washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In “States of Play – Florida,” Mathew Isbell writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “While it is a swing state, expect Florida to vote to the right of the national popular vote…Biden is likely to underperform Hillary Clinton in Miami-Dade, but outshine her in working class communities and suburbs…How Florida’s seniors judge Trump on COVID will likely decide the state…Democrats are likely to start the night with a big lead thanks to vote by mail being reported first, and the march will be on to see if the Republicans can close the gap…It is important for all watching that it isn’t just about who wins a county — but what the margin looks like. A bad Miami-Dade margin could be fatal for Biden. Meanwhile, if Trump is losing big in places like Pinellas or Seminole, he will be in bad shape…We should expect some of these counties to move independent of each other due to their unique demographics…Election night in Florida can be akin to a roller coaster as one county delivers good news and another bad news regardless of which side you are on.”

“In the past couple of weeks, key battleground states like Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have received a lot of attention because Republicans have seen a spike in voter registration numbers. This is oftencited as a counterpoint to Joe Biden’s sizable lead over President Trump in the polls, as all these Republican registrations must be a sign of support for Trump that the polls are missing, right?,” Geoffrey Skelley writes in “Why A Surge In Republican Voter Registration Might Not Mean A Surge In Trump Support” at FiveThirtyEight…But the problem is party registration numbers can be a hard way to get a read on what’s happening in the election. Like early voting numbers, there are all kinds of pitfalls in how you should think about this data. Here are three of the biggest problems:…A voter’s party registration is a strong indicator of who they’ll support, but it’s not a guarantee. In fact, many voters registered with one party have actually been voting for the other party in recent elections but haven’t necessarily switched their registration to reflect the party they actually support…The election calendar also influences party registration trends, as key dates and campaign events drive interest in participation. For instance, a presidential primary or the registration deadline ahead of the general election can spark a flood of registrations. But sometimes this can create a disproportionate number of registrations from one party…most independents lean toward one party, but their preferences are still masked at the voter registration level. This is especially tricky in battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania that have seen major upticks in the share of voters who have registered with no party affiliation.”

Regarding tonight’s presidential candidate debate, The Nation’s John Nichols suggests, “Biden, Use This Debate to Prosecute Trump’s Covid Crimes,” and argues, “Tonight is the Democratic candidate’s chance to indict the president and the Republican senators who let Americans suffer and die…Biden should be specific, naming the cities, counties, and regions where Covid-19 is surging and killing Americans. He should detail the disproportionate damage this virus has done to people of color, the elderly, low-income Americans, frontline workers, and the vulnerable millions who lack adequate access to health care…Trump has attacked governorswho have tried to contain it while he mocked public health orders, peddled snake-oil “cures” and promoted “reopening” schemes even after he was warned that doing so would allow the disease to spread…Biden cannot allow himself to be distracted. There is too much at stake. Tonight, he can close the case not just against a president who deliberately endangered the nation he swore to protect but also against the Republican senators—like Joni Ernst in Iowa, Steve Daines in Montana, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona, Susan Collins in Maine, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, David Perdue in Georgia, John Cornyn in Texas, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, and, yes, Mitch McConnell in Kentucky—who refused to hold the president accountable back when these crises might have been averted.”

At CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza reports that “Trump is being dominated by former Vice President Joe Biden in ad spending in the vast majority of swing states…Calculations made by CNN’s David Wright reveal that Biden’s campaign has spent far more than Trump’s on ads in Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire…And in some of those places it’s not even close. Biden has spent $98 million to Trump’s $69 million on ads in Florida. In Pennsylvania, it’s a whopping $33 million gap; $61 million for Biden to $28 million for Trump…Trump’s campaign has outspent Biden’s in only four competitive states: Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. At the start of the 2020 campaign, few politicos — of either party — would have predicted that Trump would be in any serious trouble in any of that quartet of states, all of which he won by 5 points or more in 2016. And yet, polling in all four states now suggests Biden and Trump are running neck and neck.”


Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Harry Enten notes, “If former Vice President Joe Biden is to win this election, his best chance probably runs through the Great Lakes…Were Biden to hold the Clinton states (and polls indicate that he probably will), he needs to find an extra 38 electoral votes…Those extra 38 electoral votes are likely to come from the six closest states Trump won in 2016: Arizona (11 electoral votes), Florida (29 electoral votes), Michigan (16 electoral votes), North Carolina (15 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) and Wisconsin (10 electoral votes)…Now, look at the polling aggregates in each of those contests…Michigan: Biden +8 points…Wisconsin: Biden +8 points…Pennsylvania: Biden +7 points…Nebraska’s 2nd District: Biden +7 points…Arizona: Biden +4 points…Florida: Biden +4 points…Noth Carolina: Biden +3 points…What you see here is a pretty clear divide between the Great Lake and Sun Belt states. Biden has advantages of 7 points to 8 points in the Great Lakes, while his leads are 3 to 4 points in the Sun Belt…The key in these poll numbers is that Biden doesn’t actually need Arizona, Florida or North Carolina to win. Just by winning in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and holding the Clinton states, Biden gets to 278 electoral votes…Not surprisingly, statistical models suggest that Pennsylvania is the state most likely to determine the Electoral College winner in 2020.”

Polling data have indicated for months that Democrats have intended to vote earlier at much higher rates than Republicans, who were reacting to President Trump’s near-constant false claims that voting by mail would lead to widespread fraud,” Miles Parks writes at npr.org. “We’re now getting evidence from actual voting behavior that confirms those polls. Democrats have cast about 53% of the early votes, according to predictive analysis by the data firm TargetSmart, which uses voter data beyond party registration to project turnout trends. That’s compared with 36% by Republicans…The early voters also tend to trend older. Voters 50 or older make up more than 70% of the votes cast, according to the TargetSmart analysis. Hundreds of thousands more young people have voted at this point in October, compared with the 2016 election, but they still make up a lower share of the overall total than they did then…Notably, African American voters make up a larger share of early voters than in 2016. More than six times as many African American voters have voted early this year than had at the same point in the last presidential election, according to TargetSmart.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall has a list of things Democrats ought to be worrying about, including: “David Wasserman, House editor for The Cook Political Report. wrote on Oct. 1 that voter registration patterns over a longer period in key battleground states show that “Republicans have swamped Democrats in adding new voters to the rolls, a dramatic GOP improvement over 2016.”…Four of the six states Trump won by fewer than five points in 2016 allow voters to register by party: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In recent months, there have been substantially more Republicans added to the rolls than Democrats in each of them except for Arizona…Wasserman’s data:

Florida, since the state’s March primary, added 195,652 Republicans and 98,362 Democrats.

Pennsylvania, since June, Republicans plus 135,619, Democrats up 57,985.

North Carolina, since March, Republicans up 83,785 to Democrats 38,137.

In Arizona, the exception, “Democrats out-registered Republicans 31,139 to 29,667” in recent months.”

From “Democrats Don’t Need To Win Georgia, Iowa, Ohio Or Texas — But They Could” by Perry Bacon, Jr. at FiveThirtyEight: “Just eight years ago, it would have been weird to put Iowa and Ohio in the same electoral category as Georgia and Texas. In the 2012 election, President Obama won Iowa by 6 percentage points and Ohio by 3 pointswhile losing Georgia by 8 and Texas by 16…But in the early stages of the Trump era, Georgia and Texas got a bit more blue, while Iowa and Ohio got more red. (Exactly why these shifts happened at the same time is complicated, so let’s leave that aside for the moment.) In 2016 and 2018, these four states voted similarly — about 11 points, give or take, to the right of the country overall. That gave Trump fairly comfortable wins in all four states in 2016 — when Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by just 2 points — but Republicans barely won in several key statewide races in these four states in 2018, when Democrats won the national U.S. House vote by about 9 points…Fast-forward to 2020, which is looking about as blue as 2018 — and perhaps even more so — and all four states look competitive. You can see that in the latest polls. Morning Consult surveys released this week showed President Trump with just a 2-point lead in Georgia and Texas, and a 3-point lead in Ohio. A CBS News/YouGov poll had Biden and Trump tied in Iowa. Those are just a few polls, obviously, but they largely match the FiveThirtyEight polling averages in each of these states…Biden doesn’t need to carry these states — he can win a comfortable Electoral College victory without carrying them. Trump does need them, however — but he also needs bluer states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to win reelection. Similarly, Democrats can win a Senate majoritywithout carrying any of the four Senate seats up for grabs in these states (none in Ohio but two in Georgia).”


Teixeira: Demography Is Not Destiny – A Progressive Catholic Perspective

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

I was intrigued to run across this piece by Michael Sean Winters “It’s time to bury the idea that demography is destiny, once and for all” in the National Catholic Reporter. He builds on my essay on this topic that appeared in Persuasion in July.

Surveys of Latino voters indicate something else that is worth noting: Demography is not destiny. Turns out this fact is worth noting again and again and again because the theory stalked much of the commentariat throughout the Democratic primaries and the selection of a vice presidential choice. In 2016, it was the theory that dominated the strategy of the Clinton campaign and left them scratching their heads as the election results poured in.

Ruy Teixeira and John Judis’ 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, is often credited with birthing this theory, but that excellent book was devoid of simplistic slogans. They noted that minority groups that tended to support Democrats were increasing their share of the electorate by 2% every four years. They never said the Democrats could ignore white, working-class voters.

In an essay at Persuasion, Teixeira argued that people misread the thesis of the book and, just as importantly, continued to misread the facts:

“Instead of focusing on the fact that this emerging majority only gave Democrats tremendous potential if they played their cards right, many progressives started to interpret it as a description of an inevitable future. The new Democratic majority, they believed, had already arrived. All they had to do to win election after election was to mobilize the growing segments of the electorate, and the demographic changes that favored them would take care of the rest. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, our thesis turned into the simplistic argument that “demographics are destiny.”

The Obama coalition, remember, included enough white, working class-voters to comfortably win states like Pennsylvania and Iowa. Yet, in 2012, although Obama won reelection, his deficit among white, working-class voters doubled. The bailout of Wall Street never did trickle down to Wilkes-Barre. Teixeira explains:

“The bowdlerization of the emerging Democratic majority thesis neatly complemented the political predilections of a rising set of people who placed questions of group identity and disadvantage at the heart of their political activism. This approach, which soon came to be known as “identity politics,” privileges mobilization around multiple, intersecting levels of oppression based on group identification over mobilization around universal rights and principles that bind people together across groups. Since most white non-college voters were rightly perceived to be uninterested in — if not outright hostile to — the core tenets of intersectional politics, those who favored this approach had a reason to embrace an electoral strategy that dispensed with them.”

Soon enough, the candidate called them “deplorables,” and her schedulers never saw a reason to go to Wisconsin. The wishful demographic theory was combined with the meritocratic prejudices that Michael Sandel has so brilliantly diagnosed among America’s cultural leaders. The Democrats were — and are — unprepared for the populist backlash that Donald Trump rode into the White House, and that might carry him in a second time….

If you look at the research to which I linked in my article about polling Latinos, you will find that they articulate the same essential working-class concerns as white voters in Youngstown, Ohio: health care, job security, opportunities for their children, better schools. The New York Times article by Ian Haney López and Tory Gavito was especially on point, demonstrating the fact that core tropes of identity politics do not resonate with Latinos. They wrote that most Latinos declined to see themselves as “people of color,” that “the majority [of Latinos] rejected this designation. They preferred to see Hispanics as a group integrating into the American mainstream, one not overly bound by racial constraints but instead able to get ahead through hard work.” If Trump emphasizes the “white” in “white, working-class voters,” Democrats need to emphasize the “working-class.”

What does any of this have to do with our Catholic faith? It turns out, a lot. I wish I could tell you that the contempt for fellow citizens and for fellow Catholics epitomized by Hillary Clinton’s word “deplorables” was unique to her, but it isn’t. There is a cancer in the heart of the political left that has infected the Catholic left, too, and it is the cancer identified by Teixeira. The cancer is the “approach, which soon came to be known as ‘identity politics,’ [which] privileges mobilization around multiple, intersecting levels of oppression based on group identification over mobilization around universal rights and principles that bind people together across groups.”

It is a cancer because it does not unite — and culture always unites. The Catholic social teaching that formed Biden does not reduce people to their group because it starts with the universalist belief that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and possessed of an inherent dignity. Biden would never call white, working-class voters, or anyone else, “deplorable.” Catholic social teaching balances the Gospel mandate to identify with the marginalized with this universalism that is at the heart of the Gospels, too.

Trump’s evil genius consists in his ability to accept the terms of identity politics and turn them to his own advantage. But let us be clear: His path has been cleared by those who traffic in identity politics, those who seek to denigrate any American ideal that strives for universality. Trump harvests grievances. He did not plant them. In his narcissism, he may not really give a damn about white, working-class voters. His economic policies — apart from trade — will not really help them. But he is never more sincere than when he shares their disgust with cultural and political elites who look down on working-class voters if they look at them at all. If one of the only things Democrats have to say to white working-class voters is that they suffer from white privilege, no one should be surprised if Pennsylvania and Wisconsin stay in the red column this year.

There is a reason that so much of the country stayed Democratic long after the New Deal: Franklin Roosevelt had created policies that helped them; he addressed their needs, and he never condescended to them. He gave them hope. In the absence of such hope, men like Trump, who offer only hateful and false answers to the problems many working-class cities and towns endure, will continue to win elections.”

Interesting. I am more optimistic than the author that Biden is making real progress among these voters in this election, perhaps especially white working class Catholics in Rustbelt states. But he is quite right that Democrats still have a long-term challenge convincing these voters that the party is committed to universal uplift that very much includes them.


Political Strategy Notes

There are lots of perceptive insights in George Packer’s article, “Republicans Are Suddenly Afraid of Democracy” in The Atlantic. Here’s an excerpt: “Biden and his vice-presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, should remind voters that Republicans, not Democrats, have turned the Senate into a body that produces no legislation but simply functions as a conveyor belt to cram every level of the judiciary with partisan conservative judges, filling seats that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced President Obama to leave empty. The goal of this strategy is to seize control of the third, unelected branch of government and use it to prevent the elected branches, if they ever return to majority rule, from governing. What we’re hearing now from these latter-day Calhouns is fear of representative democracy.”

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are answering questions about “court-packing” by pointing out that the Republicans are doing it right now. As Harris has noted, “of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the Court of Appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is Black.” Biden has said, ““We should be focused on what’s happening right now,” he said. “And the fact is that the only packing going on is this court is being packed now by the Republicans after the vote has already begun. I’m going to stay focused on it so we don’t take our eyes off the ball here.”… The size of the high court has been changed a half-dozen times in U.S. history, and the Constitution’s framers deliberately allowed for changing the size without requiring a constitutional amendment. Besides, what alternative to Democrats have, other than meekly accepting McConnell’s abuse of long-standing, bipartisan hearing procedures? Allowing 6-3 Republican majority to stand would mean, not only a reversal of Roe v. Wade, marriage equality and ending the Affordable Care Act, but even more tolerance for voter suppression, crushing unions, undermining employee rights, weakening environmental, criminal justice and consumer protections, to name a few endangered Democratic reforms. Democrats have a job to do in educating the public about the need to expand the Supreme Court. But not using the rules to to their advantage, as McConnell does all the time, would be political suicide. The radicalism of McConnell, more than anyone else, has made expanding the court nearly inevitable.

In “Pack” the Supreme Court? Absolutely 100% yes — it’s the only way to save democracy” at salon.com, Paul Rosenberg quotes University of Washington political scientist Scott Lemieux, who has pointed out that violations of bipartisan norms have “all led to constitutional crises that ended only when the court itself backed down,” including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s oft-misremembered confrontation, which put an end to the court striking down New Deal legislation, most notably the Social Security Act. Nor is there any “normal” way out through political victory, Lemieux warns: A 6-3 conservative majority “would be essentially impossible for Democrats to displace through ordinary means, irrespective of the results of future elections.”…So what might seem in isolation like an extreme or unwarranted norm-breaking move by Democrats is actually the exact opposite: an act of restoration to the guiding shared norms that have predominated across better than two centuries. Continued violation of these shared norms will only intensify the erosion of trust that brought us Donald Trump in the first place, and which he has greatly intensified with the enthusiastic cooperation of Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell…So expanding the Supreme Court is the only option. As I said earlier, the real question is by how much.”

Notre Dame history professor Bill Svelmoe has a suggestion for Democratic senators questioning Judge Amy Barrett at the Supreme Court hearings, which begin Monday. An excerpt from his Facebook page: “If Democrats do attend the hearings, they should not focus on Barrett’s views on any future cases. She’ll just dodge those questions anyway…Instead Democrats should focus on the past four years of the Trump administration…“Judge Barrett, would you please explain the emoluments clause in the Constitution. [She does.] Judge Barrett, if a president were to refuse to divest himself of his properties and, in fact, continue to steer millions of dollars of tax payer money to his properties, would this violate the emoluments clause?”…Then turn to the Hatch Act. “Judge Barrett, would you please explain the Hatch Act to the American people….Then turn to all the other violations of the Hatch Act during the Republican Convention. Get Barrett’s opinion on those. Then turn to Congressional Oversight.“…Then go through all of the contacts between the Trump administration and Russians during the election and get her opinion on whether these amount to collusion. Doesn’t matter how she answers. It gets Trump’s perfidy back in front of Americans right before the election…Ask her about the separation of children from their parents at the border. And on and on and on through the worst and most corrupt administration in our history…Even if Barrett bobs and weaves and dodges all of this, it reminds Americans right before the election of just how awful this administration has been…”

At Politico, Holly Otterbein explains why “‘Forgotten’ Pennsylvania region holds key to Trump’s fate” – and why watching election returns from PA’s Luzerne County may provide an early election eve ‘tell’ about the 2020 presidential election outcome: “Trump won working-class Luzerne by 26,000 votes in 2016 — nearly 60 percent of his margin of victory in a state that he narrowly carried. As part of his strategy to win Pennsylvania again, his campaign is betting on increased turnout in the small cities and rural reaches of the northeast…If Biden somehow managed to take back Luzerne County, it would make it virtually impossible for Trump to win Pennsylvania — and likely the presidency. It would also signal that Democrats had loosened the GOP’s grip on blue-collar white voters, something that could have ramifications for years to come. In fact, even if Biden simply cut back the size of Trump’s victory in the region, it would make Trump’s path to victory in the state very difficult.”

In “Republicans express fears Donald Trump will lose presidential election” at The Guardian, Richard Luscombe writes, “Ted Cruz fears an election “bloodbath”. His fellow top Republican senator Thom Tillis is talking in terms of a Joe Biden presidency. And even Mitch McConnell, the fiercely loyal Senate majority leader, won’t go near the White House over Donald Trump’s handling of coronavirus protocols…Individually, they could arguably be seen as off-the-cuff comments from Trump’s allies attempting to rally support for the US president just days ahead of a general election that opinion polls increasingly show him losing…But collectively, along with pronouncements from several other Republicans appearing to distance themselves from Trump, his administration and its policies, it reflects growing concern inside the Republican party’s top tier that 3 November could be a blowout win for Joe Biden and the Democrats…“I think it could be a terrible election. I think we could lose the White House and both houses of Congress, that it could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions,” Cruz, the junior senator for Texas and former vocal critic of Trump, said in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Friday.”

In another article in The Atlantic, “Trump’s Very Ordinary Indifference to the Common Good,” Brooke Harrington, author of Capital without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percentamplifiess a theme that might make for a potent Democratic ad. As Harrington writes, “what The New York Times revealed in its recent reporting on Trump’s tax returns was not just one man’s refusal of his fiscal obligations. Those returns, along with Trump’s whole approach to governing, are a concrete manifestation of a broader and more troubling phenomenon: an elite insurgency in which wealthy, well-connected people around the world stiff the societies that gave them success. Observing Trump’s open defiance of the law and rejection of accountability, many critics have attributed the pattern to the quirks of Trump’s individual psychology. But they have missed the larger picture: This president is an entirely ordinary member of a global elite whose members believe that rules are for chumps…His offhand remark while filming Access Hollywood 15 years ago could serve as the unofficial motto for the whole offshore world: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Put another way, it’s the arrogance, stupid.

At Vox, , , and  probe “What a Democratic Senate wants,” and explain: “If they flip the Senate, Democrats are clear-eyed that their first priority must be more Covid-19 relief — especially now that a preelection deal looks increasingly unlikely. Up next is trying to supercharge a lagging economy with a green jobs bill, likely including a massive infrastructure package on which Democrats hope to find common ground with Republicans. Democrats also want to pass sweeping anti-corruption reforms, enhance and expand the Affordable Care Act, consider a public option, and take up a criminal justice bill to combat police brutality against Black Americans. And that doesn’t even get to other priorities like immigration reform or passing universal background checks…Broadly, some senior Democrats are imagining what they have called a “never again” agenda if they control the White House and Congress, a response to Covid-19 that addresses many of America’s economic and health disparities exposed by the pandemic. Covering the 30 million or so Americans who are still uninsured would be a natural fit for such a legislative agenda. “First, you have to stop the bleeding,” one senior Democratic official said recently. “But if we don’t take full advantage of this moment, we’ll be making a huge mistake.”

Some good points about the difference between legitimate “Poll watching” and intimidation in this video:


Political Strategy Notes

Debates are seldom pivotal for determining election outcomes, but Democrats should be encouraged by Andrew Prokop’s “The first post-VP debate poll says Kamala Harris won” at Vox, which notes that “the first poll we have of vice presidential debateviewers is good news for Sen. Kamala Harris — and her running mate, Joe Biden…The poll, conducted by CNN and SSRS, found that 59 percent of debate watchers thought Harris won, and 38 percent thought Vice President Mike Pence won, an impressive margin of victory for Harris…In comparison, a poll by CNN after the 2016 vice presidential debate found that Pence won: 48 percent of respondents that year gave the victory to Pence and 42 percent to Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)… CNN’s David Chalian pointed out on air that part of Harris’s margin is explained by the poll’s sample skewing more Democratic. But that’s not enough to explain all of Harris’s margin: 38 percent of respondents were Democrats, 29 percent were Republicans, and 33 percent were independents…69 percent of women who watched thought Harris won, and 30 percent thought Pence did. Among male viewers, it was a near tie — 48 percent thought Harris won, and 46 percent thought Pence did.”

Looking ahead to the next presidential debate, Dan Merica. Kevin Bohn and Chandelis Duster report at CNN Politics that “Trump says he won’t participate in next debate after commission announces it will be virtual,” and write, “The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations,” the commission said in a statement. “The town meeting participants and the moderator, Steve Scully, Senior Executive Producer & Political Editor, C-SPAN Networks, will be located at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami, Florida. The White House Pool will provide coverage of the second presidential debate.”…”I am not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump said on Fox Business. “I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.”…Trump’s comment throws into question the second debate after the commission took the significant steep to wholly remake the contest between the two candidates. The move was seen as needed by members of the debate commission given the uncertainty around the President’s health.”

Ramsey Touchberry writes at Newsweek: “Senate Republicans enter the final weeks of this election pouring millions of dollars into states they never expected would be competitive, and are still struggling to explain their indefensible records of voting to eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions and their failed coronavirus response…Sen. Martha McSally (R) is projected to lose her re-election fight to Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut. Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Democrat.” FiveThirtyEight predicts there is a 79 percent chance Kelly wins…Sen. Cory Gardner (R) is also projected by Cook to lose against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Cook has the race as “lean Democrat.” FiveThirtyEight gives Hickenlooper a 75 percent chance of winning, up from 65 percent on September 2….Cook rates the match between Sen. Susan Collins (R) and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, as a “toss-up.” FiveThirtyEight has increased the likelihood Gideon unseats Collins from 51 percent on September 16 to 62 percent as of Tuesday….Another “toss-up” race by Cook, FiveThirtyEight shows Sen. Joni Ernst (R) and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield virtually tied. Last month, they predicted Ernst with a 59 percent chance of winning but have since decreased it to 51 percent.”

“President Trump spent Tuesday night tweeting madly for hours about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and various conspiracy theories about the 2016 election,” Heather Digby Parton writes at salon.com. “Twitterati speculated that his experimental drug cocktail and steroid treatment for COVID-19 might be making him manic and grandiose. But how could you tell, really? This is pretty much his normal modus operandi…Considering the Soviet-style propaganda campaign they’ve been running at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that’s no surprise…The White House is apparently in total chaos, which isn’t really news, but there does seem to be a certain desperation that isn’t always present. This is likely because of Trump’s atrocious messaging to the public over the past few days, in which he’s pretending he has “beaten” the virus with his strength and virility, and telling people to stop letting the virus “dominate” their lives.”

Here’s a better than usual social media meme for Democratic messaging about Trump’s Covid-19 rant:

In “GOP Senate majority at risk after monster fundraising quarter by Democrats,” David M. Drucker writes at the San Francisco Examiner: “Democratic candidates are raising hundreds of millions of dollars. Even previously overlooked challengers saw their coffers swell with contributions from energized grassroots liberals in July, August, and September, turning sleepy Senate races into a potential nightmare for sitting Republicans and the party’s precarious three-seat majority…It’s no longer just Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, blue-trending battlegrounds where Republicans were prepared for a dogfight from the beginning of the 2020 cycle — or purple states such as Iowa and North Carolina. They are now looking over their shoulder in typically ruby-red territory such as Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, and South Carolina….“The numbers are astounding,” GOP operative Doug Heye said. “Republicans are right to be concerned.”..Third-quarter fundraising totals are not due to be released until Oct. 15. But Democrats have begun publicizing their numbers…The cash allows Democratic challengers a chance to drown out Republicans on television and fund robust voter turnout operations with all of the technological frills.”

Nathaniel Rakich shares findings from FiveThirtyEight’s “third and final forecast of the 2020 election,” and writes, “while Democrats are slight favorites to flip the Senate and Joe Biden is a solid-but-not-overwhelming front-runner for the presidency, Democrats have between a 92 and 97 percent chance of keeping control of the House…Democrats must defend 30 seats in districts won by President Trump in 2016 (as opposed to only six Republicans who sit in districts that Hillary Clinton carried)…And now that we have a House forecast, we can combine it with our Senate and presidential forecasts to determine the odds that either Democrats or Republicans will have full control of the federal government…the likeliest scenario is that Democrats will win full control of the federal government: There’s a 63 in 100 chance of that happening…But there is also a good chance (31 in 100) that we will once again have a divided government in Washington…”

From today’s update on election trends by Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Recent rosy polling for Joe Biden in the presidential race may represent an artificial sugar high for the challenger…But at this point, Donald Trump needs to be making up ground — not treading water or falling further behind…11 rating changes across four categories of races (president, Senate, House, and governor) almost exclusively benefit Democrats…Biden’s leads in the RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight polling averages are now close to 10 points apiece, and a couple of respected national polls, CNN/SSRS and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, have shown Biden leading by 16 and 14 points, respectively. The state-level numbers generally have been bad for the president, too: for instance, Monmouth University pegged Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania earlier this week at around 10 points; the pollster’s previous Keystone State survey had Biden up only a few points based on different turnout models. In other words, one of the better state-level polls for Trump in a key state was reversed in fresher polling.”


Political Strategy Notes

Mary Papenfuss notes in “Horrified Walter Reed Attending Physician Slams Trump’s Drive-By Risk To Secret Service” at HuffPo: “An attending physician at Walter Reed Medical Center blasted the “astounding irresponsibility” of President Donald Trump, saying he put the lives of Secret Service agents at risk to wave at his fans from his motorcade on Sunday…Trump made a spur-of-the-moment decision to briefly leave the hospital where’s he being treated for COVID-19 to do a “surprise” drive-by in the presidential SUV to wave to supporters — whom he called “great patriots” — gathered outside. “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” Dr. James Phillips tweeted. “They might get sick…Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity,” Phillips said of the agents accompanying Trump…Phillips — the head of Disaster and Operational Medicine in the Emergency Medicine Department of the George Washington University School of Medicine —  noted that the SUV is hermetically sealed to protect against chemical attacks. “The risk of COVID-19 transmission inside is as high as it gets,” other than during medical procedures, he added.”

Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic could hurt with senior voters. As Harold Gold writes at Marketwatch, “In an interview, economist Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor at The New School in New York City and one of the nation’s leading experts on retirement, told me that half—that’s right, half—of Americans aged 55 and up will retire in poverty or near poverty…“Our data is showing that, because of the COVID recession, about 50% of workers over the age of 55 will be poor or near-poor adults when they reach 65,” she said.” Gold asks, “What’s behind this? People losing their jobs and health insurance because of COVID-19? Or losing the employer match on their 401(k) contributions? Or having to tap into retirement savings to cover daily expenses? “All of the above,” said Ghilarducci…But it starts with job losses. “Older workers are losing their jobs at a faster rate, relative to younger people and relative to where they had been before than they were in the Great Recession,” she told me…A report done by the New School Retirement Equity Lab found that over half of older unemployed workers may be forced into involuntary retirement. Nearly three million older workers have left the labor force since March and if the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 continue, another million could join them soon…“

According to Data for Progress, “Our new Senate polling is showing really good signs for Democrats. We find:

  • In Maine, Democrat Sara Gideon has opened up a five point lead over Republican incumbent Susan Collins (46-41).

  • In Iowa, Democrat Theresa Greenfield has a narrow edge over Republican incumbent Joni Ernst (46-45).

  • In Arizona, Mark Kelly has a commanding nine-point lead over Republican incumbent Martha McSally (51-42).

  • In South Carolina, Democrat Jaime Harrison is inches away from Republican incumbent Lindsay Graham — he’s down by just one point (44-45)…That’s right: even in South Carolina, Democrats have a serious shot at flipping Republican-held Senate seats. Read our writeup on these results for Crooked by clicking here.”

Data for Progress also noted of the first presidential candidate debate that “Viewers also thought Biden was more “presidential” than Trump by an even wider margin (53-33). Crucially, this includes Independents and Third Party voters, who rated Biden as more presidential by a 20-point margin…But Biden didn’t just win the debate on character — he won it on policy grounds as well. Voters think he’ll handle race relations, the coronavirus pandemic, the integrity of our elections, and the Supreme Court better than Trump. That said, respondents narrowly preferred Trump’s position on the economy.” A chart:

In “Post-debate CNN poll: Six in 10 say Biden won the debate,” Jennifer Agiesta writes at CNN Politics: “Six in 10 debate watchers said former Vice President Joe Biden did the best job in Tuesday’s debate, and just 28% say President Donald Trump did, according a CNN Poll of debate watchers conducted by SSRS…In interviews with the same voters conducted before the debate, 56% said they expected Biden to do the better job while 43% expected that Trump would…About two-thirds said Biden’s answers were more truthful than Trump’s (65% Biden to 29% Trump), and his attacks on the President were more frequently seen as fair. Overall, 69% called Biden’s attacks on Trump fair while just 32% said Trump’s attacks were fair…A majority of debate watchers (57%) said that Tuesday’s debate did not affect their choice for president, while the minority who said they were moved were more apt to say they became more likely to vote Biden (32%) than Trump (11%).” However, “The voters who watched the debate were more partisan than Americans as a whole — 36% identified as independents or non-partisans compared with around 40% in the general public, and the group of debate watchers was more Democratic than a typical survey of all adults, with 39% identifying as Democrats and 25% as Republicans.”

“Joe Biden’s national lead over President Donald Trump nearly doubled after Tuesday’s presidential debate, with voters saying by 2-to-1 that Biden has the better temperament to be president, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. As Mark Murray writes at nbcnews.com, “The poll was conducted in the two days after the unruly and insult-filled debate Tuesday but before Trump tested positive for Covid-19 and was hospitalized Friday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center…Biden is now ahead of Trump by 14 points among registered voters, 53 percent to 39 percent — up from his 8-point lead in the previous poll, before the debate…The biggest declines for Trump were among seniors (who now back Biden by 62 percent to 35 percent) and suburban women (58 percent to 33 percent)…And men 50 years and older moved to a 1-point advantage for Biden in the latest poll, compared to a 13-point advantage for Trump in the pre-debate NBC News/WSJ poll.”

Regarding Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Murray adds, “The poll asked voters about Trump’s pick to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett…Thirty-five percent of registered voters say they support Barrett’s nomination, while 33 percent oppose it; 30 percent say they don’t know enough about her…The findings are similar to the first NBC News/WSJ numbers on Trump’s 2018 Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, whom the Senate confirmed by a narrow 50-48 vote…In a separate question, 50 percent of voters say they would prefer the Senate to wait to fill the Supreme Court seat until there’s a winner in the presidential contest, while 38 percent want a vote before the election.”

Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman explain why “Biden Lead Looks Firmer as Midwest Moves His Way” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and note, “Joe Biden is now over 270 electoral votes in our ratings as we move several Midwestern states in his favor.” Kondik and Coleman move Ohio and Iowa from “leans Republican” to “toss-up” and they now have Minnesota moving from” leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic,” and they move Wisconsin from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic. They add, “Changes in the battle for Congress benefit Democrats almost exclusively. We’re moving two Senate races in their direction, as well as several House contests.” Their updated Electoral College map:


Political Strategy Notes

From “Biden Has 78% Chance of Winning Presidency, Forecasters Say: They raise his chances 3 percentage points a day after a tumultuous debate” by Peter Coy at Bloomberg Businessweek: “Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a strong favorite to be elected, according to professional forecasters. They raised his probability of victory by 3 percentage points a day after a wild debate in which President Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace, while the former vice president called Trump a clown, a liar, and a racist…Good Judgment Inc. says the median estimate of its team of forecasters as of Sept. 30 was that Biden had a 78% chance of victory, up from 75% on Sept. 29 and the highest figure since Aug. 18. In February the unchosen Democratic presidential candidate was given less than a 40% chance of victory. Since then the forecasters have steadily upped their estimates of victory for the Democrat, who we now know is Biden. His chances peaked at 82% in late July. There’s been little change since…The election forecasting model of poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, released Sept. 30, also gives Biden a 78% chance of winning the Electoral College—78.4%, to be precise. The methodology is different, so it’s pure coincidence that they came up with the same probability…The overnight increase in Biden’s victory chances was not attributed specifically to the debate, but it seems likely to have played a big part in the forecasters’ reassessment, since it was the biggest political event of the past 24 hours.”

According to Vox’s Andrew Prokop, “CBS News and YouGov have been tracking respondents in battleground states, and they were able to quickly contact some of those respondents and ask those who watched the Tuesday debate what they thought. Overall, 48 percent said Biden won the debate, while 41 percent said Trump won, and 10 percent said it was a tie. As CBS elections and survey director Anthony Salvanto pointed out on air, this was pretty close to the support for each candidate going in…Kabir Khanna of the CBS News Election and Survey Unit also points out that 42 percent of debate watchers said they thought worse of Trump afterward, and 24 percent said they thought better of him. In contrast, 32 percent said they thought worse of Biden, while 38 percent thought better of him…CNN and SSRS also conducted an instant poll of debate watchers, and they found a more lopsided margin in Biden’s favor. Sixty percent of their respondents thought Biden won, while 28 percent thought Trump won.”

Another Vox writer, Matthew Yglesias, writes, “A new poll by Data for Progress provided exclusively to Vox shows that viewers thought Democratic nominee Joe Biden decisively won Tuesday’s first presidential debate against President Donald Trump, by a 52-39 margin…The poll surveyed debate watchers but then weighted the demographics of the survey group to the population of likely voters in November. Most pollsters don’t do this, which ends up skewing their results toward Democrats because left-leaning college graduates are disproportionately likely to watch debates…But even with the more Trump-friendly weighting, the poll shows a clear win for Biden and, not coincidentally, a fairly overwhelming sense that Biden’s conduct during the debate was more presidential.”

Ella Nilsen reports that “Joe Biden smashed his single-hour fundraising record after the first presidential debate: Biden raised nearly $4 million in one hour after the debate” at Vox and notes, “At the end of a bruising first presidential debate on Tuesday night, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign announced yet another fundraising milestone…The campaign saw $3.8 million raised between 10-11 pm ET during the debate, breaking its own record for the amount raised in a single hour, according to campaign officials. A couple of hours later, Democratic National Committee officials announced the party had its best fundraising hour on record from 11 pm-12 am ET, although party officials did not say how much was raised.”

Ezra Klein, also at Vox, notes a change in Biden’s position on two crucial issues: “…When moderator Chris Wallace asked Biden to “tell the American people tonight whether or not you will support either ending the filibuster or packing the Court,” Biden refused. “Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue,” he replied.” In the past, Biden has voiced skepticism about ending the filibuster and expanding the court. But now that Mitch McConnell has abandoned any semblance of bipartisan fairness in filling Supreme Court vacancies, there is no good reason for Biden to hold on to the  outdated hope that Republicans will act fairly. In addition, demographic changes are proceeding in a favorable direction for Democrats at an exponential rate, so this may be their only chance to restore balance to the high court, especially considering that Trump’s appointees are pretty young. Klein concludes, “The question shadowing Biden’s campaign is whether his oft-voiced nostalgia for the Senate that was, will render him paralyzed by the Senate; that is, whether he will be too attached to a past era in American politics to make the decisions necessary to govern well in this one. Early in the campaign, I was reasonably sure it would. I’m less so now.” Of course everything depends on Democrats winning both the presidency and a senate majority.

Charlie Cook disses the expand the court idea as ‘left wing’ folly at The Cook Political Report, writing that “It’s those who want to expand the Supreme Court so they can plug in a liberal majority, quite possibly the dumbest thing that Franklin Roosevelt proposed in his 12 years as president.” However, some  historians have argued that, while FDR failed to expand the high court (mostly because of southern Democrats who no longer dominate the party), the strategy did ultimately help him get some more favorable high court rulings. But all that was 83+ years ago, and today’s Democrats don’t have a lot of options between increasing the size of the Supreme Court and accepting Mitch McConnell packing the court with right-wing ideologues. If anyone has a good idea regarding what Democrats should do if Republicans get a 6-3 Supreme Court majority, now would be a good time to share.

In his Politico article, “How Democrats Could Pack the Supreme Court in 2021.” Jeff Greenfield mulls over the pros and cons of increasing the size of the Supreme Court and provides this stark assessment of the do-nothing approach for Dems: “If a new Democratic president and Senate are taking power just after a blatant GOP power grab in the face of the electorate’s choice, any reluctance on the part of Biden or a Senate Democrat would face the full fury of the Democratic base. Steve Bannon once famously said that, in politics, “We [the Right] go for the head wound, and your side has pillow fights.” If there’s a Supreme Court seat or two to avenge, the pillow-fight approach might end. Apart from the hunger for political payback, a conservative court shaped by Mitch McConnell would mean the all but certain death of the Affordable Care Act, the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, and a generation of judicial hostility to the core ideas of the Democratic left.” Not to mention the consequences of rulings on a range of important economic issues, including worker rights, deregulation and consumer protection.

Regarding alternative reforms, Greenfield adds, “There are several alternatives that have been debated in legal and academic circles: They range from giving each political party five justices, who would then choose five more; to limiting the terms of judges so that every president gets two picks; to making all 180 federal appeals court judges members of the court, with panels of nine chosen at random to rule on all matters, including which cases the court would take up. (This change would require only legislation; proposals for limiting the terms of justices would require amending the Constitution.)…They all have the quality of careful thought and the nonexistent possibility that any of them becomes reality in the midst of a full-blown constitutional brawl. And if Congress pushes through a restructuring of the court on a strictly partisan vote, giving Americans a Supreme Court that looks unlike anything they grew up with, and unlike the institution we’ve had for more than 240 years, it’s hard to imagine the country as a whole would see its decisions as legitimate.” Yet the size of the U.S. Supreme Court has been changed a half-dozen times in U.S. history, always with a lot of howling, and the Republic has survived.


Political Strategy Notes – Trump Tax Revelations Edition

Thanks to The New York Times, Trump’s tax dodge has finally been outed. The Times bombshell came under a pretty timid headline. But CNN provided a better one from a messaging standpoint, “New York Times: Trump paid no income taxes in 10 out of 15 years beginning in 2000.” But credit the Times with a Pulitzer-worthy investigative report. Here’s an excerpt: “The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due…Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750…He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” CNN reports that, at a White House briefing, “The President repeatedly refused to answer how much he has paid in federal taxes in the briefing and walked out to shouted questions from CNN’s Jeremy Diamond on the topic.” Of course, Trump and his minions denounce the report. But don’t hold your breath waiting for evidence that the revelations are inaccurate. Here’s a fun question media can ask Republican senators, “Senator, how does your effective tax rate over the last 15 years compare with that of the president/leader of your party?”

There is no polling data on attitudes towards the Times revelations yet. But The Guardian headline went with the big question, “Will the New York Times taxes report sink Donald Trump?,”and David Smith responded: “Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman from Texas, told MSNBC the Times report “reveals what many people have suspected, which is the larger point that Donald Trump is a fraud, that he’s not what he claims to be…He claims to be a successful, deal-making businessman who built himself up from the ground and his tax records reveal that he’s actually the opposite. He’s basically a deadbeat who doesn’t pay much in taxes.” Smith continues, “Indeed, Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years the Times examined. In 2016 and 2017, his tax bill was just $750 – far less than almost every US citizen…It is tempting to see this as terminal for Trump in the November election against Joe Biden. But we have been here many times before. The same was said after the release of an Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, where Trump was heard bragging about sexual assault…There are also large chunks of Trump’s cult who pay little attention to the New York Times or Twitter as it is….Does Trump’s substantial income from abroad conflict with his responsibilities as president? Did he put his personal interest ahead of the American people? Did he break the law?…The Times has promised more stories to come. They won’t shake the Trump faithful, but they might chip away at enough voters to make an important difference.”

Brian Stelter of CNN Business shared a couple of slaient observations, including: “This is an “emperor has no clothes” moment for the president and the beginning of a long, drawn-out news cycle about his finances…As CNN’s John Harwood said during Sunday evening’s breaking news coverage, the story is “a devastating picture of a president who is bleeding financially and is depending on his presidency to prop him up financially.”…Oliver Darcy said in a text message to me, “Trump’s supporters who are locked in the Fox bubble where this will be handled with kid gloves. And they have been conditioned to believe that NYT is an arm of the Democratic machine.”…Perhaps he’s right. Most minds are made up and some votes are already being cast. But the dollar figures in the story are still astonishing. I think the tax avoidance story is singularly important because it fills in a big part of Trump’s portrait. Voters and reporters and historians should have the fullest possible portrait of both Trump and Joe Biden. So the NYT has performed a real public service…CNN anchor Ana Cabrera pointed out that Trump resorted to right-wing questioners and said that he “could solve all this by releasing his tax returns, by making them public..”

Stelter also shares some nugget insights from various sources, including: “One of the reasons why it matters: “The tax allegations go to the very heart of Trump’s appeal,” Jill Colvin noted… (AP)…Another reason why it matters: If Trump “loses the election,” former prosecutor Michael Bromwich wrote, “he faces federal and state prosecution for bank fraud, tax fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud, as does his entire family…” (Twitter)…The NYT story says Trump has “more than $300 million in loans” coming due in the next four years. One of Monday’s biggest unanswered questions is, as Jim Sciutto put it, “to whom exactly does the Commander in Chief owe this money to?” (Twitter)…Former NYTer Michael Luo, now at The New Yorker, tweeted: “Arguably, no other news org in the world could invest as much time/resources into Trump tax investigations as NYT has. Maybe Washington Post and ProPublica too? Three reporters; unlimited time. Support investigative journalism as a bulwark of democracy.”…WaPo media reporter Paul Farhi: “The subtext of the NYT report is the crucial importance of ‘The Apprentice’ to Trump’s finances and ultimately his political career. No ‘Apprentice,’ no cash flow to prop up many loss-making businesses. No ‘Apprentice,’ no myth of Trump as a financial whiz to run on.” (Twitter)…Michael Cohen is taking a victory lap… (Twitter)…The Biden campaign is selling “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump” stickers… (Twitter)…Public opinion researcher Gary Langer, summarizing his latest poll for ABC/WaPo, found a “net total of 5% of likely voters who can be considered movable — a thin slice, albeit potentially enough to matter in some states…” (ABC)”

Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Shock of shocks! Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire, received a $72.9 million tax refund from the IRS while not paying a nickel in federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years. Yep. Trump l-o-v-e-s corporate socialism for himself, rugged capitalism for everyone else.” Sen. Chris Murphy put it this way: “Seven hundred fifty dollars. SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS. That’s why he hid his tax returns. Because the whole time, he wasn’t paying taxes. But you were. Plumbers and teachers and fast food workers and accountants were (and still are) paying for his lifestyle. $750.” Actor Patricia Arquette had this succinct take: “If you paid more than $750.00 in Federal taxes (which supports the military and vets by the way) then you paid more than Trump paid.” Former NBA Hall-of-Famer Kevin McHale boiled his comment down even further, “$750.” Actor Steven Pzsquale adds, “I paid more income taxes bussing fucking tables at TGIF’s in Harrisburg PA than the president of the United States who claims to be a billionaire.” Author-activist Meena Harris adds, “Before I saw the news someone texted me “750 is wild,” and I definitely assumed it was $750K NOT SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS OH MY GOD.” Actor George Takei notes, “Fun fact: In 2016, Trump paid Stormy Daniels more than 173x what he paid the federal government in income taxes.”

In another round-up of short takes, author Amy Siskind tweets, “My son paid more in taxes for his summer internship than mister so-called billionaire stable genius paid in 2017.” Business analyst and commentator Juliette Kayem notes, “Excessive debt is viewed as a national security vulnerability and generally means no security clearance allowed. Why? Not only because a debt ridden person is desperate, but because the entity loaning has undue influence over the person.” And remember that Trump, himself, once tweeted “@Barack Obama, who wants to raise all our taxes, only pays 20.5% taxes on $790K salary. 1.usa.gov/HFZJKH Do as I say not as I do.”

Andrew Prokop notes in “We now know what Trump was trying to hide by holding back his tax returns” at Vox: “For years, the political world has speculated on just what Trump was trying to hide by holding back his returns, and by falsely claiming that he can’t release them until the IRS finishes an extended audit. Was it that he paid no income taxes at all in some years? Was it that he was far less successful of a businessman than he let on? Was he claiming legally dubious deductions?…The answer, it turns out, is all of the above….”That’s just what ended up happening here. Just to name one example, Buettner, Craig, and McIntire sussed out that mysterious write-offs for consulting fees on certain Trump projects matched the amounts of payments to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump. And there’s far more in the Times’ excellent piece…Initially, he had promised that he would release them. But he kept making excuses, his main one being the false claim he could not yet release the returns because he is under audit…So Trump’s tax returns became the white whale of his critics, with everyone from reporters to House Democrats to New York state prosecutors trying to get ahold of them…”

In “Bombshell NYT report: Trump writes off money he gives to Ivanka by calling her a “contractor””Nine Trump entities have written off at least $95,464 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump,” Sarah K. Burris reports at salon.com: “Gift taxes are when a living person gives over $15,000 to a person, and Trump has given Ivanka much more than that. But to get around it, he calls his money to her “contractor fees,” which she declares as “income.” She’s also had nearly $100,000 in fees for her hair and makeup paid by the president for years….”Mr. Trump has written off as business expenses costs — including fuel and meals — associated with his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his various homes and properties,” said the Times. “Likewise, the cost of haircuts, including the more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during ‘The Apprentice.’ Together, nine Trump entities have written off at least $95,464 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump.”…In her public filings, Ivanka Trump said she was paid through TTT Consulting, LLC, which she indicated previously was giving “consulting, licensing, and management services for real estate projects.” It’s one of many companies connected to the Trump family under the tame TTT or TTTT.”

In “Most of Trump’s charitable tax write-offs are reportedly for not developing property he owns,” Catherine Garcia writes at The Week: “In 2014, Trump classified Seven Springs as an investment property rather than a personal residence, and since then he has written off $2.2 million in property taxes as a business expense, the Times reports. That same year, Eric Trump told Forbes Seven Springs is “really our compound,” and served as “home base for us for a long, long time.” The Trump Organization’s website also says the property is currently “used as a retreat for the Trump family.”…Trump also placed a conservation easement on the land in 2015, meaning he signed a deal with a land conservancy, agreeing to leave most of the property untouched. In exchange for this, Trump claimed a $21.1 million charitable tax donation, the Times reports. His tax records show that over the years, Trump has claimed four conservation easement deductions on his taxes, which represent about $119.3 million of the roughly $130 million in personal and corporate charitable contributions he has reported to the Internal Revenue Service, the Times reports. When asked for comment about Seven Springs, Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, did not respond.”


Political Strategy Notes

E. J. Dionne, Jr. says it straight in “Capitulating to the right won’t end the judicial wars” at The Washington Post:Republicans lacked the guts to give Garland a hearing or a floor vote in 2016 because a great many in the GOP had praised Garland, a moderate liberal, as an ideal pick for President Barack Obama to make. The perfect way for cowards to avoid a vote on a jurist they admitted had sterling qualifications was — well, not to vote at all…There is no getting around the truth: A Democratic president couldn’t even get a hearing on someone named to the court eight months before a presidential election. A Republican president is entitled to a vote on someone who will be named less than seven weeks before the election. The partisanship is naked, and it’s on one side…This makes Republicans the real “court packers.” Memo to liberals: The GOP’s abuses make expanding the court morally necessary, but stop calling it “court-packing…If Republicans force through Trump’s nominee, they will have abused their power twice to create an illegitimate, long-term 6-to-3 conservative majority. Adding additional justices is thus an effort to make the court less partisan, less ideological and more balanced. It is a moderate aspiration, not a “left-wing” demand. It is a response to the other side’s court-packing…Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and all of the senators who vote with them are the radicals and the aggressors. The language of the fight going forward must make this clear.”

In “Chief Justice Roberts’s lifelong crusade against voting rights, explained,” at Vox, Ian Milhiser writes, “As chief justice, Roberts has occasionally shown moderation. He famously saved most of the Affordable Care Acttwice! And he more recently cast a surprising vote to preserve the constitutional right to an abortion (although he simultaneously signaled that this right is unlikely to last much longer)…But Roberts has shown no such moderation on voting rights. Among other things, Roberts dismantled much of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), and he’s joined decisions making it much harder for voting rights plaintiffs to prove they were victims of discrimination. On the basic question of who is allowed to vote and which ballots will be counted, the most important issue in any democracy, Roberts is still the same man who tried and failed to strangle the Voting Rights Act nearly four decades earlier…Broadly speaking, the Voting Rights Act created two separate procedures to stop racist voting laws. Section 5 of the act laid out the preclearance regime I described above, while Section 2 permitted voting rights plaintiffs to bring lawsuits challenging racist laws that are already in effect…Ari Berman writes, “Roberts wrote upwards of 25 memos opposing an effects test for Section 2.” He “drafted talking points, speeches and op-eds for” senior Justice Department officials opposing the amendment, and “prepared administration officials for their testimony before the Senate; attended weekly strategy sessions; and worked closely with like-minded senators on Capitol Hill…This moment of profound peril for American democracy is, in many ways, Roberts’s doing. He’s worked his entire career to undermine voting rights. Whatever happens in the 2020 election, we cannot rely on the Roberts Court to protect those rights.”

Also at Vox, German Lopez has a long article explaining  “How Trump let Covid-19 win,” deailing the Administration’s disastrous mismanagement of the pandemic, including these observations: “America now has one of the worst ongoing epidemics in the world, with the second most daily new Covid-19 deaths among developed nations, surpassed only by Spain…In the months before the coronavirus arrived, the Trump administration also cut a public health position meant to detect outbreaks in China and another program, called Predict, that tracked emerging pathogens around the globe, including coronaviruses. And Trump has repeatedly called for further cuts to the CDC and National Institutes of Health, both on the front lines of the federal response to disease outbreaks; the administration stood by the proposed cuts after the pandemic began, though Congress has largely rejected the proposals…The Trump administration pushed for the cuts despite multiple, clear warnings that the US was not prepared for a pandemic. A 2019 ranking of countries’ disaster preparednessfrom the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Nuclear Threat Initiative had the US at the top of the list, but still warned that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics.”

Meredith Conroy and Perry Bacon, Jr. break down “The Partisan, Gender and Generational Differences Among Black Voters Heading Into Election Day” at FiveThirtyEight and observe: “According to recent Democracy Fund polling, 83 percent of likely Black voters favored former Vice President Joe Biden, 10 percent favored President Trump, and 8 percent said they didn’t know which candidate they will back.1Recent Morning Consult polling found almost exactly the same thing — 84 percent for Biden, 10 percent for Trump and 7 percent undecided or favoring a third-party candidate…But this gender gap is favorable to Biden in an important way — Black women tend to vote at higher rates than Black men (64 percent of voting-eligible Black women turned out in 2016, compared to 54 percent of Black men)…Among Black registered voters age 50 and older, 75 percent said they thought congressional Democrats were doing a good job, compared to just 22 percent who thought congressional Democrats were doing a poor job, according to a HIT survey conducted in June. But among Black voters under age 50, only about half (54 percent) approved of congressional Democrats, while 36 percent disapproved…Biden had more support among Black voters who were college-educated and those with higher-incomes, according to the Nationscape data. So it might be that more established Black people (older, more educated, higher income) are more satisfied with the Democratic Party than other Black Americans.”

From “Demographic shifts since 2016 could be enough to defeat Trump” by David Wasserman at the Cook Political Report: “In 2020, noncollege whites are on track to make up about 43 percent of the nation’s adult citizens, down from 46 percent in 2016…Meanwhile, whites with four-year degrees, who are trending blue and increasingly behave like a different ethnic group from noncollege whites, will make up 25 percent of adult citizens, up from 24 percent in 2016. And Black Americans, Latinos, Asians and other nonwhites, historically Democrats’ most reliable supporters, will make up 32 percent, up from 30 percent four years ago…A new interactive collaboration by NBC News and The Cook Political Report finds that if 2016’s rates of turnout and support were applied to 2020’s new demographic realities, Trump would narrowly lose Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — more than enough to swing the presidency to Joe Biden. And, Trump would lose the popular vote by about four points, roughly double his 2016 deficit…At the moment, Trump’s bigger problem is that Biden is winning more noncollege whites than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Biden losing them by 23 points, whereas exit polls showed Clinton losing them by 37 points. That would be more than enough to offset modest gains Trump has made since 2016 among Hispanics and other nonwhites.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall posits “Five Things Biden and His Allies Should Be Worried About.” and notes, “A Democratic strategist — who requested anonymity because his employer does not want him publicly identified talking about the election — analyzed the implications of the most recent voter registration trends for me. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he said, overall registration is up by 6 points through August compared to the 2016 cycle, but net Democratic registrations are down by 38 percent. That’s about 150,000 fewer additional Democrats than were added in 2016. In addition, he continued, registration among whites without college degrees is up by 46 percent while registration by people of color is up by only 4 percent. That gap is made more stark when you realize that over the last four years, the WNC (white non-college) population has increased by only 1 percent in those states, while the number of people of color increased by 13 percent. The pattern was more pronounced in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin than it was in Michigan.”

“The biggest news out of The Economist’s release this week of its Senate model is that it gives Democrats a 67% chance of winning 51 seats (and the the majority) on November 3.” Chris Cillizza writes at CNN Politics. “But look a little deeper into the model’s projection and you see this: Democrats have a 1 in 3chance of winning at least 53 seats and a 1 in 5 chance of winning at least 54 seats…(Quick note: There’s no question, when looking at the landscape, that major Democratic gains — along the line of a 6- or 7-seat net pickup are possible.  At the moment the Cook Political Report, a non-partisan campaign tip sheet, rates 10 GOP-held seats in its most endangered categories as opposed to just two Democratic seats.)…If Schumer, say, is overseeing a 51-seat Democratic majority in 2021, he can only afford to lose two votes of his colleagues on any major legislation…And with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — both of whom have voted with Trump’s positions more than 50% of the time, according to 538, certain to be in the Senate at that time, it would complicate Schumer’s efforts to go BIG in terms of major reforms as a means of payback for what Senate GOPers are going to do with the Supreme Court…Now consider how different Schumer’s outlook would be if he was sitting on a 53- or 54-seat majority. He could afford to let Manchin and Sinema go their own ways on this issue or that — and still be left with wiggle room to get things passed by simple majority.”

In his post, “States of Play: Ohio: After Trump maxed out the Buckeye State’s rural areas and small town areas, can Biden max out the suburbs?” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik writes: “Ohio insiders believe that the state is closer than last time, and that Donald Trump is struggling mightily in suburban areas…Still, Ohio should vote considerably to the right of the nation, thanks to its high percentage of white voters who don’t have a four-year college degree — a strong group for Trump — and its smaller-than-average nonwhite population, a group that is very Democratic…Suburban areas in general, and the Cincinnati and Dayton areas in particular, would likely be a key part of a Biden path to victory. But Trump is still better-positioned to win the state…Ultimately, the Crystal Ball still rates Ohio as Leans Republican…If Biden were to win Ohio, though, Trump’s path in the Midwest — and to a second term — would be blocked…That Trump spent precious time in Ohio earlier this week suggests that the battle for the state is not yet finished. In 2016, the Trump campaign felt good enough about Ohio that Trump skipped the state in his final tour of swing states the three days before the election. Whether Trump can do so again the final weekend of this campaign might tell us something about how well his campaign believes he’s doing.”

Almost every day, Trump threatens to disrupt the election and prevent a fair vote count, and yes there are reasons to worry about what he can get away with. A lot of attention will rightly be focused on election returns in the bigggest swing state, Florida, which looks like a close contest. At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait notes that “the rickety constitutional structure is poorly suited to handle a disputed election. One of its massive loopholes allows state legislatures to ignore voters altogether and appoint any electors they want to the Electoral College. Respecting the results of the election is merely optional, a norm. And norms have been falling by the wayside.” However, “Biden is currently on the cusp of a victory decisive enough that Trump’s machinations probably cannot stop it. Florida, which is roughly tied, tabulates mail-in ballots quickly, and a Biden win could cut short Trump’s room for mischief.”


Dems Face Strategic Options on High Court

Manu Raju discusses Democratic strategic options regading Justice Ginsburg’s replacement  at CNN Politics:

The debate underscores the challenge facing Democrats as they try to nail down the right strategy to battle a nomination that appears to be on the glide path to confirmation on the backs of Republicans.

On private conference calls in the aftermath of the death last week of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democrats have had a wide-ranging discussion about their plans and tactics.

Overwhelmingly, they believe they must focus their message on how the new nominee would jeopardize the health care of millions, with the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court and persistent court challenges against abortion rights. They also believe they should focus on what they view as a blatant power grab by the GOP to jam a nominee through on the eve of a national election, contradicting the Republican refusal to move on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee eight months before the 2016 election.

Fair enough. But Democrats should entertain no delusions that the Republican Senators who will vote on Trump’s Supreme Court pick will care much about putting the health care of millions at risk or reproductive rights. Raju adds,

And increasingly, Democrats are trying to steer clear of talk that they would change the makeup of the Supreme Court by adding seats to it if they take the Senate majority this fall, with some arguing that gives the GOP ammunition in the battle for control of the chamber.

“I’m not for retaliatory moves,” said Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, the Democrats’ most vulnerable senator this cycle, pushing back on calls to add seats to the court. He wouldn’t say if he would oppose a Trump pick no matter what.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who also faces voters in November, said: “No” when asked if she backs adding more seats to the court if Democrats take the majority.

“I think the important thing right now is that people need to make our Republican colleagues and the Trump administration aware … if they believe, as I do, that they should let the election go forward and the next president, whoever that is, nominate the nominee to the Supreme Court,” Shaheen said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and progressive firebrand, sidestepped questions when asked if she favored adding seats to the Supreme Court.

“We need to talk about what’s at stake now: What’s at stake in the lives of millions and millions of families,” Warren said Tuesday.

I hope Sens. Jones, Shaheen and Warren are nonetheless ready to kill the filibuster and enlarge the Supreme Court, if need be, as appears more likely, if Dems win the presidency and a senate majority (and if Jones and Shaheen win their races). Meanwhile, Democrats should start start honing their messaging on the topic to include a couple of key talking points.

1. Repeat whenever asked about “packing the court” that it is actually Mitch McConnell who is packing the court. McConnell, Republican senators and Trump have betrayed years of bipartisan agreement to pack the court with extremists. Make it a meme that sticks.

2. But Dems should say they are expanding the court, because the phrase, “packing the court” is using Republican terminology designed to make changing the court’s size sound radical. Dems should note also that the size of the Supreme Court has changed 7 times in U.S. history. The founders allowed flexibility for changing the size of the Supreme Court by not requiring a constitutional amendment.

Democratic senators should not be so intimidated by the GOP’s “packing the court” rhetorical boogeyman. If Trump and McConnell get their 6-3 majority, Democrats don’t have to eat it — if they win both the presidency and a senate majority. That should provide plenty of motivation for Dems to mobilize the most energetic GOTV effort ever.