Four-plus years into Donald Trump's political career, it is clear that no misstep, scandal, grift, or other problematic or illegal behavior can significantly hurt him with his base. The counterpoint to that, however, is that there is little he can do to help himself with most of the rest of the electorate. That didn't stop Team Trump from trying, but now, with 2 weeks to Election Day, it appears that they are going to come up short on all fronts.
Here is an overview of the various maneuvering that's gone on in an attempt to save The Donald's bacon:
It is theoretically still possible that Pompeo can come up with some problematic e-mails, or that Mnuchin and Pelosi will work something out, but it certainly doesn't appear likely. And the best evidence of this is Trump himself. Whenever there is anything on the horizon, the Donald is childlike in his inability to keep his lips zipped. He would be hinting, bragging, etc. in every interview, at every rally, and on Twitter. Instead, in the last week, the President has spent much time savaging Pompeo, threatening Barr, and cursing Mnuchin for failing to "come home with the bacon." This, of course, is how the President responds when things are going very badly—he looks for someone to blame. And thus our conclusion that there will be no October Surprise from the Trump camp. (Z)
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is somewhat between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they don't want to appear biased, and they do want the third (second?) presidential debate to go forward as planned. On the other hand, the first debate was such a train wreck—with so many people questioning the value of the debates and/or the efficacy of the CPD's leadership—that they had to do something to rein Donald Trump in. And so, they announced on Monday that at the start of each of the next debate's six segments, each candidate will be given two minutes to speak, during which time the other candidate's microphone will be turned off. Beyond those times, both mics will be open.
The first question that this raises, of course, is: Will Trump show up? And the answer is "yes." He and several of his campaign spokespeople whined and moaned about how the new policy is unfair (no), and is clearly targeted at the president (yes), but confirmed that the President would be in attendance. In the end, he really doesn't have much choice. He's running out of options to change the trajectory of the race, particularly given the paucity of Trump-friendly October Surprises (see above). And the town hall situation from last week is not an alternative, given that it turned out disastrously for the President. Not only did Trump create all sorts of the wrong kind of headlines with his answers and his non-answers (particularly on QAnon), but he also ended up losing the all-important ratings battle to Biden, 14.1 million viewers to 10.9 million.
What the President surely knows is that if he wants to wreak havoc, the "new" format will leave him with plenty of opportunity to do so. While we understand the needle the CPD was trying to thread, their "solution" is inadequate. There will be 24 minutes of "talk without being interrupted" time, and 66 minutes where Trump can do his worst, if he so chooses. By all indications, his worst is what's in the cards; he had a particularly unhinged weekend on Twitter and at his rallies, managing to make more than 60 false claims. That's a pretty good pace, even for him, and—like his attacks on those around him—is a sign that he's feeling desperate. When he's feeling desperate, he dials it up, and not down, no matter how many times Bill Stepien tells him that acting like a bully costs him big time with suburban "housewives." So if you do plan to watch the debate, make sure you budget time for a shower afterword, to once again wash away the feeling of being dirty. (Z)
The good news about having a propaganda outlet in your corner is that they are happy to parrot everything you say. The bad news about having a propaganda outlet in your corner, as it turns out, may be that they are happy to parrot everything you say. A while back, Fox News—and, in particular, primetime hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham—decided that their goal wasn't to promote the Republican Party as much as it was to promote Donald Trump. And so, they will repeat just about anything he says, or anything they think might work to his benefit (see above for two examples, among many).
One Trump talking point that the Fox Newsers have latched onto, and have repeated to viewers—over and over and over—is that voting by mail is evil and corrupt and stupid and that True Americans™ vote in person, and ideally on Election Day. And this messaging has hit home; according to a new poll from PRRI, Republicans are more than twice as likely to distrust voting by mail, as compared to Democrats. And Republicans who most trust Fox News are twice as likely to distrust voting by mail as Republicans who most trust some other news source.
In terms of Trump's ego, and allowing him to claim that he's been cheated if he loses the election, the attacks on voting by mail may make sense. As a strategic matter, they are incredibly unwise. People who resist voting by mail and, in particular, people who insist on voting on Nov. 3, are more likely to be dissuaded from voting at all by any manner of concerns, among them: (1) fear of COVID-19, (2) bad weather, (3) bad traffic, (4) pessimism about their candidate's chances, and (5) personal issues like a broken-down car or a bad night's sleep. Given that the Democrats are building a huge lead among early voters, Trump 2020 really needs the base to turn out in force on (and before) Election Day.
You don't have to believe us, though. Republican strategists are saying the same thing. Indeed, the RNC has used robocalls to encourage supporters to use absentee voting. Even the Trump campaign is sending out mailers encouraging voters to take advantage of early-voting opportunities. The problem is that both the RNC and the Trump campaign are trying to save face for the President by drawing a hard distinction between absentee voting (good!) and voting by mail (bad!). And that just serves to muddy the messaging.
As we note above, Donald Trump is sure to use the third (second?) presidential debate to deliver a slightly dialed-down repeat of his performance from the first debate. And even if he dials it down more than just slightly, he's still going to do what he does at debates: complain, attack, equivocate, and avoid. He might actually do himself some good if he looked straight into the camera and said: "I want to be clear to my supporters that it's all-hands-on-deck time, and that you should use any means possible to get your vote recorded as soon as possible." But that, of course, is about as likely as Mike Pence announcing that he is resigning as vice president so that he can join the Village People for their upcoming world tour. (Z)
In the past few weeks, several state courts have decreed that COVID-19/USPS chicanery are not enough for a judge to step in and change their state's ballot-receipt deadline by fiat, reasoning that deadline-setting is the province of state legislatures, who are free to change the 2020 deadlines if they see fit to do so. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, saw things differently when they considered this question, and ordered election officials to accept ballots received within three days of Election Day, even if the postmark is not visible. On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not get involved, and that the Pennsylvania court's ruling would stand.
The vote was 4-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts joining with the Court's three liberal justices. Given his past hostility to voting rights, approximately 100% of court watchers are interpreting this as a sign that he's worried about the Court's institutional reputation, and is doing what he can to cultivate a reputation for calling balls and strikes. That's viable for him when he is the tie-breaking (or tie-making) vote, but as soon as Amy Coney Barrett is seated, he won't be either of those things anymore. So, the apparent strategy has a limited shelf life.
Meanwhile, we shall see if the Court's ruling influences any state-level courts as they wrestle with this particular issue. The one thing that is clear is that Pennsylvania is a very important state in 2020 for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and Monday's decision is likely to net the latter a few thousand additional votes (or more). As a reminder, the Keystone State was decided by 44,292 votes in 2016. (Z)
The good news for Donald Trump is that the latest poll of Florida (by the Republican-leaning The Hill/HarrisX) had him tied with Joe Biden. The bad news is that the 13 polls before that all gave Joe Biden the lead. As a result of this, Biden has an average polling lead of about 4 points.
It's not too hard to understand why the President is now trailing in a state he won by 1.2% in 2016. To start, there is a reason that the state song of Florida is "Old Folks at Home." The Sunshine State has a lot of seniors, and Trump has turned off many of them. They don't like his handing of COVID-19, particularly the argument that senior citizens are expendable if that is what it takes to get the economy going again. "Let's cull the herd" works better as a slogan when addressed to cullers rather than cullees. They also don't like his crass behavior, particular Trump's snarky ageist remarks about Joe Biden, which can often be read as snarky ageist remarks about septuagenarians in general.
Another problem is Trump's anti-Obamacare stance. He consistently claims that he's improved upon Obamacare and/or replaced it with his own plan, but people who actually use the ACA know what the score is. And there are more Floridians using the program (1.9 million) than citizens of any other state. It is a particular concern for the state's Latino voters, who are disproportionately reliant on Obamacare, and who are being repeatedly reminded that Trump hopes to strike the whole thing down in November. An analysis published Monday, incidentally, reveals that 2.5 million Latinos are now registered to vote in Florida, making them 17% of the overall voter pool. Both of those figures are records.
Thus far, undoubtedly due to these factors (and others), the early voting numbers in the state are not promising for the President. There have been over 2.5 million votes cast and if polls are correctly predicting the voting behavior of various types of partisans, then about 1.5 million of those were for Biden and 950,000 were for Trump (with the rest for minor candidates).
In 2016, about 9.4 million Floridians voted. If we bump that to 10 million to account for population growth and greater enthusiasm, and we allow for 2.5% of the vote to go to write-ins/third-party candidates (which is a shade less than the state had in 2016), then it means it's going to take about 4,875,000 votes to win. That would mean that Trump would need roughly 52.5% of the remaining votes to claim victory. Certainly possible, but also a tall order in a state where he claimed just 49% of the vote in 2016, and where his current polling average is below 47%. It is true that Trump is likely to collect more votes on Election Day than Biden, but it is also true that there are nearly two weeks left prior to that for Biden to potentially expand his lead. Incidentally, if our back-of-the-envelope math is correct here, Biden would need about 45% of the remaining votes to win the state. His current polling average is a shade above 49%. (Z)
This is nowhere as important as Florida, but it could be a bellwether. Since World War II, Nebraska has given a grand total of 6 electoral votes to Democratic presidential candidates. Five of those went to Lyndon B. Johnson when he swept the state's delegation in 1964. The other went to Barack Obama, who won NE-02 in 2008. The state's Republican leadership did not care for the message that sent, so after the 2010 census they re-gerrymandered the district to stop something like that from happening again.
This year, it appears they may not have re-gerrymandered aggressively enough. The district's largest newspaper, The Omaha World-Herald, endorsed Joe Biden (it also endorsed Hillary Clinton, but otherwise endorsed only Republicans back to 1932). Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who represents NE-02 in Congress, is holding Donald Trump at arm's length as he runs for reelection. And all six polls of the district that have been done this cycle had Biden up by 6 points or more. The latest poll by a non-partisan pollster, a New York Times/Siena survey released at the end of September, had it Biden +7.
It is very unlikely that the one EV from NE-02 is going to matter, and that is for the same reason that the district is a bellwether. The President's problem there is that he's losing badly in the suburbs. And if his suburban problem is real (very likely) and holds for another two weeks (also very likely), then he isn't just going to lose NE-02, he's going to be in deep trouble in a great many places, including North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and even Texas. (Z)
Last week, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) tried to back away from Donald Trump. This week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) did the same while sitting for an interview with the editorial board of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. When they pressed him on his habit of being in lockstep with the President, the Senator characterized the relationship as "maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse, and that doesn't usually work out very well." He added: "I think what we found is that we're not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there's not much in between. What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I've observed, those usually don't end too well."
We have no idea how that will play in Texas but, boy howdy, was that a stinker of an answer. The first problem is that Cornyn has just badmouthed Trump, something that the base does not care for. They are sensitive to even the slightest criticism of "their favorite president," and the problem will only get worse if the Donald picks up on what Cornyn said and decides to get snippy on Twitter.
The second problem is that Cornyn just admitted that he lacks the spine to stand up for his convictions. Or, as Cornyn's opponent MJ Hegar (D) put it:
Coward. https://t.co/eyL1bkM0od— MJ Hegar (@mjhegar) October 18, 2020
Voters in general do not like politicians they perceive as weak and/or wishy-washy, which is why John "flip-flopper" Kerry was the only Democrat to lose the popular vote in the last seven presidential elections. This will also play poorly with Trump's base since one of the things they love about the President is that he's "strong," and "masculine," and that he always stands up for himself (even in cases where it may not be advisable).
The third problem, meanwhile, is that Cornyn's formulation is remarkably sexist. Starting his explanation with shrewish wives who try to reinvent their husbands recalls the sexual politics of the 1950s (a.k.a. the decade in which Cornyn was born). The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, among others, took the Senator to task for this, describing it as another example of "Republicans' antiquated view of women." Hegar, incidentally, has also made this point in her tweets on the matter.
In short, Cornyn stepped on the toes of just about everyone whose votes he needs. If he could have worked in a racial slur, it would have been a clean sweep. While this probably isn't quite a "macaca" moment, it could cost him a few points. Polls suggest he can afford that, but it would leave him with little margin of error remaining. Meanwhile, it will be very interesting to see what all these politicians who say they don't really care for Donald Trump will do if he's reelected and they have to work with him for four more years. (Z)
We finally have a fresh poll of Arkansas, so it can assume its proper deep-red status on the map. Meanwhile, pretty good polls of Georgia and Pennsylvania for Donald Trump, though of course they are within the margin of error. Wisconsin, not so much. (Z)
|Arkansas||34%||58%||Oct 11||Oct 13||Hendrix Coll.|
|Georgia||47%||48%||Oct 17||Oct 19||Emerson Coll.|
|Pennsylvania||49%||45%||Oct 13||Oct 19||Ipsos|
|Virginia||52%||41%||Sep 22||Sep 25||Cygnal|
|Washington||60%||37%||Oct 14||Oct 15||PPP|
|Wisconsin||51%||43%||Oct 13||Oct 19||Ipsos|
The races in Georgia and Montana remain tight, it appears. Of course, they are must-haves for the GOP, while they are it-would-be-nices for the Democrats (for whom four of five among Colorado, Arizona, Maine, Iowa, and North Carolina are the true must-haves). (Z)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Colorado||John Hickenlooper||48%||Cory Gardner*||40%||Oct 05||Oct 09||YouGov|
|Georgia||Jon Ossoff||45%||David Perdue*||46%||Oct 17||Oct 19||Emerson Coll.|
|Montana||Steve Bullock||47%||Steve Daines*||49%||Oct 15||Oct 18||RMG Research|
|Virginia||Mark Warner*||51%||Daniel Gade||41%||Sep 22||Sep 25||Cygnal|
|Virginia||Mark Warner*||51%||Daniel Gade||44%||Oct 09||Oct 11||Cygnal|