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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Channels His Inner Tyrant...
      •  ...Which Is Playing Right into the Hands of Democrats...
      •  ...But Could Trump Have the Last Laugh?
      •  The G-7 May Be Falling Apart
      •  Pompeo Is Pompeout...
      •  ...and Steve King May Join Him
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Trump Channels His Inner Tyrant...

The old saying goes: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." But does the converse hold? "Some are born failures, some achieve failure, and some have failure thrust upon them"? Donald Trump is doing much to make the case that it does indeed hold.

When it comes to an event that is both tragic and divisive, the response called for from a president is both very easy and very hard. It's very easy in the sense that the basic message is basically pre-written; there needs to be an acknowledgment of the tragedy, but also a call for unity, and an appeal to people's better natures. The very hard part is finding exactly the right words and the right tone. This is something that Barack Obama was particularly good at. Here, for example, is his statement after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the case of Trayvon Martin:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy, not just for his family or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that's a job for all of us. That's the way to honor Trayvon Martin.

Yesterday, we highlighted the remarks that Robert F. Kennedy delivered after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. RFK was good at this sort of thing, too. President Lyndon B. Johnson, by contrast, generally wasn't so good, as he was a terrible public speaker. Still, even LBJ managed to do pretty well with his statement on King:

America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying tonight of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence. I pray that his family can find comfort in the memory of all he tried to do for the land he loved so well. I have just conveyed the sympathy of Mrs. Johnson and myself to his widow, Mrs. King.

I know that every American of good will joins me in mourning the death of this outstanding leader and in praying for peace and understanding throughout this land. We can achieve nothing by lawlessness and divisiveness among the American people. It is only by joining together and only by working together that we can continue to move toward equality and fulfillment for all of our people.

I hope that all Americans tonight will search their hearts as they ponder this most tragic incident.

Again, it's solid, especially by Johnson's standards.

For Donald Trump, however, few things are easy. For any other president, Democrat or Republican, the decision to try to be statesmanlike and to deliver some sort of uplifting address would be automatic. This White House, however, is deeply divided on the subject, with staunch disagreement over whether or not an address is called for, and also over what that address might include. The President tried to do the empathy thing a little bit on Twitter last week, but it's not surprising that his heart is not in it, and that there's been no substantive action on that front. Among the reasons:

  • Empathy is not Trump's thing. He can't do it, and he can't fake it. Indeed, he is probably the least empathetic president in American history.

  • On the other hand, peacocking, arm-twisting, and wild threats are his thing.

  • His hopes of reelection rest on the votes of a lot of people who are, well, racists. If the President shows too much (any?) sympathy for George Floyd and/or the protesters, that might just be the one thing that causes his base to start crumbling.

  • After bragging about pu**y grabbing, and mocking a disabled reporter, and attacking multiple decorated veterans, and a litany of other such behaviors, Trump has zero credibility when it comes to empathetic or sympathetic words or gestures. For example, on Monday he decided to walk from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church, which is just across the street and has welcomed presidents for centuries. In other presidential hands, this might have been a useful show of support for peace and brotherhood. However, Trump was flayed by the church's bishop, the Right Rev. Mariann Budde. "I was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop," she told the media. Her superior, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, concurred entirely, accusing Trump of using "a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes."

So, it's not so surprising that the positive, uplifting stuff from Trump was minimal from the beginning, and has now slowed to the barest of trickles.

Meanwhile, particularly as riots have gripped the nation, Trump has very much given into his propensity for authoritarianism, rage, and violent action. His "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" is now well known. Since then, however:

  • Trump has declared himself the president of "law and order," and threatened to deploy the U.S. military to stop protesters and rioters.

  • He has attacked blue-state governors on a conference call, and advised them "You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time."

  • He's called for the Supreme Court to reconsider the legality of flag-burning.

  • He's threatened to unleash "vicious dogs" against protesters, a statement that brings to mind one of the most famous photos in American history:

    Several police sic German
shepherds on a high-school-age black man

    That was taken in 1963, appeared on front pages across the nation, and is widely credited with engendering much sympathy for the Civil Rights Movement among folks who had previously been apathetic. It would appear we now know what side the 16-year-old Donald Trump was on when he saw it.

  • He allowed (or ordered) peaceful protesters in Washington to be tear-gassed, so that he could make the aforementioned trip to the church across the street from the White House.

  • He announced that he will designate Antifa a terrorist group (despite the fact that he has no actual authority to do so, since Antifa is not terrorist, is not an organization, and is domestic).

It is difficult to imagine how Trump's response in the last few days could have been much more authoritarian.

Clearly, we are something less than impressed with the President's "leadership" here. And we are not the only ones. Folks at the Pentagon are not happy that Trump is threatening to use military force against citizens. Some of Trump's allies in the Senate, among them John Thune (R-SD) and John Cornyn (R-TX), have called for him to do better. Some Republican governors, most notably Charlie Baker (MA), have expressed outrage over the President's conduct on his gubernatorial conference call. "I heard what the President said today about dominating and fighting. I know I should be surprised when I hear incendiary words like this from him, but I'm not," the Governor remarked. Even Fox News' Tucker Carlson has gotten in on the criticism (though Sean Hannity remains firmly on board the S.S. Trump). All of this, of course, is on top of the litany of Democratic officeholders—in Congress, and in the various statehouses—who have slammed Trump.

What the White House does next is anyone's guess, since there is so much pressure on the administration to do something, and since the President appears to have fired pretty much all the bullets in his "empty threats" gun. And all of this happens against the backdrop of COVID-19, a concurrent display of poor (or nonexistent?) presidential leadership. Whether Trump was born to fail here, is achieving failure, or is having failure thrust upon him is an interesting question for discussion, but he's in the midst of a titanic catastrophe right now. Oh, and by the way, hurricane season is around the corner. (Z)

...Which Is Playing Right into the Hands of Democrats...

Donald Trump is currently a square-peg-in-round-hole type of situation. To borrow a phrase from the Beach Boys, the President just wasn't made for these times. Barack Obama, as we noted, is much, much better suited. And in case anyone needed a reminder, Obama penned an essay for the website Medium on Monday. It concludes:

I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting—that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation's long journey to live up to our highest ideals.

Let's get to work.

A pretty sharp contrast to what's coming out of the White House these days.

Of course, Obama isn't president right now, nor will he be in the future. However, as you may have heard, his former Veep is running for the job. And Joe Biden also does the empathy thing pretty well. He also visited a church on Monday, though instead of leading with tear gas, posing for a photo-op, and heading back home, Biden spent time listening to the feedback of black parishioners. Further, in an obviously coordinated one-two punch, Biden will follow Obama's Monday essay with a Tuesday address on institutional racism. If folks do not pick up on the intended message, "Here is how Democratic leadership would differ from Trumpian leadership" then they aren't paying attention.

In short, the President has really set up the pins for Biden to market his case for the White House; all the Democratic frontrunner (nominee? see below) has to do is knock them down. And actually, Trump is giving even more assistance than that, with his wild attacks against Biden on Twitter. For example:

This brings to mind a punch-drunk boxer. It's less than 300 characters, and yet the narrative thread is undecipherable. Biden's people are far leftists who will raise your taxes and free anarchists from jail, but Biden doesn't realize it because he's sleepy all the time? It's like a Twitter Mad Lib:

[Prominent Democrat] is working for [name of alleged, shady left-wing person or organization] because he/she hates [thing conservatives love] and he/she wants to [dishonest description of Democratic policy]. Don't forget [made-up scandal]!

See how well it works as a Trump tweet predictor:

Hillary is working for Soros because she hates Jesus, and she wants to legalize abortions up to high school graduation day. Don't forget Pizzagate!

Biden is working for Raúl Castro because he hates the American flag, and he wants to make it illegal to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Don't forget Burisma!

We may be on to something here. In any event, it surely must be difficult for anyone but the true believers to read sentiments like that, and avoid the conclusion that Trump is: (1) desperate, (2) losing it, or (3) all of the above. Certainly, the Biden campaign thinks that is the effect the tweets are having.

Incidentally, it's not only Donald Trump's Democratic rivals who see an opportunity here. George Will wrote a scathing op-ed in which he called for the Republican Party to finally purge itself of the President and his acolytes in Congress. The key passage:

The nation's downward spiral into acrimony and sporadic anarchy has had many causes much larger than the small man who is the great exacerbator of them. Most of the causes predate his presidency, and most will survive its January terminus. The measures necessary for restoration of national equilibrium are many and will be protracted far beyond his removal. One such measure must be the removal of those in Congress who, unlike the sycophantic mediocrities who cosset him in the White House, will not disappear “magically,” as Eric Trump said the coronavirus would. Voters must dispatch his congressional enablers, especially the senators who still gambol around his ankles with a canine hunger for petting.

Oof. One can only imagine what the folks at the Lincoln Project are cooking up right now. (Z)

...But Could Trump Have the Last Laugh?

Yesterday, in the same piece we referenced Robert F. Kennedy (see above), we also discussed the possibility that while Donald Trump might be flailing around right now, the George Floyd protests (and especially the violence and looting) might rebound to the President's benefit, allowing him to run a Richard Nixon-style "law and order" campaign and win the votes of centrist/conservative white folks who might otherwise cast their ballots for Joe Biden.

Not so fast, says historian Rick Perlstein, who has made a career of studying postwar conservative politics. He argues, quite reasonably, that when people are angry and/or frightened about social unrest, they don't think "blame the Democrats." No, they think "blame whoever is in office." Or, to use Perlstein's words: "When disorder is all around them, voters tend to blame the person in charge—and, sometimes, punish those who exploit the disorder for political gain." In 1968, of course, the Democrats were running the show, as they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. At the moment, two-thirds of those are in Republican hands, including the big chair.

There are also some other things about the Nixon comparison worth noting:

  • Nixon, like him or not, was a tremendously skillful politician. He not only knew how to stay on message, he knew how to thread the needle, using dog whistles to appeal to racial animosity without appearing overtly racist (at least, not in his public remarks). None of these things is true of Trump.

  • Nixon ran on the idea that he was speaking for the "silent" (and, by implication, undervalued and unheard) majority. But Trump has been running on that for four years; he's not going to win over many more people who think they are being ignored.

  • The backlash that Nixon rode came just a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Watts Riots (also in 1965), the rise of black power (1965, yet again), the founding of the Black Panthers (1966), the Detroit Riots (1967), and violence at both parties' conventions (1968). The backlash that Trump has ridden is of much longer duration, dating back to the election of Barack Obama in 2008, has had fewer high-profile developments that might aggravate fence-sitting voters, and so is likely less salient.

  • The leading Democratic candidate that year, namely RFK, was assassinated in June, throwing that part of the race into disarray.

  • Despite all of this, Nixon won a narrow victory collecting just 500,000 more votes than Hubert Humphrey out of 70 million cast.

This is not to say that Trump won't try to run a "law and order" campaign; clearly he will. And it might just work, but maybe not. There are many reasons to believe that Nixon 1968 cannot be replicated in 2020. In fact, as Perlstein points out, it's entirely possible that recent events (including Trump's response to them) could get people to the polls who otherwise might not have shown up, just so they can register their opposition to the Donald. (Z)

The G-7 May Be Falling Apart

When it comes to the G-7, the economic cooperative formed by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S., Donald Trump has two desires. The first is that this year's meeting, which was to be held in the U.S., move ahead as scheduled. He doesn't particularly care about the meeting or the G-7 per se (which is why he usually departs early), he just wants the PR victory of apparent normalcy and of presidential leadership in the face of COVID-19. The second is that he would like to change the list of countries that make up the group, a list that he calls "outdated." You get three guesses as to which country he most wants to include, and the first two guesses don't count. Yep, it's Russia, who was booted out of what was then the G-8 in 2014 after stealing part of Ukraine.

It was German chancellor Angela Merkel who put the kibosh on desire #1 this weekend, when she announced that she "could not confirm" her attendance at the meeting, if held, well, anytime soon. Translation, for those who do not know diplomatic-speak: "I don't like you, I don't like that you pulled out of WHO, I don't have any interest in giving you a PR victory." Just by coincidence, members of the German government happened to give interviews this weekend expressing most of these sentiments. For example, Health Minister Jens Spahn spoke of his "disappointment" over the United States' withdrawal from WHO. And after Merkel announced that her attendance was uncertain, the other G-7 leaders checked their appointment books, and also indicated that they might not be able to make it, either.

Consequently, and in an effort to save face, Trump announced that "he" had decided to postpone the summit to September. Assuming it goes forward then, it will do so without Russia as a G-7 member. The possibility of Russia re-joining has already been vetoed by the other leaders, with—of all people—UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking the lead. If Trump can't have the timing he wants, and he can't have the despot he wants, then he might just chuck the whole thing. Can you imagine a G-6, held in Europe this year? Unimaginable. But this year, the unimaginable is the new normal. (Z)

Pompeo Is Pompeout...

Any Republican hoping that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would ride to the rescue in Kansas, and declare a last-minute run for the U.S. Senate, was disappointed on Monday. The noon deadline for candidate filings came and went without any paperwork from the Secretary. So, he's officially out.

That means that the Republicans are now filled with trepidation about the possibility that Kris Kobach will be their candidate. He's like William Jennings Bryan or Barry Goldwater—enough loyal followers to win a primary, but not likely to win a general election. The limited polling of the Republican primary field has been all over the place, and was conducted before President of the Kansas Senate Susan Wagle withdrew so that the establishment vote could coalesce around Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS). Our best guess is that Marshall vs. Kobach is basically a coin flip. And if Kobach survives, then he will face another coin flip against state Sen. Barbara Bollier (D), according to (much more recent) polling of the potential matchup.

Meanwhile, one wonders what Pompeo's long-term plan is. He gave up a safe House seat to join the Trump administration, so clearly he's done with the lower chamber. If a nice, long Senate career was his plan, well, the red carpet wasn't going to be any wider or any redder than it was in this cycle. And the other Kansas senator, Jerry Moran (R), is a young whippersnapper—by U.S. Senate standards—at the tender age of 66, so that seat likely won't be open soon. Pompeo surely knows his Secretaryship could end within the year and, even if it doesn't, few cabinet secretaries survive a full term with Trump.

It is at least possible that the Secretary has his eye on the big chair. However, assuming the GOP remains the party of Trump in 2024, there are going to be a lot of Trump acolytes lining up for their bite at the apple. Further, a future presidential run would not appear to be well-served by declining the prominence of a U.S. Senate seat, while simultaneously irritating the Republican muckety-mucks. So, the likelihood is that the Secretaryship is terminal, and Pompeo's licking his chops at the thought of a lucrative post-White House career in lobbying, public speaking, media, or all of the above. (Z)

...and Steve King May Join Him

Given COVID-19, plus the violence in the streets, the casting of ballots has been pushed into the background a bit. However, today is something of a mini-Super Tuesday, as voters in Indiana, New Mexico, Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, Maryland, and Pennsylvania will head to the polls (or, more likely, to the mailbox).

There are a few storylines of interest:

  • We will learn whom Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) will face in the general election. Likely, it will be Theresa Greenfield, a political newbie who nonetheless has the backing of the establishment, and who has been raising money hand over fist.

  • Also in Iowa, this may be the end of the line for Rep. Steve King (R-IA). He's raised a paltry $30,000 this cycle, and is up against an establishment-backed candidate (state Sen. Randy Feenstra) who has raised bushels of cash. It probably does not help that King, who is known for his indecorous remarks on race relations, is before voters during a massive flare-up in racial tensions. "There is a little bit of concern that he's become tone deaf to some of these issues," said one King supporter, in the understatement of the decade.

  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is facing a serious challenge from the left, in the person of activist Mckayla Wilkes. Though Hoyer is not a racist like King, he does have the bad luck of being an old, white man running against a black woman whose career has been spent on...reforming the criminal justice system.

  • If Joe Biden wins 425 of the 479 Democratic delegates available, he will formally clinch the Democratic nomination. However, since supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are still voting for him, Biden probably won't get to the top of the hill today.

  • All of these states have switched (at least temporarily) to no-questions-asked absentee ballot voting. Tuesday should throw some light on how fully voters are embracing the option.

All polls will be closed by 10 p.m. ET tonight, though if there's a large number of absentee ballots, some results may not be available until later in the week. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Missouri potentially in play? As we noted in this week's Q&A, there are some pollsters whose political polls are just a small part of their overall business. We Ask America is one of those, so we don't have as much confidence in them as we'd have in, say, Marist or SurveyUSA. However, they don't appear to have a Democratic bias, and the numbers internally pass the smell test. So, we included them. If the Show Me State really is that close, that's just another headache for Trump 2020.

More importantly, Biden consistently leads in Michigan. There have been 17 polls of the presidential matchup, and the last time Trump came out ahead was...never. It's sure looking like a lost cause, and Pennsylvania is too. Trump is 0-10-1 in polls there, and Biden's average margin (6.5 points) is even higher than in the polls of Michigan (5.5 points).

If Trump loses those two states, that alone shifts the 2016 map to a razor-thin 270-268 win for Trump. Put another way, if Trump cannot hold on to Michigan and Pennsylvania, and can't flip any blue states, then he must have Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Arizona, Texas, Utah, his 1 EV in Maine, and, now it would appear, Missouri. That's a tall order, to say the least. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Michigan 50% 44% May 29 May 30 PPP
Missouri 44% 48% May 26 May 27 We Ask America

Today's Senate Polls

Will Sen. Gary Peters' (D-MI) coattails help Joe Biden? Or will Joe Biden's coattails help Gary Peters? At the moment, it's looking like the latter. Either way, this seat is settling into "safe Democratic" territory. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Michigan Gary Peters* 48% John James 39% May 29 May 30 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun01 Biden Has a Double-Digit Lead over Trump Nationally
Jun01 Riots Become Political
Jun01 The Riots Change the Veep Calculus
Jun01 Maybe Warren Shouldn't Be on the Democratic Ticket
Jun01 Many Companies Are Speaking Out on Racial Justice
Jun01 Republican Plans for the Convention Have Come Out
Jun01 It's High Noon in Kansas
Jun01 Senate Rundown
May31 COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition
May31 Sunday Mailbag
May30 Trump Had a Busy Day on Friday
May30 Saturday Q&A
May30 Today's Presidential Polls
May29 Trump Thumps His Chest
May29 Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
May29 This Certainly Isn't What the Founders Intended...
May29 ...Nor Is This
May29 The Veepstakes, Part I: Key Democratic Pollster Pushes for Warren
May29 The Veepstakes, Part II: Klobuchar Is in Trouble
May29 The Veepstakes, Part III: Cortez Masto Is Out
May29 RNC Working to Save Convention
May29 Today's Presidential Polls
May29 Today's Senate Polls
May28 Campaigns Think That Only 5% of the Voters Are Undecided
May28 Trump's Allies Are Getting Nervous
May28 Rosenstein Will Testify before the Senate Next Week
May28 Trump Threatens Twitter
May28 Pelosi Attacks Trump for Demanding the Show Must Go on
May28 Democrats May Campaign on Judicial Appointments
May28 AFL-CIO Endorses Biden
May28 California Will Investigate Tara Reade for Perjury
May28 Today's Presidential Polls
May28 Today's Senate Polls
May27 Mask Wars
May27 Trump Gone Wild, Part I: Hitting Below the Belt
May27 Trump Gone Wild, Part II: Inaccurate Tweets
May27 Trump Gone Wild, Part III: The North Carolina Plot Thickens
May27 What Is the Bee in Trump's Bonnet?
May27 COVID-19 Diaries, Wednesday Edition
May27 Today's Presidential Polls
May27 Today's Senate Polls
May26 A Tale of Two Memorial Days
May26 Trump Threatens to Yank RNC from Charlotte
May26 Trump Ready to Go Nuclear?
May26 Beware the Bots
May26 This Is Joe Biden's Kind of Campaign
May26 Today's Presidential Polls
May25 Trump Spends the Weekend Golfing
May25 Many States Have Changed Voting Procedures Already
May25 Federal Judge Says Florida Felons Can Vote