Presidential Debate Thoughts: Did Trump miss some simple answers?

Two friends and I watched the Trump debate from the Trump hotel in Chicago (one of the best hotels in the U.S.) while savoring the taste of Trump-brand Virginia wine (“pretty good” was the verdict). This was a violation of my normal policy to avoid watching politicians give speeches, but given our location it seemed worth making an exception.

One thing that confused me about the debate was Trump missing seemingly obvious responses to Hillary attacks. For example, Hillary said “you’ve taken business bankruptcy six times. There are a lot of great businesspeople that have never taken bankruptcy once.” Trump responded with “on occasion, four times, we used certain laws that are there. …  I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company. My obligation right now is to do well for myself, my family, my employees, for my companies. And that’s what I do.”

“I take advantage of the laws” doesn’t seem to me like the best answer. Why not “I’ve done approximately 100 business projects over my lifetime and about 10 of them didn’t work out as I’d hoped. In fact, four of them went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, which saves jobs for employees at the expense of investors. So I’ve had a 90-percent success rate rather than the 100-percent success rate that you seem to be demanding. If you have had a 100-percent success rate in the projects that you’ve done over your lifetime then I congratulate you. If you don’t think businesses should be able to reorganize under Chapter 11, why didn’t you work to change the law when you were a senator?”

Similarly, when Hillary attacked Trump for not paying every contractor whatever amount the contractor had billed Trump could have said “I have built or renovated X million square feet of space. If you’ve ever owned a 2500-square-foot house you may have have a dispute with a contractor over what was the fair amount to pay for the work done. I wish that we had never had any disputes while building X million square feet, but that’s not realistic.”

Trump could also have pointed out that he wasn’t able to find a friendly commodities broker to stick another customer with losing trades (Hillary’s 100X return on investment). Nor could he get companies and countries seeking Washington access to pay him speaking fees or donate money to a foundation that he controlled. So he had no choice but to take risks in the marketplace. Yet the words “donation” and “foundation” don’t appear in the debate transcript.

He could stick in some jabs against Hillary and Obama, e.g., “It is easy to be successful 100 percent of the time when you are spending tax dollars and making up your own criteria. You spent $1 billion on a web site for Obamacare and now you call it a success. I’m sure the contractors were happy that you paid all of their bills for that project, but if a private business had spent $1 billion on a web site it would be bankrupt.”

[This is not to say that I think Trump is a better candidate than Hillary. As a Massachusetts resident whose ballot is primarily candidates running unopposed (and the races in which there are multiple choices are seldom in doubt), I haven’t educated myself on the relative merits of these two. The point of this posting is just to show that Trump could have done a lot better by practicing standard responses to a handful of predictable attacks.]

[Separately, a bunch of my Facebook friends have complained about me choosing to stay in the Trump hotel. I wonder if they are missing one of the good things about a market economy in terms of breaking down prejudices and barriers among groups. In a market economy you may choose to do business with people whom you wouldn’t ordinarily be friends with or socialize with. This can be the first step toward harmony among groups of disparate people.]

11 Comments

  1. Robert Pinder

    September 28, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

    1

    There’s another reason Donald is not presidential material – he maybe fast on his feet but not in a thoughtful nor controlled manner.

  2. Vince

    September 28, 2016 @ 1:02 pm

    2

    If you’ve ever owned a 2500-square-foot house you may have had a dispute with a contractor over what was the fair amount to pay for the work done.

    From what I understand there are a lot of stories out there of Trump simply refusing to pay for work done by contractors on his projects. He would tell people to sue him if they wanted to get paid. Hillary made some excellent points by saying that those small business owners were much like her own father. The average swing voter will sympathize more with a small business owner who has a dozen employees than with someone like Trump.

  3. philg

    September 28, 2016 @ 1:30 pm

    3

    Vince: You believe that Trump is personally making decisions about whether or not to pay a small contractor? http://money.cnn.com/2015/09/03/news/economy/donald-trump-jobs-created/ says that Trump’s real estate conglomerate has 22,450 employees. Would would those 22,450 people be doing if not evaluating the work of small contractors and deciding whether or not to pay in full?

    I’m sure that the contractors’ stories in all cases are “I did great work and should be paid what I billed,” but that is also true for contractors who do work for individual homeowners. Maybe Hillary’s “there are no incompetent contractors” position would make sense in Japan or Switzerland, but I think that any American who had hired a contractor would be skeptical of it.

  4. jerry

    September 28, 2016 @ 1:45 pm

    4

    > Similarly, when Hillary attacked Trump for not paying every contractor whatever amount the contractor had billed Trump could have said “I have built or renovated X million square feet of space. If you’ve ever owned a 2500-square-foot house you may have have a dispute with a contractor over what was the fair amount to pay for the work done. I wish that we had never had any disputes while building X million square feet, but that’s not realistic.”

    I agree he missed answers like this that even I thought of in real-time. My take was that he felt guilty as charged and/or is so petty that he felt it better to issue insults (that made him look bad) than to address the issue head on.

    > The point of this posting is just to show that Trump could have done a lot better by practicing standard responses to a handful of predictable attacks.]

    I’ve read several claims that Trump hates preparation. Could that be true?

    None of any of this feels “statesman-like” or someone I want managing any sort of project much less holding the football.

  5. Russil Wvong

    September 28, 2016 @ 3:02 pm

    5

    Debate transcript.

    I watched the debate on YouTube last night (with my 14-year-old son, who found it quite interesting). I thought Clinton was very impressive: well-prepared, disciplined and focused, following a plan. She repeatedly baited Trump, and he always took the bait. After watching Clinton for 90 minutes, I think that in a face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader, she’d be a pretty formidable negotiator.

    Trump started strong, but it seemed like he ran out of gas pretty quickly. As you say, if he’d only practiced defending himself against some obvious attacks, he would have done a lot better. He didn’t prepare, and it showed. If he’s not going to prepare for the most important 90 minutes of his political career thus far, it seems like he wouldn’t do a great job of preparing for meetings and decisions when he’s President, either.

    By the way, as a foreigner, I really appreciated that Clinton took the time to reassure US allies:

    Words matter when you run for president. And they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them.

    It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people, say that, you know, our word is good.

  6. GermanL

    September 28, 2016 @ 4:09 pm

    6

    Trump totally bombed that debate. A better candidate would have mopped the floor with her. Trump has no chance to win this election if this is the best he can do against Hillary – and frankly, it shows how the guy is really ill suited for the job of president. The fact that he did not prepare for the debate and/or couldn’t think on his feet is disconcerting. Maybe he wants to check out of the race after cashing in on free advertising.

    Peter Schiff did a good podcast that showed how Trump could have handled the debate (similar to Phil’s suggestions):

  7. Lynn Clark

    September 28, 2016 @ 4:24 pm

    7

    Because of Trump’s refusal to prepare for the debate, he “showed up to a gunfight armed with a knife.”

    In a comment, Philg said, “…I think that any American who had hired a contractor would be skeptical of it.”

    Hence Angie’s List and similar web sites. As I’ve mentioned in a comment on a previous PhilG blog article, with few exceptions, I do all maintenance/remodeling work on my house and yard, and automotive maintenance, myself. I’ve had too many personal experiences wth incompetent contractors and mechanics, and known of too many similar experiences from friends and relatives, to trust anyone to do anything that I either know how to do or can learn how to do with a little bit of internet research.

    Forty-five-ish years ago when I was working for my neighbor’s small ceramic tile business, there were abundant opportunities to see — and deal with — sub-standard work in the construction industy. The boss’s son-in-law was a general contractor who built custom homes. It was always a joy to do tile work in his projects because all walls, corners, tubs, windows, everything, were perfectly plumb, level and square. We never saw that attention to detail and quality in projects done by any other contractor for whom we did work. Many contractors and subcontractors are way too willing to do quick-and-dirty, shoddy work and let other people deal with the results.

    Anyone who’s ever watched HGTV’s program “Holmes on Homes” or Adam Carolla’s “Catch a Contractor” show on SpikeTV knows that incompetent/dishonest contractors and subcontractors are not hard to find. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that someone like Donald Trump might have good reason, over a long career in the construction industry, to occasionally withhold payment for shoddy work.

  8. the other Donald

    September 28, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

    8

    It’s hard to comment on two different things as if they are the same thing. She played chess or cricket, he played rugby or WWC wrestling. So yes, his parry to her opening gambit was to bitch about something and sniffle like a cokehead (I understand he is a teetotaler, so presumably that was just unfortunate).

    How does this kind of freak show add anything to a voter’s understanding?

    Our process has broken down when these two are the only alternatives.

    Thanks for the hotel/wine review; Trump Organization apparently competent.

    On construction disputes, my experience is big projects are different from individual housing. When one party has all the money and most of the lawyers, the ethical thing to do is have the contractor correct the work at cost so neither party profits from a mistake. It is bad form for a big developer to actually stiff a contractor unless there is fraud.

  9. Vince

    September 28, 2016 @ 9:00 pm

    9

    Phil: Regarding contractors, wouldn’t you think that Trump and his 22 thousand employees should have some way to find good contractors to work on his multi-million dollar projects? Maybe they hire people who do mediocre work because they pick names at random from the Yellow Pages.

    I think that the architect quoted here (Andrew Tesoro) is the one mentioned by Hillary in the debate.

    Adams: Had you heard rumors that Trump didn’t pay architects what they deserved?

    Tesoro: I had heard a little bit, some rumors, that he was not particularly known for paying people at the end of a job. But I know I’m not greedy. I thought if other people got shorted, it was because they asked too much. He kept telling me what a great architect I was and how the clubhouse was going to get me wonderful projects and front page publicity in all the most important journals. That’s part of his charismatic style.

    Adams: How did your payment negotiations go?

    Tesoro: The executive vice president of the Trump Organization with whom I had a constructive relationship said go to the clubhouse, that there were many other vendors and professionals there, that they were having a negotiation session. We were surrounded by this group of a dozen or more Trump Organization people who were strangers to the project. They invented reasons to challenge every piece of paper that represented an additional item of work. It was 90% nonsense. But I didn’t get a chance to defend myself. They just said, “next, next.”

    Adams: How much did Trump owe you at that point?

    Tesoro: It gets very complicated. I had been paid a considerable sum for what I had already done. My position was that I was entitled to approximately $140,000 for all of the work that I hadn’t yet been paid for. That included things like $80,000 in additional architectural services that were directed, approved and implemented with Trump’s blessing. The project had grown immensely in scope and Mr. Trump wanted my firm to be involved in the construction phase. I did expect to have to negotiate.

    Adams: How much of the $140,000 did the Trump Organization offer to pay?

    Tesoro: I was startled at the bullying. These guys ganged up on me and basically said, there were cost overruns. They said, we’ll give you $50,000. Their message to me was take it or leave it. I was stunned. I left and made a bill for $50,000 and sent it. It wasn’t paid.

    Adams: What did you do when they failed to pay you?

    Tesoro: I met with Mr. Trump. He said, you’re a nice guy, you’re a good architect, I’ll give you half of that $50,000. I walked away with $25,000.

    Adams: Why didn’t you sue?

    Tesoro: I’m a shop with five people. I don’t have a lawyer on retainer. I consulted a lawyer and he said it would be very expensive to fight Trump.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestreptalks/2016/07/13/this-architect-says-trump-almost-destroyed-his-business-but-that-doesnt-mean-they-cant-get-coffee/#7b61b22a6d9a

  10. philg

    September 28, 2016 @ 10:55 pm

    10

    Vince: I’m going to guess that you’ve never hired an architect.

  11. Tekumse

    September 29, 2016 @ 8:28 am

    11

    It looks to me that Trump is deliberately picking small contractors that are unlikely to sue. Here is another story:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/09/28/i-sold-trump-100000-worth-of-pianos-then-he-stiffed-me/

    Is it illegal? No. Is it scummy? Yes.

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