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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Hail Mary, Part I: Apportionment
      •  Hail Mary, Part II: COVID-180
      •  Fauci's Got Balls
      •  Jacksonville Officials Remain Skittish about RNC
      •  Cell Phone Companies Reject Trump, Texts
      •  Lincoln Project Isn't Missing a Beat
      •  VP Candidate Profile: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
      •  Today's Presidential Polls

Hail Mary, Part I: Apportionment

We've written recently about some of the polls of the presidential race that are particularly grim for Donald Trump, including the recent Quinnipiac and Washington Post/ABC polls that each had him down by 15. These could be outliers, of course, but the polling aggregators tell a complementary tale. For example, FiveThirtyEight has Joe Biden up 8.8% (50.4% to 41.6%) in the aggregate, RCP has him up 8.6% (49.3% to 40.7%), and 270toWin has him up 10% (50% to 40%). Since those are rolling averages, it is all but certain that the true number is in double digits right now.

Every day, the Trump campaign can tell itself, its donors, and its voters about "invisible" Trump voters, and the Republicans' Electoral College advantage, and how Trump voters are more enthusiastic about their candidate than Joe Biden voters are and so are more likely to vote. And it's at least possible that these things are true (or become so, if you squint just right). However, there is no plausible way these "x-factors" will be enough to overcome a 10-point gap in the popular vote total. Trump doesn't necessarily have to lead in the popular vote, as we learned in 2016, but he needs it to be a damn sight closer than it currently is. And with just over 100 days left until the election, the people around Trump have clearly persuaded him that desperate times call for desperate measures, such that the President took two dramatic steps on Tuesday that are clearly designed to try to right the ship.

The first of these was the issuance of a memorandum decreeing that it is now the policy of the United States that undocumented immigrants will not be counted for purposes of apportioning Congressional districts. What this means, if implemented, is that the undocumented folks would count for purposes of awarding representation and federal funds to states (we wouldn't want Texas to lose out, after all), but that when it came time to draw district maps, officials would be free to disregard the undocumented immigrants, and to base apportionment only on citizen population. This would shift power from cities to suburbs and rural areas. Since cities are Democratic strongholds, in general, and rural areas break heavily Republican, it would thus also allow the GOP to cling to more power and representation than is its due.

The lawsuits are coming, of course. And assuming this memo survives long enough for a judge to weigh in, there is no way it could possibly stand up to legal scrutiny. The three biggest issues, from least to most serious:

  1. It's a Memo: On a spectrum of legal heft, where 10 is "explicitly written into the Constitution" and 1 is "a Tweet," this is about a 3. The memo isn't even an executive order, it's more like a position paper that the White House tossed up on its website. If SCOTUS didn't like the order overturning DACA because it was too slapdash, the justices are positively going to hate this.

  2. Not Enough Information: As we all learned during the census kerfuffle, the federal government does not have accurate information on which residents are or are not undocumented. There are techniques that can be used to infer a ballpark figure, but "ballpark figure" is not going to cut it when it comes to something that demands a fair amount of precision.

  3. A New Definition of Personhood: This is the biggie. The original text of the Constitution, and later the 14th Amendment, both call for apportionment of districts based on "persons." There is nothing about "citizens," nor anything that affords the government the right to separate "persons" from "non-persons." The (frankly laughable) argument made in the memo is that undocumented immigrants are temporary residents, and so should be viewed as a form of tourist, while only citizens or people with legal residency should be counted as "persons."

    You don't need us to tell you that there are plenty of undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for years, decades, or even generations, with roots in their communities and, in many cases, citizen children. They are not at all like tourists. Meanwhile, there is extensive precedent for counting non-citizens for purposes of Congressional apportionment. Free Black residents, for example, could not legally be citizens until 1868, and yet were certainly counted prior to that. Same thing for Native Americans, except that they did not acquire citizenship until 1924. Or Chinese immigrants, who had to wait until 1943.

This is clearly the handiwork of Stephen Miller, who hates immigrants, and who clearly thinks that if he can get enough crazy Hail Mary passes out there, the Supreme Court will let one of them land. It's also clear why others in the administration were willing to climb on board. For those who care about the future of the current iteration of the Republican Party, it offers a chance at extending the viability of their current coalition a bit longer. And for those who care about Trump's reelection—including, of course, the President—this offers the opportunity to distract attention from the unbuilt wall, and for the Donald to spend the next 105 days reminding voters how he's fighting to protect "true" Americans from the teeming brown hordes. It is a wonder he did not slip a reference to MS-13 into the memorandum.

In the end, since this has no chance of passing constitutional muster, no matter how much Clarence Thomas stands on his head, and since it would take years to litigate anyhow, the electoral messaging is the only thing that could have an actual impact. The fact that we've described this as a "Hail Mary" kind of tips our hand. This is kinda wonky; what Trump is proposing here isn't nearly as easy to grasp as a border wall, or rounding up people and putting them in cages, or fear mongering about street gangs. We just don't see what bloc of voters will be persuaded to vote for Trump by this particular expression of nativism that was not already persuaded by all the other expressions of nativism.

Meanwhile, the basic logic of the memo—that some people count partway, but not all the way, when it comes to representation—replicates the basic logic of the three-fifths compromise, which is just about the ickiest part of American history. One can certainly imagine some number of Latino citizens who were not particularly planning to vote, or who were even thinking about voting for Trump, who will not take kindly to their friends, neighbors, and relatives being characterized as semi-people. And you can bet that the news coverage on Univision, and the Democratic commercials in Latino-heavy areas, are going to remind Latino voters that this is the exact argument Team Trump is making. (Z)

Hail Mary, Part II: COVID-180

The apportionment memo wasn't the only surprise out of the White House on Tuesday. The President's COVID-19 briefings made their return, as well. That wasn't the surprising part, though. No, the surprising part was that Trump, while avoiding his usual rambling, admitted that COVID-19 is here to stay, and that it's likely to get worse before it gets better. It was just over a month ago (June 18) that the President, while wrestling with a glass of water and a ramp at West Point, insisted that the virus was "fading away." So, Tuesday's announcement was quite the pivot.

It is as plain as day what happened here. Trump is taking an absolute beating, even in some conservative circles, over his "See no evil, hear no evil" approach to COVID-19. And it's killing him in the polls. So, his advisers twisted and twisted his arm, and got him to support mask-wearing on Monday and to admit that COVID-19 is for real on Tuesday. Progress! One has to imagine this reflects, in particular, the influence of newly minted campaign manager Bill Stepien, who is still in the honeymoon phase, and so still has some pull.

As with the above item, our use of the term "Hail Mary" tells you how likely this is to right the ship, in our view. It is remarkable that Trump has degraded governance to the point that merely admitting the existence of a crisis is a step forward. Can you imagine if it took Abraham Lincoln until May 1861 to concede that the Southern states seem to be none-too-happy, or Herbert Hoover until December 1929 to admit that the stock market looks to be doing poorly, or Franklin D. Roosevelt until March 1942 to accept that the Japanese may have bees in their bonnets? Merely admitting the existence of an emergency is pretty meager "progres"; what people want is a plan and a path forward. And there is no evidence, as yet, that Trump has a plan. Indeed, the fellow who would be most useful if the administration decided to get serious about tackling this thing, was noticeably absent from the briefing. Dr. Anthony Fauci later told reporters that he was not invited.

In short, we just don't see which voters are going to be won over by the President admitting to what everyone else knew. Meanwhile, by abandoning the "nothing to see here" bit, he effectively conceded that he's spent the last four months fiddling while America burned. Could that open the eyes of a few folks who were previously supporting Trump? Possibly, either because it makes him look complicit or because it makes him look "weak." To us, it certainly seems more plausible that Trump's concession will disillusion some supporters than that it will impress some voters who would otherwise have gone for Joe Biden.

That assessment could change if the administration puts forward an actual plan for coping with COVID-19. Trump said, on Tuesday, that he and his team are working on it. We'll see what they come up with, but prepare to be underwhelmed. This administration is not teeming with competence, if you know what we mean, and COVID-19 is one of the great public health crises in modern history. There's a reason you don't send Joe Shlabotnik up to bat against Sandy Koufax. And we're not the only ones who feel this way; Fauci did not get invited to the briefing, but he did publish an interview with The New York Times, in which he (diplomatically) said he was not optimistic about the chances the administration will come up with a workable approach.

In addition, we are not really persuaded that the President has turned over a new leaf here. On many other occasions in the past, he's yielded to pressure from underlings, only to revert back to form. After all, Trump gotta Trump. The continued shunning of Fauci is not a good sign. Similarly, Trump was not wearing a mask during Tuesday's briefing. One might argue that it's hard to talk through a mask (though the reporters in the room did just fine). But he also did not wear a mask as he entered and exited, and he most certainly was not socially distanced from his staff (in particular, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was often within a foot of him).

To be clear: We are rooting for a good, solid plan. We just don't think such a plan is likely, or that the briefing will actually prove to be a turning point, or that anything that happened on Tuesday will move the needle much, polling-wise. (Z)

Fauci's Got Balls

And hopefully he can come up with a strike, too. Anthony Fauci may not be invited to the White House's COVID-19 briefings, and he's too diplomatic to slam the administration directly, but he does know how to throw a little under-the-radar shade. The baseball season starts later this week, and the good doctor has accepted the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' Opening Day on Thursday.

This is a pretty obvious double poke in the presidential eye. First of all, the honor of throwing that particular pitch usually goes to the president. However, Donald Trump refuses to do it, because he doesn't want footage out there of tens of thousands of people booing him. That's not an issue with this year's crowd-less games, but he's also undoubtedly worried that he'll throw a stinker of a pitch, and will be mocked, like Carl Lewis, or Barack Obama, or Baba Booey. After all, it's not easy to push off the rubber when you've got bone spurs in your ankle.

Beyond that, Trump has also recently extended his culture wars to include baseball. Several Giants players kneeled during the National Anthem before playing a preseason game, and he pitched a fit:

Fauci probably won't kneel on Thursday, but you never know. (Z)

Jacksonville Officials Remain Skittish about RNC

On Monday, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams announced that he simply does not have the necessary resources, as things currently stand, to secure the Republican National Convention next month. On Tuesday, Mayor Lenny Curry (R), while affirming his desire to still host the convention, concurred that the city has a problem on its hands. Not long thereafter, Williams doubled down and declared that it's already too late, and that the city is "past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation."

We suggested yesterday that Williams' primary goal is to extract more money from the Republican Party. That may be so, but with Tuesday's additions, we're not so sure. It's possible this is a good cop-bad cop routine, designed to give the city an excuse to back out with Curry avoiding too much political damage ("I really, really, really wanted to host it but, you know, I gotta go with what my people say. Darn!"). Alternatively, Williams and/or Curry may foresee that things are going to turn ugly, like Chicago and Miami in 1968, and they are setting themselves up to pass the buck ("We tried to warn them!"). Whatever the truth may be, the chances of the GOP having the "happy happy joy joy" convention that Donald Trump so desperately wants are growing fainter by the day. (Z)

Cell Phone Companies Reject Trump, Texts

Any campaign worth its salt should always be looking for whatever edge they can find. And new technologies and media are often fertile ground for such opportunities. So, you can't blame Trump 2020 for trying to exploit text messaging to the hilt, the way that the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaign did. Over the July 4 weekend, the Trump campaign tried to send millions of text messages to supporters, in part to raise money, and in part to test the system in anticipation of sending lots and lots of "make sure to get to the polls and vote" texts in late October and early November. It did not go well, as the major cellular providers' anti-spam measures all kicked in, with the result that less than 1 million text messages reached their intended destination.

Anyone who's done product testing will immediately see that Team Trump went too far, too fast. Scaling up to the millions, and doing so on a holiday weekend, when technical support is going to be scarce, was unwise. The ultimate result was entirely predictable, and the cellular providers' explanation—that any group or organization would have triggered the spam filters if they tried what Trump 2020 tried—is entirely plausible. That did not, of course, stop Donald Trump Jr. from claiming that it's a Big Tech anti-conservative conspiracy. The campaign is now working with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to try to work out the kinks. And maybe they'll do it, and will pick up a little edge as a result. On the other hand, Team Trump does have the problem that, when all is said and done, the messages really are spam. That means the cellular companies have to be mindful, both of angry customers who don't want to receive (or pay for) unwanted messages, and also of federal law. So, maybe it won't get worked out by Election Day. (Z)

Lincoln Project Isn't Missing a Beat

Donald Trump made a big mistake by agreeing to sit for an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace this weekend, because Wallace pulled few punches, and called the President out on numerous lies and exaggerations. The very worst sequence, quite probably, came when Trump bragged about having "aced" the cognitive test he was given (The Montreal Cognitive Assessment, or MOCA), and asserted that Joe Biden would never be able to pass the test, and also that if Wallace were to take it, he would be unable to answer the "very hard" last five questions. This means that Trump apparently admitted that, among other things, he had difficulty repeating the sentence "I only know that John is the one to help today," explaining what a train and a bicycle have in common, and naming at least 11 words that start with the letter 'F' (you can see the test here).

The Lincoln Project (LP) jumped right on it with this ad, which plucks the worst moments from the interview, including the exchange about testing, and frames them as a sitcom episode (specifically, an episode of "Seinfeld"), complete with laugh track:

Obviously, we don't need to jump on it every time George Conway & Co. get off a particularly sharp bon mot. However, this particular spot tells us two things. The first is that the cashiering of Ben Howe, who was given his walking papers before the interview aired, does not appear to have robbed the LP of its edge. The second is that the gap between interview and completed ad was less than a day. With that kind of turnaround, anything Trump does or says could be skewered by the next day. We imagine, in particular, that the LP will have its creative folks burning the midnight oil on the nights of the three presidential debates (if they happen). (Z)

VP Candidate Profile: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)

And we continue the VP profiles. 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) [Score: 27.5]
  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. Former Georgia state Rep. 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)

As a reminder, we're awarding 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 Sarah Palin would score a 0.

Michelle Lujan Grisham
  • Full Name: Michelle Lynn Lujan Grisham

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 61

  • Background: While New Mexico is a relatively small state, it's had two great political dynasties, the Udalls and the Lujans. The Lujans have been there longer, though, having arrived in New Mexico two centuries before it became a U.S. state. Although Lujan Grisham's father Llewellyn (a dentist) and her mother Sonja (a homemaker) did not join the family "business," her grandfather was a judge on the New Mexico Supreme Court, her great uncle Manuel Lujan Sr. was mayor of Santa Fe, her uncle Manuel Lujan Jr. served for 20 years in the House and also as George H.W. Bush's Secretary of the Interior, and her cousin Ben Lujan served as a state representative for nearly 40 years. Ben's son and Michelle's cousin Ben Ray Luján is currently representing New Mexico in the House, and is likely to win the right to take over Sen. Tom Udall's (D) seat in November. Note that Ben Ray is the only member of the family who prefers to accent his last name.

    Lujan Grisham was not only born and raised in New Mexico, she got her entire education there, graduating from St. Michael's High School in Santa Fe and then earning her B.S. and J.D. from the University of New Mexico. Her time in the private sector was relatively brief, but after leaving school she worked for the New Mexico State Bar, and also founded the Delta Consulting Group, which helped people who had been denied health insurance to get coverage.

  • Political Experience: Lujan Grisham's political career began in 1994, by appointment. She served three governors (Bruce King, Gary Johnson, and Bill Richardson) as Director of New Mexico's Agency on Aging, and then was tapped by Richardson to be New Mexico Secretary of Health, a position she held from 2004-07.

    Lujan Grisham took her first shot at federal office in 2008, running for the House, and losing in the Democratic Primary to now-Senator Martin Heinrich. She hasn't lost an election since, winning a term on the Bernalillo County Commission (2010-12), followed by three terms in the House of Representatives (2012-18), and then the New Mexico governorship (2018-present). During her time in Washington, she was seen as a rising star, and became chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Her gubernatorial term has been generally successful, and she's very popular with the state's Democrats (80%/20% approve/disapprove).

  • Signature Issue(s): Healthcare. As noted, she began work on this issue even before entering politics, and then spent 13 years running (or helping to run) the New Mexico government's healthcare bureaucracy. This issue is also personal for Lujan Grisham; her husband died very young, of an aneurysm, her sister died very young, of a brain tumor, and she currently serves as caregiver for her senior-citizen mother.

  • Instructive Quote: "You don't want a second-class set of citizens inside the United States." (Jan. 12, 2018)

  • Recent News: All of the headlines that the Governor has made recently involve her desire to combat COVID-19 as aggressively as possible; something she has sparred with the legislature and the state judiciary over. Examining her Facebook feed makes this clear; the only recent post there that is not COVID-19 related is a tribute to John Lewis, including a picture of Lujan Grisham with the Congressman. As a bonus, the man in the picture actually is Lewis, and not Elijah Cummings, which means she's +1 on Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

  • Ready for the Big Chair?: Her Washington experience could be more substantive, but at least she's spent some time in the capital. And she's got close to two decades of executive experience in public office. She's pretty ready. (8/10)

  • Coattails: New Mexico's EVs are not in doubt. However, as a Latina and a member of a prominent Southwestern family, she could give the ticket a little push in Arizona and/or Texas. And a little push might just make a big difference. (5/10)

  • Nuts and Bolts Skills: Lujan Grisham is very good at the legislative sausage-making, and would be an excellent liaison on Capitol Hill. She's not a great public speaker, but she's not a bad one, either. On the other hand, she's a very solid debater and, like many of the women on the list above, would easily dispense with Mike Pence. (7.5/10)

  • Relationship with Biden: They have no pre-existing relationship. Biden did endorse Lujan Grisham's gubernatorial bid, but that's pretty perfunctory. (0/10)

  • Balance: While Lujan Grisham is not old, it would be hard to argue she brings youth to the ticket. She would bring some ethnic balance, of course, and her track record in New Mexico is pretty lefty, so she might excite some of the progressives, once they get to know her. In addition to her work on healthcare, her ideas about the environment sound a fair bit like the Green New Deal. (5.5/10)

  • Betting Odds: She's getting between 40/1 and 25/1, which implies a 3-4% chance she'll be the pick. That's actually a pretty good opportunity, as she's not quite the longshot that suggests.

  • Completely Trivial Fact: If Lujan Grisham were to get the nod, and the Biden/Lujan Grisham ticket were to be elected, she would be only the second Catholic VP in U.S. history. The first, of course, was...Joe Biden.

  • The Bottom Line: Lujan Grisham's low national profile is holding her back a bit, but the 26/50 we've given her suggests there is a fair bit there for Team Biden to like. It makes sense, then, that she is reportedly being vetted more fully than any of the other governors.

Duckworth is up on Friday. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Something seems a little screwy here. One of these states went for Donald Trump by 8 points in 2016. The other went for him by less than a point, and also happens to be Joe Biden's state of birth. It's implausible that they are essentially twins in 2020. Maybe the margin of error skewed in one direction for the Pennsylvania poll and the other direction for Ohio. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Ohio 50% 46% Jul 15 Jul 16 Pulse Opinion Research
Pennsylvania 51% 46% Jul 15 Jul 16 Pulse Opinion Research

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul21 (Martial?) Law and Order
Jul21 Wearing Masks Is Now Patriotic
Jul21 S.O.S. (Save Our Senate!)
Jul21 Senate Leadership Will Move to Fill Any Supreme Court Seat That Opens This Year
Jul21 Sheriff Says He Doesn't Have Enough Security for the GOP Convention
Jul21 Kasich to Address DNC
Jul21 Democrats Pick John Lewis' Successor
Jul21 VP Candidate Profile: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Jul20 WaPo/ABC Poll: Biden Ahead of Trump 55% to 40%
Jul20 Partisan Gap Is Huge and Favors the Democrats
Jul20 Biden's Strategy: Do No Harm
Jul20 North Carolina Makes Early Voting Easier
Jul20 Chris Wallace Fact Checks Trump on Fox News
Jul20 Ruth Ginsburg Has Liver Cancer
Jul20 Many Absentee Ballots May Not Be Counted in November
Jul20 Trump Is Trying to Eliminate Testing for the Coronavirus
Jul20 Eleven States Will Elect Governors in November
Jul20 Some State Legislatures Could Flip This Year
Jul20 Georgia Democratic Party Will Pick John Lewis' Replacement
Jul20 Canned Beans Are Now Political
Jul19 Sunday Mailbag
Jul19 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul19 Today's Senate Polls
Jul18 John Lewis Has Died
Jul18 Saturday Q&A
Jul18 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul18 Today's Senate Polls
Jul17 Trump's COVID-19 Fantasy Clashes with COVID-19 Reality
Jul17 Brian Kemp Channels His Inner Trump
Jul17 Republicans Won't Let Go of Burisma
Jul17 Your Interview Begins When the Clock Strikes Thirteen
Jul17 Florida Felons Can't Vote, After All
Jul17 Republicans Press Trump to Change His Tune on Mail-in Voting
Jul17 Voter Fraud Is Real
Jul17 Democrats Are Raking It In
Jul17 Mary Trump Book Selling Like Gangbusters
Jul17 All the Way with Kanye?
Jul17 Today's Presidential Polls
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