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Democratic National Convention Begins Tonight

This has been an election year like no other. It started out with the Iowa caucuses, where we're still not sure who actually won. Then a piece of political roadkill, Joe Biden, rose from the dead to beat a couple of dozen candidates, some of them half his age. After that, a pandemic swept the country and slaughtered the economy, and then came the civil unrest that started after George Floyd was killed. Big rallies, once the staple of political campaigns, have all but vanished. Babies have not been kissed and ethnic foods are left uneaten. Democrats are not bothering to knock on doors and talk to voters, although Republicans claim they are still doing it. Primaries have become a mess, with long lines and much confusion over absentee balloting.

Tonight we will see what might be the biggest break of all with tradition: The first virtual convention, when the Democrats meet in...oh wait, the Democrats aren't going to meet at all. No balloon-filled arena with thousands of delegates, alternate delegates, and a big supporting cast. Instead, they will play recorded clips from ordinary voters, who will explain why they are voting for Joe Biden this time, as well as having live speeches from Democratic luminaries, few, if any, of whom will be in the convention hall in Milwaukee.

Another break with the past is the length of the convention. It will run for only 2 hours each evening for four days. Normally, conventions go on all day long, with the deputy assistant dogcatcher from East Cupcake giving a speech in the middle of the morning, when only his wife is watching.

Tonight's line-up will be the warm-up act. It will feature Michelle Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and several others. Tomorrow will be the roll call, with the delegations reporting from their home states. So if Van Beechler, the chairwoman of the Idaho delegation, wants to give her pitch as: "The great state of Idaho, home of the world-famous Idaho potato, proudly casts 11 votes for Joe Biden and nine votes for Bernie Sanders," she can do it from the middle of a potato field instead of a stuffy convention hall.

Wednesday, the Democrats will nominate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) for vice president. If they want to get a picture on the front page of every newspaper in the entire world, the chair could actually hand her a bucket of warm piss to signify the importance of the office she is running for. Don't expect that to happen, though if it does, they had better be prepared to answer questions about where the Democrats get their supplies. Speakers will include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Thursday is Biden's turn. To make him look like a big star, the other Thursday speakers are all lesser lights, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Pete Buttigieg. Biden will be introduced by his longtime friend and colleague, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

The Democrats have also selected eight religious leaders to offer prayers. They include a Latino evangelical Christian, a Baptist, a Greek Orthodox archbishop, a Catholic nun who has led "Nuns on the bus" trips, a female rabbi, a Jesuit priest, and an Imam, among others. Don't expect the Republicans to match this diversity at their show next week.

Although it won't be in prime time, the Party will also adopt its platform, which has been carefully hammered out by Biden and Sanders supporters. Also important for the future is the role of the superdelegates in 2024, and the transition from caucuses to primaries. In particular, the role of the Iowa caucuses is going to be a flash point, especially in light of how badly Iowa botched it this year.

The week will not entirely belong to the Democrats, though. The Trump campaign is making a huge digital ad buy this week, to try to get some of the attention as well. Among other buys is the banner ad on YouTube, which the Trump campaign has bought for 96 hours starting tomorrow. Trump ads will also blanket the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and, of course, Fox News all week long. Pre-roll ads will also run on many streaming services. These can't be skipped, so people trying to watch the Democrats on a streaming service will be subjected to a Trump ad first. The ad buy could top $10 million for four days, but the campaign has plenty of money, so it can afford it easily. Some of the ads, like the one on YouTube, are national, but others are running only in select states. The message will be that Biden is a radical leftist pinko Commie who will turn America into Cuba or Venezuela. Will any Democrats watching the convention suddenly join the red team? We're skeptical, but the campaign has to spend its money somewhere. (V)

National Poll: Biden 50%, Trump 41%

A new national NBC news/WSJ poll has Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 50% to 41%. This is a slightly smaller lead than the one in the previous poll these organizations ran, which had Biden up by 11 points. The poll also showed that Biden has double digit leads on handling the coronavirus, health care, immigration, race relations, and uniting the country. Trump leads on handling crime and the economy. The poll was run jointly by Peter Hart (D) and Bill McInturff (R).

Biden leads among Black voters (+80), Latinos (+26), voters 18-24 (+24), independents (+24), whites with college degrees (+23), women (+21), and seniors (+7). Trump leads among whites without college degrees (+32), all whites (+7), and men (+4). Among Biden voters, 58% are actually anti-Trump voters and only 38% are pro-Biden voters. In contrast, among Trump voters, 74% are pro-Trump and only 20% are anti-Biden.

The poll also asked respondents about whether they approved or disapproved of various politicians. The net scores are: Obama (+20), Kamala Harris (+4), Mike Pence (-5), Joe Biden (-5) and Donald Trump (-12). Once the Trump campaign revs up the negative ads calling Harris every name in the book, her approval rating will probably go underwater as well.

In the generic congressional poll, Democrats are +5, up from +4 in July, but down from +11 in June.

In a CNN poll released later yesterday, Biden's lead is 50% to 46%. This is closer than previous SSRS polls have been. If we average these two polls, Biden's lead is 6½ points, still outside the margin of error. Biden is likely to get a convention bounce this week, but it will disappear next week. (V)

Are There Shy Trump Voters?

One question that keeps pollsters awake at night is whether people are lying to them, especially people who plan to vote for Donald Trump but don't want to admit it due to embarrassment or else who want to skew the polls.

For Trump loyalists, the idea that the pollsters are not counting millions of Trump voters is appealing, since it makes it easier to believe he's still in this thing (or even that he's the favorite). The effect may be there, but it is also probably small. In 2016, the national polls were quite accurate, predicting that Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote by 3%. She won it by 2.1%. The difference was probably due to a statistical fluctuation, but even if it were due to dishonest Trump voters, they made up only 0.9% of the vote. The polls did miss Trump's victories in three key states, but they were all under 1%, so again not a lot of Trump voters misrepresenting themselves.

Now let's take a closer look at the voters who might be embarrassed to admit their support for Trump. Some people call them "shy Trump voters" (in the U.K., it's "shy Tories"). The effect of people not willing to admit to things they think may reflect badly on them even has a name: the Bradley effect. It is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley who ran for governor in 1982, led in the polls, and then lost. Bradley is Black and some voters might not have wanted to admit they weren't going to vote for the Black guy.

One thing we know is that in 2016, Trump did 2-3 points better in robopolls than in live interviewer polls. While people might be embarrassed to tell a person that they were voting for Trump, almost no one was afraid to tell a computer. That effect doesn't appear to be present this year. Another thing we learned in 2016, which is probably more important than shy Trump voters, is that pollsters undercounted non-college voters, who decisively voted for Trump. This year that factor is being carefully weighed.

Another factor that weighs against the existence of a large cohort of shy Trump voters is the very small number of people who are undecided or are voting for a third party. Typically, a shy Trump voter might have told a pollster that he was going to vote for the Libertarian candidate or was undecided. Those would have been socially acceptable ways to hide a preference for Trump. In 2016, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was in the 5-10% range most of the time. This year, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen is polling 2-3%, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is about 1%, and the undecideds are around 5%. So while the effect might be there, it doesn't appear to be very large.

Beyond the "shy" Trump voters, it has also been suggested that there may be some number of Trump supporters who deliberately lie to pollsters so as to undermine their polling. For lack of a better term, we might call these folks "moles." The logic of this approach would be...curious, since artificially low numbers would hurt the President by making him look unpopular, depressing fundraising, encouraging other Republicans to distance themselves, and undermining the legitimacy of a potential electoral victory.

And, as with the "shy" voters, the numbers simply do not bear out the existence of a large cohort of moles. The percentage of people who say they plan to vote for Trump right now (around 41%) tracks very closely with Trump's approval rating over the past three-plus years (usually between 40% and 45%; currently around 42%). Even if we accept that there is some nominal value in skewing election polls, there is no purpose in deliberately skewing the President's approval for nearly four straight years, since both Trump and his base draw energy from high approval ratings (which, for Trump, means anything in the ballpark of 50%).

The conclusion, then, is this: There may be (and probably is) some tiny percentage of Trump voters who are misrepresenting themselves for various reasons, but there's no reason to believe that percentage is anywhere near large enough to negate the significant leads that Joe Biden has both nationally and in most swing states. (V & Z)

How Harris Can Help Biden

As we have pointed out many times, running mates rarely are decisive factors in presidential elections. However, that doesn't mean they have no effect, and in close elections and states, a small boost can matter. Joe Biden's selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) seems to be having an effect already. For starters, in the 48 hours after announcing Harris, the Biden campaign took in $48 million. In contrast, the Biden campaign and the DNC together raised $140 million in all of July.

The voters seem to like her. A new WaPo/ABC News poll shows that Americans approve of Biden's choice by a margin of 54% to 29%. Among Democrats, that is 86% to 8% and even among Republicans 25% approve, with 55% disapproving.

One area where she is expected to make a difference is in Black turnout. In 2012, 66% of eligible Black voters turned out to vote. In 2016, it was 59%. In Michigan, about 13% of the voters are Black. A loss of 7% of 13% is 0.9%. Trump won the state by 0.2%, so if Black voters had turned out in Michigan in 2016 at the rate they did in 2012, Hillary Clinton would have won the state. An analysis by NBC News and the Cook Political Report shows that the decline in Black turnout probably also cost Clinton Wisconsin and possibly Florida and Pennsylvania. Harris is certainly going to boost Black turnout appreciably in those key swing states.

Georgia wasn't close in 2016, but 32% of the voters there are Black. The Peach State appears to be in play this year, and if she revs up Black turnout there, Biden could possibly carry the state, in which case she is clearly worth her weight in peaches.

Another place where Harris could matter is Florida. There is a rarely discussed group of people from the West Indies in Florida. Harris has the Jamaican-American vote locked up, but she could also help with immigrants from other Caribbean islands. It is estimated that all told, there are 2.5 million Floridians with roots in the Caribbean. Not all of them are citizens and not all are over 18, but several hundred thousand of them can vote and even picking up a point or two among them could matter in a state where elections are usually decided by about 1%.

One demographic where Biden had a lot of trouble in the primaries is young voters. Harris is 22 years younger than he is and may help a little bit there. Her help may come in the form of increased turnout among young minority voters (who are not at all keen on Biden) rather than young white voters. One study of Gen. Z voters (18-23) showed that 48% are nonwhite and 77% disapprove of Trump. If they see Harris as the future of the Democratic Party, they might do something many young people hate to do: vote.

Harris ran a miserable campaign herself, in no small part because she hired her sister Maya as her campaign chair. Maya meddled in everything, often countermanding orders from campaign co-chair Juan Rodriguez on everything from expenditures to personnel. It was a real mess and Harris spent too much time settling disputes. That won't happen now because there are clear lines of authority, starting with campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon, who is an experienced political operative. Also, Harris is now surrounded by staff handpicked by Biden. Her job will be to be herself and leave the managing to the pros.

Harris just spent 4 days in Wilmington, DE, with Biden, getting to know him better and planning the campaign. No doubt they also went over the speech she will give on Wednesday and whose votes she is going to aim for. Black voters are an obvious target, but polling shows that she also has a lot of appeal to suburban women. She is expected to hold virtual events aimed at them.

Another role she is expected to play is attack dog. As a former district attorney and state attorney general, she knows how to put together a case to convince a jury. In the first primary debate, she definitely showed off her ability to attack and will no doubt go after Trump and Mike Pence with a vengeance. If nothing else, she might be able to goad the President into making an unforced error that hurts him with women, immigrants, or minorities. (V)

Absentee Voting Is Still a Hot Topic

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows demonstrated how little he knows about how the president is chosen when he appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday to oppose mail-in voting. He complained that states are trying to figure out how to go to universal mail-in ballots. Then he said: "That's a disaster where we won't know the election results on Nov. 3 and we might not know it for months and for me that's problematic because the Constitution says that then a Nancy Pelosi in the House would actually pick the president on Jan. 20."

That is so wrong in so many ways. First, it won't take months to count the votes. It might take 2 or 3 weeks at most (depending on how fast the courts resolve the dozens of expected lawsuits). It has to be done by Dec. 14 because, by law, that is when the electors must vote. Second, even if there are multiple slates of electoral votes submitted to Congress, they will be counted in front of a joint session on Jan. 6, 2021. Technically, that is 2 months after Election Day, but that is not what Meadows meant. Third, if nobody gets 270 electoral votes on Jan. 6, Nancy Pelosi does not get to pick the president. The House picks one of the top three electoral vote getters, with each state getting one vote. That vote would probably be on Jan. 6 or 7. Fourth, if no candidate gets 26 votes in the House, the Senate picks the veep, who would then ascend to the presidency, albeit as "acting" president. Fifth, if that ends in a tie, then the speaker becomes the acting president. She doesn't get to pick the president, as in: "I hereby select Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) as president." Sixth, the speaker's position in the line of succession is not in the Constitution. It is in federal law. The president's chief of staff is woefully ignorant of how the process works. Maybe before he co-founded the House Freedom Caucus to defend the Constitution, he should have read it first.

Also in the news is the Democrats' call for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to testify before Congress on Aug. 24 about the operational changes he has ordered for the Postal Service. Democrats think he is trying to suppress the vote. The hearing would be the day that the Republican National Convention starts. DeJoy hasn't said whether he will appear or even whether he would obey a subpoena. Administration officials have repeatedly defied subpoenas in the past.

House Democrats are also considering passing legislation that would roll back the changes DeJoy has made recently. In fact, Nancy Pelosi has announced that she is telling House members to grab a hot dog and then grab the next flight back to D.C. to vote on a bill to reverse DeJoy's crude attempt at voter suppression. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to call the Senate back into session to vote on any bill the House passes. This puts McConnell in a tricky position. Trump absolutely does not want to see such a bill land on his desk, but McConnell is up this year too, and "I don't really care if people are allowed to exercise their right to vote" is not generally the best platform to run on.

Another factor in play is that the attorneys general from six states (Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington so far) are working together on a lawsuit to force DeJoy to abandon his plans to gut the USPS before the election. They are planning to announce details this week.

The Biden campaign has reserved $280 million for ads this fall. A portion of it will be used to educate voters on how to vote safely. No doubt the options will include (1) voting early in person when crowds will be smaller, (2) mailing in a ballot as soon as you get it, and (3) bringing the ballot to a drop box or the election office. An advantage of this strategy for Biden is that it locks in many votes early, when he is leading. If he commits a huge gaffe during a debate or the economy zooms up, those votes can't be rescinded.

Something else to consider is the pressure being applied to Republicans in Congress. The mail is used for things other than ballots. Who knew? Veterans who get their medicine by mail are not at all happy waiting an extra few weeks for it to arrive. People who live from one Social Security check to the next one, and don't have auto-deposit, are not keen on a check being delayed 3 weeks. Small business owners who sell products delivered in the mail do not want angry customers asking why they haven't gotten the product they ordered a month ago. Some of them are Republicans and, unlike the mythical shy Trump voters, they are not at all shy about sharing their feelings with their senators and representatives, some of whom have received thousands of complaints already. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) has already come out asking DeJoy to reverse his policies on account of what he is hearing from his constituents.

Even before DeJoy took his wrecking ball to the USPS, it wasn't doing so great. Among the 13 postal districts serving key battleground states, four failed to meet any of the Postal Service's delivery benchmarks in the second quarter of 2020, and six of them met only one. The states in question are Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Three of the districts with the worst records cover Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee. And this was before DeJoy removed sorting machines and introduced other measures that will slow the mail down even more.

Ronald Stroman, who was deputy postmaster general from 2011 until June 1 of this year said: "I believe it is highly likely that in the November General Election, the absentee ballots of at least tens of thousands of voters will arrive at election offices after Election Day and will not be counted unless the Ballot Receipt Deadline is extended." Since the Republicans control both chambers of the state legislatures in the seven top swing states, an extension is exceedingly unlikely unless, again, the pressure becomes too intense to resist. (V)

Democratic Super PACs Will Coordinate--with Each Other

Super PACs are forbidden by law from coordinating with the campaigns they support, but they aren't forbidden from coordinating with each other. Only they rarely do, because each one thinks that it alone has the magic key to victory. This year may be different, as dozens of super PACs run by Democrats are planning to closely coordinate their efforts and spending, which could approach half a billion dollars.

Although Joe Biden has a lead of around 10 points now nationally, just about all the leaders of the super PACs believe that it will tighten and their efforts will matter a lot in the end. One Democratic group, Priorities USA, spent $20 million in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from April to June. During this time it fine-tuned its messaging and ran experiments. For example, it did not run an ad criticizing Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic in 10% of the zip codes. In subsequent polling, Trump did 2½ points better in those zip codes. That gave them an idea how good the ad was. They ran other experiments as well.

The groups are coordinating on which one will run which message. Priorities USA will use Trump's own words to hammer him on his handling of COVID-19. American Bridge will run ads featuring frustrated Republicans who are renouncing Trump. Unite the Country will focus on Biden's experience with dealing with previous recessions. NextGen America will aim its message at young voters. PACRONYM will try to get unenthusiastic Democrats on board the S.S. Biden.

The Democratic super PACs are even coordinating with the Lincoln Project and Sarah Longwell's Republican Voters Against Trump. They are exchanging data, methods, and ideas.

Guy Cecil, who runs Priorities USA, said that his biggest worry is voter suppression, either due to postal delays or other means. For this reason, his group is investing money in informing target voters about mail balloting and the need to vote very early. It is also filing lawsuits about voter ID and other voter suppression methods. Also, unlike the Biden campaign itself, which is focusing on moderate suburban voters, Cecil is aiming at mobilizing the Democratic base, which often needs to be mobilized. He is particularly targeting young voters, and more particularly young voters of color, who have poor voting records. (V)

Three States Will Hold Primaries Tomorrow

Primary season still isn't over. Tomorrow Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming will hold state primary elections. Of course, many people may have already voted by mail, and some of those ballots might even be delivered on time. Who knows? Let's take a look at what is at stake.

  • Alaska: Alaska was scheduled to hold its presidential primary on April 4, 2020, but at the last minute in-person voting was canceled due to COVID-19 and voters were given another 6 days to cast an absentee ballot. In the end, Joe Biden got 55% and eight delegates. Bernie Sanders got 45% and seven delegates. Tomorrow the state holds primary elections for the House, Senate, and state offices. Alaska allows any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot without stating a reason.

    Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) is running unopposed in the Republican primary, but there are four people running for the Democratic nomination—and three of them aren't even Democrats. (The Alaska Democratic Party changed its rules in 2016 to allow non-Democrats to run in Party primaries so Sanders could run.) The DSCC is rooting for Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman. It's a slightly unusual combination for a guy running for the Senate, but he has politics in his genes. His father served as Alaska's attorney general and his mother founded the Alaska League of Women Voters.

    The only Democrat is perennial candidate Edgar Blatchford, who ran in the Democratic Senate primary in 2016 and got 40% of the votes. His message is: "I chose to run as a Democrat because I think the Democratic Party needs to have someone on the Democratic ticket who is not afraid to be a Democrat." (English translation: He's an actual Democrat). Two other unknown independents are also on the Democratic ballot.

    Gross is the favorite in the primary. He has raised $5 million, a stupendous sum for Alaska. If he wins, that haul may make Sullivan sweat in the general election. In 2014, Sullivan beat Mark Begich by only 2 points. Gross also has the Lincoln Project on his side. It made up an ad for him, mentioning how he once killed a b'ar, just like former congressman Davy Crockett. Gross had not just celebrated his third birthday, however. Also a factor is Donald Trump's war on the Postal Service. Alaska is a big state and heavily dependent on the mail for moving things around. If voters feel that the Republicans are trying to wreck it, that could backfire on Sullivan. There has been only one good poll of Gross vs. Sullivan (in July). Sullivan led by 5 points, but this race could be a sleeper.

    On the House side, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is unopposed in the Republican primary. After all, who would want to take on a guy who has won 24 straight elections for Alaska's House seat? The Democrats have a three-way primary among Bill Hibler, a retired professor of physics from the University of Alaska whose specialty was studying the physical structure of snow and ice, Ray Sean Tugatuk, who couldn't be bothered to create a campaign website, and former teacher and businesswoman Alyse Galvin, who ran against Young in 2018 and lost by seven points. Like Gross, Galvin is an independent who is raising boatloads of money from out-of-state Democratic activists who think that if there is a blue wave, it might even reach Alaska. As an aside, Alaskans think of themselves as being very independent so Gross and Galvin intentionally chose not to run as Democrats to showcase how independent they are.

  • Florida: Neither Senate seat is up this year, but there are two open House seats. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) is retiring from his seat in the R+9 FL-03 around Gainesville and 10 candidates are running in the Republican primary to replace him. The top three fundraisers are James St. George, Judson Sapp, and Kat Cammack. Three (actual) Democrats are running in that party's primary. Small business owner Philip Dodds has raised the most money, but it is only 7% of what St. George has raised.

    FL-19 (on South Florida's west coast around Naples) is less competitive than FL-03 (it is R+13), so the action is on the Republican side, with nine candidates. Three of those candidates have raised over a million dollars. They are former Marine Casey Askar ($3.7 million raised), physician and businessman William Figlesthaler, who calls himself Dr. Fig ($2.5 million raised), and Byron Donalds, a liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-Second-Amendment, NRA-endorsed Black former state representative ($1.2 million raised).

    In other Florida election news, even though Donald Trump has been yelling that mail-in voting is a terrible thing, he himself has requested an absentee ballot for tomorrow's election. Trump moved his official residence from New York to Palm Beach County, FL, in 2019, possibly because Florida does not have an income tax and possibly because he thinks it may be harder for New York officials to prosecute him for various (financial) crimes if he no longer lives there. In any event, while most presidents love to be photographed at a polling station dropping a ballot in the ballot box, we will not see any such photos of Trump tomorrow.

  • Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is retiring and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) could have become his successor simply by filing. She didn't, since she is hoping to become Speaker of the House some day. Ten Republicans have filed for the Republican nomination, but the winner of both the Republican primary and general election is already obvious: four-term Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). Interestingly enough, six Democrats filed for the Senate. We have no idea why. Merav Ben David, a professor at the University of Wyoming whose interests include polar bear conservation, is leading the fundraising race. Polar bears are scarce in Wyoming, and if there are a couple left, they definitely need to be conserved or they will become extinct in that state. Clearly, the polar bear lobby has done a much worse job than the bison lobby or the grizzly bear lobby, though all three reportedly get together to make jokes at the expense of the passenger pigeon lobby.

    On the House side, Cheney technically has a primary against Trump-loving fence mender, oil-rig worker, welder, and roofer Blake Stanley. With her war chest of $2.2 million, she will completely crush him. Three Democrats have filed for their party's nomination. It's kind of pointless, though, since polar bears have a better chance of surviving in Wyoming than Democrats.

In short, there is not too much excitement, except maybe in Alaska, where strong showings by Gross and Galvin could set up competitive general-election battles. (V)

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf Is Not Really the Acting Secretary

Donald Trump has discovered that whenever a cabinet or subcabinet position becomes open and he thinks his favorite candidate might not get confirmed, he can just label them "acting" and avoid the nuisance of having to deal with the Senate. Usually he gets away with it, but this time it didn't work.

The GAO (Government Accountability Office), an arm of Congress, has issued a report that concluded that after Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as secretary of DHS in April 2019, the next in line was the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Christopher C. Krebs. Donald Trump decided to ignore the law and appointed Kevin McAleenan, head of Customs and Border Protection, as acting secretary instead. He also never sent a formal nomination of McAleenan to the Senate for confirmation. After taking over a job he was not legally entitled to hold, McAleenan then changed the order of succession. When McAleenan resigned, Chad Wolf became acting secretary and Ken Cuccinelli became his acting deputy.

In its report, the GAO finds that since McAleenan was never the legal acting secretary, he had no authority to change the order of succession, meaning Wolf is effectively an imposter, as is Cuccinelli. Of course, Trump could eliminate some ambiguity by sending their names to the Senate for confirmation, but he hasn't done that, possibly because they might not be confirmed. And the positions have been legally vacant for so long that neither of them would be able to serve legally as "acting" officers prior to being confirmed.

The GAO's report is not binding, but it will generate a flurry of lawsuits from people affected by some ruling McAleenan, Wolf or Cuccinelli made. They will claim that a decision made by someone who is effectively an imposter is not legally valid and they can safely ignore it.

The process of having the principal executive officers of the government be confirmed by the Senate is to prevent a rogue president from appointing his friends, cronies, or incompetent people to leadership positions in the government. Trump, of course, has done all three. This is one of the famous "checks and balances." But it is all meaningless when the president can just ignore the law and appoint anyone he wants to as an acting secretary and have that person actually run the department as though he or she was the secretary.

Clearly, one of the agenda items a potential Biden presidency needs to tackle is appointments. Ideally, when a secretary resigns or dies, then the deputy secretary automatically becomes the acting secretary. If there is no deputy, then the undersecretary is next, and so on down the line, based on the place of the various Senate-approved officeholders in their department's line of succession. If no one in the department has been confirmed by the Senate, then the president is able to install as acting secretary someone from another department who has been confirmed by the Senate. In any event, the law should explicitly state that no department may be run by anyone not confirmed by the Senate for some position.

All of this is to make sure that, even when an office comes vacant, there is someone empowered to keep things running. However, acting secretaries should be allowed to act only long enough for the president to make a nomination and for the Senate to vote on the nomination. Trump has abused his appointment power in a way no other president ever has, so the procedure needs to be codified in federal law, preferably the same for every department, to prevent a future president from circumventing the Senate. However, there probably also needs to be a provision that requires the Senate to take an up-or-down vote within, say, 30 days of a nomination, to prevent the Senate from blocking a president while avoiding the political consequences of voting "no." There is nothing wrong with the Senate rejecting a nominee it doesn't like, but it should do it explicitly and be prepared to explain why to the voters in due course of time. The Senate is not supposed to have a pocket veto. (V)

Trump Has a New Medical Adviser

Who says Donald Trump doesn't know anything about history? For thousands of years, when a king got a message he didn't like, he had the messenger executed (or at least banished). It's a technique that has stood the test of time. Donald Trump doesn't like the messages Doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have been giving him, so he has banished them (D.C. doesn't have capital punishment). Instead, he has installed a new medical adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, whose views on the coronavirus and how to manage it are more to his liking. Atlas is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank named for conservative President Herbert Hoover that is located on the Stanford University campus but has its own board of overseers. Atlas is a neuroradiologist with no background in epidemiology or infectious diseases, but if you want your brain zapped, he's your man.

Atlas has repeatedly said that COVID-19 is not that big a deal, that children are not at risk, that schools can open, and sporting events can take place. Atlas is against a mask mandate and sees no value in scaling up testing. Trump discovered Atlas the old-fashioned way—by seeing him appear on Fox News. Fauci and Birx are much less enthusiastic about just ignoring the virus and restoring life as it was pre-virus. Consequently, they have basically been shoved aside and replaced by Atlas.

Atlas is part of a tiny group that meets every morning to deal with COVID-19. The group includes experts like Jared Kushner (who is now available since peace has been achieved in the Middle East) and Stephen Miller. Atlas also helps Trump prepare his evening briefings.

What seems incredible here is how counterproductive this is. If Trump wants to get the economy going, what he needs to do is what most European countries did: Lock the country down for 4 weeks to beat the virus into submission. But he is doing the opposite, which almost certainly means things are going to get worse, with more cases and deaths. Does he really believe that having news stories about 2,000, maybe 3,000 deaths a day from COVID-19 will help him in states with many seniors, like Arizona and Florida? Our guess is that he simply doesn't think about the consequences of his actions. He just does things that feel good right now and the future be damned. (V)

Today's Presidential Polls

Here's more evidence that North Carolina is going to be close.

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
North Carolina 47% 47% Aug 12 Aug 13 East Carolina U.

Today's Senate Polls

Cal Cunningham seems to be outrunning Joe Biden in North Carolina, just as Steve Bullock is doing in Montana. It is unusual for a Senate candidate to have coattails, but it is possible. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 44% Thom Tillis* 40% Aug 12 Aug 13 East Carolina U.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug16 Sunday Mailbag
Aug16 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug15 Postal Service Warns that Voters May Be Disenfranchised by Mail Delays
Aug15 Saturday Q&A
Aug15 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug14 Trump Says the Quiet Part Out Loud
Aug14 Ron Johnson Says the Quiet Part Out Loud, Too
Aug14 Trump Announces Peace Agreement Between Israel and UAE
Aug14 Biden Presses for Masks Nationwide
Aug14 Trump Embraces Harris Birtherism
Aug14 About Madison Cawthorn, the "Next Face of the GOP"
Aug14 Democratic Convention Lineup Announced
Aug14 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug14 Today's Senate Polls
Aug13 The Day After
Aug13 The Delicate Art of Character Assassination
Aug13 Is QAnon Becoming the New Litmus Test?
Aug13 Silicon Valley Is Prepping for Election Night
Aug13 Looks at Books, Part I: Bob Woodward
Aug13 Looks at Books, Part II: George W. Bush
Aug13 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug13 Today's Senate Polls
Aug12 It's Kamala Harris
Aug12 More Voters Head to the Polls
Aug12 Democrats Appear to Prefer Vote-by-Mail
Aug12 Are You Ready for Some Football?
Aug12 The Vaccine War Is Well Underway
Aug12 COVID-19 Diaries: Research Notes
Aug12 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug12 Today's Senate Polls
Aug11 New National Poll: Biden 53%, Trump 40%
Aug11 Republicans Have a Strategy for November
Aug11 Democrats Will Feature Ordinary Voters in Their Virtual Convention
Aug11 How Biden Can Win and How Biden Can Lose
Aug11 Can the FDA Handle the Pressure?
Aug11 Democrats' House Prospects Are Looking Good
Aug11 Florida Democrats Failed to Register a Million New Voters
Aug11 Willie Brown: Harris Should Decline Veep Offer and Hold Out for Attorney General
Aug11 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug11 Today's Senate Polls
Aug10 More on Trump's Saturday "Executive Orders"
Aug10 COVID-19 Cases in the U.S. Hit 5 Million
Aug10 It's Official: The Election Is Russia vs. China
Aug10 Five States Vote Tomorrow
Aug10 Are Mail-in Ballots Bad and Absentee Ballots Good?
Aug10 DeJoy Reorganizes the Postal Service
Aug10 Trump Chews Out Adelson
Aug10 Trumpworld Is Divided on Transphobia
Aug10 What about the Exit Polls?
Aug10 Today's Presidential Polls