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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Tennesseans Waltz to the Polls
      •  Trump Announces Plans to Cut TikTok, WeChat off at the Knees
      •  What's Going on with Trump and Facebook?
      •  Here Comes Another Trump Book
      •  CPD: Debate Schedule Not Open to Debate
      •  Biden Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot
      •  Letitia James Goes After the NRA
      •  Young Sues Trump
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Tennesseans Waltz to the Polls

The good people of the Volunteer State march to the beat of a different drum, it would seem, because they headed to the polls on Thursday, as opposed to Tuesday like in most other states. The news, such as it is, is that there actually wasn't much news.

The main attraction of the evening was the Republican primary for the seat being vacated by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R). The favorite was businessman and former United States Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who loves Donald Trump almost as much as he dislikes immigrants. The upstart challenger was orthopedic surgeon and Indian-American Dr. Manny Sethi. Sethi is slightly to the left of Hagerty and Trump, which still leaves enough room for him to be slightly to the right of Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco. The race was ugly, and—surprise, surprise!—took on racial overtones, as Hagerty and his surrogates made extensive use of racially tinged dog whistles. In any event, Tennessee Republicans either still love Trump, or they still dislike the foreign-born, or both, because Hagerty won in a walk, 50.8% to 39.4%.

Hagerty will now face Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, who becomes the first Black woman to be a major-party U.S. Senate nominee in the state. If she wins, she would become the first person of color and second woman to represent Tennessee in the upper chamber (following current junior Senator Marsha Blackburn, R), and would be the first Democrat since 1995 (following Jim Sasser). However, Bradshaw isn't going to win. The state is R+14, and roughly 600,000 Republicans cast ballots yesterday as compared to just 200,000 Democrats. Sorry, Marquita.

There were two other races of national interest. The first was the Democratic primary TN-05, where Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) faced off against Keeda Haynes, and TN-09, where Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) faced off against Corey Strong. Both contests involved a white incumbent with multiple terms under his belt (9 for Cooper, 7 for Cohen) being challenged from the left by a Black candidate. When the votes were counted, the status quo held, with Cooper winning by 9 points (53%-44%) and Cohen winning by 69 (84%-15%). Missed it by that much.

So, no real drama in Tennessee, since all the favorites won. Maybe Hawaii will be more interesting when its voters head to the polls on Saturday. Not likely, though, since it's deep blue, there's no Senate race this year, and the Democratic nomination is contested in only one of the two House races. (Z)

Trump Announces Plans to Cut TikTok, WeChat off at the Knees

The social networking apps TikTok and WeChat are both popular with the yutes. They are also both owned by companies in China, and have long been suspected of funneling users' information, and possibly the contents of their cell phones, back to the Chinese government.

In recent weeks, Donald Trump has become intensely interested in this subject, and has done plenty of saber-rattling about possibly banning the two apps in the United States. On Thursday, he finally pulled the trigger, announcing an executive order that will effectively shut down both services if they are not transferred to a U.S.-owned company within 45 days. This will be achieved by forbidding U.S.-owned concerns from doing business with parent companies Tencent (WeChat) and ByteDance (TikTok).

The big question here is: Why now? The issues with these apps have been known for a long time, and yet Trump went from 0 to 100 on doing something in the span of about three weeks. It could just be good, old-fashioned corruption; using the muscle of the federal government to aid a well-heeled corporation. Microsoft is trying to purchase the two platforms right now, and their negotiating position just got a heck of a lot better (plus see below). A second possibility is that this is part of the President's "everything but the kitchen sink" reelection strategy of throwing whatever he can think of at the wall and seeing what sticks. However, though this is nominally a poke in the eye of the Chinese government, we doubt it's the sort of thing that gets the base going. A third possibility is that the key players in setting Trump up for that humiliating rally in Tulsa a few weeks ago were...TikTok users. Hmmmmmmmmm.

Whatever the underlying reason, this is not going to make China happy, and so chances of progress on that front just got even dimmer. Meanwhile, the yutes are not happy either. And if there's anyone who might do a better job of creating and circulating damaging anti-Trump memes than even the Lincoln Project, it's them. (Z)

What's Going on with Trump and Facebook?

There are a lot of pieces to this particular puzzle, but not enough information to put them together quite yet. Publicly, Donald Trump and many others on the right are critical of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, which they say silence and censor conservative voices. This contention is not supported by evidence. In fact, The New York Times' tech columnist, Kevin Roose, has an interesting thread up on Twitter looking specifically at the most-linked stories on Facebook on Tuesday:

Beyond the fact that 9 of the 10 are from conservative voices, Roose points out that three of the 10 (numbers 1, 4, and 10) are all the same story about the DoJ helping the victims of human trafficking. On its own, it's a straightforward AP story about a minor federal program. However, when linked by two Trumps and Fox, it is transformed into red, red meat for believers in QAnon, as those particular conspiracists are obsessed with the notion of widespread human trafficking.

In any case, there have been some very interesting developments on the Trump-Facebook front in the last 48 hours or so. In general, as most folks know, the social media platform has been very reluctant to crack down on the President. Their official reason, as explained by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is that they are in the business of being a marketplace of ideas, even unpopular ones. A less noble explanation is that Facebook makes billions on selling ads to Trump and his allies, and are not interested in putting that money at risk. An even less noble explanation than that is that Zuckerberg is desperately trying to avoid being regulated by the federal government, and he thinks a hapless Trump administration is better for him on that front than a less hapless Biden administration, as long as Facebook does not ruffle the president's feathers.

On Wednesday, though, Facebook removed a Trump posting for the very first time. It was a video claiming that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19, and was a clear violation of the platform's policies about misinformation related to the pandemic. Twitter, for their part, removed it too. There was a little pushback from the White House, but none from Trump directly, and it paled in comparison to the response when Twitter dared label one of his tweets for the first time.

Meanwhile, as we note above, TikTok was targeted by the President on Thursday. This sent many users looking for an alternative, in case things go South. Just by sheer coincidence, Facebook happened to launch its new TikTok competitor, Instagram Reels, on Thursday. Thanks to all the downloads the app got, at least in part due to nervous TikTok users, Facebook's share price shot up 6% (about $16 per share). That means that a fellow like Mark Zuckerberg, who owns 375,000,000 shares, saw his net worth rise by a bit more than $6 billion in one day. Nice work if you can get it. Oh, and in another interesting coincidence, an independent study revealed on Thursday that for at least the last two months, a bug in Instagram's search algorithm made it easy to find anti-Biden content, but hard to find anti-Trump content. Oops!

Maybe all of these things are unrelated, and there's little or nothing to see here. On the other hand, maybe Trump and Zuckerberg are scratching each other's backs, and are performing a little "hostility theater" to throw people off the scent. As we said, it's not clear how the pieces fit together right now. But it bears watching. (Z)

Here Comes Another Trump Book

It is primetime for anti-Trump screeds. If you've got a tale to tell about the President, you better get it to press by September, at the latest, or you could be left trying to peddle a book about an unpopular private citizen, which doesn't have quite the same bite. It would also be a good time to sell your anti-Biden book, if you've got one, though it appears that most of the potential dirt that might be turned up about him is already publicly known.

Anyhow, the newest, scheduled to come out next Tuesday, is The Madman Theory: Trump Takes On the World by CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto. The main claim of the book is that the defense establishment does not work with Trump so much as they manage him. Specifically, according to Sciutto's many inside sources, the military brass tries to avoid giving the President military options (for fear that he will go off half-cocked and use them). They are also in the habit of warning foreign leaders to be prepared whenever they fear Trump might do something rash. Given the United States' tradition of civilian leadership of the military, it's not good that the President's defense team is, in effect, subverting him. However, that may also be the least bad of a bunch of lousy options.

It is not likely that this book will affect the President politically, since few of these books (if any) seem to do so. However, it does sustain a couple of assertions we've made in the past. In the most recent Q&A, we guessed that even if Trump defects to Moscow, he won't take much valuable intel with him, in part because the pros don't trust him and likely keep him out of the loop as much as is possible. It would seem we were on the mark. We've also argued multiple times that a Trump coup is not plausible, because the military won't back it. It would seem we were on the mark there, too; if they aren't wholeheartedly backing him while he's the legal president, they certainly won't do it when he ceases to be. (Z)

CPD: Debate Schedule Not Open to Debate

Rudy Giuliani has largely fallen off the radar recently, probably because he has a habit of shooting both himself and Donald Trump in the foot. However, he has been taking the lead in pushing the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to schedule an additional debate, to take place before the three already scheduled, ideally with Trump-approved moderators. Whether Team Trump is pushing for the extra debate because they think it increases the odds of Joe Biden making a fatal gaffe, or they are merely looking for pretext for Trump to take his balls and go home, is not clear.

It looks like we are going to find out, though. On Thursday, the CPD responded and said that there will be no fourth debate. That means it's now Trump's move. On one hand, he can hardly afford to throw away any potential game-changers at this point, much less three of them. On the other hand, his recent interviews have been so disastrous, maybe he can't afford to show up, either. The first debate is on Sept. 29, so he's got about seven weeks to decide. (Z)

Biden Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot

Joe Biden sat for an interview with the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists that was released on Thursday, and he managed to step in it. In response to a question about campaign strategy, the presumptive nominee said:

What you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things. You go to Florida, you find a very different attitude about immigration in certain places than you do when you're in Arizona. So it's a very different, a very diverse community.

The point that he was making, namely that you can't generalize about the politics of "Latino voters" in quite the same way you can about the politics of "Black voters," is a correct one. Black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, and most of those are moderate Democrats. On the other hand, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans (to take three examples) tend to occupy distinctly different places on the political spectrum (moderate-to-conservative Republican, centrist, and moderate-to-liberal Democrat, respectively). That said, Biden's clumsy verbiage, particularly if you don't note the second sentence (which clearly alludes to a political issue), makes it seem like he thinks all Black people are the same. And that belief would be somewhat racist. So, the candidate spent the rest of the day apologizing for, and clarifying, his remarks.

This, of course, did not stop Donald Trump and his team from behaving as if Biden said the country would be better off if Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. "Joe Biden just lost the entire African American community. What a 'dumb' thing to say!" tweeted Trump. "The condescending white liberal racism that oozes out of Joe Biden is disgusting," decreed spokesperson Katrina Pierson.

In the end, Trump, Pierson, et al. are just engaging in a little wishful thinking. The nation's black voters recognize that one of these two men is going to win the election on Nov. 3. They recall which of them was Barack Obama's loyal right-hand man for 8 years and which of them described the nations of Africa as "sh**hole countries," characterized the members of Black Lives Matter as thugs, and wasn't sure if John Lewis was all that important or not. Finally, they certainly have noticed which of the two candidates tries to make it right when he missteps and which does not. This too will pass; its primary effects will be: (1) to push Biden 2020 just a little bit more in the direction of selecting a Black running mate, and (2) to encourage the campaign to maintain its basement strategy as much as is possible. (Z)

Letitia James Goes After the NRA

There were whispers that a big shoe was going to drop in New York City on Thursday morning. And it turns out that shoe was New York AG Letitia James filing suit to dissolve the NRA, claiming the organization has long violated the rules governing non-profits, and that its leaders have regularly plundered the NRA coffers for their own gain. There is much evidence that these claims are on the mark.

In the short term, one might guess this will provide fodder for a "the Democrats are coming to get your guns" argument on the part of Donald Trump and the GOP. And actually, it already has. During his Thursday visit to Ohio, the President told supporters that Joe Biden wants to "Take away your guns, destroy your second amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the bible, hurt God. He's against God, he's against guns." That's barely comprehensible, and yet at the same time it's reprehensible, as there's no evidence that Biden's Catholicism is not genuine. It's also not going to work. A New Yorker going after a political lobby is not quite the same thing as a presidential candidate going after gun ownership itself. Even Republican operatives agree it won't work, observing that people are focused on COVID-19 and the economy right now, and not "culture wars" issues. Further, anyone who cares about the NRA is already voting Trump.

We doubt this will have much of an effect long-term, either. James may well succeed in her suit, and even if she does not, the NRA has been so badly managed for years that it's likely to head the way of the dodo anyhow. And while it's got a famous brand, it's really just a public front for the major gun manufacturers, who pay most of the bills in hopes of locking up as many politicians as is possible. The problem for the gun manufacturers is not the decline of the NRA, per se, it's that gun sales are down, the number of expensive lawsuits is up, and investors are not that eager to put part of their portfolios in guns these days. This is why Remington, one of the country's oldest and best known gun manufacturers, just filed for bankruptcy for the second time in as many years. If the gun makers weather the storm, they'll find an outlet for their lobbying. And if they don't, then they won't need one. Either way, the NRA is incidental. (Z)

Young Sues Trump

This is not nearly as consequential as today's other items; consider it a palate cleanser after the heavier stuff. Still interesting, though, we think. Donald Trump has been using some of Neil Young's songs, most often "Rockin' in the Free World," at campaign events. Young does not care for Trump's politics. And like many musicians before him (in reference to Trump, but also to other politicians), Young told the President to cut it out. Team Trump declined, so Young has sued for copyright infringement.

If this goes to court, both sides of the argument have a leg to stand on. The Trump campaign claims they have a licence to use the songs, and they are probably telling the truth. Businesses (radio stations, bars, etc.) and venues (sports stadiums, concert arenas, etc.) usually arrange bulk licenses for public performances of ASCAP songs. What happens is that the licensee pays a bulk fee, then keeps track of whatever songs they play over the term of the license, and then their bulk fee is divided up among the rights holders whose songs they played. This is probably what the Trump campaign is relying on. They likely don't have their own ASCAP license, but the venues where the President appears probably do.

On the other hand, if a song is used for commercial purposes, that generally has to be negotiated directly with the rights holder (sometimes the musician, sometimes their label, sometimes someone else). Microsoft can't use "Start Me Up" to sell copies of their operating system without the Rolling Stones' permission. Young is claiming that playing his music implies endorsement of Trump, and so rises to the level of being a commercial use, rather than being a public performance covered by an ASCAP license. The courts have generally, though not universally, come down on Young's side in these cases.

It's hard to imagine this suit actually ends up before a judge, since there isn't much time left before the election. Further, if Trump needs event music (which he may not, given the pandemic), it's easier to just switch to something where the artist won't be all over social media complaining. Ted Nugent is a Trump supporter, though his most famous song is "Cat Scratch Fever," which is about venereal disease. That may not be the part of the Trump legacy the campaign wants to highlight. The estate of the late, Trump-supporting Charlie Daniels would be happy to help, but Daniels' most famous song was "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which isn't quite the right message either. How about Kid Rock? He likes Trump well enough that he's been to the White House for dinner with the President and Sarah Palin, which must have been quite the conversation. The campaign could use his song "Redneck Paradise." Problem solved! (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Utah, Kentucky, and South Carolina are red. Maine is blue. Iowa is a toss-up. Nothing really new there. However, Trump won Iowa by 10 points last time, so he is 10 points lower than he was in 2016. Pretty much the same story everywhere in the Midwest, in fact, and not a hopeful sign for Trump. (V)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Iowa 40% 41% Jul 27 Jul 30 RMG Research
Kentucky 41% 50% Jul 30 Aug 03 Quinnipiac U.
Maine 52% 37% Jul 30 Aug 03 Quinnipiac U.
South Carolina 42% 47% Jul 30 Aug 03 Quinnipiac U.
Utah 31% 50% Jul 27 Aug 01 RMG Research

Today's Senate Polls

Interestingly enough, Theresa Greenfield is running ahead of Joe Biden in Iowa. It's very rare for a party to lose a state's electoral votes and win a Senate race there, but that could happen in two states this year: Iowa and Montana. But it is possible that Greenfield's coattails will pull Biden over the finish line first. It is doubtful that Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) can save Biden's neck in Montana.

The other Senate polls are also interesting. Amy McGrath is putting up a good fight and has lots of cash, but Kentucky is a very red state. On the other hand, so is South Carolina and Jaime Harrison is fighting Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to a draw. It will be interesting to watch South Carolina. Trump will win it easily and doesn't need to campaign there, either in person or on the air. But will he help his biggest toady in the Senate? Most of the time with Trump it is: "I expect you to help me but don't expect me to help you." Still, the NRSC certainly doesn't want to lose this seat, so it may come to the rescue. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Iowa Theresa Greenfield 40% Joni Ernst* 36% Jul 27 Jul 30 RMG Research
Kentucky Amy McGrath 44% Mitch McConnell* 49% Jul 30 Aug 03 Quinnipiac U.
Maine Sara Gideon 47% Susan Collins* 43% Jul 30 Aug 03 Quinnipiac U.
South Carolina Jaime Harrison 44% Lindsey Graham* 44% Jul 30 Aug 03 Quinnipiac U.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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