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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

September 25: Pelosi Serves Up Stimulus Bait For Trump

The maneuvering over COVID-19 stimulus legislation has been going on for months, but as I noted at New York, Nancy Pelosi may have just made the definitive move:

It might be a symbolic gesture designed to placate vulnerable House Democrats who want to say they’ve voted on stimulus legislation recently. Or it might be a gambit designed to tempt the president to break definitively with his congressional allies and get some serious COVID-19 stimulus money out the door before facing voters.

Either way, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling that House Democrats are formalizing a $2.4 trillion version (close to the $2.2 trillion compromise price tag she’s been offering for a good while) of the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act that the House passed way back in May, as Roll Call reports:

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi has directed House committee leaders to put together a more slender coronavirus relief package than the one that previously passed the chamber, in their latest offer in talks with the White House.

“The House could vote on that as-yet-unreleased $2.4 trillion bill as soon as next week if GOP cooperation doesn’t materialize, according to Democratic lawmakers. But Democrats say they’re hoping for renewed talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a compromise agreement that can actually become law.”

There will have to be some nips and tucks, particularly since Pelosi now wants some items not in the HEROES Act (notably targeted aid for airlines and restaurants). But you can be sure it will include the key elements the White House has already signaled it could support — particularly a second round of 160 million $1200 stimulus checks — and some new small business money, along with as much state and local fiscal assistance as Democrats think the market will bear.

Yes, there’s talk of cutting a deal with Congressional Republicans: Number Two House Democrat Steny Hoyer told Forbes he wanted to “get an alternative [bill] sent to the Senate that is a compromise.” But Senate Republicans, having already made their pre-election gesture with the famously meager “skinny stimulus” bill, won’t be interested unless the White House forces enough of them to get on board. It’s all about Trump imagining his signature on those 160 million checks right before Election Day and taking the bait. And if he doesn’t? It’s no big deal for Pelosi, who can have her show vote for the benefit of vulnerable Members and then wait until after November 3 in hopes that Democratic leverage for more stimulus will only go up with a Democratic president and Congress on the way.


September 24: The Big Moment Has Arrived For the Anti-Abortion Movement and Its GOP Servants

Nothing that Republicans said in the wake of the sad news of Justice Ginsburg’s death should have come as a surprise. This moment was a long time coming, as I explained at New York:

Most mainline anti-abortion organizations and politicians had the decency, or at least the self-discipline, not to celebrate openly at the news of Justice Ruth Bader’s Ginsburg’s death on Friday night. For example, the hard-core anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List put out this statement:

“We offer our sincere condolences to Justice Ginsburg’s children, grandchildren, extended family, friends, and colleagues. The prayers of the Susan B. Anthony List team are with her family, as well as for our nation, at this time.”

But that didn’t keep the group’s chair from acknowledging an urgent call to arms in virtually the same breath:

“This is a turning point for the nation in the fight to protect its most vulnerable, the unborn. The pro-life grassroots have full confidence that President Trump, Leader McConnell, Chairman Graham, and every pro-life Senator will move swiftly to fill this vacancy.”

Similarly, Christian-right leader Franklin Graham tweeted, “Pray for the family of SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who passed away today. May God comfort her loved ones.” But he’s mostly focused on preparing for a Washington Prayer March on September 26, where I am sure the upcoming SCOTUS confirmation fight will be on many hearts and minds.

Perhaps the most intellectually baroque anti-abortion argument on the occasion of Justice Ginsburg’s death was from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who suggested depoliticizing the Supreme Court by withdrawing its jurisdiction over such matters as abortion policy:

“[F]or many conservatives the high court eviscerated its own authority decades ago, when it set itself up as the arbiter of America’s major moral controversies, removing from the democratic process not just debates about sex and marriage and school prayer but life and death itself.”

But congressman and current U.S. Senate candidate Doug Collins of Georgia was about as subtle as a hammerhead shark:

RIP to the more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws. With Donald Trump nominating a replacement that values human life, generations of unborn children have a chance to live.”

Challenged by an Atlanta reporter for his lapse in etiquette in not preceding this attack with some token of respect for Ginsburg and her service to her country, Collins was having none of that:

“’I will never back [down] on life. It’s very personal for me. The truth was about being honest about where we’re going and what the president’s going to do,’ Collins said. ‘Sometimes in life, there’s just polite, and there’s just the truth. That was the truth.’”

Collins is locked in an intense competition with appointed Republican senator Kelly Loeffler, characterized by mutual efforts to out-Trump each other (Loeffler just ran an ad suggesting she is “more conservative than Attila the Hun”).

In the fever swamps of Christian-right opinion, commenters were far less diplomatic about Ginsburg’s death, expressing a blasphemy-risking willingness to credit God Almighty for smiting Ginsburg and giving Trump the opportunity to ban abortion. Peter Montgomery at Right Wing Watch has a good example:

“A group of ‘prayer warriors’ associated with the pro-Trump ‘prophetic’ network POTUS Shield is celebrating the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an answer to prayer and a miraculous ‘move of God’ to allow President Donald Trump to name a third Supreme Court justice in his first term. Trump-supporting religious-right supporters have often prayed for God to ‘remove”’Supreme Court justices to give Trump the ability to name justices to the court who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“POTUS Shield founder Frank Amedia, a former Trump campaign adviser, prophesied early in Trump’s presidency that God would give Trump three Supreme Court justices in his first term. Amedia has also been talking for months about a ‘prophetic’ dream he had in which he saw Trump sinking into a swamp until God reached down and with his thumb and forefinger plucked Trump out by the head, flinging him in the air. Amedia predicted this divine intervention would take place in September, and on Sunday, he called Ginsburg’s death ‘the first breath’ of the prophesied ‘blast’ that God has in store. ‘The blast has just begun,’ Amedia exulted….”

What all these opponents of legalized abortion have in common is that they don’t give a damn about the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans blocking Merrick Garland in 2016 and rushing through a Trump nominee this year. Indeed, they would be in the streets protesting furiously if Mitch McConnell or Trump hesitated a moment before taking advantage of this opportunity to “save the babies.” This is holy war, and the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation fight is Armageddon. And even if their own interest in the topic is limited, nearly all Republican members of Congress have signed on to the reserves in this battle by taking a position opposing abortion rights and accepting the loyal support of those who are avid to turn back the clock for good.


September 17: Does Biden Need Yard Signs and Door-Knocking to Win?

As different attitudes towards the pandemic lead Rs and Ds in different directions in terms of campaign tactics, I wrote up the debate at New York:

Back in the 1990s, when disciples of James Carville dominated the ranks of Democratic campaign professionals, you could always get a big rise out of any of them by suggesting they should deploy more yard signs and billboards. Their contempt for such old-school tools was near-complete, as was their faith in a concise, poll-tested message conveyed heavily on TV. You saw an echo of this contrast in partisan preference in 2012, when Barack Obama’s data-hip team quietly mocked the conservative pundits aflutter over Mitt Romney’s yard-sign advantage.

Now even in the 1990s, Democrats didn’t completely eschew hard-core, visible campaign methods, as anyone who has ever heard a sound truck in an urban neighborhood conducting aptly named “knock and drag” get-out-the-vote operations can attest. Indeed, as partisan polarization has reduced the number of persuadable swing voters, such occasionally noisy mobilization efforts have become more important in both parties.

“This year, 83-year-old former Chrysler employee [Don Sabbe] says he’ll definitely vote for Joe Biden, but he’s getting concerned about Biden’s campaign here in Michigan.

“’I can’t even find a sign,’ Sabbe says outside a Kroger’s in Sterling Heights, where surrounding cars fly massive Donald Trump flags that say ‘No More Bullsh-t’ and fellow shoppers wear Trump T-shirts for their weekend grocery runs. ‘I’m looking for one of those storefronts. I’m looking for a campaign office for Biden. And I’m not finding one.’

“The reason Sabbe can’t find a dedicated Biden campaign field office is because there aren’t any around here. Not in Macomb County, the swing region where Sabbe lives. It’s not even clear Biden has opened any new dedicated field offices in the state; because of the pandemic, they’ve moved their field organizing effort online.”

Hilariously, when Alter asked one Biden campaign staffer how many people they had on the ground in Michigan, she was asked in turn: “What do you mean by ‘on the ground’?”

By contrast, for all its alleged social-media savvy and its heavy TV presence, the Trump-Pence campaign is very physically in-your-face, from the raucous live rallies the president loves so much to the boat parades and the huge flags and signs and every other campaign resource of the 1950s. The MAGA folk may choose to ignore polls because they allegedly miss “shy Trump voters.” But “shy” is not the word that comes to mind when you encounter bellowing red-hatted fans of the president eager to show their lack of political correctness.

In choosing a different approach, the Biden campaign is practicing what he preaches in the way of responsible behavior during a pandemic. The candidate’s representatives say they are compensating for the lack of sound and fury in other ways, according to Alter:

“Biden’s Michigan team says its campaign is significantly bigger than Clinton’s and may be the largest program in the state’s history. The campaign says it reached out to 1.4 million voters during the Democratic convention and the weekend that followed, with 500 digital-organizing events and 10,000 volunteer signups. In the week before Labor Day, the campaign sent 500,000 texts to Michigan voters — one every half-second. It has just replaced the trappings of a traditional ground game — volunteers knocking on doors, distributing literature, and so forth — with a digital field operation.”

The question is whether there’s something about the loud-and-proud Trump effort that is somehow contagious, or that helps build enthusiasm and willingness to vote in a tangible way. Looking at it conversely, does a field operation without physical voter contact forfeit something essential?

“Democrats are used to measuring their strength by their ground game, and without physical boots on the ground, the effect can be unsettling. It brings up uncomfortable questions about whether a ‘digital field’ operation can really replace a ‘traditional field’ operation without something being lost. Sure, it sounds like digital field organizing should work. But does it actually? Nobody knows, because it’s never been tried on this scale before.”

The polls look good for Biden in Michigan, but they looked good for Clinton in 2016, too — though fewer of them were being taken. If nothing else, though, perhaps the dominant physical presence of the Trump campaign and its supporters will help prevent the kind of Democratic overconfidence that may have done in HRC.


September 16: A Comparative Check-In on Polls 50 Days Out

I decided to compare Biden’s poll position to those of the Democratic nominees in the last four elections, and wrote up the results at New York:

Fifty days from Election Day (November 3), Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling averages nationally by 7.4 percent (50.5 to 43.1). He’s led every day of the last year, by margins ranging from 11.8 percent on September 17, 2019, to 4 percent on January 24, 2020.

Biden’s current lead is the largest a candidate has held at the 50-day mark in any of the last four presidential election cycles. In 2004 George W. Bush led John Kerry by 5.7 percent; he would ultimately win by 2.4 percent. In 2008 John McCain actually led Barack Obama by 1.3 percent; he would eventually lose by 7.3 percent. In 2012 Obama led Mitt Romney by 2.8 percent 50 days out; his actual margin was 3.9 percent. And in 2016 Clinton was up 1.3 percent 50 days out; her final popular-vote margin was 2.1 percent.

It is possible Trump will get those kind of late breaks, but unlike Obama in 2008, he’s now the incumbent president with a consistent “very unfavorable” rating in the polls hovering at or just under 50 percent. Heavy early voting this year means that with each passing day the slice of the electorate (with an already-low undecided vote) that could be “turned around” by a Trump surge is shrinking. And Biden’s polling lead is enhanced by the fact that most national pollsters have already completed the “switchover” to a likely voter screen that often benefits Republican candidates.

While Trump partisans trash the national polls as inaccurate “like they were in 2016” (they actually weren’t), and mindlessly claim his manifest greatness will generate a landslide win, his best hope remains an Electoral College advantage that could again give him a narrow win despite a popular-vote deficit. From state polls and what we can infer from regional trends, Trump might well pull off an upset if he gets Biden’s national lead down to around three points.

But again: Trump hasn’t been within three points of Biden in the RCP national polling averages even once in the past year. So it might take something exceptional to make that happen now.


September 10: Sun Belt or Rust Belt: the Strategic Choice Remains

Looking back at something I wrote at the beginning of the election cycle about the strategic battleground, I revisited the key question at New York:

Soon after the 2018 midterms, I reviewed the evidence about where Democrats made gains and suggested it still wasn’t clear which strategy the party should adopt in trying to recover from the 2016 loss to Trump:

“The two most obvious regional strategies for Democrats are to win back the heartland/Rust Belt (depending on how you think about them) states that Trump narrowly carried despite a strong history of going the other way: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are two similar additional states that Obama carried twice: Iowa and Ohio.

“At the other end of the spectrum are Sun Belt states that were already quite close (Florida and North Carolina) or that have recently been trending Democratic (Arizona, Georgia, and Texas) at varying rates.”

The midterm numbers didn’t really indicate one path or the other:

“In the end, the Democratic presidential strategy for ejecting Trump in 2020 will follow the polls — hopefully better and more frequent polls than those taken by the Clinton campaign in those heartland states that ultimately cost them the election of 2016 — and perceived opportunities.”

So here we are less than two months away from Election Day, and with early voting beginning almost immediately, and the best strategic path is still unclear. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump nationally by 7.5 percent. If Biden maintains that sort of lead through Election Day, then the Electoral College will take care of itself and the Democrat will win very comfortably across the range of battleground states in both competitive parts of the country.

But if the national race tightens, the battleground situation gets much more complicated. Again using FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Biden’s currently trailing in Georgia and Texas, and has a lead under 2 percent in Florida and North Carolina. Of the realistic Sun Belt targets for Democrats, Biden has a robust lead only in Nevada (6.4 percent), which Democrats carried in 2016, and Arizona (4.7 percent).

In the competitive Rust Belt states, Biden’s national lead is matched only by his advantage in Wisconsin (7.5 percent). He has a decent cushion as well in Michigan (6.6 percent) and Minnesota (6.2 percent), and a slimmer one in Pennsylvania (4.1 percent). He’s trailing, however, in Ohio and Iowa, which means they probably become winnable only in the midst of a big Biden victory.

So all in all it looks like a Rust Belt strategy makes the most sense for Biden, right? Ron Brownstein suggests that could be the case:

“Exactly eight weeks before Election Day, Biden has strong opportunities to recapture states that President Donald Trump won in 2016 both in the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt. But public and private polls consistently show that Biden is running slightly better in the former group of battlegrounds — centered on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — than the latter, which include North Carolina, Florida and Arizona …

“[Biden’s] potential to improve on Hillary Clinton’s showing with older and blue-collar


September 9: Mail Ballot Requests Heavy, and Heavily Democratic

With voting by mail about to begin, the first clear statistics on who will cast mail ballots are significant, so I wrote it up at New York:

Until now, the prospect of people voting by mail in unprecedented numbers in November has been mostly speculative, based on what happened in this year’s primaries, along with polling, and a general long-term trend towards this method of voting. But now as states are releasing data on general election mail ballot requests, it’s all getting very real, as the Associated Press reports:

“Mail balloting is set to begin Friday in the presidential election as North Carolina starts sending out more than 600,000 ballots to voters — responding to a massive spike in requests that has played out across the country as voters look for a safer way to cast ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic….

“In 2016, just one-quarter of the [national] electorate cast votes by mail. This time, election officials expect the majority of voters to use the method. Wisconsin has already received nearly 100,000 more requests than it did in the 2016 election. In Florida, 3,347,960 people requested ballots during the 2016 election. The state has already received 4,270,781 requests.”

And so far (from states that can and do track the party ID of mail ballot applicants) the Democrat tilt of those who plan to vote by mail is unmistakable:

“The GOP has historically dominated North Carolina mail voting, but this year the people asking for the ballots are generally not Republicans. Democrats requested more than 337,000 ballots, and independents 200,000, while only 103,000 were sought by Republicans. Voters in the state can continue to request the ballots up until Oct. 27, though that may be too close to the Nov. 3 election for them to receive the ballot and return it to their local elections office in time.

“The Democratic lead in mail ballots isn’t only in North Carolina. In Maine, 60% of requests for mail ballots have been made by Democrats and 22% by independents. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have requested nearly triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans. In Florida, where the GOP once dominated mail voting, 47.5% of requests have come from Democrats and 32% from Republicans.”

Now normally, that would indicate higher general interest in voting among Democrats, and perhaps an impending blue tsunami. But the president’s months-long campaign against voting by mail is clearly a big, and perhaps the biggest, factor in creating this partisan tilt, so it’s unclear whether it would exist otherwise. The other implication of the early evidence on partisan splits in willingness to vote by mail is that the Red Mirage scenario – where the first votes counted on Election Night are in-person ballots that skew heavily Republican, leading to a premature Trump victory claim coupled with delegitimization of subsequently counted mail ballots as fraudulent – remains a very real threat.


September 4: The Kennedy Dynasty Didn’t Fall in One Night

Given the reaction — and arguably over-reaction — to Joseph Kennedy’s III primary loss to Ed Markey in a Massachusetts primary, I offered some ruminations about earlier setbacks to the famous political dynasty at New York:

Coverage of Joseph Kennedy III’s failed primary challenge to Senator Ed Markey has been described as signaling the end of the family dynasty he young Joe often seemed uncomfortable representing. That feels unfair, since the Kennedy clan’s reputation for political invincibility began to slowly unravel many years ago.

It’s true that Joe III’s campaign broke a long Kennedy winning streak in Massachusetts, as the Boston Globe noted:

It was also the first Kennedy loss in 13 U.S. Senate races (two by JFK, one by RFK, and nine by Ted Kennedy). But it was hardly the first big family disappointment.

Joe’s grandfather Bobby suffered the first Kennedy loss in any electoral contest over a half-century ago in 1968, when he lost an Oregon presidential primary to Eugene McCarthy a week before posting a comeback win in California — but was then assassinated after his victory speech.

Four years later, former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy by marriage, agreed to become the replacement for vice-presidential nominee Tom Eagleton (who was pushed off the ticket after the media discovered his history of drunk-driving arrests and shock treatments) on the horrifically unsuccessful presidential slate of George McGovern, which lost 49 states. McGovern had actually been the stand-in for RFK at the 1968 convention.

In 1980, Ted Kennedy’s presidential challenge to Jimmy Carter got off to a disastrous start, as he lost 12 of the first 13 primaries and caucuses, winning only Massachusetts. Though he later rallied with some big wins, it was all too little, too late, and Ted never ran for president again.

The next generation of Kennedy pols had a lot of problems. Joseph Kennedy II, the most recent candidate’s dad, chose to retire from the U.S. House in 1998 after an embarrassing scandal over his efforts to secure an annulment and marry his secretary. His sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend served two terms as lieutenant governor of Maryland but then lost the governorship to a Republican in a huge 2002 upset. Cousin Mark Kennedy Shriver served two terms in the Maryland legislature before losing a congressional primary to (now-senator) Chris Van Hollen.

Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick won a congressional seat in Rhode Island in 1994 and made it into the House Democratic leadership, but in 2010 he gave up his seat and his electoral career after struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. Until Joe III won a Massachusetts congressional seat in 2012, there was a brief moment when no Kennedy was serving in elected office. JFK’s famous daughter, Caroline Kennedy, briefly considered a Senate bid in New York when Hillary Clinton became secretary of State, but she withdrew from consideration. Yet another RFK child, Chris Kennedy, ran for governor of Illinois in 2018 but finished third in the Democratic primary.

That’s a lot of family trial and error that should not be laid at the doorstep of Joe Kennedy III. As the Globe notes, it’s entirely possible the dynasty could make a comeback:

“There are other, younger Kennedys who could enter the political arena — Jack Schlossberg, JFK’s grandson, appeared in a video with his mother, Caroline, at the Democratic National Convention, quickly sparking memes about his resemblance to his handsome uncle, the late John Kennedy Jr. And Ted Kennedy’s grandson, Edward Kennedy III, has expressed an interest in politics. Amy Kennedy, who married Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick, recently won a Democratic House primary in New Jersey.”

And the latest Kennedy candidate is himself awfully young to retire from politics. Perhaps next time around, he can run as just “Joe.”


September 2: Look Out For the “Red Mirage”

Some new data on a scary 2020 scenario has popped up, and I wrote about it at New York:

For a good while now, a number of us political obsessives have been playing Paul Revere in warning of an Election Night phenomenon that could lead to a contested presidential election and perhaps a constitutional crisis. The issue is an unprecedented number of mail ballots (thanks to COVID-19 fears and the polling-place chaos we saw in many primaries this spring and summer) accompanied by a big partisan split in willingness to vote by mail, mostly created by the president’s interminable attacks on that method of voting. Since, for the most part, Election Day in-person ballots will be counted before mail ballots, Trump and other Republicans may assume an early lead on Election Night that will inevitably be reduced and in many cases erased as mail ballots drift in. Trump being Trump, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision him claiming victory on Election Night and then attacking subsequent Democratic-leaning mail ballots as fraudulent.

Now, the digital data firm Hawkfish has come up with an empirically solid scenario of how this “red mirage” (as they call it) might unfold. An extensive survey conducted by the firm confirmed the partisan split in voting methodologies, and its significance. They explained, via email:

“Over 40% of voters intend to vote by mail, nearly double the number who voted by mail in 2016.

“Far more Democrats than Republicans intend to vote by mail. Over 50% of Biden’s supporters intend to vote by mail, compared to less than 20% of Trump’s supporters.

“The partisan divide in voting method is greater in most battleground states. Over two thirds of Biden supporters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Arizona intend to vote by mail; less than one quarter of Trump supporters in these states intend to exercise that same option.”

Using the baseline of the 9.3 percent national Biden lead (and a 334–204 advantage in the Electoral College) shown by FiveThirtyEight in August, and information on vote counts in the recent past, Hawkfish shows that an ultimate nine-point Biden national popular vote win could look like a four-point Trump lead (and a 339–199 electoral vote lead) on Election Night:

“[I]f by election night all polling place ballots and 40% of vote-by-mail ballots (in states where vote-by-mail will surge high above historical levels) are counted, Trump will temporarily lead in even safelyblue states. Given his history of false claims and dismissal of vote-by-mail, Trump may exploit this Red Mirage to claim victory and dispute any subsequent change to the electoral map.”

Needless to say, if the presidential race tightens (and Biden’s lead in the FiveThirtyEight polling averages is already down to 7.1 percent), Trump’s Election Night lead could be even larger, even if he’s doomed to defeat. And according to Hawkfish’s estimates, Biden might not take the lead until 75 percent of mail ballots have been counted, which could take several days.

Trump’s ability to throw sand in everyone’s eyes on Election Night depends on some combination of media impatience and public ignorance about how the vote count will proceed. If media outlets refute a Trump victory claim as premature, and if the public understands the election results may take several days to congeal, the red mirage may fade pretty quickly. But a new survey from Axios shows a majority of voters still expect a relatively quick result:

“One in three Americans thinks we’ll know who won the presidential election on the night of Nov. 3, and six in 10 expect the winner to be announced within a couple of days, our new poll finds …

“While so many opinions around the elections are heavily influenced by party ID, so far this question is not.

“A slightly smaller share of Democrats than Republicans say we’ll have same-night results (32% versus 37%). There’s even less of a gap by party among those who say we’ll know within a couple of days. More Republicans than Democrats think it could take longer than a month, but the difference is just 5 percentage points.”

There is no time like the present to begin educating everyone on the red mirage and its sources.


August 27: Pence Expels Democrats From America As We’ve Known It

Vice President Mike Pence’s RNC speech achieved new lows, as I noted at New York:

For a while the third night of the Republican National Convention was a relatively bland evening of conservative ideological boilerplate (I lost count of how many times “school choice,” never once defined, was touted). But then Vice-President Mike Pence had his big moment as “keynote speaker” from a superpatriotic setting at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. And as you might expect from the sycophant-in-chief, Pence carried the message of this convention to its logical end in this remarkable passage:

“Last week, Joe Biden said democracy is on the ballot but the truth is … our economic recovery is on the ballot, law and order is on the ballot. But so are things far more fundamental and foundational to our country.

“It’s whether we will leave to our children and our grandchildren a country grounded in our highest ideals of freedom, free markets, and the unalienable right to life and liberty — or whether we will leave to our children and grandchildren a country that is fundamentally transformed into something else.”

In other words, America can’t be America without Donald Trump. Even Trump himself has never made that sweeping a claim tying his identity to the essence of the nation, though you can bet he will now. Given a campaign strategy based on claims of wild success for the Trump administration combined with demonization of Democrats as enemies of the country bent on disbanding police departments and turning loose Black rioters to sack and pillage the suburbs, it was a short step to denying them and their candidate any legitimate role in national life. Pence went there without missing a breath, though it took away mine.

Earlier in his address, Pence did a rather humdrum job of what I thought would be a major focus of his address: defending the administration’s record on managing COVID-19. He did pull off a nice trick of playing on the religious sensibilities of his fellow conservative Evangelicals by expressing confidence in the “miracle” of an early, American-developed vaccine. But the real tell was that the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force spoke to a crowd of over a hundred people, few of them masked and indifferently separated, who cheered and chanted in what was probably a small dress rehearsal for Trump’s speech on the White House lawn tomorrow night. These people still don’t take their own alleged advice on the pandemic that will have killed close to a quarter million Americans by Election Day — though at least it was all outside.

But Pence’s real focus was making it abundantly clear that in the turmoil over police killings and the battle for racial justice, Republicans stand unambiguously for the Heroes in Blue and the good taxpaying citizens who expect them to provide protection against those people:

“We will have law and order on the streets of America.

“President Trump and I know the men and women that put on the uniform of law enforcement are the best of us. They put their lives on the line every day …

“The hard truth is … you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America. Under President Trump, we will stand with those who stand on the Thin Blue Line, and we’re not going to defund the police — not now, not ever.”

Given the timing of this address, Pence seemed to be identifying with the officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, if not the 17-year-old Trump fan suspected to have murdered two protesters against that act of police brutality. But beyond that dog whistle, Pence was roughly the 20th speaker at this convention to repeat the lie that Biden (who has been very clear in opposing any “defunding of the police”) or Democrats (whose congressional caucuses unanimously embraced a police-reform bill that rejected “defunding” as even an option) want to disband the police and exult in anarchy. But the lie was key to his final judgment about Biden:

“When you consider their agenda it’s clear: Joe Biden would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for a radical left.”

You know, the “radical left” that supports reproductive rights that have been the law of the land for 47 years; that wants to restore voting rights first established in 1965; that supports a perspective toward immigrants shared by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan; that doesn’t want to repeal Obamacare or privatize Medicare or raid Social Security.

Republicans are entirely within their rights to treat the November election as an ideological choice between liberalism and conservatism, and also as a choice of leadership styles between a chronic norm-breaker and an apostle of boring normalcy. But claiming patriotism, goodwill, and Americanism itself as the exclusive property of his own party and president, as Mike Pence did at Fort McHenry, is just beyond the pale, and a disgrace to the spirit of community that is patriotism’s essence. It’s a sign of his party’s desperation that it goes this far in reinforcing Donald Trump’s dangerous belief that without him, his country is a bunch of losers.


August 20: Will Republicans Counter DNC’s Diversity with Racism?

Trying to watch the Democratic National Convention through the baleful eyes of the opposition, I got the feeling it would tempt them into sin, so I wrote about it at New York:

We don’t know much about the messaging and lineup of next week’s Republican National Convention — aside, of course, from the president’s provocative decision to deliver his acceptance speech from the White House grounds and his equally provocative choice to offer a speaking slot to Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished assault weapons at peaceful protesters who were passing the McCloskey’s mega-mansion on their way to the mayor’s house. But we know that Trump’s reelection campaign has been focused on energizing his base and emphasizing those racially abrasive themes that seek to augment his base with suburban swing voters. Here’s how one Trump adviser explained it to Politico:

“’Part of our message will focus on how the suburbs are becoming unsafe because inner cities are unsafe, and Biden and Kamala are going to make it even worse. People who have been impacted by the lawlessness will speak,’ said the outside Trump adviser.”

He might have added that Trump has been crudely promoting the idea that the equal-housing policies Biden is likely to favor will damage suburban property values by letting those people move into previously white areas. In any event, it’s unlikely the Trump campaign will suddenly “pivot to the center” and moderate his pitch this late in the game.

Indeed — as Ron Brownstein points out — for all the president’s troubles, he retains relatively strong support among the non-college-educated white voters who were attracted to his hateful and divisive 2016 message:

These are not as strong as the numbers he posted in 2016, but boosting them with raw, race-based MAGA appeals may be the most direct path to another narrow Trump win. And it’s entirely possible that the images being flashed around the country by the Democratic convention will add to the Republican temptation to go feral:

“Last night’s proceedings were effectively a tribute to America’s growing diversity. The energetic, quick-cut keynote speech included multiple speakers who were Latino, Black, Asian American, Native American, and LGBTQ, not to mention several women. The brilliantly reimagined convention roll call reinforced the point, with brief testimonials—some somber, others endearingly goofy—from another diverse roster of speakers in every state and territory, a change that drew rave reviews on Twitter and TV news. Some Democratic activists complained that organizers had allocated too much of the event’s limited time to Republicans and too little to nonwhite progressive leaders such as Stacey Abrams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But average viewers probably absorbed a very different image: On a day when Trump delivered an incendiary speech in Yuma, Arizona, touting his border wall and even reprising the language from his 2015 campaign announcement about immigrants as ‘murderers’ and ‘rapists,’ Democrats offered the 21st-century version of a Norman Rockwell painting.”

You have to figure Team Trump has some focus groups registering fear and loathing of this image of an America where 20th-century ideas of “greatness” have not been restored and are threatened anew.

Sure, the RNC will have its own overlapping agendas. You can, for example, expect as many non-white Republican speakers as organizers can find (including Black state legislator Vernon Jones of Georgia, who will serve as a counter to all the cross-party speakers Democrats recruited). But no one will be left with the impression that Trump’s GOP is anything other than the party of a threatened white Christian hegemony that is unhappy about Black Lives Matter, police accountability, and immigrant rights and is nearly twice as exercised about “violent crime” as it is about COVID-19 (according to a recent Pew survey). You can expect four days of subliminal and not-so-subliminal messaging to their worst instincts.