Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The One Key Takeaway From The Debate

 he presidential debate is over and, as usual, both sides are claiming victory (including in a Trump email that went out before the debate). In the debate that Jake Tapper called a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck” there was no clear winner. There was a clear loser, however.

The bar was set very low for Joe Biden. Going into the debate, the Trump campaign had been attacking the former vice president’s mental abilities for months, often using deceptively edited videos. They’re still saying it, but after last night it’s a lot less believable

Biden was the old Biden. He stumbled on words a few times but showed plenty of stamina, energy, lucidity, and good humor in the 90-minute debate. Biden did lead off with attacks in the first few minutes of the debate calling Trump a “clown” and a “liar” at various times and asking at one point, “Will you shut up, man?

Although Biden’s temper flared on occasion, the way he often turned away Trump’s attacks with patience and laughter reminded me of the 1980 debate in which Ronald Reagan laughed off Jimmy Carter’s attacks with a patronizing, “There you go again.” This is probably the only way that Biden reminds me of Reagan.

Trump was also the old Trump, and that was the root of his problems. It is difficult to tell whether Trump prepped for the debate or whether he just winged it after watching Fox News.

The president came across as angry and combative. With his continual interruptions and breaking of the mutually agreed-upon rules, Trump placed himself in the position of having to debate both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace.

In the midst of the brouhaha, Trump missed an easy layup when Wallace asked him to condemn “white supremacist and right-wing militia.” The resulting soundbite will get a lot of airplay.

Trump’s response was, “Who would you like me to condemn? The Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”

“Stand back and stand by” is not a repudiation of anything.

Trump also made a YUGE tactical error in accusing Biden of supporting the call to defund police. Biden got his message out that he is “totally opposed” to defunding police and took the opportunity to distance himself from the radical left.

Trump took Biden’s statement that he opposed defunding as a victory. The president seemed to think that it was an “aha” moment and argued that saying the words “law enforcement” would cause the Democrat to “lose all of your radical left supporters.”

In reality, the exchange likely hurt Trump. Joe Biden was not the pick of the radical left. He was the moderate pick. The radical left already knows that Biden is not one of them. The people who didn’t know that Biden was a moderate – uninformed voters and Trump supporters – will realize this after having watched the debate, which further undercuts the Trump campaign’s claims that Biden is a radical socialist.

The radical left’s dislike of Biden pales in comparison to their dislike of Trump. After 2016, few leftists will stay home or vote third party, and now, thanks to Trump, Biden’s moderate position was highlighted before a national audience. By definition, moderate voters are those in the middle. They decide elections.

Having said all that, the one key takeaway is that the debate will not help Donald Trump, but it will make people feel easier about Joe Biden. The bar was set so low for Biden that all he needed to do was string together a few coherent sentences without drooling. He far exceeded that standard and held his own against the bombastic Trump.

On the other hand, Trump needed to seem rational, competent, and in control of himself. On that score, he failed miserably. The president was the proverbial bull in the china shop. He seemed totally lacking in even basic self-control. Donald Trump came across as a male “Karen” (please excuse the expression, I have the utmost respect for real Karens that I know) who has control of the nuclear codes.

For the most part, I disagree with both candidates on policy, but Donald Trump clearly lost the debate based on his poor form and displays of unpresidential temperament. The evening will not help the president with undecided voters and will not win over Biden supporters to his camp. That’s what counts.

In reality, most unaffiliated voters don’t care much about policy anyway. And if they did, it was hard to hear any serious discussion of platforms over the cross-talk and arguing.

Trump supporters are claiming that the president won the debate, but they know better. The tell is that Team Trump immediately started attacking the moderator. If they were happy with their candidate’s performance, they wouldn’t need a scapegoat. The truth is, as Erick Erickson humorously tweeted, that Chris Wallace did about as well as anyone could have under the circumstances.

There were no clear winners in the debate, but there was a clear loser. Donald Trump’s performance underscored the urgent need to remove him from the presidency. If he can’t control himself for 90 minutes, why should he be trusted with four more years?

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Donald Trump Is Being Buried Beneath Tsunami Of Bad News

They called Ronald Reagan the “Teflon President,” but, when it comes to not having bad news stick, the Gipper had nothing on Donald Trump. Much of Trump’s tenure has been marked by bad news (much of it the result of bad decisions by the president) but very little has stuck to Mr. Trump. Now, a month prior to the election, the bad news continues to hit the news cycle at an alarming rate.

Beyond this weekend’s revelations about President Trump’s tax avoidance, consider a few of the stories that have emerged over the past few weeks:

  • Bob Woodward’s taped interviews in which the president admitted that he understood the danger of Coronavirus but “downplayed” the pandemic
  • Nearly 500 former generals and admirals endorse Biden in a joint letter that says Trump is “not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office”
  • Trump’s former Coast Guard chief says Trump is waging an ” insurgency… on our constitutional rights”
  • On at least two occasions, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, saying he doesn’t want to be “cheated”
  • The Senate report on Hunter Biden failed to find criminal wrongdoing or break new ground despite years of claims and investigations, which led to Trump’s own impeachment
  • The intelligence officer who gave Trump 300 daily briefings wrote in the Denver Post that “As damaging as his faulty leadership has been, four more years would be devastating”
  • US Coronavirus deaths surpassed 200,000, the highest national death toll in the world
  • The Varieties of Democracy study found that executive respect for the Constitution was at its lowest level since 1865 and corruption was at its highest level since Warren G. Harding
  • Olivia Troye, Pence’s lead aide on the Coronavirus Task Force endorsed Biden, saying that Trump “doesn’t actually care about anyone else but himself”
  • Trump has sparred with health officials about the readiness of a COVID-19 vaccine and claims that the White House can overrule FDA authorization to speed the drug to market
  • The allegation that Trump called wounded military veterans “suckers and losers
  • A former National Security Council official said the White House pressured her to say John Bolton’s book was a security risk in an attempt to delay its publication
  • Continuing civil unrest and high racial tensions
  • Polling found that more voters think Trump is unfit for office than Biden

And that’s just for the last four weeks.

Atop this mountain of red flags, warnings, and incompetence now comes the news that Donald Trump has paid nothing or next to nothing in taxes for at least 11 of the past 15 years. While paying fewer taxes is a worthy goal, it will be embarrassing for the billionaire (or is it “millionaire”) presidential candidate whose tax reform was a lightning rod for many middle-class taxpayers who ended up paying more. At the very least, Trump’s tax shenanigans may add fuel to Joe Biden’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, an idea that already has overwhelming popular support, even among a majority of Republicans.

To be fair, it hasn’t been all bad news. Trump’s Arab-Israeli treaties were good news and didn’t get the coverage that they would have in a different year. A year when a signatory to the treaty wasn’t leaving open the possibility of an unpeaceful presidential transition.

There was also the Supreme Court vacancy which, although Republicans see it as good news, might not be. The opening has energized Republicans but it has also energized the left. And the numbers seem to be on the side of the opposition.

Justice Ginsburg was far more popular than Donald Trump (by about 15 points) and voters favor leaving the seat vacant until the outcome of the election can be determined by double-digit margins. If Amy Coney Barrett proves to be an unpopular nominee, the Supreme Court vacancy could end up being the final nail in the coffin of the Trump campaign by swaying unaffiliated voters against Trump. Ironically, confirming Barrett before the election might also give Trump-skeptical Republicans one less reason to vote for the president since the Court will have a definite conservative tilt.

Despite the onslaught of bad news interspersed with a few favorable items, Trump is bearing up better than expected under the onslaught. Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean he’s doing well, but the situation could always be worse. Trump’s average approval rating currently sits at 43.7 percent, somewhat recovered from the summer doldrums, and right where it has been for the majority of the past three years.

That is not nearly good enough to win re-election. Biden leads by an average of seven points in national polls. When the Electoral College is considered, Biden leads in all of the swing states and is becoming competitive in red states such as Georgia and Texas.

But Trump’s resilience may be enough to prevent the complete collapse that would overtake a candidate with a less zealous base. What is astounding is that the bottom has not dropped out of the president’s polling given the volume of bad news. Even more astounding is the fact that Mr. Trump is polling ahead of incumbent Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham.

My theory is that the 43-percent is made of several disparate groups of voters. One of the largest segments is the “My Trump, right or wrong” crowd for whom the president can literally do no wrong. A second group is voters who don’t like Trump but who fear Biden and the Democrats more. A third group is the partisans who will simply vote for any candidate with an (R) after his name.

We have also become numbed by the sheer volume of mind-numbingly shocking and, frankly, alarming revelations about the president. He’s been so bad for so long that it takes a lot to move the needle after five years of the media spotlight on the president’s erratic behavior. Abnormal has become the new normal or, as WWII GIs used to say, “Situation Normal: All Fouled Up (SNAFU).”

The high floor (so far) for Trump is both good and bad for Republicans. In the short term, it is good because it will help the party minimize its losses this November and Republicans need to maintain the Senate, or at least a big enough caucus to filibuster, to check the progressive agenda. In the long term, however, it can be dangerous for the party because so much of the Republican identity is now based on personal loyalty to Donald Trump. It will be difficult for conservatives to steer the party in a positive direction post-Trump if most Republicans are still members of the personality cult.

Donald Trump won’t make finding a new Republican direction easy. He won’t be going away after the election, no matter how it turns out. The president will be cheering (and jeering) from the Twitter sidelines and directing his legions of followers, a faction that will likely remain formidable.

For the moment, however, the real question is what tomorrow will bring. Trump is facing a daily dribble of bad news that is similar to the bad news cycle that Hillary Clinton endured in 2016 with health problems, leaked emails, and a lack of direction. That year, the steady drip of bad news finally broke her once solid lead after James Comey’s letter to Congress was released.

This year, Trump is already well behind his challenger only a month out from the election. The steady flow of negative press will make it even more difficult for Trump to climb out of the electoral cellar. It’s impossible to predict the next fire that the Trump campaign will have to put out, but the fires will undoubtedly continue until Election Day.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Outperforms Senate Republicans

 When I was writing about Lindsey Graham earlier this week, I noticed that the South Carolina senator was actually running behind Donald Trump in the Palmetto State. This was somewhat surprising since Mr. Trump underperformed most Republican candidates in 2016 and it made me wonder how the president stacks up against other Republican incumbents.

This year, Republicans will be defending a total of 23 Senate seats. Here is how the current RealClearPolitics polling averages (or FiveThirtyEight when no RCP average is available) compare for each Senate race and the presidential election, along with each Senate race’s current rating from Cook Political Report:

Alaska – Likely R (no polls since July)
Sullivan (R) leads by five points
Trump (R) leads by three points

Arizona Lean D
McSally trails by five
Trump trails by three

Arkansas Solid R
(No Senate polls and no presidential polls since June)
Trump leads by two

Colorado Lean D
Gardner trails by eight
Trump trails by 10

Georgia Toss up
Perdue leads by three
Georgia special election Lean R
Loeffler leads by three
Trump leads by one

Idaho Solid R
Risch leads by 26
Trump leads by 25

Iowa Toss up
Ernst trails by three
Trump is tied with Biden

Kansas Lean R (open seat)
Marshall leads by three
Trump leads by nine

Kentucky Likely R
McConnell leads by eight
Trump leads by 18

Louisiana Solid R
No Senate polls
Trump leads by 11

Maine Toss up
Collins trails by seven
Trump trails by 15

Mississippi Solid R
Hyde-Smith leads by 10
Trump leads by 12

Montana Toss up
Daines leads by two
Trump leads by nine

Nebraska Solid R
No Senate polls
Trump trails by seven (this was a shocker)

North Carolina Toss up
Tillis trails by six
Trump trails by less than one point

Oklahoma Solid R
Inhofe leads by 20
Trump leads by 24

South Carolina Lean R
Graham is tied
Trump leads by eight

South Dakota Solid R
No polls

Tennessee Solid R (open seat)
No Senate polls
Trump leads by 13

Texas Likely R
Cornyn leads by eight
Trump leads by four

West Virginia Solid R
No recent polls

Wyoming Solid R (open seat)
Barasso leads by 29
No presidential polls

Of the polls where we have decent data on both races, the Republican candidate polled better than the president in seven cases. This does not include Idaho where James Risch fared only one point better than President Trump, a statistical tie. That leaves nine states where Donald Trump is running ahead of the Republican Senate incumbents.

It is also worth noting that Republican incumbents trail in five states, not counting South Carolina. Democrats need to gain a net of four seats to gain control of the Senate (three if Kamala Harris becomes president of the Senate) and Doug Jones’s seat in Alabama appears to be the only likely Democratic loss.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions in the midst of the campaign but the polling currently shows a stark change in the nature of the Republican Party since November 2016. That year, Trump outperformed Republican senatorial candidates in only three of 12 races.

The data so far for 2020 is incomplete but shows that Donald Trump is far more accepted among red-state Republicans now than in 2020. This is true despite the fact that Joe Biden is a much more popular candidate than Hillary Clinton. With no polling in so many deep-red states, it will be interesting to watch the margins of the elections to see whether Trump maintains his edge over Senate Republicans.

Despite Mr. Trump’s unpopularity in the country at large, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Trump remains popular in red states. What is surprising is the extent to which Trump has become more popular than traditional Republicans. That truth underscores the fact that, even if Mr. Trump is shown the door by voters, his influence will be felt in the GOP for years to come.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, September 28, 2020

Lindsey Graham’s Plea For Cash: ‘I’m Being Killed Financially’

Back in August, I detailed the emerging tight race between Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. Last week, the South Carolina senator hinted at just how tight his re-election campaign has become when he pleaded with Fox News viewers for donations.

In two appearances last Thursday, Graham made his pitch for contributions to “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity, telling Hannity’s viewers, “Help me. They’re killing me moneywise. Help me. You did last week. Help me again.”

After being scheduled to talk about the Senate report on Hunter Biden rather than his campaign, Graham also made a direct appeal on “Fox & Friends,” where he said, as quoted by the Washington Post, “My opponent will raise almost $100 million. I’m being killed financially. This money is ’cause they hate my guts.”

The Associated Press reported a few weeks ago that Graham’s challenger, Jaime Harrison, had raised more than $30 million. The haul included two separate days with million-dollar totals after favorable polls were released.  few weeks ago that Graham’s challenger, Jaime Harrison, had raised more than $30 million. The haul included two separate days with million-dollar totals after favorable polls were released. 

Harrison told supporters that Graham’s plea shows that the senator “realized he’s going to lose on November 3rd.

In mid-August, Graham was still up by seven points in polling but more recent polls show a tie race. Two separate Quinnipiac polls one from July and another from mid-September, showed an tie. A third poll from CBS Newsshowed Graham with a one-point lead at 45 percent. Interestingly, Graham is polling behind Donald Trump who averages a six-point lead in polling since July. Both Republicans are polling worse than their last elections.

Jaime Harrison is running as a moderate. The graduate of Yale and Georgetown Law, who is black, hit the airwaves in April with biographical ads in which he introduced himself to voters before Graham could define him. 

Graham, on the other hand, is struggling to overcome his RINO reputation and the perception that he is too close to Trump. Graham also made an embarrassing gaffe last spring when he vowed that the $600 enhanced unemployment payment would only be extended “over our dead bodies.”

The Supreme Court confirmation battle will also shine a spotlight on Graham, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The attention may not be helpful. 

In March 2016 as the debate over Merrick Garland was heating up, Graham said, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination, and you could use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right.”

If that sound bite isn’t already being broadcast around the Palmetto State on ads for Jaime Harrison, it will be soon.

I wouldn’t bet on Graham losing his seat, but 2020 is shaping up to be an ugly year for Republicans. Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball both still rate the race as “lean Republican,” but Graham is definitely struggling to stay afloat and it looks increasingly likely the race could go either way.

Originally published on The Resurgent