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That's a Wrap

The 2020 Democratic National Convention is in the books. Here are our impressions of the fourth and final night of proceedings:

  • Rising to the Moment: Joe Biden really needed to give the speech of his life, and...he gave it, earning raves across the commentariat (even Fox News):

    It was a bit overlong, in our view, but whoever wrote it deserves a raise, as it deftly wove together Biden's policy priorities, his personal background, and how he will be different from Donald Trump. The President didn't actually get mentioned by name, mind you, but there was a recurring theme of light vs. dark, including in the coda of the address:
    With passion and purpose, let us begin -- you and I together, one nation, under God -- united in our love for America and united in our love for each other.

    For love is more powerful than hate.

    Hope is more powerful than fear.

    Light is more powerful than dark.

    This is our moment.

    This is our mission.

    May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation.

    And this is a battle that we, together, will win.

    I promise you.
    That is as close as we're ever going to get to a major-party presidential candidate describing a sitting president as evil.

    Biden's performance is a double whammy for Trump. First of all, nobody who saw the speech can take seriously the President's claims that the Democratic nominee is mentally compromised or feeble-minded or whatever it is that people who think it's an accomplishment to pass the MOCA say. Second, now Trump has to live up to the example set by Biden. Given that The Donald relies more on a live audience than any politician ever, an audience he won't have next week, and given that he is prone to the George W. Bush squinty-eye thing, and that he tends to speak in bullet points rather than prose, we doubt he's up to it.

  • Theme 1: Let's Have a Beer: As the old political chestnut goes, people vote for the candidate they'd most want to have a beer with. This has been an element of all four nights of the convention, but the Democrats really amped it up on Thursday, doing everything possible to make their candidate relatable and likable. The interview with Biden's grandchildren, where they talked about his addiction to ice cream, was charming. Meanwhile, the viral moment of the evening, and possibly of the whole convention came when 13-year-old Brayden Harrington spoke for two minutes about how he and Biden bonded over their shared challenge of being stutterers:

    This was an absolutely masterful bit of empathy and vulnerability. And it once again highlighted the contrast with Donald Trump. Can you imagine the President approving anything next week that makes him look the slightest bit vulnerable? We can't.

  • Theme 2: G.I. Joe: Thursday featured a lengthy module dedicated to veterans, and their support for Biden, from 95-year-old WWII veteran (and former Trump voter) Edward Good, to Beau Biden, to Pete Buttigieg to Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). It wasn't too hard to grasp the message that came from inclusion of Beau: Donald Trump, my son volunteered for military service. What have your kids done for the county? Meanwhile, Duckworth's remarks were particularly scorching:

    Starting with the camera aimed at her wheelchair and her prosthetic limbs was a heckuva visual. And slamming Trump as the "coward-in-chief" was a heckuva soundbite.

  • Theme 3: COVID-19: COVID-19, and the question of how Biden would manage the pandemic if elected president, have been recurring themes throughout the four nights. However, the Democrats really hit that subject hard on their final evening. It's not getting anywhere near the attention that Harrington and Duckworth are getting, but we thought the address of former surgeon general Vivek Murthy was excellent, and hit all the right notes:

    Murthy says he is no politician. Maybe so, but if he aspires to a career in politics, he can have one.

All in all, the Democratic convention was a very fine example of receiving lemons and making lemonade. There is perhaps no better indication of that than the fact that Donald Trump is now obsessing over how he might do better. It won't be easy. (Z)

Biden is Doing Better than Clinton Was Preconvention

Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball took a look at four pollsters who did preconvention national polls in 2016 and 2020 and compared them. Here are the data:

Pollster 2016 2020
CNN Clinton +7 Biden +4
Marist Clinton +3 Biden +11
Monmouth Clinton +3 Biden +10
Pew Clinton +9 Biden +8
Average Clinton +5 Biden +8

CNN changed pollsters since 2016. It used ORC then and is using SSRS this year, but that probably doesn't matter (and the change could have related to cost). In any event, averaging over the four pollsters, Biden is doing 3 points better than Clinton was before her convention.

Digging into the weeds, there is more to see:

  • The parties are more unified now: In 2016, backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were seething from what they perceived as the heavy hand of the DNC supporting Clinton. This year, with 12 debates behind us, Sanders' people can't complain that their candidate didn't get enough time on stage. Also, most of them loathe Donald Trump so much that they are willing to delay the intraparty bloodbath that is sure to follow until after the election. The Republicans were so divided in 2016 that when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) got on stage and pointedly refused to endorse Trump, he was booed. Then 88% of Democrats backed Clinton; now 95% back Biden. Among Republicans, in 2016, 87% backed Trump then; now it is 93%.

  • Biden is doing better with independents: Many voters like to think of themselves as independent, but very few actually hop back and forth between parties or regularly vote for one party for president and the other one for Congress. Still, in 2016, Clinton led by 2 points among people who self-described as independent. Biden now has a whopping 12-point lead among them.

  • Fewer undecideds and third-party voters now: Last time, 13% of the voters said "none of the above." Ultimately, Trump won the lion's share of them. This time 94% support either Biden or Trump with only 6% saying a pox on both their houses. This gives Trump much less room to grow. Furthermore, last time, many of the undecideds gave the unknown Trump the benefit of the doubt. Now everyone knows exactly what they will be getting with either one.

Again, the national polls aren't the whole story. On July 25, 2016, the day the Democratic Convention started in 2016, we had Clinton at 312 electoral votes and Trump at 197, with 29 tied. This year on Monday we had Biden at 373 and Trump at 165. Thus both national and state polling seem to be saying that Biden is doing better than Clinton was preconvention.

Conventions normally give candidates (short-lived) bumps. But this year, since they are back-to-back, they may cancel out and by Sept. 1 there may be no bump at all for either one. (V)

Biden Leads with 2016 Nonvoters and Third-Party Voters

The University of Southern California has started a daily online tracking poll that has reported some interesting findings. It shows Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump by 11 points nationally, consistent with most other national polls. But it also broke out the preferences of people who either didn't vote in 2016 or voted for a third-party candidate in 2016. Here are the results:

USC poll

First, while 9% of 2016 Trump voters are going for Joe Biden this time, only 4% of Hillary Clinton voters are going for Trump. Second, Biden has a 20-point lead among people who didn't vote in 2016. Of course, if they don't vote in 2020 either, that doesn't matter. Third, Biden has an 11-point lead among the "I'm-not-voting-for-the-lesser-of-two-evils" set. Again here, we won't know until we see the 2020 exit polls how many people really are showing remorse. Our guess—and it is only a guess—is that some nontrivial fraction of the nonvoters and third-party voters expected Clinton to win and just wanted to send her a message. They are not likely to make that mistake again. Those people who voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson because they didn't think Trump was conservative enough then probably still don't think he is conservative enough now and will probably pull the lever for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen. After all, if you are fundamentally a libertarian, she is a perfectly good Libertarian. She is for slashing taxes, reducing the federal debt, making Social Security optional, free trade, and turning the U.S. into a giant Switzerland: armed but neutral in the world. (V)

Trump Must Give His Tax Returns to Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance

The Supreme Court ruled on July 9 that presidents are not immune to criminal probes but gave Donald Trump another chance to explain why U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero shouldn't order his accountants to turn over his tax returns to Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance. Later in July, Trump's lawyers explained to the judge that they felt his order was overly broad because all he did was pay off a porn star and a Playmate to keep them quiet during his 2016 campaign. Everyone does that, so what's the big deal? No, said Vance. We are also looking at "extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump organization." Specifically named were bank fraud and insurance fraud.

The judge apparently thought bank fraud was more important than porn star fraud and once again ruled that the accountants (Mazars) have to give Vance eight years of tax returns and all the financial documents he wants. It took the judge 103 pages to explain this, but the bottom line is that when a prosecutor is investigating a crime, claiming "I'm president so I have a stack of get-out-of-jail-free cards" doesn't cut it.

Trump's lawyers immediately filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If he loses there, he will appeal to the Supreme Court, which will probably send it back to the district court. In computer science we call this an infinite loop. But even if eventually stops somehow, and if Vance gets everything he wants, grand-jury rules require all evidence to remain secret. However, if Trump is put on trial, Vance could introduce any or all of what he got as evidence, at which time it would become public. But there is no way a trial is going to happen before Election Day.

If Vance gets everything he wants and Trump is reelected, we could be headed for uncharted waters. It is Justice Dept. policy not to indict a sitting president, but there is no law saying that can't be done. Besides, Vance works for New York State, not the Dept. of Justice. If Vance were to indict Trump for bank fraud that occurred before he was president, that particular hot potato will land in Chief Justice John Roberts' lap and there will be no way to hand it off to some district judge with a sticky yellow note saying: "Beats me, your call." (V)

Not All Republicans Are against Mail-in Voting

While Donald Trump thunders daily against mail-in voting, not all members of his party are on the same page. Republican state officials know that many Republicans, especially older ones in rural area, rely on the mail to vote. They are actually scared that Trump's screeds, combined with the pandemic, may cause many of them to skip voting this year, which could be disastrous for downballot Republicans. Any other Republican president would ask his campaign manager whether mail-in voting was good or bad for the Party and take it from there. But Trump knows for a fact that his gut has more and better information about voting than Bill Stepien has picked up in the 23 years he has been working on Republican campaigns. Of course, knowledge is just one commodity that Trump's gut and his head have in common.

Stepien, and many Republican secretaries of state, know very well that in 2016, 33 million Americans voted by mail and Trump still won the White House. So what are they doing? A number of them are secretly trying to encourage absentee voting as best they can, without stepping on Trump's tie. Justin Lee (R), the director of elections in Utah, said: "Vote by mail really works well here in Utah. We do feel it's safe and secure. We don't feel there are any real instances of either widespread fraud or voter disenfranchisement." Utah votes entirely by mail and keeps electing Republicans, so it's not like mail-in voting means Democrats win.

Republican state officials are puzzled by Trump saying that absentee ballots are good while mail-in ballots are bad. The ballots are the same, of course. The only difference is that if the voter chooses to deposit the ballot in a drop box or bring it to the election office, then it is not mailed in. Many states use the terms interchangeably. Some states use one term and some use the other, but there aren't two kinds of ballots.

More than two dozen states—including Republican-run states—have made changes to laws and procedures to facilitate mail-in voting this year. When Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) pushed back on Trump, saying: "In Arizona, we're going to do it right. It will be free and fair. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to cheat," Trump responded by switching the conversation to Nevada. In reality, all states match signatures on the envelope and check any other requirements imposed by state law.

That is not to say that absentee voting is perfect. Sometimes ballots are discarded because the voter didn't follow the instructions or signed with a different name from the one they registered with (often due to a name change as a result of marriage or divorce). In some cases, but by no means all, voters get a chance to correct the problem, but there isn't enough time to change equipment and procedures everywhere for 2020. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) summed up mail-in voting by saying: "To successfully implement it the way it should be implemented takes a five-year period. Not five months, five years." (V)

Stephen Bannon Has Been Indicted for Fraud and Money Laundering

Many people believe that former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon is a fraud. The Southern District of New York believes he committed fraud. Bannon was part of a crowdfunding scheme to raise money to build part of Donald Trump's proposed wall on the Mexican border. That's perfectly legal. The group was free to buy property in Texas and put a wall on it. What was not legal was for Bannon to put $1 million of the money raised in his own pocket using shell companies. Bannon and his cronies have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to hire only the best people. Let us review that. His first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested for battery after he hit a reporter. His second campaign manager, Paul Manafort, went to prison for tax evasion, money laundering, and bank fraud. His third campaign manager, Stephen Bannon, has now been indicted. In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out. In Trumpball, it's three strikes and you go to prison. Campaign manager #4, Brad Parscale, is known to have profited from all the business he sent to his companies. So far he hasn't been indicted for anything. Manager #5, Bill Stepien, is new. So three of the five have been indicted. Whether Trump is batting .400 or .600 depends on which way you look at it.

After Bannon's indictment and arrest, The Donald had a choice to make. He could have said "Steve is a fine person and I have the utmost faith that he will be found not guilty (English translation: "Steve, keep your mouth shut and you can count on a pardon the morning of Jan. 20). Or he could have said: "Bannon who?" He seems to be going the second route. Yesterday Trump said: "I didn't like that project. I thought it was a project being done for showboating reasons. I didn't want a wall that was going to be an inferior wall." Actually, he blessed the project when it started. So Trump's problem with Bannon is simply that he didn't have faith Bannon could hire a contractor who would build a quality wall? Was he afraid that Bannon might hire the same contractor that Trump did to build the section of wall that fell over in a storm in California in January?

In any event, Trump is playing with fire here. Bannon undoubtedly knows a lot of stuff that Trump would prefer to keep secret. Like contacts with the Russians in 2016. Would he trade some of that knowledge for, say, a $500,000 fine instead of 5 years in Club Fed? If Trump leaves office in January and Bannon does not get a pardon, he might be tempted to make a deal.

Donald Trump Jr. is also running away from Bannon as fast as he can. His name is on the "We Build the Wall's" website. And he gave a speech supporting the group a year ago. Now he has belatedly noticed that he doesn't support them and never did.

It is interesting that Trump has praised Ghislaine Maxwell as a fine person but not Bannon. Does he fear what Maxwell might trade for a plea deal but not fear what Bannon might offer? Maybe. Time will tell. (V)

In a Biden Administration, It Will Be America First

No, not in the sense Woodrow Wilson meant (isolationism), but in a different way. Joe Biden believes that his top priority will have to be on domestic affairs, mainly beating down the coronavirus, righting the economy, and tackling racial justice. Dealing with trade policy, China, and foreign affairs will have to be on the back burner for quite a while. The convention made that abundantly clear. There was hardly a word said about foreign policy. In part, it is because few people vote based on foreign policy, but also because Biden, despite his years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, doesn't know what to do. Should he repeal the tariffs on China, push free trade, and make traditional Republicans happy? Or should he use foreign policy to force trading partners to treat their workers better and stop polluting the planet if they want to sell to Americans? What about the effects of trade on workers whose jobs were shipped overseas? Do they matter? Unless something is done, off-shoring will continue unchecked.

None of these are simple issues. Sure, Susan Rice is an experienced diplomat and the Senate would probably confirm her as Secretary of State with 70 or more votes (because some Republicans will just vote "no" on everyone and everything), but someone is going to have to tell her what America's foreign policy is so she can defend it. And that someone is Biden. And Biden can't outsource that particular hot potato to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), because she knows close to nothing about foreign policy and trade. Those are just not her areas of expertise. But there are only so many hours in a day, and the pandemic, the economy, and racial justice will come first. Or maybe just the first two, because racial justice (especially reforming the police) is one of Harris' strengths, so he could tell her to handle that one.

If Biden is busy with other stuff, a split could develop in the administration on foreign policy. On one side are neoliberals, who want to return to the status quo ante Trumpum. Many Senate Republicans would support this and to the extent that Biden wants to show how "bipartisan" he is, this would be a way to push confirmations and bills that got massive Republican support. That could be a talking point in 2022 for those voters who see bipartisanship as a goal unto itself and don't understand why the parties can't work together. (Hint: Because the policies each party wants are diametrically opposed to what the other one wants. It's tough to both lower taxes on the rich and raise taxes on the rich at the same time.)

On the other side, progressives want a softer, gentler form of economic nationalism. They don't want a free-trade system in which we get cheaper iPhones but the price is millions of jobs being shipped to Asia. They know that cleaning up the planet is never going to happen as long as China is burning millions of tons of coal. Trade is the only way to pressure China on that.

The one foreign policy area which Rice (or whoever becomes SoS) can handle on her own is figuring out who is a friend and who is an enemy. Democrats aren't split on that. France is a friend. Russia is an enemy. China is more of a smart business partner and a tough negotiator who is willing to make deals if both sides get something they want. The SoS is going to have to make up two sets of business cards, one saying: "I hereby apologize for that moron," and the other saying: "Screw you." She knows very well who gets which one without Biden telling her. (V)

Howard Could Help Biden

Howard Stern said: "You see the wall that's right next to you? I'll vote for the wall over a guy who tells me I should pour Clorox into my mouth. I think we are in deep shit." But this item is not about him. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the first major-party candidate to graduate from an HBCU (Historically Black College or University). She is an alumna of Howard University, sometimes referred to as the "Black Harvard." Here is Harris (right) as a first-year student at Howard.

Kamala Harris at Howard University

Over 86,000 people have graduated from Howard, nearly all of them Black, and many have become highly respected in their professions, including Nobel-Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, former Sen. Edward Brooke, former New York Mayor David Dinkins, former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, New York AG Letitia James, former secretary of agriculture and current Senate candidate Mike Espy, the late congressman Elijah Cummings, and many more. Undoubtedly nearly all of them are proud of Harris. Since most Black voters are Democrats, probably most of them support Biden/Harris and will do what they can in their own ways to help the ticket. Having many influential members of the Black community pushing hard for Biden/Harris could boost turnout of this key Democratic constituency.

Biden is not in favor of reparations for slavery, but some of the things in his program are not a bad second choice. For example, he wants to provide HBCUs with $70 billion in funding, a stupendous sum considering the median endowment of the HBCUs is $12 million. He also wants the government to pay tuition for all four-year HBCU students. These things will help educate the next generation of Black leaders in many fields and will certainly motivate the 86,000 Howard alums and those of other HBCUs to do everything they can to help Biden/Harris.

Even those Black voters who don't approve of Harris' policies as California AG are mostly on board. A Morning Consult poll shows that 79% of Black voters approve of her. Even people who previously were not fans give her grudging respect now. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a Howard graduate, said: "I can think of a bunch of things that I probably disagree with her about. And that's the same for probably any other elected official around here. I do believe, however, that her idea of America includes us in it."

Some Republicans have questioned her "Blackness." Keneshia Grant, an Assoc. Prof. of Political Science at Howard, rebutted that by saying: "When you choose to go to Howard after living in Canada and coming from California, you're making an affirmative decision about Blackness."

While 90% of Black voters are Democrats, their turnout dropped in 2016 compared to 2012. Harris is certainly going to tap into her network of Howard and HBCU graduates, especially those in leadership positions in various fields, to gin up enthusiasm for the ticket and turn out the vote. In close states with large Black populations, especially North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, that could matter. (V)

Downballot Democrats Are Seeing Green

As in money. ActBlue is a giant Democratic fundraising machine. It allows donors to sign up and give money to a wide range of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. So far this cycle it has raised and disbursed $1.8 billion. Most small donors have directed their money to presidential, Senate, and House candidates with a national profile. However, a relatively small number of donors are supporting Democrats who are trying to flip state legislatures in advance of the 2021 gerrymandering—no, scratch that, redistricting—process. The total amount of money raised for candidates for state legislatures this year is $76 million. That is 20% more than the total amount raised for state legislature candidates in the 2018 cycle and triple the amount raised for state legislature candidates in 2016. So Democrats are beginning to see what Republicans have long known: State legislatures are important and it matters which party controls them.

While Democratic operatives are happy that so much money is coming in, some are lamenting that a lot of donors are pouring millions into high-profile races that are probably a lost cause while bypassing candidates for state legislatures, where $100,000 could flip a state senate seat. There are probably half a dozen state chambers that could flip in November if enough money were directed to the right candidates. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug20 Unconventional, Night Three
Aug20 Democrats Are Rethinking Their Absentee-Ballot Strategy
Aug20 Trump Sues Iowa Counties for Helping Voters
Aug20 Latinos Haven't Heard from Either Campaign
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Aug20 The Republican Convention Is the Start of the 2024 GOP Primary
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Aug19 Unconventional, Night Two
Aug19 Trump's Goat Is Officially Gotten
Aug19 More Voters Head to the Polls
Aug19 Bipartisan Senate Committee Issues Damning Report on Trump Campaign and Russia
Aug19 DeJoy Backs Down
Aug19 House Democrats Want More Stimulus Votes
Aug19 Many Businesses Won't Participate in Trump's Payroll Tax Plan
Aug19 Today's Senate Polls
Aug18 Unconventional
Aug18 Three Polls Tell Two Stories
Aug18 Biden Gets One or Two High-Profile Anti-Trump Endorsements
Aug18 Democrats Will Push the Envelope
Aug18 Trump Goes 0-for-2 in Court on Monday
Aug18 UNC Pushes the 'Eject' Button
Aug18 COVID-19 Diaries: The Land Down Under
Aug18 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug18 Today's Senate Polls
Aug17 Democratic National Convention Begins Tonight
Aug17 National Poll: Biden 50%, Trump 41%
Aug17 Are There Shy Trump Voters?
Aug17 How Harris Can Help Biden
Aug17 Absentee Voting Is Still a Hot Topic
Aug17 Democratic Super PACs Will Coordinate--with Each Other
Aug17 Three States Will Hold Primaries Tomorrow
Aug17 Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf Is Not Really the Acting Secretary
Aug17 Trump Has a New Medical Adviser
Aug17 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug17 Today's Senate Polls
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