A few quick thoughts on last night’s debate

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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65 Responses

  1. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    Instead of disagreeing with you over the moderator (I think the issue wasn’t time managment, so much as not seeking to clarifying things the candidates were lying about), I’ll agree that if the Romney who was talking last night, and who was Governor of Massachusettes is the same one who would show up to the Oval office, I agree that both would be fine choices.

    If you’re someone who believes that the President is the ruler-of-everything-ever, than maybe not so much, but as one part of a three pillar system? Definitely.Report

  2. Avatar Jonny Scrum-half says:

    I heard Romney say that he would lower tax rates for everyone, but that his plan would be “revenue neutral” because it would eliminate various unspecified deductions. He also said that the proportion of taxes paid by the wealthy wouldn’t decrease.

    I hope that this isn’t a stupid question, but I can’t see the point in this, even from Romney’s perspective. What’s it supposed to accomplish, if it (a) doesn’t really change how much people pay in taxes, and (b) doesn’t increase revenue to the government?Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to Jonny Scrum-half says:

      Apparently, the lower rates will encourage job creation by small businesses because business owners won’t notice that what relief they see through lower tax rates is negated (and maybe then some) by fewer deductions.

      I kept waiting for Obama to point out that this approach makes no sense but, alas, he didn’t. So maybe I’m missing something that you need the special Republican job creator glasses to see because I surely don’t get it.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Jonny Scrum-half says:

      Interestingly the cut deductions approach is exactly what was used in the 1986 tax reform where a whole bunch of deductions were abolished and rates cut to a max of 28% on all income no capital gains treatment. Romney recognizes that going after any specific deduction is a loosing proposition as the lobbyists would attach. Interestingly it also follows to some extent what was in place before the Bush tax cuts, where above a limit deductions were cut (as indeed personal exemptions where cut before Bush). It does appear that Romney might want to be more agressive on this score than the prior law. (Phase out starts with the place where the second from the top bracket starts).Report

  3. Avatar Michelle says:

    Good post, Tod.

    During the debate Romney acted the part of Santa Clause, promising lands of milk and honey at no cost to the American people. He claimed that he would eliminate the deficit painlessly – with smaller payments over a smaller amount of time, without cutting the spending you love.

    Exactly! This approach worked for Reagan, and since Romney was actively channeling Reagan last night, he probably saw no reason why it wouldn’t work for him as well, especially since nobody bothered to call him on it. Never mind that Reagan tripled the national debt. Hey, we got tax cuts and an end to the evil empire. Bush II appropriated this approach and managed to double the national debt while lowering taxes and putting two wars on the national credit card. The growth of federal spending has actually slowed dramatically under Obama, which must be why Romney figures we can afford another tax cuts, details on how we’ll pay for it to come later.

    So yeah, Romney came off like a well-dressed used car salesman but a good used-car salesman can sell seemingly unsellable cars. If Obama doesn’t bring his A game to the next two debates, Romney may well be able to sell the supply-side clunker one more time.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Michelle says:

      Michelle, You’ve made (up) this claim about the growth in gov’t spending slowing under Obama before. But you’re neglecting the reality that the growth only slowed under the divided House. Here’s my math, where is yours?

      Even you’d like it even more wonkish I give you this source

      I say put up or shut up.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to wardsmith says:

        ???

        Ward, you seem to be saying that Michelle’s claim is not true, while simultaneously giving an explanation for why it is true.

        What exactly are you challenging?Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Mostly I’m challenging her assertion, which she makes repeatedly that it is the evil Republicans and not the saintly Democrats who are always raising the deficit. I’ve given evidence that directly refutes that, the Democrats and ESPECIALLY OBAMA raised the debt the most and directly refuting her assertion AT THE FASTEST PACE. The only grain of truth left in her statement is that once the Rep’s took the house, the Dem’s were unable to spend quite as heavily as before so in the past year the rate (of increase) has actually slowed. Set the original bar high enough and anything less gets to count as a reduction. Even the screaming and yelling about Ryan “cuts” are not cuts at all, but less growth in expense than the Dem’s originally wanted. Federal spending is a ratchet mechanism unfortunately. Someone will need to fix that before the music stops.

          To use the CC analogy, Michelle added 10K new debt per month for two years on her card and now is /only/ adding 9K so clearly she’s reducing her /debt/. Clearly.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

            which she makes repeatedly that it is the evil Republicans and not the saintly Democrats who are always raising the deficit

            That’s not exactly what she claimed, and you two are tossing disparate facts at each other.

            I can cut spending and still increase the deficit, if I reduce revenues more than I reduce expenses.

            I can raise spending and still decrease the deficit, if I increase revenues more than I increase expenses.

            The trend that Michelle is showing is that Obama has decreased spending, in comparison to, say, Reagan.

            Reagan may have also ballooned the debt, sure.

            Whether or not Obama bears any culpability for the 2008 budget is a point that is reasonable to debate.

            But if you’re going to debate that, you’re going to have to drop all the shenanigans and pretenses about who does or doesn’t spend more in a snapshot of time and establish a positive correlation between party presence in the two Houses and the Presidency, going back through time.

            In which case you’re going to drive into a mess.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              P.S. -> Ward, if the super trump card in your analysis is Congress, and Congress being able to “stop” a President from doing something, the “Sky is falling because of Obama” attitude just fell apart.

              He does not have a unified Congress, and he’s not going to get one in November, either. In fact, one could argue that it’s more likely that if Mitt wins, Mitt would have a unified Congress.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Patrick, read what I already linked to Michelle and get back to me after you’re done. Michelle has NOT shown that Obama has decreased spending, in fact she has quoted someone who is such a flake that everyone (with a brain) in the world has called him out on it. Saying that Obama spent less than Reagan is such a bald faced lie that he doesn’t even attempt it. Instead he tries legerdemain to claim that the /rate/ of spending /increase/ is lower than elsewhere, but it still can’t even stand on its own fallacious merits as my other links have proven.

                The contention Michelle and others continuously make is that the REPUBLICANS are the profligate spenders and I have demolished that assertion time and again. Apparently not enough to satisfy you. She quotes Forbes but I can quote someone more knowledgeable ALSO on Forbes

                Also realize that Bush enacted an emergency measure called TARP to save the banking system. EVERY PENNY THAT WENT TO THE BANKS HAS BEEN REPAID WITH INTEREST. That repayment happened during the Obama administration, which means Obama has spent even MORE than the budget numbers indicate (since he spent the money being repaid IN ADDITION to his own increases). The problem of course is that sans budget, much of this is occurring in the dark, we are not operating from a budget (illegally I might add). Therefore information needs to be inferred and extrapolated, which is just the way Obama wants it. The government is not operating from an Obama budget, but adding and subtracting from the last legitimate budget, which was George W. Bush’s from his last year in office. This is a disgrace.

                Yes it is Congress that controls the purse strings but the President has a role in setting the tone and the tenor of that spending. Every president that is except Obama. Look at it this way, pretend you’re the CEO of Megacorp and you’re preparing for the coming year. You go to your board of directors with spending plans (a budget). The board (Congress) approves or disapproves of your budget. That’s the way it works in the business world, that’s the way it works at your employer and that’s the way it’s /supposed/ to work with the Federal Gov’t.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                So then maybe your actual complaint ought to be that Congress should pass an actual budget?

                I mean, come on, Ward, are we going to start blaming problems in the judiciary on the executive, now, as well?

                Let’s cut to brass tacks: why haven’t they passed a budget? Well, that answer is obvious.

                Because the duly elected representatives of this country know that any budget they pass is going to violate the promises they’ve all made to their constituents, and they all would like to keep their jobs. A minority of those representatives would rather use procedural baloney to avoid doing their jobs than actually do their jobs and be held accountable.

                Screw ’em.

                You can lay a lot at Obama’s feet, Ward, but this is clearly Congress’s collective lollygagging.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                “Let’s cut to brass tacks: why haven’t they passed a budget? Well, that answer is obvious.”

                Really? Congress has managed to pass budget resolutions well enough before the Obama Administrations. I guess those Congressmen and Senators didn’t care about being reelected then.

                No, the answer is simple. The Demo Senate hasn’t passed a budget because the lib base and other Demo voters are going to enable them until the consequences become so enormous that we can’t ignore them any more. The cause of the problem is libs. Get rid of the libs, get rid of the problem.Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to wardsmith says:

                I read both pieces and found them to be partisan hackery. They clearly had a political axe to grind and we’re looking to defend Bush. Well bush and the Republicans were spending like drunken sailors long before 2006. Two wars off budget and paid for by credit.

                Spare me the faux hand-wringing. It’s hypocritical to attack Obama for big spending when you refuse to hold a mirror to Reagan and Bush.Report

              • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Michelle says:

                “Two wars off budget…”

                That’s the heart of it right there. Obama put the wars in the budget so the costs wouldn’t be hidden and voila Obama is the Biggest Government Spender in History.

                In short, bullshit.

                http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/promise/161/end-the-abuse-of-supplemental-budgets-for-war/Report

  4. Avatar Pyre says:

    Hum.

    I could have summed it all up as:

    What does this do for Romney’s chances? Nothing. Everyone has their candidate picked out. It wouldn’t matter if Romney laid out his entire plan on a big whiteboard behind him complete with sources and rock-solid numbers while Obama came out with a big Muslim Brotherhood pin and announced his plans to sign our nation over to China. Romney is still going to lose. At this point in our election, the debates are really just a tradition that mark time until the Nov 5th election.Report

  5. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I mostly agree with your take, but disagree on the moderator. Lehrer sucked, solely because he a) didn’t ask about climate change and b) did ask about the impossibly vague and broad topic of “the role of government”. I mean, he could at least try to get to them to discuss something specific rather than circling back to the toxic mixture of platitudes, talking points and lies that constitutes debate discourse.

    I can’t handle actual political rhetoric.Report

  6. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    I didn’t watch but what I’m gathering is:

    Lie, lie, LIE == WIN!!!!!!Report

  7. I am inclined to disagree that he would have been better off by “standing for something” or demonstrating the capacity to do so. I think the main goal here was to announce “No, I’m not this right-wing lunatic that I have been portrayed as.” Now, his inability to articulate where he would govern from does hurt him somewhat with me, but I think his biggest liability was that he would be stand-in/rightwing Republican. Combatting that was, I believe, the right approach.

    That being said, I don’t think this changes the dynamic of the race unless he can capitalize on it. He’s not going to get by indefinitely without a little more in the way of specifics that high-ingo people will understand (to pass on to the lower-info people). I think the pivot was important as its own thing. But the campaign does need to change, and it’s (a) uncertain whether it really can and (b) very uncertain whether that will be sufficient.

    I also find this indicative that he is not particularly worried about his base anymore. At least, not economic conservatives. Or rather, I think his campaign has determined that they have more to fear from being a candidate who can’t win than they do a candidate that’s going to please them across-the-board. While I think (a) and (b) might keep him out of the oval office, I don’t think problems with his base are particularly going to.

    The big question mark is religious conservatives. He didn’t say much to get on the wrong (or not-right) side of them during the debate. If social issues come up in the town hall, he’s going to have some touch decisions to make. We’ll call that problem (c).Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      “I am inclined to disagree that he would have been better off by “standing for something” or demonstrating the capacity to do so. I think the main goal here was to announce “No, I’m not this right-wing lunatic that I have been portrayed as.” Now, his inability to articulate where he would govern from does hurt him somewhat with me, but I think his biggest liability was that he would be stand-in/rightwing Republican. “

      Do you believe that the caricature that haunts Mitt Romney is that he’s an ultra-conservative whacko, or that he says whatever he thinks will get him elected? Because my impression is that no one thinks the former (including ultra-conservative whackos), and most people think the latter.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Ultra-conservative whackos do not believe it. In the process of trying to win them over, I believe he has made himself a bed of liability. I think getting out of that bed is the most important thing. He’s Mr. Generic Republican at a time when generic Republicans are viewed as extreme.

        I think the “flip-flopper” meme hurt Kerry so badly because GWB was seen as “steady course” in a contrast that I don’t Obama can particularly provide. I think it’s less of a liability with Romney except to the extent that it hems in what he can say (he has to dampen his criticisms of PPACA, for example).Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

          I get what you’re saying, but still respectfully disagree. I don’t think you spend time correcting a terrible image of yourself that no one has, no matter how bad that image is. You spend time trying to counter the poor image that people do have.

          I agree that getting into bed with ultra-nuts was a bad idea, but the image he has been left with for having done that isn’t that he is a nut, it’s that he tells anybody whatever they want to hear.Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            he tells anybody whatever they want to hear.

            Bingo.

            And I liked Obama’s “Sometimes I have to say, ‘No,’ as contrast.Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Tod, you in retrospect, you might enjoy this.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            I think you’re both correct.

            Mitt has a new problem and he has an old problem.

            His old problem (stretching back for years) was that he was perceived as being “weathervane Mitt” who’d say anything to get elected; essentially the Kerry Massachusetts flip-flop problem writ Republican. To deal with this problem he went hard right in the primaries and continued doing so right up to roughly ten minutes into the debate last night.

            His new problem (stretching back about four months) was that in curing his old problem he has acquired the patina of an extreme right winger who’s far too scary to vote for. To deal with his new problem he reversed himself on pretty much everything he’s said up to this point, flip flopped like crazy and looked reassuring and authoritative while doing it.

            So Mitt is too much of a crazy right wing believer to possibly be an unreliable flip-flopper but he’s too much of a flip-flopper to be a crazy right wing believer. Somewhere in the midst of that tail devouring snake tangle Mitt is betting there is a tiny eye of the narrative storm he can inhabit and follow through to the oval office. He’s trying to be a sort of Schrödinger’s quantum politician, simultaneously a right wing believer and a craven weathervane at the same time.

            I don’t know what depresses me more; that this brazen strategy has at least the potential to fly with the electorate or that Obama was too inept in the debate to puncture it. Maybe the President was just gob smacked by it.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North says:

              I expect Obama to do much better in the next debate.Report

            • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to North says:

              I think response within the debate is less important than it used to be with the growth of internet analysis and social media. The state of the race has been remarkably stable to date and the thing that has moved the needle the most so far wasn’t either convention or other public event, but a video released by Mother Jones. Plenty of fodder for advertising came out of last night for both sides, so now it comes down to who uses it most effectively.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to North says:

              He’s trying to be a sort of Schrödinger’s quantum politician, simultaneously a right wing believer and a craven weathervane at the same time.

              Nice. On another blog today, I described him as an infinite probability machine.

              Popping out new realities for whomever looks in the box.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

          Flipflopper is an authoritarian rallying cry. It’s a direct hit on Romney, because authoritarians areright now mostly republicans.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

            I think that lessens the liability, though. At least, at this stage of the game. I don’t think he needs to worry too much about his 45% right now. Trying to prove to them that he’s not a flip-flopper is counterproductive, I think.

            Having looked over at conservative sites today, the general response does not appear to be that of having been backstabbed or flipflopped against, but rather how good he looked. I think his biggest liability with his own people is the notion that he’s a lost cause. This may not have helped much, but it didn’t hurt in the same way that sticking to his previous guns would have.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Just anecdotally — the few people I’ve asked a similar question all feel he’s the “say anything to get elected” sort.

        Which leads them to believe he’ll happily DO anything once he’s elected to get re-elected, as long as it doesn’t violate his core principles, which includes whatever the ultra-conservative whackjobs want.

        Since the only core principles Romney has let the public know are that he really wants to cut his own taxes and to get re-elected, the fact that he’s not a nutjob is not very comforting. Because it’s just as likely he’ll do nutjob things as not.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

          I think the argument that he’ll “say anything” and that he will necessarily dance with the one that brung’im (the conservative base) was a much better argument last week (and may be an argument next week) than it is this week. Or at least right now. If he tacks away from the right, and that were to help him win I think there is more of a basis that he will govern in a manner different than “what the ultra-conservative nutjobs want” than if he saw the path to victory as one that was primarily reliant on conservatives.

          The question for me at this point is whether (a) he can stick with it and (b) how he walks that particularly line – if he does – with foreign policy and other domestic issues. Now, even if he can and does it well, I still doubt that’s enough. But this is still a much better route than “I am going to stick with the guns that have been alienating everybody outside my 45%” which I think is the requirement to do what Tod thought he should have done.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Morat20 says:

          Exactly. What scares me about Romney isn’t that he’s a wacko, it’s that the stuff he doesn’t care much about (e.g. foreign policy, as far as I can tell) will get delegated to the wackos. I’m thinking about our previous MBA president, who wanted to de-emphasize foreign policy in favor of domestic (tax-cutting, reducing regulations, making social programs faith-based, etc.) When events made that impossible, the wackos he’d put in charge (Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney) had free rein.Report

  8. Avatar bookdragon says:

    Yes. This is the best post-mortem I’ve read yet.

    Obama lost, no doubt. (To me he looked tired – maybe w/ Turkey and Syria trying to start WWIII he might have been not so well rested? Still not a great excuse for being so lame…)

    Romney, however, did absolutely nothing to convince me to change my vote and for precisely the reasons you outline. My immediate reaction to his abrupt pivot was that he was saying whatever he thought people wanted to hear. As that continued (Tax cuts + reduced deficits! And if you order now, every American will get a free set of Ginsu knives!), it just got worse.

    Maybe it’s just me – an engineer’s natural negative reaction to a marketing type on overdrive – but I actually trust Romney less now than before the debate.Report

  9. No, tell a lie – I would love to speculate, but I’m having a hard time coming up with an explanation for his looked-annoyed-to-be-there snoozefest that doesn’t sound ridiculous.

    Given that incumbents almost always seem to do worse in this type of debate, I have often wondered if the bottom-line reason is simply that the incumbent is holding down a 60-hour-per-week job that puts gray in the hair of everyone who holds it, and the other person is generally unemployed or at least can put their current job on hold. Maybe yesterday morning’s security briefing included bad stuff about Iran; or he had to chew out the Joint Chiefs for not preparing properly if we go over the “fiscal cliff”; or any number of other things that go with being President.Report

  10. No, tell a lie – I would love to speculate, but I’m having a hard time coming up with an explanation for his looked-annoyed-to-be-there snoozefest that doesn’t sound ridiculous.

    Syria and Turkey (a NATO ally) going into open conflict with bombs and missiles might have something to do with it. It got buried quite cleverly by this debate, but Turkey has retaliated against Syria.Report

  11. Avatar mac says:

    All I could think was “which of these guys would I be willing to buy a used car from.”

    No question, it was Obama.
    Romney never stopped smiling, which is really strange, and he blinked a lot.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to mac says:

      It wasn’t just the used car salesman thing. I know it’s an odd analogy given that he’s a straight-laced Mormon, but Romney reminded me of every jerk who’s ever tried to pick me up in a bar – smiling too much, bragging, talking about how much he cares about {fill in topic he thinks I care about} – basically saying whatever he thought would get a ‘yes’.

      I never went home with guys like that. I won’t vote for one either.Report

  12. Avatar Koz says:

    I’m surprised that Tod is still asserting that Wednesday’s debate will have no effect on the election, I think it’s absolutely pivotal.

    The idea that nobody was going to watch the debate is ridiculous. According to media reports of the ratings, there were 60 or 70 million live viewers, let alone whoever sees it in replay or watches clips. Other debates in other campaigns may have ended up being more or less irrelevant: but for most or all of them, there was at least some plausbility that the surrogates could argue that their guy won. Mr. Obama’s performance was so listless and so unenergetic, the media and the Obama campaign staff can’t work that angle. I think this performance by the President was about on par with the worst of Rick Perry’s during the primary campaign, and I think it’s plausible for the Romney campaign to hope that this debate will move the polls by as much as 5 points in his favor.

    Romney didn’t have to do nearly as well as he did to be competitive in the race but the events as they unfolded are really better than they could have hoped for. Forget all the crap about undecideds and purple states, this was the sort of thing to move Obama voters to Romney voters.

    More specifically, Romney banked two key advantages as the result of yesterday’s win. One of them is about how it affected the Republican base. The GOP base is very motivated, and wants to win. It wasn’t watching the debate for policy. The danger of the Romney campaign was that the GOP base would lose confidence in Romney and not do the logistical and turnout work at the end of the campaign. I think that possibility has completely evaporated at this point. A week ago, the GOP based wish they could win, now they hope to win, a week from now they will expect to win, and that’s going to make a difference.

    #2, Romney’s favorable’s are already up, according to Reuters:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/04/us-usa-campaign-poll-idUSBRE8931E420121004

    The reason Romney got in such sorry shape in the first place is because the establishment media and opinionmakers have been such horrible hacks. The debate, especially yesterday’s format, gave the voters the opportunity to cut out the middleman and see for themselves who they like, who they believe, who they believe is capable of handling the challenges of American governance for the next four years.Report

    • Avatar Annelid Gustator in reply to Koz says:

      Actually the reason his unfavorables were so high is that he spent the last 18 months saying things that the general public doesn’t like but that his primary voters liked just enough. Now that he’s completely reversed everything (when the general public is really, really watching) is it so surprising that people like him more–that is to say, that saying popular things has a way of making people like you.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Annelid Gustator says:

        I completely disagree. Romney was (and to some extent is) victim of a bad combination of fatalism and sensationalism by the media and the punditocracy, choking out any substantive discourse of how to get out from under this rock of Demo unemployment.Report

  13. Avatar Morzer says:

    I thought Romney looked utterly unconvincing because he refused to provide any specifics as to how his fantasy budget would add up – and simply denied the plan he’s been touting for a year at this point. His vision of repeal and replace with Obamacare was equally ludicrous – he wants to replace Obamacare with Obamacare, minus the bits that make it workable.

    These are not the qualities of a good president, much less a responsible citizen.

    Whether any of this matters to Republicans, I doubt. They are, after all, conservatives who conserve only fantasies of a mythical America.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Morzer says:

      Any specifics Obama offered in 2008 went right in the trash can, chief among them “hope” and “change”, and Romney had to be poised for the counter-attack. Obama tried to go after the $5 trillion, but even CNN and Obama spokesmen are now saying that there never was a $5 trillion in Romney’s plan, and that part was just conjured up.

      The bits that make Obamacare workable were already struck down by the Supreme Court, and the court opened the door to further challenges last week, so the most that can be done with it is to try and salvage what seems sensible and reasonable.Report

  14. Avatar North says:

    Oof… and now the new unemployment numbers roll out and squash the debate performance chatter. Poor Mittster can’t catch a break.Report

  15. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I’m not sure it says nothing for his chances. I’m one of those people who couldn’t be bothered to watch the debates and haven’t made much attempt to read up on them, but I know that Obama “lost” because I keep hearing it everywhere. People who vote in the US probably have heard the same thing and it might give them pause. Americans aren’t big on losers.Report

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