On the campaign trail in the USA, September 2016

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Friday, October 21, 2016

The following is the fifth 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: an arrest warrant is issued for the Green Party presidential and vice presidential nominees; the "Birther King" opens up about Donald Trump's changing view on President Obama's place of birth; and Wikinews interviews a write-in presidential candidate hoping to run the "most libertarian" campaign in history.


As the campaign entered September, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton held a 4.9% advantage over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, 46.8% to 41.9% in the RealClearPolitics head-to-head average. In a four way race, Clinton's lead over Trump shrank to 3.9%, 42.0% to 38.1% with Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson at 7.6% and Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein at 3.2%. Despite his absence from most polls, independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin received national coverage. In early September, he received the endorsement of former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton who previously represented Washington as Republican. According to a campaign spokesman, McMullin's goal was to win his home state of Utah. A UtahPolicy.com poll in the state released September 12 showed McMullin at 9%, in fourth place behind Trump, Clinton, and Johnson, who himself was four points ahead of McMullin. Johnson received extensive coverage in the early part of the month for failing to recognize the critical Syrian city of Aleppo when asked about it during an MSNBC interview. He was later lampooned for sticking his tongue out at a reporter during an interview and for being unable to recall the name of a world leader he admired. Nevertheless, Johnson obtained unprecedented endorsements from the Chicago Tribune, The Detroit News, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Winston-Salem Journal, and the Manchester Union Leader. Other publications also took unprecedented steps. Traditional Republican-backing Dallas Morning News endorsed Clinton. USA Today, which had not previously endorsed a candidate for office, asked voters not to vote for Trump. Although Trump did not receive any major newspaper endorsements, he received the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, and touted endorsements from 88 retired generals.

Screenshot from Donald Trump Jr.'s Instagram account, parodying The Expendables as "The Deplorables."

On September 2, the FBI released a report on Clinton's use of a private server for official e-mails. Among the revelations was that Clinton could not recall intelligence briefings during her time as Secretary of State due to a concussion. Questions about Clinton's health were brought to the forefront after two coughing spells. The first occurred during a Labor Day speech in Cleveland. While recovering, she explained, "Every time I think about Trump I get allergic". Shortly thereafter, during a press conference aboard an airplane, while discussing Trump's connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Clinton began coughing profusely once again, asking a staffer for water. Trump's relation to Putin was reexamined on September 7 when both candidates attended a "Commander-in-Chief" forum broadcast on NBC and hosted by Matt Lauer. Lauer interviewed each candidate separately for 30 minutes with a focus on the military. Regarding Putin, Trump commented "if he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him." He called Putin more of a leader than President Barack Obama, under whose leadership, Trump claimed, "the generals have been reduced to rubble." Lauer's performance in the forum was panned in The New York Times and other media for his purported leniency on Trump, lack of knowledge, and stricter treatment of Clinton, with whom he heavily discussed the e-mail scandal. Trump's running mate Mike Pence agreed with Trump's assessment of Putin, claiming it "inarguable" that Putin "has been a stronger leader in his country" than President Obama has been in the United States. Broadcast icon Larry King interviewed Trump on the Russia-owned Russia Today (RT) network. The Trump campaign later claimed it did not know the interview would air on RT. For Clinton, two major developments in early to mid-September threatened to change the course of the election. First, video surfaced of a Clinton fundraiser in which she referred to half of Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables," describing them as "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it." She described some of these individuals as "irredeemable." The remarks led to denunciations from both Clinton supporters and opponents. Those who felt the comments applied to them, turned "deplorables" into a meme. Trump argued the comments showed Clinton's "true feelings" of "bigotry and hatred for millions of Americans." Clinton later expressed regret over the comments, calling them "wrong" and "grossly generalistic." Next, while attending a ceremony commemorating the 15 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with Trump in attendance as well, Clinton left early. Video from citizen journalist Zdenek Gazda showed Clinton collapse while approaching her campaign van. She was transported to the apartment of her daughter Chelsea. Two hours later she emerged from the apartment to greet supporters. The campaign initially claimed the episode was the result of overheating. However, it later revealed that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia. The Washington Post, among other publications, criticized the campaign for its handling of the situation. As Clinton took a few days off the campaign trail to recover, Trump contrasted his health during an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show. Host Mehmet Oz reviewed a one-page record of a recent Trump physical and declared Trump to be in good health. During the appearance, Trump also discussed his new proposal, previously laid out with daughter Ivanka, for changes to unemployment policy, guaranteeing "six weeks of paid maternity leave."

Screenshot of the video showing Clinton collapsing while exiting the 9/11 remembrance ceremony.
Image: Zdenek Gazda.

With the first presidential debate in mind, Trump reportedly planned to prepare as he did for the primary debates, which he claimed to have not prepared for at all. 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called for the inclusion of Johnson and running mate William Weld in the debate. Trump rebuffed the call, saying the debate should only feature the two candidates with a chance to win the election, meaning the exclusion of Johnson, who qualified for all ballots in September, and Stein, who had qualified for 44 state ballots plus the District of Columbia. Eventually, the Commission on Presidential Debates officially announced Johnson and Stein both failed to meet the 15% polling threshold and so would not participate. This came as former 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders urged progressives not to vote third party, as a Quinnipiac University poll released September 14 showed Johnson moving into second place among millennials at 29%, slightly behind Clinton at 31% and slightly ahead of Trump at 26%. Johnson secured the endorsement of former Congressman Dick Zimmer. In the political squabbling ahead of the debate, the Clinton campaign continued to attack Trump for refusing to release his past tax records. Trump argued he would not release the records while still undergoing an IRS audit. Pence, however, did release his own personal tax records. Trump argued the media was the only group interested in his tax records. His son Donald Trump Jr. generated controversy when he described the media as "warming up the gas chambers" for his father. The Trump campaign later clarified he was not referring to Nazi gas chambers. Trump raised the issue of gun control, provocatively arguing that Clinton's bodyguards be disarmed to "see what happens to her." Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine called the remarks an "incitement to violence." Next, after Clinton attacked Trump for his part in questioning the citizenship of President Obama, Trump issued a press release confirming his belief that President Obama was born in the United States. He claimed Clinton had started the birther movement in 2008, but Trump, by compelling Obama to release his long-form birth certificate in 2011, had ended it. This came as the presidential approval rating for Obama reached 58%, his highest since 2009. A release of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's hacked e-mails showed Powell calling the birther movement "racist" and referring to Trump as a "national disgrace" and "international pariah." Powell's e-mails also cast Clinton negatively, saying she did not look healthy and claiming her husband was "still dicking bimbos at home." Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself weighed in on the presidential race, calling Clinton "flawed" but describing Trump as "beyond repair" and "unfit" for the presidency. According to Politico, Gates and Powell's ex-boss, former President George H. W. Bush, planned to cast his vote for Clinton. Trump obtained unlikely support of his own when former rival Ted Cruz endorsed his candidacy just ahead of the first debate. For debate prep, Clinton participated in mock debates for four days prior while Trump did very little preparation, setting aside the last day to discuss ideas with his team. The New York Times summed up Clinton's goal at the debate as unnerving Trump and catching him in a lie. It described Trump's goal as sticking to his instincts.

Trump and Clinton shake hands before the first presidential debate.
Image: NBC News.

As the September 26 presidential debate approached, in a move meant to rattle Trump, Clinton invited supporter and billionaire Mark Cuban to attend the debate. In response, Trump threatened to invite Gennifer Flowers, an alleged ex-mistress of Bill Clinton. Pence later clarified Flowers would not attend the debate. Cuban, on the other hand, did attend. Overall during the debate, which Lester Holt of NBC moderated, by website FiveThirtyEight's count, Trump interrupted Clinton three times, with 24 "fleeting" interjections; Clinton did not interrupt Trump at all, but had five "fleeting" interjections. Notably, Trump attacked Clinton repeatedly for being in power for "30 years" and yet not fulfilling any of her policy goals. For example, he accused Clinton of "fighting ISIS [her] entire adult life." Clinton, on the other hand, accused Trump of making false statements and called on "fact checkers" to "get to work." She jokingly said "I have a feeling by the end of this debate I'll be blamed for everything," to which Trump interjected "Why not?" When the tax issue was raised, Trump argued he would release his records once Clinton "releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted." Clinton discussed decades-old tax records from Trump, showing he had not paid any federal income taxes. Trump responded, "That makes me smart." After Trump attacked Clinton's decision for taking time off the campaign trail prior to the debate, Clinton observed "I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president." At the conclusion, Clinton mentioned Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe whom Trump allegedly referred to as "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping." Trump countered he was going to bring up something "extremely rough" about Clinton but restrained himself. This was later said to be about Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs, which Trump said he did not raise due to the presence of Clinton's daughter Chelsea, a friend of Trump's daughter Ivanka. After the debate, Trump took the extraordinary step of entering the media spin room. Analysts largely agreed Clinton won the debate. 16 out of 22 participants in Fox News pollster Frank Luntz's focus group came to that conclusion, as did 18 of 20 participants in a CNN focus group. Public Policy Polling's post debate instant poll showed Clinton winning the debate 51% to 40%. CNN's poll showed a 62% to 27% margin for Clinton. Trump's sniffing during the debate led former Vermont governor Howard Dean to suggest Trump was using cocaine. The next day, Trump blamed the sniffing on a defective microphone. While appearing on Fox and Friends, he also addressed Machado, calling her the "worst" Miss Universe and arguing "she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem." Afterwards, Trump launched a 3 a.m. Twitter attack on Machado, labeling her "disgusting" and asking his readers to "check out [her] sex tape." Clinton described the tweets as "unhinged, even for him." Trump argued "at least you know I will be there, awake, to answer the call!" Former Republican Senator John Warner closed out the month with an endorsement of Clinton. In the RealClearPolitics average, Clinton led Trump 47.5% to 44.4% in the head-to-head, a margin of 3.1%. In the four-way race, Clinton's lead fell to 2.9%, 43.8% to 40.9%, with Johnson at 7.3% and Stein at 2.4%.

Arrest warrant out for Green Party nominees

While most coverage of third party candidates in September centered around the gaffes of Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein received coverage over a protest she and running mate Ajamu Baraka participated in, leading to a warrant for their arrests in North Dakota.

Screen shot of the video showing Jill Stein spray-painting a bulldozer in North Dakota
Image: Jill Stein for President Booster Club.

According to a witness affidavit, on the morning of September 6, authorities in Morton County, North Dakota were alerted to protests at the site of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a proposed 1,000 mile-long pipeline slated to carry about a half million barrels of oil from oil-rich North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline is controversial due to its planned construction route under the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, disturbing sacred burial grounds and potentially contaminating the water supply. Protests have been ongoing since April and the project has become the subject of litigation, though it has been largely ignored in the presidential election. During the September 6 protest, demonstrators allegedly spray-painted graffiti on bulldozers, cut wires, flattened tires, and soiled gas tanks. After video surfaced of Baraka spray-painting "decolonization" and Stein spray-painting "I approve this message" on bulldozers, the authorities had requisite probable cause to tie the vandalism directly to Stein and Baraka. In an arrest warrant issued on September 7, officials charged both Stein and Baraka with criminal trespass and criminal mischief, Class B misdemeanors.

After learning of the arrest warrant, in a statement released on their campaign website, Stein and Baraka called on the authorities to pursue the "real vandalism" committed by the pipe constructors, whom they accused of "bulldozing [...] sacred burial sites and [...] unleashing [...] vicious attack dogs." Stein told the Chicago Tribune she planned to turn herself over to Morton County officials at some point, but as of the end of September, she had not. Her list of scheduled campaign events for the remainder of October does not bring her to North Dakota or anywhere near. Donnell Hushka of the North Dakota Association of Counties told Wikinews that because the charge is only a misdemeanor, authorities cannot execute the warrant outside the state of North Dakota. The maximum penalty for a Class B misdemeanor in North Dakota is 30 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.

This would not be the first time Stein has had a run-in with the law. During her 2012 presidential campaign, Stein was arrested on three different occasions, most notably for trespassing at the presidential debate for which she did not qualify. This cycle, Stein attempted to attend the September 26 presidential debate at Hofstra University, but was escorted off campus before she could be arrested.

On the same day the arrest warrant was issued, Stein's petition to appear on the ballot in North Dakota was deemed valid. It is one of the 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, where she will appear on the general election ballot.

Wikinews contacted the Stein campaign about this report but did not receive a response.

'Birther King' reacts to Trump's change of heart

After attacks from Hillary Clinton painting Donald Trump as a racist conspiracy theorist for his role in the birther movement, Donald Trump disavowed the movement on September 16, asserting "President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period." Through a press release, the campaign connected the origins of the birther movement to Clinton's 2008 campaign against then-Senator Obama for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. However, the rumors actually go back to Obama's 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate against former ambassador Alan Keyes. At the time, Andy Martin, a perennial candidate for political office and vexatious litigant, sent out a press release questioning Obama's background. In the years that followed, rumors spread across the Internet, morphing into the theory that Obama was actually born in Kenya, which peaked during the 2008 presidential election. Trump reignited the controversy in 2011, while considering a run for president. Increased interest resulted in Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate in 2011, but Trump, who ended up not running for another four years, continued to question its authenticity — that is, until now. With Trump's change of heart, Wikinews sought out Martin, the man who refers to himself as the "Birther King" and "founder" of the birther movement.

Trump speaks in Pennsylvania, September 2016.
Image: Michael Vadon.
Andy Martin at the 2016 lesser-known candidates forum.
Image: Marc Nozell.

The origins of the birther movement are somewhat murky. According to The New York Times, Martin is "widely credited" with starting the "whisper campaign" that morphed into the movement, beginning with an August 2004 press release on Free Republic claiming Obama was a secret Muslim. Although, Martin recalls, he never espoused the Kenyan birth theory, he sued for the release of the long form certificate in Hawaii in 2008. After which, "crazies took over the movement and proposed increasingly irrational and unfounded claims Obama was born in Kenya."

"Everybody uses my research as a takeoff point," Martin told The Times in 2008, "and exaggerate them to suit their own fantasies."

Martin first spoke to Wikinews in August 2011 when he was running for the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nomination. In the interview, Martin expressed his belief, based on a research trip to Hawaii, that Obama's real father was not Kenyan economist Barack Obama Sr. but Hawaii-based journalist and labor activist Frank Marshall Davis. This theory has not caught on as persistently among birthers as the Kenyan birth. Martin discussed Trump during the interview, describing him as "not serious" and saying his foray into presidential politics and the birther movement looked like a "charade."

Martin's opinion of Trump seems to have since changed in five years. After Martin launched another run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he soon began praising Trump and using his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" on press releases. He entered the New Hampshire primary this year and received about 200 votes (0.07%), the highest among lesser-known candidates and more even than former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore who was still in the race at the time. Months later, Martin officially endorsed Trump for president.

As for Trump's change of heart, Martin says by "clos[ing] the book" Trump handled criticism from Clinton about birtherism well. He says Clinton's attacks are "desperate and counterproductive" and argues the issue is "almost certainly going to boomerang on Clinton." Although he disputes Trump's claim the Clinton campaign actually started the birther movement, he says the Clinton campaign "clearly tried in 2008 to fuel the Birther controversy by trying to focus media attention on Obama's place of birth."

Martin sent out a press release on September 18 promoting what he called the "last birther news conference." Despite his desire to put the issue to rest, Martin sees it as unlikely, arguing that Obama and Clinton continue to add "new fuel to the fire."

"Obama fed the Birther movement because he has shamelessly use[d] Birther catnip to irritate and frustrate the right", says Martin, but "Obama and Clinton have been grievously wrong in believing the Birther controversy helps them. It harmed Obama, and it has harmed the nation, and it will not help Clinton during the presidential election."

Wikinews interviews libertarian write-in candidate

On September 29, writer and former 2016 Libertarian Party (LP) presidential candidate Darryl Perry, the newly-elected chair of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH), announced the creation of a write-in campaign for president across several states. In a press release, he stated three goals for his run: "(1) to run the most libertarian presidential campaign in history; (2) to proclaim the ideas of liberty as boldly and as often as possible; and (3) to give as many people as possible the opportunity to vote for an actual libertarian in November." Wikinews reached out to Perry to discuss the campaign.

Darryl Perry
Image: Darryl Perry.

During his run for the Libertarian nomination, Perry notably refused to file with the Federal Election Commission, claiming it lacked authority, and said he would only take donations in the form of precious metals or cryptocurrency like bitcoin. He selected Muslim libertarian Will Coley as his running mate. At the National Convention, Perry received 6.8% on the first ballot and 5.6% on the second ballot, fourth place each time. After being eliminated, Perry delivered a boisterous concession speech in which he warned the party about following the path of the Reform Party in accepting public campaign financing. He did not endorse the Johnson–Weld ticket.

Libertarians like Perry have expressed displeasure in Johnson–Weld, arguing the ticket has sacrificed principles for mainstream acceptance, such as supporting restrictions on the Second Amendment, new taxes, and limits on freedom of association. Moreover, Johnson suffered a series of gaffes in September, failing to recognize the name of the Syrian city of Aleppo, sticking his tongue out at a reporter, and not being able to remember the name of a foreign leader he admired. Nevertheless, in the polls he has fared well for a Libertarian candidate, consistently polling higher than the one percent he received as the party's nominee in 2012.

In his write-in campaign, Perry plans to be certified as a write-in candidate in nine states plus the District of Columbia. In an additional eight states, all write-in votes are considered valid. According to Perry's calculations, this potentially provides him access to 114 electoral votes.

With Wikinews, Perry discusses his reasons for running, his impact on the election, and how he plans to spread his message.

((WSS)) What convinced you to begin a write-in campaign for president?

Perry: As I mentioned in the Press Release announcing the write-in campaign: The Johnson campaign's [...] numerous instances of the Libertarian Party Presidential ticket running in opposition to the LP Platform, including supporting limitations of the Second Amendment rights of people on secret lists, new forms of taxation, and statements against freedom of association. Also, the failure of the LNC [Libertarian National Committee] to take action in accordance with the bylaws to either censure or remove the candidates for running in opposition to the bylaws, and the failure of the LNC to take action against Weld for donating to the GOP [Grand Old Party — i.e., Republican] opponent of the LPNH's Gubernatorial candidate.

((WSS)) What impact do you hope to have on the election?

Perry: This question presumes that the purpose of my campaign is to affect the results of this election. My goal is to show people that Johnson and Weld are running in opposition to the LP Platform, and that there are people who put principle over party. As I said during the months leading up to the LP National Convention, when I joined the LP in 1999, it was proudly billed as the "Party of Principle" and I want to make the LP the Party of Principle again, not the Party of watering-down the message.

((WSS)) What is the primary focus of your campaign and what are you doing to get the message out?

Perry: For the answer to the first part of this question, see [the previous answer]. This is as grassroots as grassroots can get. I'm not spending money on the write-in campaign, though I am accepting media interviews. Otherwise my focus is on building LPNH and trying to get some pro-liberty legislation introduced in the NH Legislature.


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.