the far-right-libertarian billionaire’s Trojan Horse.**

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Loose Lips Sink Ships*

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump Jr. has posted a message on Twitter likening Syrian refugees to a bowl of poisoned Skittles.

Seeking to promote his father’s presidential campaign, the younger Trump posted a tweet featuring a bowl of the candy Skittles with a warning.

“If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful?” said the tweet on the verified @DonaldTrumpJr handle.

“That’s our Syrian refugee problem,” said the post, which caused a stir and negative tweets on the internet into Tuesday.

Trump Jr.’s tweet said, “This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”

Donald Trump Jr. likens Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles, Associated Press, today

It is by now hardly a secret that Donald Trump Jr. has, let’s say, friends in the white nationalist crowd.*  I mean, personal friends; not just people he hobnobs with online.

A few days ago, in trying to emulate his father and his father’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway by attributing to Clinton, or the news media’s coverage of her, a high-profile trait of Donald Trump, or a routine practice of the mainstream media in covering the Trump campaign—the Trump campaign’s bizarre, kaleidoscopic modus operandi—Trump Jr. claimed that the political-news media was far harsher toward his father than to Clinton, whom, he said, the media had been letting off the hook.  His choice of analogy? Warming up the gas chamber.

In a blog post titled by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake last week titled “A lot of Donald Trump Jr.’s trail missteps seem to involve white nationalists and Nazis,” the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote about Trump Jr.’s comment:

“The media has been her number-one surrogate in this,” Trump said in a Wednesday interview with a Philadelphia radio station, referring to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. “Without the media, this wouldn’t even be a contest. But the media has built her up. They’ve let her slide on every indiscrepancy [sic], on every lie, on every DNC game trying to get Bernie Sanders out of this thing.”

Then he added: “If Republicans were doing that, they’d be warming up the gas chamber right now.”

Blake noted also that after Clinton made her “basket of deplorables” comment, Trump Jr. “Instagrammed a mock-up of a ‘The Expendables’ movie poster with his, his father’s and his father’s supporters’ faces superimposed over the words ‘The Deplorables.’  The problem: One of the superimposed faces was of Pepe the Frog, a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremacists and nationalists.”

In response to criticism about it, as Blake recounted, Trump Jr. said a friend sent it to him:

On “Good Morning America,” Trump said he didn’t know the frog was such a symbol. “If I’m glib — perhaps that’s the case — I’ve never even heard of Pepe the Frog,” he said. “I thought it was a frog in a wig. I thought it was funny. I had no idea that there’s any connotation there.”

It may well be that he—likely like most Americans (I, among them)—was unaware of the backstory to that image.  But what about the friend who had sent it to him?  And why did the expression “warming up the gas chambers” come so quickly to mind for him—an obviously weird analogy to news-media criticism of a presidential candidate?  This guy seems as mentally off as his father.

Although maybe this Wharton School bachelor’s degree holder, admitted there undoubtedly based, like his father before him, solely on his school transcripts, SAT score, and extracurriculars—I’m presuming no indiscrepecies there regarding the school’s admission of either father or son—inherited something else from his father: the sheer coincidence of regularly saying things that are misunderstood by, well, everyone.

Last weekend, NYT columnist Timothy Egan, in a column titled “America the Plunderer” that in my opinion should be nominated for a Pulitzer, discussed something that dismays be as much as it does him: During Matt Lauer’s infamous interviews of the two candidates two weeks ago, Trump reiterated his position, expressed during the primaries but (I believe) not in several months, that this country should have appropriated Iraq’s oil fields, and that it should do so now.  Yet virtually no one, including the Clinton campaign, noticed.  Or at least has cared to make this a major public point.

Egan wrote:

Because he’s being graded on a doofus curve that is unprecedented in presidential politics, Donald Trump said more than a dozen outrageous, scary or untrue things in the last 10 days and got away with all of them. But with at least one statement, marking a profound shift in how the United States would interact with the rest of the world, Trump should be shamed back to his golden throne.

He wants the United States to become a nation that steals from its enemies. He’s already called for war crimes — killing family members of terrorists, torturing suspects. He would further violate the Geneva Conventions by making thieves out of a first-­class military.

“It used to be to the victor belong the spoils,” Trump complained to the compliant Matt Lauer in the now infamous commander­-in-­chief forum. Oh, for the days when Goths, Vandals and Nazis were free to rape, pillage and plunder. So unfair, as Trump said on an earlier occasion, that we have “all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight.”

As with everything in Trump’s world, his solution is simple: loot and pilfer. “Take the oil,” said Trump. He was referring to Iraq, post-­invasion. And how would he do this? There would be an open-­ended occupation, as a sovereign nation’s oil was stolen from it. Of course, “you’d leave a certain group behind,” he said, to protect the petro thieves.

A certain group. Let’s be clear what he’s talking about: Under Trump’s plan, American men and women would die for oil, victims of endless rounds of lethal sabotage and terror strikes. That’s your certain group. He thinks we could get in, get the oil, and get out. Just like the cakewalk of occupying Iraq. And if such a seizure violates international law, what’s the rest of the world going to do about it? “Anything is legal” in war, as the deranged Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani explained.

For this kind of plunder, there is in fact a precedent for Trump’s plan: Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The United States fought the first gulf war because the Iraqi dictator tried to seize Kuwait’s oil. We were the good guys, fighting an invading military force that was trying to steal a small country’s most precious natural resource.

I remember upon reading about Clinton’s “basket of deplorables’ the day after she made that comment at an evening fundraiser sponsored by an LBGT group attended, at her invitation, by her campaign’s news media pool, why on earth she would squander the attention of the political press by not using it to describe and highlight information about Trump that most of the public wasn’t aware of—and maybe refute a key claim against her—instead of just reiterating the same-old, same-old about Trump.

What I had in mind specifically then concerned Trump’s financial assistance to Florida AG Pam Bondi’s reelection campaign, including his use of his ostensible charitable foundation to funnel a substantial donation to her PAC at the same time as the public revelation that her office was considering joining New York state’s lawsuit against Trump University and Trump Institute alleging rather clear consumer fraud.  The story finally was gaining steam as a story in the mainstream media, and a reporter-pool-attended Friday evening campaign event struck me as the perfect mechanism to reach a broad spectrum of the electorate.

Equally important—if not more so—it provided the perfect hook for Clinton to compare her own foundation with Trump’s, and to get across to the public what she had failed to even try to do in late August when the story about the emails to State Dept. aides about requests from people connected in one way or another to the Clinton Foundation was omnipresent: the actual specifics of what had occurred, why they had occurred, and the result.

I had not watched the Lauer debacle, and most of the torrent of media outrage about it focused on Lauer’s failure to call Trump on his false reassertion that he had voiced opposition to the Iraq invasion before it occurred—and had used as evidence of it an interview of him more than a year after the invasion.  And about Lauer’s extensive questioning of Clinton about her emails—on the theory that this issue hadn’t received enough news coverage.

And so I didn’t yet know that Trump, after bragging falsely that he had opposed the Iraq invasion before it occurred, then said that as long as we were, y’know, there anyway, we should have confiscated the country’s oil fields as our spoils of victory.  On the theory that we needed most then, and still need most, is to invite universal international outrage against us and deliberately incite terrorism here and worldwide. And do it at the cost of the lives of military personnel who along with their loved ones are, as a demographic, among Trump’s strongest supporters.  Including those who vote in swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and Iowa.

Trump Jr.’s latest comment will be treated as yet another appalling racist and xenophobic shout-out by this family and this campaign.  But that is not the only reason it should draw attention.  A hallmark of his father’s various proposals during the course of his campaign is that they demonstrate a key, discrete mental trait that should be addressed in and of itself: Trump lacks the intellectual capacity to understand that actions have certain or near-certain consequences beyond the immediate, narrow ones that the policy is intended to have.  He does not know that they do.  However obvious it is that they do.

Thus, he casually suggests that this country should threaten default of its debt in order to negotiate partial default with the country’s bondholders—utterly clueless of the unequivocal repercussions should this actually be threatened, or even hinted at.

He also says, expressly, that he does not know why we can’t use our nuclear weapons, since, after all, we have them.

And he says—repeated as recently as two weeks ago—that we should have appropriated Iraq’s oil fields.  To the victor should go the spoils.  But only if it’s other people’s blood, and other people’s loved ones’ blood, that effectuates it, for no purpose other than that we want to provoke terrorism, here and elsewhere around the world.

Donald Trump is often analogized to a child or adolescent in personality, but this is an intellectual trait, not merely a temperamental trait, of children.

Trump Jr. thinks his picture of a bowl of Skittles says it all.   Actually, it says only some of it all.  An image of U.S. military personnel in heavy combat at an Iraqi oil field in efforts to defend this country’s confiscation and appropriation of it, and a few images of terrorist attacks around the world during this ongoing combat or in the wake of belligerent comments by President Trump, would say some of the rest of it all.

As they used to say back during the two world wars: Loose Lips Sink Ships.

Let’s indeed end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.  And while we’re at it, make clear that the folks who incessantly invoke the moniker “politically correct” are the ones to whom it actually now applies.

____

*I just saw this, posted tonight at Slate.  The list it includes hopefully will be widely disseminated.  There are some additional indiscrepancies in it, and all should be noted.  Added 9/20 at 8:48 p.m.

____

UPDATE: You really, really should read Paul Waldman’s new post at the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog about Post investigative reporter David Farenthold’s report in today’s Post about the massive illegality Farenthold just uncovered at the Trump Foundation–conduct that is at the  very heart of that foundation.

The title of Farenthold’s article is “Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems.”  The legal problems all concerned fines or debts his businesses owed.  His businesses, folks.

His tax-exempt non-profit, whose funds came entirely from others’ donations to this ostensible charity, paid Donald Trump’s for-profit businesses’ legal obligations. As well as Trump’s payoff to Bondi–as Waldman mentions.

Got that?

That report is just the latest in Farenthold’s series of investigative reports on the Trump Foundation, for which I expect him to be nominated for a Pulitzer.

Added 9/20 at 4:58 p.m.

 

*Yes, it’s loose lips, not lose lips, that sink ships, as reader MS 57 kindly mentioned to me in the Comments thread.  Usually it is, anyway, although losing lips might prevent indiscrepencies of that sort.

Aaaaaargggggh.

Corrected 9/21 at 10:45 a.m.

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Oh, God. Why does Clinton refuse to run on the Democratic Party platform? And against pro-Citizens United justices?

The Clinton campaign today made a key concession about its analysis of the fundamentals of the race. This concession was made almost in passing, as an afterthought, in a statement released late last night by Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri:

“One upside to Hillary Clinton’s break from the trail was having time to sharpen the final argument she will present to voters in these closing weeks.  So when she rejoins the trail tomorrow, Hillary Clinton will deliver the second in a series of speeches laying out her aspirational vision for the country: that we are “Stronger Together.” Tomorrow’s remarks will focus on what has been at the core of who Hillary Clinton is as a person and the mission of her campaign — how we lift up our children and families and make sure that every child has the chance to live up to their God given potential.

“Our campaign readily admits that running against a candidate as controversial as Donald Trump means it is harder to be heard on what you aspire for the country’s future and it is incumbent on us to work harder to make sure voters hear that vision.”  [Boldface in original.]

Hillary Clinton’s campaign just admitted she has a real problem, Greg Sargent, yesterday morning

 

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The New World ORDER

Paul Krugman has a terrific column today titled “Donald Trump, the Siberian Candidate,” but really he suggests that Trump is the Manchurian candidate. Krugman suggests that Trump is actually fronting for Putin on the world stage. I think he’s right.

The only difference between the Manchurian candidate in the movie and Donald Trump is that Trump, unlike the movie character, would be doing what he would be doing completely consciously and wittingly. In a word: treason. Or something darn close to it.

This is jarringly serious stuff.

I think the Clinton campaign and the Dem Party would be crazy not to run a series of ads, and soon, making and an elaborating on the points Krugman makes in that column, first and foremost Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s longtime ties to Putin folks and to other rightwing dictators.  There also should be footage of Soviet armored tanks marching into Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary in the mid-1950s.

I also think they should run ads juxtaposing video of Trump making some of his fascist-like statements (and pointing out that Trump repeatedly threatens the press, bars unfriendly media organizations from covering his events when he can) with footage of Adolph Hitler’s speeches in the early and mid-1930s.  There certainly are significant similarities.

The ads should flash the slogan “The New World Order.”  They should actually illustrate what type of order Trump has in mind.

This has crossed a line, and needs to become a major part of Clinton’s and the Dems’ campaign.  I’m not sure—at all—that the Clinton, which strikes me as just as slow-footed as Clinton herself—is up to the task of recognizing and dealing with this, though.

And I do think, notwithstanding the gist of the comments in the comments in the Comments thread, that as a political matter I was right in what I said here yesterday.  But, really, only if Clinton and her campaign actually inform the public of these specifics.  And I don’t mean just via Twitter.

___

UPDATE: The ad banner immediately above this post is from the Trump campaign, showing Trump with his right arm raised chest-high and his hand pointing forward and off toward the right.  It inaugurates what apparently is his campaign’s brand new slogan: Leading the Way.

Yes; exactly.  Clinton, her campaign and the Dem Party need to illustrate what Trump is leading the way toward.

Added 7/22 at 10:29 a.m.

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Clinton’s figured out how to ensure her victory: Threaten Sanders that if he doesn’t endorse her, pronto, she’ll begin campaigning as a triangulator.

The risk is that [Sanders] will lose his moment because some Clinton partisans already see a more centrist campaign as the best way to win over millions of middle-of-the-road voters who find Trump abhorrent. Sanders has to decide if accelerating his plans to endorse Clinton is now the best way to maximize progressive influence.

Sanders is making his long goodbye count, E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, today

So there it is.  The moment that Sanders endorses Clinton, Clinton will conclude that a more centrist campaign is the best way to win over millions of middle-of-the-road voters who find Trump abhorrent.  Because there are just so very many middle-of-the-road voters who find Trump abhorrent but find the idea of a Medicare-for-all-type healthcare system, a $15/hr. minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges and universities, and compelled reduction in the size and consequent economic and political power of a few mega-banks even more abhorrent.

Throw in sizable tax increases on the wealthy, and the abhorrence of this platform as compared with a Trump presidency shoots off the charts.  At least if you’re a Clinton partisan—Bill Daley, for example, who’s a Democrat only by convenience—and your Wall Street career depended initially upon your family contacts and later upon your Clinton ones.  Or you’ve made your Wall Street fortune the new-fashioned way: private equity.

The very definition of middle-of-the-road, in other words.  Just not the definition of middle-class.  Or working-class.  Unless your work is parlaying your money into ever greater political power in order to ensure a continued inflow of huge amounts of money.

Working-classless, maybe.

In any event we have it now from the horse’s mouth—someone in Clinton’s inner circle.  The risk is that Sanders will lose his moment because some Clinton partisans already see a more centrist campaign as the best way to win over middle-of-the-road voters with millions of dollars who find Trump abhorrent.

Too late, Bernie.  You missed your moment.  You can now withhold not only your endorsement but also your mailing list of three million donors, none of them middle-of-the-road ones.

And some of those three million donors and the many millions more who voted for you, being deemed not as important as the middle-of-the-road voters who hate the idea of a Medicare-for-all-type healthcare system, a $15/hr. minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges and universities, and compelled reduction in the size and consequent economic and political power of a few mega-banks, even more than they hate Trump, may find themselves hating Clinton even more than they hate Trump.  And every bit as much as those millions of middle-of-the-road voters hate a progressive policy platform.  Which is even more than they hate Trump.

What prompted this threat, presumably, was Sanders’ response in an interview with Jake Tapper on Tuesday, when asked what he thought it would take for Clinton to win over his supporters.  “We are trying to say to Secretary Clinton and the Clinton campaign, ‘Make it clear which side you are on,’” he said.  The punditry is up in arms about that.

I myself thought it was a bit harsh, when I read about it on Tuesday.  But Sanders’ instincts were right, apparently.

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It Takes a Triangulator to Think This Is a Good Idea

Here’s a video from the Clinton campaign full of Republicans criticizing Trump for his attacks on the judge in his fraud case.

— Greg Sargent, Washington Post, this evening

Why, of course it’s a good idea, in a campaign that should be based largely on the likelihood that if elected, Trump would serve as Paul Ryan’s and the Koch brothers’ puppet, to undermine that argument.

Sure, Ryan said last week that Trump has assured him that he would sign a Ryan- drafted budget bill.  Sure, Trump has announced that he will return the federal bench to the Federalist Society.  (Okay, he doesn’t know what the Federalist Society is, so he doesn’t know that that’s what he said.  But Clinton knows.  I think.)

And sure, it would be really nice if, say, Russ Feingold defeated Ron Johnson in the Wisconsin Senate race.  But, hey, first things first.

And the first thing is to make sure that the five people who follow politics and don’t yet know what Trump said about that judge, and why, and that Republican pols are running far away from it, don’t enter that voting booth in November not knowing that the Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump’ statements about that judge.

They may enter the voting booth in November not knowing the specifics of what Trump and his mock University actually did, though, because far be it from the Clinton campaign to do a video showing quotes of the startlingly awful things Trump was having his employees do to people who were struggling financially.

Uh-uh.  That has nothing at all to do with ethnicity, race, gender or religion, so it’s not worth putting together a video about it.

Only things that undermine rather than make clear what should be one of your key fiscal policy arguments are worth putting together a video about.  Especially if you don’t think fiscal-policy arguments matter to voters, except the fiscal issues that are about one or another women’s issue.  As Clinton clearly doesn’t.

This is a campaign run entirely on algorithms put into a computer.  The algorithms are 1990s-vintage, though, and, well, you know.  Garbage in, garbage out.

This is a really awful campaign.  Clinton will win anyway.  But so will all those Republicans who said they don’t like what Trump said about that judge.  Or if a few of them do lose, it won’t be for lack of Clinton’s trying on their behalf.

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Why did the Clinton campaign say earlier this month that Trump’s statement that he plans to partially default on the national debt could work? (And, yes, that, as the NYT mentions today, is what the Clinton campaign said.)

Debates have broken out in Mrs. Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters over the best approach to take. Some advisers worry that by running against Mr. Trump as she would a traditional Republican candidate, Mrs. Clinton is actually making the reality­ television star appear more legitimate.

This month, when Mr. Trump suggested he would reduce the national debt by negotiating with creditors to accept something less than full payment, economists dismissed the idea as fanciful. Hours later, the Clinton campaign sent out a news release about Mr. Trump’s “risky” idea of defaulting on the national debt with a response from Gene Sperling, formerly a senior economic adviser to both President Obama and Mr. Clinton, condemning the idea. The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal.

The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal. “That is a danger,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “You have to take the threat of Trump becoming president seriously, but you shouldn’t treat him as a serious person.”

Hillary Clinton Struggles to Find Footing in Unusual Race, Amy Chozick, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, New York Times, today

Oh.  Brother.  The Clinton campaign characterized Trump’s statement that he wants to partially default on the national debt as “risky.” In other words, they said that, yeah, this would be a big risk, but there’s also the possibility that it could work!

Actually, when I read that sentence this morning in the Times I did remember reading an article about that response by the Clinton campaign shortly after it was made.  I remember thinking, “Risky?  Seriously?  Risky?  Not absurd?  Not a guarantee of global economic collapse and immediate major increase in the Treasury debt needed to pay off current debt that Trump was agreeing to pay off immediately in this refinance scheme?  No, merely risky?”

I also remember reading the Sperling response, which was concise, very good and easily understandable, I thought.  But, why the borderline-comical characterization of this proposal as risky?  Why not say it would be certain to cause global economic collapse and, by its own terms as a refinancing scheme, would require the borrowing of the money to pay the debt at far higher interest rates than the current full-faith-and-credit debt is borrowed at?

And, why wasn’t the candidate herself on television, immediately, saying these things?

What Trump actually said was that he was going to renegotiate with creditors.  It took me—me, a complete novice in anything resembling high finance—only a few hours after Trump’s comments hit he internet for me to post what I thought (okay, probably incorrectly, but it did make the point) was a hilarious parody of Trump sitting across the negotiating table from all the owners, worldwide, of Treasury securities, their lawyers and financial advisors in tow, negotiating reduced interest rates on these securities.

Okay, I posted this on an economics blog.  But the points on all of this could be made—and were made, by Sperling and many others—clearly, understandably, and easily.

The Times article quotes Clinton campaign official Jennifer Palmieri as telling one of the reporters on this article “Each tactic we use is designed for a particular purpose to either engage the press or reach a certain audience.”  The article summarized Palmieri’s explanation, paraphrasing her as saying that “[a]ny aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, however, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate.”

What Palmieri apparently didn’t explain (at least it’s not reported) is why a response to Trump’s outlandish proposal as merely risky was expected possibly to engage the press, presumably because it was not.  It was instead, I guess, intended to reach a certain audience: the audience that political consultants for both parties long have been telling their clients respond negatively to candidates who seem “risky” or to policy proposals that seem (and may well be) risky.  “Risky” is one of the buzzwords that focus groups show should be used as often as possible to characterize the opponent or a policy proposal of the opponent.

And since the Clinton campaign limits its responses and campaign rhetoric to focus-grouped buzzwords and clichés, and “risky” seemed the most apropos of the words and phrases on the be-sure-to-use list, “risky” it was.

Good grace. Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Explaining to the public how ludicrous Trump’s partial-default proposal is, and how stupefyingly ignorant he is of even basic public-finance and economics mechanisms, is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

Educating the public about Trump’s actual fiscal-policy proposals and matching them with Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s would be potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

If so, then Clinton should throw in the towel.  She and Sanders could ask their delegates to come together to nominate Warren, or something.  ‘Cuz this ain’t working, folks.

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