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Unconventional: Trump Abandons Jacksonville Plans

The chance for Donald Trump to have the Republican National Convention that he wanted—20,000 adoring fans packed into an arena, cheering his every word—evaporated long ago. The best-case scenario was 7,500 adoring fans, probably socially distanced, very likely masked. And to pull it off would have entailed spending vast amounts of money, overcoming daunting logistical challenges, and assuming significant risks. And so, on Thursday, the President finally bowed to reality (and to his advisers' arm-twisting) and canceled the Jacksonville portion of the convention.

Trump framed his decision as one of concern for the well-being of the American people. On announcing his decision, he said:

I looked at my team, and I said the timing for this event is not right, just not right with what's happened recently. The flare-up in Florida to have a big convention is not the right time. It's really something that for me, I have to protect the American people. That's what I've always done. That's what I always will do. That's what I'm about.

What he's referring to, naturally, is the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the Sunshine State. And if this is a true account of his motivations, then good for him, and he made the right decision for the right reasons. There is no reason to put hundreds or thousands of lives at risk for a little bit of largely inconsequential political theater.

That said, Trump has rarely evinced any interest in putting the needs of the American people ahead of his own, and even his recent 180 on COVID-19 has been woefully inconsistent in terms of putting public health first. So, we're not really buying his explanation. Much more probable, and much more compelling to the PR-obsessed Trump, is he was persuaded that the optics of the convention would be disastrous. The risks he and the Republican Party were assuming—the possibility of riots, the convention becoming a superspreader event, the chance that the President himself would become ill—were enough to give pause, all by themselves. But even if everything had gone completely smoothly, it would still have been a powerful demonstration of Trump's devil-may-care attitude about the pandemic. And that would have been just two months before the election, in a swing state that the President must win. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the decision came the same day that Quinnipiac released a new poll revealing that 64% of Floridians, including 26% of Florida Republicans, opposed holding the convention due to safety concerns. Or maybe it's not a coincidence at all. In any event, the odds were great that the convention would do much more harm than good on the PR front, which is exactly the sort of cost/benefit analysis that gets Trump's attention.

The Charlotte portion of the convention, which mostly involves meetings and bureaucratic stuff, is still on. Beyond that, however, the Party's plans are hazy. Trump mocked the Democrats' scaled-down convention, with a Biden acceptance speech in front of a small crowd, as a sign of cowardice. So, it would be hard for him to shift gears to that approach now (although he's been willing to hold Democrats and Republicans to different standards in the past—see golfing, presidential—so who knows). Maybe he won't give a speech at all, or maybe he'll just post a video to Twitter.

Meanwhile, there are some pretty clear gubernatorial winners and losers, here. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has been sustained in his choice to hold the line on public health, which ultimately forced the now-canceled move to Jacksonville. He's polling very well, and he can now get to work on the speech for his second inauguration. On the other hand, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has been holding the Trump party line on everything COVID-19—masks, reopening, convention, etc.—and has seen it all blow up in his face in the last week. He's not on the ballot this year, but his 2022 reelection bid didn't get any easier, particularly if he fails to deliver his state for the Party in November. (Z)

However, He's Still Pressing for Schools to Reopen

During Donald Trump's COVID-180 pivot, which began this weekend, he has repeatedly acknowledged the serious threat the pandemic poses to public health, and has asserted how concerned he is. The first reason that we, and everyone else who is not part of the base, are skeptical is that this is entirely inconsistent with his past behavior—both in terms of COVID-19, and in general. The second reason is that every time the President expresses his concern, he does something inconsistent with having turned over a new leaf. At his "it's going to get worse before it gets better" press conference on Tuesday, for example, he was unmasked and unaccompanied by Dr. Anthony Fauci. And yesterday, moments after canceling the Jacksonville portion of the RNC, he doubled down on his insistence that schools reopen in the fall (i.e., in a few weeks), declaring that failure to do so would "ultimately lead to greater mortality and irreversible harm."

There are three things that are clear whenever Trump discusses this issue. The first is that foremost in his mind is freeing parents to return to work and to get the economy restarted. He mentions this every time he discusses the issue (including on Thursday), and it is the political prism through which he's viewing all of this. The second is that someone (or more than one someone) has tried to give the President a plausible public-policy justification for his position. The third is that Trump, who doesn't listen carefully and doesn't necessarily have the best memory, has only partly understood the public-policy argument.

And so, when Trump speaks of the economic calculus of school re-opening, the President is crystal clear. And as soon as he moves on to the "think of the children" portion, he gets very fuzzy. On Thursday, he asserted that keeping schools closed would leave some children hungry, would cause more sexual and physical abuse to go unreported, and would disproportionately affect Black and Latino students. These are potentially defensible positions, although there are also things the federal government could do to mitigate these consequences, if they so chose. And, in any event, Trump's explanation of these issues is clumsy and ham-fisted. Meanwhile, he has yet to explain (though this was his third opportunity) his oft-repeated assertion that children are more likely to die while staying at home.

In any event, Trump largely isn't going to get what he wants, as more and more school districts refuse to reopen. The primary lesson in this item about schooling is that the President's "new" approach to COVID-19 does not appear genuine. In what world does it make public-health sense to protect the health of thousands of people by canceling the RNC, but to risk the health of millions by forcing schools to reopen? Only in TrumpWorld. (Z)

Trump Campaign Doubles Down on Suburban Strategy

The cities are for the Democrats, and the rural areas are for the Republicans. That leaves the suburbs as the place where the election of 2020 will, apparently, be won or lost. At least, that is the assumption on which the campaigns are operating, particularly the Trump campaign. And since Trump's bread and butter is fear and divisiveness (or, put another way, demagoguery), the campaign has concluded that their last, best hope is to make the suburbanites fearful of the cities.

The most notable expression of this approach is the administration's decision, one of dubious legality, to deploy federal law enforcement agents to "crack down" on protesters in "troublemaking" cities. Portland has been the test case, in large part because the philosophy and the leadership of that city's police department is very Trump friendly. Despite the rather significant blowback (and the already-filed lawsuits), the President is eager to expand these efforts into more and more cities, so as to show suburbanites that he will protect them against those unruly urbanites. On Thursday, he said he was ready to deploy up to 75,000 federal agents to impose order. If he follows through, that would be something like 70% of all available federal law enforcement personnel.

Meanwhile, this is a bit wonky, but the White House also announced plans to gut an Obama-era policy, called the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, that sought to reduce discrimination in housing, giving teeth to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Although the rule does not apply exclusively to suburbs, Trump has tried to frame it as an assault on suburbanites, declaring that Joe Biden wants to "abolish" suburbs (whatever that means), and implying that if the Obama rule is allowed to remain on the books, suburbs will be overrun by folks moving in from the cities. Since AFFH specifically addresses racial discrimination, the not-so-subtle question Trump is asking is: "Do you really want a bunch of black and brown people moving into your neighborhood, white suburbanites?" He is thus making an argument identical to those made by segregationists who opposed the Civil Rights Movement.

As you may have heard in your history classes (or, if you are old enough, as you may have read in the papers), the segregationists lost and the Civil Rights Movement won. So, pandering to suburban fears was not a winner half a century ago. We remain dubious, as we also wrote yesterday, that it will work any better in 2020. First, because everyone is the hero of their own story, and Trump's position would put the suburbanites in the role of the villain. This is largely why the fearmongering of the 1960s did not work; folks had to ask themselves if they wanted to be on the side of peaceful protesters asking for the rights granted them by the Constitution, or if they wanted to be on the side of the people deploying tear gas, bullets, fire hoses, and dogs against those protesters. The second problem is that, on the whole, white suburbanites these days tend to be socially liberal, even if they are fiscally conservative. The Trump approach is thus based on a faulty assumption of latent racism.

In any event, wise or no, Team Trump has its approach and is already implementing it. And it is entirely possible two things are true: (1) This is a bad strategy, and (2) it is the best strategy available to Trump 2020, in view of the candidate they've got. (Z)

Trump Fundraising in Disarray?

For two months in a row, Joe Biden—with the Democratic nomination securely in his back pocket—has outraised Donald Trump. This was entirely predictable, for at least three reasons: (1) The desire to defeat Trump is so strong, any nominee would have pulled in a giant haul as soon as their path was clear, (2) the Democrats are much better at online fundraising than the Republicans, which helps in the middle of a pandemic, and (3) Trump has been running his money-raising machine at full steam for his entire term and there's no higher gear left. This is not to say that Trump 2020's fundraising has been poor, though. They are still raking it in, and given the size of the Presidential war chest, as well as the diminishing returns that come from buying more and more ads, it would be hard to argue that Team Trump had really ceded the advantage to Team Biden.

Still, many members of the Trump campaign, including the president himself, are unhappy. Running that part of the campaign is Kimberly Guilfoyle, a nod to the old bit of political wisdom that the person most qualified to oversee a major political fundraising operation is the candidate's son's girlfriend. Too bad for Barack Obama, the Clintons, and John Kerry, all of whom have only daughters. Anyhow, the complaints from the people on the fundraising staff are apparently numerous: (1) that Guilfoyle carelessly exposed staff to COVID-19; (2) that too much money is being wasted on frills and fringe benefits, like private planes for Guilfoyle; (3) that her two main lieutenants aren't on the same page, and are terrible managers; and (4) that it's an extremely hostile work environment. Add it all up, and many Trump insiders feel that while fundraising is brisk, it could be much brisker.

Again, we remain skeptical that this matters all that much. It is very likely that the source of irritation is not the amount of money being brought in, per se, it's that the amount is less than what Biden is bringing in. That said, if there is a shakeup in the campaign, and Guilfoyle is demoted (to former girlfriend?), now everyone will know why. (Z)

Republicans' Aid Plan Will Wait until Next Week Due to Infighting

The Democrats, benefiting from the fact that their main leaders—Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—are basically on the same page, and are excellent at keeping the troops in line, have had their plan for the next wave of COVID-19 funding in place for at least a month. They are ready to sit down with the Republicans and make some sausage. The Republicans, by contrast, are much more of a two-headed hydra, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) deeply attuned to the needs of his caucus, and Donald Trump deeply attuned to the needs of Donald Trump. And so, as the pandemic worsens and previously appropriated funding runs out, they are having trouble coming to a consensus so they can then talk turkey with the Democrats. In theory, the Republican plan was supposed to be unveiled yesterday, but now it's looking like next week.

There are all kinds of things that are keeping the red team from coming up with a unified plan. The most high-profile is that Donald Trump really wants a payroll tax cut, and many Senate Republicans do not, at least in part because they know Pelosi & Co. will never go for it. On the other hand, Senate Republicans want more money for COVID-19 testing and for Pentagon efforts to combat the disease, and Trump—the fellow who said on Thursday that he is "all about" protecting the American people—opposes that. There is also bitter disagreement on how much more the federal government should do about unemployment benefits, or if it should do anything more at all.

This is a pretty bad time to be having this sort of squabble. The pandemic is getting worse and worse; on Thursday the total number of Americans infected surpassed 4 million on all the major counters, and the rate at which the infection is spreading has doubled in the last month. Economically, unemployment claims are on the rise again, with 1.4 million people filing last week, as many localities began shutting down again. Indeed, at this point it is inevitable that many folks are going to go without federal assistance for at least a few weeks, no matter what Congress does, as there is not time to implement a new round of funding before the current funding runs out.

The assumption is that the Republicans will finally get their ducks in a row by the middle of next week. Maybe so, although the assumption was that they would get their ducks in a row by the middle of this week, so you never know. And if there are voters who might be influenced by all of this—say, because they are about to be unable to pay their bills—well, it's not too hard for them to notice that the Democrats are waiting patiently with their plan while the Republicans are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. At very least, this has got to be driving the Republican Senators who face tough reelection contests in just over 100 days absolutely nuts. (Z)

Republicans Try to De-Ratf**k the Kansas Senate Race

Speaking of messy Senate races, the one in Kansas has turned into a real soap opera, just weeks before the Aug. 4 primary. The Democrats know that, when the dust settles, their candidate will be Barbara Bollier, a state senator who was a Republican until 2018. The Republicans, by contrast, have two very electable candidates in Rep. Roger Marshall and wealthy businessman Bob Hamilton and one much less-electable candidate in former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The Democrats hope, and the Republicans fear, that if the non-Kobach vote is split multiple ways, Kobach could get the nomination, and that he might just lose to Bollier in a Senate race that is a must-have for the Republicans if they want to keep control of the upper chamber. To that end, the Democrats have been running pro-Kobach ads, in a classic example of ratf**king. Now, the Republican Party is fighting back, and has just purchased $1.2 million in pro-Marshall ads to run in the next couple of weeks.

Anybody who says they know what will happen is lying. Kobach has a very devoted fanbase, which means his floor is high, even if his ceiling is low. Meanwhile, there are actually a total of 11 candidates in the GOP race, and while the three men we've mentioned here are likely to take the lion's share of the vote, it's not impossible that former Kansas City Chiefs football player Dave Lindstrom or Kansas State Board of Education member Steve Roberts could peel off a few percent each. If Kobach prevails, the seat will be in play, or at very least will force the Republican Party to spend resources they would prefer not to waste on a race that should be a slam dunk for them. And if Kobach is defeated in the primary, his supporters could well stay home on Election Day, resentful that the Party mobilized to defeat their candidate. In short, between the COVID-19 squabbling (see above) and a map where few seats seem to be safe this year, it's not an easy time to be Mitch McConnell. On the other hand, Chuck Schumer looks 10 years younger these days. (Z)

VP Candidate Profile: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

Onward and upward with 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) [Score: 26]
  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)

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 Adm. James Stockdale would score a 0.

Tammy Duckworth
  • Full Name: Ladda Tammy Duckworth

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 52

  • Background: Duckworth was born in Bangkok, Thailand, the daughter of Lamai Sompornpairin, who is Thai-Chinese, and Franklin Duckworth, a military veteran who worked on refugee and housing development issues for the United Nations after his retirement from the Marine Corps. As a consequence of her father's work, Duckworth lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia and Hawaii while growing up, and achieved fluency in Indonesian and Thai, in addition to English. She graduated high school while in Hawaii (having skipped 9th grade), and got her bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Hawai'i. That was later followed by a master's degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in human services commenced at Northern Illinois University and completed at Capella University.

    While working on her education, Duckworth enlisted in ROTC (1990), became a commissioned officer in the Army Reserve and went to flight school (1992), transferred to the Army National Guard (1996), and was eventually deployed to Iraq (2004). On November 12, 2004, the helicopter she was piloting was hit by a surface-to-air rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents, and she was badly injured, losing both legs and suffering serious damage to and reduced mobility in her right arm. She was promoted to major while recovering, and awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. Despite the injury, she fought to return to duty, and was successful, ultimately retiring in 2014 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

  • Political Experience: Duckworth's political career began while her educational and military careers were still underway; in 2006 she was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs by then-governor Rod Blagojevich (D). She made some errors while serving in that post, including the inadvertent use of a state-owned vehicle to travel on personal business, and some missteps on other red-tape-type policies and procedures. She was the subject of a wrongful termination lawsuit, and also an unflattering report that covered her tenure and that of several of her predecessors. These things are certainly not feathers in Duckworth's cap, but they have also been grossly blown out of proportion by her political enemies. It is instructive that the Obama administration, famous for the thoroughness of its vetting, saw fit to appoint her as Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, a position she held for two years.

    Duckworth's first run for public office, for the House in 2006, resulted in a narrow loss to Peter Roskam (R). Her second run for the House, in 2012, was successful, as she easily defeated incumbent Republican Joe Walsh, 55% to 45%. She served four years, her profile raised by well-received speeches at the 2012 and 2016 Democratic conventions and a grilling of Strong Castle CEO Braulio Castillo over $500 million that Castillo's firm had been awarded on the basis of his being a disabled veteran (he is a veteran, and he is nominally disabled, but his injury was suffered in a high school football game and had nothing to do with his military service).

    In 2016, Duckworth announced a bid for the U.S. Senate seat then occupied by Mark Kirk (R-IL). After winning a tough three-way primary, she easily defeated Kirk in the general election, 54% to 40%. During her time in the Senate, she famously became the first sitting member of the upper chamber to give birth (to daughter Maile). She has regularly brought her children to the office, and thanks to a recent change in Senate rules, was also the first Senator to be accompanied on the Senate floor by her daughter.

  • Signature Issue(s): Veterans' affairs, something she has extensive personal and professional experience with, and that has earned her a lot of headlines. Of course, she also has a fair bit of expertise with, and credibility on, the issues of the disabled and of working mothers.

  • Instructive Quote: "I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger." (Jan. 21, 2018)

  • Recent News: Duckworth has been in the headlines quite a bit, as she has sparred with high-profile Republican men, including Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump. It is generally understood that she was not viewed by the Biden campaign as a serious contender for the #2 slot until she fired back at Carlson after his attacks upon her.

  • Ready for the Big Chair?: Duckworth has her military experience, which is helpful, but doesn't always translate cleanly to civilian leadership. Her executive experience is somewhat limited and, while not the disaster Fox News would have you believe, was not wildly successful either. She's been in Congress for a relatively brief time. This is not a bad résumé, but it's not quite as good as some of the other contenders. (4/10)

  • Coattails: She's nominally a Midwesterner, and the Midwest is the key battleground of the election. That said, we don't really believe that Ohioans or Michiganders or Wisconsinites look to deep blue Illinois for their cues on whom to vote for. (2/10)

  • Nuts and Bolts Skills: One of the main jobs of the VP candidate is to be an attack dog. Duckworth is very good at that, and knows how to get under Donald Trump's skin. She's also a strong public speaker, and no slouch in the fundraising department. (8/10)

  • Relationship with Biden: Duckworth knew Beau Biden a little bit, and was a fellow member of Team Obama with Joe Biden. That said, she and Biden never served together in Congress (much less the Senate), and they don't know each other very well. (1/10)

  • Balance: Military service is a form of balance, since Biden never served. Duckworth is also a person of color, although most Democrats would value a Black woman more highly than an Asian woman when it comes to ethnic balance. She is certainly young enough to assuage concerns about Biden's age. (5/10)

  • Betting Odds: She's getting 6/1 at most books, which implies about a 14% chance of being selected.

  • Completely Trivial Fact: It's not common for a VP to get a statue, given that whole bucket of warm piss thing. It's even less common for them to have a statue before they ever run for the office. But Duckworth has one:

    Tammy Duckworth in flight gear, and Molly Pitcher holding the ramrod used to load a cannon

    That is her on the left; on the right is Molly Pitcher (who may or may not have actually existed).

  • The Bottom Line: We've got Duckworth at 20 out of 50, which makes her a strong contender, but also puts her a shade behind Kamala Harris and Michelle Lujan Grisham. That seems about right. She's being carefully vetted, but she's clearly a late entrant to the veepstakes.

It is Gretchen Whitmer's turn when we resume next week. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

You look at polls like the first two, and you start to understand why Donald Trump decided not to move forward with the Jacksonville portion of the RNC. Meanwhile, he is not going to be happy with Fox News. Nobody seriously thinks Minnesota is in play, but for Pennsylvania and Michigan to be almost as far gone as the Gopher State? Uh, oh. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Florida 50% 44% Jul 13 Jul 14 St. Pete polls
Florida 51% 38% Jul 16 Jul 20 Quinnipiac U.
Michigan 49% 40% Jul 18 Jul 20 Fox News
Minnesota 51% 38% Jul 18 Jul 20 Fox News
Pennsylvania 50% 39% Jul 18 Jul 20 Fox News

Today's Senate Polls

John James is doing a great job of fundraising, which is good news for him, because the Republican Party isn't going to waste money on his campaign if this race doesn't tighten up a bunch. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Michigan Gary Peters* 48% John James 38% Jul 18 Jul 20 Fox News

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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