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Trump's COVID-19 Fantasy Clashes with COVID-19 Reality

Donald Trump, his new campaign manager Bill Stepien, and the rest of the team recognize that COVID-19 is doing more to wreck the President's re-election hopes than any other issue. Continuing with their habit of trying to hide the symptom, rather than address the underlying problem (an approach they take to every crisis, disease or not), Team Trump continues to insist that the pandemic is basically over. In their latest attempt to control the narrative, the White House not only seized control of COVID-19 tracking data from the CDC (on Wednesday), but then they removed it from the CDC website (Thursday). However, reality has a nasty way of intruding on the best laid plans of rodents and humans. That was certainly the case yesterday; to wit:

  • Well, That Didn't Work: The removal of the data from the CDC website sparked such an outcry that the administration was quickly forced to put most of it back. Many state governors are also squawking loudly about the obvious attempt by the administration to control (and skew) the narrative. Add it up, and now everyone is on notice, which means that most states will give copies of their data to non-federal entities (like, say, Johns Hopkins University), and control will be entirely beyond the clutches of the White House.

  • RNC: Ronna Romney McDaniel and the other folks who run the Republican Party have finally accepted what was obvious a month ago (if not more), and committed to a much smaller Republican National Convention. For most of the convention, only 2,500 people will be in attendance, and for the day Trump gives his speech, the number will be 7,000. We'll see if they stick with that, or if they have to pare it back even further. If they do stick with 7,000, it will be interesting to see if all the seats are actually filled.

  • Infection Rate: On Thursday, the U.S. set a grim record, with 70,000 new cases of COVID-19. It was just two weeks ago that the country had its first day with 50,000 new cases.

  • Mortality: In view of the above, the University of Washington's IHME now projects that COVID-19 will claim 224,000 American lives by Nov. 1.

  • Loss of Insurance: Due in part to the Trump Administration's efforts to undercut Obamacare, and in part to the massive increase in unemployment, a record number of people—5.4 million of them—lost their health insurance between February and May. This is nothing short of disastrous. First, because some people won't seek healthcare, and so will die and/or become spreaders of COVID-19 needlessly. Second, because some uninsured folks will head to emergency rooms (which have to take them), overtaxing a part of the healthcare infrastructure that is already bursting at the seams while spreading the virus to vulnerable people who have come in due to a heart attack or stroke.

  • The Hogan Project?: He hasn't joined The Lincoln Project yet, at least as far as we know, but Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has apparently joined the resistance within the Republican Party. He penned a scathing op-ed on Thursday that savaged the President's COVID-19 response, observing that Trump is uninterested in doing anything that he cannot personally claim credit for.

  • Don't Forget Vlad: It's just not a true national crisis these days unless the Russians somehow find a way to get involved. On Thursday, the Russkies attempted to hack into American, British, and Canadian research databases, trying to get their hands on COVID-19 vaccine research that they are unable to undertake themselves. Don't hold your breath waiting for a response from the White House.

One wonders how much of this Donald Trump is actually aware of. Presumably the folks around him had to tell him about the Republican convention, but if they had clued him in on all of this on the same day? He would have blown a gasket. Maybe Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, et al., do tell him all the bad stuff at once, kind of like ripping a band-aid off. Or maybe they ration it; no more than one adverse bit of news per day. Either way, we don't envy them.

Oh, and when it comes to getting some solace, and some "insight" on COVID-19, Trump won't have Chuck Woolery's Twitter feed to rely upon anymore. Just days after proclaiming the pandemic to be a fraud, the game-show-host-turned-right-wing-conspiracist announced that his son has been diagnosed with the disease, and then deleted his Twitter account. Maybe the President can find another game show host to consult. Pat Sajak has a Twitter account, so that's a possibility, but the problem is he'll only tell you what you want to know a few letters at a time. Alex Trebek might be available by phone, but he only answers in the form of a question. Groucho Marx might be reached via Ouija Board or séance, but he'll want to know "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" first, and Trump probably doesn't know. Oh, well. (Z)

Brian Kemp Channels His Inner Trump

The great majority of states now require masks in public, with Arkansas and Colorado joining the list on Thursday. Georgia governor Brian Kemp (R), on the other hand, is taking things in an entirely different direction. Not only is he not interested in mandating masks, he has forbidden mayors and other local authorities from mandating them. And after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) defied Kemp's orders, he sued her.

We do not claim to have our finger on the pulse of Georgia politics, but we do know that 89% of Americans are wearing masks these days, so even if we correct for the conservative/libertarian leanings of the Deep South, Kemp must surely be on the minority position here. The dynamics of a powerful white man trying to push a Black woman around are none too good, either, particularly at this moment in time. At very least, this further raises Bottoms' profile in the race to be Joe Biden's running mate. Perhaps voters will also want to punish Kemp's party at the polls in November. If so, he won't be on the ballot, but one GOP presidential candidate, three major GOP U.S. Senate candidates, and 14 GOP House candidates will. Oh, and if you hadn't heard, Georgia was already considered a swing state in 2020.

As to Kemp, he clearly has his eye on something bigger and better, and is jostling with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and others to occupy the Trump lane in the 2024 Republican primaries. We honestly don't see how this can possibly work out for him, given that his anti-mask crusade is coming just as the pandemic is getting dramatically worse. Meanwhile, while Kemp won't be on the ballot this year, he presumably will be in 2022, as he runs for reelection. He barely won last time, and even that was likely aided by shenanigans. If he takes a bunch of risks positioning himself for 2024, he may find himself out of work in 2022. (Z)

Republicans Won't Let Go of Burisma

Things are not looking great for the Republicans now, so they are starting to grasp at straws. No, not Hillary's e-mail server now, but that's always an option if it really gets rough. The new Republican hope is going after Joe Biden's son, Hunter, for his work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. There has been so much news this year that you can be excused if you have forgotten this already, but Ukrainegate got Donald Trump impeached last year. Still, Trump's only hope is to throw mud at Biden and his family and hope some of it sticks.

Specifically, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) wants to investigate Hunter Biden, so he is asking various officials on Biden's campaign, along with former government officials, to testify. They are not playing ball, so Johnson is threatening to subpoena them. It would be ironic, of course, if the targets of the subpoenas refused and said that the Supreme Court just ruled that Congress has no subpoena power. This could lead to more court cases and handing the whole matter back to the Supreme Court in 2021 or 2022.

So far, Johnson has issued only one subpoena, to a Democratic public affairs PR firm, Blue Star Strategies, which did some consulting work for Burisma years ago. Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee have said that Johnson is just wasting government resources for political gain and is just aiding a Russian disinformation campaign. Even if everyone Johnson has in his sights obeys the subpoenas and testifies before November, it is doubtful this is going to convince all those college-educated white voters currently fleeing the GOP that maybe the Republicans aren't so bad after all. But Johnson is giving it the old college try anyway. (V)

Your Interview Begins When the Clock Strikes Thirteen

In a move that brings to mind George Orwell's "Information Purification Directives," the news broke this week that the White House has commenced intensive interviews with political appointees meant to gauge whether or not they are in lockstep with the President, particularly on such key issues as "COVID-19 is overblown" and "the deep state is out to get me." The purpose of the interviews, which are apparently the brainchild of Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, is to identify and purge those who are disloyal, and to thus make the administration less sieve-like when it comes to leaks.

Most administrations would be spending all their time and energy confronting the various crises that face the U.S. right now, and not trying to improve their PR. Most administrations would also see differing opinions as a feature, not a bug, as sometimes it is best to have multiple perspectives when trying to address challenges. This, of course, is not most administrations. It is also ironic that the news of Meadows' draconian efforts to plug leaks...leaked. (Z)

Florida Felons Can't Vote, After All

The story of Florida's Amendment 4 has turned into quite a saga. Here's the blow-by-blow summary:

  • In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly (65%) passed the Amendment and restored voting rights to (most) felons on their release from prison.

  • Very quickly, Ron DeSantis and the GOP-controlled state legislature counter-moved, passing a law that said felons could have their right to vote back only if they paid all fines, fees, and restitution they owe. Since ex-cons are not generally wealthy, and since the Florida bureaucracy is not especially able to tell folks what they owe anyhow, this effectively disenfranchised the felons again.

  • Voter-rights groups sued, and in May, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the "pay your fines, fees, and restitution" law was an unlawful poll tax, and issued an injunction placing significant restrictions on its implementation.

  • Florida appealed the decision, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—which now has a conservative majority—did some unusual maneuvering. Skipping over the usual first step in the process (a three-judge panel), they accepted the appeal en banc and lifted Hinkle's injunction until the matter can be heard.

  • Voter-rights groups appealed that to the Supreme Court. On Thursday, SCOTUS refused to get involved. Although the Court did not explain its reasoning, nor provide a count of the vote, we know that at least three justices disagreed (Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor), as they penned a dissent.

As a result of SCOTUS' non-intervention, the path for many former felons to vote will not be clear again until such time that: (1) The 11th circuit hears the case, and (2) rules in their favor. It may be that #2 does not come to pass. Meanwhile, #1 is unlikely before the Florida voter registration deadline. So, by declining involvement, SCOTUS likely disenfranchised about 1 million people for the 2020 election (and maybe forever). Making things worse, there may be folks who cannot legally vote, but who think they can, and so will unwittingly be committing a felony if they try. Making things even worse still, the Florida result is expected to be very close this year. If Joe Biden ekes out a narrow victory there, is there really any question that Donald Trump (presumably backed by an army of GOP lawyers) will claim he won on the basis of fraudulent votes cast by felons, and will challenge the result? And just about every entity that might be involved in such a legal challenge—the Florida secretary of state's office, the Florida governor's office, the 11th Circuit, the Supreme Court—is controlled by Republicans.

The good news, such as it is, is that Florida's three largest and bluest counties have undertaken efforts to dismiss as much restitution for as many former felons as is possible. Presumably, those efforts will re-commence. Further, the state is unlikely to be an actual swing state. In nearly any scenario that Biden wins Florida, he also wins the Rust Belt states and Arizona. And if he wins all of them, then Florida would just be padding his margin of victory, so challenging the result there wouldn't change the outcome of the election.

Meanwhile, it's a very curious philosophy that Chief Justice John Roberts has. On one hand, by all indications, he's a stickler for the rules, and the recent wins he "gave" to the liberal wing of the court were due to technical and procedural errors. On the other hand, it seems like he's never met an opportunity to deprive people of their votes that he didn't take. Whether it's striking down the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or finding no issue with gerrymanders, or declining to help out Florida felons, he seems to be not much a fan of democracy. It's also worth pointing out that, in the last month or so, we have seen zero articles praising the quality of Roberts' legal writing and analysis. On the other hand, we've seen dozens about how skillfully he's managing the politics of Supreme Court decisions. If that's the lens through which everyone sees his rulings (Roberts as shrewd political operator), then he's not actually maintaining a reputation for "calling balls and strikes," no matter which wing of the Court he sides with. (Z)

Republicans Press Trump to Change His Tune on Mail-in Voting

As long as we're on the subject of voting, and in particular voting in Florida, Republican officials across the nation have reached the same conclusion that we (and many others) have: It might be the case that mail-in voting works to the benefit of the Democratic Party in a normal election, but in the 2020 election, when there's a disease going around that particularly affects older people (who skew Republican), it may very well work to the advantage of the GOP.

In view of this, if Donald Trump continues to undermine mail-in voting, continuing his constant propaganda campaign against it in interviews and on Twitter, there could be some significant consequences for the Republicans. They could lose whatever edge might be gained in 2020 by allowing older folks to vote without risking life and limb. In fact, they might actually cede a big (or huge) advantage to Democrats; if mail-in voting becomes a "litmus test" issue, like mask-wearing, then a lot of Republicans might end up not voting at all, while Democrats drop their ballots in mailboxes in October and then spend Election Day sipping their Grande Vanilla Bean Creme Frappuccinos with soy milk. On top of all that are the unpleasant optics of being the "risk your life if you want to vote" party. Add it up, and Republican pooh-bahs across the country are pressing Trump to zip his lip on the subject.

The problem is particularly acute in Florida, a state that: (1) is likely to be close in November, (2) has a lot of old people, and (3) has seen a robust Republican vote-by-mail response in the past. In an effort to address the issue, Florida Republican officials got creative. For a mailer to GOP voters, they took the President's recent tweet in which he said "Absentee Ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your voting privilege. Not so with Mail-Ins," and just excised the last sentence.

Doctoring tweets may be the best that Republicans can do on this issue. Trump doesn't generally respond to pressure of this sort and further, once he gets an idea into his head, it's hard to get it out. Perhaps most importantly, he hates losing (and the damage to his self-image) a lot, probably more than he enjoys being president. He doesn't care one bit about the electoral hopes of anyone else in his party, and as to his own result, we would guess that the gap between "I win re-election" and "I lose re-election, but in a way I can spend the rest of my life claiming the result was fraudulent" is pretty small for him. On the other hand, the gap between the latter and "I lose reelection in a manner that is beyond all doubt" is massive. So, he's likely to do whatever it takes to sow the seeds of doubt, regardless of the consequences. And the more likely a loss becomes, and the more he thinks about preserving his post-presidency brand, the stronger that tendency is likely to get. (Z)

Voter Fraud Is Real

Not only does voter fraud sometimes happen, but Republicans are doing an excellent job of proving that. Not through sham investigations, like the one conducted by would-be Kansas governor/senator Kris Kobach. No, by getting caught doing it themselves. There was, of course, the fiasco in North Carolina, where Republican chicanery forced a re-run of the 2018 election in NC-09. And now, Donald Trump-endorsed Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS) has been charged with three felony counts of voter fraud, related to having registered to vote using a mailbox at a UPS store. If that were not enough, he's also being investigated for circumventing campaign finance laws.

Despite our headline, what this actually demonstrates is that voter fraud is quite scarce, and is generally discovered when perpetrated (here is a recent Washington Post review of the subject). That isn't going to change Donald Trump and his band of merry men from claiming otherwise; their goal is to suppress Democratic votes, not to protect the sanctity of elections. Meanwhile, Watkins is in deep trouble in his reelection bid. He's got a serious primary challenger in the person of Kansas treasurer Jacob LaTurner. And then, whichever candidate survives that could have it tough in the general. Although KS-02 is nominally R+10, that number seems to be out of date, as the 2018 election there was very close, with the freshman Watkins winning his seat by a margin of less than 1%, 47.6% to 46.8%. (Z)

Democrats Are Raking It In

All of the Q2 fundraising reports have now been filed with the FEC, and nearly everything is coming up roses for the Democrats, pretty much everywhere it matters. Specifically:

  • President: Joe Biden's fundraising has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The fellow who was having trouble finding two dimes to rub together before South Carolina's primary on Feb. 29 has now inherited a bunch of small-money donors from his one-time Democratic rivals. The big-money donors have lined up behind him, too, as they pretty much always do once the candidate is known. The result is a take of $282.1 million, compared to $266 million for Trump. Although the President began with a massive cash-on-hand lead, his burn rate has been higher, with the result that his lead has dwindled; Trump 2020 has $295 million in the bank, Biden 2020 has $242 million.

  • Senate: In the 11 most competitive Senate races, the Democrats raised $67.3 million, as compared to $46.8 million for the Republicans. And even that is misleading; it includes the $6.5 million that two Republican candidates gave to themselves, and does not include the $4 million that's waiting for Sara Gideon (D) in Maine. It would not be far off to say that the real gap in these races was more like $70 million to $40 million. The only races among these 11 where the Republican came out ahead were in Michigan (John James took in $6.5 million to Sen. Gary Peters' $5.2 million) and Texas (Sen. John Cornyn raised $3.5 million compared to MJ Hegar's $1.6 million).

  • House: The Democrats raised roughly $68.4 million, the Republicans raised roughly $51.2 million. That's a problem for a party trying to regain the majority. A big part of the Republicans' problem is that organizations that usually donate generously, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are largely sitting this one out.

Money doesn't necessarily move the needle that much these days, as Trump himself is demonstrating. His campaign's high burn rate is due primarily to ad buys in seven states he won in 2016 (MI, WI, PA, NC, AZ, FL, and OH), and his numbers in those places have actually slipped relative to where they were at the beginning of Q2. What money does tell us, however, is where the enthusiasm is. And if the Democrats can keep things where they stand right now on that front, they figure to have a very good night on Nov. 3. (Z)

Mary Trump Book Selling Like Gangbusters

It would seem that readers have an insatiable desire for Donald Trump tell-alls, as Mary Trump's recent contribution to the genre, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man is flying off the shelves. It sold 950,000 copies in its first week, setting a record for a Simon & Schuster release. The President's niece also outpaced the first-week sales for the other high-profile volumes critical of Trump, including those written by John Bolton (780,000 copies), Bob Woodward (900,000 copies), and James Comey (600,000 copies). We doubt that very many copies are finding their way into the hands of Trump voters, but we would suggest the robust sales of all of these works, like the fundraising (see above), speaks to Democratic enthusiasm in 2020.

On a related note, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has an insightful review of Trump's book, arguing that it's not really a book about the President at all, and is instead an answer to the question: "Why have all these people around Trump, over five-plus decades, been willing to enable him?" And the answer is that he's got a talent for linking their fates with his, either by getting them enmeshed in criminal behavior they cannot extricate themselves from (Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, etc.) or by becoming the only vessel through which they might achieve their larger goals (John Bolton, Stephen Miller, etc.). If you don't plan to read the book (or even if you do), it's worth taking a look at Lithwick's assessment. (Z)

All the Way with Kanye?

About two weeks ago, musician Kanye West announced that he was throwing his hat into the ring, and running for president this year. Some thought it was a publicity stunt, others an attempt to steal a few votes away from Joe Biden for friend-of-Kanye Donald Trump. The "candidate" rejected the latter hypothesis, claiming he's not a Trump supporter anymore, while his family suggested that the whole thing was a stunt brought on by a manic phase of West's bipolar disorder.

Wherever the truth lies—and you never quite know with that family—failure to register with the FEC and ballot access were both significant problems. After all, you can't be an official candidate if you don't dot the i's and cross the t's. But now, those issues have both been (partly) resolved. West filed the necessary federal paperwork and paid $35,000 to get on the ballot in Oklahoma. That means that, for better or worse, he is an official presidential candidate for the 2020 election. Of course, it's not likely to matter one whit. And it definitely won't matter unless West gets himself on more ballots; if there's one state Joe Biden is not going to win, it's Oklahoma (or maybe Wyoming). (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

As we note above, all the money that Donald Trump's campaign is burning in Arizona isn't doing much good. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 49% 44% Jul 06 Jul 07 OH Predictive Insights

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul16 Biden Now Has a 15-Point Lead Nationally
Jul16 Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Shifts Map Toward Biden
Jul16 Republicans Worry about What Happens If Trump Can't Hold Rallies
Jul16 Shake It Up...Shake It Up
Jul16 Don't Mess with Texas
Jul16 Democratic Spending Is Focusing on the Rust Belt
Jul16 New Cases of COVID-19 Are Mostly in Republican-Led States
Jul16 GoFundMe Campaign Wants to Poll More States
Jul16 Democrats are Meddling in Kansas Senate Race
Jul16 Payments to Farmers Have Surged to Historic Levels
Jul16 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Resting at Home
Jul16 Massachusetts Will Vote on Ranked-Choice Voting in November
Jul16 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul15 Maine, Texas, and Alabama Vote
Jul15 RBG Hospitalized Again
Jul15 Trump Administration Resumes Federal Executions
Jul15 Is There Any Rhyme or Reason Here at All?
Jul15 Can You Believe What the Trumps Did?
Jul15 Biden Says He's Open to Killing the Filibuster
Jul15 Biden Airs First Ad in Texas
Jul15 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul15 Today's Senate Polls
Jul14 It's Officially the White House vs. Anthony Fauci
Jul14 About Those Forced School Reopenings
Jul14 About that Economy Rebounding
Jul14 Desperation Sets in for Trump Campaign
Jul14 Biden Campaign Gets Serious about Latino Outreach
Jul14 Mary Trump Is Ungagged
Jul14 COVID-19 Diaries, The Return
Jul14 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul14 Today's Senate Polls
Jul13 Trump Is Being Stoned
Jul13 Florida Sets a New Record for COVID-19 Cases
Jul13 The Economic Recovery May Be Fizzling
Jul13 The Lincoln Project Raised $17 Million in Q2
Jul13 Primary Season Is Not Finished
Jul13 It Ain't Easy Being Green
Jul13 New York Judge Speeds Up Trump's Tax Case
Jul13 The Border Wall is Crumbling Already
Jul13 GOP Registrations Are Outpacing Democratic Registrations
Jul13 Democratic House Map is Shrinking
Jul13 Elissa Slotkin Is Sounding the Alarm
Jul13 Washington Team Name On Its Way Out
Jul13 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul13 Today's Senate Polls
Jul12 Sunday Mailbag
Jul11 Pardon Me?
Jul11 Saturday Q&A
Jul11 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul11 Today's Senate Polls