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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Face Their Latest Campaign Crucible

October 10, 2016, 2:27 PM UTC

Can Donald Trump survive the crucible of a presidential campaign?

Many people (including me) have bewailed our unique and arguably insane American system of choosing a president, requiring candidates to invest two years of exhausting non-stop work toward a highly uncertain outcome. What kind of person would be willing to do such a thing? For most of U.S. history we didn’t want such a person in the job. Presidential nominees did not campaign for themselves because mainstream society believed doing so was unbecoming and sign of a character flaw. We’ve since reversed our views entirely, and our ratio of bad presidents to good ones over time doesn’t seem to have deteriorated. Possibly that’s because our current system has at least this in its favor: It’s the hottest crucible in electoral politics anywhere, and it exposes realities about our candidates that would likely never be known in any other system.

The Trump tape released Friday is just the latest example. That tape was sitting in the archives of a nationally syndicated TV program for 11 years, but apparently no one dug it out until after Trump became the Republican nominee — and now CNN has unearthed a trove of audio tapes in which Trump is similarly vulgar and misogynistic speaking with radio host Howard Stern.

The larger point is that no one on earth is examined more closely than a major party’s nominee for president. On the case are thousands of journalists worldwide as well as the opposing party, special interests for and against, foreign powers, and a lifetime’s worth of acquaintances with or without grudges who possess letters, emails, photos, and documents that may suddenly be newsworthy. All of them can reveal facts that the candidates themselves may have forgotten.

Hillary Clinton’s Friday was of the same kind as Trump’s but of a vastly different degree. Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks published emails that included transcripts of Clinton’s speeches to financial services companies such as Goldman Sachs. In any other year, or even on any other day, these might have been a moderately big deal, especially since these are transcripts she has refused to release. But next to the Trump firestorm, they became almost invisible.

Being scorched by the heat of the crucible can destroy people or make them stronger. Former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley says he wouldn’t have been prepared for the top job if he hadn’t been running P&G’s Japan business during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. General Electric chief Jeff Immelt says he wouldn’t be CEO today if he hadn’t gone through the hellish experience many years earlier of managing a GE refrigerator recall that was the largest appliance recall by any company ever. They were strengthened by their experiences. But no one knows in advance what the crucible will do to them, what it will reveal about them.

Neither Trump nor Clinton has come through the crucible well. It has exposed realities that render them the most disliked and untrusted candidates in the history of public opinion polling. Whatever the result, on November 9 we’ll all wake up grateful that this seemingly endless process is over. Say this for it, though: We’ll know more about our next president than we ever could have known in any other way.

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What We're Reading Today

Samsung temporarily halts Galaxy Note 7 production
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Former Wells Fargo employees claim a culture problem
Young employees detailed fierce pressure to sign up at least 8 new accounts each day, a quota that at times jumped to 20 new accounts. If they didn't hit their numbers, they faced possible termination and had to sit through basic "coaching sessions." While CEO John Stumpf claimed not to know about these practices, the employees described them as "a systemic thing that was taught." Fortune

Facebook dips toe in work productivity tools 
Mark Zuckerberg's company today launches Facebook at Work, enabling employees to chat via Facebook. The new service enters a competitive sector dominated by Slack, Yammer, and Jive, but Facebook's mammoth size is a big advantage. The company will likely charge companies based on number of users.  WSJ

Deutsche Bank fails to secure a settlement  
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Building a Better Leader

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The Tape Fallout

Debate turns personal and nasty
As Donald Trump continued to defend himself against 2005 comments describing how he forced himself on women, he went on offense in last night's debate, attacking Hillary Clinton for her treatment of women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual abuse. Trump said he would throw her in jail if he becomes president. He interrupted Clinton repeatedly, calling her "the Devil." She fought back, saying "I know you’re into big diversion tonight...Anything to avoid talking about your campaign and the way it’s exploding and the way Republicans are leaving you." Washington Post

Trump lashes back at GOP 
As more high-profile Republicans withdraw support of Trump and in some cases urge him to drop out, Trump called them "self-righteous hypocrites” on Twitter. Talking point circulated by his campaign called them "more concerned with their political future than they are about the country."  NYT

Pence cancels fundraiser
Running mate Mike Pence canceled a fundraiser in New Jersey on Monday. No reason was given, stoking concerns over a split between him and Trump in the wake of Trump's video. It's unclear if Pence will attend two other scheduled events on Monday. Fortune

Fortune Reads and Videos

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Quote of the Day

"There's never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that's been so abusive to women...Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously." -- Donald Trump signaling his response to the attacks against him over comments he made about unwanted advances on women.

"What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women, and he has said that the video doesn't represent who he is...But I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is." -- Hillary Clinton on the Trump video.  CNN

Produced by Ryan Derousseau