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The Republican National Convention Begins Today

The Democrats had their turn, now the Republicans get theirs. Four weeks ago, Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Jacksonville convention, after having pulled the plug on the Charlotte convention. Convention planners had just 4 weeks to plan convention v3.0, something that normally takes 1-2 years. They had no venue, no budget, and no speakers. They were forced to move fast. But the goal was clear: Make a great TV show that would get fantastic ratings.

The Democrats had one advantage, though. Their candidate did not think of himself as a master television producer who wanted to micromanage the project. He left that to the pros. Although Trump hired the co-executive producer of "The Celebrity Apprentice," Sadoux Kim, to put it together, he kept interfering on decisions concerning who would speak, for how long, which segments would be live and which would be recorded, and much more.

The late date brought logistical challenges. Nailing down locations, getting equipment there, setting up feeds, and figuring out how to blend recorded and live material was a challenge. Also finding the right mix of speakers was difficult and resulted in the St. Louis couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who pointed guns at protesters, making the cut but Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) not making it. Many members of Trump's family and White House staff will speak. The Republicans have hinted at a "Democrats for Trump" segment, but it would be extremely surprising if they could find Democrats with as high a profile as Colin Powell or John Kasich to show up. Some random state representative nobody has ever heard of from a red state doesn't quite match Colin Powell.

One decision that was made early on was to start at 8:30 p.m ET and run until 11 p.m. ET. The Democrats ran from 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. every day. One problem is that 8:30 is in the middle of Tucker Carlson's show. Fox News hasn't said whether they will take away half of his time for four days. In any event, the broadcast networks are only going to provide an hour of coverage, not the whole thing. According to one story, the networks didn't want to cover the whole thing gavel to gavel for fear something wildly inappropriate might happen and they would be forced to broadcast it.

The list of main speakers for each night was released yesterday. Here they are in alphabetical order, since the speaking order was not announced. Trump will speak every night, since it is all about him.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Matt Gaetz Pam Bondi Marsha Blackburn Ben Carson
Kimberly Guilfoyle Daniel Cameron Madison Cawthorn Tom Cotton
Nikki Haley Mary Mendoza Kellyanne Conway Rudy Giuliani
Jim Jordan Jeanette Nunez Dan Crenshaw Franklin Graham
Mark & Patricia McCloskey Rand Paul Joni Ernst Alice Johnson
Ronna Romney McDaniel Mike Pompeo Kristi Noem Kevin McCarthy
Steve Scalise Kim Reynolds Karen Pence Mitch McConnell
Tim Scott Nicholas Sandmann Mike Pence Ja'Ron Smith
Donald Trump Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Donald Trump
Donald Trump Jr. Eric Trump Donald Trump Ivanka Trump
  Melania Trump Lara Trump Jeff Van Drew
  Tiffany Trump Lee Zeldin Dana White

In addition to the six family members and numerous politicians listed above, some ordinary citizens will also speak briefly. The networks still don't have the complete schedule. One executive said they would have to treat the convention as breaking news.

At just about every other convention for decades, the presidential nominee made a cameo appearance early on, then disappeared until his acceptance speech. But no previous nominee craved the limelight the way Trump does. The Republican Party has truly become the Trump Party.

To make that clear to everyone, the Republican Party has now formally decided not to have a platform this year. You know, the document where the Party states its principles and what it stands for. Not needed anymore. In the past the Republican platform has made clear it stands for the rule of law, free markets, fair and simple taxes, religious freedom, home ownership, entrepreneurship, the Second Amendment, banning abortion, fair elections, and much more. Here is the 2016 GOP platform. This time the Party simply said that it agrees with everything Donald Trump has said and will say. Who needs principles when you have Donald Trump? (But see Maryanne Trump Barry's comments below.) (V)

Trump Enters His Convention in a Historically Weak Position

Since 1940, only three incumbents have been down by more than a point in the polling at the start of their conventions: Harry Truman in 1948, Jerry Ford in 1976, and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Truman was down by 10 points, yet came back to win an upset victory. Trump is also around -10 now. Ford and Carter lost. If we look at incumbent presidents who had a negative approval going into their conventions, George H.W. Bush and Carter each had negative ratings in the double digits and each lost. Trump's net approval rating is -12. Of course, in 2016, his net approval rating was -22 and he won, so he could be an exception.

Nevertheless, Trump has two problems compared to 2016. First, Hillary Clinton was a historically unpopular candidate. Millions of people hated her and voted against her, rather than for Trump. Biden is far less unpopular than Clinton and the number of people who will go to the polls specifically to defeat him will be much smaller than the number who voted in 2016 simply to defeat Clinton.

Second, in 2016, fully a quarter of the voters strongly disliked both candidates. In the end, Trump won most of these voters. His margin among them was 20 points. This year, many fewer voters dislike both candidates but of those that dislike both, Biden is favored by 20 points.

Trump has two chances to turn things around. First is the convention. Second is the first debate (and to a lesser extent, the other debates). Trump is not a great debater and has little command of the facts. His main hope in the debate is that Biden makes a huge gaffe, but that is outside his control. So in practice, this week is his big chance because he has total control over it. The one problem here is that most of the audience will be Republicans and he already has them. He can't use the convention to pick up independents or soft Biden voters if they don't watch. (V)

Conways to Exit, Stage Left

Assuming that Kellyanne Conway retains her RNC speaking slot, the address will also be her swan song. She announced late Sunday that she would be exiting the White House at the end of the month. Concurrently, her Trump-hating husband George said that he is leaving the Lincoln Project. Both said their departures are due to the need to spend more time focusing on family.

Everyone suspected that it could not be easy for one of Trump's highest-profile spokespeople and defenders and one of his highest-profile critics, to be married, and this would seem to confirm that. In any event, people whom Trump trusts and who are willing to go on TV and peddle his party line regardless of how nonsensical it might be, are a pretty rare commodity. So, this news surely did not make him happy. One assumes that Katrina Pierson will be taking on a higher-profile role as a result of Conway's departure. (Z)

YouGov Poll: Biden 52%, Trump 42%

A new CBS News/YouGov poll shows that Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 52% to 42% nationally. This is similar to many other recents polls.

But the poll also asked many other questions and got interesting answers. Some of the things Republicans believe include:

  • The country is better off now than it was 4 years ago (75% to 25%)
  • The economy is in good shape (67% to 30%)
  • The battle with the coronavirus is going well (73% to 27%)
  • The number of COVID-19 fatalities is less than the 170,000 that all sources are reporting (64% to 18%)
  • The number of fatalities so far, whatever the number, is acceptable (57% to 43%)
  • There has been too much focus on racial discrimination of late (81% to 13%)

The poll asked people who thought the country is better off now than 4 year ago why. People could select multiple reasons. The top reasons are confidence in Donald Trump (82%). the economy (70%), Democrats are not in power (70%), and personal finances (64%). More Republicans belong to the GOP because they like what it stands for (58%) than because they dislike what the Democrats stand for (42%). Republicans also said they want a positive convention, talking about all the good things Trump has done rather than the bad things Biden has done.

The poll also asked about the Democratic National Convention. Most of the people who watched it were Democrats (71%), but there were also a smattering of independents (17%) and Republicans (11%). One thing the convention did is shift the reason Democrats are going to vote for Biden. Before the convention it was to oppose Trump (49%), but that has dropped to 42% now. In contrast, pre-convention, only 29% of Democrats were going to vote Democratic because they liked Biden. Now that it is 38%. So the main effect of the convention seems to have been making Biden personally more popular than he was among Democrats, giving them something to vote for, not just vote against. Even more important though is that 45% of independents who watched feel better about Biden, versus the 30% that feel more negative about him now. (V)

Biden's Favorability Goes Up

Joe Biden got a bump in his favorability rating from the Democratic National Convention. According to an ABC News/Ipsos poll, nationally the former veep's favorability went up from a pre-convention 40% to a post-convention 45%. Donald Trump's favorability remained unchanged at 32%. That means all the hammering the Democrats did of Trump last week had no effect. But since the viewers were mostly Democrats, that is not surprising. It also suggests that no matter how much the Republicans hammer Biden this week, it will also have no effect because the viewers will mostly be Republicans.

Post-convention, Black Americans gave Biden a 69% rating, Latinos gave him 52%, and whites gave him a mere 39%. Sen. Kamala Harris' favorability rating is 41%, but a quarter of Americans don't know who she is, so she has some work to do this fall introducing herself to the country. Among Black Americans, her favorability is only 60%, lower than Biden's, suggesting that many of them know about her record as California AG.

The poll also found that only 30% of Americans watched at least some of the Democratic convention vs. 62% who watched at least some of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Without balloons, a convention simply isn't a convention. If Republicans take note of this poll, they will be sure to have lots of balloons at their convention and widely announce that on Thursday they will have the largest number of balloons every dropped in a single room in all of history. (V)

Trump Announces an Untested COVID-19 Treatment over Scientists' Objections

The Justice Department has been politicized and the Postal Service has been politicized, so what's next? If you guessed the FDA, you're right. Last night, Donald Trump announced that the FDA will issue an emergency authorization for a blood plasma treatment for COVID-19. The therapy consists of transfusing blood plasma from people who have survived COVID-19 into people who have it. However, scientists are not convinced that it is effective because it has not been used in large-scale, randomized, double-blind tests. One study showed a slightly smaller number of deaths among patients who got plasma than patients who got nothing, but a proper study would be to have half the patients get the plasma and the other half get a placebo and then compare the results. Furthermore, the study was not peer reviewed, which is critical for any scientific paper. A second study was very small scale and was also not controlled and not peer reviewed. Experts do not expect it to be a game changer. In fact, four former FDA chiefs have urged the FDA not to approve the treatment until it has undergone the standard testing that all drugs need to undergo before getting approval.

One of the many reasons this treatment will not be a game changer is that it cannot be manufactured at scale in a factory. It depends on a steady supply of blood from people who have had COVID-19 and recovered from it. So even if it is tested and clearly worked, it would be possible to produce thousands of doses, but not millions. It is also possible that the plasma could contain enough live virus to make someone's condition worse rather than better. This happened with early polio vaccines. Hence the need for large-scale testing to see if this happens in practice.

For months, public health experts have been worrying whether FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn had the strength to stand up to Trump when the president ordered him to approve some vaccine or treatment that wasn't properly vetted. Now we have the answer: The first time the pressure was applied, he caved. He is an oncologist, not an expert in infectious diseases, but he knows very well that in cancer research, as in all medical research, the gold standard is a large-scale, randomized, double-blind, study where half the subjects get the medicine and half get a placebo and neither the patients nor the doctors know who is getting which.

But Donald Trump does not care whether it works or not. Just as he did not care if the president of Ukraine actually investigated Hunter Biden. He just wanted an announcement that there would be an investigation. And just as he does not care if there is a wall on the Mexican border. He just wants photo ops to make it look like there is a wall. Now he just wants people to believe that a cure is at hand. Whether it works is irrelevant as long as people believe it works. Trump's political gift is that he understands more than almost anyone else how gullible many people are and how to take advantage of them.

Public health experts see this as extremely dangerous, even if the treatment is pointless and does no harm. The danger is that people will eventually discover that it doesn't work. Then if a real cure (or a vaccine) is discovered and announced, a large number of people will just assume the government is lying again and won't use the treatment (or get the vaccine). (V)

House Approves $25 Billion for the Postal Service

On Saturday, the House passed a bill to provide $25 billion to the USPS in advance of the election. The vote was 257-150, largely along party lines, but with two dozen Republicans supporting it, in part because even in red districts the USPS is popular. The bill also banned a number of changes Postmaster General Louis DeJoy made in the past month and which will appreciably slow down the mail.

A study by the Washington Post makes it clear how important a good postal system is. It showed that over half a million absentee ballots were rejected by 23 states in the primaries this year, and a quarter were in key battleground states. Rejections were due to voter mistakes, slow delivery, uneven enforcement of the rules, and just general chaos. In the three "Midwest" states Trump unexpectedly flipped in 2016, 60,000 ballots were tossed. His margin of victory in those states was 77,000 votes, so the number of rejected ballots could determine the outcome of the election. Charles Stewart III, a prominent political science professor at MIT said: "If the election is close, it doesn't matter how well it was run—it will be a mess." It is very possible that by December, Stewart will be seen as a prophet.

Democrats do not really want a bill here and a bill there. They originally wanted a comprehensive coronavirus relief bill that provided funding for the USPS, election funding, additional funds for unemployment insurance, aid to states and aid to schools. The Republicans see no need for a comprehensive bill, so negotiations have completely stalled and there are no plans to restart them. This is why the Democrats passed a stand-alone bill.

The bill has no chance of being enacted into law, as the Senate is very unlikely to even vote on it. And even if the Senate approved it, Donald Trump has said he will veto it. It is not that the Republicans want no bill of any kind. They specifically want a bill to give money to small businesses, where the definition of "small business" tends to include huge multinational corporations. Years ago, compromises were made that gave each party some of what it wanted. The textbook example is the farm bill, which comes up every few years. It gives subsidies to farmers (including big ones) but also provides SNAP benefits (food stamps) for poor people. But the mood among Republicans in Congress now is that all compromises are bad and doing nothing is preferable to doing something. (V)

Trump's Sister Says Her Brother Has No Principles

After Mary Trump's book about her brother came out, the Washington Post asked the author how she knew so much about her uncle. She admitted that she had secretly taped 15 hours of conversations with the Donald's sister, Maryanne Trump Barry. To prove it, she gave the Post the tapes. Among other choice excerpts from their conversation were these nuggets from Barry:

  • He has no principles. None. None.
  • And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.
  • His goddamned tweets and lying!
  • I'm talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit!
  • He doesn't read.
  • It's the phoniness of it all. It's the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.
  • He was a brat. I did his homework for him.
  • Donald is out for Donald. Period.
  • He once tried to take credit for something I did.

In New York State, taping a conversation is legal if one of the parties involved agrees, even if the other is unaware.

When the Post asked the President to comment on Barry's view of him, he said: "Every day it's something else, who cares. I miss my brother, and I'll continue to work hard for the American people." White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also brushed off Barry's comments when talking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday. However, he didn't deny that Barry had said them and didn't refute their substance.

Mary Trump told the Post that Trump is unfit to be president and she plans to do everything she can to elect Joe Biden. (V)

Republicans May Use Voter Intimidation

Donald Trump knows he is behind and will use every tool he can to win, ethical, legal, or otherwise. Now that it is known that the USPS has removed mailboxes and reduced sorting capacity, the latter of which will slow down the delivery of absentee ballots in both directions, more people may decide to vote in person, COVID-19 or no COVID-19. As it begins to dawn on people that they can vote early at 6, 7, or 8 a.m. (depending on the state), when polls won't be crowded, more people may do that, so Trump needs to plan for that.

The plan is to revive a technique the RNC used in the 1980s. They hired armed off-duty police officers (in uniform) to patrol polling stations in minority neighborhoods. They wore armbands reading "National Ballot Security Task Force," an imaginary organization. The officers asked people in line if they had the right to vote (which the officers had no right to do) and told them about how many years in prison they would get for voting illegally. The intent was to scare off voters. The Democrats went to court and in 1982 the RNC was eventually forced to sign a consent decree agreeing not to do this until 2018. It is now 2020, so the consent decree has expired and here we go again.

Trump has once again revived the idea of using law enforcement to intimidate minority voters. According to Trump: "We're going to have everything. We're going to have sheriffs, and we're going to have law enforcement, and we're going to hopefully have U.S. attorneys and we're going to have everybody, and attorney generals [sic]."

This is illegal. Federal law specifically forbids the federal government from sending "armed men" to patrol polling places. Armed women are probably legal though, since the statute specifically specifies men. Furthermore, county officials, not the federal government, control sheriffs, but Trump could conceivably call up the National Guard to do it. It is also possible that Republican county executives will get the message and do it themselves, which might be legal.

Marc Elias, who is the Democrats' chief election lawyer, said: "The reason why the Republican Party was under a consent decree for 40 years was for precisely this kind of behavior in 1981." Matthew Morgan, the Trump campaign's top lawyer, said: "Republicans will be ready to make sure the polls are being run correctly, securely, and transparently as we work to deliver the free and fair election Americans deserve."

The RNC has recruited at least 30,000 poll watchers in 15 battleground states as well as countless lawyers. Probably not all of them are armed law enforcement personnel, though. Justin Riemer, the RNC's chief counsel, said that they would be trained on the rules and how to look for fraud. He acknowledged that some would be stationed at polling sites in minority communities to look for fraud. He also said some would be stationed in GOP-leaning areas to make sure every eligible Republican has voted.

Poll watchers looking for fraud can derail the process even if they don't find any fraud. They can conceivably challenge every voter's right to vote. The result could be a discussion with the official poll worker, ending in the voter voting anyway. However, if the poll watcher can add a minute to the check-in time for every voter, then in a precinct with 2,000 voters and 4 poll workers, that could add 500 minutes (over 8 hours) to the time the last voter has to wait to vote.

The Democrats know all of this, of course, so they will have poll watchers and lawyers at polling places, too. The result could be altercations and confusion at many places. Will voting go smoothly? We'll get back to you on Nov. 4. Democrats would be wise to put a tremendous emphasis on telling people who plan to vote in person to do it as early in October as possible when crowds will be much less than on Election Day. (V)

Trump's Plan to Bypass Congress on the Economy Failed

On Saturday, Aug. 8, Donald Trump signed an executive order and three presidential memoranda in an attempt to goose the economy. At the time he signed the documents, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it would take a week or two for payments to arrive. By Monday, Aug. 10, it had become clear what was actually in the XO and memoranda, so we noted that it was merely for show since only one of them (deferring student loan payments) was legally binding.

Now 2 weeks have gone by and sure enough, almost nothing has happened. Only one state (Arizona) is paying the new jobless benefits, evictions have not paused, and very few companies are deferring payroll taxes (due to the need to change complex payroll software and the fear that workers will be furious when all the deferred payroll taxes are deducted on Jan. 15).

However, some states are working on applying for the jobless payments. But first they have to scrounge up $100 per worker per week to qualify for the $300 federal subsidy. A number of states have said the process could take between a few weeks and a couple of months. Thus there is some hope for unemployed workers that some relief may eventually come through. One state (South Dakota) has formally rejected the program and has said it will not apply for it. The number of new unemployment claims topped 1 million last week. This was the 21st consecutive week with over 1 million new claims. It is estimated that about 28 million Americans are currently unemployed.

Negotiations between congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans are completely stalled. The White House has even said that no new deal is needed because the stock market is doing well and sales of existing homes went up 25% in July, largely due to low interest rates. Despite the sales, many people are worried about paying the mortgage. As many as 40 million people are concerned about losing their homes by the end of the year. Renters are no better off. When state eviction moratoriums expire in September and October, millions of renters may be evicted. However, landlords may choose not to evict people as soon as they are able to because: (1) then they will never be able to collect the back rent, and (2) there is not a vast pool of people seeking apartments who can put up security deposits and also pay a month or more rent in advance. Nevertheless, evictions are going to go up in the run-up to the election. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug23 Sunday Mailbag
Aug22 Saturday Q&A
Aug22 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug22 Today's Senate Polls
Aug21 That's a Wrap
Aug21 Biden is Doing Better than Clinton Was Preconvention
Aug21 Biden Leads with 2016 Nonvoters and Third-Party Voters
Aug21 Trump Must Give His Tax Returns to Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance
Aug21 Not All Republicans Are against Mail-in Voting
Aug21 Stephen Bannon Has Been Indicted for Fraud and Money Laundering
Aug21 In a Biden Administration, It Will Be America First
Aug21 Howard Could Help Biden
Aug21 Downballot Democrats Are Seeing Green
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
Aug20 Biden's Agenda Could Depend on an Obscure House Primary
Aug20 COVID-19 Deaths in Florida Pass 10,000
Aug20 The Republican Convention Is the Start of the 2024 GOP Primary
Aug20 Sports Teams Are Getting Involved in Politics
Aug20 Harris Is Famous All the Way to India
Aug20 States Differ Greatly on Voting by Mail
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