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(Martial?) Law and Order

Donald Trump is in the middle of running a law and order campaign. We would not call this a strategy, as such, we would call it his instinctive response when brown people, young people, liberals, and anyone else who is not part of the base starts acting out (even if it's predominantly peacefully). The President takes this sort of protesting as a personal affront, and he also knows how much his voters love to see a lib or a person of color or a lib person of color "get what's coming to them." Consequently, the opportunity for a strongman response is just too juicy to pass up.

What makes this dangerous is that Trump is surrounded by at least a few people in key positions who share his views, most obviously his fixer/AG Bill Barr, and DHS official Ken Cuccinelli. At this point, nearly everyone has heard about the crackdowns in Portland, where federal officers have been grabbing protesters, tossing them into unmarked cars, and subjecting them to questioning, generally without benefit of charges. (After all, it's hard to charge someone with something if they haven't, you know, broken the law.) On Monday, Cuccinelli was in full enabler mode when he sat for an interview with CNN, declaring that this sort of behavior by law enforcement is "so common it's barely worth discussion." If that is not true, then he's a liar engaged in gross abuse of power, which is deeply concerning. If that is true, then it's even more concerning.

What's happening in Portland has generated pushback and outrage from pretty much everyone who does not own a MAGA hat. If you need us to tell you what's coming next, well, you haven't been paying attention for the last three years. Given the "success" of the efforts in Portland, Chicago is now on deck. And Trump said on Monday that he expects Philadelphia and New York City will be cracked down upon soon thereafter.

There are some folks in the media who are rushing to call this "martial law" (see here, here, and here for examples). And it is understandable why folks might reach that conclusion, as giving soldiers/police near-unfettered power, and denying private citizens their constitutional rights (like the writ of habeas corpus) are pretty much the hallmarks of martial law. However, actual martial law requires vastly more manpower than the administration is deploying. A couple of hundred officers/soliders can certainly do a lot of damage, but they are not going to put the city of Chicago (population 2.7 million) under their thumb.

What this really looks like, at least to us, is martial law kabuki theater. The White House wants to do just enough to communicate a "law and order" posture to the base, but not so much that there is a serious backlash, or that Republicans in Congress start to get skittish. In that way, it's very much like the 40-mile border "wall" that Trump has built: just enough for the photo-op and some presidential bragging, but that's it. It's reprehensible, of course (forgive the editorializing), but the silver lining is that it is not nearly as bad as it could be.

As we said above, we don't really think of this as a strategy; more an expression of the Presidential id. But whatever it is, history suggests it's a disastrous choice, politically. We talked yesterday about how Warren Harding in 1920, running at a difficult time for America (aftermath of World War I, racial unrest, Palmer Raids, red scare) won in a landslide by promising a return to normalcy. In 1932, Herbert Hoover, running at another difficult time for America (mass poverty and unemployment, protests, violence, talk of overthrow of the U.S. government) decided against the Harding approach and flexed his muscles instead (specifically, cracking down on the Bonus Army). Hoover, of course, got crushed on Election Day. In 1964, running at yet another difficult time for America (Cold War, nuclear fears, black power, civil rights activism and reaction), Barry Goldwater also chose a muscle-flexing approach, throwing his support behind white law enforcement, and remarking that it might not be so bad to uncork a nuke or six in the direction of the Commies. He got trounced, too.

In short, one struggles to think of a turbulent time in American history where the mass of voters went to their polling places and cast their ballots for "more of the same, please!" Maybe Richard Nixon in 1968, but even that is open to debate. And, in any event, the polls make quite clear this year that the majority is looking for normalcy, and not muscle-flexing. And the Democrats chose, as their standard-bearer, Joe Biden, who is basically America's grandpa. He's the kind of fellow whose official presidential portrait should really be done by Norman Rockwell (if he were still living, of course). If Team Trump keeps doubling down on the law and order and the race-baiting and the other strongman stuff, then they are really going to put it to the test: Is it possible, these days, for a Republican to lose 30 states? Or even more? (Z)

Wearing Masks Is Now Patriotic

It is not easy for Donald Trump's underlings to get through to him, but apparently they have succeeded on the issue of mask wearing. After demonstrating to him (presumably with the benefit of lots of pretty pictures) that he's getting killed in the polls due to the disconnect between his cavalier attitude and the growing seriousness of the pandemic, the President sent this tweet on Monday:

It does include the usual dog whistle racism, as well as the daily reminder of how many people allegedly love the President, so you know Trump wrote it himself, though we would bet a large sum of money (but unlike Mitt Romney, certainly not $10,000) that someone helped him attach a photo.

At this point, keeping track of the White House line on COVID-19 is more difficult than mastering differential calculus. The invisible virus is a grave danger unleashed upon us by the Chinese, one that demands patriotic mask-wearing. At the same time, COVID-19 is practically gone, the U.S. has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, and the sooner we reopen schools and the economy, the better. Is that it? If only Chuck Woolery was still available to explain it to us. Oh well, maybe the My Pillow guy knows. (Z)

S.O.S. (Save Our Senate!)

The New York Times has an interesting piece about the dilemma in which Republicans currently find themselves. Nobody seriously believes that the Party can pry the House away from the Democrats this cycle. Meanwhile, their hopes of holding the White House are growing faint. That means that if the GOP wants to block complete Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches, their last, best hope is the Senate. Even there, however, the Party is trailing the Democrats in terms of both polling and fundraising.

This, in turn, has created something of a political Catch-22. The Republican pooh-bahs would prefer to divert most of their financial (and other) resources to Senate battleground states, like Montana, Georgia, Iowa, and Maine. However, if they do that, then Trump's coattails will shrink even further, making it that much harder for folks downballot. Further, if he gets wind of the plan, he could go scorched earth against one or more candidates. Look what he did to Jeff Sessions, for example. In short, if the party invests in saving the White House, they put the Senate at greater risk, and probably lose both. And if they invest in saving the Senate, they put the White House at greater risk, and probably lose both.

At the moment, Republican leadership is largely leaving everyone involved to their own devices. They recognize that the Trump fundraising apparatus is a machine, and will find its, its dollars somewhere. They also recognize that the deep-pocketed donors aren't stupid, and know the score. For example, Sheldon Adelson has already given $25 million to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but $0.0 million to Trump's Super PAC. If things proceed like this, the Party muckety mucks achieve something of a balance between competing imperatives while also keeping their hands clean so that the Donald doesn't blow his lid. (Z)

Senate Leadership Will Move to Fill Any Supreme Court Seat That Opens This Year

There is much reason to be concerned about the health of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her newly diagnosed liver cancer actually appears to be a metastasis of her previously treated pancreatic cancer. That is considerably more dire than a spontaneous occurrence of a new cancer.

In view of this news, Republican leaders in the Senate announced on Monday that, if a Supreme Court seat should just so happen to open this year—not that they're naming names, just idly speculating—they would definitely move to fill it. For example, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking member of the GOP Senate caucus, said that even if the seat were to come open during the lame-duck session after the election, "That would be part of this year. We would move on it." Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO, who is thinking about his 2024 presidential run), and Joni Ernst (R-IA, who is thinking about her 2020 reelection bid) concurred.

That said, the cracks in the Republican ranks that we have speculated might show themselves are already appearing. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who faces one of the toughest reelection campaigns to be found in the Senate this year, said he doubted the issue would come up, and that "I am praying for Justice Ginsburg's health. That's all I'm really focused on right now." More significantly, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is looking at a possible tough reelection bid in 2022 if he decides to run again, and who blocked Merrick Garland when he served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "My position is if I were chairman of the committee I couldn't move forward with it."

One hopes that RBG makes a full recovery and returns to the Supreme Court until such point as she decides to retire on her own terms. But if her seat should come available for any reason, things are going to get ugly, and that includes in the Republican Senate caucus. One other thing the Republican senators might want to consider, however, is if Democrats win the White House and the Senate and feel that the Republicans have stolen two Supreme Court seats, the argument for increasing the number of justices to 11 or even 15 (13 is an unlucky number) will get a lot louder. This is doubly or triply true if a confirmation vote takes place after the election and the senators know that the people have just handed the keys to the kingdom to the Democrats. (Z)

Sheriff Says He Doesn't Have Enough Security for the GOP Convention

Donald Trump had this year's Republican National Convention moved to Jacksonville because he knew that anytime he said "Jump!," Mayor Lenny Curry (R) would say "How high?" So far, things have worked out well on that front. However, no amount of sycophancy could overcome the difficulties of finding 20,000 people willing to roll the dice with their health. That forced the Republican Party to scale back to 2,500 for most days, and 7,000 for the day Trump will (theoretically) accept the nomination. Now, yet another issue has emerged: Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams, who would have primary operational responsibility for securing the convention, said on Monday that he simply doesn't have the resources to get the job done.

It's probable that this is less about security, per se, and more about money. Both parties are notorious for giving cities the "honor" of hosting their conventions, and then sticking them with an undue share of the costs. In the case of the 2020 RNC, the Party committed to $50 million in funding, and then cut that to $33 million. So, what Williams appears to be saying is "You better restore that $17 million, pronto." It is also possible that city leadership is having second thoughts about hosting an event like this, given that COVID-19 cases are spiking in Florida, and this warning is meant to set the stage for backing out. In any event, it's another headache for RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel. Given that Trump is not going to get anything like the convention he wants, and that the party could really use a few extra million bucks for this year's Senate races (see above), maybe she can persuade the President that the time has come to throw in the towel. (Z)

Kasich to Address DNC

As long as we're on the subject of conventions, the Democrats continue to move forward with plans for theirs, which will be mostly (or entirely) virtual. And on Monday, it was announced that former Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich will deliver one of the addresses supporting Joe Biden's candidacy.

There is a certain flavor of Baby Boomer centrist that is still enamored with Kasich, so he may catch those folks' attention with his GOP apostasy. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine too many of those individuals are still on board with the S.S. Trump. The Democrats could try to put together a sequence of high-profile Republican speakers throwing their lot in with Biden (Sen. Mitt Romney? Jeff Flake? Jeb!? An animatronic Abraham Lincoln?) That might open a few more eyes. On the other hand, given how many Ohio Democrats are angry about the Party giving a prime speaking spot to their former nemesis, maybe that would do more harm than good (well, except the robot Lincoln). At very least, it would appear that Biden has a surrogate who can try to help him pull Ohio into the Democratic column. Further—and undoubtedly this has crossed Kasich's mind—the former Governor would be a candidate for the one or two slots usually reserved for a member of the other party in a hypothetical Biden cabinet. (Z)

Democrats Pick John Lewis' Successor

On Monday, a panel of Georgia Democratic luminaries met to select a replacement for Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on this year's ballot, following his passing this weekend. Given the demographics of GA-05, the person who is being succeeded, and the tenor of this particular historical moment, it would have been unacceptable to pick anyone other than a person of color. Fortunately, the Georgia Democratic bench is deep with highly qualified candidates who match that description. The choice is state Sen. Nikema Williams (D), who is the current chair of the Georgia Democratic Party (the first Black woman to hold that position), and who currently represents a portion of the city of Atlanta that overlaps with GA-05. She also happens to be a prodigious fundraiser and, as a bonus, was friends with Lewis, as her husband Leslie Small used to work as one of the Congressman's aides.

Inasmuch as GA-05 is D+34, Williams could choose "Peaches Suck!" as her campaign slogan, "Marching Through Georgia" as her campaign song, and "Let's outlaw football!" as her platform, and she would still win in a walk. She'll also win the special election to replace Lewis for the balance of his term, assuming it's held. Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) has refused to commit to that thus far. Technically, it would be illegal to forgo it, but don't hold your breath waiting for Georgia AG Christopher M. Carr (R) to prosecute. Given Williams' young age (41) and considerable political skills, not to mention the high profile that will come from succeeding Lewis, she should be regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party. It would not be surprising, for example, to see her take a shot at one of the state's U.S. Senate seats as soon as the opportunity presents itself (could be as early as 2022, depending on what happens with the seat currently occupied by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-GA).

On a very much related note, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced on Monday that she and her caucus will soon pass a package of bills named in Lewis' honor and meant to protect and expand voting rights (in particular, fixing the issues with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that caused the Supreme Court to strike it down). This is certainly apropos, given the issues that Lewis dedicated his life to, and it's also pretty shrewd 3-D chess, since the Congressman's memory will add some urgency to bills that have (largely) already been passed by the House, and have stalled in the Senate. Do you know how much legislation Lyndon Johnson got through Congress by invoking the memory of John F. Kennedy? That doesn't mean that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is going to change his "do nothing but approve judges" approach, but it does mean that opposing voting rights legislation will be an even more malodorous position as a bunch of Republican members of the House and Senate run for reelection this year, including in states that have a large number of Black voters, especially Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. (Z)

VP Candidate Profile: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

We had been thinking about doing this, and then several readers wrote in to suggest it, so we decided to move forward. Over the course of the next several weeks, we're going to do profiles of the dozen candidates who appear to be in serious contention for the #2 slot on the Democratic ticket.

Here is the list of candidates that we will profile, and the order in which we will profile them:

  1. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
  2. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
  3. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
  4. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)
  5. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  6. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)
  7. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta)
  8. Stacey Abrams
  9. Former NSA Susan Rice
  10. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI)
  11. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL)
  12. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

The list represents a consensus of a dozen or so media outlets' rundowns of who is in contention, which we then ran through a randomizer so as eliminate any potential favoritism or bias. We are taking as genuine Joe Biden's commitment to pick a woman running mate, as well as the withdrawal/lack of interest of several prominent candidates (Michelle Obama, Sen. Amy Klobuchar DFL-MN, etc.). So, there will be no wildly speculative "what if?" profiles, like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton or Oprah Winfrey. Hopefully we will get to all of these folks before Biden makes his announcement (expected around Aug. 10).

And just to make it a little easier to compare apples to oranges to kumquats, we're going to award up to 10 points across five different areas of concern: How ready the candidate is to assume the presidency, if needed; what kind of coattails the candidate might have in terms of helping the Democratic ticket in their state/region; what the candidate brings to the table in terms of "nuts and bolts" political skills like fundraising and debating; the depth of the candidate's relationship with Biden (to the extent that information is publicly known); and how well the candidate balances out Biden. So, the perfect running mate would score a 50, while Dan Quayle would score a 0.

And awaaaaay we go.

Kamala Harris
  • Full Name: Kamala Devi Harris

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 56

  • Background: A first-generation American, Harris is the daughter of immigrants—Shyamala Gopalan, an endocrinologist from India, and Donald Harris, an economist from Jamaica. She was born, and spent the first decade of her life, in the San Francisco Bay Area before relocating to Canada with her mother and sister. After graduating from Westmount High School in Quebec, Harris took her bachelor's in political science and economics at Howard University, and her J.D. at UC Hastings.

  • Political Experience: To the extent that justice is not always all that blind or apolitical, Harris began her political career shortly after passing the California bar exam, when she was hired as a deputy DA for Alameda, CA. She rose quickly through the ranks, with allies attributing this to her substantial legal and managerial talents and detractors attributing it to her romantic relationship with then-California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D). In any event, she was promoted to assistant DA in 1998 and assumed control of the Career Criminal Division, which handles many of the most unpleasant cases the justice system has to offer. After a couple of years in that position, she moved over to the San Francisco City Attorney's office and ran the Family and Children's Services Division.

    Harris' electoral career began in 2002, when she decided to challenge her former boss and mentor, Terence Hallinan, for the District Attorneyship of San Francisco. It was a pretty ugly campaign, though it's not entirely clear the extent to which the candidates themselves were responsible for that. What is clear is that Harris was attacked for her relationship with Brown and for (inadvertent, but significant) campaign finance violations, while Hallinan was attacked for his low conviction rate (50.3%) and for police misconduct that occurred on his watch. In the end, Harris won easily, taking 56% of the vote. She pushed the conviction rate up to 74% by the end of the first term, and was unopposed in her reelection bid. By the time she left that office, the conviction rate was approaching 80%.

    Harris' next run was for the attorney generalship of California. It was the closest race of her political career thus far (excepting the unsuccessful presidential bid), as she trailed Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a moderate Republican, for much of the race. However, she managed to rally the liberal troops, in part due to high-profile endorsements from Dolores Huerta and then-Sen. Barbara Boxer. She won that election, 46.1% to 45.3% and then won reelection easily. During her time in the state AG's office, she concerned herself far less with putting people behind bars, and far more with police misconduct, consumer protection, and LGBTQ rights. That said, she was on the pro-death penalty side of a major death-penalty case (Ernest Dewayne Jones) during that phase of her career, disappointing many of her liberal supporters.

    In 2016, Boxer—by then a friend and mentor—retired from the Senate, and Harris threw her hat in the ring to be the Senator's replacement. Thanks to the jungle primary rules that California had adopted by that time, Harris faced off against another Democrat in the general election, then-Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Harris ran in the liberal Democratic lane, Sanchez in the centrist Democratic lane, and it wasn't close, with Harris taking 60% of the vote and all but four of California's 58 counties.

  • Signature Issue(s): Criminal justice. This is where the great bulk of her résumé is, and she also co-authored a book on the subject, Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer.

  • Instructive Quote: "I was born realizing the flaws in the criminal justice system." (March 14, 2019)

  • Recent News: The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is not thrilled about Harris as the #2, and has been pushing back against her this week. A cadre of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) delegates from California sent the Biden campaign a list of Black, female Veeps they would be happy about, and Harris was not on it. And the folks at the HuffPost have been highly critical of Harris' relationship with Big Tech.

  • Ready for the Big Chair?: Harris has been in the public sector for 30 years, and in elective office for 18. She's run small and big bureaucracies, and has served in the federal and state offices, as well as in executive and legislative offices. One might like to see a few more years in Washington, but that's still a pretty good track record. (9/10)

  • Coattails: Geographically, Harris is no help to the ticket. California, and the entire West Coast, are in the bag. Neighboring Arizona and Nevada are on the bubble, at least a tiny bit, but we cannot see any case to be made that Harris could be a difference-maker in either of those places. (0/10)

  • Nuts and Bolts Skills: Harris is a good public speaker, and her address at the 2012 DNC was very well received. She knows how to shake the money tree, and she showed off her formidable debate skills in the primaries this year. She would wipe the floor with VP Mike Pence. Her presidential campaign was something of a train wreck, with at least two cooks too many stirring the pot. Having her sister run her campaign was a huge blunder, but on a Biden/Harris ticket, Biden would be calling all the shots. Her job would be to get under Trump's skin and also make sure that every Black voter in the country was registered and voted for the ticket. (9/10)

  • Relationship with Biden: Harris was friendly with Biden's son Beau before Beau passed away, and so has a relationship with the family. As to Joe, in particular, her time in the Senate and his did not overlap, so to the extent that they worked together at all, it was when he was doing liaison work on behalf of the White House. And, of course, everyone remembers that Harris publicly attacked Biden at the first candidates' debate in 2019. Biden seems like the sort who, unlike the current holder of the office he aspires to, can let bygones be bygones. That said, there is no public evidence that he and Harris are currently anything more than casual acquaintances. (3/10)

  • Balance: We can't give her points for gender balance, of course, because all of the VP candidates bring that. Harris is a bit leftier than Biden, on the whole, though that doesn't seem to be doing much to excite the progressive wing of the Party (see above). She does bring ethnic balance, as someone who is both Asian and Black (Biden, if you have not heard, is white). However, there are two things that we simply do not know. The first is exactly how much someone who is part-Indian will move the needle with, say, Chinese-Americans or Korean-Americans. The second is exactly how Black voters feel about her. Given her track record, and the recent events surrounding the killing of George Floyd, she could be seen as "part of the problem" or as "part of the solution." The progressives certainly think it's the former, but they are also overwhelmingly white, so we aren't so sure their judgment (or ours) matters that much. You can bet your bottom dollar that Team Biden has plenty of polling on these questions (Asian interest, Black views of Harris), but they are not sharing it. Our best guess is that she helps more than she hurts, but that's just a guess, and we are open to the possibility that the data say otherwise. (6.5/10)

  • Betting Odds: The books have her anywhere from 13/8 to 1/1, which implies a 35-50% chance of getting the nod.

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Harris is a skilled poker player, something she learned from her grandfather P.V. Gopalan, a public official of some note in India.

  • The Bottom Line: We've got her aggregate "score" at 27.5/50, which is solid. She's clearly a frontrunner—the headlines and the heavy vetting from the Biden campaign tell us so—and it is clear why that is the case. Even if we put aside the ethnic dimension, she'd bring a lot to the ticket.

We'll move right on to Lujan Grisham tomorrow. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul20 WaPo/ABC Poll: Biden Ahead of Trump 55% to 40%
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Jul18 John Lewis Has Died
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