washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In “Election Update: Where Biden And Trump Have Gained The Most Ground,” Geoffrey Skelley explains at FiveThirtyEight: “underneath the topline numbers, there has still been some fairly big movement in a handful of key battleground states, and the news has been mostly good for Biden. If we look at how much Biden’s odds have changed in states where both he and Trump have at least a 1 in 10 shot of winning since we launched the forecast on Aug. 12, Biden has improved his chances in 17 of 20 states. And in some cases, Biden’s improvement has been considerable — +15 percentage points in Minnesota, +12 points in Arizona and +10 points in Wisconsin, for instance. By comparison, Trump’s odds have really only improved in Florida, although he hasn’t lost much ground in states such as Georgia and Ohio, which may signal that Biden’s electoral gains will not be that expansive. (Trump still leads in Texas, for instance, despite Biden’s improvement there.)”

Charlie Cook has some cautiously-comforting observations for Democrats at The Cook Political Report: “The new CNN poll gives Biden a 48-percent-favorable, 43-percent-unfavorable rating for a net of plus-5 points. Trump’s current numbers are 40 percent favorable, 56 percent unfavorable—a net -16 points,”  the same as Hillary Clinton’s net unfavorability in September, 20-16. Also “given that voting has already begun in some states, Trump does not even have 54 days to make a comeback. Similarly, an October Surprise may need to happen in mid-September for it to have any impact. It is a good bet that a lot of votes will be cast before that first debate on Sept. 29…I understand the caution that many in my business have after the surprising outcome in 2016, but the only way this year resembles 2020 is that they both are presidential years, Trump is the Republican nominee, and both years begin with a 2. That’s it. Alan Greenspan’s irrational exuberance has given way, in my mind, to irrational caution. This is not 2016.”

In his syndicated Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns “Because of the pandemic, this is an election in which unprecedented numbers of Americans will vote by mail…This is no problem in states such as Washington and Colorado that have well-established mail voting systems. It is an enormous challenge in states where massive mail balloting is something new, and where antiquated laws don’t even allow election officials to certify ballots and slit open envelopes to get legitimate votes ready for counting until after the polls close…Fortunately, states are responding, but about a dozen still have highly restrictive laws that will slow the tallying of mail ballots.” In Pennsylvania, “Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, is asking the Republican state legislature to allow officials to begin processing ballots three weeks before Election Day, though a compromise at 10 day.” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “wants the GOP legislature in her state to give local officials a week, but so far the state Senate has approved only a 10-hour window, which, she said, amounts to only three hours in practice given various extra reporting requirements legislators tacked on..She said she has pointed GOP skeptics toward states with Republican legislatures or secretaries of state or both, including Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, where the law already provides for reasonable amounts of time to process mail ballots…Trump, as my Post Opinion colleague Greg Sargent shrewdly observed, is simply “trying to get within cheating distance.” It will be harder for him to cheat, lie, distort and divide if we follow the advice of the Bipartisan Policy Center and give election administrators “a chance to do their jobs well.” Rarely have our liberties depended so much on simple competence.”

There are good reasons to root for a Biden landslide, other than raw partisanship, like, well, a riot-free transition. Thomas B. Edsall writes in his New York Times column, “As Election Day approaches, the incentives are already plentiful to protest an adverse outcome in the courts, in Congress, in state capitols and on the streets. The intensity of such protests will increase in proportion to the closeness of the results. One thing is virtually certain: If the outcome is unresolved by the day after the election, or if Biden wins by a slim margin, Trump will do everything in his power to discredit the process and to ignite the anger and resentment of his most ardent supporters.” Edsall quotes Danish political scientist Michael Bang Petersson: “The final match that might set this bonfire ablaze is Covid-19. Stress and marginalization is key contextual driver of aggressive responses. If a second wave hits the U.S. hard in November, the lives and jobs lost will create an additional psychological push toward a potentially very dangerous situation.”

There are some indications that Democrats are not going to quietly accept anything resembling a scenario like the 2000 “Brooks Bothers Riot,” or other forms of intimidation of the election or ballot counting. As Ronald Brownstein writes at the Atlantic, “Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, another group participating in postelection planning, told me that he can “guarantee” that “we will not have asymmetric warfare this time around. We won’t have litigation on the left and thuggery and election disruption on the right.” If Trump tries to stop the counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day, or otherwise tries to short-circuit the results, Green predicts, the scale of protests would be that of “the Black Lives Matter protests on steroids, as people come into the streets to defend their democracy and to defend the counting of votes.”…The prospect of massive protests on both sides is only one of many ways the contest between the parties could extend beyond Election Day in an unprecedented manner—perhaps up until Inauguration Day, on January 20. If the November 3 voting produces anything less than a blowout lead for either side—and perhaps even if it produces a blowout lead for Joe Biden—the post-election period is likely to test how far both GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republican voters will go in tolerating efforts from Trump to subvert the rules of small-d democracy…“Al Gore made a big point of accepting the Supreme Court [ruling] even though he disagreed with it,” Foley says. “That’s a way, 20 years on, [that] the situation could be very different” now.”

What would America’s powerful corporate leaders do in the event of ballot-counting chaos? Brownstein quotes Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, who believes “that a cornerstone of progressives’ postelection strategy will be to try to isolate Trump by pressuring business and other social leaders to fight any effort to overturn an apparent Biden win. “There will be absolute focus on enablers, corporations, and media and other elite institutions,” he said. “There will only be so many yachts and towers for them to hide in, and I think a lot of folks will direct their energy [toward that]. I hope they don’t actually need that. I hope they show up. I want to invite them into the early thinking and work about what they are going to do.” No doubt some business leaders who prioritize deregulation and corporate tax cuts will be all-in for Trump during any ballot-counting chaos. But others will realize that Trump’s re-election will guarantee continued chaos in trade and public health, chronic civil unrest and the possibility of boycotts of companies that support Trump.

But don’t place any bets on any Republican leaders outside of the Lincoln Project standing up for Democracy if Trump tries to steal the  election. Brownstein cites “the lack of meaningful protest from leading Republicans as Trump has moved to tilt the results of the Census, attacked the use of mail-in balloting, regularly repeated wild and disproven allegations of voter fraud, weakened the Postal Service, and dispatched federal law-enforcement agents into Democratic cities over the objections of local officials—not to mention the decision by every Senate Republican except Utah’s Mitt Romney to side with Trump during his impeachment trial, despite the overwhelming evidence that he tried to extort Ukraine into manufacturing dirt on Biden. “From the very beginning, I have urged progressives [to recognize] … that moderate Republicans are not going to save us,” Robinson said. “They are way more invested in maintaining their status quo of leadership than they are in defending democracy and defending basic rules.”

For the outrage du jour, consider Fredreka Schouten’s report at CNN Politics, which notes “A federal appeals court last week sharply restricted Florida’s successful 2018 referendum that aimed to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million ex-felons who had completed the terms of their sentences, including parole and probation…Last year, the Republican-controlled legislature and the state’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that defined “all terms of sentence” as including outstanding fines, fees and restitution before they could register to vote. By a 6-4 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld that law, reversing a lower court decision that concluded Florida had set up an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote” system…The ruling also has big political implications for November’s election. An expert witness testified at trial that more than 774,000 people with felony convictions were ineligible to register to vote because of outstanding financial obligations. That represents a significant number of potential voters left on the sidelines in a presidential swing state. Recent polls show a close contest in the state between Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden…Voting-rights advocates argue the state lacks a centralized system to let former felons know exactly how much they owe, leaving them to navigate a patchwork of court systems across Florida’s 67 counties…Time is running out. The last day to register to vote in Florida is October 5.”

More And More Americans Aren’t Religious. Why Are Democrats Ignoring These Voters?,” ask Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson Deveaux at FiveThirtyEight. My short answer would be” because they are not organized into a political force.” Also, their religious/spiritual beliefs are enormously disparate, which makes them hard to target. Cox and Deveaux note, however, “Right now, voters with no religious affiliation look like they might back Biden in record numbers. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in early August, 72 percent of nonreligious voters — a group that includes people who identify as atheists, agnostics and nothing in particular — are planning to support Biden. That’s 4 percentage points higher than the 68 percent who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. And that’s a big deal, because despite being frequently overlooked, nonreligious people make up a sizable part of the electorate. An analysis of validated voters by Pew found that religiously unaffiliated voters accounted for one-quarter of the electorate in 2016, and 30 percent in 2018… A majority (56 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans — including nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of atheists and agnostics — say Trump has been a “terrible” president. And there are signs that religiously unaffiliated people have become more politically engaged since Trump was elected — one survey conducted in 2018 found that nonreligious people were more likely than their religious peers to have attended a rally or contacted a political official.”

Biden Should Raise More Hell About Trump’s Betrayal of Puerto Rico

I was glad to read Matt Dixon’s Politico article, “Biden woos Puerto Ricans in Florida — and gives new hope to state Democrats,” in light of the buzz about Biden’s lagging support from Spanish-speaking voters in the largest swing state. It appears Biden is doing a good job of addressing this concern. As Dixon writes,

Buoyed by promised ad buys, new hires and Joe Biden’s visit on Tuesday to Kissimmee — home to a sizable Puerto Rican population — Florida Democrats are growing more confident of the party’s chances with Hispanic voters as Election Day approaches.

Florida Democrats haven’t been shy about launching attacks at their own candidate and party leadership as Biden and Donald Trump remain neck and neck in the battleground state. But that tune is changing after Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, made a stop in Miami last week and Biden chose Kissimmee for his first in-person campaign appearance.

In The Miami Herald, David Smiley, Bianca Acasio Padro and Alex Daugherty note:

Polls have shown a tightening race in the state — a must-win for President Donald Trump — and suggest that Biden is struggling to win over Latino voters. An Equis Research survey of more than 1,000 Latinos in Florida completed Aug. 25 found Biden up 53% to Trump’s 37% in the state. That’s well ahead of Trump but behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 support. Among Puerto Ricans, who make up about one-third of Florida’s 2.4 million Hispanic voters, the Equis Research poll found Biden up 62% to 28% over Trump.

In Kissimme Biden outlined a far-reaching relief plan to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation following Hurricane Maria. Biden’s plan will “make it easier for Puerto Rico to get federal assistance after years of fighting with the Trump administration for help in the wake of devastating natural disasters, boost payments to the island’s Medicare Advantage System and expand coronavirus services.” His plan would also restore utilities. Dixon notes, further,

For years, the political fight for Florida’s Hispanic vote has centered on South Florida, home to huge patchwork of Hispanic voters, including conservative-leaning Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. That focus is starting to shift to Central Florida, where more than 1 million Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans have become a powerful voting block that has helped offset conservative Cuban voters. Florida’s complex Hispanic electorate now makes up 17 percent of all registered voters.

“We are going to have a full-court press in the Central Florida region,” Biden campaign adviser Christian Ulvert said. “The Puerto Rican vote is critical, and the campaign is going to work hard to earn every one of their votes.”

I hope that Biden’s visit will be followed by a tsunami of ads pointedly attacking Trump for his shameful neglect of Puerto Rica’s devastation, holding him accountabvle for his insults of Puerto RTicans and his betrayal of a people who have provided more than their share of military veterans, who have fought courageously under the U.S. flag. Florida has a disproportionate share of active military, as well as veterans (1.5 million), so it wouldn’t hurt to slant some of the ads towards them, urging them to stand in solidarity with Puerto Rican vets. The budget for such an ad campaign is surely in place. As Dixon notes, “Biden’s visit on Tuesday builds on excitement over a $100 million ad pledge from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a portion of which will target Hispanic voters throughout the state. Detailed plans for the commitment have been kept under wraps, but the ad campaign will focus on Hispanic turnout.”

Florida allows only one week of early voting, from Saturday, October 24, 2020 to Saturday, October 31, 2020, with dates and hours varying based on locations. Given the state’s sorry history of voter suppression, Democrats will emphasize banking as many early votes as possible.

Political Strategy Notes

Some useful message points from “Trump doesn’t care if wildfires destroy the west – it didn’t vote for him” by Robert Reich at The Guardian: “Starting with his unilateral decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump has been the most anti-environmental president in history…He has called climate change a “hoax”. He has claimed, with no evidence, that windmills cause cancer. He has weakened Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide from power plants and from cars and trucks. He has rolled back rules governing clean air, water and toxic chemicals. He has opened more public land to oil and gas drilling…He has targeted California in particular, revoking the state’s authority to set tougher car emission standards than those required by the federal government…In all, the Trump administration has reversed, repealed, or otherwise rolled back nearly 70 environmental rules and regulations. More than 30 rollbacks are still in progress…Americans have a clear choice. In a few weeks, when they decide whether Trump deserves another four years, climate change will be on the ballot…The choice shouldn’t be hard to make. Like the coronavirus, the dire consequences of climate change – coupled with Trump’s utter malfeasance – offer unambiguous proof that he couldn’t care less about the public good.”

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. frames this political moment succinctly “It is former vice president Joe Biden, the challenger, who has the sunny view. The heart of his argument is that there is nothing wrong with our country that can’t be cured as long as we throw Trump out of office…A big Biden win would help Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, creating a real opportunity to govern effectively. Okay, never underestimate the Democrats’ capacity to tear each other apart. But confronting a pandemic and an economic catastrophe would concentrate minds. Every Democrat, from center to left, would understand that blowing it this time would cause irreparable damage to themselves and to the country…And while the differences across the party’s wings are real, they’re also exaggerated. Between single-payer health care and simply expanding Obamacare, there’s a lot of room for compromise. Ditto on how to combat climate change and expand access to education and training. And the economy is in sufficiently dire shape that boldness, in both a short-term recovery plan and a long-term investment strategy, could look simultaneously like realism to centrists and a “New New Deal” to progressives.”

The downer post of this edition of Political Strategy Notes has to be Amy Walter’s “Electoral College Rating Changes: Florida and Nevada Shift Right” at The Cook Political Report. As Walter writes, “Today we are making two ratings changes in Pres. Trump’s favor, moving Florida from Lean Democrat to Toss Up, and Nevada from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat. summer, Biden held a 308 to 187 lead.” Chalk it all up to the normal ebb and flow of electoral politics in the U.S. in September. Regarding the largest swing state, Walter notes, “Bottom line: a more competitive Florida contest is good news for Pres. Trump, who can’t afford to lose this state. Even so, many Democrats never expected Biden to be able to win here, having long written off the Sunshine State as a loser. This isn’t to say that Biden can’t win here. Or that Trump is certain to lose it. The race is simply too close to call. It moves from Lean Democratic to Toss Up.”

Now for the upper, Ella Nilsen’s “The ways Democrats could retake the Senate majority, explained” at Vox. Nilsen sees Medicaid expansion as a key issue in senate races in several states, and notes, “Democrats, meanwhile, are running a playbook that was successful in many 2018 House races: backing moderate candidates and focusing on health care and jobs in the middle of a pandemic that has millions of newly unemployed people losing their health insurance along with their jobs. Democrats will highlight Medicaid expansion as an issue in states that didn’t expand it, including North and South Carolina, Kansas, Georgia, Texas, and Alabama. They’re already going after North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis for his role in rejecting Medicaid expansion when he was leading the state legislature…Biden and Democratic Senate candidates alike are hoping that message will appeal todisaffected suburban voters — especially women — who voted for House Democrats in 2018.”

Also, Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Miles Coleman note at Crystal Ball that “Joe Biden is better positioned to win the presidency than Donald Trump, but it would be foolish to rule out another Trump upset…Trump’s potential winning map would look a lot like 2016, with perhaps a few changes; Biden’s potential winning map might feature Democratic advances in the Sun Belt and retreats in the Midwest compared to past winning Democratic maps…We are moving the single electoral vote in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, which pushes our Electoral College count to 269 electoral votes at least leaning to Biden, 204 at least leaning to Trump, and 65 Toss-up electoral votes (Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin)..We now have Biden right on the precipice of an Electoral College majority, with 269 electoral votes at least leaning his way. Although we have them as Toss-ups, we also think Biden is in a good position to carry Arizona and Wisconsin, as of today. That would put him at 290 electoral votes…Florida and North Carolina are significantly closer. Of the Leans Republican states, Trump’s leads in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and Texas, as well as for the single ME-2 electoral vote, appear to be quite small.”

It ain’t over till it’s over, but here are some political odds just calculated by the numbers-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight of “weird and not-so-weird possibilities: The chances that these situations will crop up”: “Trump wins the popular vote, regardless of whether he wins the Electoral College” – 13 in 100; “Biden wins the popular vote, regardless of whether he wins the Electoral College” – 87 in 100; “Biden wins in a landslide, defined as winning the popular vote by a double-digit margin” – 30 in 100; and  “Biden wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College” – 11 in 100.”

By now, you have probably read at least one “What If Trump Loses And Won’t Leave?” articles, and the number of such screeds already out there is a testament to the fragility of the ‘world’s oldest democracy.’ But read one more, Geoffrey Skelley’s take at FiveThirtyEight, in which he concludes, “But even if the worst scenarios don’t come to pass, the fact that we lack a neutral electoral arbiter is surely a ticking time bomb for our democracy. Such an institution may sound difficult to create, but many individual states have used judicial panels to successfully sort through close elections, and other democratic nations have far better laws to adjudicate contested elections. For now, though, in the absence of such measures, the peaceful transfer of power hinges on the expectation that that is how American elections work, but that may be increasingly hanging in the balance, as anyone living in this incredibly polarized era of U.S. politics will tell you.”

Amid a surfeit of timidly-stated headlines about Trump’s super-spreader rallies in Nevada, here are a few which meet the standard of honest journalism: “Nevada governor: Trump ‘taking reckless and selfish actions’ in holding rally” by John Bowden at The Hill; “‘Shameful, dangerous and irresponsible’: Nevada governor blasts Trump for indoor rally against state rules” by Timothy Bella at The Washington Post; “Trump held an indoor rally in Nevada against medical advice. Only supporters whose faces would be on TV were required to wear masks” by Tom Porter at Business Insider; “Trump’s risky rallies are straight out of ‘Hunger Games’” by Dean Obedallah at CNN opinion. But for snarky chuckles, you can’t beat “Trump Says He’ll “Negotiate” Third Term, Warns Democrats Will Rig Election” by Daniel Politi at slate.com. Headlines, good and bad, are nearly always written by editors, and good articles are too often crippled by lame headlines. Most of the networks reported on the rallies from outside the indoor gatherings in Nevada, but the white house press pool and some local reporters had to go inside. Their unions should speak up.

Marshall: Why Dems Must Kill the Filibuster – If They Get the Chance

In “Who Supports Ending the Filibuster?” at  the Editor’s Blog of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:

Two big non-policy/legislative questions and decisions will determine the politics of the coming years. One is whether there is an audit of the executive branch after Trump leaves office, if he loses the election on November 3rd. But just as important in its own way is whether the Senate filibuster is abolished. You can basically guarantee that no progressive legislation will ever get passed as long as the filibuster exists. The filibuster is undemocratic to start with. But the Republican party’s extreme use of it along with their locked in small state advantage mean that the GOP has what amounts to a permanent veto on all legislation and a guaranteed veto of any progressive legislation.

Marshall shares his concerns about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s position on killing the legislative filibuster, should he become Senate Majority Leader:

The current thinking from Chuck Schumer seems to be that, assuming the Democrats win the Senate, he’ll keep abolition in his back pocket if Republicans obstruct legislation. This is a bad, bad idea. We’ve seen this movie before. In 2009, a group of Republican Senators – who clearly had no intention of ever supporting any health care insurance reform legislation – got President Obama and Democratic Senators to waste a year and water down legislation by engaging in meandering and ultimately bad faith negotiations.

Just as importantly, this ‘hold it in reserve’ approach will inevitably shape all potential legislation from the outset. The shape of legislation you write to pass with simple majorities is quite different than legislation you craft to try to coax Republican senators into allowing you to pass legislation with 51 votes.

It all comes down to a simple point. The legislative filibuster needs to end on day one of the next Congress. And if Democrats control the chamber it can happen. But will it?

Marshall urges his readers to ask their U.S. Senators to declare their positions on “abolishing the legislative filibuster on day one of the next Congress” and report back to him.

Republican senators have used the filibuster as a sledgehammer to smash hopes for any progressive legislation under McConnell’s scorched earth rule of the senate. Ironically, however, the 60-vote requirement worked against the Republicans this week, as they failed to pass a “skinny” (watered down) Covid-19 relief bill to give some cover the Republican senators, who feared going home to their constituents without without passing at least a token relief bill.

Yet Marshall is right. If Democrats win a Senate Majority, scrapping the filibuster should be the top priority — if they want to leverage their momentum and mandate before it fades and actually pass needed legislative reforms.

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson comments on the political fallout Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump knew of the severity of the Covid-19 virus threat, but decided not to inform the public, even though it would have saved lives: “When Trump’s time came — in February — we now know that he perfectly understood the pernicious nature of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. But while he told Woodward in a phone call “this is deadly stuff” and that the pathogen caused a viciously contagious illness much worse than the flu, Trump didn’t level with the American people. In fact, he deliberately misled them and failed to prepare the government for a vast national effort. Worse, for weeks he continued to misinform the country about the severity of the pathogen that caused the worst global pandemic in 100 years…The 190,000 American families who lost loved ones and could never say goodbye, the millions of unemployed, the business owners who went bust, a generation of kids who haven’t been in class for months and everyone else self-distanced from their regular lives now face the same question: How different would things have been had the President done his job properly?…the latest controversy probably won’t help him win back defections from suburban voters and will bolster Biden heading into their first debate in three weeks.”

“The pandemic has killed some 190,000 Americans, and 8 in 10 of the deaths reported have been among those 65 or over,” Clare Malone writes in “Why Trump Might Be Scaring Off Older Voters” at FiveThirtyEight. “President Trump’s delayed and fractured response to the outbreak appears to have reshaped the political dynamics for older Americans. Four years ago, he won voters 65 or over by a margin of 13.3 percentage points. But looking at an average of the nine most recent national polls, voters age 65 or over1 favored Biden to Trump by 49.5 percent to 45.7 percent…Despite these provocative pro-Trump images coming out of Florida, the shift toward Biden is evident in the state, a key to winning the Electoral College. A late August Quinnipiac University poll in Florida showed Biden leading Trump among older voters, by 54 percent to 44 percent and another late August poll of Florida voters, this one by Public Policy Polling, showed Biden in the lead among the same group,2 by 52 percent to 47 percent. This stands in contrast to the sentiments of older Florida voters at around this time four years ago.”

Trump’s epic mismanagement of the response to the pandemic is further amplified by his relentless undermining of the Affordable Care Act, as well as his failure to offer any reforms of America’s profit-driven health care “system.” Framing the arguments for comprehensive national health care coverage is tricky at this political moment. But German Lopez shares some compelling statistics at Vox, including: “If the US had the same death rate as the European Union overall, nearly 84,000 Americans wouldn’t have died from Covid-19 (out of the nearly 190,000 who have died so far)…If the US had the same death rate as Canada, nearly 109,000 Americans wouldn’t have died from Covid-19…The US is doing about seven times worse than the median developed country, ranking in the bottom 20 percent for Covid-19 deaths among wealthy nations. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost as a result.”

At The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuval explains “How the Biden Campaign Can Turn Trump’s ‘Strength’ Into a Weakness,” and writes, “For all of Trump’s boasts that jobs are returning, the country is still down about 11.5 million jobs. Temporary furloughs are turning into permanent layoffs; long-term unemployment is rising: Some 29 million Americans were drawing unemployment in mid-August…He and the Republican Senate oppose raising the minimum wage. They oppose proposals for employer-paid parental leave and sick days. The Biden campaign should be pounding the reality of Trump’s economy over and over again while talking about what Biden would do to create jobs and lift wages. Instead, the Democratic convention focused largely on Trump’s lack of character and empathy. Biden traveled last week to Pennsylvania, where the jobless rate is 13.7 percent, and…he talked about looting and violence rather than about jobs…too many Americans still give Trump unwarranted credit for the economy…Too many working people believe that while Trump is a cad, he is their cad, on their side. That’s his strength — and it’s where Democrats should focus. Bringing down Trump won’t take lies or exaggerations. Just lay out the truth and hammer it over and over to turn Trump’s “strength” into a weakness.”

In “Election Beat 2020: Where did all the swing voters go?,” Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, author of Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?, writes at Journalists Resource: “The hostility that many partisans have for the other party is a larger driver of the vote than might be assumed. Party identification was once the best predictor of how people would vote on election day — Democrats lining up behind their party’s candidate and Republicans backing their party’s nominee. But party identification no longer has that distinction. When Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster examined post-1990s elections, they found that “ratings of the opposing party were by far the strongest predictor” of vote choice. “The greatest concern of party supporters,” they write, “is preventing the opposing party from gaining power…So how many undecided voters are there at the moment and how will they respond to Trump and Biden in the campaign’s remaining weeks? They  number less than 10% of self-described likely voters, down even from recent campaigns and a mere third of the number of presidential campaigns of a few decades ago. It’s unlikely that either candidate will capture a super-majority of the undecided. Typically, the split is within a narrow range, enough to tip a razor-thin election but otherwise a footnote in post-campaign analyses.”

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edall asks “Can Trump eke out an Election Day victory by focusing attention and capitalizing politically on the looting and fire-setting associated with some of the Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the police killing of Floyd and other African-Americans?” In response, Edsall quotes from several studies and experts on political attitudes, including “Christian Davenport, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan and the author of “Media Bias, Perspective and State Repression: The Black Panther Party,” who “does not believe there will be much movement either to the left or the right among racially conservative whites. In an email, he argued that The truth of the matter is that there is probably very little that could take place during the protests that would shift the opinion of some whites. Their positions are fixed already and they would likely only see the negative manifestations which you could almost always find during extended campaigns.

Edsall adds, “But Trump continues to trail Biden in head-to-head surveys. Unlike Nixon or Bush, Trump’s appeals to law and order have not yet paid off in the polls. Why not?…I think my colleague Ron Brownstein may have pinpointed the reason Trump has had trouble capitalizing on the violence in a Sept. 3 Atlantic article, “The Huge Snag in Trump’s Re-election Pitch”: The biggest problem with Trump running on restoring order is that his performance in office has caused many voters to view him as the candidate of disorder. Edsall notes further, “An August 27-28 Yahoo/YouGov survey asked registered voters “which comes closest to your view, ‘Trump will protect us from the chaos’ or ‘Trump is the source of the chaos’?” 30 percent chose protect and 50 percent said Trump was the source of chaos…A more recent September 2-4 CBS News survey asked whether Biden and Trump are “trying to calm the situation down” or “trying to encourage fighting.” By 49-30, voters said Biden was trying to calm the situation while, in the case of Trump, voters said he was trying to encourage fighting by 47-39.”

Regarding he politics of marijuana legalization in 2020, Natalie Fertig and Paul Demco write at Politico: “As more states legalize medical marijuana, recreational cannabis, or both — at least four states will put recreational legalization on the ballot in November — over 250,000 people remain in prison for nonviolent drug offenses at the state or federal level. According to the ACLU, Black people are on average four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people — and in some states the ratio is as high as 10 to one — even though studies have shown they use the drug at comparable rates…According to his campaign, Biden believes that “no one should be in jail for using marijuana.” He supports removing criminal penalties and expunging past records, but wants to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. The Controlled Substances Act is a list of all federally banned substances which became law in 1970, and it has five tiers, or “schedules.”…In July, the DNC adopted Biden’s position on cannabis — a step back from the pro-legalization platform of 2016. But advocates reason now that the former VP’s platform is essentially in line with the MORE Act, arguing that both want to remove criminal penalties, expunge records and let states decide how to further legalize.”

Lest it get lost in the daily deluge of Trump’s moral atrocities, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “the Justice Department’s move to intervene in the defense of President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he raped her should have friends of freedom shouting from the rooftops. For the U.S. government to substitute itself for Trump as the defendant puts the department at the disposal of one man, forces taxpayers to cover the costs of the president’s defense in what is a quintessentially private matter and is plainly aimed at preventing the public from learning more about the charges in the lawsuit before the election…Barr’s minions are, quite literally, trying to deny [Trump’s accuser] Carroll her day in court. At taxpayer expense…Which is why voters need to resist becoming numb to forms of corruption that not only violate the norms of good government but also threaten to undermine equal justice and democratic rule. They are the only ones who can stop Trump.”

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Here’s a Smarter Way for Biden to Attack Trump: Don’t just call him a bad person (that’s old hat). Call him a bad populist,” at Bloomberg Opinion, conservative pundit Ramesh Ponnuru has a messaging tip for Biden: “Trump poses an unusual problem for his opposition. He’s “a target-rich environment,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He has befuddled his opponents by giving them too much to react to. It keeps the Democrats from having a disciplined message about why Trump sucks.”…Depending on the news cycle, the anti-Trump message may be that he is a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or a racist, or a threat to democracy, or a failure, or a bad person, or a golfer. His Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, seems convinced much of the time that most voters have already rejected Trump as unfit for the presidency and that he need only establish himself as a decent alternative. He may be right. A similar campaign strategy might have worked in 2016, too, if the Democratic nominee that year, Hillary Clinton, had not been so widely disliked.”

“If the race gets tight, though,” Ponnuru continues, “Biden may have to tighten his focus, or find himself wishing that he had done it earlier. Already each sign that Trump is closing the gap in the polls, especially in swing states, is giving panic attacks to Biden supporters who don’t want to relive the surprise of election night four years ago…Biden will have to continue to make the case that Trump has failed the country: That’s part of any challenger’s campaign against an incumbent president. And while voters generally have firm views on how well Trump has performed, it is more plausible that some of them will change their views on that question than on his basic character in the remaining weeks of the campaign. But such changes in opinion are more likely to result from changes in condition — in the state of the economy, and in the course of the coronavirus — than from anything either campaign says…What might make a difference, though, would be for Biden to make the case that Trump’s populism is a scam: that he says he’s fighting for Americans, but is really in it only for himself and his friends. The night he was elected he promised to stand for “the forgotten men and women of our country,” but then immediately surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs alums.”

“This type of criticism overlaps with some of the other attacks on Trump,” Ponnuru adds, “It touches on his dishonesty and his failure to deliver on promises. Without being narrowly addressed to white working class voters in the Midwest, it speaks directly to some of the people who backed Trump last time after having voted for Democrats previously. It takes their concerns seriously, and gives them a reason to change their minds instead of trying to shame them for giving Trump a chance. At the same time, it doesn’t alienate other types of voters that Biden needs, such as those who voted for third parties last time…And if that’s not enough to appeal to Biden and his aides, they should reflect that criticizing Trump this way is sure to drive him to new heights of rage.”

From “Biden outlines post-Labor Day strategy to win White House” by Amie Parnes at The Hill: “Joe Biden’s campaign plans to double-down on its strategy in the final two months of the campaign, ramping up the argument that President Trumpowns the coronavirus response and record-high unemployment facing the nation…During the all-important post Labor Day stretch, Biden plans to hit the road, as he has started to do in recent days, traveling to key swing states to hammer home those arguments…They also want to underscore a message casting Trump as a reprehensible president unfit to lead the country or command the troops…Another Biden ally close to the campaign put it this way: “Our message is working. We are systematically addressing the biggest problems on people’s minds,” including the pandemic, the economy and racial inequality…Another “longtime Biden ally” said “We need to keep saying ‘Look at Trump’s America. Look what’s happened during his time in office.’ This isn’t some mythological time. This is his mess.”

Parnes writes, further, “Democrats have done a good job of telling voters why we should fire Trump. Now we need to go further and persuade them to hire us,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party…But the Biden campaign also needs to play defense at the same time. Smikle said the Democratic ticket needs to “counterpunch daily and paint a rich vision of the future under Democratic governance.”…“Biden and Harris need to keep Trump from having the last word,” he said…Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton who experienced what it’s like to oppose Trump in 2016, said Biden “should leave nothing unanswered.”

At The Cook Political Report, David Wasserman explains why “For Biden to Prevail, He’ll Need to Survive a Trump Onslaught Targeted to Working-Class Whites,” and argues, “So far this summer, Biden has polled spectacularly in suburbs — even historically GOP ones in the Sun Belt — thanks to his strength among college-educated whites. In an average of live-interview polls taken in August, Biden led Trump among that group 56 percent to 39 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 50 percent to 38 percent lead in final 2016 polls. But he’s also polling impressively among whites without college degrees: August polls show Biden trailing Trump 35 percent to 57 percent among that group, narrower than Clinton’s 30 percent to 58 percent deficit in 2016…However, against the backdrop of civil unrest in Kenosha and Portland, Biden’s support in the latter group is more fragile. Although Biden, a Catholic from Scranton, has long been considered something of a patron saint of blue-collar Democrats, blue-collar whites tend to pay less attention to politics per day than others and live in pro-Trump settings where the local news and information ecosystem, driven by Facebook and other social media sites, is much friendlier to Trump’s view of the world.”

But Wasserman also warns, “As Labor Day approaches, Biden remains very much on offense but is entering a phase when he’ll need to play “prevent defense” against Trump’s increasingly bellicose attacks. Without the kind of door-to-door field effort the Trump campaign has proven willing to undertake, Biden will likely have no choice but to air swing state ads forcefully confronting Trump’s assertions about riots and police funding…On the current trajectory, Biden has outstanding chances to flip traditionally GOP-leaning states like Arizona, Florida and perhaps even Georgia and Texas. But if he were to fail to effectively counter Trump’s appeals to working-class whites, Minnesota and Wisconsin could turn into the next Iowa and Ohio.”

The overall trend line in House of Reps races favors Democrats on this Labor Day, as Kyle Kondik notes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which has an impressive track record in prediction accuracy: “We are making 14 House rating changes, 10 in favor of Democrats and four in favor of Republicans. The changes don’t really impact our overall House assessment, which is that we are not expecting much net change in the makeup of the House…Overall, we now have 232 districts at least leaning to Democrats, 192 districts at least leaning to Republicans, and 11 Toss-ups. If we split the Toss-ups roughly down the middle (6-5 Republican), we’d be looking at a 237-198 Democratic-controlled House, or a two-seat gain from the 235-200 Democratic House elected in 2018.”

“So how is the heartland doing?,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. asks in his latest Washington Post column. “How much has Trump done for the working people whose votes he needed to carry states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio?…Precious little. Even before the economic downturn induced by the pandemic, the areas that were crucial to Trump’s electoral college victory lagged behind the rest of the country…A Wall Street Journal study published last September found that in 77 “blue-collar and manufacturing-reliant counties across the Midwest and Northeast” that swing heavily to Trump, employment “grew by 0.5% in 2017 and 0.6% in 2018, lower than the 1% job growth in the prior two years, before Mr. Trump took office.” The counties also trailed the national growth rate of 1.5 percent in 2017 and 1.3 percent in 2018…Similarly, a New York Times study published in December found that Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan were among the 10 lowest-ranking states in the nation for job growth during Trump’s tenure. Pennsylvania, along with closely contested Minnesota, ranked in the bottom half of states for employment expansion…ratio of CEO compensation to worker compensation — which was “only” 21 to 1 in 1965 — has continued to rise. The ratio was 293 to 1 in 2018. It was 320 to 1 in 2019. Happy Labor Day!”

Political Strategy Notes

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will visit Kenosha Wisconsin today. According to Eric Bradner’s CNN Politics report, “Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, “will hold a community meeting in Kenosha to bring together Americans to heal and address the challenges we face,” his campaign said Wednesday…Biden also will meet with Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., and other Blake family members during the visit, according to a family spokesperson and campaign official…The trip comes two days after President Donald Trump visited Kenosha, ignoring the objections of local leaders, including Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who said in a letter to Trump that he was “concerned your presence will only hinder our healing.”…Biden told reporters Wednesday that he has received “overwhelming requests” from Democratic leaders that he travel to Wisconsin…”What we want to do is — we’ve got to heal. We’ve got to put things together. Bring people together,” Biden said…The shooting of Blake — which left him paralyzed from the waist down, his family says — has moved police brutality, racial injustice and the looting and property damage that have followed some protests to the forefront in one of the nation’s most important swing states in November’s general election.”

Ezra Klein shares some disturbing insights at Vox: “If you had told me, a year ago, that a pandemic virus would overrun the country, that 200,000 Americans would die and case numbers would dwarf Europe, that the economy would go into deep freeze and the federal government prove utterly feckless, I would’ve thought that’s the kind of systemic shock that could crack into public opinion. I’m not saying I would’ve predicted Trump falling to 20 percent, but I would’ve predicted movement…The stability unnerves me because it undermines the basic theory of responsive democracy. If our political divisions cut so deep that even 200,000 deaths and 10.2 percent unemployment and a president musing about bleach injections can’t shake us, then what can? And if the answer is nothing, then that means the crucial form of accountability in American politics has collapsed. Yes, many of us are partisans, with a hard lean one way or the other. But the assumption has long been that beneath that, we are Americans, and we want the country governed with some bare level of competence, that we care more for our safety and our paychecks than our parties.”

Klein also notes, “My view, to be clear, is that Trump’s response to the coronavirus will stand as one of the great governance failures in American history. We are doing far worse than peer nations in controlling case rates and saving lives. Analyses suggest that upward of 70 percent of America’s coronavirus deaths could’ve been prevented by a faster, more capable response along the lines Australia, South Korea, Germany, and Singapore. And to write all this is to still give the White House too much credit — they have largely offered no response at all, shunting this crisis to the states and refusing to release a plan of their own or even follow their own guidelines…Moreover, Trump has, himself, been a model of personal irresponsibility, fueling a culture war over face masks and packing supporters into arenas and the White House lawn. As a result, while 93 percent of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump say face masks are effective, only 65 percent of those who strongly approve of Trump say the same. It is not, then, simply that Trump has done a poor job managing the federal government’s mobilization. Rather, he has been an active hindrance to the governors and mayors trying to fill the void he’s left.”

But Klein sees some hope for Dems in one key demographic group trend in the largest swing state: “If there is one group Trump is leaking support from, it is older white people in Florida,” says Marc Hetherington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina. “At least that is how I read the data coming out of Florida. The Covid-19 response is actually killing older people there. As this goes on, more and more of them actually know someone who has been affected in some serious way. According to our data, that appears to have the power to blunt partisanship. Republicans follow their leaders when they are not afraid of getting sick. They don’t follow those cues when they are afraid of getting sick.” Biden now leads by more than 4 points in Florida, up from a dead heat in April.”

It’s only one poll. But here’s a couple of nuggets from “CNN Poll: Biden’s lead persists post-conventions” by Jennifer Agiesta: “Joe Biden continues to hold a wide advantage among women (57% to 37%), voters ages 65 or older (57% to 40%), people of color (59% to 31%) and White college graduates (56% to 40%). His support among suburban women (56% Biden to 41% Trump) mirrors his lead among women generally, despite the Trump campaign’s focus on shrinking that edge…Men have been a somewhat volatile group in CNN’s surveys in the last few months. As of now, Trump holds 48% support to Biden’s 44%, while in August, Trump held a far wider advantage, 56% to 40%…Trump continues to hold a wide lead among White men (53% to 42% for Biden), and especially White non-college educated men (61% to 33%). White non-college educated women, however, currently break toward Biden (54% to 42%).”

It appears that Republican Sen. Joni Ernst has decided her best chance for re-election is to swig the Kool-Aid. As Joan McCarter reports in “Joni Ernst goes QAnon, suggests Iowa healthcare workers are bilking the system with COVID-19 at Daily Koz: “Maybe Joni Ernst got some backlash from Team Trump for “running on local issues”and trying to avoid the Trump racist conspiracy theory trap. To prove her bizarro bona fides, she decided to go QAnon and accuse Iowa’s medical community of falsifying COVID-19 data for the money…Ernst told a gathering of about 100 supporters that she’s “so skeptical” of the official death count from coronavirus. “They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19,” Ernst said. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.” Uh-huh. “They’re” thinking. They being the whack-job QAnon proponents who’ve found a side-line from Democratic pedophiliac pizza parlors in COVID-19 trutherism. She went even beyond that, though, to skate up to the line of accusing Iowa’s medical community of fraud. “These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” she questioned the crowd. That’ll sure boost her standing with Iowa’s front-line medical community, which is right now dealing with the nation’s second-highest rate of virus spread.”

In “States of Play: North Carolina,”This year, the North Carolina contest is one of just three Senate races that the Crystal Ball considers a Toss-up…Overall, no other state appears to have as many important and competitive races this year as does North Carolina. It is the only big state to feature competitive races for president, Senate, and governor. It also has new congressional and state legislative maps, which will allow Democrats to net at least two new U.S. House seats and could threaten GOP majorities in the state legislature.” Further, “After President Obama’s narrow win there in 2008, light red North Carolina has proved elusive for Democrats — but it remains a target for both sides…North Carolina’s politics are increasingly shaped by its growing bloc of unaffiliated voters…Over the past decade, North Carolina’s traditional east-west divide has evolved into more of an urban-rural split — a pattern seen in many other states…In a state known for volatile Senate races, 2020’s contest should be true to form,  and further down the ballot, voters will weigh in on several statewide races.”

Coleman and Stillerman provide a map to show how the political demographics of NC is changing:

Here’s a jolly riff from Andy Borowitz’s “Trump Claims That Sleepy Person With No Energy Will Somehow Be Peppy Enough to Destroy Entire Country” at The New Yorker: “Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that Joe Biden is “incredibly sleepy” and has “zero energy,” yet somehow is peppy enough to destroy life in the United States as we know it…Speaking to Sean Hannity on Fox News, Trump attempted to explain the apparent contradiction between a person being barely sentient yet capable of singlehandedly dismantling a global superpower…“Sleepy Joe is practically unconscious and almost doesn’t have a pulse,” Trump said. “But that’s because he has put his entire body into hibernation, like a bear.”…Trump went on to say that he had seen a documentary about bears on Animal Planet “that was so scary, every voter needs to see it.”…“This bear hibernated all winter, but then, when he woke up, he had enough energy to rip a hiker’s face off,” he said. “Just you watch. Joe Biden is conserving his energy right now, but, as sure as you’re sitting there, the minute he takes office he will rip this country’s face off.”…Trump said that, in November, the American people face a stark choice. “It’s between me, their favorite President, and an angry bear who hasn’t eaten in months,” he said.”

Political Strategy Notes

A lot of Democrats are worried about political backlash in response to protest violence, particularly in Portland, Oregon. At CNN Politics, Paul LeBlanc reports on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s counter-attack to Trump’s efforts to gin up backlash, and Wheeler’s blistering indictment provides a pretty good messaging template for progressives to tweak as needed: “The Democratic mayor of Portland, Oregon, said Sunday it is President Donald Trump who “created the hate” in an unyielding attack on the White House following a shooting at a protest that left one person dead…Speaking at a news conference, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked, “Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?”…It’s you who have created the hate and the division. It’s you who have not found a way to say the names of Black people killed by police officers even as people in law enforcement have. And it’s you who claimed that White supremacists are good people,” he continued. “Your campaign of fear is as anti-democratic as anything you’ve done to create hate and vitriol in our beautiful country.”

Not bad. But Wheeler brings even more heat, as LeBlanc notes: “Addressing Trump personally, Wheeler lamented that “for four years we’ve had to live with you and your racist attacks on Black people.”…”We learned early about your sexist attitudes toward women. We’ve had to endure clips of you mocking a disabled man. We’ve had to listen to your anti-democratic attacks on journalists. We’ve read your tweets slamming private citizens to the point of receiving death threats, and we’ve listened to your attacks on immigrants,” he said….”We’ve listened to you label Mexicans ‘rapists.’ We’ve heard you say that John McCain wasn’t a hero because he was a prisoner of war. And now, you’re attacking Democratic mayors and the very institutions of Democracy that have served this nation well since its founding.”…”President Trump, you bring no peace. You bring no respect to our Democracy. You, Mr. President, need to do your job as the leader of this nation and I, Mr. President, will do my job as the mayor of this city,” he said…”And we will both be held accountable, as we should.”

We are also seeing some sharp counter-attacks to Trump’s GOP convention whining about how things are gonna get really bad if Biden wins. Wheeler’s inarguable point that “this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence” warrants disciplined repetition from Democrats and progressives. Place the blame where it belongs, on Trump, because if Dems don’t do so, he will win the messaging war. But Democrats must also highlight Trump’s failed economic leadership, including his threats to gut Social Security and Medicare, in clear contrast to Biden’s plan to strengthen these critical programs, as well as Biden’s plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic, put 12 million Americans back to work revitalizing America’s infrastructure and make it possible to re-open schools safely. As Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics puts it, “The goal of the next president will be to get back to full employment as fast as possible…Biden will get there a lot faster than Trump will.”

Nathaniel Rakich reports at FiveThirtyEight that “Biden’s Voters Appear Far More Likely To Vote By Mail Than Trump’s. That Could Make For A Weird Election Night.” As Rakich writes, “amid saturation coverage of problems with the U.S. Postal Service, new polling from CNBC/Change Research suggests that the number of Americans planning to vote by mail has ticked down. In early August, 38 percent of voters in six battleground states1 said they planned to vote by mail. But in the pollster’s just-released Aug. 21-23 poll, the number of voters in those states saying they planned to vote by mail was down to 33 percent. Among all voters nationwide, the share planning to vote by mail went from 36 percent to 33 percent — although that drop was within the poll’s margin of error…Other recent polls agree that about a third of voters intend to vote by mail this year…Democrats are much likelier than Republicans to say they will vote by mail…”

In Other Polling Bites, Rakich notes, “According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.1 points). At this time last week, 41.8 percent approved and 54.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -12.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.8 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.6 points.”

In his article, “Many Are Afraid To Say It, but This Is Not a Close Race,” Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report calls out “political analysts, pollsters, and pundits who refuse to state publicly what the data plainly show: that it is very, very unlikely Trump will win 270 electoral votes and the election…Go through the top-line results of high-quality polls such as those from ABC News/Washington PostCNNFox News, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, to name just four, and you’ll find that majorities of voters do not like Trump personally, they do not approve of his handling of the job overall, and they disapprove of his entire approach to the coronavirus. When asked about personal attributes, Trump fares poorly in most surveys and trails Biden in most of the categories when the two are compared. He trails Biden by about 10 percentage points nationally in the higher-quality surveys and is behind by at least 5 points in all 20 states that Hillary Clinton carried (plus D.C.), as well as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those states alone total 307 electoral votes.”

Cook concedes, “Yes, there are things that could tilt this race: shenanigans at the Postal Service, voter confusion about how to vote, states’ inability to process and count ballots on time, to name a few. But the race has to get much closer before these can possibly make a difference in a few key states…Trump was the candidate of change in 2016. Now, Americans are very unhappy with where the country is and how he has handled his tenure. How does an incumbent prevail in the face of this? I just don’t see how the reasons why Trump was underestimated then still apply now. This shoe is on a different foot. So I am going to be like the kid saying that the emperor has no clothes…A focused and disciplined incumbent president could climb out of this hole. But not one who too often seems to be his own worst enemy.”

However, Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns, “Don’t let Trump’s distractions bury his record,” and writes, “The post-2016 language about liberals, Democrats, “elites” and the media “not understanding” the “values” of White working- and middle-class class Americans in the Midwest is back in force. The disorder in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake and now the killing in Portland over the weekend are assumed to be helpful to Trump, even though Biden pointed out, rather logically, that this mayhem is happening on Trump’s watch…On Sunday, Biden unequivocally condemned “violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right,” and also denounced Trump for “fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters…

Dionne adds, “The Biden camp needs to show persuadable Trump voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania just how little the president has achieved for them. (A good start: a Biden ad that aired during the last night of the GOP convention showing Trump in the gold-gilded cage of one of his properties.) There should be more focus on issues that appeal across racial lines: jobs, wages, mobility, education and dignity…Of course, Biden has some careful lines to walk on the ongoing violence. But his strong statement over the weekend showed that this is something he doesn’t need to be told…What he can’t do is give in to narratives that cast advocates of civil rights as being on the defensive, which would force him to run a campaign on Trump’s turf. Right now, it’s Trump who looks exhausted by his job, over his head, and scrambling for excuses and diversions. Biden must keep things that way.”

Political Strategy Notes

AP’s Thomas Beaumont comments on the “Democratic plan in rural, swing state counties: Lose by less,” and writes: “Democrats are hoping to find just enough voters…to shave Trump’s margins in rural areas while they rack up larger numbers in cities and suburbs. They have put in money in the millions and staff in the dozens to try to make it happen…Their unorthodox strategy: win by losing by less…“The general theory of the case goes like this: We’re trying not to lose as bad,” veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said of the rural and small-town counties Trump swung to his side in 2016. “Because when you don’t lose as bad at one thing, you can win everything.”…Carville has helped raise millions of dollars for Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century’s $30 million advertising effort aimed at picking off voters in rural and working-class counties across Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin…Trump carried all three states by about 77,000 votes out of 13.5 million cast. But in doing so, he peeled off 37 counties carried in 2012 by Barack Obama. Trump likely must again win all three of the states, which the Democratic nominee had carried in six consecutive elections before 2016, if he is to get a second term.

From “Here’s How Biden’s Republican Endorsement Strategy May Be Working” by Jack Brewster at Forbes: “Some progressives have criticized Democrats’ strategy of highlighting Republican endorsements as fruitless because Biden’s standing among Republicans has not improved—and may actually be worse than past Democratic nominees… But the tactic may be helping Biden secure the support of independent voters, a key voting bloc that makes up 38% of the American public overall—more than Democrats or Republicans—and a group that swung to Trump by 6 points in 2016.,,Multiple polls have shown Biden ahead of Trump among independents, who tend to describe themselves as more moderate (43%) than liberal or conservative, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, by a widermargin than Hillary Clinton during the same time period in 2016…A Morning Consult poll—conducted from July 31 to August 2 in a survey of 1,991 registered voters—found that far fewer independent voters dislike Biden (31%) as compared to Clinton (51%.)”

In his article at The Nation, “The Democrats Just Showed Us a Weakness in Their 2020 Strategy: Trump and his cronies are going to exploit this fumble if the Democrats don’t work fast to address it,” Robert Borosage writes, “Exposing Trump’s con of his working-class voters wouldn’t have been hard. His tax cuts larded the pockets of the rich and corporations, while workers never saw the raises that were promised. His trade policies left manufacturing in a recession even before the pandemic, while his tax bill actually rewarded corporations that moved jobs abroad. He and the Republican Senate are blocking continued support for the 28 million people still on unemployment. He continues to try to repeal Obamacare without offering an alternative. Yet deaths of despair, the opioid epidemic, the continued shuttering of factories got little attention at the Democratic convention…Democrats did not offer a clear argument about why this economy does not work for most Americans—a reality that long precedes Trump—and what Biden proposes to do about it…This strategic choice reflects the campaign’s strategy: The presidential campaign apparently won’t reach out to the white working class, particularly men. Democrats will focus on turning out the vote of the people of color and the young and making inroads in the suburbs, particularly among women. This slights the very voters—the Obama-Trump voters in the key states of the Midwest—who cost Hillary Clinton the election in 2016.”

Borosage concludes that Trump will “sell a mythical pre-pandemic economy and promise a miraculous post-pandemic recovery. The strategic decision of Democrats to ignore his con of working people gives Trump an open field to be the populist in the race…Even if Biden goes on to win, the Democratic default has worrisome implications. Without a mandate, Biden will have more trouble building a majority for systemic change. His calls for unity and bipartisan cooperation will empower the deep pockets, the entrenched interests, and the conservative wing of the party…In the long run, betrayed by Trump and neglected by Democrats, the white working class will be left without a party. The appeal to people of color on the basis of identity rather than economic interest is likely to have a limited shelf life. Democrats may well find that the failure to ground their coalition and their agenda in the broad working class will make it impossible to build a broad majority for the fundamental changes we need.”

As the GOP convention comes to a close, New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall discusses the psychological underpinnings of “The frank racism of the contemporary Republican agenda”  which is “on display at the R.N.C. ” Edsall agrees that the Republican Party is dedicated to the twin policies of deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy. But the principle that packs “a bigger punch” is “the preservation of the status quo by stemming the erosion of the privileged status of white Christian America.” Edsall probes the depths of racial fears and quotes several scholars on the topic, including Yale polical Scientist Milan W. Svolik,  who writes in his 2017 paper “When Polarization Trumps Civic Virtue: Partisan Conflict and the Subversion of Democracy by Incumbents,”: “In the classics of democratization research,” Svolik writes, “the public’s disapproval is assumed to serve as a check on incumbents’ temptations to subvert democracy.” Edsall explains, “In polarized societies, however, “this check fails” because the strength of partisan loyalty, for many voters “makes it costly for them to punish an incumbent by voting for a challenger. Incumbents exploit this lack of credible punishment by manipulating the democratic process in their favor. A mass of centrist voters provides precisely the kind of credible deterrent against manipulation that polarized societies lack.” Edsall believes “polarization weakens the ability of moderate, centrist voters to serve as a check on extreme political behavior.”

“In an email,” Edsall adds, “Svolik raised the next logical question:” “If supporters of both parties oppose/tolerate authoritarianism at similar levels, how come it is the Republican Party that is primarily associated with authoritarian tendencies today?” In reply to his own question,” Svolik writes, “The quick answer is Trump.” But “The deeper answer is that the opportunities to subvert the democratic process for partisan gain have become asymmetrical. Because of the biases inherent in political geography and demographic partisan patterns, the two most easily implementable means of gaining an unfair electoral advantage — gerrymandering and voter identification laws — only offer opportunities for unfair play to Republicans.”

Chris Cillizza shares “Hillary Clinton’s dire Election Day warning to Joe Biden” at CNN’s ‘The Point’: “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is,” Clinton told longtime Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri in an excerpt of Showtime’s “The Circus” released Tuesday. Added Clinton: “We’ve got to have a massive legal operation, I know the Biden campaign is working on that. We have to have poll workers, and I urge people, who are able, to be a poll worker. We have to have our own teams of people to counter the force of intimidation that the Republicans and Trump are going to put outside polling places. This is a big organizational challenge, but at least we know more about what they’re going to do.” Cillizza adds, “She is, on the facts, exactly right in the advice she is giving to Biden. With lots and lots of mailed-in ballots needed to be counted in the days leading up to Election Day — and on November 3 itself — it would be political malpractice for Biden to concede to Trump (or vice versa) if the election were clearly very close.”

“So, it is the job of Democrats up and down the ballot to integrate patriotism into their campaign messaging,” Henry Schultz writes in his op-ed at The Claremont Independent. “The only Democratic candidate I’ve seen try to do this is Pete Buttigieg. He categorized his presidential campaign policy priorities into three values historically claimed by Republicans: freedom, security, and democracy. An example is that he defined security not just in the context of traditional military defense, but also in our ability to combat climate change for future generations. An integral part of reclaiming patriotism is taking back the language that has enabled Republicans to be viewed as the patriotic party. Buttigieg’s strategy can serve as a blueprint for Democrats on how to align these broad values and liberal public policy…Practically, this strategy can take the form of the Biden campaign running ads about Trump’s abandonment of American troops in swing states with large military bases, like North Carolina. According to that same Economist article, the US military was 75% white in 1990, and now around 45% of service members are from mostly Democratic-voting minorities. The US military is seen as a symbol of patriotism to many, and now the Democrats have an opportunity to position themselves as strong on national security. Politically, this pivot is a low-hanging fruit to pick and it also will support the longer-term plan of redefining the patriotism narrative…If the Democratic Party can detach itself from the tight grasp of Republican influence, it will be able to articulate a bold vision for the next generation that associates patriotism with the policies for which we have fought.”

Elena Mejia and Geoffrey Skelley write at FiveThirtyEight that “Arizona, Georgia and Texas all moved at least 4 points to the left in 2016, and it’s possible they’ll move even farther in 2020. After all, the 2018 midterm elections showed these states could elect Democrats statewide, or at least, come very close. Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona for the first time since 1988, while Republicans only narrowly won Texas’s Senate race and Georgia’s gubernatorial contest…What explains the leftward shift in these traditionally Republican states? For one thing, these states are more racially and ethnically diverse than most of the other states we’ve looked at — Arizona and Texas have large Hispanic populations, for instance, while Georgia has a sizable Black electorate — and people of color tend to vote more Democratic. But these fairly urban states have also seen their major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix become increasingly Democratic because of the surge in college-educated voters. At present, the FiveThirtyEight forecast anticipates these states will lean similar to how they did 2016, although further shifts to the left are plausible…For Democrats, the hope would be that those three states trend in ways similar to Colorado and Virginia, two formerly red states whose diverse and highly educated electorates have moved them to the left over the past two decades.”

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “The Missing Piece in Biden’s Convention Speech: The Democratic Party took a gamble by not delivering a more targeted economic message to working- and middle-class families,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic: “The event did not deliver a concise critique of Trump’s economic record or offer a tight explanation of Biden’s plans to improve the economic circumstances of middle-class families. Though Biden ran through an extended list of policy goals on issues including job creation and climate change during his address, he offered vanishingly little detail about how he would achieve them—though, in fact, he’s delivered a series of detailed speeches laying out his agenda…Yet unless Biden can win across a wide range of Sun Belt states, he’s unlikely to reach 270 Electoral College votes without improving at least somewhat among working-class white voters in the key Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And analysts have long observed that many older Latino and African American voters in particular are more motivated to turn out to the polls by concrete plans to improve their life than by broad promises of confronting discrimination….even most Democrats agree that he might still squeeze out an Electoral College majority by maximizing margins and turnout among his core group of older, rural, non-college-educated white voters in a few closely balanced states. If he does, Democrats may again rue the choice not to direct a more targeted economic appeal at the voters Trump is relying on most.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter addresses a critical quetion for the 2020 elections, “Can Biden Undercut Trump’s Continued Advantage on the Economy?” Walter writes that “Third Way has been doing extensive research and data modeling in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Using data from the analytics firm Catalist, Third Way did a deep dive on these four states to estimate how many people are likely to vote and for which party in suburban counties (and urban and rural ones, too) this year. What they found was that Democrats “are in position to win majorities in the Michigan and Pennsylvania suburbs, which would set them up to win both states. Democrats should get close or just reach a majority in the Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin suburbs, which would put them in a dead heat with Republicans in these states.And Democrats are on target to win a majority in Arizona’s suburbs, but preliminary estimates still show Republicans with a slim advantage statewide. But additional analysis is needed for Arizona.”…In other words, writes Ryan Pougiales, senior political analyst for Third Way, “The battleground suburbs are where 2020 will be won or lost.”

Walter notes further that a survey of likely voters in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin indicates that “when it comes to handling the economy, these swing state suburbanites give Trump a decent 48 percent approval rating. ..These voters think the economy is in bad shape, and don’t expect it to get better anytime soon. Just 30 percent rate the economy as good today, and only 33 percent think it will be better in November. ..But it is that lack of optimism about the economy that worries Third Way. “Voters with the lowest expectations for a recovery,” they write, “may be most impressed by marginal economic progress.”…Under the current unemployment rate (11 percent), Biden had a 9-point advantage (37 percent to 28 percent)…But, if the unemployment rate were to drop to 8 percent, a number we’d normally consider unreasonably high, support for Biden and Trump is evenly divided (35 percent Trump to 34 percent Biden)…While these suburban voters “don’t see Biden in the same vein as say, an AOC,” said this strategist, “they worry about the party moving too far left on issues like taxes.”…To keep Trump from getting the upper hand on the economy, says the Third Way, “Democrats’ best counter is that the economy can’t get on the right track until we address COVID-19—and Trump has shown he can’t handle the virus.”

Anticipating the GOP convention message, E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns at The Washington Post, “…if there is one pesky polling number for Democrats, it is Trump’s slight advantage on the matter of which candidate will better handle the economy. Here is where his attempt to tie Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) to the “far left” will do double duty…The obvious Trump play is to social conservative and racial backlash voters. If the Democrats painted an optimistic picture of a country that could achieve racial justice and national unity, Trump will paint a dark caricature (my color choice is not accidental) of a country facing disorder and chaos under the Democrats….American Carnage Redux is one side of the case Trump wants to make. The other is classic Republican propaganda on economics, aimed at more affluent voters, again particularly suburbanites. Attacks on Biden’s nonexistent “leftism” will be tied to made-up claims that he will boost taxes to confiscatory levels and, in embracing reforms to capitalism, new public programs and bold steps on climate change, will weaken an already ailing economy.” However, Dionne concludes, “In 2016, Trump was unencumbered by the responsibilities of office. In 2020, he has a dismal record to defend — or evade. And the nastier his convention’s message becomes, the more he will reinforce the implicit promise of the Democratic convention: of a calm, less divided country that is normal again.”

David Wasserman shares some revealing batteleground states statistics, also at The Cook Political Report, including “African American voters account for roughly 12 percent of eligible voters nationally, and they account for a substantial share of the vote in six of the seven states Trump carried by 5 points or less in 2016: Florida (15 percent), Georgia (32 percent), Michigan (13 percent), North Carolina (22 percent), Pennsylvania (10 percent) and Wisconsin (6 percent)…An NBC News/Cook Political Report analysis of census and election data from these states shows that the decline in African American turnout and Democratic support from 2012 to 2016 was probably enough to tip at least Michigan and Wisconsin — and possibly Florida and Pennsylvania — to Trump…Amping up African American enthusiasm could pay particular dividends for Biden in Wisconsin, where the Clinton campaign spent scant resources and turnout in Milwaukee plummeted. But even in states like Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where Black turnout was more robust, there were 397,000, 488,000 and 370,000 eligible Black voters, respectively, who failed to turn out last time.”

Wasserman argues further that Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket looks like  winner: “An early August GWU/Battleground Poll found that Harris had a similar net favorability among 18-to-29-year-old voters (38 percent favorable to 34 percent unfavorable) to Biden (51 percent to 46 percent), and a higher net favorability among 35-to-44-year-old voters (44 percent to 33 percent) than Biden (49 percent to 47 percent)…The GWU/Battleground poll found Harris’ favorability in the Midwest at 46 percent to 31 percent, higher than her national favorability and much higher than Vice President Mike Pence’s favorability in the Midwest (35 percent to 53 percent)…At least initially, at a time when voters desire racial unity and give Trump awful marks on his handling of race relations, it’s hard to see Harris as anything other than a plus for Biden. After all, Biden already has a good track record running on a national ticket with an African American attorney in a first term as senator from a blue state.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich and Meredith Conroy explore the effectiveness of progressive groups, as measured by the success of their endorsees, and write: “Thanks to an increasingly powerful progressive campaign apparatus, there’s no question that the left is now an established player in the Democratic Party. But is it strong enough to rival the political muscle of the party establishment?…To find out, FiveThirtyEight has once again tracked hundreds of endorsements in every Senate, House and governor primary completed so far this year (through Aug. 18). We looked at the win-loss records of the endorsees of eight key Democratic influencers: progressive groups Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee; progressive figures Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders; and two arms of the national Democratic Party, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.2 The result is the most complete picture yet of which wing of the party is doing better at the ballot box…And while the progressive upsets may have grabbed all the headlines, the numbers say the party establishment is still king of the hill. Of the 217 Democratic incumbents who ran in the primaries we analyzed, 214 won or advanced to the general election…in the 17 primaries where progressives (candidates endorsed by at least one of these six entities) went up against an incumbent, the progressive-backed candidate lost 14 times. (Newman, Bowman and Bush were the only exceptions.)”…”All told, the progressive group with the best win rate so far in primaries without an incumbent is Indivisible; they’ve endorsed 10 candidates in those races, and nine of them have advanced. Our Revolution has the worst win rate of the progressive endorsers we looked at, but they’ve also backed more candidates than the other groups; of the 14 candidates they endorsed, five have advanced to the general. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage for Change PAC has a win rate of 50 percent (4 for 8).”

Pam Fessler and Elena Moore report that “More Than 550,000 Primary Absentee Ballots Rejected In 2020, Far Outpacing 2016″ at NPR: “An extraordinarily high number of ballots — more than 550,000 — have been rejected in this year’s presidential primaries, according to a new analysis by NPR…That’s far more than the 318,728 ballots rejected in the 2016 general election and has raised alarms about what might happen in November when tens of millions of more voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail, many for the first time…..Election experts said first-time absentee voters are much more likely to make the kinds of mistakes that lead to rejected ballots. Studies also show that voters of color and young voters are more likely than others to have their ballots not count…Most absentee or mail-in ballots are rejected because required signatures are missing or don’t match the one on record, or because the ballot arrives too late

“Even with limited data,” Moore and Fessler write,  “the implications are considerable. NPR found that tens of thousands of ballots have been rejected in key battleground states, where the outcome in November — for the presidency, Congress and other elected positions — could be determined by a relatively small number of votes…For example, President Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by almost 23,000 votes. More than 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected in the state’s presidential primary in April. More than 37,000 primary ballots were also rejected in June in Pennsylvania, a state Trump won by just over 44,000 votes…The numbers are also significant because of large partisan differences in how Americans plan to vote this fall. Democrats have expressed more interest than Republicans in voting by mail — 47% to 28% in the Democracy Fund/UCLA survey. Forty-eight percent of those who intend to vote for Joe Biden say they will use mail-in ballots, compared with 23% of Trump supporters…Pennsylvania, one of the states where the extent of rejected mail-in ballots might well determine the outcome of the election, is planning an ad campaign soon, urging people who have applied for absentee ballots to return them immediately, so they don’t risk having them not count because they arrived too late.”