• Trump Is Just Making It Up As He Goes
• Lincoln Project Getting Plenty of Oxygen
• Trump Campaign Prepares to Launch "Death Star"
• Trump Campaign Also Investing in Suits over Voting Laws
• A Somewhat Good Poll for Trump
• Burr's Brother-in-Law Also Dumped Stock
• Today's Presidential Polls
Or maybe "out like Flynn" is more apropos. Or even better: "It's good to have friends in high places, so you can get out of any punishment for your misdeeds, like Michael Flynn." Of course, that doesn't roll off the tongue quite so well. In any case, on Thursday, the Dept. of Justice filed paperwork to drop its ongoing case against former NSA Michael Flynn.
Flynn, you will recall, was busted for lying to the FBI. His guilt was clear to everyone, including the folks in the Trump administration, which fired him for repeating his lies to VP Mike Pence. The former NSA was caught so dead-to-rights that he copped a plea deal more than two years ago, admitting guilt and offering cooperation in exchange for a reduced sentence. That cooperation did not happen, and Flynn has been trying to withdraw his guilty plea. Now, it looks like that won't even be necessary. In Thursday's filing, the William Barr-led Justice Department said that it just wasn't fair to prosecute Flynn because the lies he told were immaterial to the investigation being conducted.
Flynn is not entirely out of the woods yet, as a federal judge will have to agree to dismiss the charges (and the guilty plea). Usually, judges abide by the wishes of the Justice Dept. On the other hand, the Justice Dept. does not typically back down on prosecutions where it not only has the defendant dead-to-rights, it already has a guilty plea (actually, two of them) in the books. Since this whole situation is giving off an odor that ain't rose petals, it's possible that the judge (Emmet Sullivan, a Bill Clinton appointee) won't play ball. Even if he does, the charges could be refiled by the next DoJ. Alternatively, Flynn could be prosecuted for the underlying crime he lied about, namely failure to disclose his ties to the Russians.
Oh, and in case there is any question that Barr and his department are serving as fixers for Donald Trump (just as Barr did for George H. W. Bush after Iran-Contra), they also filed paperwork with the Supreme Court on Friday asking John Roberts & Co. to block House Democrats from being able to see secret grand jury records from Robert S. Mueller's investigation. The argument the DoJ made was that the members of the legislature, which used to be a co-equal branch of government, simply cannot be trusted with this kind of sensitive information, and if they get it then "the government will suffer irreparable harm." It is hard to see how that would be true, unless there is something very incriminating about the Trump administration in there. Nonetheless, a 5-4 vote in favor of the petition is likely, meaning the process of undoing and burying the Mueller investigation is almost complete. No wonder Trump likes Barr so much better than he liked former AG Jeff Sessions. (Z)
Will the White House's coronavirus task force survive into June? Who knows? The answer to that question might change multiple times in the next week. For now, it's back on, a 180-degree reversal from the administration's pronouncement on Wednesday that the end of the task force was nigh.
To take another example of public health policy made up on the fly, the White House is putting a lot of stock in the virus progress model prepared by Donald Trump adviser and economist Kevin Hassett. It is...very optimistic, to say the least. How optimistic? Well, it projects that the daily mortality rate from COVID-19 will drop to basically zero by...May 15. That is May 15 of this year, meaning that, to a greater or lesser extent, the pandemic would be in the rearview mirror by next weekend. This is what you get when someone with no relevant expertise, and a predilection for using high-school math, begins with the result they want and then works backward. One wonders if Hassett drew his model on a napkin.
Perhaps you would like a third example? Very well. The CDC, an entity that—unlike Hassett—knows what it's talking about, has developed detailed guidelines for how to reopen the country safely. They did so at the behest of the White House. However, the administration has already rejected the plan, is declaring that the CDC wants to move too slowly, and is demanding a quicker re-opening plan.
It is entirely predictable that the President is "leading" in this fashion. First of all, he puts the needs of Donald Trump above all else, and that means that the country needs to be open and the economy needs to be humming along ASAP. Beyond that, he spends much of his time ensconced in the conservative news bubble. For readers who do not check in regularly with the Fox Newses and Alex Joneses of the world, the overwhelming theme of right-wing news and talk these days is: COVID-19 isn't that big a deal, and we need to move onward and upward.
Exactly why the right-wing media have taken this tack is a subject that scholars will examine carefully in future years, but the list of reasons has to be pretty similar to the list of reasons that right-wing media rejects global warming. That means, among other things:
- A generally anti-science posture
- A reflexive "take the opposite position of the Democrats" tendency
- An ostrich-like instinct to cope with threats by burying one's head in the sand
- Skepticism that aggressive government action can ever be a positive good
- A sense that the bigger this issue is in November, the worse it is for Republicans
In any case, because the right-wing media are downplaying COVID-19, and because Trump is downplaying COVID-19, and because both of those entities are known to turn viciously on any Republicans that go apostate, most of the vulnerable GOP officeholders who are up this year have concluded they have no choice but to climb on board the SS Trump and to sing the praises of his COVID-19 policy to the heavens. That includes Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Martha McSally (R-AZ). The only exceptions are Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who has steered something of a middle course, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who has occasionally been critical of the President, and is running on her own COVID-19 efforts, as opposed to Trump's.
There is one major problem that Trump and his acolytes will eventually have to reckon with, however, and that is: reality. Who knows how often reality actually intrudes on the White House, or what exactly happens when it does, but it's clear that, at least on occasion, the President is forced to exit his bubble. This is why, for example, the coronavirus task force was off and then, after much criticism, was back on. Of course, Trump may try to bend reality to his will shortly by fudging the number of deaths. That may or may not work because if he does, it is possible that some of the real numbers might just "leak" to the media.
And the further that Trump travels down his preferred path, the more that reality will intrude. His somewhat laissez-faire attitude about preventative measures hit close to home on Thursday, as his personal valet tested positive for COVID-19. The President continues to test negative, but isn't it really just a matter of time? He (and VP Mike Pence) keep taking careless risks, and they keep being exposed to people who have the disease. You can only play so many rounds of Russian roulette before you end up on the wrong chamber.
Similarly, although the President is (generally) guided by the most outspoken members of his administration, his base, and the media, the basic fact is that the great majority of Americans don't want a rapid re-opening. Poll after poll after poll reveals that a sizable majority of respondents (usually a 2-to-1 margin) favor a "slow and steady" approach to returning to normalcy. So, Trump is pursuing a course that has only minority support. It's also a course fraught with peril, because if the economy "reopens," but nobody is willing to patronize stores and other businesses, then the "reopening" won't matter much. Further, the general assumption is that the human costs of reopening (increase in COVID-19 diagnoses, increases in deaths) will not be felt until late June or early July. That means the President could end up with egg on his face (and blood on his hands) just a few months before the election.
There is also a fair bit of irony here. Trump's fondest desire is to be reelected (whether out of a desire for validation, or a desire to stay out of prison, is something only he knows). When COVID-19 first appeared on the horizon, he could have made different choices in terms of taking it seriously and responding aggressively in the early going. Instead, he downplayed and denied until it was too late, and since then he's spent most of his time chasing his tail. Hence the grade of D- awarded by Melinda Gates, who knows a thing or two about pandemics, to the administration for its handling of the coronavirus.
For some indication as to how things might have gone if the President had taken a different course, look no further than Germany. There, Angela Merkel was a lame duck who was sinking into the muck before COVID-19 hit. But now, thanks to her effective handling of the pandemic, her approval rating has surged, and she looks set to end her time in office on a high note. Oh, and because COVID-19 infections are on the downswing in Germany (truly on the downswing, not wishful-thinking on the downswing), Germany is moving forward with reopening, with substantial public buy-in. It wasn't long ago that the President of the United States was regarded as the leader of the free world, but these days that title may have been ceded to the Chancellor of Germany. (Z)
We pointed out yesterday and the day before that the Trump administration would do well to ignore the anti-Trump-Republican group The Lincoln Project. Maybe they don't read this site, because they're clearly not getting the message. Giving the George Conway-led group even more exposure on Thursday was...his wife Kellyanne Conway, who went on Fox News to declare that she is a winner who got her candidate elected president, while the members of the Lincoln Project are losers who don't know how to win elections. The dinner conversation in the Conway household must be absolutely delightful.
In any case, George & Co. may or may not be losers, but they definitely know something about seizing the moment when it arrives. To start, as part of his campaign of poking the bear as frequently and sharply as is possible, Conway penned a rather unflattering op-ed in The Washington Post. The key passage:
Trump's narcissism deadens any ability he might otherwise have had to carry out the duties of a president in the manner the Constitution requires. He's so self-obsessed, he can only act for himself, not for the nation. It's why he was impeached, and why he should have been removed from office.
And it's why he reacts with such rage. He fears the truth. He fears being revealed for what he truly is. Extreme narcissists exaggerate their achievements and talents, and so Trump has spent his life building up a false image of himself—not just for others, but for himself, to protect his deeply fragile ego. He lies endlessly, not just in the way sociopaths do, which is to con others, but also to delude himself. He claims to be a "genius," even though he apparently can't spell, can't punctuate, can't do math and lacks geographic literacy, and even though his own appointees have privately called him a "moron," an "idiot," a "dope," and "dumb." Now, God help us, he fancies himself an expert in virology and infectious diseases.
The President hasn't taken the bait yet, but morning is when the Twitter storms generally come, so we'll see what happens today.
The Conways are not the only politically mixed marriage out there. Notably Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican and Libertarian strategist Mary Matalin have been married for 27 years and have two children. But they say that they never talk politics at home and neither of them writes scathing op-eds in the Washington Post every couple of weeks implicitly and viciously attacking the other one. They go to work, devise strategies to defeat the other one's party, then come home and talk about the kids. Seems to work.
Meanwhile, the money is pouring into the Lincoln Project's coffers; this week's take is nearing $2 million. And lest ye think that the President is their only target, they will also be using some of that money to try to take down his most vulnerable allies in the Senate. First up is an ad that is entitled "Trump Hack" and is aimed at Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ):
It's an unusual ad that tries to get people to vote Democratic by invoking the memories of John McCain and Barry Goldwater, but these are unusual times. So far, the new ad has only a couple hundred thousand views, but that can change quickly if the President and his media friends start bellyaching about it. (Z)
Donald Trump's polling numbers are not so good, according to most pollsters (but see below). It's clear to everyone, including the President, that he's being hurt badly by COVID-19 and the consequences it is producing. So, the President and his campaign manager Brad Parscale have cooked up a plan to change the narrative, and are going to use a chunk of their massive war chest to launch a massive anti-Joe Biden ad blitz. Parscale announced the news thusly:
For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc.— Brad Parscale - Download our Trump 2020 App today! (@parscale) May 7, 2020
In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time. pic.twitter.com/aJgCNfx1m0
The general theme of the ad blitz is "Joe Biden won't stand up to China." In fact, the spots make liberal use of the would-be catchphrase "Joe cuddles China."
We will see what happens in the polls, but we're skeptical this will have much of an impact. First of all, "Joe cuddles China" is no "Tricky Dick" or "Where's the beef" or "Swift Boaters for Truth" or "Lock her up!" There is zero chance that such a flimsy (and vaguely effeminate) phrase catches on with Trump's heavily male base. Further, the salience of "I saw a mean commercial about Joe Biden" hardly compares to "My grandmother's in the hospital, and I haven't had work in five weeks."
Meanwhile, is there a rule that you cannot be in the Republican Party unless you completely fail to understand pop culture references? It is true that the Death Star was big and scary. However, it is also true that the folks who built the Death Star were literally modeled on the Nazis (when George Lucas was making Star Wars in 1977, he screened Triumph of the Will multiple times for ideas about how to capture fascism on camera). It is similarly true that the fellows most responsible for the Death Star project—Emperor Sheev Palpatine and Darth Vader—had it blow up in their faces two different times, leading to their downfalls. And that is before we talk about the fact that the U.S. is in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 76,000 people and counting. As a result of all of this, #DeathStar was the #1 trending topic on Twitter on Thursday, and not in a good way for Team Trump. For example:
You do understand that the people who built the Death Star were the bad guys, right? Also they lost. https://t.co/U0g5nYCet9— Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) May 7, 2020
No Star Wars expert, but doesn’t the Death Star...get blown up? https://t.co/plf7ztTLAV— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) May 7, 2020
In under four years, @realDonaldTrump has ruined America’s principles, reputation, economy, safety and sanity.— Alex Vickery-Howe (@AlexVickeryHowe) May 7, 2020
Now his supporters are comparing his election plan to the #DeathStar — a super weapon designed by space Nazis who worship a religious cult.
Is this “winning”? pic.twitter.com/0UDGaVmdQq
I'm a little rusty on my Star Wars, but the only use of the Death Star was to kill millions of civilians as an act of terror in service of building a fascist republic, right? A little too on the nose.— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) May 7, 2020
In other words, it was a pretty deplorable comparison by Parscale. (Z)
The conventional wisdom is that higher turnout favors the Democrats, primarily because that party has a larger number of "Sometimes I vote, sometimes I don't" members. Consistent with that, the Democratic Party and affiliated super PACs and activist groups are filing lawsuits left, right, and sideways in an effort to make voting as easy as possible and as widely available as possible. Meanwhile, the Republicans are doing what they can to push back. Consequently, the Trump campaign will be spending its money on things in addition to its Death Star. That includes $20 million set aside for lawsuits meant to keep voting rights as limited as is possible.
One wonders how it is possible for a person to think of themselves as a patriot and a supporter of democracy, and yet want to limit voting rights. In any event, the big issue of this year—one that will push voter ID laws to the backburner, to an extent—will be the availability of voting by mail. Republicans would like that option to be available only to older people (i.e., folks that skew Republican), with younger people required to appear at the polls in person. This is going to land on the Supreme Court's docket sooner rather than later, and we will learn if John Roberts thinks the 26th Amendment can be "interpreted" in a way that supports this state of affairs. (Z)
After a run of very bad polls, in which key purple states responded like blue states, and key red states responded like purple states, Donald Trump finally got a somewhat good poll. It comes courtesy of Change Research, which talked to 3,544 in the key states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and found that the President leads Joe Biden by two points across those states, 47% to 45%.
There are several reasons that we call this a "somewhat" good poll, as opposed to a good poll. The first is that the gap between candidates is within the margin of error. The second is that Change Research is a mediocre (online) pollster. The third is that there are many ways that a candidate could be +2% across six states, and a lot of those ways involve winning some states and losing others. Trump really needs all six of these (or, at very least, four or five of six).
Most significant, though, is that Change Research's results are at odds with pretty much every other polling house. Here are the three most recent non-Change polls of each of the six states:
|Arizona average||48.3%||44%||Biden +4.3%|
|Florida average||46.7%||44.3%||Biden +2.4%|
|Michigan average||46%||41%||Biden +5%|
|North Carolina||50%||45%||Biden +5%|
|North Carolina||48%||47%||Biden +1%|
|North Carolina||42%||49%||Trump +7%|
|North Carolina average||46.7%||47%||Trump +0.3%|
|Pennsylvania average||49%||42.3%||Biden +6.7%|
|Wisconsin average||46.7%||44%||Biden 2.7%|
In short, the Change Research poll is an outlier. Not so much of an outlier that it can be dismissed out of hand, but enough that one cannot have much confidence in it. Especially problematic, in this regard, is that Change did not break its results down by state, so it's not possible to make apples to apples comparisons with other pollsters.
As we have pointed out before, all of the polls we use are listed on the site here. The link is also present at the upper right-hand corner of the page as "Downloadable polling data." Note that different sites have different criteria for including or not including polls. We try our best to exclude political consultants whose business model is helping candidates for one party win elections. We simply don't trust them. For example, here is the published client list for McLaughlin & Associates. See if you can guess which team they are on. There are also plenty of consultant/pollsters on the other team. We also avoid pollsters that FiveThirtyEight has rated worse than "C-". On the other hand, we generally accept polls from small colleges and universities that want to get into the polling business. As far as we know, they may be a bit inexperienced, but there is no reason to believe they have an axe to grind. (Z & V)
In February, members of the U.S. Senate received a briefing about the looming COVID-19 pandemic, and the likely effects it might have. Some of them, most notably Kelly Loeffler and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), made some highly profitable stock transactions very soon thereafter. These transactions were either clairvoyant or illegal under the terms of the STOCK Act, which forbids members of Congress from trading on insider information.
Now Burr's brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, has also been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Fauth sold close to $300,000 worth of shares in companies likely to be affected adversely by the pandemic. He executed his transactions on exactly the same day Burr did, and avoided in excess of $100,000 in losses as a result. As Fauth is not himself a member of Congress, his actions would not violate the STOCK Act, but they could be a violation of anti-insider trading laws.
Burr's lawyer says there was no family coordination and that all of this is just a big coincidence. The lawyer did not mention whether he has any bridges for sale, or if he has $50 million stashed in a bank in Nigeria that he desperately needs your help to expatriate. In any case, Burr is not running for reelection, and Fauth never ran for election in the first place. However, the more "coincidences" that pop up, the more it's hard to believe in any one of the "coincidences." Loeffler most certainly is up this year, was already vulnerable as an appointed senator, and had her hand deeper in the cookie jar than anyone else. Thus, a shady brother-in-law in North Carolina could have significant reverberations to the south in Georgia. Who said all politics is local? (Z)
Joe Biden is going to crush Donald Trump in Massachusetts. Nothing to see here. Move along. (Z)
|Massachusetts||58%||30%||Apr 27||May 01||U. of Mass.|
|Massachusetts||67%||33%||May 05||May 06||Emerson Coll.|
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May07 Trump Is Planning to Call the Number of COVID-19 Deaths Fake News
May07 Trump Doesn't See Eye to Eye with His Campaign
May07 Trump Doesn't See Eye to Eye with His Attorney General
May07 Trump Doesn't See Eye to Eye with Senate Republicans
May07 Private Payrolls Dropped 20 Million People in April
May07 Temporary Layoffs Are Becoming Permanent
May07 Walker Sails Through Confirmation Hearing
May07 Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments about Trump's Tax Returns Next Week
May07 The Streisand Effect, Part II
May07 Today's Presidential Polls
May06 White House Coronavirus Task Force to Shut Down
May06 Republicans Go to Court to Fight COVID-19 Restrictions
May06 Lucy Flores Says She Believes Tara Reade
May06 More Health Issues for Ginsburg
May06 New York Primary Is On, After All
May06 Bernie Just Mild About Liz
May06 For Republicans, Things Are Getting Rocky in the Rockies...
May06 ...and Things Are Getting Ugly in Maine
May06 Today's Presidential Polls
May05 Death Toll Will Shoot up as States Reopen
May05 Honest Abe vs. Not-so-honest Don
May05 New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Vote-by-Mail
May05 Democrats Working on Torrent of Voting-rights Lawsuits
May05 Biden Calls for Any Reade Paperwork to Be Released
May05 Does Biden Have a "Latino Problem"?
May05 Bolton Book Pushed Back Again
May05 Today's Presidential Polls
May04 Biden Crushes Sanders in Kansas Primary
May04 David Axelrod: We Vetted Biden in 2008 and Didn't Find Anything
May04 Why Did Trump Scream at Parscale?
May04 Bush Slams Trump?
May04 Why McConnell Wants the Senate to Meet Despite the Danger
May04 Scott Gottlieb: We Will Have 1,000 Deaths a Day All Summer
May04 Five Ways the Coronavirus Could Change Politics
May04 Will We Ever Go Back to Normal?
May04 Model Shows Democrats with a Slight Edge in Taking over the Senate
May04 Democrats Have Given Up on Doug Jones
May04 What Happens If a Senator Is Appointed to the Cabinet?
May03 Sunday Mailbag
May03 Today's Presidential Polls
May02 Biden Says He Didn't Do It
May02 Saturday Q&A
May02 Today's Presidential Polls
May01 Many State Economies Are in Trouble
May01 Which Chief Executive Is Doing the Worst Right Now?
May01 Trump Administration Wants to Punish China
May01 Justice Department to Investigate Small Business Loan Program
May01 Biden to Address Reade Allegations
May01 Biden and Sanders Strike Delegate Deal