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Political Wire logo Abrams Won’t Say If She’s Being Vetted by Biden
Kentucky and New York Voters May Face Delays
Trump Aides Consider CDC Overhaul
Kudlow Disputes China Trade Talks Are Off
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University of Michigan Withdraws from Hosting Debate

The Economy Is Back--and So Is COVID-19

Donald Trump may pretend that the coronavirus has been licked, but tell that to the people who suddenly find themselves in ICUs on account of it (or worse, in morgues). A dozen states have set records for new cases this week. Nationwide, new cases are up 15% in the past two weeks as a result of opening the economy more. Florida reported over 4,000 new cases on Saturday (the third straight record-setting day), bringing the state's total to 94,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths. And remember, this is a key swing state with a large population of vulnerable seniors. Arizona is another key senior-heavy swing state that is setting records for new cases and deaths. Nationwide, COVID-19 deaths have hit 120,000.

To make it worse, Peter Navarro, the White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, said yesterday that the White House was preparing for the possibility of a second wave of infections and deaths in the fall, at the worst possible time for Trump politically. In fact, the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, FL, could end up being a superspreader event that starts the ball rolling again in Florida. If that happens, the genius who thought of moving the convention to Florida may have some explaining to do and Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC), who kept it out of North Carolina, will win reelection in a romp.

Speaking of Cooper, his popularity and that of the Democratic governors in the three key Rust Belt states, Tony Evers (WI), Gretchen Whitmer (MI), and Tom Wolf (PA), may help Biden. Cooper, Evers, and Wolf all have approval ratings around 60%, while Whitmer's is 55%. If the voters see that the Democratic-run states are keeping the virus under control while it is running amok in Republican-run states, that sends the not-so-subtle message that Democrats are better at protecting public health than Republicans. If COVID-19 is a big issue in October, when the early voting starts, that message could help Biden.

Another (Republican-run) state where the virus is exploding is Texas. It is especially bad in Houston. More than 1,100 infections were recorded in Harris County this past weekend. Officials there warned of a dire outlook and the city's mayor, Sylvester Turner (D), has pleaded with people to wear masks.

In short, just as public health officials warned everyone, by re-opening the economy so quickly, states have created a situation in which the virus can spread very rapidly, thus increasing hospitalizations and the death toll. (V)

The Butt of the Joke

Donald Trump hates to lose money. And he hates to look weak. And he hates low ratings and/or polling numbers. But the thing he hates more than anything else is to be laughed at. He was infuriated when Barack Obama mocked him at the 2011 White House Press Correspondents Dinner, eventually making an early exit. Many folks, not unreasonably, see that day as the starting point for Trump's animosity toward Obama, as well as for his presidential aspirations.

Thanks to Saturday's rally in Tulsa, the President is the butt of the joke again. To start, pictures of the two-thirds empty arena and the virtually deserted overflow area are ubiquitous on social media right now:

Left: there are many empty seats
in the lower part of the bowl, and there is virtually nobody sitting in the upper part; Right: there are perhaps a dozen people milling
around an area with giant TVs that was clearly set up to accomodate a crowd of thousands

This would be embarrassing under the best of circumstances. But for the first rally in months, and with the campaign bragging that they got nearly a million ticket requests? Devastating. And in case the joke about Trump's inability to live up to braggadocio about size does not write itself, Stormy Daniels wrote it for everyone:

That tweet, incidentally, has gotten more likes than any tweet sent by Trump this year.

Daniels isn't the only prominent adversary to poke Trump in the eye on Sunday. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta), who is currently auditioning for the #2 spot on the Democratic ticket, called the rally "an embarrassment." Veteran newsman Dan Rather tweeted: "Paging Sean Spicer for a crowd estimate in Tulsa." The musician Pink observed that she managed to sell out that arena "in about five minutes." And Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) declared that the debut of the movie "Knives Out" on Amazon Prime must have interested people more than a presidential rally.

Making things worse is that the event was undermined, to some unquantifiable extent, by a rather unlikely alliance between two groups: users of the video sharing platform TikTok of K-Pop music. Folks from both communities launched ticket-request campaigns, with the idea of making Trump 2020 overconfident about the prospects of the rally. Nobody knows how many fake ticket requests were sent in, and how many of those made it past the campaign's fraud filters (if they have any). However, it was clearly enough to cause Team Trump to do some unjustified bragging about people's interest level, and also to lull the campaign into a false sense of security, such that they did not work hard enough to drive up turnout. It's likely the attendance would have been low even without the TikTok-ers and the K-Pop-ers, but their efforts certainly exacerbated the problem, while also geometrically increasing the amount of egg on Trump's face.

The Lincoln Project has developed a reputation for moving quickly and hitting Trump where it hurts, so it is not surprising it has an ad up there on Twitter already mocking him:

It took a day for the ad to be viewed 2.5 million times. The ad is also on YouTube, where it got another 400,000 views.

There is obviously plenty of blame to go around here, starting with the fellow who insists on jumping on Twitter and bragging about his numbers even before those numbers are reality (it would seem he never heard about counting your chickens before the eggs are hatched). However, the lion's share of the blame is quite rightly falling on campaign manager Brad Parscale. He is the one who is ultimately responsible for the ticketing process, and he is the one who allowed Trump, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, et al. to make public pronouncements based on shaky numbers. Parscale was all over the place on Sunday pointing fingers at the Democrats, protesters, the media, event staff, etc., while simultaneously insisting that nobody was fooled by all the TikTok and K-Pop ticket requests. (Riiiiight.) He was torched by many, among them Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY):

Reportedly, the members of the Family Trump, including the President, Ivanka, and Jared Kushner, are furious with Parscale.

The point of this item is not schadenfreude, however. It's that the rally disaster could be highly consequential for the Trump 2020 campaign. To wit:

  • Whither Brad Parscale?: When Donald Trump has trouble, he always finds someone to blame. Right now, he's unhappy about the rally, and unhappy about the state of the campaign. He also has no issue cashiering campaign managers, having done it three times in 2016. Oh, and Parscale was already on thin ice before this weekend's debacle. Add it up, and it's not only fair to wonder if the campaign manager can keep his job, it's fair to wonder if he can make it to the end of the month.

  • The next rally?: Obviously, Donald Trump would like to hold a giant, boisterous rally ASAP, so as to erase all memory of what happened in Tulsa. But how can his campaign plausibly make that happen? It's all well to blame the liberal media, or protesters, or a full moon, or some guy hidden behind the grassy knoll, or whatever, but the truth is that people stayed away for more substantive reasons. COVID-19 fears certainly loomed large. Weariness with Trump's act, which is particularly out of step with the historical moment, may have played a role. The state of the economy could have been an issue (gas, possible lodging, etc., cost money). And all of these issues exist before we learn if the rally is going to turn into a superspreader event.

    The campaign may be able to make it harder for people to place fake ticket requests, for example by selling them for $5, thus forcing people to give the campaign a credit card number, something TikTok-ers are not likely to do. They may be able to find a more promising city to play host (although the larger the city, the greater the risk posed by COVID-19). But can they really figure out a way to guarantee a packed (or, at least, a mostly full) house? And can they risk the bad optics of another fiasco?

  • What about the narrative?: Meanwhile, until there is another, more successful rally, the images of this one will linger. The picture of Trump waving the Bible around was pretty bad, but the pictures above may be even worse, because they help create a narrative that the President's support is crumbling, and that enthusiasm for him is waning. That narrative is reinforced by pretty much every poll that comes out. And the longer and more fully that narrative takes hold, the harder it will be for the campaign to raise money, and the more that wavering supporters will feel they might just have permission to jump ship. Remember that when and if a tipping point finally arrives, the consequences tend to follow rapidly.

In short, a very bad week for the President was capped off by a really lousy weekend. If Parscale keeps his job, he is definitely going to earn his salary this month as he tries to figure out how to right the ship. (Z)

Biden Outraises Trump in May

Joe Biden and the DNC raised $81 million in May compared to $74 million for Donald Trump and the RNC. This is the first time this cycle the Democrats have outraised the Republicans. However, the Republicans have more cash on hand, with $265 million in the bank. The Democrats did not announce their new cash-on-hand figure, but at the end of April it was $100 million. If they didn't spend a penny in May, which is unlikely, they would have only $181 million in the bank. In reality, it is less than that.

Going forward, Biden may continue to do better. In previous months, he was competing with other Democratic presidential candidates for money, so the money was being split multiple ways. Now he is getting a larger piece of the pie, although he also has to compete with Democratic Senate and House candidates. (V)

Biden Is Nibbling Away at Trump's Evangelical Base

In 2008, Barack Obama met with dozens of evangelical leaders to tell them about his experience attending a Chicago church for two decades, his belief in Jesus Christ, and his vision of how churches could help deliver social services. It worked. He got 24% of the white evangelical vote, which was up three points from John Kerry in 2004. Obama also doubled Kerry's support among young white evangelicals. Donald Trump's campaign is worried that Joe Biden will be able to do what his former boss did, and make inroads with evangelicals.

Biden is a lifelong practicing Catholic. While evangelicals have a different theology, their reaction to Joe Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate in 2000, is instructive here. On the whole, they liked Lieberman, even though he is an orthodox Jew, because he was clearly very devout and religion was an important part of his life. In contrast, although Trump is nominally a Protestant, in a recent Pew poll fewer than half the respondents think he is even a Christian. In contrast, 55% think Biden is somewhat or very religious. So if he plays his cards right, Biden could do better than previous Democrats with religious voters.

Many evangelical leaders, some of whom are right-wingers for whom religion is something of a cover story, don't like Biden at all on account of his views on abortion and gay rights. After all, the core of Jesus' message was that abortion is murder and you should hate gay people, right? But not all the rank-and-file evangelicals are so rigid, and given a choice between a candidate who is religious and one who is not, some may choose Biden. Trump's problem is that he is slipping with suburban voters and seniors and he needs to make that up somewhere. If he also loses a couple of percent of evangelicals, that would be very bad for him.

One of Biden's strengths is his compassion, and that could play well with evangelical voters, especially when people are dying of COVID-19 and Trump regularly makes clear he couldn't care less about them. Biden doesn't have to win a majority of them, but if he can chip off 3%, as Obama did, it would hit Trump where it hurts.

Also a problem for Trump is that Biden may pick up a couple of points with conservative Catholics. Yes, they are conservative, but they are also Catholic and know there has been only one Catholic president in U.S. history (JFK). Some of them might like there to be a second one. Biden will certainly target the many Catholics in the key Rust Belt states. If Biden picks off a couple of points with a group here and a couple of points with a group there, Trump needs to make that up somewhere, and it may be hard to find a Democratic group where he can pull that off. (V)

Kentucky Primary May Be Chaotic

Tomorrow, Republicans in Kentucky will happily pick Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) to be their Senate nominee, but the state's Democrats will get a choice: the white moderate Amy McGrath or the black progressive Charles Booker. The primary is expected to be a real mess, not unlike Wisconsin's and Georgia's before it.

Due to the coronavirus, many voters will choose to cast absentee ballots—if they can get one. The state has been deluged with requests. As of last week, there were 937,000 requests received, about 27% of all registered voters in the state. No doubt more applications have come in since then. This number is far more than normal, which is about 1.5%, and it is doubtful that the state can handle the flood. Ballots postmarked by tomorrow and received by June 27 will be counted. However, under state law, the results must be known by June 30. It could be tough to meet that.

The other 70% or so will vote in person. Normally there are 3,700 polling places for statewide elections in Kentucky. This year there will be fewer than 200 on account of the shortage of poll workers. The two largest counties, Louisville's county, Jefferson (Pop. 760,000), and Lexington's county, Fayette (Pop. 311,000), each will have a single polling place open.

Jefferson County, in particular, could be a problem. Here is the math: The last time the Democrats had a competitive primary in Kentucky was the 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Then 110,000 Democrats voted in Jefferson County. If we assume the same number this time and that 70% will vote in person, that is 77,000 Democratic primary voters at one polling place. The polls are open daily right now, for about 8 hours a day, and will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a total of 12 hours tomorrow. If, say, 2/3 of that 77,000 tries to vote on Election Day, That comes out to about 4,300 voters per hour or 65 voters per minute. Even if the county has 65 voting booths, it won't have 107 poll workers to check people in and hand them ballots. Chaos is likely.

Furthermore, Jefferson County, which is 54 miles wide, has many black voters (about 20%), and a poor public transportation system. Consequently, many black voters who don't have a car may have trouble voting. This could hurt Booker. Last week activists asked a judge to force the state to open more polling places, but he refused, saying that judges should not interfere with elections at the last minute.

As a consequence of the lack of polling places, lines will be very long and many voters will probably get discouraged by the hours-long wait, give up, and go home. Pollsters often ask: "Are you very enthusiastic, enthusiastic, neutral, not enthusiastic, or not at all enthusiastic about voting for your preferred candidate?" In the past we have said that an unenthusiastic vote counts as much as a very enthusiastic vote, but when you have to stand in line for 5, 6, or 7 hours to vote, the candidate with the most enthusiastic voters is likely to win because the other one's supporters may give up and not vote.

The one good thing that could come out of this is a warning that the state really needs to get its act together for the general election. Whether it will is anyone's guess, though. (V)

New York City Area Also Has Competitive House Primaries Tomorrow

Kentucky isn't the only state with contested primaries tomorrow. New York has a couple of humdingers as well. In many of the races, the challenger wants to be the next Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Let's take them in numerical order. All the incumbents are Democrats.

In NY-09, (Brooklyn), a young progressive black man ran against a six-term incumbent Democrat in 2018 and barely lost. He's trying again tomorrow. Sound familiar? Maybe not. The incumbent is not a tired old white man who is past his sell-by date. It is Yvette Clarke, a youngish (55) black woman who is the 7th most progressive member of the House, even beating liberal icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). The challenger is Adem Bunkeddeko, a community organizer. He can't out-progressive her and he certainly can't out-experience her, nor can he out-gender her. If a progressive black male challenger with no House seniority beats out a progressive female black incumbent with a lot of House seniority, we're going to have trouble explaining it other than the voters were in an angry mood and wanted change, no matter what. Sounds like a good description of the 2016 presidential election, actually. Also in the running is Chaim M. Deutsch, a centrist Democrat who is running a campaign full of dog whistles and aimed at Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews.

In NY-10 (a massively gerrymandered district in Manhattan and Brooklyn), 14-term incumbent Jerrold Nadler, who leads the House Judiciary Committee, is facing a tougher-than-usual challenge. Normally he doesn't face a serious primary and gets 75-95% in the general election. Tomorrow, he will face Lindsey Boylan (35), a progressive young woman who was deputy secretary of economic development for New York State; Jonathan Herzog (26), one of Andrew Yang's campaign staffers; and a couple of others. Nadler's problem isn't that he is a moderate. He ranks #28 among all House members for his progressive score and was the guy who helped impeach Donald Trump. But he is an old (73) white guy at a time where Democrats don't favor old white guys (except for president). His good fortune is to be running against two young progressives, each with a solid following, who may split the voters who want change.

In NY-12 (east Manhattan and west Brooklyn), the contrast between the candidates is much bigger. Fourteen-term incumbent Carolyn Maloney is a 74-year old white woman being challenged by Suraj Patel, a progressive young Indian-American lawyer. He certainly differs from her in one way: His campaign video is available in English, Spanish, and Gujarati. He is also appreciably more progressive than she is. If Patel wins, it will be the new guard throwing out the old guard, much like Ocasio-Cortez beating Joe Crowley in 2018.

In NY-16 (Riverdale through Scarsdale), a young (44) progressive black man, Jamaal Bowman, is taking on Eliot Engel, a 16-term 73-year-old white man who can go mustache-to-mustache with John Bolton and win. Engel is sufficiently popular in his district that he hasn't had a serious primary- or general-election challenge since 2000. But this year he made a huge blunder that could be his undoing. At a press conference discussing the George Floyd protests, he was caught on a hot mic saying: "If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care." Oooooops. Talk about not being in step with the times, especially in a district that is only 32% white. A poll from a progressive group has Bowman ahead by 10 points. Just because the poll was sponsored by a highly partisan group doesn't mean they cooked the books, though. We think this is Engel's last rodeo (although in truth, rodeos aren't that common in Riverdale or Scarsdale).

In NY-17 (the rest of Westchester County plus Rockland County), the second most powerful woman in Congress, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), is retiring after 16 terms. She is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which decides how the government will spend its money. The field of candidates is large enough to create a baseball team from them. Here's the lineup of seven Democrats:

  1. David Buchwald (40) is a state assemblyman who sponsored a bill that would force the release of Donald Trump's NY tax returns
  2. David Carlucci (38) is a state senator who once supported the Republicans and blocked the Democrats in the Senate
  3. Asha Castleberry Hernandez (35) is a veteran who served in Kuwait and Iraq and is now a teacher
  4. Evelyn Farkas (51) is the former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration who sounded the alarm on Russia's interference in the 2016 election
  5. Alison Fine (55) is a former chairwoman of the board of NARAL Pro Choice American Foundation
  6. Mondaire Jones (33) is a progressive who would be the first openly gay black man in Congress if elected
  7. Adam Schliefer (38) is a former assistant U.S. attorney in California and son of a pharmaceutical billionaire

Two Republicans are running for the GOP nomination:

  1. Yehudis Gottesfeld (24) is a chemical engineer with no political experience who is backed by the Rockland County Republican Committee
  2. Maureen McArdle Schulman (?) is a retired firefighter backed by the Westchester County Republican Committee

Given the D+7 tilt of the once-Republican district, it is not surprising that the Democratic side is loaded with heavyweights while the Republican side was lucky to find a couple of sacrificial lambs.

There you have it. In January, AOC could have half a dozen new competitors for the limelight—or none. Since the districts are D+34, D+26, D+31, D+24, and D+7, respectively, all the Democratic primary winners are sure winners in the general election. We'll know in a few days who they are. (V)

Green Party Is Set to Nominate Hawkins

The Green Party National Convention isn't until July 9-12, but its presumptive nominee, Howie Hawkins, a long-time labor activist, is already hard at work trying to persuade supporters of Bernie Sanders to abandon Joe Biden and the Democrats and to join his team. Hawkins recently said: "We've got Bernie Sanders refugees coming in bursts ever since Super Tuesday." His message is: "If you were with Bernie for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, then we're the ticket for those things. Don't waste your vote on what you don't want." It could resonate with Sanders supporters who think Joe Biden isn't going to give them anything they want. Biden's not being Donald Trump isn't enough for all of them.

Nevertheless, Hawkins' role as a spoiler isn't a sure thing. For starters:

  • Some Democrats remember 2016 (and maybe 2000) and know that every vote could count
  • Hawkins doesn't have much money or staff, which makes it hard to run a national campaign
  • The Green Party isn't on the ballot in two dozen states, including some key swing states
  • Hawkins is far less well known than Jill Stein was in 2016

Hawkins ran for governor of New York in 2018 and got 1.8% of the vote. And New York is a very blue state where the outcome was never in doubt, so progressives could vote for a minor party without any worry about throwing the election to the Republicans. If he couldn't even hit 2% under near-perfect circumstances, how is he going to do well in Florida or North Carolina? On the other hand, in those places, a few hundred Green Party votes could give Trump the state. Remember that George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by 537 votes and 92,000 people voted for Ralph Nader in that election.

Hawkins might have a secret weapon: Russia. Vladimir Putin is sure to meddle in the election in many ways, since he believes Donald Trump is a pushover and Joe Biden is anything but. Hawkins doesn't mind. He has appeared on the Kremlin-backed "Russia Today" several times and swatted away criticism with "beggars can't be choosers."

On the other hand, Hawkins didn't get something he was hoping for: The endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America. At least he can console himself that the DSA didn't endorse Biden. A long-time DSA member, David Duhalde, said of Hawkins: "His inability to get taken seriously by the DSA is a reflection on him. I think people are fed up at these quixotic candidacies and that overall speaks to [how] the Green Party project has sort of stalled."

In any event, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg has conducted battleground state polls and concluded that Biden is underperforming Hillary Clinton among Sanders supporters, especially young ones. Clearly Biden has some work to do, especially with potential Green Party supporters. (V)

Democratic Unity Is Fraying Already

The batch of young progressives running in New York and the start of Howie Hawkins' general-election campaign are already tugging on the heartstrings of Bernie Sanders' supporters, and Democrats are worried. Jill Stein's 2016 run still haunts them. Hillary Clinton's former communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, put it this way: "Oh woof. I can't bear to talk about that," meaning that if most of the Jill Stein voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania had voted for Clinton instead of Stein, Hillary would be working on her reelection campaign now. Palmieri's concerned about a repeat performance, with young voters either staying home or voting for Hawkins. Theoretically, Sanders has endorsed Joe Biden, but it's more pro forma than a true conversion. While Sanders truly despises Donald Trump, he expects that Biden might fix some potholes in Eisenhower's Interstate highways and call it a day. That's not the revolution he wants—or any revolution at all (but see below).

Philippe Reines, a long-time Clinton adviser, put it this way: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) hosted a virtual fundraiser for Biden and raised $6 million. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) hosted one, too, and raised $3.5 million for Biden. Sanders has raised...$0 for Biden. If Sanders were to hold a virtual fundraiser and say: "Joe Biden isn't perfect, but he is a decent human being and he is running against a wannabe fascist dictator who must be stopped at all costs. I know times are tough, but please give whatever you can," the Senator could probably raise $10 million and the symbolism would be worth twice that. In addition, Sanders refuses to give his priceless e-mail list to the DNC.

It's not that Sanders has dropped out of politics and gone back to Vermont to catch up on his reading. He is actively campaigning for progressive candidates across the board, especially in Kentucky and New York. Maybe he will devote his efforts to helping Biden when the primaries are over, but by September, some Democrats may feel it is too little, too late, and that his heart isn't in it.

Biden faces a huge enthusiasm gap vs. Trump, and that is where Sanders could really help, ginning up his base by telling them all the dreadful things he expects Trump to do in a second term, unencumbered by reelection. A recent Quinnipiac University poll has Biden at only 57% with Latinos and 58% with young voters. Those are groups Sanders could target.

The dream never dies. A Monmouth University poll last week showed that 36% of Sanders' primary voters want to see the Democratic National Convention nominate Sanders instead of Biden, 11% plan to vote for a third-party candidate, 5% will probably not vote, and 4% will back Trump. In close states, losing 20% of Sanders' voters could mean that Trump ekes out a tiny victory, just as he did in the Rust Belt in 2016. These "I'm-not-voting-for-the-lesser-of-two-evils voters" are what keep Democratic strategists awake at night and what make them more than a little annoyed at Sanders not going whole hog in for Biden, especially with fundraising and the e-mail list. (V)

Sanders Got a Revolution--Just Not His

Bernie Sanders has been promoting a revolution since 2016. Clearly, one did not appear in that year. This year, people have been in the streets protesting for weeks now, with no end in sight. It looks like a revolution! Only it is not the one Sanders predicted or wanted.

His revolution was about class, not race. He wanted things like Medicare for All, free college, and breaking up the big banks. The demonstrators aren't demanding any of these things. They want racial justice, an end to white policemen killing unarmed black civilians, and defunding the police. None of these items were on Sanders' agenda.

During his campaigns, Sanders didn't talk much about race, and when he did, he immediately put it in his usual economic terms, as in "Black people will benefit from Medicare for All" or "Free college will help black students." However, the core of most of his proposals was more government and bigger government. Unfortunately for him, many black voters don't trust the government on account of a long history of it not caring a whit for them and often actively hurting them. This is why Sanders was crushed in the South, both in 2016 and 2020. In Southern states, politics is racially polarized, with nearly all black folks being Democrats and most white folks being Republicans. Consequently, if black voters don't like you in these states, you lose, as Sanders discovered the hard way.

To the extent that Sanders and his supporters are pushing the Democratic Party to the left, they may not be in sync with the times. They can try to get a Medicare for All plank in the platform, but that's not what Joe Biden wants, and it is also not what the demonstrators want. Sanders is not about to change his priorities, either. His greatest strength is that he has core values and never budges from them, no matter what. But right now, his core values are pretty far from the revolution's core values, which leaves him following it, rather than leading it. (V)

Next Up: Faithless Electors

The Supreme Court issued two major decisions last week, one banning companies from discriminating against LGBTQ employees and one allowing Dreamers to remain in the country until the Trump administration manages to get all the paperwork right in order to deport them (which it probably won't be able to do before January).

But the Court isn't finished yet. Another big case that will rock the country when the decision comes down, probably this week or next, is about faithless electors. To briefly review Fifth Grade Social Studies, in November of every presidential election year, people vote for presidential electors in the 50 states and D.C. Then, in December, the electors meet in their respective state capitals, have a couple of beers, and then cast their collective 538 electoral votes any damn way they want to. Oh wait, they are supposed to cast them the way the voters in their states (and in Maine and Nebraska, their districts) instructed them to vote. Except that they don't always do that. In 2016, 10 electors bucked their states and marched to the beat of their own drummers. Electors who do their own thing have come to be known as "faithless electors."

The question before the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in May, is whether states can enforce laws punishing electors for doing their own thing. What makes this case interesting is that Justice Neil Gorsuch made a ruling last week (on the LGBTQ case) based on the principle that it is what the Constitution or law literally says that counts. The founders' or legislators' intentions don't count. It's only the actual words that matter. The original wording of the electors' job was superseded by the 12th Amendment, which starts:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.

Note that no mention is made of "voting for the candidate your state (or district) voted for." So the literal text seems to allow each elector to vote for any natural-born citizen over the age of 35. If that is the case, Gorsuch and the other textualists are either going to have to say that states can't punish electors for voting for anyone who strikes their fancy, since the Constitution doesn't forbid that, or tie themselves in knots explaining why the intent, rather than the words, matters this time.

But even the intent of the founders would seem to regard electors' voting their conscience as a feature, not a bug. After all, the founders didn't trust the people. They were afraid that the people might pick a demagogue who lied all the time, grabbed women by the pu**y, and was unfit for office. That's why they created the Electoral College in the first place. It was to prevent the Great Unwashed from electing an ill-suited president.

If the Court rules that states can punish faithless electors for their faithlessness, presumably the states can determine the punishment. In most states, it is a nominal fine. However, if a state wanted to do so, presumably it could change the punishment to death by firing squad or at least life in prison with no possibility of parole. That might deter all but the most zealous electors from violating the law.

Many people may be wondering who picks each state's electors. If Donald Trump could pick as the 538 Republican electors 538 of his best friends (assuming he has any friends) and Joe Biden could pick 538 of his best friends (assuming he can count to 538 without goofing), then surely no elector will go rogue. But that is not how electors are chosen. Every state has its own procedures for picking electors, and there's the rub. In some states, the state party picks the electors. These are usually state politicians (federal ones are forbidden), long-time party activists, or big donors. Generally these people have been sufficiently vetted for years and are unlikely to go rogue.

However, in other states, electors are chosen at the state convention, just as delegates to the national convention are. In other words, when a state holds its convention in the spring or early summer, attendees can run for delegate to the party's national convention or for elector. Typically, each candidate delegate or candidate elector makes a short speech and at the end the convention attendees vote. These candidates are poorly vetted, may not be long-time party loyalists, and may have their own agendas.

Even worse, it can happen that the state convention and selection of electors happens during a heated primary campaign. Consequently, it is possible for a supporter of a candidate defeated in the primaries to be an elector, and an elector with a grudge against the party's eventual nominee. For example in 2016 in Hawaii, a state that Hillary Clinton won, elector David Mulinix nevertheless voted for Bernie Sanders for president and Elizabeth Warren for vice president. Also, Washington State elector Robert Satiacum Jr. voted for Faith Spotted Eagle for president and Winona LaDuke for vice president. If the Supreme Court allows states to punish faithless electors, this sort of behavior is likely to come to an end.

The other biggies SCOTUS will announce soon are the cases about Trump's taxes. Congress wants them and so does the state of New York. For textualists, the former is a slam dunk. A 1924 law says that when the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee requests anyone's tax returns, the Secretary of the Treasury shall provide them. There are no qualifications whatsoever. The law doesn't say the chairman must have a legislative purpose. If the chairman says he needs some paper to line the bottom of his bird cage, the secretary must comply, although he could foil the chairman by providing the returns on a USB stick. If Justice Neil Gorsuch votes to keep Trump's tax returns from Congress, then all his talk about being a textualist is garbage because the actual text of the 1924 law itself is crystal clear.

The New York case is a routine case in which prosecutors want a tax return to see if the suspect committed tax fraud. The text of the law isn't the issue here. Normally, the prosecutors get evidence without a fight, but because the president is involved, they could imagine all kinds of reasons why the prosecutors can't have what they want. The Court may not want to take sides, however, and could deliver a split decision on the two cases, or a bitter 5-4 decision on each one. It could also punt and send the cases back to the lower courts to study for a couple of years. Chief Justice John Roberts is no fan of Donald Trump, and if ever there were a case where he could stick it to Trump personally big time without being criticized by actual conservatives, this is it.

Finally, SCOTUS could make a major abortion ruling in June Medical Services v. Russo shortly. Stay tuned for the fireworks. (V)

Will the 2020 Polls Be Deja Vu All over Again?

Every time a new poll comes out and says Donald Trump is behind somewhere, he says the polls were wrong in 2016 and they are wrong again now. He is partially right on the former, possibly partially right on the latter. The 2016 RCP average of national polls said Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote by 3%. She won it by 2%, well within the ±3.5% that such polls typically have. Where it went "wrong" is in some of the state polls, especially Wisconsin. Remember, that if a pollster says that Candidate X will get, say, 48 ±3% and Candidate Y will get 47 ±3% and the final result is X 46% and Y 48%, then the pollster got it right, even though many people might think the pollster got it wrong. All polls do is predict a range with 95% confidence, and if the ranges overlap substantially, no matter who wins, the pollster is technically correct if both numbers fall within their respective ranges.

That said, there was a serious polling problem in 2016. No sample of 500-1,000 people is going to have the right number of Democrats, men, seniors, poor people, evangelicals, and every other demographic. So every pollster corrects the raw data based on a model of the electorate. The big error in 2016 was not having education as a category that was corrected for. As it turned out, not enough non-college voters were sampled and there was no correction made for undersampling them. This error explains most of why the pollsters were off in some key states. This time, most serious pollsters are aware of this issue and trying to correct for it. Newbie pollsters, who don't have much experience or data, may still be falling into the same trap, however.

While the undersampling of non-college voters can be corrected for (if the pollster has enough data and a good model), one possible problem still remains, namely the "shy Trump voter" or "Bradley effect." The problem here is that the respondent doesn't want to tell the truth because he or she feels the interviewer will be thinking "bigot" while recording the answer. Since much of the media constantly points out how much Trump lies and how incompetent he is, Trump voters are far more likely to either refuse to be polled or lie about their support than Biden voters. It is hard to get around this problem. One thing that pollsters know is that people are less likely to lie about past actions than future plans. So if they ask: "Who did you vote for last time and who will you vote for this time?" and get "Trump, Biden" as answers, they can attempt to figure out (possibly using focus groups where they dig deep) what fraction of the "Trump, Biden" answers are really "Trump, Trump" and correct for it.

In theory, while some voters might be hesitant to express their true preferences to a human interviewer, there is no reason to be embarrassed when talking to a machine. It really doesn't care. So when a robopollster says: "Press 1 for Biden, press 2 for Trump" the Bradley effect shouldn't be there, or at least should be much reduced. Similarly, online polls in which voters check boxes to indicate their choices should be largely free of that effect. By comparing live interviewer polls with robopolls and online polls, CNN's Harry Enten has tentatively concluded that if there is an effect, it is too small to measure. In particular, Enten noticed that CNN's live interviewer poll conducted by SSRS earlier this month gave Biden a 14-point lead nationally and now a Reuters/Ipsos online poll has Biden 13 points ahead. If there were a "shy Trump voter" effect, Biden should have done much better in the SSRS poll, and he didn't. Still, two polls is a pretty small sample.

Polls, right or wrong, create a bandwagon effect. Some people want to vote for the winner. Or, in some cases, if they feel their candidate is way behind, they won't bother to vote as they feel it is hopeless. Campaigns don't want this, so they want polls to show that their horse is winning the race. Donald Trump doesn't like hearing that he is behind, so he hired veteran Republican pollster John McLaughlin to announce that polls that heavily favor Biden are wrong. Most recently, McLaughlin announced that the recent CNN poll showing Biden at +14 over Trump was "skewed." All we can say is that everyone is McLaughin' at McLaughlin. He knows he was hired simply to diss polls showing Biden way ahead, so he does what he is paid for, probably not bothering to poll at all, or at best to poll and then weight the raw data based on an electorate heavily (and falsely) skewed to the Republicans.

The media also play a role here. CNN, for example, has launched a new standard polls have to meet in order for CNN to report them. The standard is based on the these 16 questions and the answers to them:

  1. Who conducted the poll?
  2. How was the poll conducted: live phone interviews, IVR robo-phone calls, online, or other?
  3. Who paid for the poll and why did they commission it?
  4. How many people were interviewed?
  5. Can you please provide the complete set of questions and the interviewer scripts?
  6. In what language(s) were the questions asked?
  7. When was the data collected?
  8. What was the source of the sample (e.g., random-digit dialing, online panelists, etc.)?
  9. Were quotas applied, and if so what were they and at what stage were they applied?
  10. What is the universe of people the sample is trying to measure (e.g., all registered voters, Florida Latinos, etc.)?
  11. If the poll was by telephone, what percentage was to cell phones? If online, were mobile devices accepted?
  12. For phone calls, how many attempts were made to reach the respondent and over what period?
  13. For robocalls, what measures did you take to ensure the respondent was a live person and was paying attention?
  14. What is the margin of error and how did you calculate it?
  15. If the survey was weighted, what factors and weights were used? Be specific about education weighting.
  16. Is there a minimum sample size for any category that is required before you will publish the results for it?

Other media outlets probably have other standards. It is known, for example, that The New York Times has its data guru, Nate Cohn, working closely with its polling partner, Siena College, to ensure high-quality polls.

Our view is somewhat different. We try to make an estimate of how biased the pollster is, rather than how competent it is. Outfits like McLaughlin are probably competent (otherwise Republican candidates other than Trump wouldn't hire them and they couldn't survive in business for long), but we don't believe their public numbers for a second (and we don't get to see the real numbers). In contrast, small colleges that want some free PR probably are honest, if a bit naive, so we generally use their polls. We also are guided by FiveThirtyEight's pollster ratings, although we tread lightly with them because many are based on only a few polls taken within a few days of an election. There is no way to confirm if a poll in June is any good, only a poll taken in the first week of November, and if you have only 3 or 4 of them, it's not a great sample. What we like best are polls taken jointly by a well-known Democratic pollster and a well-known Republican pollster since each one watches the other like a hawk. But we don't want to be too strict, lest we have no data at all to report. In the end, it is always a judgment call.

The one corner case is PPP. It is a Democratic-oriented firm and works for unions, environmental groups, etc., but it is not a campaign consultant that tries to elect Democrats to office. It does a lot of polling, has a "B" rating from FiveThirtyEight, and has a very small Republican bias, so we use it primarily because it does so much polling (we have 39 PPP polls this cycle already) and seems trustworthy.

All this said, the problems of undersampling noncollege voters and dealing with the Bradley Effect are still around, so in that sense Trump is right about the polls. But unlike 2016, the better pollsters are aware of these problems now and at least try to compensate for them. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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