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Trump Suggests Postponing the Election

Maybe Donald Trump has found the magic bullet for avoiding defeat on Nov. 3: Don't hold the election. So, yesterday he tweeted:

Of course, the president has no power to postpone the election, as Election Day is set by an 1845 law that requires it to take place on the Tuesday immediately after the first Monday in November. Only an act of Congress can change the date of Election Day, which means that the House must approve of a change. It is very unlikely that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would agree to that, although Trump could try. His best shot would be to get Mike Pence to resign the vice presidency and then to resign the presidency himself. She might take that deal. Of course, she wouldn't be speaker anymore, so the question would have to be put to Speaker Schiff or maybe Speaker Clyburn.

So maybe the Senate could take the lead in postponing the election? Doesn't look promising, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reacted almost instantly to Trump's tweet with: "Never in the history of the Congress, through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time and we'll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3rd." Hmmm. Doesn't look good. Even toady-in-chief Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wasn't enthusiastic about Trump's idea. Graham said: "I have concerns about mail-in ballots being the exclusive way to cast votes, but I don't believe we should delay the elections." On the House side, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said: "Never in the history of federal elections have we ever not held an election, and we should go forward with our election." Even the co-founder of the Federalist Society, Steven Calabresi, who has voted for every Republican presidential candidate since 1980, called Trump's comment "fascistic," and called for his immediate impeachment and conviction. Considering that when Trump was actually impeached, Calabresi opposed his conviction, this new-found reverence for the rule of law smacks of trying to get on the right side of history while there is still time.

Why did Trump send out that tweet? Was there a master plan? Does he not know what the law is? If he did know that Congress has the power to set the date, why didn't he first give McConnell a call to see if he was on board with the plan? Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt thinks Trump "is either trying to provoke a reaction or trying to sow doubt about the outcome [of the election]."

We find this unlikely. Occam's razor says that Trump is very worried about the election so he just tweeted the first thing that popped into his mind: Not hold the election until some indefinite time in the future determined by him. There's also another possibility. Trump knew that today's headlines would not be friendly to him, between the bad economy (see below) and the John Lewis funeral (see further below), not to mention being 48 hours removed from passing 150,000 COVID-19 deaths (see even further below). By putting this out there (and it was part of a flurry of outlandish tweets), he may well have been hoping that a bunch of "You can't do that!" and "What is Donald Trump talking about?" stories would suck up a bunch of real estate and pixels, and would result in less coverage of the really embarrassing stuff.

Our two theories are not mutually exclusive; they could both be true. But what Trump clearly does not understand is the consequence of getting Congress to change the election to some time after Jan. 20, 2021. Per the 20th Amendment, his term and that of Mike Pence end at noon on Jan. 20, 2021. Period. No exceptions. And, unlike the date of the election, even Congress can't change it. If both the presidency and vice presidency were vacant at noon, the Speaker of the House automatically becomes president—if there is a speaker. Since the speaker doesn't have to be a member of the House, it is not clear if the current speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) continues in the role until a new one is chosen, or if her speakership ends on Jan. 3. If the Supreme Court were to hold that the old speaker ceases to be speaker on Jan. 3, then the president pro tem of the Senate is next in line. Currently that is Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), but if Senate elections are postponed, the remaining 65 senators not up this year could elect a new pro tem. Since 35 of them are Democrats, following tradition, they would probably elect their most senior member. Welcome, President Pat Leahy (D-VT). (V & Z)

Economy Has Its Worst Quarter in 145 Years

The U.S. economy didn't do so great from April through June. It contracted by 9.5%, the biggest contraction in well over a century. If this contraction rate were to keep up for a year (which it won't), that would be 33% on an annualized basis. Many media outlets are using this number so we felt obligated to comment on it, but it is meaningless. Still, the actual drop of 9.5% is pretty impressive compared to statistics from the past 70 years:

GDP changes since 1970

As if that wasn't enough bad news, another 1.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week. With the $600 weekly supplemental unemployment insurance now ended and the virus picking up steam, thus resulting in more shutdowns, the economy isn't going to get better any time soon.

All of this spells nothing but trouble for Donald Trump. Senate Republicans seem to be trying to make it even worse by dithering on a new relief bill. The House passed a bill in May, but Republican senators consider it too expensive and too generous to people, so they want a pared-down bill. But they can't agree among themselves what should be in it. Mitch McConnell is going to try to use some parliamentary procedures next week to force votes, in order to get something passed. But whatever comes out of the Senate is also going to have to pass the House, where Nancy Pelosi believes she has the upper hand. The longer the impasse goes on, the worse it is for Trump, since whenever the economy is in trouble, it is always the president who gets the blame. (V)

Ginsburg Is Back in the Hospital

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one tough old bird. She's now back in the hospital again. At least she is picking her hospitals carefully. It is Memorial Sloan Kettering, probably the best cancer hospital in the U.S., if not the world. This time it is to repair a bile duct stent that was placed last August.

In the late 19th Century, a proposal was made to test the efficacy of prayer. The idea was that everyone in London would pray for the speedy recovery of all the patients at one specific hospital. Then, months later, statisticians could see if patients there had a statistically significant better recovery rate than at other hospitals in London. Other experiments have also been proposed. One could imagine a variant of these experiments now. There are undoubtedly 65 million people who really, really, want Ginsburg to get better, or at least to remain technically alive until Jan. 20 (Plan B is to shoot for Jan. 3), and some of them are probably praying for her. There are also 60 million or so who would like to see her shuffle off this mortal coil post haste (although it is doubtful any of them will admit it publicly), and some of them are probably praying against her. That said, it would be hard to figure out exactly how many supplicants there are on each side. Also, n = 1 is not a great sample size. So, there probably is no feasible experiment here. Oh, well.

Needless to say, if Ginsburg should pass before Nov. 3, it would shake up the election in ways that are hard to foresee. We have no doubt that Donald Trump would immediately nominate a replacement and Mitch McConnell would try to ram the confirmation through the Senate. Whether that would work depends on how the senators up in 2020 (and maybe 2022) view the politics of a rushed confirmation, especially in light of how Mitch McConnell didn't bring the nomination of Merrick Garland up for a vote in 2016. (V)

John Lewis Is Honored and Laid to Rest

"Joan Rivers had a dry pu**y." That is how Howard Stern began his eulogy of the comedian when she passed away in 2014. Needless to say, at approximately 99.9999% of funerals, that would be a wildly inappropriate thing to say. But given Rivers' penchant for pushing the envelope and for poking fun at herself (in fact, the line came from one of her bits), it was a bullseye at that particular funeral. It unleashed a torrent of both laughs and tears, and afterwards Rivers' daughter Melissa thanked Stern for getting it just right.

We mention this because John Lewis was buried in Atlanta yesterday, following a funeral service in Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church. He was given a seven-gun salute. An honor guard presented the flag that had draped his coffin to his son. What a difference compared to the manner in which he was badly beaten by police when he marched for justice 55 years ago. Three former presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, delivered eulogies. Jimmy Carter was too frail to attend, but a letter he wrote was read.

Obama was clearly in campaign mode and, without mentioning names, was gunning for Donald Trump more aggressively than he ever has before. The former president said that without a new Voting Rights Act, the gains achieved by Lewis could be lost. The House has already passed one, which it is planning to name after Lewis. But there is no chance the Senate will pass it until the Democrats get a majority there, and even then it will be filibustered to death. So, Obama went after the filibuster and said it should be abolished. Obama also spoke out against voter suppression. He will no doubt have more to say in the fall, and a new Voting Rights Act might become one of his major themes.

After the address, there was much clutching of pearls from commentators on the right, who were aghast that Obama would deign to politicize Lewis' funeral. They might have a point if it had been the funeral of say, Regis Philbin or Olivia de Havilland (to pick two notables who have also passed recently). But, like Stern at Rivers' funeral, this was a bullseye for Lewis' funeral. Anyone who knows anything of the man would recognize that he would have been delighted by Obama's remarks. And if there is any doubt, well, Lewis actually managed to weigh in from beyond the grave with an essay that he wrote shortly before his passing, to be published the day of his funeral (it was also read at the service). It includes this passage:

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

Obama's speech was so in tune with Lewis' final essay that the former president must surely have had a copy of the essay while he was drafting his remarks. He probably also reflected upon what are likely the two most famous eulogies ever written, Pericles' Funeral Oration and the Gettysburg Address, and noticed that both are intensely political, and both are calls to action. So, if Obama is in any trouble for what he said, well, it's "good trouble." (V & Z)

Herman Cain is Dead of COVID-19

Let's get the illiness and death stories over with now so we can continue with regular politics. Donald Trump has claimed that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters. He hasn't tried that yet, but as a proxy, he held a mask-free rally in Tulsa attended by former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. COVID-19 was in the air and Cain got it, along with multiple Secret Service agents and many ordinary Tulsans. There is no way to be certain that the rally was the source of Cain's infection, but the timeline fits perfectly, and we already know that the rally was a superspreader event.

Yesterday, after a week of announcing upbeat prognoses, Cain died from the disease in an Atlanta hospital. And Cain, like RBG, was a tough old bird. He beat back stage IV colon cancer in 2006. He is one of the highest profile Trump supporters to succumb to the illness so far, and was faithful to the end. The last tweet that he wrote himself before entering the hospital was an anti-mask screed about Trump's Mt. Rushmore appearance: "Masks will not be mandatory for the event, which will be attended by President Trump. PEOPLE ARE FED UP!" Cain's staff, who apparently decided that staying on-brand was more important than anything else, deleted the tweet Thursday afternoon, shortly after Cain's passing.

A tall, forceful, Black CEO who was also a Republican was a bit of a novelty for the GOP, so Cain got a lot of attention in right-wing circles. He made a half-hearted run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, but got nowhere. In 2004, he ran for the Republican senatorial nomination in Georgia, and also got nowhere. So, in 2011, he switched back to presidential politics again. This time he caught lightning in a jar, and excited the media with his 9-9-9 plan (a 9% business transaction tax, a 9% personal income tax, and a 9% national sales tax). The plan would have been an enormous boon to rich people by dropping the federal income tax to 9% and a source of misery to poor people by increasing the cost of everything by 9%. Many Republicans praised it for its simplicity (rather than for its massive downward redistribution of the tax burden, which is what they really liked, of course). There was even a Cain boomlet in October 2011. There was zero chance that the current iteration of the Republican Party was going to nominate a Black man, but it made many Republicans feel good to have one being taken so seriously.

The whole thing fell apart when Politico published a scoop about the first two women accusing Cain of sexual harassment. Ultimately, there were five. At first Cain vigorously denied the story—until proof of an $80,000 settlement turned up. He also vigorously denied a 13-year-long adulterous affair with a (white) single mother of two named Ginger White, right up until White showed reporters cell phone bills with dozens of calls from Cain's cell phone. She also said that he paid for her to fly all around the country to cities where he was speaking and lavished her with gifts. It was enough to make the upcoming convention's alternate prostitutes hopeful. Cain was married at the time and also an associate minister at a Baptist church in Atlanta. He didn't make it to the Iowa caucuses, let alone the Republican National Convention. He dropped out of the race on Dec. 21, 2011 on account of the scandals. In the next presidential cycle, of course, Republican voters were also presented with a candidate who had a history of adulterous affairs and sexual harassment. That time, they responded rather differently, for...some reason. (V)

The Coronavirus Is Spreading Rapidly in Key Swing States

The New York Times has an article on how the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in four swing states (Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin) and how that could affect the election. At least one scoreboard puts Georgia and Texas in the top 10 and Wisconsin at 17th in new cases, so we might say it's actually spreading rapidly in six swing states, depending on exactly which states are swinging at the moment. Here is the top ten from Worldometer. According to these data, five of the top six in terms of new cases are arguably swing states:

The top 10 states in new cases
are, in order, California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Missouri

The conventional wisdom is that having thousands of new cases of COVID-19 and dozens or hundreds of deaths every day is not compatible with the slogan "Four more years." Lots of new cases and deaths tends to make the coronavirus the main story in the local news and make it hard for Donald Trump to change the subject to "riots" in Oregon or to canceling the election or anything else.

There is statistical evidence that an increase in COVID-19 deaths is correlated with a drop of support for Trump at the county level. Correlation isn't causation, but in this case there could be a causal effect, because counties with high COVID-19 death rates are moving away from Trump faster than counties with low COVID-19 death rates.

All in all, it is hard to see how a spike of cases in key swing states could be good for Trump and easy to see how it might be harmful. The amazing thing is that he doesn't seem to care. He could be out there demanding that everyone wear a mask and maintaining social distance as well as asking all governors to close bars, restaurants, concerts, sporting contests, and other superspreader events. Instead he is tweeting about postponing the election (see above). (V)

Why the Portland Strategy Is Not Working

Donald Trump is still living in the 1970s. His view of the suburbs is that they are populated by white housewives who moved their families there to escape black criminals who live in the cities. In his mind, crime is the #1 topic on their minds, so all he has to do is send in law enforcement in unmarked cars to kidnap protesters in Portland and elsewhere and bingo, the white housewives will cheer him as their savior and he gets another term.

Unfortunately, the housewives and non-housewives aren't cooperating. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week, one of the questions asked about the biggest problem facing the country. Among white suburbanites, 21% said the economy and 21% said health care. Crime got only 6%. Consequently, unleashing DHS officers against protesters hasn't moved the needle at all for Trump, because crime isn't much of an issue for white suburbanites. In addition, many polls have shown widespread agreement with the Black Lives Matter protesters, meaning the suburbanites see Black Americans more as victims than as criminals. Any other president would ask his campaign manager to run some polls and a couple of focus groups to see what white suburbanites care about, and only then decide how to get them on board. But Trump prefers his gut to polls and focus groups, with the corresponding results. (V)

Cohen Can Publish His Book

After being imprisoned, then unprisoned, then reprisoned, then dereprisoned, Donald Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors that he may write a book about Trump while serving the rest of his sentence under house arrest. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein has to approve the deal, but since Hellerstein is the one who ordered his release, specifically decreeing that the release could not be conditioned on Cohen giving up his constitutional rights, he is likely to approve.

In addition, Cohen is free to speak with the media about the book or anything else he wants. He can't leave his apartment, but he is allowed to do telephone and video interviews with whatever media outlets he chooses.

Cohen knows where a lot of the skeletons are buried. He was the one who actually arranged the payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playmate Karen McDougal. Heaven knows what else he learned while talking to them. He also "fixed" many of Trump's other problems in the 10 years he worked for The Donald. In many cases, "fixing" consisted of buying off someone who was causing trouble for Trump. If Cohen has a good memory (or a good memory stick), many of those incidents could appear in the book. We can say with certainty that Trump will deny everything in the book, but if Cohen does a good job, he could give reporters big hints about where to dig for confirmation of his stories. This book is definitely not the October surprise Trump was planning.

All of this is Trump's fault because he is so cheap. Putting Cohen on the government payroll would probably have aroused suspicion, but he could have made Cohen a Trump Organization employee, paid him a substantial salary, and told him he didn't have to show up for work until he was summoned. Cohen would have grabbed the chance, kept his mouth shut, and certainly would not have written what is sure to be a best-selling book released just before the election. Now, if Cohen gets the timing right, in one of the debates (if there are any), a moderator could start off by saying: "Mr. President, in his book, Michael Cohen alleges that you [X]. How do you respond?" Trump will say Cohen is lying, but this gets the allegation out there in front of a big audience. Now Trump has a problem and no fixer because the fixer is the problem. (V)

Might Trump Quit?

John Harris, the founding editor of Politico and no neophyte to politics, has written an interesting piece on why Donald Trump might drop out of the race. He starts out by pointing out that on March 31, 1968, then-president Lyndon Johnson, one of the most skilled politicians of the 20th century, surprised the country by announcing: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president." One of us (V) watched the announcement in real time, and immediately turned to a friend and said: "Is he going to run as a Republican?" Turns out that was not what Johnson meant. Might Trump follow LBJ's script?

There is one precondition for this to be even plausible: Trump has to be absolutely convinced that he has zero chance of winning. He knows that if Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) asks for the tax returns next April, Joe Biden's secretary of the treasury will respond: "On paper, by e-mail, on a USB stick, or all three?" Also, Trump knows that he will probably be indicted by New York State and possibly by the Dept. of Justice as well. But if he comes to understand that there is no conceivable way to win, then the following factors come into play:

  • He hates losing: Dropping out and claiming that he made America great again might be more palatable for him than being defeated, especially if he thought Texas and Georgia were lost causes and Joe Biden appeared to be on a path to rack up 400 EVs.

  • He loves shaking things up: His announcement would go down in the history books along with Johnson's. People who watched in real time would remember it clearly 50 years later. He loves disrupting things and disrupting another election would be the ultimate.

  • He has no program: Most presidential candidates have some kind of political program they want to enact. For some, say Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the program is the only reason they are running. Trump has no program. Building a wall is a political slogan intended to get racist and xenophobic voters to support him. There is no evidence that building a wall on the Mexican border has been his life's ambition since he was a young man. Appointing right-wing judges who will ban abortion might be a real goal for, say, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), because Cruz actually believes that abortion is evil. But Trump doesn't really care. Evidence that Trump has no program is the fact that the Republicans didn't bother to write a new platform this year; they just took the 2016 one and removed the parts attacking Barack Obama (after having accidentally released it with those parts still in). Trump was a Democrat most of his life. There are several insider stories that say he ran for president to become more famous and be able to extract more money from NBC for his TV show. That's a program, but a TV program is not a political program.

  • He hates governing: Being president involves making a lot of tough decisions and getting skewered no matter what you do. It also requires the president to spend a lot of time in meetings and getting briefings and discussing things Trump has no interest in. It requires him to meet various groups and leaders whose name and function he can't remember and say things someone else tells him to say. He hates it all.

  • He doesn't even enjoy being president: All presidents discover the hard way how tough the job is, but most of them also have good days when they see things going well for them. We'd venture a guess that if one were to ask Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton: "Would you run again knowing what you know now?" they would all say: "YES!" Ronald Reagan never had a specific wish list of things he wanted to accomplish other than make the country more conservative somehow, but he liked being president and didn't spend most of his day hiding upstairs in the White House watching TV. It is hard to imagine that when the Federalist Society hands Trump a list of half a dozen judges and Mitch McConnell gets them all confirmed, that Trump feels happy and good about himself. Obama smiled all the time when in office. When did you last see Trump smile?

  • He can't hold rallies: Although Trump hates governing, he loves campaigning and having large adoring crowds roar their approval at his every word. Due to the coronavirus, he can't do that. The one part of the job he actually enjoyed has been taken away from him by the fates. He was forced to cancel a smallish rally in New Hampshire a month ago because his staff feared the turnout would be mediocre. He was forced to relocate and then downsize the Republican convention before scotching the whole shebang and said the Republicans wouldn't have a convention at all this year.

  • He cares about his legacy: Trump cares a lot about what people think about him. If he runs and is crushed, historians are not going to be kind to him. On the other hand, if he drops out and says he is putting personal ambition aside to devote all his remaining time to conquering the virus and fixing the economy, some conservative historians may be able to spin this as a great and selfless act. It is hard to spin a crushing defeat.

  • He may have more power as a quitter: If Trump is crushed, he will be relegated to the dustbin of history (unless he is indicted somewhere and put on trial, which would make his post-presidency historic). President Biden will be asking for his advice about as frequently as FDR asked for Herbert Hoover's advice. But if he leaves with his head high, he could continue tweeting and his supporters might still pay attention. He might even be able to help Ivanka's 2024 campaign. Avoiding the stigma of losing would give him a much better post-presidency than being wiped out.

Again, all this is predicated on Trump coming to believe that he has absolutely no chance of winning. The article ends with the thought that maybe it is time for a séance with LBJ. (V)

How to Prepare for Trump Refusing to Concede

Assuming that Donald Trump never gives up all hope and fights on until the last dog dies, there will be an election, and it will be on Nov. 3, 2020. Most current polling and historical comparisons show that Trump is now a heavy underdog. What happens if he indeed loses and refuses to accept the results? Brian Klaas, who coauthored a book entitled How to Rig an Election, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post describing how the country as a whole can prepare for the possibility. Here are the steps:

  • Try to get a bipartisan pact endorsing the results: If Trump claims he won and his party says he lost, he will get a lot less traction. When the results are clear, all the leaders of Congress, all the living former presidents and presidential candidates, and all the generals who formerly served in Trump's cabinet should endorse the winner. That also holds if Trump wins, of course. It would be best if they all agreed before the election to make a joint statement as soon after the election as possible. The broader the group, the more credibility it will have. (As a sidebar; the Democrats have eight living presidential nominees besides Biden, forming an unbroken chain all the way back to 1976; the Republicans have only four, and the earliest still living is Bob Dole from 1996.)

  • Shore up public confidence in the results: State election officials can conduct randomized audits of the ballots (in the presence of observers from both parties) to increase public confidence. The U.S. often pushes for international observers to watch elections in countries with authoritarian leaders who can't be trusted. Maybe it is time for the U.S. to take its own medicine.

  • The media need to better educate the public about elections: Trump has talked about how foreigners (but surely not his buddy Vlad) could flood the field with fake absentee ballots. The media need to explain why this could be detected easily (unique numbers and signatures on ballot envelopes). The media also need to explain that in many states, by law, absentee ballots cannot be counted until Election Day and that most states do not have high-speed ballot-counting machines, so the results could take days. Also high on the list of what the media should be doing is explaining that in many states, early results come from rural areas with very few people per precinct whereas urban areas with thousand of voters per precinct take longer to count. As a consequence, it is normal that early results tend to favor Republicans but those leads often evaporate as more precincts report. People need to understand that this does not indicate any chicanery. All the television networks have plenty of video footage of how their own predictions changed throughout the evening in previous elections.

  • Hey, there is a pandemic raging: Election officials need to do contingency planning on account of COVID-19. Things will go wrong. Just ask Murphy. What happens if all the poll workers scheduled to work at some precinct get sick Nov. 2? What happens if the promised supply of single-use pens (so no one has to use a ballot-marking pen used by a previous voter) doesn't show up on the date expected? What if so many voters show up on Election Day that they can't all vote before the scheduled poll-closing time? States can't war-game all possible things that can go wrong, but having plans in place to deal with the top 10 would be great. And these should be clearly communicated to the public.

  • Courts should move fast: Lawsuits are inevitable. The courts should be prepared for this. Judges should not allow all their clerks to take vacations from Nov. 4 to Nov. 15. In counties and states where results could be close, they should try to keep their dockets clear so they can handle cases immediately. They should also strive to make decisions as quickly as possible. This means any request from the litigants to have 2 weeks to prepare their briefs should be met with an answer like: "Two is one of my favorite numbers. You have 2 days to get your brief in. Now move it."

Whether any of these measures, let alone all of them, will be taken remains to be seen, but if the U.S. wants to preserve some semblance of democracy going forward, both Boy Scouts and non-Boy Scouts should follow the Boy Scout motto: "Be prepared." (V)

Trump Will Not Help Defeat Kobach

Talk about not being a team player. Donald Trump has told his associates that he will not endorse Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) in the upcoming Kansas senatorial primary. Mitch McConnell is desperately trying to pull Marshall over the finish line, so as to prevent right-wing firebrand Kris Kobach from getting the nomination and then losing the general election. And Trump won't even help.

Instead of tweeting about postponing the election, he could have tweeted: "Kansans, I support Roger Marshall. I want you to do so as well," which would have saved him a lot of grief and helped his (nominal) party. The fact that he didn't shows once again that he has no real allegiance to the Republican Party. He merely uses it as a vehicle to get what he wants. Republicans see this and accept it, like a bunch of beaten-down dogs.

The race between Marshall and Kobach (and a wealthy businessman, Bob Hamilton) is getting nasty. A super PAC funded by billionaire Peter Thiel, a Kobach ally, has sent out a mailer saying that Marshall, an OB-GYN, has performed abortions. His campaign manager, Eric Pahls, said: "This is, without question, the most pathetic and low political lie we have ever seen." Apparently Pahls is so busy running Marshall's campaign that he never has time to listen to Donald Trump or read his tweets, because then he would learn a thing or two about how low political lies can go. The primary election is on Tuesday. (V)

We Agree with Fox News...on One Thing

One of the trickier aspects of putting this site together every day in a hurry is determining what the lede should be and, in general, the order of the items. One guideline is the classic inverted pyramid, with stories in descending order of importance. Another is: presidential news first, then Senate news, then House news, then everything else. Background stories (like Michael Cohen's book) rank lower than hard news. However, we also like to group stories that are similar together, so sometimes a less-important one gets moved up because it fits well with an important one.

With so much major news yesterday (Donald Trump's tweet on the election date, the economy collapsing, RBG health scare, John Lewis' funeral, and more) it was a difficult choice this morning. Much to our surprise, a quick check of Fox News' website at 5 a.m. ET today showed that we agreed with Fox on the top story: Trump's attempt to postpone the election. Only they spun it a bit differently. Here is their front page (like many media outlets with sidebars and ads, the format changes as you make the window narrower; this is the minimal version):

Fox News Website July 31

In case you can't read the fine print, there are five stories, with these headlines:

  • Trump defends tweet on possible Election Day delay at heated White House news conference
  • Trump camp pushes back after Biden doubts WH has vaccine on track
  • Scientists unlock centuries-old secret of Stonehenge
  • Dem's bid to put limits on US military's recruitment ads fails 2-to-1
  • Beachtown neighbors have "Goodfellas" star feeling peeved

Let's take a closer look. Yes, the tweet is #1, but the spin is the all caps text "NOT BACKING DOWN" superimposed on a photo of Donald Trump. Rather than pointing out that the Republican leadership of Congress instantly shot down his proposal, "NOT BACKING DOWN" makes him look strong rather than foolish and ignorant.

Story #2 is about Joe Biden objecting to Trump's claim that a coronavirus vaccine is just around the corner. No reputable scientist thinks we will have a vaccine available before 2021, so this story is also defending an improbable Trump claim.

Story #3 is about Stonehenge. Scientists have discovered that Stonehenge is like Lego blocks, but bigger. That is cool, but is this really more important than the economy or Lewis' funeral?

Story #4 has "AOC REJECTION" superimposed on an item about how Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) sponsored an amendment banning the U.S. military from advertising on war games meant for young children and it was defeated. She defended her amendment by saying: "War is not a game." Fox probably doesn't care what her amendment was about. It's the "AOC REJECTION" part that matters. She could have proposed designating November as National Broccoli Month, or applied for (honorary) membership in the Otto Club of St. Olaf, and the "AOC REJECTION" part would have been the same.

Story #5 is about how actor Joe Pesci is trying to stop his neighbors from building a 315-foot-long dock into Barnegat Bay, NJ. Definitely bigger news than the biggest quarterly drop in GDP in American history.

The takeaway from this item is that Fox News is constantly telling its viewers and readers not to look at any other news source, and probably many of them obey. Imagine what the world looks like to someone whose only news yesterday was these five stories, plus whatever Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity cooked up. That may explain somewhat why Fox News fans tend to be more Trumpish than, say, people who read the NYT or WaPo every day.

Just for completeness, the top stories on MSNBC's website this morning were about Lewis' funeral, Trump's tweet, and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) getting COVID-19. (V)

Likely New Members of the House

The elections are just less than 100 days away, but for many House races the results are already known. When a wealthy Republican businessman is running for an open House seat in an R+15 district that Donald Trump won by 40 points against a Democrat with less than $10,000 in the bank, we don't have to wait for the Alabama secretary of state to certify the results to have a pretty good idea of who is going to be the new member for AL-01. In fact, in a number of districts, we can make the call before the first votes are cast. Jacob Rubashkin at Inside Elections has made a list of newbies who are almost certain to be wandering aimlessly around the halls of Congress come Jan. 3. Here are the highlights.

District PVI Name Occupation Notes
AL-01 R+15 Jerry Carl (R) Businessman Trump won by 40 points and the Democrat has $9,400 in the bank
AL-02 R+16 Barry Moore (R) Businessman Trump won by 32 points and the Democrat has $584 in the bank
CA-08 R+9 Jay Obernolte (R) Businessman Trump won by 15%; Olbernolte is pro-life and endorsed by the NRA
GA-05 D+34 Nikema Williams (D) Activist Georgia Democratic Party picked her as John Lewis' successor
IL-03 D+6 Marie Newman (D) Consultant Newman is a cause célèbre
IL-15 R+21 Mary Miller (R) Farmer Miller has vowed to end godless socialism and protect the unborn
IN-01 D+8 Frank Mrvan (D) Sales rep. The district hasn't sent a Republican to Congress in 90 years
IA-04 R+11 Randy Feenstra (R) Insurance Mgr. He is a clone of Rep. Steve King (R-IA) without the overt bigotry
OR-02 R+11 Cliff Bentz (R) Lawyer As a state rep., got an A+ from NRA and 0% from ACLU and AFL-CIO
NM-03 D+8 Teresa Fernandez (D) Lawyer Endorsed by Elizabeth Warren and AOC; opponent is broke
NY-15 D+44 Ritchie Torres (D) Housing advocate NY-15 in the Bronx is the poorest district in the country; it's also D+44
NY-16 D+24 Jamaal Bowman (D) Principal He is in a D+24 district and wants to join The Squad
NY-17 D+7 Mondaire Jones (D) Lawyer Endorsed by Warren, Bernie Sanders, and The Squad
NC-02 R+7 Deborah Ross (D) Lawyer NC-02 has been redrawn to be blue; ACLU on Ross: 100%, NRA: F
NC-06 R+9 Kathy Manning (D) Lawyer New district where 59% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton
NC-11 R+14 Madison Cawthorn (R) Motivational speaker Young telegenic conservative who wants to be the GOP's AOC
TX-11 R+32 August Pfluger (R) Air Force vet Will fight oil-hating liberals and support rights of Christians
TX-13 R+33 Ronny Jackson (R) Physician Previous incumbent got 92%, 90%, 84%, 91%, and 87% in elections
TX-17 R+12 Pete Sessions (R) Fmr. Congressman After losing TX-32, Sessions moved to the more conservative TX-17
UT-01 R+26 Blake Moore (R) Mgmt. consultant Rob Bishop (R) won the district by 50 points

These aren't the only noobs who will show up in the House in January, but due to the lean of their districts and quality of their opponents, these all seem like safe bets now. (V)

VP Candidate Profile: Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta)

Today, we embark on the second half of the list. Here are the 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) [Score: 20]
  4. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) [Score: 17]
  5. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) [Score: 27]
  6. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) [Score: 13]
  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 Thomas Eagleton would score a 0.

Keisha Lance Bottoms
  • Full Name: Keisha Lance Bottoms

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 51 (having just celebrated her birthday two days earlier)

  • Background: A native Georgian, Bottoms' great-great-grandparents were slaves, her great-grandparents and grandparents were sharecroppers, her mother was homemaker Sylvia Robinson and her father was Major Lance, an R&B singer of some note, best known for "Monkey Time" (1963) and "Um Um Um Um Um Um" (1964). Why the title is spelled like that, as opposed to the more correct "Mm Mm Mm Mm Mm Mm," we do not know. In any case, it would seem there wasn't much money in being an R∧B singer in the 1960s, because Lance got involved in dealing cocaine and spent three years in prison. Bottoms wrote about that experience in an op-ed for CNN titled "The day my dad was taken away in handcuffs destroyed my family."

    Despite the turmoil at home, Bottoms was an excellent student, graduating Frederick Douglass High School, then Florida A&M University with a B.A. in communications, and finally Georgia State University College of Law with a J.D. in 1994. She immediately entered the public sector, working first as an assistant district attorney, then as a children's advocate in juvenile court. For 6 years, she also served part-time as a magistrate judge, dealing mostly with low-level bureaucratic matters like issuing citations and presiding over small-claims cases.

  • Political Experience: Bottoms' first run for office came when she decided in 2008 that Superior Court judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. wasn't doing a good job, and that she could do better. The voters did not agree, and she was defeated. Bottoms dusted herself off and launched a run for the Atlanta City Council in 2009, which she won. She was reelected once, ultimately serving 8 years as a council member. That was followed by a mayoral run in 2018, backed by outgoing mayor Kasim Reed. With Reed's support, she came in first among a dozen candidates in the jungle primary, and then defeated fellow council member Mary Norwood in the runoff.

  • Signature Issue(s): Bottoms was not on anyone's VP radar until she began battling with Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) over his laissez-faire COVID-19 policies, and also began working to find a middle ground between her civic duties and the demands of protesters following the death of George Floyd. And so, if she's picked, her job will be to hammer the administration on the issues of the moment.

  • Instructive Quote: "Black girl magic is something I have experienced throughout my life," (Jan. 2, 2018).

  • Recent News: She's been in the headlines pretty constantly due to her battle with Kemp over mandatory mask wearing.

  • Ready for the Big Chair?: Her experience is broad—judicial, legislative, executive—but entirely municipal. A city of 500,000 people is a rather different kettle of fish than a nation of 328 million people. Some unprepared veeps rise to the challenge and some don't, but her résumé is ultimately pretty thin when it comes to the big job. (3/10)

  • Coattails: She's popular in a state that has 16 electoral votes and 2 U.S. Senate seats, all of which could come down to a small fraction of the overall vote. That's certainly a selling point in her favor. (8/10)

  • Nuts and Bolts Skills: She's only a middling public speaker (you can see her inaugural address as Atlanta mayor here), and doesn't have all that much experience with unglamorous tasks like fundraising. She's also been criticized for failing to get much legislation enshrined into law. That said, she's an excellent attack dog, and is endowed with an abundance of charisma, such that she's already appeared on talk shows like "Late Night with Seth Meyers" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Both her macaroni and cheese and her dogs Ace and Zeus have become memes. If Biden wants someone who will make the rounds on TV and charm voters, not too many of the VP candidates (if any) will do that as well as Bottoms will. (5/10)

  • Relationship with Biden: They are only acquaintances, though she was an outspoken supporter even when his campaign was reeling, which he surely appreciates. (3/10)

  • Balance: She's a young, Black Southerner, which means she's close to perfect as the yin to Biden's yang if he is pursuing a Sun Belt strategy. The problem is that early indications suggest he's pursuing a Rust Belt strategy. (5/10)

  • Betting Odds: She's getting from 125/1 to 33/1, which implies a 1-3% chance of being selected.

  • Completely Trivial Fact: Only one other VP has come to the job with past experience in all three branches of government: Spiro Agnew.

  • The Bottom Line: We've got her at 24/50, which means she's not the weakest candidate, but not the strongest, either. Bottoms' rock-star qualities are going to be hard to overlook. However, her lack of experience beyond the municipal level is a problem. So too are the skeletons in her closet; her close ally Reed left office in a cloud of scandal (accused of taking bribes) and Bottoms herself got in trouble for making improper payments totaling about $200,000 to campaign staff. She's high risk/high reward, which is the kind of VP chosen when the presidential candidate needs a game-changer (as, say, John McCain did). By all indications, Biden doesn't need a game changer, he needs a safe candidate who is going to steer the course alongside him. For that reason, although she's being seriously vetted, we don't think she'll be the pick.

Fellow Georgian Stacey Abrams is next in the queue. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Lots of polls today. The bottom line is that Joe Biden is still close to 400 electoral votes because he is still ahead on all of the swing states. The University of New Hampshire released a couple of old polls that it somehow missed yesterday. We put them in the database to improve its historical accuracy. (V)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 46% 38% Jul 19 Jul 23 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Florida 48% 41% Jul 19 Jul 21 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Florida 50% 46% Jul 20 Jul 23 Mason Dixon
Michigan 49% 37% Jul 19 Jul 24 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
North Carolina 43% 42% Jul 19 Jul 21 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
New Hampshire 44% 46% May 14 May 18 U. of New Hampshire
New Hampshire 52% 39% Jun 18 Jun 22 U. of New Hampshire
New Hampshire 53% 40% Jul 16 Jul 28 U. of New Hampshire
Pennsylvania 48% 41% Jul 19 Jul 21 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Pennsylvania 50% 41% Jul 20 Jul 26 Franklin & Marshall Coll.
Virginia 50% 39% Jul 11 Jul 19 Virginia Commonwealth U.
Wisconsin 45% 35% Jul 19 Jul 24 Redfield and Wilton Strategies

Today's Senate Polls

Cal Cunningham now has a double-digit lead in North Carolina. That can't be making Mitch McConnell a happy man today. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arizona Mark Kelly 53% Martha McSally* 35% Jul 19 Jul 23 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Michigan Gary Peters* 52% John James 35% Jul 19 Jul 24 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 47% Thom Tillis* 36% Jul 19 Jul 21 Redfield and Wilton Strategies

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul30 Another Grim COVID-19 Milestone
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Jul30 Today's Senate Polls
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Jul25 Saturday Q&A
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