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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Says the Quiet Part Out Loud
      •  Ron Johnson Says the Quiet Part Out Loud, Too
      •  Trump Announces Peace Agreement Between Israel and UAE
      •  Biden Presses for Masks Nationwide
      •  Trump Embraces Harris Birtherism
      •  About Madison Cawthorn, the "Next Face of the GOP"
      •  Democratic Convention Lineup Announced
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Trump Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

Donald Trump has, through his entire term in office, viewed the USPS as an enemy. In part, this is because they are a federal bureaucracy, and he pretty much hates all federal bureaucracies. And in part, it is because he's persuaded that the USPS is in bed with Amazon (granting way-too-favorable carriage rates), and Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, which is often critical of Trump. Ipso facto, the USPS is basically responsible when Jennifer Rubin or Dana Milbank is mean to the President. Hard to argue with that logic.

These days, the President's rivalry with the postal service has taken on a more existential tint, as he now believes that a properly functioning USPS will make his defeat much more likely. This notion, unlike the bizarro Bezos obsession, has an actual basis in reality. Thus far this cycle, Democrats have been considerably more likely to vote by mail. And polls, like the one Marquette University produced earlier this week, suggest that trend will continue.

Consequently, Trump is now willing to do just about anything to throw a wrench into the works of the USPS. This is hardly a secret; everyone knows how he feels. The President's problem is that he has always had trouble grasping the fact that there are many things that "everyone knows" that are nonetheless very hard to prove, unless you foolishly say them out loud. And that is exactly what Trump did on Thursday. Sitting for an interview with Fox's Maria Bartiromo, he declared that he would block the $25 billion in funding the Democrats want for the USPS in general, and the $3.5 billion they specifically want to facilitate ballot collection and delivery. He was happy to explain his reasoning: "Now they need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. By the way, those are just two items, but if they don't get those two items that means you can't have universal mail-in voting." The President said this, incidentally, on the exact same day that he requested his mail-in ballot for the November election.

It could not be clearer that, as far as Trump is concerned, voting by mail is a privilege for the few and not the many, and that given his druthers, he would like to disenfranchise millions of Americans. His henchman, the recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, has been doing everything he can to advance this agenda. Last week, overtime pay at the USPS was suspended, and mail-sorting machines began to disappear into thin air. This week, DeJoy announced a plan to charge states first-class rates, as opposed to bulk rates, for delivering ballots. That would increase the cost of that service from 20 cents to 55 cents. Multiply that by a few million, and it becomes a pretty big chunk of change.

Trump is also getting some assistance at the state level. Drop boxes, which allow people to deliver their ballots to election officials without third-party involvement, are an obvious workaround to the shenanigans going on at the USPS. Everyone knows this, including the Trump-loving Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose. And so, LaRose has announced that he is going to set up drop boxes, as required by state law. Each of Ohio's 88 counties will dropbox, located at the county registrar's office.

All of these various machinations probably have something to do with the report that the democracy and human rights arm of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued on Thursday. They expressed grave concerns about the "integrity of election day proceedings" and recommended that 100 long-term and 400 short-term OSCE election monitors be invited to the U.S. to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. Don't hold your breath waiting for the federal government to accept that offer.

In short, for those worried that Trump and his acolytes will have some success in sabotaging the election, well, there's very good reason to worry. That said, it's also possible that this chicanery could backfire on Trump and his party. We can see at least five possibilities on that front:

  1. Not all states are the same: It is true that voting by mail appears to be much more common among Democrats than Republicans this cycle. However, we don't have all that much data yet, nor can we be certain that the phenomenon is universal. It is easy to imagine that in a state with a well-established history of voting by mail, and a lot of elderly Republicans who rely on that option, gumming up the works at the USPS could actually cost Trump. A state like Florida, for example.

  2. Increased motivation: It is a human tendency to undervalue that which they take for granted, right up until they can't take it for granted anymore. At that point, people will often go to extra lengths to protect and preserve something they previously didn't care too much about (the clinical term is reactance). It is certainly possible that some people will make a special point of voting, using one means or another, solely because they perceive that the administration is trying to take away their rights.

  3. Increased awareness: Similarly, because Trump insists on saying the quiet part out loud, the voters who don't like him already know full well exactly what he's trying to do. There is already much evidence that Democrats (and Trump-hating independents and Republicans) across the land are strategizing to get their ballots counted, whether that means getting their ballots in early, or doing whatever it takes to put their ballot directly in the hands of election officials, or exploring a USPS alternative like UPS or FedEx.

  4. Increased resentment: There have been many stories about this, and we've even had some letters in the Sunday mailbag. It is not especially possible to derail just ballot delivery; interfering with the USPS means interfering with everything they deliver. Americans are already noticing that it takes longer to receive mail, some of it highly time-sensitive stuff like medicine. Not only does this serve to heighten awareness of the overall scheme, it could also cost Trump some percentage of the remaining undecided voters, many of them waiting for a final "tiebreaker" to decide which way to vote.

  5. USPS pushback: As former postal carrier and current historian Philip F. Rubio points out, the last president to adopt an overtly adversarial posture towards the USPS was Richard Nixon, whose draconian cost-cutting measures led to a wildcat strike in 1970, and hurt the President in public opinion polls. If Trump and DeJoy push too far, it's at least possible the same could happen again this fall.

Also worth noting is that, at least so far, the courts have not been willing to play ball with Trump on all of this. In an effort to gum up the works in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit claiming that June's primary was heavy on voter fraud, and that absentee balloting in November should be limited as a result. Naturally, Team Trump has yet to provide any actual proof of this. And now, the patience of District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan—a Trump appointee—has run out. On Thursday, he ordered Trump's attorneys to turn over whatever evidence they have by the close of business today. Presumably, given their past foot-dragging, Team Trump doesn't have the goods.

Similarly, the state of Rhode Island has, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, relaxed the requirements for requesting an absentee ballot. The Republican National Committee and the Rhode Island GOP filed suit in state court and lost, and then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Thursday, SCOTUS refused to consider the case. Such decisions are unsigned, so it's not clear exactly how the vote came down. However, three of the conservative justices (Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas) penned a dissent while the other six said nothing. It only takes four justices to accept a case, so the implication is that John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined with the four liberals in turning it down. It's therefore an early indication that the Court intends to adhere to two general precepts: (1) the administration of elections is a state-level matter, and (2) last-minute judicial involvement in elections is generally inappropriate.

And finally, let us note that the Democrats are not always willing to fight fire with fire, but that in this situation, they might well decide that desperate times call for desperate measures. Here are some wildly speculative possibilities:

  • Perhaps officials in states where Democrats control the executive branch of government (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, etc.) announce that they are deeply concerned when it comes to drop boxes, both in terms of cost and security. And so, they will be able to install them only in highly-populated urban areas, where the cost-benefit analysis makes the most sense. What's that? Democrats dominate urban areas? You don't say...

  • Maybe Michael Bloomberg announces that he's always wanted a sheet of USPS Classic Movie Monsters stamps for his collection, and he will pay $3.5 billion to make sure he gets one. Alternatively, he could announce that Bloomberg LLP has decided to pre-purchase $3.5 billion in postage.

  • In each state, one or more elected officials has to sign off on election results, verifying that they are legitimate. Imagine that Govs. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Tony Evers (D-WI), if Trump wins their states, declare that USPS shenanigans tainted the results, and that they are not willing to validate the outcome. They would know, at that point, what the electoral vote, incoming House, and incoming Senate are going to look like, and could very possibly steer the election to Joe Biden (or maybe Kamala Harris) under the right circumstances.

Again, these three scenarios are just hypothetical examples—there is no evidence that any of these possibilities is currently under consideration. The point is that while the President and his supporters are openly plotting and scheming to steal the election, there are many obstacles, both real and theoretical, that could keep their plans from working out. (Z & V)

Ron Johnson Says the Quiet Part Out Loud, Too

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, is currently on a fishing expedition, overseeing an inquiry into U.S. intelligence agencies and how they allegedly tried to interfere with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. It's pretty much the 2020 equivalent of the roughly 200 congressional investigations into Benghazi, Hillary Clinton's e-mails, Clinton's alleged uranium sales, the Clinton Foundation, etc.

The key, as with Trump's war on the USPS, is not to say anything out loud. Again, "everyone knows what's going on" is not remotely the same thing as "everyone can prove what's going on." But Johnson apparently did not get that memo, either, because he appeared on a local, conservative-leaning radio program based in Minneapolis, and decided to do a little bragging about his efforts: "I would think it would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden."

Johnson's "investigation" was already beset with problems. Right-wing talkers are angry that the Senator hasn't produced much dirt, as yet. Meanwhile, the odor emanating from the whole thing has made Johnson's Republican colleagues leery of supporting him. That includes several of his fellow committee members, whose votes are needed to issue subpoenas. Of course, those subpoenas would not be necessary if members of the intelligence establishment were willing to appear voluntarily, but most of them have lost confidence in Johnson, due to his willingness to rely on dubious non-American sources and to place politics above the truth.

All of this is to say that Johnson's odds of uncovering some useful skeletons are now very, very long. And even if he does come up with something, many of his fellow Republicans may be unwilling to run with it, given his reputation, to say nothing of the ham-fisted way he's gone about his business, up to and including bragging about his nakedly partisan motives. (Z)

Trump Announces Peace Agreement Between Israel and UAE

This one's tricky, so bear with us. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. In exchange for recognition from the UAE, Israel agreed to put the annexation of West Bank lands on hold.

This is, almost without question, the greatest diplomatic coup for an administration that's had very, very few of them. UAE is only the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, following Egypt (thanks, Jimmy Carter!) and Jordan (thanks, Bill Clinton!). To nobody's surprise, there are people in Donald Trump's orbit who are once again talking Nobel Peace Prize.

And now, let's talk about some of the fine print, and make clear how premature that Nobel talk is:

  • The Status Quo, Part I: Although the situation of the Palestinians remains a hot-button issue among the citizenry of the Middle East, compelling political leaders in places like Saudi Arabia and Iraq to pay lip service to the issue, the real division in the region these days is between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia (with Israel on the side of the Sunnis/Saudis because that is the anti-Iran faction). In short, an agreement between Israel and UAE was not quite the feat that, say, the Camp David Accords were, given the way the geopolitical winds are presently blowing.

  • The Status Quo, Part II: The concession that Israel made—putting West Bank annexation on hold—was only on the table because of the Trump administration's staunchly pro-Israel (and, really, pro-Benjamin Netanyahu) posture, as reflected in the Jared Kushner "Vision for Peace" peace plan. In other words, all Team Trump has really done is restore things to the way they were when he took office.

  • Trump Involvement: It's also not clear, at this point, exactly how much of a role the White House actually had in reaching this agreement. In fact, there is some indication that UAE was driving things forward, in hopes of helping Trump get reelected, and then collecting some rewards during his second term.

  • Big Talk, Small Gains: If Trump had been cautious in his rhetoric, then Thursday's announcement might seem to be quite the accomplishment. But remember that, in his characteristic way, he campaigned on the promise that his brilliant negotiating skills would allow him to succeed where all others have failed, and to bring a permanent peace to the Middle East. Compared to a lofty goal like that, the normalization of relations between Israel and just one of its neighbors seems a little meager, not unlike building 40 miles of fencing along the Mexican border when you promised a 2,000-mile-long wall.

The main question, at least for this site, is whether or not this will help Donald Trump's reelection hopes. And the answer is that it won't help much, if at all. After all, the much more significant Camp David Accords did not save Jimmy Carter. Further, it is very clear that, given COVID-19, George Floyd, and the economy, foreign policy is pretty far down the list of voter concerns in this election. (Z)

Biden Presses for Masks Nationwide

One of the cornerstones of the Biden-Harris campaign will be trying to persuade voters that a change in leadership will mean a much more assertive plan for combating the coronavirus. To that end, on Thursday the candidates called for an immediate three-month mask mandate, nationwide, pointing out (as supported by multiple studies) that implementing a mandate like this in April might have saved as many as 40,000 lives.

The two Democrats know, of course, that this isn't going to happen anytime soon. They also know that compulsory mask-wearing is probably not a presidential prerogative, which is why both were careful to explain that what they are hoping for is concerted action from all of the nation's governors. This did not stop Donald Trump from claiming that Biden would personally impose a mask requirement if he were to become president, and complaining that Biden thinks he can do whatever he wants with the stroke of a pen (pot, meet kettle).

This is only the first volley in a give-and-take that will surely last for the rest of the campaign. And Trump has the much weaker hand to play here, so he's going to shift the lies and distortions subroutine into overdrive, which is really saying something for a President who blew past 20,000 lies and misleading claims over a month ago. (Z)

Trump Embraces Harris Birtherism

If you bet "under 2 days" on the question of "How long will it take Donald Trump to raise questions about Kamala Harris' citizenship?" then you are a winner. She was announced as Joe Biden's running mate on Tuesday afternoon, and Trump officially went there during his Thursday morning press availability, declaring "I heard today that she doesn't meet the requirements," and alluding to an op-ed published in Newsweek by conservative law professor John C. Eastman.

There is zero chance that Trump actually read the op-ed, or is familiar with Eastman's arguments. However, the professor's case really boils down to two things:

  1. The Fourteenth Amendment grants citizenship to all persons born in the United States, but—Eastman emphasizes—only if they are "subject to the jurisdiction thereof." While it is, and always has been, clear that the exemption was meant to exclude the children of diplomats, Eastman believes that it was actually meant to exclude anyone whose loyalty may not be 100% to the United States. He supposes that when Harris was born, her loyalties were (in part) to India, the nation of her mother's birth, and (in part) to Jamaica, the nation of her father's birth. And so, Eastman concludes that she is exempted from natural born citizenship by the jurisdiction clause.

  2. He also argues that there are other historical cases where the children of immigrants were not automatically granted citizenship, pointing in particular to migrant workers and braceros in California in the early-to-mid 20th century.

This is pure legal sophistry, and Newsweek should be ashamed for publishing it. Already, the blowback has been so fierce that the publication was forced to add a disclaimer that is headlined "Eastman's Newsweek Column Has Nothing to Do With Racist Birtherism." They can say it, but that doesn't make it so. We examined their archives, and could not find a single item about how the loyalties of Donald Trump, son of a Scottish immigrant mother, might be partly to Scotland, or how the loyalties of Mitt Romney, son of a man born in Colonia Dublán, Chihuahua, might be partly to Mexico, or how the loyalties of John McCain, born in the Panama Canal Zone, might be partly to Panama. That's three GOP presidential nominees in a row where such questions were quickly brushed aside. It is only the citizenship claims of people of color that are scrutinized under a microscope like this.

Inasmuch as Eastman is a law professor, we assume he is aware of the importance of precedent. And there is overwhelming legal precedent that makes it crystal clear that Harris is a citizen, and is eligible to the vice presidency and the presidency. That includes the service of multiple vice presidents and presidents who were the children of one non-citizen, immigrant parent (or, in the case of Andrew Jackson, were the children of two non-citizen, immigrant parents). The moment that Jackson said "I solemnly swear" on Mar. 4, 1829, this question had a clear and enduring answer.

Meanwhile, Eastman's point about the braceros, et al., either reveals him to be ignorant of U.S. (and California) history, or else to be a liar. It is true that some immigrant workers' children did not claim citizenship, though that does not mean they weren't entitled to it. Eastman might want to read, in particular, about the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which forbade non-citizens from owning property in the state. Since first-generation Japanese immigrants were not eligible for citizenship, the law ostensibly barred them from owning farms, businesses, homes, etc. However, they worked around the law by putting their property in the names of their American-born, citizen, second-generation children. We can think of no clearer example of the automatic nature of U.S.-born citizenship than the fact that even for a population of folks who were considered untrustworthy and were legally prohibited from becoming citizens, their children were nonetheless automatically granted citizenship with no questions asked.

Since Donald Trump loves, loves, loves to call into question the "Americanness" of his opponents, we have to assume this will come up a few more times during the campaign, and that it will be an absolute obsession of right-wing talk radio. The base is gonna love it, but between this and QAnon, it's going to do even more to brand the modern-day GOP as beholden to fringy conspiracists (also see below). (Z)

About Madison Cawthorn, the "Next Face of the GOP"

Madison Cawthorn, who is currently running to represent NC-11 in the House, has been touted as a potential GOP superstar, and possibly even the face of the post-Trump party and the right-wing answer to AOC. It's not hard to see why people were thinking that way; he's a millennial, he's good-looking, he's charismatic, and he's been an advocate for disability rights since an SUV accident left him partially paralyzed (and, ostensibly, derailed a promising career in the Navy).

Not so fast, as it turns out. Cawthorn has been enmeshed in controversy this week after he posted a picture of himself and his brother visiting Adolf Hitler's vacation retreat (the Eagle's Nest), and proclaiming that this fulfilled one of his "bucket list" items. Some folks found it concerning that a site like that would be framed so positively. Cawthorn's response was that he wasn't commemorating Hitler, he was commemorating the Allied victory over Hitler. Maybe, though there are quite a few less problematic sites where one might do that, like Normandy Beach or the national World War II memorial or Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.

It also does not help Cawthorn's case that, when referring to Hitler, he used the honorific "the führer," which implies a certain level of affection, somewhat akin to calling the President "The Chief" or "Numero Uno." In addition, it has been noted that Cawthorn named his company SPQR, and he is fond of posing with the Betsy Ross flag. Both these things, while historical, are also popular symbols among white supremacists because they reference eras where white Europeans were transcendent. On top of all this, it turns out the candidate misrepresented his past, and that his admission to the U.S. Naval Academy (and thus his promising naval career) came up short because he was rejected by the Academy, and had nothing to do with his accident.

Might this amount of baggage allow Cawthorn's Democratic opponent to prevail in November? NC-11 is R+14, so it's not too likely, though you never know. At very least, his rise to prominence appears to have come to an end. He's still a candidate to be the face of a particular version of the Republican Party, but that's not the version of the Party that his early supporters were envisioning. (Z)

Democratic Convention Lineup Announced

The Democratic Convention will take place next week and, in deference to the pandemic and short modern-day attention spans, will occupy just two hours per night for four nights. That means that time for speeches is at a premium, and some hard decisions had to be made. Here is the list as it currently stands (the last person listed is the keynote speaker for that evening):

Monday Night
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)
  • Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC)
  • Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS)
  • Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)
  • Former governor John Kasich (R-OH)
  • Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN)
  • Former first lady Michelle Obama
Tuesday Night
  • Former acting AG Sally Yates
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
  • Former secretary of state John Kerry
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)
  • Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE)
  • Former president Bill Clinton
  • Former second lady Jill Biden
Wednesday Night
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
  • Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI)
  • Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
  • Former representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
  • Former president Barack Obama
Thursday Night
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA)
  • Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta)
  • Former mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend)
  • Former mayor Mike Bloomberg (D-New York City)
  • Andrew Yang
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
  • Joe Biden

The list is subject to revision—and, in fact, both Yang and Bloomberg were added after the original announcement. However, here are a few observations on the list as it currently stands:

  • 14 speakers are persons of color and 18 are women. This is not your father's political convention.

  • The convention is going to have a decidedly centrist cast. The number of progressive speakers is not too large, and many of those are relegated to less-desirable slots.

  • Mike Bloomberg's addition has generated controversy. And, unlike nearly everyone else on the list, he is neither a candidate for office nor a Democratic luminary. Presumably, this is a bit of making nice in hopes that the former Mayor backs up the Brinks Truck in the next 80 days.

  • All four keynote speakers are either Bidens or Obamas. It's gonna be a "those were the days" kind of convention.

  • The only person who earned presidential delegates this year, and yet has not been given a speaking slot is...Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

  • There are four living Democratic presidential nominees who did not get invites, but three of them ran quite a while ago and are also up there in years. In other words, the exclusion of Jimmy Carter (who is frail), Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis is not a huge surprise. The exclusion of Al Gore, on the other hand, is a little more unexpected.

The festivities begin at 9:00 p.m. ET on Monday night. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Hard to imagine why anyone is polling California. As to North Carolina, some pollsters have it neck-and-neck, and others have Biden with a bit more of a lead. Harper Polling, for what it's worth, barely makes the cut to be included in our database. They tend to work mostly for Republican clients and, as a robo-poller, they do not and cannot call cell phones. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
California 56% 28% Aug 12 Aug 12 SurveyUSA
North Carolina 45% 44% Aug 06 Aug 10 Harper Polling

Today's Senate Polls

As with the presidential race, this one bounces around between "close" and "not so close." As noted above, Harper Polling's numbers are probably not the ones to put your faith in. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 41% Thom Tillis* 38% Aug 06 Aug 10 Harper Polling

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug13 The Day After
Aug13 The Delicate Art of Character Assassination
Aug13 Is QAnon Becoming the New Litmus Test?
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Aug13 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug13 Today's Senate Polls
Aug12 It's Kamala Harris
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Aug12 Democrats Appear to Prefer Vote-by-Mail
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Aug12 Today's Senate Polls
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Aug08 Today's Senate Polls
Aug07 Tennesseans Waltz to the Polls
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