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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Blinks on China
      •  Abrams Announces 2020 Plans
      •  Epstein Story Isn't Going Away
      •  A Tale of Two Terrible Candidates
      •  This Week's Polling News, Part I: Trump vs. the Democrats
      •  This Week's Polling News, Part II: Trump vs. Himself
      •  Gabbard Takes a Two-Week Hiatus

Trump Blinks on China

Donald Trump really loves tariffs, and has for at least 40 years. However, he hates losing, and the polling numbers we're seeing these days (more below) suggest he's in deep trouble. That trouble will get worse—maybe a little, probably a lot—if the economy tanks, and so on Tuesday, Trump backed down on his Chinese tariffs, at least a little bit, announcing that the next round of duties imposed would take effect on Dec. 15, and not Sept 1.

The President's stated purpose for the delay was that he didn't want people to feel the pinch during the Christmas holidays. That may well be true, and is politically astute. Voters are unforgiving if they cannot afford that toy for junior. On the other hand, if the tariffs are going to tank the economy, then postponing it for a few months means the effect will hit at the height of election season. That's not so politically astute.

And indeed, there is much evidence that the tariffs do threaten to derail the economy. The Dow Jones and other indices have taken several serious dips since Trump announced the latest round of tariffs, and they rallied when Trump announced the tariff postponement. That said, Wall Street remains very skittish, in large part because they realize that laying out a plan for what will happen with the tariffs in the next six months is a nearly surefire sign that there won't be a trade deal with China anytime soon, which means the trade war is here to stay.

In addition to the economic turmoil, the President has another headache on his hands, namely the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. Some, including many in the Chinese government, think the United States is behind it. Who knows how true that is, but what is much clearer is that Xi Jinping is getting ready to crack down harshly, and Trump has no plan for what to do. "The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation. I hope it works out peacefully. I hope nobody gets hurt. I hope nobody gets killed," he said. If things spiral out of control, it would be a very bad look for the White House, whether the U.S. gets more directly involved or it looks the other way, and would even further inflame tensions between the U.S. and China. That is particularly true if Taiwan is the next target, as many fear will be the case.

In short, the administration may be on the brink of its first full-blown foreign crisis. This one would tax even a skilled diplomat like Richard Nixon or Franklin D. Roosevelt, which means it's way, way above the pay grade of Trump and the other folks in the White House right now. (Z)

Abrams Announces 2020 Plans

Stacey Abrams, the recently defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, has announced her current plans for 2020: She's going to work in battleground states to make sure voter rights are protected against things like Voter ID laws and other types of disenfranchising behavior that disproportionately affect minorities. Inasmuch as that is a pretty big task, and inasmuch as Abrams said she would announce by Labor Day (19 days from now) if she was going to run for president, Tuesday's announcement effectively means she's not going to join the two-dozen-strong Democratic presidential field.

This is a very shrewd move by Abrams. Given that election irregularities may have cost her the race against Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA), she has some expertise in this area, as well as ample credibility. Working on this project will let her help the Democratic Party in a palpable way, while also allowing her to network with many of the Party's pooh-bahs. She also avoids a potential second electoral defeat in three years; candidates who lose twice like that are often perceived as damaged goods. And finally, this will allow her to stay above the presidential fray, not stepping on any toes, should the eventual Democratic nominee decide that a young, black, dynamic, female candidate might balance their ticket nicely. She might be the only Democrat in the country who could plausibly be paired with any of the three leading presidential candidates (we would definitely be in a brave, new, Y-chromosome-free world, of course, if the Party ran a Warren/Abrams ticket). (Z)

Epstein Story Isn't Going Away

Jeffrey Epstein is dead, to begin with—there's no doubt about that. However, the circumstances of his death continue to raise questions. At worst, there is a conspiracy afoot, and many corners of the Internet are obsessed with rooting it out. More likely, however, is that we're looking at garden-variety incompetence, as a man who tried to commit suicide several weeks ago should not have been removed from the watchlist so casually and so quickly.

We still don't know what really happened (and may never know), but the New York Times is reporting that the two guards who were in charge of Epstein's unit were so overworked due to staff shortages that they fell asleep and didn't check on him for 3 hours. As a corollary to Occam's Razor, never assume malicious intent when mere incompetence will explain the facts.

It was AG Bill Barr who had ultimate supervisory responsibility for what happened. In other words, the buck stops with him. Indeed, the Epstein suicide bears some similarity to what happened with Hillary Clinton and Benghazi, a subject that got just a wee bit of attention from Republicans. That said, there is one major difference, namely that Clinton had no indication that the Benghazi situation was about to go south, while Barr could absolutely have foreseen what happened with Epstein.

The upshot is that, for the second or third time in as many months, a harsh spotlight is on the AG, including from some Republican members of Congress, and from some in the right-wing media. Donald Trump would hate to lose such a loyalist, particularly after being so unhappy with the former AG, Jeff Sessions. On the other hand, the President hates to look bad even more, and if the heat does not die down, he may decide he has no choice but to swing the ax. Recall how quickly Alex Acosta was swept from office just a few weeks ago. If Trump's cabinet ultimately does find itself dis-Barred, that would mean that Epstein, a sex offender and trafficker of adolescent girls, would be responsible for the fall of two cabinet secretaries in less than a month. (Z)

A Tale of Two Terrible Candidates

Yesterday, we ran a series of items in which we tried to make the point that the current iteration of the GOP has little identity, beyond being the party of Donald Trump. And one side effect of that is that it's not so easy to recruit good candidates for office, as few people (if any) have the President's rather unique ability to unify people around his message. This is illustrated by two high-profile Republicans who are making noise about running. What these two fellows have in common is that they are both mini-Trumps, and they both have virtually no chance of winning.

Let's start in New Hampshire, where it is getting more and more likely that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will run for the right to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). David Bossie, president of Citizens United, is enthusiastic about the possibility, and has commissioned a poll that shows that Lewandowski would lead the Republican field if he was to announce a run. The President is also reportedly keen to have Lewandowski run, and it's entirely possible that an official announcement will be made when Trump holds a rally in the Granite State on Thursday.

If Lewandowski does run, he will be a very weak candidate. First, note how carefully Bossie crafted his poll: while Republican frontrunner status is likely, Lewandowski would start with the support of only about a third of the state's GOP voters. That's not a great position. There was no polling of a hypothetical matchup with Shaheen, because Bossie knows Lewandowski would get trounced. Bossie is arguing that a full-throated Trump endorsement would buoy Lewandowski's hopes in the state, but not so fast. Trump's approval rating in the state stands at 40%, while his disapproval is at 57%. Even if every single person who approves of Trump throws their support behind Lewandowski, the would-be senator would still need a sizable number of voters who don't approve of the President. That's not too likely to happen if the two men are joined at the hip.

On top of all of this, Lewandowski has some serious baggage. To start, there was his alleged assault of a female reporter. Although the charges were dropped, that does not mean that voters have forgotten the incident. Lewandowski also has a habit of making controversial statements, and he has a long (and sometimes questionable) history as a lobbyist, which could come back to haunt him. Finally, although he's lived and worked in New Hampshire for a fair portion of his adult life, and although he has a house there now, he's spent considerably more time outside the state, and he grew up in Massachusetts. That makes him something of a carpetbagger, which will turn off some voters.

Way on the other side of the country, meanwhile, is Arizona, where the fellow who is talking about running is...former Arizona Diamondbacks (and Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies) pitcher Curt Schilling, who still has very high name recognition and much popularity in the Grand Canyon State due to having led the team to its only World Series victory in 2001 (he was co-MVP, with fellow pitcher Randy Johnson). Unlike Lewandowski, Schilling never had a formal role with the President's campaign. His mini-Trump status comes in a different way, as he is rather notorious for posting racist and anti-Muslim tweets to Twitter, and for calling for violence against journalists. He's also openly hostile to trans people. Sound familiar? As a bonus, Schilling also ran his post-baseball business (a video game company) into the ground, leaving the state of Rhode Island out of luck on a $50 million loan it had provided to encourage him to move his operation there.

Trump, who does not exactly help make his case that he's not a racist with endorsements of people like Schilling, is thrilled about the possibility of a run by the former pitcher:

It is not clear if Schilling would run for the House or for the Senate. The last time he talked about a run for office, he was eyeing Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) seat, but if he tried to take on Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in 2020, he would never get the support of the GOP establishment. So, he might have to settle for a House seat, if he did run.

Whatever Schilling does, he's not going to win, and he could actively harm the GOP. He has much in common with former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio (in fact, the two are friends). And even conservative Arizonans grew tired of that brand of politics, booting Arpaio from office, and then handing him a humiliating third-place finish when he tried a Senate run. There's no reason to think Schilling would do better, sports fame or not. And then, consider that Schilling constantly issues forth with the kind of hair-raising statements that Donald Trump gets away with, but no other politician does. He would make Todd "legitimate rape" Akin's campaign look like a walk in the park. All of this could serve to taint the Arizona GOP as a whole, and also to block a stronger candidate from running.

This is an issue that is going to come up a lot in the next year or so: As the GOP tries to save those Congressional seats that are being left open by retirements, or to steal a few seats back from the blue team, how are they going to find candidates that can appeal to the President's base, but can also pick up the additional votes needed to win an election? As you will recall, the Electoral College does not weigh in on Congressional races, so losing to one's opponent by 3-4% will not get it done. (Z)

This Week's Polling News, Part I: Trump vs. the Democrats

Given that this isn't even a presidential election year, there are an awful lot of presidential election polls these days. Let's take a look at how Donald Trump is doing against the leading Democrats this week nationwide (SurveyUSA and IBD/TIPP), as well as in Texas (DMN/Emerson), North Carolina (Civitas/SurveyUSA), and California (KGTV-TV/SurveyUSA):

Democratic Candidate Dem.   Trump Dem.   Trump Dem.   Trump Dem.   Trump Dem.   Trump
Joe Biden 50% 42% 54% 41% 51% 49% 49% 41% 61% 27%
Bernie Sanders 50% 42% 50% 41% 51% 49% 47% 43% 62% 29%
Elizabeth Warren 46% 44% 49% 45% 48% 52% 44% 43% 58% 30%
Kamala Harris 45% 44% 47% 45% 46% 54% 43% 44% 59% 30%
Pete Buttigieg 42% 44% N/A N/A 48% 52% 41% 43% 53% 30%

That is a grim collection of data for Trump. There is just no other way to slice it. A few specific observations:

  • Biden leads Trump in all five polls, including in battleground states.

  • So does Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In fact, the single most startling data point in the whole set is that Sanders is leading Trump in Texas. Let that sink in for a moment. Maybe we were too quick in expressing our skepticism yesterday that the state's electoral votes could be in play.

  • If Texas flips, and all other 2016 states stay the same, then Trump loses. If North Carolina flips, and the Democrats hold all of the Hillary Clinton states, then they would just need any two of: Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona.

  • There is only one situation (vs. Harris, in Texas) where Trump's lead is outside the margin of error. In other words, he's running even, or behind, all of the Democratic frontrunners nearly everywhere.

  • That means that Trump is in a statistical dead heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend), who nobody had even heard of six months ago.

  • There is a pretty clear correlation between a candidate's level of support and their national name recognition. That implies that, for example, many of the 13% of NC voters who expressed no opinion in the Trump-Harris or Trump-Warren matchups are probably available to be won over by the Senators.

Running even, or nearly even, in state polls may be enough for Trump (more below). But he can't put on a full-court defense everywhere, and he can't overcome a gap of more than 4-5 points. Further, if the Southern states are in serious doubt, it is likely that most or all of the rust belt states are goners. (Z)

This Week's Polling News, Part II: Trump vs. Himself

Clearly, Donald Trump is not doing too well against the leading Democrats, polling wise. He's also not doing too well on his own merits. In the last 10 days, five different polling houses have asked respondents about the direction the country is headed: Rasmussen, Politico/Morning Consult, Economist/YouGov, Reuters/Ipsos, and Harvard-Harris. Here are their findings in one chart:

Pollster Right Direction Wrong Direction Net
Rasmussen Reports 38% 57% -19%
Politico/Morning Consult 37% 63% -26%
Economist/YouGov 35% 58% -23%
Reuters/Ipsos 33% 58% -25%
Harvard-Harris 37% 54% -17%

This is about as grim as the chart in the previous item. A presidential reelection bid is largely a referendum on the incumbent, and right now the voting public is not happy. Trump can certainly overcome some of this. There are undoubtedly some voters who think that the country is on the wrong track, and that the only solution is even more Trump. On top of that, and probably more significantly, Trump 2020 is counting on his ability to gin up the base, and to create higher enthusiasm among his voters than among the opposition's voters. After all, if you get 75% of your 42% to the polling place, that's more than if the other side gets 60% of their 50% out to vote.

However, even if these factors break in Trump's favor, they can only carry him so far. It is inconceivable that he can win if 60% of the voting public believes that the nation is headed in the wrong direction when they cast their ballots on Nov. 5, 2020. (Z)

Gabbard Takes a Two-Week Hiatus

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) won't be campaigning for the next two weeks. She won't be in Washington taking care of her day job, either. No, consistent with her military obligations, she will be performing her mandatory annual active service, participating in training exercises in Indonesia.

Is this bad news for the Gabbard campaign? Maybe not. She's not making much headway right now, anyhow, and the spate of stories about her suspension of her campaign (every outlet had an item) will probably win her more brownie points than going to Iowa and eating fried corn on the cob would. Undoubtedly, once the Representative returns to her campaign, her speeches and interviews will be chock full of reminders of where she was and what she was doing. This is not to say that her service is a charade, because it's not, merely that it will probably have equal or more PR benefit compared to actually campaigning.

There is someone who is very disappointed about this, however, and it is...Joe Biden. Gabbard has set her sights on Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), which helps Team Biden, because it takes a serious rival down a peg while allowing the former VP to keep his hands clean. Reportedly, the Biden campaign is working behind the scenes to help get Gabbard qualified for the next debate. Whether it works, we do learn one thing from all of this: Biden is nervous about Harris.

The technique the Biden campaign is apparently employing, as we have pointed out before, has a not-so-printable name that it acquired during the Richard Nixon years. And Team Biden is not the only one allegedly doing it right now. The NRSC is paying for billboards in Colorado, Georgia, Maine and North Carolina, in an effort to help lower-tier Democrats in their races against the blue team's frontrunners. As with the Biden campaign, this tells us at least one thing: The GOP is nervous about those four states, all of which are currently in Republican hands (those of Cory Gardner, David Perdue, Susan Collins, and Thom Tillis, respectively). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug13 Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, Part I: Immigrants
Aug13 Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, Part II: Mobility
Aug13 Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, Part III: Regulation
Aug13 Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, Part IV: Conservation
Aug13 Reid: Abolish the Filibuster
Aug13 Trump Could Goddamn Well Lose the Evangelicals
Aug13 Could Texas Go Blue in 2020?
Aug12 Epstein Opts for the Expedited Track
Aug12 What Is the Second Amendment Really about?
Aug12 It's Party Time in Iowa
Aug12 The Gaffe Machine Rolls On
Aug12 What Do the Democrats Want?
Aug12 The Mooch Turns
Aug12 Not an Organized Party
Aug12 DHS Official Calls for Paper Ballots in 2020
Aug12 Monday Q&A
Aug09 A Day of Ill Omens for Trump
Aug09 Trump Administration Turnover Remains Brisk
Aug09 Operation Wetback, v2.0
Aug09 The State of the State Polls
Aug09 Gabbard for VP?
Aug08 Trump Visits Toledo and El Paso
Aug08 Biden Eviscerates Trump
Aug08 Big News on Social Media
Aug08 Quinnipiac Poll: Biden, Warren, Sanders
Aug08 House Goes to Court to Force McGahn to Testify
Aug08 Warren Has a Huge Operation in Nevada
Aug08 Poll: Democrats Have Wide Lead in Generic Congressional Ballot
Aug08 Orange County Is Now Democratland
Aug08 Ocasio-Cortez' Candidate Loses in Queens
Aug08 Thursday Q&A
Aug07 Let the Spin Commence
Aug07 Markets Bounce Back
Aug07 Huntsman Resigns Ambassadorship
Aug07 Nadler Hasn't Forgotten about Brett Kavanaugh
Aug07 More Legal Challenges to New California Law
Aug07 Fool Me Once, Part I: Venezuela
Aug07 Fool Me Once, Part II: Mississippi Elections
Aug06 It's Not Donald Trump's Fault
Aug06 Things Go From Bad to Worse with China...
Aug06 ...And Venezuela, Too
Aug06 Mueller Redactions May Soon Be Unredacted
Aug06 Impeachment Recommendation May Be Coming
Aug06 California Tax Return Law Officially Challenged in Court
Aug06 Democratic Party Starts Hiring Staff
Aug05 Thoughts and Prayers, Part 251
Aug05 Another Trump Nominee Goes Down in Flames
Aug05 New Poll: Debate Changed Nothing
Aug05 Another Texas House Republican Hangs Up His Cowboy Hat
Aug05 Are Immigrants Useful?