It would be nice if everyone had given their attention to how quickly Congresscompleted its work Wednesday. How, after a brief disruption, it counted the electoral ballots and confirmed President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris‘s victory. That the norms were upheld and the victorious indeed emerged triumphant.
It would be nice—but it would ignore the elephant in the room.
Many regard the U.S. Capitol with the same kind of awe and reverence shown by Jimmy Stewart’s character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I know I do and, after nearly 40 years of being intimately involved in the political process, I confess a great deal of earnest sentimentalism has managed to survive beneath my hard-shell journalistic cynicism.
The Capitol is an amazing building, unique for what it represents. To the world, its dome means freedom, liberty and equality. It stands for the idea every man and woman has an equal chance to succeed, unhampered by those factors that in other nations perpetuate class, caste and regional differences. We are, as a friend often reminds me, a great country full of amazing people who often do amazing things.
What happened Wednesday is an abomination. More than that, it sullies the very democratic institutions and processes those who came to protest the counting of the Electoral College ballots in what they believe is a stolen election said they had come to protect. Spontaneous or not, the assault on the Capitol was an affront to us all, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike—no matter who committed it.
As has been argued by others, President Donald J. Trump bears considerable responsibility for this madness. He sent those people off on a mission believing they were patriots standing up against the culmination of a corrupt process that denied him a second term. That is not, however, an indictment of the nearly 75 million Americans who voted for him in November.
Those who broke the law should be sought out and, if apprehended, punished to the full extent allowable by law. Those who entered the Capitol to ransack it not only made a mockery of the majesty and ritual with which America’s legislative process is conducted, they proved the Founding Fathers to have been correct in every way in which they warned against the dangers of the mob.
There is a coarseness in politics today that, for some time, has debased our democratic system. James Madison warned that partisanship would be problematic. We can see now how prescient he was. Disagreement and dissent are now too often presented as dishonorable, especially by the people on the other side of any given disagreement. The plain fact is there’s plenty of blame to go around, and the mob that attacked the Capitol were no more “patriots” than the assassins of the two New York City police officers murdered in 2014 while sitting in their cruiser were “civil rights activists.”
Words are the way we are supposed to settle things—not violence. That’s what my mother and father taught me and, I presume, it’s what most of you who are reading this now were also taught in your formative years. The disputes we have over the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, whether grounded in reality or a fantasy-fueled attempt to hang onto power, cannot and will not be settled by brawling or attacking democratic symbols.
As a new administration comes into office, hopefully both Democrats and Republicans will adopt a calmer approach to settling differences. The persistence of our democratic republic is a tribute to the vision of the Founders and the living legacy of men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Kennedy and Reagan—all of whom did so much to give it life. It is a tribute to them that our institutions and our democratic republic have not yet crumbled on account of the lesser lights who have been sometimes chosen to lead it.
However unfairly Mr. Trump was treated during his presidency, he must realize at some point that he brought many of these indignities upon himself. He chose to throw sharp elbows and should not have been surprised when they were thrown back. He could have left the presidency on a high note, confident he’d built a movement that would outlast him and that, in just four years, he’d successfully pushed policies leading to greater peace and prosperity (at least before COVID-19 hit). Ultimately, he surrendered to the lesser parts of our nature and seems, for the moment at least, to have destroyed any meaningful legacy he might have left.
Americans are bandwagon people, jumping quickly from one opinion to another. Once we jump, we want to fire up the engines and go full speed ahead.
Now, in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, many want to impeach the president right now or use the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to remove him from office less than two weeks before his scheduled departure.
The fact is that our Founders designed an ocean liner government, not a speedboat. The government is intentionally designed not to take sudden turns or execute instant changes of course. The republic was constructed with all manner of filters, checks and balances, and separations of power, requiring time and deliberation to change course. Our Founders urged that we follow “the cool, deliberate sense of the community” over time, not the passions and factions of the moment.
Impeaching a president requires not just a vote of the House to impeach but a subsequent trial in the Senate. The most recent impeachment trial, of President Trump himself, took approximately three weeks to complete. At five weeks, former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial was even longer.
The notion that a president would be impeached, prepare, and stand for a full trial in less than two weeks (with both chambers on recess and out of town, no less) is simply not realistic. Our system was not built for that kind of speed. It was built for deliberation.
The use of the 25th Amendment is also problematic. It is really designed for a president who is disabled, not one we no longer trust. All three times it has been used involved medical procedures for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Like impeachment, it is also a complicated process that will take time, requiring first a declaration by the vice president, supported by the majority of the Cabinet, that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Does not liking or trusting how he is discharging them render him “unable”? I doubt it.
Then, the president could dispute the declaration, causing Congress to reconvene and decide the matter (requiring a two-thirds majority vote to find him “disabled”) within 21 days. By then, of course, Biden will be president.
Removing the president promptly, then, is highly unlikely through the push of a constitutional button. But there is another alternative, one that the Founders also contemplated: We will need statesmen and leaders to help guide us through the next two weeks.
We will need Vice President Mike Pence, who stood up and told the president he could not change the electoral vote, and who apparently also called for the National Guard to help quell the riots, to step up. It will mandate that members of Congress worry less about how they look to Trump’s political constituencies and care more about how they lead the republic. It will call for more from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse and less from the intemperate Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.
In our time, we think any problem should be fixed immediately, like that truck I saw hauling sod down the freeway with its sign reading, “Instant grassification.” But a democratic republic is a slow, careful, deliberative, sometimes messy business. However, it does respond to the voice of the people, more often through leadership than through structural processes.
We will be healthier in the long run if we survive the next two weeks through greater bipartisanship and leadership rather than through more Senate trials or divisive impeachment and 25th Amendment votes. Let the rational voices stirred by the mob this week, and the steadier leadership we have seen from some of our leaders, see us through.
It’s not only the best way. Given the limited time for the alternatives, it is the only way we will make it.
It’s not Trump supporters who are living in a fantasyland, but members of the corporate media who sense their power and influence waning.
With the end of Donald Trump’s presidency fast approaching, we’ve seen a surge of columns and posts asserting that Republicans and Trump supporters have lost touch with reality. After four years of marinating in “falsehoods” and “disinformation”—a term that really just means “information I don’t like”—Trump’s backers are all turned around, we’re told. They believe much that isn’t so.
David Brooks of The New York Times explains that these poor saps, most of whom, he says, are uneducated, uncredentialed people who don’t live in prosperous cities, have retreated to conspiracy theories to explain their misfortune and unhappiness. “People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers,” he writes. Trump, QAnon, and Alex Jones “rose up to give them those stories and provide that community.”
Over at The New Yorker, editor David Remnick ponders the grave costs of Trump’s “assault on the press and the truth,” asking how many COVID-19 victims “died because they chose to believe the President’s dismissive accounts of the disease rather than what public-health officials were telling the press? Half of Republican voters believe Trump’s charge that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’ What will be the lasting effects on American democracy of that disinformation campaign?”
These are just representative samples, but across the mainstream commentariat the gist is all the same: if you support Trump, you’re likely a poor person who believes conspiracy theories and is dangerously disconnected from reality, partly because you resent successful people like Messrs. Brooks and Remnick. You live in a fantasyland because it assuages your feelings of inferiority, which are mostly justified. You’re paranoid because you’re powerless, and the alternate reality you’ve constructed for yourself gives you a sense of power and agency in a confusing, unsettled world.
But here’s the thing. Everything these media elites say about Trump supporters can more properly be said about media elites themselves. Who really has been living in a fantasyland these last four years? Is it the ordinary Americans—including a lot of educated, white-collar professionals—who voted for a president they felt would shake up the sclerotic status quo in Washington, or a press corps that perpetuated an actual conspiracy about Trump-Russia collusion for years?
It was Remnick’s New Yorker, after all, that published a serious-seeming essay in September 2018 that claimed Facebook had been weaponized by “Russian agents who wanted to sow political chaos and help Trump win” in the 2016 election—an effort, the author said, that had an “astonishing impact.” Never mind the preposterousness of claiming that a couple hundred thousand dollars in Facebook advertising had an “astonishing impact” on the outcome of the 2016 election, there has never been a shred of evidence that “Russian interference” changed or altered even a single vote in 2016.
A New Yorker staff writer named Evan Osnos wrote that article. Osnos won the National Book Award in 2014 and in 2015 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s won many other prizes and worked all over the world, and, just before the election, published a flattering book about former Vice President Joe Biden. Osnos is the sort of fellow Brooks has in mind when he talks about “professional members” of the “epistemic regime”—the people who know what’s real and tell us so, a job for which they are richly rewarded.
What else has this supposedly enlightened member of the epistemic elite told us? In June, he compared Trump’s White House, which had a temporary fence around it after Black Lives Matter protests turned into riots, to the Zhongnanhai, the seat of China’s communist government in Beijing, where “people are more accustomed than Americans are to the notion of leaders who live and work secluded from the public.”
Earlier that month, Osnos dashed off a post that described—falsely, as it turned out—protests in Lafayette Square on June 1 as “peaceful.” We all know, even if the media refused to report it, that the protesters were not at all peaceful, and in fact were hurling “bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at police.
This isn’t really about Osnos, his hackery notwithstanding, but about his professional class—a class that fervently believes much that isn’t so. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, members of Osnos’ class still believe that Trump got substantial help from Russia in 2016. They believe, still, that Trump is a dangerous authoritarian who might just destroy the republic. They believe, still, that the only reason tens of millions of Americans would support Trump is that they are racists or rubes, or both.
Osnos and Remnick and the rest of our media elites believe these things for the same reason Brooks thinks Trump supporters are conspiracy theory-addled suckers: they are becoming irrelevant, they are losing power and influence, their status as members of the epistemic regime is uncertain—indeed, their entire regime seems to be collapsing, and they know it.
It’s not too much to say, quoting Brooks, that “people in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers.”
So we will continue to see stories and commentary from the epistemic regime that soothe men like Brooks, Remnick, and Osnos, assuring them all is well, that credulous, mendacious Trump supporters have been put in their place, and that after a harrowing four years, all is once again as it should be.
President Trump is making a post-election push of his MAGA agenda.
An executive order of Nov. 12 cuts off American investments in Chinese “military-controlled” companies, banning them from American stock and investment markets, and from being held in pension fund portfolios, effective in January.
Americans have subsequently been told to divest themselves within a year of their holdings in those stocks and securities as well.
In the wake of this executive order and to little surprise, prices quickly plunged in China and Hong Kong’s stock market.
The ban is a follow-up to this summer’s Pentagon report that listed 31 major Chinese companies doing business in the United States while assisting the Chinese military — which controls those corporations. Congress ordered the list — which is heavy with companies involved in electronics, space and aviation, communications, construction and shipbuilding — to be compiled.
The Defense Department additionally determined that each company “supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise acquired and developed by even those PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities.”
Trump’s executive order is a blow to two major initiatives of China’s Communist Party:
1. Its “Made in China 2025” strategic plan to expand the manufacturing sector of the PRC (People’s Republic of China), and
2. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plan to control global trade and transportation infrastructure
The Belt and Road Initiative, with a presence in over 100 countries, involves $1.3-trillion dollars spent by China to build or buy control of the transportation and logistics facilities that are critical to global trade.
That dollar figure comes from Australian conglomerate BHP, which says the BRI is seven times larger than the Marshall Plan funded by America to rebuild Europe after World War 2.
As Forbes puts it, China has been on a “seaport shopping spree” buying control of major port facilities worldwide. Furthermore, another Department of Defense report says the BRI is “leveraging civilian construction for military purposes; and . . . logistics . . . for military purposes.”
A new assessment by the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that China’s state funding is building over a third of the world’s ocean-going merchant ships, producing 96 percent of the world’s shipping containers, and controlling the largest port and logistics company in the world, all to serve as “the maritime supply arm of the People’s Liberation Army.”
The result is that China builds about 1,200 merchant ships a year, while the United States only builds eight.
With regards to combat ships, an October report from the Congressional Research Service warns Congress that China’s fast-growing navy is now “a major challenge to the U.S. Navy . . . in the Western Pacific — the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War.”
Since 90% of global trade travels by ship, China is developing a chokehold that it could apply to threaten the economies of every nation, including the United States, in order to enforce its Communist will.
Sadly, there are some who want to invite China to expand its grip on America by repealing the Jones Act a, law prevents any vessel from conducting internal trade within American waters unless it’s American-built, American-owned and American-crewed.
This applies to cargoes carried on our waterways, along the intercoastal canals, and between American ports.
It would require a major U.S. commitment to reverse the trend of Chinese dominance of global trade. But keeping the Jones Act prevents China from accelerating the trend by taking control over our internal waters. Homeland security would be at risk if any foreign power infiltrated into the American economy in that way.
Keeping the Jones Act by itself will not remedy the problem of China’s militant expansionism. Cutting off U.S. funds from China’s commercial/military complex may help.
However, to develop real solutions, a first step is that the American people must be better-informed about what China is doing.
Thousands of ballots appear to have been lost in heavily Republican Butler County, PA., leaving officials confused and working with the U.S. Postal Service to retrieve them, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday.
“Over the last week and a half, the Bureau of Elections has received thousands of calls and emails from voters saying they did not receive their mail-in or absentee ballots,” a statement from the county said. “The postal service is maintaining daily contact with our Elections Bureau and is aware of the situation.”
Estimates on the number of missing ballots run into the tens of thousands. According to published reports, the county Elections Bureau mailed out nearly 40,000 with just about half returned as of Thursday.
A spokesperson for the postal service said in a statement to KDKA-TV, “Regarding mail sorting and delivery in Butler County, the Postal Service is unaware of any significant delays or issues and is in regular contact with the Board of Election as we work to locate and deliver ballots as they are presented to us.”
County officials said they would focus on the challenges of providing voters who may not have received mail-in ballots with other options to vote in the upcoming election rather than spend time on finding the ballots that have apparently gone missing. They also that all returned ballots would be recorded on the county web site within the next 48 hours so voters should be able to check if their mail-in ballots were received.
Neighboring Westmoreland County has had similar troubles with ballots this week, the paper said, but numbers are improving. County officials said Friday evening that 52,729 mail-in or absentee ballots have been returned out of the 75,642 that were sent to voters.
Tuesday was the last day for Pennsylvania voters to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot. Nonetheless, the paper said, a steady stream of voters visited the Butler County Courthouse Friday afternoon to drop their completed mail-in ballots off in person.
“My wife and I decided to drop them off today because we don’t think it would get in on time if we had mailed them,” Anthony Grossi, of Butler, told the paper.
Anyone whose ballot is missing may, the county suggested, go to the Bureau of Elections and vote in person. The office will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday. Or they may vote on Tuesday at their local polling place.
The American economy is roaring back according to numbers released Thursday showing a record-breaking increase in U.S. gross domestic product of just over 33 percent on an annualized basis for the third quarter of 2020. The numbers are the highest ever recorded, more than double the previous record set back in 1950 while Harry Truman was president.
The surge, which is attributable to the end of lockdowns in the typically referred to “red states” is leading to what appears very much like the V-shaped recovery President Donald J. Trump promised would occur once businesses reopened and people were allowed to go back to work.
The top Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, described the news as ratification of Trump and GOP economic policies. “After Covid-19 devastated America’s strong economy almost overnight, the Trump economy did the impossible – it battled back with the largest single quarter of economic growth in America’s history. This smashes expectations, beating economists’ original growth estimates by a stunning 400 percent.”
The news is especially bright given that all the growth came in the private sector, with private spending increasing by 40 percent and private investment up by an astounding 83 percent. Growth in the government sector, meanwhile, was slightly down in the third quarter, suggesting the need for additional federal stimulus dollars may be abating.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real GDP in the third quarter grew by 7.4 percent, a figure that considerably exceeds even the most favorable market expectations. This follows the sharpest single quarter economic contraction on record in the second quarter of 2020 due to pandemic-induced lockdowns.
The numbers should calm those who fear the economy is on the edge of a recession thanks to the considerable increase in the numbers of people testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. The United States has now, in a single quarter, recovered two-thirds of the economic output lost due to the pandemic-imposed lockdowns imposed by many of the nation’s governors from march onward. By comparison, it took four times as long to regain the same share of lost economic output during the anemic Obama recovery that followed the implosion of the U.S. housing market.
Real consumer spending rose 8.9 percent — 40.7 percent at an annualized rate — in the third quarter, which is also the largest increase on record. Goods and services both experienced steep increases, suggesting consumer and business confidence is on the rebound and explaining, perhaps, the recent Gallup numbers showing 56 percent of Americans believe they are better off now than they were four years ago. Greater spending on recreation, food, and accommodation services – sectors acutely impacted by lockdowns – alone accounted for one-fifth of total GDP growth in the third quarter.
The government also reports residential investment rose by 12.3 percent – 59.3 percent at an annualized rate – with most of the increase due to real estate commissions generated by rebounding home sales.
The increase in residential investment, the largest since 1983, was echoed somewhat less rosily by an increase in business investment, which rose 4.7 percent — 20.3 percent at an annualized rate — with a steep increase in equipment more than offsetting declines in structures and intellectual property products.
In President Trump’s first three years in office, the economy grew by $310 billion more than what was expected before the 2016 election. In contrast, in Obama-Biden’s second term, the economy grew by $640 billion less than what was expected prior to the 2012 election. “We still have a way to go in our recovery,” Brady said, adding “there is no question Speaker Pelosi is working to sabotage America’s economy ahead of the election. But look at the contrast — the worst economic recovery in our lifetimes under Obama-Biden, the strongest labor market recovery from an economic crisis under President Trump.
The 2020 election is coming down to the wire and it’s closer than most would acknowledge. The polls say former vice president Joe Biden has a substantial lead over President Donald Trump, but as in 2016, there’s reason to believe the polls are wrong.
Call it a hunch based on more years of covering American politics than I’m comfortable acknowledging, but media-conducted public polls that match candidates head to head have grown increasingly unreliable even as they’ve grown in importance. The more of them there are, the less they can be relied upon, at least for their value in predicting outcomes.
There are many documented reasons for this, including the ways data are manipulated after being collected and the trend away from landlines to cell phones. All that is for later. The important thing for each candidate is how he closes the race, as it is likely to make the difference between victory and defeat.
For Donald Trump:
During the campaign, Trump has learned the truism that those who live by the sword also die by it. In 2016 he made former secretary of state Hillary Clinton‘s character a major issue—some would say the issue—and won. This time the Democrats have made his character the principal issue in their campaign and he’s been on the ropes because of it.
His response, which at times verges on whining, is unbecoming a president. Voters don’t like it. Those who voted for him in 2016 did so because they expected him to take on “the swamp.” He said he knew it would be tough. Maybe he didn’t realize how tough it would be. In the process, however, he’s delivered on many of the other promises he made, something the other swamp dwellers don’t like because it proves things can be changed if you’re willing to fight for them.
To close the campaign, Mr. Trump needs to take the focus off himself and turn it back on the country he promised to “make great again.” It was an effective message then and would be again now. In a recent Gallup survey, 56 percent of the respondents said they were better off now than they were four years ago. That suggests there are plenty of people out there who think the president did a lot of things right even though he’s been investigated, impeached and vilified by the major media more intensely than any president in recent memory—including Richard Nixon.
Instead of talking about Hunter Biden (though there is a lot to talk about), Donald Trump needs to sell the successes of his first term as a reason for the voters to give him a second. Talk about economic growth. Talk about tax cuts, about record employment for Black and Latino Americans, about the creation of millions of new jobs, the manufacturing renaissance, achieving energy independence, criminal justice reform, fighting sex trafficking more aggressively than any previous administration, brokering real deals to help bring peace to the Middle East and keeping America out of new wars.
The pieces are there, Mr. President. You just have to put them together for people. Because if you don’t, no one else will.
For Joe Biden:
The former vice president spent much of the campaign sequestered in his home in Delaware, communicating over the internet and through supporters. As a strategy, it worked. It kept him out of the limelight most of the time and allowed everyone to remain focused on the president, who daily found a way to remind people who didn’t vote for him why they don’t like him.
But being the anti-Trump is not enough to get him across the finish line first. Most late-deciding voters choose to stick with the devil they know rather than taking a chance on the one they don’t—and none of the Democrat’s proposals on taxes, jobs and the economy are compelling enough by themselves to persuade people to switch. Biden has to spend the last week telling people in more detail than he’s as yet put forward just what his presidency would do to bring America back from the COVID lockdown recession. And he has to be the one who does it—to show people he understands what he’s advocating and not just direct potential voters to a website.
This leads to another issue: Biden must address questions about his fitness for office head-on. The Republicans may have started the whisper campaign about his not being up to the job, but it’s seeped into the national conversation. Biden will need to campaign aggressively, out in the open, on his feet, as if it was his first run for U.S. Senate, to put an end to the growing buzz on both sides of the aisle that he’s just a placeholder for his running mate.
Finally, the Democratic nominee must get out in front of the stories about his son Hunter and their alleged corruption. The stories may not be true, but what the elder Biden has said thus far has not carried enough weight with voters still trying to make up their minds.
As Democrats have done with Trump, voters are equating Biden’s lack of candid answers about specific questions with possible guilt. It’s hard to face when it involves a family member, but Biden needs to put the country first—something he and other members of his party have repeatedly and from the start accused the president of failing to do.
If Biden has no doubt his son did nothing wrong, he should announce he will appoint a special counsel—on par with Robert Mueller‘s investigation of President Donald Trump—to investigate and clear up once and for all the questions about Hunter’s business dealings in China, Ukraine and elsewhere. If Biden can’t do all that, the president, who once wrote a book on the art of the “comeback,” will probably have an extra chapter to add to the next edition.
It’s a close election that will decide, more than at any time since 1980, the direction of the nation for decades to come. America will either move to the right or lurch to the left depending on which of the two men on the November ballot makes the better case to the electorate. How each of them finishes the race will likely determine which way the nation will go.
A group led by former New Jersey GOP Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said Friday it would be spending “at least” $10 million on a digital, television, and direct mail campaign in key states with the intent of defeating President Donald J. Trump in his bid for re-election.
“Millions of lifelong Republicans who have voted Republican in every presidential election are ashamed of Donald Trump’s lack of decency and incompetence,” Whitman, the former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush and national chairwoman of the Steering Committee for Republicans and Independents for Biden. Her group is one of several composed of one-time GOP elected officials and political consultants who are engaged in efforts to stop Mr. Trump from winning a second term.
The campaign will be surgically targeted, the groups said in a release, to suburban voters, particularly suburban women who, it claimed, “have been fleeing the Republican party in droves” over concerns for Mr. Trump’s character and his lack of empathy for the American middle class.
“His refusal to follow the science has led to over 200,000 American lives lost to the pandemic and voters across the country know it. Republicans and Independents For Biden will spend the rest of this election letting Republican voters know that it is okay to set our partisan differences aside in this election and vote for the only decent, experienced, leader on the ballot,” Whitman – who was twice elected governor of New Jersey with less than 50 percent of the vote said.
The group’s first ad in the campaign, “Daughters,” will initially begin appearing in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Arizona almost immediately across multiple platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, and television streaming services.
Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Arizona are all home to pockets of suburban women who voted for Trump in 2016 but, according to polls the group conducted for the ad campaign women, “are not only concerned about his glaring character deficiencies, but also his incompetent and inadequate response in addressing the coronavirus.”
According to its release, Whitman’s organization is “affiliated with and paid for by The Lincoln Project,” a group formed by high-profile GOP operatives, several of whom are veterans of the McCain presidential campaign. The group has been criticized by many regular Republicans for taking multiple, large dollar contributions from Democrats and for expanding its efforts into campaigns for the U.S. Senate with the intent of flipping control of the body to the Democrats in the 2020 election.
Among those involved in The Lincoln Project are former McCain presidential campaign senior strategist Steve Schmidt, former McCain and John Kasich for President aide John Weaver, former Evan McMullin strategist Rick Wilson, and Jennifer Horn, the one-time chairman of the New Hampshire State Republican Party.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s deliberately projecting a moderate image in his campaign against President Donald J. Trump, was accused Monday of being “firmly planted to the left” by Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Ms. McDaniel, the niece of one-time GOP presidential nominee Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, told FBN’s Stuart Varney that Biden, to win the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other hard-left leaders in the Democratic Party, had positioned himself well outside the mainstream of U.S. politics in his latest effort to win the White House.
“I do think he is firmly planted in the left,” the top RNC official said, citing Biden policies that would raise taxes and abolish jobs in the U.S. energy industry to underscore her point. Rather than be vague or misleading about his intentions as he has been doing, she said it would be fairer to the voters if the onetime U.S. Senator from Delaware went “on the road with Bernie and AOC” to talk about his real agenda.
Objectively, Biden is running farthest to the left of any Democrat seeking the presidency since Michael Dukakis ran in 1988. After famously bragging that he was a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” and defending the controversial state prison furlough program that allowed even those convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to be allowed out on weekend passes, the former Massachusetts governor ended up losing the popular vote to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in what amounted to an Electoral College landslide.
Biden has vowed to roll back the recent tax cuts that sparked considerable job creation and growth in the U.S. economy before the economic lockdowns instituted in many states because of the onset of the novel coronavirus brought on a recession. He’s also pledged to end fracking, which would severely threaten America’s new-found energy independence, expand Obamacare, and has suggested he would abolish the federal law preventing labor unions from requiring workers to join them as a condition of employment. He’s also suggested that as president he would push for the repeal of the so-called “Hyde Amendment” that prohibits federal dollars from being used directly to fund abortions.
The political potency of the abortion issue, which generally adheres to the benefit of candidates who take what is known as “the right to life” position, will be tested in the upcoming election. Trump has made his opposition to abortion rights a cornerstone of both his campaign and his presidency, pointing frequently to the number of judges he has appointed to the federal bench whom he believes are in sync with his thinking on the issue. Stunningly, several recent polls suggest that Biden is nonetheless gaining support among Catholics and self-described evangelicals who the abortion issue is a major motivating factor in determining how they will vote.
Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are also on the leftward edge of the gun issue. During the campaign, both have talked openly about banning the private ownership of certain kinds of weapons and accessories like high-capacity magazines as well as suggesting they are willing to consider confiscation of firearms already in private hands.
Michael Cohen seems to believe his former boss threw him under the bus. If he did, it was only because the man called Donald J. Trump’s one-time “fixer” was standing in front of it at the time. Now, disgraced, disbarred, and in need of money, he’s written a book and is trying to get even.
Good luck with that. The public may be eating up what the major media is hyping in some detail but everything Cohen has to say, no matter how vile, won’t have much of an effect on the upcoming election. Neither will anything the other salacious books say about him – and that includes the books written by his niece, by a former confidant of the first lady, and by former members of his administration. As far as his conduct in business and in office is concerned, the president is bulletproof.
The country knows Trump and the voters have made up their minds. They either love him or hate him, with not much space in between. Some consider him the savior of a nation rapidly descending into permanent decline. Others see him as the cause of the decline. Either way, one more book about what a bad guy he is and who and why people might have gotten paid off and whatever else Cohen mentions in his book won’t move the needle.
Character counts, not just for the president but for the people who cover and criticize him in the public square. Cohen’s skirts aren’t exactly clean, which raises plenty of issues about whether anything he has to say now can be trusted. After all, he’s currently confined to his home while serving out a three-year sentence for tax evasion, violating campaign finance rules, and lying to Congress.
Cohen may have his regrets but most of them probably have more to do with getting caught than with any genuine pangs of conscience. Maybe he’s a transformed person but that doesn’t explain why he stayed in his employ for so long if Trump was so evil as to merit being called, among other things a “cult leader” and a “mob boss”.
Rather than take Cohen and the other “tell-allists” at their word we ought to be at least considering their motivations even if we don’t go into as much detail as the investigations of the president have. These former associates have, alongside the anonymous sources and so-called whistleblowers who’ve helped populate the pages of the daily paper with powerful allegations of political and presidential misconduct throughout the entire Trump administration, imperiled not just a presidency but the nation and the constitutional process.
Are these attacks coordinated? Probably. It takes more imagination than most people have to believe the way they all dovetail together to the benefit of the Democrats – especially to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden – is mere coincidence. Most people believed Hillary Clinton when she blamed a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” for the problems her husband experienced while in office. Is it therefore that much of a stretch to believe a similar but ideologically opposite group are at work now?
Former Vice President Joe Biden may think it’s nice to have Washington on his side. That’s his world, the one in which he’s lived since the early ’70s, when he first entered the U.S. Senate. He may have been commuting much of the time back and forth from Delaware, but it’s inside the beltway that has been his home.
That’s a liability going into the November election. Biden has lived in a bubble all those years. He may be from Scranton, Pennsylvania, originally, but it’s doubtful he has a feel for what the folks living there now think and feel and how many of they view the government as impeding what they want to do with their lives. His ad guys may understand “real America”—and some of the spots they produced have been masterful—but it’s doubtful he does.
By contrast, and many people will no doubt find this surprising, it’s Donald Trump who has his finger on America’s pulse. The just-concluded Republican National Convention, truncated though it was, made that clear. The folks who spoke in support of his second term were surprisingly, even refreshingly diverse. They all had stories to tell that not only fit Trump’s narrative but the country’s, representing one nation in which we are best defined by those things that make us similar.
The speakers at the Democrats’ convention, on the other hand, ranked gender, race and economic status above their “Americanness.” Almost everyone who took to the podium at the DNC took great plans to place themselves in a category or categories before launching into a denunciation of the president and an articulation of what he’d done that was offensive to his or her particular group. They had four days to make Trump seem like the devil incarnate—and used virtually every moment of their program to do so.
Where this approach fails, and there are already polls suggesting that’s what’s happening, is that Trump and company had four days over the following week to argue that’s just not so.
Moreover, the Democrats’ decision to spend more of their convention talking about why Trump is wrong for America than why Biden is right is highly risky. Once the fall campaign moves to a discussion of issues—and there’s no way to prevent that from happening—character becomes an ancillary consideration for many voters. There’s an argument to be made that shouldn’t be the case, that character should always count, but as the GOP found out in the Clinton v. Dole contest, it generally falls on deaf ears. And, unlike in 1996, the 2020 race will play out with the mainstream media and most of the pundits saying over and over again it’s the most important issue in the race.
It will help the GOP if some of the president’s supporters get together on an independent ad campaign in which rank-and-file Republicans explain why they’re voting for Trump even if they don’t like him or have concerns about his conduct. That message—that what Trump does is less important than what a Biden-Harris administration would do to America over the next four years—would likely resonate with independents who are still unsure which way to turn, as well as with dissident Republicans who can still be brought home.
These same voters can likely be moved on the two issues you didn’t hear the Democrats talk about much during their convention: China and the protests, which, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Biden continues to describe generally as “peaceful.”
The American people understand instinctively the folks engaged in the rioting, the ones occupying sections of major cities, and whose demands increasingly resemble threats to disrupt the day-to-day activities of law-abiding businesses and their customers are a political force the Democrats can ill afford to offend. Democratic Party leaders continue to distort what Trump said about what happened in Charlottesville, but when it comes to Portland, Seattle, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and now Kenosha, they’ve had little to say. Biden’s recent condemnation of “needless violence” hit with all the impact of a wet noodle and came only after the issue of the riots, as Don Lemon observed, started showing up int eh polls.
Likewise, while the president has promised to get tough on China, not just on trade but because it needs to be held responsible for unleashing the novel coronavirus on the world and then lying about it, Biden and company seem ready to hold hands with President Xi Jinping and sing “Kumbaya,” while getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible. That’s not going to sell with Americans either—especially when they realize the former vice president’s plan for handling the virus and his willingness to consider another lockdown owes more to Beijing than he’s probably willing to admit.
We’re in uncharted territory: lockdowns, social anarchy and violence, virtual campaigning, and a heap of known unknowns.
We’re in uncharted territory: lockdowns, social anarchy and violence, virtual campaigning, and a heap of known unknowns.
The nation has never seen an election like this. A mysterious virus from China has terrified the country, killed perhaps 180,000 Americans, and is now weaponized as a political asset to neuter the president. Half the country is still in de facto quarantine. Governments — national, state, and local — for the first time have induced an artificial but severe recession.
The country is convulsed by riots, looting, and urban violence, but with the novelty that many governors and mayors have either turned a blind eye to the anarchy or contextualized it as a legitimate reaction to social injustice.
Joe Biden has been incommunicado for nearly four months, so much so that the Democratic Party believes that his vice-presidential running mate may well be the next president much sooner than later. And the media seek to shield Biden from himself by aborting normal journalistic scrutiny — on the unspoken surety that he is not cogitatively able to conduct a normal campaign and, indeed, in one unguarded moment of confusion and bewilderment, might well sink the entire 2020 progressive agenda.
The result is a virtual candidate, with virtual issues, and a virtual campaign. How then can we adjudicate what issues will matter?
1) The Lockdown. More or less, Americans followed the March–June lockdowns that seemed at least for a while to slow the viral spread. Of course, “flattening the curve” to prevent hospital overcrowding soon insidiously morphed into the impossible task of stopping the virus by shutting down the economy and quarantining the population. I suppose the theory was “we had to destroy the health of a society to ensure it was healthy.”
We know from Sweden and the gradual diminution in cases in the hardest hit states of the U.S. Northeast that the virus has a say in such policies. It seems determined to have an initial spike followed by a lull and yet another lesser spike, before it finds it harder to infect more vulnerable victims, as antibodies and T-cells increasingly ensure either growing de facto immunity or asymptotic infection, all while herd immunity rises and the virus plays itself.
We will soon, perhaps in a year or so, learn of the real tally of forced quarantines — the substance abuse, child abuse, retrogression in millions of young students denied K–12 learning and supervision, missed health diagnostics and preventative care, and delayed or cancelled surgeries. And the tab will likely be far higher than the coronavirus death count and the post-viral fatigue and morbidity of stricken but recovering patients. In other words, there were never blue/red choices or Democratic/Republican ones, but only bad and worse and all in between.
Fairly or not, the lockdown as a political issue is now crystalized as back-to-school/not-back-to-school for millions of the nation’s students, the vast majority of whom are either going to be immune — or asymptomatic if infected. To the degree Trump makes the moral argument that in such a lose/lose scenarios we have far more to forfeit by keeping kids home than at school, and that we can protect vulnerable teachers through reassignments from classroom teaching, he will win the issue.
Biden’s insistence that schools remain closed is likely a losing issue, because voters know that locked-in families are increasingly not viable —economically, physically, and psychologically, and in a way that outweighs even their fear of the virus. As a grandfather of a special-needs child, I can attest that the months without skilled teaching and classroom stimulation have been disastrous — they’ve now wiped away much of the stunning progress achieved in the past year by skilled and emphatic classroom teachers.
2) COVID. Like any other natural or manmade disaster — from 9/11 to Katrina to the 2008 financial crisis — the sitting president gets praised or blamed depending on whether the catastrophe is seen as waning or waxing, even if it is well beyond a president’s ability to either worsen or mitigate any such disaster.
COVID up until now is a he said/she said, dead-ender, as data can be adduced that the U.S. did better than the UK or Spain but worse than Germany, or should have/should have not issued the travel ban, quarantines, or earlier/later or not at all. The point is not the past status of the virus, but that the trajectory from October 1 to November 3 — Election Day — will become political. If the second spike deflates, the virus seems to decline, and people instinctually regain confidence, with news of impending vaccines and far better treatments, then Trump will benefit from that reality. If we see a third spike at this time — say, one that falls heavily on teachers who returned to work in some states — then Biden will claim “I told you so.”
3) The Economy. Even Biden cannot argue that the pre-viral economy was inert when he knows it was booming by any historical marker. Its weakness — huge deficits — is neutralized as an issue because Biden and Harris, to meet their fantasy agendas, would borrow far more than even Trump has. Polls understandably continue to suggest more voter confidence in Trump than in Biden on economic issues. Whether the economy — rather than the lockdown and virus — is the news will hinge on whether it continues to recover or suffers a sudden debt/financial/liquidity crisis.
4) The Violence and Social Anarchy. The wreckage of the inner core of our major cities should be Trump’s greatest issue, given that even blue-city mayors and the network and cable news industry cannot censor all the sickening and nihilistic violence. The Left and its appeasers own the violence. Initially, they proudly enabled the demonstrations in hopes of weaponizing the outrage over the death of George Floyd into another “Charlottesville” writ against Trump.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
The meme that Trump’s “stormtroopers” want to take over cities is now a stale joke, given that Antifa seems eager to roast Portland police personnel in their barricaded precinct, while looters in the million-dollar mile of Chicago greedily target Gucci and Nikes as “reparations” justice.
If Trump frames the issue that he is the only sane impediment between all that and civilization, he will be helped enormously. Biden’s recourse seems to be to stay quiet about the violence and to outsource support for the demonstrators to Harris, while he now and again nods to law and order and claims he wants to defund the police without defunding the police. In a larger sense, Biden seems fixated on past May-June inert issues that often drove down Trump’s polls, but seems baffled that the real challenges are August-October issues that are quite different, fluid, and breaking in Trump’s direction.
5) The Strange Case of the Biden VP. In Democratic terms, Harris was the only viable pick once Biden explicitly limited his running-mate selection to a woman and implicitly to a black woman. The other younger, more woke candidates were unvetted — and for good reason given their now exposed pasts. The only other candidate with stature is Susan Rice, who has never been elected to anything; but, more important, seems incapable of telling the truth, and she tends to alienate everyone with whom she deals.
But Harris has problems of her own that explain why she exited the Democratic primaries early with nonexistent support. She is rude, often ill-prepared, demagogic, and seems to think her role as VP is threefold: a) Trotskyization of her recent hard-left social persona that failed so miserably in the primaries; b) a wink and nod “centrist” rebirth, by carefully referencing her career as a California prosecutor (when in fact she was a vindictive DA), and c) privately reassuring leftists, donors, Sandernistas, and the Antifa/BLM crowd that if they elect Biden now, they will be very soon be electing Harris, who will revert to her hard-core leftist essence, since she will not have to face voters as she did in 2019. In sum, her appointment prompted short-term giddiness; but in retrospect, her long-term negatives will start becoming an issue.
6) Socialism. The new old Joe Biden is not really a socialist convert. He is a naïve Menshevik who has no idea of the nature of those who are telling him what to say and do. So far, he has mixed the message that he is impaired and personally fearful of the coronavirus — understandable given his age and health — with his usual platitudinous phrases (“first, second, . . .”; “come on, man”) and calls for patriotic obeyance to the quarantine. Throughout, he avoids telling America what he is for and what he is against— and whether the agendas of Bernie Sanders, AOC, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren are his own.
Whether before or during the debates, Biden will have to answer yes or no to fracking, reparations, government confiscations of semi-automatic guns (even the U.S. government cannot buy “back” what one never “owned”), Medicare for all, the end of border-wall construction, decoupling with China, free health care for illegal aliens, a wealth tax, a 40 percent-plus income-tax rate on higher incomes, and getting back into the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord. The strangest thing about this strange Biden campaign is that we all know what the hard Left was for in the primaries, we all know that Biden and Harris have embraced that losing message, and yet we known that no one will simply say, New Green Deal? Hell, Yes! Reparations? Of course! Open borders? Why Not?
Never have such contortionist candidates disowned the very issues that they bragged would usher them to victory, while reinventing themselves as something they are not — with the surety that they’d revert to what they are if they were elected.
7) Tweeting versus Mental Confusion. The proverbial swing voter in the ten or so states is the key to the election. Without much sweat, Trump will fire up his base and the old Perot/Reagan Democrat/Tea Party voters who previously hid in 2008 and 2012 or voted Obama. He may well capture 10–15 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the Latino vote. But he could still lose, given lots of new variables, like mass mail-in voting and third-party vote harvesting like the kind that destroyed California’s quite accomplished congressional incumbents and candidates in 2018.
Conventional wisdom reminds us that Trump needs to win a majority of independent suburbanites in these key purple states. The issue is simple: Do they fear getting only a recorded message when calling 9/11, an Antifa punk showing up at their corner park, a BLM looter across the street from their Costco, or another no-bail, turnstile, parolee carjacking — more than they are turned off by Trump’s tweeting, his epithets, and his shouting about “fake news”?
What bothers these pivotal voters most: Trump on the rampage whining about how biased reporters spin fake news, or ten seconds of dead silence as Biden looks in vain for his wife, or a toady reporter, to steer him back to his prompt and his place in the script? In contrast, Trump’s most able cabinet members and advisors—Barr, Pompeo, and the recently arrived Scott Atlas—are increasingly appearing in high-profile, visible roles, and proving invaluable to the campaign
8) Known Unknowns. In the next eight days, all sorts of breaking news can change the pulse of the election. Will other Gulf Arab states join the UAE in recognizing Israel? Will Russia intervene in Belarus? Will China provoke an incident with Hong Kong or Taiwan or unleash its pit bull North Korea to embarrass Trump? Will the health of the septuagenarians Biden and Trump stay constant? Will John Durham flip a wannabe fixer like Eric Clinesmith to snare the principles in the veritable coup to destroy Trump? Will Kamala Harris go full Antifa/BLM? Will a mysterious tape, recording, intercept of a long dormant scandal appear in Access Hollywood/George W. Bush DUI style? Will Biden or Trump go full Howard Dean/I have a scream and shout “YAAAAHH!” to wreck his campaign? We all know some sort of attempted October surprise is coming, we just don’t know its magnitude and effect.
9) The Virtual Election. No one knows either how we can elect a president through virtual campaigning, virtual conventions, and perhaps virtual debates and virtual voting by mail. We suspect that Joe Biden’s cognitive challenges are the stimulus for the left-wing effort to cite the virus as grounds for changing the rules. But even when rules change, they don’t always change as the changers anticipated.
10) Sleeper Cells. In 2016, money didn’t matter. Hillary Clinton vastly outraised and outspent Trump in nearly every state. Polls of the Electoral College were way off. Voters do lie to pollsters because they don’t want their names on electronic lists, or they decline to say out loud what they like about Trump, or they’re just amused by the idea of screwing up left-wing analyses.
Worse in 2016 were the silly quoted odds that Clinton would win — often reaching absurd disparities such as a 4–1, 5–1, or 10–1 sure thing. In 2016, “organization” didn’t matter. Robbie Mook was declared a genius and proved a fool; Trump’s campaign was said to be foolish run by a bigger fool Steven Bannon, plagued by government subversion and serial firings and hirings — and yet it proved far more sophisticated in its analytics and strategies. Do record gun sales, crashing ratings for the woke NBA, weird outlier polls, voters’ own belief that Trump will win or that their neighbors will vote him in, etc. mean anything? Is right now August 2016, when the polls just can’t be wrong — again?
In sum, the more Trump talks about his empathy for the suburbanite and inner-city dweller, both deprived of their civil rights to safety and security by deliberately lax, blue-state law enforcement, the more he expresses his bewilderment but undeniable compassion for Biden’s tragic, steady cognitive decline, and the more he seems too busy to tweet about much other than the landmark Israel–UAE deal, an impending COVID vaccine and therapy breakthroughs, unexpected economic uptick indicators, and his efforts to save the nation’s children from the disaster of two lost two school years, all the more likely swing voters will break in his favor.
And all the more likely he will confound the learned-nothing/forgotten-nothing polls.
Absent any last-minute surprise, voters in November will have to pick whether they want Donald Trump or Joe Biden to be the president of the United States for the next four years. They are remarkably different in just about every way possible, with dramatically different visions for the nation’s future.
How those differences are expressed and explained is largely a function of the media. Up to now, the coverage has generally kind to Biden, while, it can be argued, the mainstream media is in open revolt against the idea of Trump winning a second term. The pro-Trump outlets, few though they may be, cannot be expected to treat the former vice president very well either.
The battle lines have been drawn, and, frankly, this leaves the American people at a distinct disadvantage. They have nowhere to go to find honest information brokers. The polarization of the press corps makes it unlikely the media can be relied upon, whatever the candidates themselves may say, to report accurately about either candidate’s position on the issues of the day.
The only way to avoid the conundrum this will cause, and thanks to the proliferation of social media and internet-based broadcasting, is for the candidates to go directly to the voters as often as possible. Both campaigns are already doing this. The Trump campaign has established a nascent broadcast network of its own that sends our original programming to counter the national narrative established by the networks. Biden, who largely remains inside his home because of the coronavirus, has also taken to giving interviews over apps that allow those who watch to hear his views without having them first feed through an editor’s filter.
That’s a good start, but, for the most part, the only people paying attention to these narrowcasts are the media, who dutifully report what they want, and the people who have already made their choice. Both campaigns are communicating to the faithful—which works better for Trump, who polls show has the approval of 90 percent or more of GOP voters than Biden, who is enthusiastically backed by only about two-thirds of Democrats.
This brings us to the presidential debates, which, in most previous elections, have amounted to little. There were times when they were important. In 1980, Ronald Reagan used his one debate with President Jimmy Carter to prove he was not the loose cannon the Carter campaign and much of the media were saying. In 1988, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis likely torpedoed his presidential aspirations when, in answering the first question asked him by CNN’s Bernard Shaw, said, hypothetically, that he would not want a man who raped and killed his wife, Kitty, to receive the death penalty.
The Obama-Romney and Trump-Clinton debates may have been entertaining, but they didn’t little to move the voters’ perceptions of either candidate. What they did do was remind Republicans how things are generally stacked against them by the Washington press corps, such as when moderator Candy Crowley intervened in a back-and-forth between Obama and Romney to Obama’s benefit or when ABC’s Martha Raddatz jumped on Trump several times so Clinton didn’t have to.
For the upcoming general election, the Commission on Presidential Debates has recommended three encounters between Trump and Biden and one between Vice President Mike Pence and whomever Biden chooses as a running mate. The Trump campaign wants four. Neither proposal is sufficient. Instead, there should be eight debates, one every other week, between the principals in which they go head-to-head without the media and without a moderator who does anything but keep time.
Trump and Biden are both, and this is meant with the utmost respect, big talkers. They’re not shy about making their views known and know how to communicate what’s on their mind. It would be refreshing to see them go head-to-head for an hour each time on a single topic, four picked by one campaign and four picked by the other. It’s a formula for a robust discussion that will get, hopefully, at what’s on the minds of the candidates and the American people.
In previous debates, the reporters asking the questions—when they’re not playing “gotcha”—ask questions about subjects of importance to the folks who live in the Acela corridor and in the wealthy environs in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco. No one ever asks a candidate to defund ethanol subsidies or explain their views on the right to carry concealed firearms or whether they believe lower taxes and deregulation stimulate growth and lead to job creation. Instead, we get questions about banning firearms, U.S. policy toward the war in Syria and LGBTQ equality. All are important, of course, but some are more important to the people living in the heartland of American than others.
In this campaign, more than any in recent memory, we don’t need media filters and moderator mumbo-jumbo to help us decide who should be president for the next four years. We need to see as much of the candidates as we can. More debates, shorter in duration, without media stars preening for attention would serve us all well.
Why nothing sticks to Donald Trump or Joe Biden
It was congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Democrat from Colorado, who labeled Ronald Reagan the “Teflon” president in a fit of exasperation in August 1983. What frustrated Schroeder was that nothing “stuck” to Reagan—not the recession, not his misadventures in Lebanon, not his seeming detachment from his own administration. Reagan’s job approval had plunged to a low of 35 percent at the beginning of that year, but his numbers were rising and his personal favorability remained high. “He is just the master of ceremonies at someone else’s dinner,” she said.
Ironically, the one thing that did stick to Reagan was Schroeder’s nickname. The phrase was so catchy that writers applied it to mobsters (“Teflon Don” John Gotti) and to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Teflon presidents, gangsters, candidates—we have had them all. What we have not experienced until now is a Teflon campaign.
Between March 11, when the coronavirus prompted the NBA to suspend its season, and May 14, some 84,000 Americans died of coronavirus, more than 36 million lost their jobs, and Congress appropriated $3.6 trillion in new spending. It is not foolish to suppose that these world-shaking events would affect the presidential election. On the contrary: One would expect a dramatic swing toward either the incumbent or the challenger. But look at the polls. Not only has there been no big shift. There has been no shift.
On March 11, Joe Biden led Donald Trump by 7 points in the RealClearPolitics average. On May 14, he led Trump by 5 points. “Biden’s advantage,” says Harry Enten of CNN, “is the steadiest in a race with an incumbent running since at least 1944.” He has never been behind. His share of the vote has been impervious to external events.
Neither good nor bad news has an effect. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign on April 8 and endorsed Biden on April 13. Biden received no bump from this display of party unity. Tara Reade accused Biden of sexual assault on March 25, and Biden did not respond directly to the allegation until May 1. His margin over Trump did not shrink. It remained the same.
Why? The incidents of this election cycle are not the reason. Epidemics, depressions, and sex scandals have happened before. What is distinct are the candidates. One in particular.
If this race has been the steadiest in memory, it is because public opinion of the incumbent has been the most consistent in memory. “Trump’s approval rating has the least variation of any post-World War II president,” notes Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight. Whatever is in the headlines matters less than one’s view of the president. And he is a subject on which most people’s views are ironclad.
When the crisis began, Trump’s approval rating was 44 percent in the RealClearPoliticsaverage. On May 14, it is 46 percent. A social and economic calamity befell the country, and Trump’s approval ticked up. Not enough for him to win, necessarily. But enough to keep him in contention.
Americans feel more strongly about Trump, either for or against, than about any other candidate since polling began. His supporters give his approval ratings a floor, and his detractors give his ratings a ceiling. There is not a lot of room in between.
For years, Trump voters have said that they are willing to overlook his faults because they believe the stakes in his victory and success are so high. Heard from less often have been Trump’s opponents, who are so desperate to see him gone that they dismiss the failings and vulnerabilities of whoever happens to be challenging him at the moment.
Recently the feminist author Linda Hirshman wrote in the New York Times that she believes Tara Reade’s story but will vote for Joe Biden anyway. “Better to just own up to what you are doing,” she wrote. “Sacrificing Ms. Reade for the good of the many.” Hirshman is the mirror-image of the Trump supporter who, as the president once said, would not be bothered if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Intensifying tribalism makes this election a nonstick surface.
What gives Biden the upper hand is that there are more people who feel negatively than positively about Donald Trump. What gives Trump a chance is the uneven distribution of these people across the country. That was the case before coronavirus. It is still the case today.
Watching the numbers hardly budge over these past months, I have sometimes wondered what could move them. War? Spiritual revival? Space aliens?
Don’t think so. Throw anything at it. Nothing adheres to this Teflon campaign.