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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Checkmate
      •  Biden Gets Good Reviews...
      •  ...Trump, Not So Much
      •  Republican Convention in Charlotte Looks Doubtful
      •  Team Trump Works Hard to Stymie Vote-by-mail
      •  Today's Presidential Polls


The endgame declaration in the game of chess comes from the Persian شاهمات‎. That is pronounced shah-kh-maht, and it means "the king is dead." We bring that up today, because while Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is not literally dead, his political career certainly is. He was primaried by state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R), and it wasn't close, with Feenstra outpolling King by nearly 10 points, 45.7% to 36.0%. There is no truth to the rumor that King plans to announce his candidacy for sheriff of Maricopa County.

Though King's decline and fall is the story getting the most attention (he's only the second sitting member of Congress to be booted this cycle—Dan Lipinski, D-IL, was the first), there were also some other developments of interest Tuesday night:

  • In the other race of interest in Iowa, Theresa Greenfield (D) won the right to face Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), as was expected.

  • The political career of Valerie Plame (D), the former CIA operative who was at the center of one of the great scandals of the Bush 43 years, is over before it started. She was easily defeated by Teresa Leger Fernandez (D) in NM-03, who will become the new representative for that safe Democratic district in November. Plame has been plagued by a 2017 antisemitic tweet headlined by "America's Jews are driving America's wars."

  • Also ended is the political career of Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (D), who lost the special election for her husband Elijah's former seat, and has now lost the primary as well. Defeating her both times was Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D), who will continue to represent MD-07 in the House through 2023, as this is also a safe Democratic seat.

  • Also in Maryland, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D) easily survived a challenge from the left in the person of Mckayla Wilkes, 74.2% to 17.0%.

  • The voters of Ferguson, MO, elected Ella Jones as the first black mayor in the city's history. That is an interesting contrast to what just happened in Minneapolis.

  • Joe Biden is not the official Democratic nominee yet, but with some ballots still being counted, he is less than 100 delegates away from clinching it.

  • Not every state has released complete vote totals, in part because some states count any ballots postmarked by Election Day, so they don't have all the ballots yet. However, among the states that have produced totals, turnout was way up, by virtue of a dramatic increase in the number of absentee ballots cast. In fact, Montana and Iowa set records for primary turnout. In other words, even if Donald Trump and his campaign don't like it (see below), the momentum for voting by mail continues to grow.

Next week is the rescheduled Georgia primary, when we will find out which Democrat will face Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). After that, the calendar is pretty bare, though Amy McGrath (D) will presumably be chosen as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) opponent on June 23, and Sara Gideon (D) will be chosen as Sen. Susan Collins' (R-ME) opponent on July 14. (Z)

Biden Gets Good Reviews...

As promised, on Tuesday Joe Biden delivered remarks about George Floyd and the current state of civil unrest in the United States. Here is a transcript, and here is the video:

It was a nice touch that the livestream included someone signing the speech for those who are hearing impaired; one wonders why that is not a standard practice for significant addresses, as opposed to an occasional one.

Anyhow, on a scale of 0 to 10, we would rate it a solid 8. Donald Trump is such a godawful public speaker—worse than George W. Bush or Lyndon B. Johnson, which is really saying something—that the calibration on our speech-o-meter might be off right now. But Biden was calm and reassuring, and he hit all the right marks. The presumptive Democratic nominee's lead speechwriter is reportedly Michael Sheehan, who also worked for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and who clearly knows what he is doing.

The insta-response to Biden was generally very positive. A selection:

  • Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg: "[Biden] proved that it is entirely possible to view Floyd's killing as a wake-up call about racism and police brutality while also condemning violence. "

  • Jill Filipovic, CNN: "Biden's speech could not have distinguished him more from President Donald Trump. While Trump seems to think chaos benefits him and acts to drive it at any turn, Biden struck a markedly different tone, issuing a call for calm, reconciliation, and understanding. "

  • William Saletan, Slate: "After three years of Trump, [this is] just what we need."

  • Michelle Ruiz, Vogue: "[Biden] should already be embraced as our de facto national leader."

  • Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: "This was Biden's most impressive moment in more than 40 years of public service. He gave us a choice—to be our best selves or to be our worst, to unite and heal or to go to war with one another. He showed us he can be president. Indeed, he is the closest thing we have to one right now."

  • Steve Schmidt, The Lincoln Project: "These are the words of an American statesman and America's hope against Trump's grotesqueries."

Not everyone was impressed. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board dismissed the speech as "mush," while Fox News' Karl Rove conceded that the address had "moments of eloquence," but concluded that, in the end, "it was a campaign speech." That, folks, is the kind of insight that you only have after decades in the business. Who else could have figured out that a speech given by a presidential candidate five months before an election might be part of his campaign? And as a follow-up, Rove's horse in 2008 was John McCain, in 2012 it was Newt Gingrich, and in 2016 it was Jeb! What is the expiration date for a political operative whose last notable success was nearly two decades ago?

In short, most commentators—beyond those whose paychecks are being signed by Rupert Murdoch—responded favorably to the speech. The rank-and-file seem to like it, too, as Biden's donations surged on Tuesday. At very least, the candidate had a much better day than his November opponent did. (Z)

...Trump, Not So Much

As we noted yesterday, Donald Trump spent much time this weekend, and on Monday, lashing out and flailing around. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed him to the breaking point, and the protests and violence in the streets may have pushed him beyond it.

There was much to criticize in Trump's response(s), but there are two things that are getting the lion's share of attention. The first of those is his threat to use the military against U.S. citizens. Folks at the Pentagon cannot openly criticize their commander-in-chief, but behind the scenes they admit to being unhappy with Trump's threats, as well as his politicization of the armed forces. Former Pentagon officials, meanwhile, are not so constrained, and are much freer to say what they want. For example, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.), who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, ripped into the President in an op-ed published in The Atlantic. "Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not 'battle spaces' to be dominated, and must never become so," writes Mullen, while concluding that "This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership."

The other thing that Trump is getting absolutely crushed over is his visit to and photo-op at St. John's Episcopal Church. If you haven't seen the photo, which is now all over the Internet, here it is:

Trump, standing in front of the church,
holds up a Bible with about as little enthusiasm as is possible. He kind of looks like he's hailing a taxi cab.

This whole thing is really and truly mystifying—exactly how thick is the bubble that surrounds the White House? How could they think gassing peaceful protesters to clear a path would not become a huge national story? How did they think that particular photo would be a good idea? Could it be any more obvious that Trump is just using the church and the Bible as props? And when the White House media operation actually saw the photo, and the lack of enthusiasm (or any other emotion) on the President's face, why on Earth did they release it? It brings to mind this photo:

Bush the father glances at his wristwatch during the 1992 presidential debates

And this one:

Bush the son looks out the window of Air Force One at the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina

Those became enduring images of the Bushes being out-of-touch, and more than a little thoughtless. This one could become the same for Trump, except that—unlike the two Bush photos—this one was deliberately staged by the President. How does a guy whose expertise is ostensibly PR and marketing make a mistake like this?

And there is no doubt about it, it was a mistake. Episcopal leaders across the nation took to Facebook, Twitter, the op-ed pages, and many other platforms to register their outrage. For example, a joint statement issued by nine New England Episcopal bishops declared:

Simply by holding aloft an unopened Bible he presumed to claim Christian endorsement and imply that of The Episcopal Church. Far more disturbingly, he seemed to be affecting the authority of the God and Savior we worship and serve, in order to support his own authority and to wield enhanced use of military force in a perverted attempt to restore peace to our nation.

Folks who are not church leaders were not any kinder. To take one example, Colbert I. King, writing for The Washington Post, declares:

President Trump desecrated the sacred character of St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square—a living presence of faith in the heart of our nation's capital—for his cheap and foul political purposes.

On Monday, security forces under White House command fired rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters to empty streets around the church so that Trump could do what he has never done in his entire time in office: leave the safety of the fortified White House to walk a few yards, with Secret Service and his toadies in tow, to stand at the H Street side of St. John's and get photographed holding up the Holy Bible.

Then he went back home.

Yes, it was a desecration.

This was just one of literally hundreds of op-eds like this published on Tuesday.

The President was defended by some of his friends in the Senate, though in most cases their hearts clearly weren't in it. "I'm not going to critique other people's performances," said Mitch McConnell. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said it was a "strong move" by Trump, while conceding that the use of tear gas "strikes me as not right." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he was sure there was a purpose to the visit, even if he didn't quite understand what that purpose might be. "I guess he's trying to say we're reclaiming the church," the Senator speculated.

In a clear indication that Trump knows he blew it (especially by not taking time to pray, at least for a minute or two), and also a clear indication that he doesn't really learn from his mistakes, he decided to give the whole "visit a religious site" thing another go on Tuesday. For this photo-op at the John Paul II shrine, he made a point of kneeling and praying:

The Trumps kneel at the shrine, 
although just barely, which is otherwise empty but for them

Is this better than the Monday photo? Maybe a little, but not a lot. And it's already gotten a similar response. Washington, D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who has no formal authority over the shrine (it's operated by the Knights of Columbus), declared: "I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles."

Oh, well. Maybe Trump can find a Baptist church to visit on Wednesday. Third time's the charm, right? (Z)

Republican Convention in Charlotte Looks Doubtful

Let's talk about error management, a foundational concept in the study of evolutionary psychology. Imagine you see this out of the corner of your eye, at a distance:

The object is white, about three feet long, and has snake-like curls

Is it a snake, or a stick? The human brain (and, indeed the brain of any mammal) is conditioned to assume it is a snake. This is the classic illustration of error management; an evolutionary imperative that causes species to do whatever possible to minimize the costs of mistakes. Note that the number of mistakes does not matter; only the cost. If a person (or a dog, or a monkey) sees 100 snake-sticks, it is wisest to assume each time that it is a dangerous snake. Even if you incorrectly guess "snake" 85 times, or 95 times, or 99 times, or 100 times, there is little cost to that (unless, for some reason, you desperately need a stick). On the other hand, if you guess "stick" incorrectly just one time, and it's actually a dangerous snake, then you may end up dead. As you can see, it's actually a stick:

It's clearly a stick

Again, though, you should never figure this out, because you should be disinclined to approach it. Again, better to make a vast number of small errors rather than one fatal one.

We bring this up because we think it is fairly germane to the circumstance that Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) finds himself in when it comes to hosting the Republican National Convention. From an error management perspective, here's the situation, as we see it:

  • Politics: It's possible that Cooper could gain some centrist votes by finding a way to work with the RNC, but it's also possible he could lose some lefty votes at the same time. He's also way ahead in polls right now in his reelection bid against Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R).

  • Economics: The convention might bring some cash to Charlotte, but probably not. As we have pointed out, studies of large events in general, and of political conventions in particular, make clear that the extra money brought in by visitors is offset by increased costs of security and sanitation, as well as the "regular" commerce that is pushed aside. In addition, Trump has a well-deserved reputation for not paying his bills. If the RNC has promised to pay for some of the costs of security, for example, Cooper has to consider the possibility that Trump will order the RNC not to pay up and North Carolina and/or Charlotte will be stuck with all the costs.

  • Public Health: The convention certainly isn't going to make North Carolinians any healthier. On the other hand, if things go south (no pun intended), there could be a spike in COVID-19 cases. Who knows how many Tar Heels might get sick? How many might end up dead?

In other words, the potential political and economic benefits are sticks from Cooper's vantage point; of nominal value at best. On the other hand, the public health risk is potentially a big, giant snake—best to avoid, because the possible costs are so great. It is not at all surprising, then, that Cooper is sticking to his guns. He sent a letter to the RNC on Tuesday that made clear that a full-scale convention is not possible, and that a scaled-down convention is the only option if they want to meet in Charlotte.

This provoked an immediate response from the RNC, whose officials toured Nashville on Tuesday to evaluate it as an alternate site. Party pooh-bahs also talked about the possibility of relocating to Orlando or Las Vegas. In addition, Donald Trump hopped on Twitter to announce that he's taking his ball and going, to declare that he's moving his convention elsewhere.

The Nashville tour and the Trump tweet are probably just bluffs designed to hold Cooper's feet to the fire. However, there's no way he's backing down. That would appear to leave Trump and his party with four options:

  1. Go virtual, as the Democrats are likely to do.
  2. Eat crow, and accept Cooper's dictums.
  3. Move to another city, which would be a logistical mess, and could well come with the same restrictions.
  4. Meet at a Trump resort, which means a smaller crowd, as well as a four-day-long reminder of the President's propensity for profiting off the presidency.

Our guess is that #2 is most likely, but really, who knows? (Z)

Team Trump Works Hard to Stymie Vote-by-mail

Donald Trump is absolutely convinced that expanded vote-by-mail will hurt his chances at reelection. It is not clear if that is true, since this year, expanded absentee ballots might save the pro-Trump votes of elderly voters who otherwise might stay away from the polls for safety reasons. It is also not clear if the people in Trump's orbit share his belief, although that doesn't matter much, because what the boss wants, the boss gets.

In any event, the Trump campaign, the RNC, and Trump-allied super PACs have set aside millions of dollars to try to limit absentee voting as much as possible. There will be anti-absentee advertising campaigns (propaganda?), there will be lawsuits, there will be lobbying. Taking the lead is Trump lawyer William Consovoy, who knows a fair bit about winning these sorts of battles.

It is certainly possible that these efforts will have the desired result. Previously, anti-vote-by-mail efforts were largely limited to the fringes of the GOP, but now the big boys and girls are on board. On the other hand, states have wide latitude in deciding how voting is conducted, vote-by-mail already has a long track record, and there is much political pressure on state officials to keep people safe this November. Plus, absentee balloting continues to work out just fine in primaries, as it did on Tuesday night (see above). So, it sure seems like Team Trump is fighting an uphill battle. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Finally, a state Donald Trump won't have to spend any time or money to defend. Kansas is safe right now, and if it ceases to be so, reelection is a lost cause. But remember, in politics a week is a long time. Now that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not filed to run for the Senate and the filing deadline passed on Monday, there is a chance Kansas Republicans will pick right-wing firebrand Kris Kobach as their nominee. If they do, Kansas Democrats will be energized and Kansas moderate Republicans will be disgusted and the presidential race could be closer. Chances are Trump will still win, but it could be tighter. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Kansas 40% 52% May 30 Jun 01 Civiqs

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun02 Trump Channels His Inner Tyrant...
Jun02 ...Which Is Playing Right into the Hands of Democrats...
Jun02 ...But Could Trump Have the Last Laugh?
Jun02 The G-7 May Be Falling Apart
Jun02 Pompeo Is Pompeout...
Jun02 ...and Steve King May Join Him
Jun02 Today's Presidential Polls
Jun02 Today's Senate Polls
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