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Political Wire logo Carlson Says It’s ‘Illegal’ to Only Consider Black Women
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Trump Weighs Convention Speech Options
Trump’s Assault on Mail Voting Threatens His Reelection
Why Stuart Stevens Wants to Defeat Trump

White House and Democrats Remain Far Apart on New Relief Bill

In separate television interviews yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed that while some progress has been made in working out a new bill to battle the coronavirus and reboot the economy, the parties still remain far apart. Meadows said: "I'm not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term." The two Republicans want a minimal bill, but that is not acceptable to Pelosi. The Speaker is also insisting on $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, but Mnuchin said "that's something we're not going to do."

With nearly all the effects of the previous COVID-19 relief bills worn off now, unless a new agreement is reached very quickly, the economy is going to go south fast and unemployment is going to go north equally fast. A sinking economy is never good for an incumbent, as the challenger is going to say: "Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?" As a consequence, Pelosi has most of the leverage here and she knows it.

Republicans have a problem, but it is largely of their own making. If they were simply to ask: "What can we do to boost Trump's reelection?," the conclusion would be to pass the $3 trillion bill the House passed in May and do it today. That will help individuals keep up their spending and pay their rent, as well as allowing states and cities to avoid laying off teachers, police officers, and other workers.

But one of the core beliefs that few Republicans ever question is that poor people are lazy and won't work unless they are forced to work by actual starvation. To them, if the government gives poor people $600 a week for another few months, few, if any, of them will seek work, which will hurt employers. There is no evidence that many people refused to go back to their old jobs (when available) on account of the $600 they were getting. They knew very well that the $600 payments were temporary but refusing to go back to work when that was possible meant losing that job forever. But punishing poor people for being poor is so ingrained in Republican thought that they can't break the grip, even when sticking with that view badly hurts their party. (V)

Meadows Walks Back Tweet on Delaying the Election

On CBS News' "Face the Nation" yesterday, Mark Meadows said: "We're going to hold an election on November 3rd, and the president is going to win."

Until Thursday, it wouldn't have been necessary for an administration official to state that the election will be held on Election Day or that Christmas will be celebrated this year on Dec. 25 or that the sun will be setting in the west. But after Donald Trump raised doubts about the former with a tweet last Thursday, and the media got into a real tizzy repeating it and pointing out that the president has no authority to postpone the election, Meadows apparently felt it was getting out of hand and had to shoot down the trial balloon, random thought, or whatever it was. Probably he felt that some swing voters might become nervous about it. Since it wasn't going to happen anyway, the downside was large and the upside was nil, so it was time to end the discussion.

But there is something else Trump tweeted that is much more significant. Trump wants the election result called on Election Night. That implicitly means that he is asking for absentee ballots that are postmarked before Election Day, but which arrive after Election Day, to be destroyed without being counted. That is actually going to happen in many states. Since the USPS is going to be overwhelmed, or may not even try very hard to deliver ballots on time, as we discussed on Saturday, the issue of when the election is actually over is critical. In particular, only one of the swing states (North Carolina) allows ballots arriving after Election Day to be counted. In the five other (pundit-certified) swing states, they go straight to paper recycling without even being opened. In Ohio and a few other states not usually counted as swing states, late ballots are also counted.

Most states send out absentee ballots a month or more in advance, so any voter who fills it in and sends it back the same day is sure it will be counted. The problem is that many voters are likely to procrastinate and not realize that a ballot mailed in the last week of October probably won't make it on time. Also, there may be some very civic-minded voters who feel they have to watch the final presidential debate on Oct. 22 before making a decision. If they mail their ballot the next morning, it will probably make it on time, but if they wait a few days, it might not.

Some states and counties may prepare for the USPS to be overwhelmed (and/or be in the tank for Trump) and may set up drop boxes for ballots to be returned in, thus avoiding the USPS. However, doing so runs the risk of campaign operatives placing fake ballot drop boxes in carefully selected neighborhoods and then burning all the ballots on Nov. 3 without even issuing a puff of white smoke. Massive voter education will be needed to prevent large numbers of voters from being disenfranchised one way or another. (V)

Clyburn: Trump Is Mussolini

Undoubtedly, Mark Meadows wanted to end the discussion about the election date before it got out of hand but it's too late already. Godwin's law states that as an Internet discussion goes on, the probability that someone gets compared to Hitler approaches 1.0. We're not quite there yet, but House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) is moving in that direction. Yesterday on CNN's "State of the Union," Clyburn compared Donald Trump to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, on account of Trump refusing to commit to leaving office if he loses the election. This is certainly a first. Even Richard Nixon was never likened to a foreign dictator against whom the U.S. fought a war.

Clyburn also said: "He doesn't plan to have fair and unfettered elections. I believe that he plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold on to office." Trump's refusal to say he would leave the White House if he loses could become a major issue in the fall. Some moderate Republicans might balk at installing a president-for-life, as Russia seems to have done. Republicans are starting to be concerned. Also on CNN, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) said: "It's not helpful for the president to think out loud in a public fashion." Note that Hutchinson is not worried about Trump pulling off a coup and trying to stay in power even after losing. He is worried about Trump saying this out loud. The message here is: "If you need to do it, that's OK, just don't talk about it before the election." (V)

Will Trump's Renomination Be Private?

On Saturday, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that Donald Trump's renomination would be done in private, with reporters barred from the room in Charlotte when the RNC officially renominates Trump. The spokesperson also said that the number of delegates will be reduced from 2,550 to 336 and the alternate delegates have been disinvited. If true, this would be the first convention in American history closed to reporters.

However, on Sunday, the RNC hedged this earlier statement, saying that no decision has been made yet. That's still pretty far from "Saturday's statement is no longer operative. Of course (friendly) media will be invited."

It's true that the coronavirus is surging over much of the South and having 20,000 media people be present in the room when Trump is nominated would be a disaster. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be hard to allow in a couple of reporters from the news services and major media outlets plus one TV camera crew whose feed would be given to every station in the country.

It's hard to understand what Trump has to gain by being renominated in secret. Normally, he wants as much publicity as possible. We could (sort of) understand him limiting media coverage to only friendly outlets, but banning them all? How does that help him? In fact, if reporters are forbidden to watch, the story then shifts from "Trump is renominated" to "What's he hiding?" It doesn't make any political sense, but so much of what Trump does doesn't actually help him. Nonetheless, because he ignored all his own experts in 2016 and won anyway, he is convinced that everything he thinks of is genius and he doesn't have to pay attention to his own campaign staff. Campaign manager Bill Stepien could tell him that if he lets in reporters and at least one TV crew, he will get the highest ratings in the history of the known universe, so he might relent.

The Democrats are planning a four-day convention, with prerecorded video filmed at various locations around the country being used. The number of people in the hall for the various speeches is expected to be small, but there has been no suggestion that all reporters will be banned. (V)

What's the Matter with Kansas?

The answer is that Democrats are ratf**king it, and it might work. According to a report in Politico, last Thursday the executive director of the NRSC, Kevin McLaughlin, held a private Zoom call with Republican operatives to warn them that internal polling of tomorrow's Republican senatorial primary shows it to be a dead heat between Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and right-wing firebrand Kris Kobach. He also said: "The Senate majority runs through Kansas." By that he meant that if Kobach wins the primary, McLaughlin is afraid that Barbara Bollier (D) will be the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Kansas since 1932 and that could be enough to flip the chamber. With Arizona and Colorado already lost causes, and Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina toss-ups or worse for the GOP, the last thing the NRSC wants to do is be forced to spend money on a Kansas Senate race defending a candidate who blew an easy gubernatorial race in 2018. (OK, that's an exaggeration. The last thing the NRSC wants to do is be forced to spend money to defend Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK, but you get the point.)

What McLaughlin is concerned about is the $5 million the Democrats have spent in Kansas nominally "attacking" Kobach for being too conservative for Kansas. For many Kansans, there is no such thing as too conservative, and if Kobach is more conservative than Marshall, all the more reason to vote for him. McLaughlin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Donald Trump, and other top Republicans all urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to enter the race. He would have won in a landslide and could have remained in the Senate for the next 30 years. But for reasons known only to Pompeo, he didn't throw his hat in the ring and now Republicans see a 50-50 chance that Kobach will win the primary. Then the best-case scenario would be spending millions to hold a seat that is rightly theirs. Worst case is spending millions and still losing. And with Kobach as the nominee, it will indeed take millions, because Bollier raised more money ($3.7 million) in Q2 than any candidate for any office has ever raised in a single quarter in the entire history of Kansas.

The Republicans do have a nuclear weapon they would like to use in the race, but they can't figure out how to set it off. It's Donald Trump. If Trump were to endorse Marshall, even at this late date, that would likely seal Kobach's fate. But so far, he is resisting calls from every top Republican to do so. He hasn't explained why. It is possible he actually prefers Kobach, who is a big fan of voter suppression. In contrast, before he entered Congress, Marshall was an OB-GYN and there are stories floating around that he performed an abortion at least once. Most likely it was an ectopic pregnancy and he did it to save the mother's life, but some anti-abortion fanatics oppose abortion even to save the mother's life, saying that is God's decision, not some doctor's. (V)

Arizona Votes Tomorrow

In addition to Kansas, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington all have primary elections tomorrow. None of them are likely to affect control of the Senate, as in Kansas, but there are still some interesting contests. Let's take a look, starting with Arizona.

  • The Senate: Democrat Mark Kelly will be formally nominated tomorrow, so not much excitement there. But Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has a serious primary challenger, Daniel McCarthy. He has little chance of winning, but if he gets 25% of the vote, it will indicate that not all Republicans are on board the McSally fighter jet. Together with her loss in the 2018 Senate race, this could indicate a very steep hill for her to climb in November. Most polls show her being crushed by Kelly, and a weak primary showing might just seal the deal and tell the NRSC to spend its money elsewhere.

  • The House: The primaries in eight of the House districts aren't terribly exciting. However, there is a real horse race in the Democratic primary in AZ-01, which is an R+2 district. Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ) is facing former Flagstaff councilwoman Eva Putzova. If she were a Puerto Rican-American instead of a Slovakian-American, she could be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' clone. She's for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college, the whole nine yards. If she beats O'Halleran, we will get to find out how well that works in a swing district. If she ends up in Congress, that may reset people's thinking about how viable progressives are in purple districts.

  • The state Senate: There are also a couple of important state Senate primary races. Democrats have a shot at flipping three seats in the state Senate and taking control, especially since three Republican state senators are retiring. In State Senate District 6, state Sen. Sylvia Allen (R) is being challenged by a big-spending perennial candidate, Wendy Rogers (R). It's a big brawl. If Rogers wins, Democrat Felicia French has a good chance of winning on Nov. 3.

    In State Senate District 15, state Sen. Heather Carter (R) is facing off against state Rep. Nancy Barto (R). The district is so conservative that the Democrats didn't even bother to field any candidates. The problem for the GOP is that Carter isn't a reliable conservative. If the state Senate ends up divided 15-15 including Carter, she will have the GOP over a barrel and will prevent them from carrying out far-right policies by threatening to bolt on every vote if she doesn't get her way. This is why Barto is challenging her.

Other than these races, not so much going on in Arizona. (V)

Michigan Votes Tomorrow

A number of House races are attracting attention in Michigan, including these:

  • MI-03: In MI-03, Justin Amash, a former Republican but current Libertarian, is retiring after briefly considering a presidential run on the Libertarian ticket. Five Republicans are running for their party's nomination. The Democratic nomination is certain to go to lawyer Hillary Scholten. The district is R+6, but in a blue wave it might be in play, so it could matter who the Republican candidate is.

  • MI-08: Former CIA intelligence officer Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) won this R+4 district and has been running scared ever since. She is unopposed, but the Republicans have a contest with former prosecutor Paul Junge, attorney Kristina Lyke, and businessman Alan Hoover fighting it out. Also in the GOP mix is Mike Detmer, who posted a picture on social media of himself protesting the stay-at-home order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), along with someone giving a white-power hand gesture. Detmer said he does not support the white-power movement.

  • MI-10: This district is interesting only because it is an open seat and open seat races are less predictable than when an incumbent is running for the seventh time. Businessman Paul Mitchell (no, not the shampoo guy) spent $3 million of his own money to buy the seat in 2016, but after two terms decided that it doesn't pay very well and being in the minority is no fun at all, so he is departing. There is a three-way race on the Republican side featuring state Rep. Shane Hernandez, businesswoman Lisa McCalin, and Air Force Brig. Gen. (ret.) Doug Slocum. The Democrats have two candidates duking it out, but the district is R+13, so the Republican will probably win in November.

  • MI-11: Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) is another first termer running for reelection in an R+4 district. There are six serious Republicans running, a sign that they think Stevens is vulnerable. The candidates are all over the map with a lot of accusations, claims, and counterclaims. There doesn't appear to be a clear favorite.

  • MI-13: In this district, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), a member of The Squad, which consists of four progressive congresswomen of color, has a primary challenge on her hands. The district, which covers the western part of Detroit and some suburbs, is majority Black and has a history of electing Black representatives. Tlaib is a Palestinian-American and is white. She won the 2018 primary with a minority of the vote in a six-way contest. This time it is a one-on-one battle with the president of the Detroit City Council, Brenda Jones, who is Black. Tlaib has more money and better name recognition, but identity politics can't be discounted here. The Republicans have a three-way primary, but it doesn't matter who wins because the hapless nominee will be crushed in this D+33 district in November. Why anyone would even want the Republican nomination is unclear to us.

The Detroit Free Press article linked to above has rundowns of the other House races as well as primaries for the state legislature. (V)

Missouri Votes Tomorrow

Two stories are getting most of the attention in Missouri.

  • Medicaid Expansion: The big question Missouri voters will have to decide tomorrow is an actual question: "Should Medicaid be expanded to include an additional 250,000 people?" Expansion proponents have flooded the airwaves with ads pointing out that providing medical care to a quarter of a million Missourians in the middle of a pandemic might be a nice thing to do. A "yes" vote would be a huge victory for the Democrats, who have been trying to do this for years. If the amendment passes, count on the state legislature doing everything it can to minimize the number of people covered—for example, by imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

  • Clay vs. Bush: Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who is Black, represents MO-01, a D+29 district that covers all of St. Louis. The district is 49% Black, 3% Latino, and 3% Asian. Clay's father, Bill Clay, was once a congressman and co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus. So is there a problem? Yes. Progressives, with the full support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), are trying to oust Clay and replace him with Cori Bush, a registered nurse who is also Black. Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus do not take kindly to an attempt to dislodge a member with 20 years of seniority and a fair amount of power. They especially don't like the idea of a white man from distant Vermont carpetbagging his way into Missouri politics. And it isn't like Clay is a blue dog. He is a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All and Green New Deal bills. Still, after the upsets progressives pulled off in NY-16 and NY-17, Bush's supporters are hopeful that she could do the same in St. Louis.

None of the other Missouri primary races appear to be all that interesting. (V)

Washington Votes Tomorrow

Not so much excitement in Washington.

  • Governor: Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) tried for a promotion (to president) and didn't make it, so he is going for a third term. That would be a feat done only once before in the history of the state. Washington has one of those jungle primaries. In all, 36 candidates will be on the ballot. These include candidates from the Democratic, Republican, Green, Propertarian, Fifth Republic, Social Workers, and Stand Up America parties. Inslee's challenge will be getting voters to even find him in the list. Fortunately, Washington votes entirely by mail, so voters have time to sit down and search for him.

  • WA-05: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was, until recently, in the House Republican leadership as the #3. Whether her exiting the leadership will reduce her clout remains to be seen, though. Although Washington is a blue state, her district is R+8. Originally there were two Democrats on the jungle primary ballot, but one of them, Chris Armitage, announced 2 weeks ago that he was ending his campaign because he "was made aware of an allegation that what I considered at the time to be a consensual relationship was not." Huh? That sounds like politician-speak for "Yes, I did it but I thought I could get away with it." So in November, Rodgers will almost certainly face Dave Wilson, a Spokane centrist businessman who is trying to see if the equation Rodgers = Trump is correct.

After Tuesday's vote in five states, Tennessee votes on Thursday and Hawaii on Saturday. (V)

Trump's Grip on the GOP Appears To Be Loosening

For 3½ years, Donald Trump has had an iron grip on the Republican Party. However, given his deteriorating position in the polls, some Republican politicians are beginning to envision a post-Trumpian world and want to make sure they have a prominent place in it. Tom Davis, a former chairman of the NRCC, put it like this: "His weaker poll numbers and off-the-wall tweets plus his flexible, day-to-day ideology empower and in some cases encourage dissent."

The search for what the Republican Party will be like after Trump exits stage right is complicated by the belief that he will never really exit until he dies. His Twitter feed will still drive news coverage and he might start up a new television network, TNN (Trump News Network). However, it is difficult for senators up this year to oppose him because in 2016, for the first time, no senator won (re)election in a state where the other party grabbed the electoral votes. In other words, Clinton states elected only Democrats and Trump states elected only Republicans. This means that candidates up in November are going to be tied to Trump whether they like it or not.

But other Republicans have more freedom to distance themselves from Trump, even now. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is calling to revive fiscal conservatism. Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) is promoting himself as a return-to-good-governance Republican. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), a former health company executive who can run on his business acumen, is already advertising in Iowa, nearly 4 years ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Brent Buchanan, a Republican pollster, said: "What we're seeing now is a significant amount of trial balloons being floated. Everyone knows the Republican Party requires a pivot in messaging and a better ability to connect with a broader set of voters. The question is what that messaging and who that messenger looks like." Bruce Mehlman, a well-connected Republican lobbyist, hit the nail on the head when he said: "Trump has ruled the party by fear more than love, creating mostly transactional relationships whose durability depends on perceptions of his power." (V)

Poll Worker Shortage Could Disrupt Election Day

First there was no toilet paper. Then soap and cleaning supplies were sold out. Now, good luck trying to buy a decent webcam. In November, the shortage of the month is going to be poll workers. We have brought up the poll worker shortage many times this year. Now Politico has gone out and interviewed over a dozen election administrators and voting advocates to get a better picture of how bad it might be. Executive summary: It's bad.

In the past, most polling places were staffed by civic-minded, but elderly, volunteers or in some places, paid workers. In the midterms, 58% were 61 or older. These are the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and they are saying: "No thank you" in droves, leaving huge gaps in the staffing needed to have polling places operate on Election Day (and for early voting). David Garreis, the president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, said: "We need 39,870 people for Election Day and early voting, and we don't have anywhere near that. We have 13,021 vacant positions, [about] 32 percent statewide." Maryland has 1.8% of the country's population, so scaling this up by a factor of 55, nationwide there is a need for 2.2 million poll workers and probably on the order of 700,000 vacancies. If they are not filled, the number of polling places will have to be drastically reduced, resulting in very long lines of people waiting to vote.

Even in 2018—way before the coronavirus hit— finding poll workers wasn't so easy. The Election Assistance Commission reported that only 15% of election officials said it was easy to find enough people to staff the polling stations. Now the situation is vastly worse. And being a poll worker isn't just a matter of smiling and handing the next voter on line a blank ballot. A Michigan election official, Tina Barton, said: "Being an election official is like somebody shoving you into a batting cage, honest to God. Fastballs are coming at you from every direction, and you've got to be like this election ninja, trying to avoid getting hit." To be a good poll worker, one has to first go through training on election law and procedures and have a friendly disposition and be able to keep calm even in the face of angry voters. As in: "Yes, sir. You definitely have a legal right to a provisional ballot. No question about that at all. But they are all gone. I don't have any left. And no, writing your vote on a piece of scrap paper will not work."

Around the country, election administrators are trying different approaches to finding more poll workers on time so they can be trained properly. Among them are:

  • Ask the local bar association to encourage lawyers to be poll workers by giving them continuing education credits
  • Encourage local businesses to give workers "civic time" off
  • Also encourage local government offices to do that as well
  • Get professors of political science to give their students credit for volunteering as poll workers
  • Get high school students to sign up in return for some pocket money

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sees a silver living in the cloud of coronavirus aerosol droplets. He hopes the state can sign up a whole new generation of younger poll workers.

If you are concerned about the shortage of poll workers, call your local (county) election office and ask if they need help. It's an interesting day's work and very different from what you normally do. At the very least, you'll have stories to last years. Voters are strange beasts. One of us (V) used to do this in California and can recommend the experience to see how democracy works in the field. Be sure to wear a mask and bring your own hand sanitizer, just in case. (V)

Democrats and Republicans Agree: It won't Be a Fair Election

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that half of all registered voters nationwide—and 80% of Republicans—are concerned about the possibility of absentee voting leading to widespread fraud. This suggests that a large swath of the country may have trouble accepting the results. Most people are clearly unaware that voting fraud with absentee ballots is extremely low, well under 0.01%. In contrast, the error rate with in-person voting is something like 1% due to improperly marked ballots, bad scans, etc. The envelope in which the ballot is returned usually has a unique identifying number and always requires a signature. It is nearly impossible for anyone to forge votes at any scale.

Republicans are all taking their cues from Donald Trump, who has been bellowing about possibility of fraud with mail-in ballots for weeks, despite the complete absence of any evidence of it ever happening in more than a microscopic number of cases (most of which were actually mistakes rather than intentional fraud).

In addition, 73% of registered voters are concerned about voter suppression, including about 80% of Democrats and even 60% of Republicans. On the other hand, 80% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans believe their own personal vote will be counted.

One area in which Democrats and Republicans differ sharply is whether ineligible people will cast votes. About 80% of Republicans and even 40% of Democrats believe that noncitizens will be voting. Again, there is virtually no evidence that this has ever happened before except a handful of times, but if Trump repeats this often enough, people—even Democrats—start to believe it.

Voting by absentee ballot is not new in the U.S. It goes back to the Civil War, when Union soldiers were allowed to vote absentee in 1864 (roughly 80% voted for Abraham Lincoln). About 20% of voters mailed in their ballots in 2016. Five states, including deeply Republican Utah, send all registered voters an absentee ballot and there have been almost no cases of fraud. Clearly, Trump is preparing his supporters to reject the election results if he loses, with potentially disastrous results for post-election unity. (V)

The Lincoln Project's Real Goal

The Lincoln Project was started by George Conway, Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson and their merry band of conservative Republican never-Trumpers to oppose Donald Trump's reelection. It has pulled in tens of millions of dollars from both moderate Republicans and the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend Democrats. It has been creating and running scathing ads attacking both Trump and his enablers in the Senate. Why is it making ads that push the envelope and go where Joe Biden's campaign would never go? The Washington Post talked to them and found out.

A clue is that some of the ads have run only in D.C. and Bedminster, NJ (pop. 8,200). Bedminster has the Jacobus Vanderveer House, used by Maj. Gen. Henry Knox during the Revolutionary War, and the Pluckemin Continental Artillery Cantonment Site, among other attractions, but the real reason the ads have run there is that Trump is frequently at his local golf club in Bedminster and watches a lot of television there, so he is very likely to see the ads. The ads aren't intended to convince swing voters to vote blue. Nor is the primary goal to give wavering Obama-Trump Republicans permission to vote for a Democrat again, although it is a bonus if they do.

No, the real purpose of the ads is get inside Trump's head and make him angry and disoriented. For the most part, the ad says little or nothing about Trump's policy positions on the wall, China, immigration, etc. They focus on his flaws as a person, so as to mock and humiliate him. Wilson summed up the goals by saying: "The fact that we're able to use his mental infirmity and addiction to television to freeze him and manipulate him serves a broader purpose for the overall campaign in terms of taking him off message, disorganizing and disorienting him."

Charlie Sykes, a conservative radio host who is not part of the Lincoln team, put it this way: "Every day that goes by that Donald Trump is off his game or distracted is a win." Then Sykes added: "What they found is that a single video can take the president of United States off track for a day or more and you see it play out." This is why the project has put out so many different ads and why they pull them off almost in real time. If Trump does or says something and the Lincoln Project is out there ridiculing him within a day, when the event or remark is fresh in his mind, it makes him very angry. Often he doubles down and makes it worse, but in any event it distracts him from whatever his campaign manager had planned as the theme of the day. A strategy of distracting a candidate so he forgets what he is supposed to be talking about and angrily reacts to some dumb TV ad would never work with Joe Biden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or any other candidate, but Trump's Achilles heel is that although he loves to dish out mockery, he can't handle it when it is incoming.

But even the Lincoln Project seems to have limits (so far). The nuclear weapon would be a very carefully scripted "conversation" with Stormy Daniels about how his image and reality are not necessarily in alignment. She's an actress, after all, and is undoubtedly able to memorize a few choice lines. If there is anyone who could really make Trump's head explode, it's Daniels.

In contrast, other Republicans who want Trump defeated, and want to influence actual voters rather than throw Trump off his game, go about it completely differently. Republican pollster Sarah Longwell has run many focus groups with Trump voters to discover what they see as Trump's weaknesses. Then she put together a website called Republican Voters against Trump, which features literally hundreds of people who voted for Trump in 2016 talking directly to the camera and explaining why they voted for him in 2016, why they feel cheated, and why they are going to vote for Joe Biden in 2020. It is a totally different approach from the Lincoln Project's because the audiences are different: Republican voters vs. the President himself. (V)

VP Candidate Profile: Former NSA Susan Rice

We're hitting the home stretch, just in time. Here is the list of candidates that we will profile, and the order in which we will profile them:

  1. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) [Score: 27.5]
  2. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) [Score: 26]
  3. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) [Score: 20]
  4. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) [Score: 17]
  5. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) [Score: 27]
  6. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) [Score: 13]
  7. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta) [Score: 24]
  8. Former State Representative Stacey Abrams (D-GA) [Score: 25]
  9. Former NSA Susan Rice
  10. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL)
  11. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI)
  12. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

As a reminder, we're awarding up to 10 points across five different areas of concern: How ready the candidate is to assume the presidency, if needed; what kind of coattails the candidate might have in terms of helping the Democratic ticket in their state/region; what the candidate brings to the table in terms of "nuts and bolts" political skills like fundraising and debating; the depth of the candidate's relationship with Biden (to the extent that information is publicly known); and how well the candidate balances out Biden. So, the perfect running mate would score a 50, while John C. Calhoun would score a 0.

Susan Rice
  • Full Name: Susan Elizabeth Rice

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 56

  • Background: Rice's family placed a high value on two things: (1) education and (2) public service. Her mother Lois was a Radcliffe grad who worked on federal education policy and also spent years at the Brookings Institution. Her father Emmett was a CUNY and Berkeley grad who taught economics at Cornell and was appointed, by Jimmy Carter, as a governor of the Federal Reserve. And her stepfather was Alfred Bradley Fitt, who took his degrees at Yale and Michigan, and served as general counsel to several federal bureaucracies, most notably the Congressional Budget Office. It's not too many vice-presidential (or presidential) candidates whose parents and stepparents each have their own Wikipedia pages, but Rice's do.

    In order to instill the value of education and of public service into Susan and her brother John, her parents encouraged lively discussions of government policy at the family dinner table, and sometimes invited guests over to participate. Given the Rices' proximity to the loci of power, those guests were often people like...oh...Madeline Albright (who served with Lois on the board of Susan's school).

    With this encouragement, Rice put together an academic résumé that is so good it's almost hard to believe. She was class president, valedictorian, and lettered in three sports (tennis, basketball, and softball) at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. She followed that with a B.A. with honors in history at Stanford, where she was named Phi Beta Kappa. And she topped that by winning a Rhodes Scholarship, and using it to earn a master's degree and a doctorate in international relations at Oxford, where her dissertation Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979-1980: Implications for International Peacekeeping won pretty much every award in sight.

    Following the completion of her education in 1990, Rice has worked in the private sector, but only when a Republican was in the White House. During the Bush I years, she was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, doing pretty much the same work Pete Buttigieg did before his mayoralty. During the Bush II years, she worked at Brookings, like her mother did. And during the Trump years, she's served on some corporate boards, and also as an advisor to D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser.

  • Political Experience: Rice's experience in the public sector, though entirely in appointed office, is extensive, and her rise up the ranks was rapid. Her first direct involvement in politics came in 1988, when she served as a foreign policy advisor to the Michael Dukakis campaign. That brought her to the attention of the Bill Clinton campaign four years later, and she served in that same role again. Once Bubba was elected, she was appointed to a post on the National Security Council (Director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping), then promoted to a higher post in 1995 (Senior Director for African Affairs), and then promoted to United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 1997. At that time, she was the youngest assistant secretary in the State Department. During her time in the Clinton administration, she helped to bring an end to the Rwandan genocide, an experience she has characterized as both "terrifying" and "formative."

    It was under Barack Obama, of course, that Rice came to national prominence. She advised his campaign on foreign affairs and national security, just as she had done for Clinton and Dukakis. On his election, Obama appointed Rice as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, making her the first woman of color to hold that post. She remained in office through Obama's first term, and then was elevated to National Security Advisor, remaining in that post through Obama's second term. Rice briefly pondered a challenge to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in 2014, but decided against it. That is as close as Rice has ever come to running for elected office.

  • Signature Issue(s): Given her foreign policy chops, Rice's primary job as #2 would be to talk about how the United States can restore its relationship with the nations of the world, and can repair the damage that Democrats feel Donald Trump has done. That said, she's also a native of D.C., and wrote essays in elementary school about her dream of becoming the District's first senator, so she'd probably have a few things to say about D.C. statehood, as well. In fact, she's already had a few things to say, in a recent pro-statehood op-ed for The New York Times.

  • Instructive Quote: "Sen. [Lindsey Graham's] been a piece of shit. He's a piece of shit," (Oct. 22, 2019).

  • Recent News: It would be hard for Biden to pick a running mate that Republicans hate more than Rice, unless he pulled a rabbit named Hillary out of his hat. There's Rice's race and gender, of course, which do not sit well with some elements of the Republican Party. Further, they (rightly) associate her with the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and they (wrongly) argue that she tried to engage in a cover-up of Benghazi. As Biden's decision has drawn closer, and as Rice has (apparently) moved up the list, the GOP has cranked their propaganda machine up to 10 in an effort to get out ahead of the situation. So, most of the recent "news" about her has actually been pieces from right-wing outlets, like this one from The National Review headlined "Twenty Things You Probably Didn't Know about Susan Rice." You presumably don't need to read it to know that it's not her favorite color and preferred Starbucks drink that they want to share with you.

  • Ready for the Big Chair?: This is not an easy judgment to make. She's more qualified on foreign policy than most presidents when they come to the office, to say nothing of most vice presidents. And she's got close to 20 years' West Wing experience. On the other hand, she has no legislative experience and no service in elective office whatsoever. She's essentially Hillary Clinton without the U.S. Senate term. We would have given Clinton a 10 here without blinking so, to a large extent, it's a question of exactly how important that Senate service really is. (7/10)

  • Coattails: D.C.'s 3 EVs are the only ones that are more of a slam dunk for Democrats than Hawaii's 4 EVs. Rice was going to run for the Senate in Maine because that's where her maternal grandparents lived, but there's no reason to believe that Mainers are particularly attached to her. Further, there's really only one EV there that is nominally in play. In short, she's got no geographic coattails. (0/10)

  • Nuts and Bolts Skills: It's really about what skills Biden cares about, isn't it? Rice has done a bit of campaigning, but she's no battle-tested veteran, and she's had little cause to give high-profile speeches, or press the flesh with the donors, or debate an opponent before an audience. On the other hand, she has sat for many interviews, and in those interviews her immense intelligence comes through, as does her sharp tongue (see the remark about Graham, above). Rice is one of the few VP candidates that has rock-star potential on the talk-show circuit (along with Keisha Lance Bottoms, and probably Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris).

    There is some scuttlebutt that Team Biden thinks that while Rice might not be an optimal running mate in a normal campaign, she will be great in one conducted mostly via Zoom calls and pre-recorded video messages. Plus, if Biden decides his pitch is going to be something like "I'm going to work on cleaning up domestic messes like COVID-19, and I need a partner who can take the lead on foreign ones," then Rice is ideal. What it boils down to is that her nuts and bolts skills might not be a great fit in other years, but they appear to be pretty good in this particular year. (7/10)

  • Relationship with Biden: He's closer to Rice than to any of the other candidates on our short list. They worked together some while he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and she was in the Clinton State Department, and they worked together much more closely while they were both high-profile members of the Obama administration. She is regularly described as part of Biden's "inner circle." (10/10)

  • Balance: She's young enough, she's Black, and she's a policy wonk. Those would all be important counterpoints to Biden. Since she hasn't been a candidate for office, and since her focus has not been on domestic policy, it's a bit hard to know how the left wing of the Democratic Party would feel about her. On one hand, some perceive her as hawkish. On the other hand, she's been an outspoken advocate for human rights, including being an early supporter of LGBTQ equality.

    It is also the case that The Trump outrage machine hasn't worked well on Biden; things like "sleepy Joe" and Burisma haven't really stuck. Rice would be the target of even more fury and outrage than Biden, and it might actually stick. That said, she might goad Trump into saying some unwise (i.e., racist) things, and it might also be that every day he spends ranting and raving about Benghazi is another day where he's off message (the same dynamic the Lincoln Project is going for; see above). This is the third score (along with "Big Chair" and "Nuts and Bolts") where she's tougher to grade than any of the other contenders. Still, we imagine the pros (and potential pros) outweigh the cons. (7/10)

  • Betting Odds: She's getting from 5/1 to 3/1, which implies a 20-33% chance of being selected.

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Major-party vice-presidential candidates without elective experience are not unheard of, but they aren't common, either. The last one was Sarge Shriver almost 50 years ago (1972). The parallels between Shriver and Rice are hard to miss: experience in the diplomatic corps, particular concern for helping Africa, closely associated with a popular former president (Shriver was JFK's brother-in-law).

  • The Bottom Line: She's easily got the highest score we've awarded, 31/50. And we can tell you now that none of the remaining candidates are going to do better. That said, her score rests on a lot of assumptions about the kind of campaign Biden might run in the next 3 months. We could be way off on one or more of those. If Rice is indeed tapped, it will reveal the campaign's thinking in a number of ways.

We made the executive decision to move Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) up one spot in our planned order, just to make sure we've gotten to all the frontrunner candidates before Biden announces. So, assuming he doesn't announce today (not likely), then you're up next, Madam Representative. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Not much new stuff here today except that we are getting more and more convinced that Georgia really is in play and that North Carolina is more bluish purple than reddish purple. If North Carolina (which Obama won in 2008), becomes the next Virginia, the GOP has a real problem on its hands going forward, especially if Arizona also turns blue. (V)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Georgia 46% 45% Jul 28 Jul 31 YouGov
North Carolina 48% 44% Jul 28 Jul 31 YouGov

Today's Senate Polls

The Ossoff-Perdue race is going to be close and could depend on whether Trump's coattails or Biden's coattails are longer. As to North Carolina, at some point someone at the NRSC is going to have to have a long and difficult conversation with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). He has trailed in 13 of the 15 polls held since the beginning of May, and now Cal Cunningham's lead is regularly in or near double digits. What is Tillis going to say when Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin says: "Thom, please explain why it is smarter for us to give you money rather than to Susan, Joni, or Steve?" (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Georgia Jon Ossoff 43% David Perdue* 45% Jul 28 Jul 31 YouGov
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 48% Thom Tillis* 39% Jul 28 Jul 31 YouGov

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Aug02 Sunday Mailbag
Aug02 VP Candidate Profile: Former State Representative Stacey Abrams (D-GA)
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