On the campaign trail in the USA, August 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

The following is the fourth edition of a monthly series chronicling the U.S. 2016 presidential election. It features original material compiled throughout the previous month after an overview of the month's biggest stories.

In this month's edition on the campaign trail: the vice presidential nominee of the Reform Party is revealed; those attacked in a high profile campaign speech respond; and Wikinews interviews an economist seeking the presidency a second time.


As the campaign entered into August, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton maintained her lead over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the head-to-head RealClearPolitics average. The August 1 aggregate showed Clinton ahead 45.9% to 42.0%. With the Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party presumptive presidential nominee Jill Stein included, Clinton led Trump 41.4% to 38.8% with Johnson at 7.0% and Stein at 3.2%. As of August, Stein, who won the Green Party presidential nomination at the party's early-August national convention, and Johnson had achieved enough ballot access to theoretically win a majority of the votes in the electoral college. Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle would also reach the threshold if write-in access were counted. Still, others pushed candidacies. Former CIA officer and former House Republican policy director Evan McMullin received mainstream media attention for his entrance into the race in early August as a neoconservative alternative to Trump. However, McMullin's late entry meant he could not meet the ballot access filing deadline in at least 20 states. Former Democratic presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente, himself making a push to appear on ballots in multiple states as an independent, received the presidential nomination of the Reform Party on August 9. The Peace and Freedom Party, on the ballot in California, picked Gloria La Riva, nominee of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, as their presidential nominee. Another California ballot-qualified third party, the American Independent Party, gave their nomination to Donald Trump.

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson (right) and his running mate William Weld (left) at the campaign's first rally, August 5 in Nevada.
Image: Darron Birgenheier.

Though Trump's poll numbers dipped in early August, his fundraising improved, particularly in "small dollar" donations. In addition, in a show of party unity he endorsed the Republican primary candidacies of House Speaker Paul Ryan as well as Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. Yet, there remained some division within the Republican Party. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, only 74% of voters who supported Trump's rivals in the primaries now backed Trump. Several prominent members, including former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, said they would probably vote for Clinton. Congressman Scott Rigell of Virginia endorsed Gary Johnson, and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who was considering endorsing Johnson, was offered a position in a future Johnson administration. On the other hand, Democrats remained largely united with 86% of Senator Bernie Sanders' former supporters backing Clinton. Nevertheless, August was also a tough month for Clinton. Fresh off a Fox News Sunday interview in which she claimed, counter to the facts, that FBI director James Comey had called her testimony about her private e-mail servers "truthful," Clinton claimed in a later interview she "may have short-circuited." The campaign then took a somewhat morbid turn. Via Twitter, Trump questioned whether the hacking of Clinton's e-mails led to the execution of an Iranian scientist. Seddique Mateen, father of the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed 49 in May, was spotted behind Clinton at a campaign rally. The campaign claimed it was unaware. Moreover, the mysterious death of a DNC (Democratic National Committee) staffer led Wikileaks to offer US$20,000 for information related to the death, prompting media speculation over whether the deceased staffer was involved in the leak of internal DNC e-mails showing anti-Sanders bias, which Wikileaks released just before the Democratic National Convention. The theme continued as some felt Trump's remarks suggested the assassination of Clinton. Trump said, "if [Clinton] gets to pick [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks ... though [with] the second amendment, folks, maybe there is". Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook labeled the comment as "dangerous." Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine said he "couldn't believe" Trump made the comment and labeled him a "complete temperamental misfit." MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, with whom Trump engaged in a feud, claimed "a bloody line has been crossed." Trump blamed the media for its coverage of the statement and clarified that he had meant supporters of the second amendment should organize and vote. CNN claimed the Secret Service contacted the Trump campaign to discuss the statement. The Trump campaign and a government official both denied any such discussion occurred. Thereafter, Trump continued making provocative statements, branding President Barack Obama as the "founder of ISIS" and saying he would only lose the election "if it's rigged." Trump's running mate Mike Pence released his tax records, but Trump did not. Trump's attorney said he would not allow Trump to release his records until an IRS audit was complete. Clinton and Kaine both released their tax records.

In mid-August, a shakeup in the Trump campaign led to the demotion of campaign manger Paul Manafort after reports Manafort routed secret cash payments from powerful individuals in Ukraine and Russia while working on the campaign of the pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych. Manafort would later leave the campaign entirely. Pollster Kellyanne Conway was named the new campaign manager with Stephen Bannon, head of Breitbart.com, named campaign CEO. Roger Ailes, who was fired as CEO of Fox News in a sexual harassment scandal, joined the campaign as an adviser. According to The Washington Post, the shakeup was meant to focus more on holding large campaign rallies and attacking Clinton in a more aggressive manner. Trump held such a rally in Milwaukee in which he attempted to appeal to African-Americans and touting his message of "law and order." Moreover, attacks on Clinton seemingly increased. Congressional Republicans upped efforts to convince the Justice Department to charge Clinton with perjury for her statements in testimony about her private e-mail servers and the classified nature of e-mails. Trump intensified attacks the Clinton Foundation, accusing Clinton of using it to make money from selling access and favors as Secretary of State. The Foundation announced it would cease accepting foreign donations if Clinton were elected. Clinton's health was also raised as an issue. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson claimed Clinton suffers from dysphasia, falls, and serious brain damage. Former Trump adviser Roger Stone said "Clinton can barely stand up." On the campaign trail, Trump attacked Clinton as "one of the greatest liars of all time" but he took a slightly different tone on other matters. He expressed regret for instances "in heat of debate" in which he had said things that caused "personal pain." Through a press release, Clinton attacked the statement as simply a "well-written phrase" from Trump's speechwriter. In the wake of flooding in Louisiana, Trump visited the state to survey damage. This preceded President Obama, who was vacationing at the time. Former Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu thanked Trump for the visit. Back on the campaign trail, at a Michigan rally, Trump addressed black voters about supporting his campaign, asking "what the hell do you have to lose?"

Donald Trump speaks at an August 31 rally in Arizona focused on immigration.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

With new e-mails released from Clinton's term as Secretary of State, Trump called for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate claims of misdeeds involving the Clinton Foundation. He called the foundation the "most corrupt enterprise in political history" and argued the media was protecting Clinton. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom Clinton claimed advised her about using a private server for official e-mails, confirmed he advised her but that at the time she was already using a private server. Concerning the e-mail server, Clinton argued "it can sound like I'm trying to excuse what I did, and there are no excuses." After the Associated Press revealed that roughly half of the non-government individuals Clinton met with as Secretary of State were donors to the Clinton Foundation, Clinton rejected claims of outside influence. She commented that "there's a lot of smoke" regarding the connections but "no fire." In late August, Clinton launched an attack on Trump's connections to the so-called "Alt-right." In a speech in Reno, Nevada focused on the matter, Clinton accused Trump of "reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters." She painted Trump and members of the Alt-right as racists and peddlers of conspiracy theories. The campaign ran an ad linking Trump to the Ku Klux Klan and Tim Kaine accused Trump of espousing "Ku Klux Klan values." Trump denied the charges of racism. He tweeted that African Americans and Hispanics should support him because of his plans to combat poverty and crime, and improve education. Meanwhile, media coverage and inconsistent statements from Trump and his campaign led to speculation Trump was shifting his tough stance on immigration. He maintained he would build a wall as president, but rather than deport all illegal immigrants, he said he would distinguish the "bad" ones. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said he was not proposing amnesty, rather illegal immigrants would not become citizens and would need to pay back taxes to remain. Reporter Jorge Ramos claimed Trump's "dramatic change on immigration" was the result of Trump realizing "he'll lose the Latino vote and the White House." Trump supporters, such as conservative author Ann Coulter and Congressman Steve King, expressed hostility to Trump's changing position. On CNN, Trump claimed that under his immigration plan, there would not be a "path to legalization unless [the illegal immigrants] leave the country and come back." Trump visited Mexico at the end of the month and held a joint press conference with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto claimed he had told Trump at the beginning of the meeting that Mexico would not pay for the wall along the U.S–Mexico border as Trump proposed. Trump claimed the wall was not discussed. Clinton accused Trump of "choking" and "lying." Nevertheless, the visit was well received. Trump critic Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said the trip demonstrated "tactical agility and operational competence" from the Trump campaign. After returning from Mexico, Trump delivered a speech in Arizona in what ABC News described as an "anger-tinged speech" that landed Trump "back where he started on immigration." In the August 31 four-way RealClearPolitics Average, Clinton led with 42.3% followed by Trump with 38.2%, Johnson with 7.7% and Stein with 3.0%.

Reform Party vice presidential nominee confirmed

When the Reform Party announced, via Facebook, that it nominated businessman Rocky De La Fuente of Florida for president, nothing was said about the party's vice presidential nomination. Nevertheless, in states in which De La Fuente petitioned to appear on the general election ballot as an independent, he listed his running mate as Michael Steinberg, a Tampa, Florida attorney specializing in Social Security and veterans benefits, who, like De La Fuente, ran for the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nomination. Wikinews contacted leaders of the Reform Party and confirmed that Steinberg is, in fact, the party's official vice presidential nominee.

Steinberg at the Lesser-Known Candidates Forum
Image: Marc Nozell.

De La Fuente and Steinberg were both at the 2016 Lesser-Known Candidates Forum held at Saint Anselm College last January just before the New Hampshire primary. De La Fuente spoke of his success in securing a ballot spot in at least 30 Democratic contests. Steinberg expressed admiration for De La Fuente's feat. He readily threw his support behind De La Fuente and urged the other candidates to do so as well.

"If you really want to shake things up," said Steinberg during the forum, "every single one of us says we support Rocky De La Fuente, and I don't even know the guy, but I do know he's a multi-millionaire, he has property in many different states, he can afford to run a campaign [...] I think that's what it's going to take, is an outsider. You know, when Ross Perot ran in 1992, he shook things up. And maybe that's what it takes, for all of us to say, let's take one of us who is on the ballot in 30 states, and maybe gonna be on the ballot in 50 states, and let's support him, and maybe he'll take all of our ideas and we'll work as a team and we'll be the lesser-known candidates for president."

Seven months later Steinberg is the running mate of De La Fuente and the vice presidential nominee of the party Ross Perot founded.

Even though no separate vote was held, both Reform Party national chairman David Collison and national secretary Nicholas Hensley say Steinberg, as De La Fuente's choice, became the vice presidential nominee when De La Fuente defeated historian Darcy Richardson for the presidential nomination, five votes to four. Collison explains that the party "opted to vote for a slate". Furthermore, it cannot "force the candidate to place the same VP on the ballot in states where they run as an independent."

The Reform Party has furnished ballot access for the De La Fuente–Steinberg ticket in Florida and Louisiana. Additionally, independent ballot access has been obtained or is in the process of being obtained in multiple other states. Sore-loser laws have impeded ballot access in certain states since De La Fuente and Steinberg ran in Democratic primaries. However, the ticket expects to be on the ballot in at least 20 states.

Alt-rightists respond to Clinton speech

Still from Clinton's speech on the alt-right.
Image: Hillary Clinton's official Twitter page.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's August speech attacking a subset of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's supporters, the so-called "Alt-right," sought to connect Trump to those she accused of spreading conspiracy theories, and promoting racism, anti-semitism, nationalism, and white supremacy. In the speech, Clinton identified several individuals, chronicled their alleged misdeeds, and described their associations with Trump. Among the well-known individuals she mentioned were Breitbart.com head Stephen Bannon, who was recently hired as CEO of Trump's campaign; radio host and Infowars owner Alex Jones, a supporter of Trump; and former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Louisiana and supporter of Trump, whose support Trump has disavowed. Clinton alluded to others such as a Twitter user with the handle "White-Genocide-TM", whom Trump retweeted, and a "prominent white nationalist leader" who was listed as a Trump delegate in California before resigning from the position. Wikinews reached out to these latter two to get their reaction to Clinton's remarks.

Trump's retweet of the image from the account White-Genocide-TM.
Image: Donald Trump's official Twitter page.

On Twitter, Wikinews contacted "White-Genocide-TM" who used the screen name "Donald Trumpovitz" with a profile portrait of the late George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, and a listed location of "Jewmerica." The phrase "White Genocide," coined by white nationalist Bob Whitaker, the American Freedom Party's former 2016 presidential nominee, refers to the dwindling percentage of whites in the U.S. population. "White Genocide-TM" received media coverage last January when Trump retweeted an image the user posted of then-Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush photoshopped outside Trump Tower with a cardboard sign reading "Vote Trump." In his retweet, Trump added, "Poor Jeb. I could've sworn I saw him outside Trump Tower the other day!"

Through a direct message, Wikinews asked "White-Genocide-TM" to respond to Clinton's description of him as a "fringe bigot with a few dozen followers". He responded, "It was definitely not a dozen [followers], . . . 2300 followers or so." Before Wikinews could complete the interview, Twitter suspended the "White-Genocide-TM" account. No indication has been given as to why Twitter suspended the account. According to an information page on Twitter, accounts are suspended for violating the listed Twitter rules.

William Johnson in 2011.
Image: J. Adam Drake.

Wikinews was able to get a full response to the speech from William Daniel Johnson, the man Clinton referred to, without naming, as a "prominent white nationalist leader." It was Johnson who resigned his position as a California delegate last May following media reports on his selection. He is currently chairman of the aforementioned American Freedom Party, which is actively supporting Trump.

Johnson said Clinton's speech was an "ineffectual" attack on Trump and actually had the effect of mainstreaming himself and the white nationalist movement.

"Hillary Clinton and the globalist establishment have excessively tried to smear too many people, groups and ideologies with guilt by the association with the alt-Right movement so that white racial awareness and promotion is, in fact, becoming rehabilitated", argued Johnson via e-mail. "We in the alt-Right movement see opportunities that have never before been presented to us."

Johnson said he planned to present himself and others in the alt-right, including former Congressman Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party's 2012 presidential nominee, American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor, and evolutionary psychologist Kevin B. MacDonald, before the Trump campaign to consider for administrative positions. If successful, he believes they can help "provide a counterbalance to globalism’s destructive and dysgenic concepts of multiculturalism and diversity."

Wikinews interviews economist again running for president

In August, economist Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor and former senior economist of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, secured ballot access for his unconventional presidential campaign in Louisiana and Colorado. In addition, he plans to obtain write-in status in 41 more states. Wikinews reached out to Kotlikoff to discuss his campaign.

Kotlikoff announced his candidacy last May. He named Edward E. Leamer, a professor of economics at UCLA, as his running mate. This is not Kotlikoff's first run for the presidency. In 2012, he sought the presidential nomination of Americans Elect, which ultimately did not field a candidate. He also briefly sought the Reform Party presidential nomination that year. During his first run, Kotlikoff spoke with Wikinews in an interview similar to the one below. In that campaign, Kotlikoff promoted the purple plan, which combined liberal and conservative economic ideas. Today, he boasts a 157 page campaign platform that reportedly took him three months to write. Some of the ideas contained in the platform include the elimination of income taxes, privatization of health care, as well as support for same-sex marriage, drug legalization, and increases in the federal inheritance tax.

With Wikinews, Kotlikoff discusses the prospect of his candidacy, the differences between this run and his previous run, and why voters should vote for him over the other candidates.

Laurence Kotlikoff in November 2011.
Image: Hung-Ho Vergil Yu.

 ((WSS )) What do you hope to achieve by running for president?

Kotlikoff: There are only three people that can legally and realistically be elected President in November. I'm one of the three. Write-in candidates need to be registered across all the very large number of states across the country that require registration. If you don't register, your votes aren't counted. I am, to my knowledge, the only nationally registered and therefore the only real write-in candidate in the country.
I am running to win the election. I'm not ​running to influence policy. I'm running to make policy — the right policy in conjunction with both parties with whom I have very good relations. The two candidates will not adopt what needs to be done because what needs to be done to fix the country is not PC [politically correct] with the extreme elements of their parties. I am running to fix America. I and the vast majority of other economists in this country ​recognize our country is fiscally broke (because the vast majority of our debts have been kept off the books), that it needs a brand new, single, efficient, publicly financed, privately managed basic healthcare plan for all Americans, that Social Security is totally broke and needs to be fundamentally reformed, that the tax system is a terrible mess that lets the super rich pay nothing or next to nothing and that it too needs to be fixed from scratch, and that the banking system needs to [be] reformed for real (not for fake as in the case of Dodd–Frank). I also have very clear views on foreign policy, climate policy, immigration policy, and education policy. In these areas, as in all other areas, the history of policy has been to impose ever greater fiscal burdens, ever worsening economic conditions, and ever greater national security risk. My campaign's theme is "It's Our Children." I'm running to provide the American public the truth about our domestic and foreign challenges and provide a new New Deal, which will transform the country for the better in virtually all dimensions. Unlike Trump and Clinton, I have very clear and simple (postcard length) solutions for fixing our myriad problems. They are not my solutions alone. They are really consensus solutions of economists in general. I think it's time to introduce technical expertise in managing our country's future.

 ((WSS )) How does your 2016 run differ from your 2012 run?

Kotlikoff: In 2012, I ran on the third-party platform, Americans Elect. That platform/party folded in May 2012 because it ran out of money. That's when my campaign ended, actually, was forcibly ended.
Four years on, our country's economy is in many ways in far worse shape. Our fiscal gap (the real measure of our country's indebtedness) is dramatically larger. Our planet's climate is closer to reaching a tipping point. Our Social Security system is in far worse financial shape. Our healthcare system is covering more people. But it's a potpourri of programs that collectively are driving us broke and being run as inefficiently as possible. The pressure on jobs and wages from immigrants, foreign workers, and smart machines is greater. Education has not improved. Real average take home pay has remained flat. Millions of workers have given up finding jobs. North Korea has miniaturized nuclear warheads and is testing land and submarine-based ballistic missiles. Iran is testing long-range missiles that can carry warheads purchased from North Korea, and the list goes on.
In sum, I think the challenges our nation faces are far graver, and that the parties are force-feeding us two candidates who have articulated no real/novel/convincing solutions for any of these challenges.

 ((WSS )) Why should voters support you over the major party candidates and other third party or independent candidates?

Kotlikoff: Johnson and Stein are too extreme to be elected. Clinton and Trump were each chosen by 14 percent of the voters. A majority of the population strongly dislike Clinton and Trump. They are not the same set of majorities. My sense is that over one third of the voters strongly dislike both candidates and over half are not eager to see either elected as President. Each voter has an incredible megaphone thanks to their access to social media. They can, even at this date, make their votes really count by forming groups of 10 people to vote for me as a collective enterprise and to start email chain letters to spread the word of my campaign. I have received very significant national media coverage. More is coming. I've been featured on radios in hundreds of cities and their surroundings across the country. I have a small army of volunteers and more joining every day. It's as easy to vote for me as it is to vote for either of them. One just has to write Laurence Kotlikoff for President and Edward Leamer for Vice President on the ballot instead of checking off a name that was embossed by a printer. ​The political situation is extremely unstable. One tweet by, say, Justin Bieber, to his tens of millions of followers could make me a household name. Similar things can flip this election. Stand by.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.