Just Half Would Get Vaccine
Trump Wants Troops In Afghanistan Home by Election
A Presidential Smear
California DA Opens Investigation Into Tara Reade
Rubio Zeroes In On Russia, Not Obama
• Trump Threatens to Yank RNC from Charlotte
• Trump Ready to Go Nuclear?
• Beware the Bots
• This Is Joe Biden's Kind of Campaign
• Today's Presidential Polls
Yesterday was Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day when it started during the Civil War), the holiday that honors the nation's war dead. It is one of the triad of national political holidays, alongside Independence Day and Veterans Day, and it demands some sort of meaningful gesture from presidents, or would-be presidents. So, Donald Trump hightailed it back to Washington from his golf weekend, and Joe Biden emerged from his basement for the first time in many weeks, each of them to commemorate the occasion in their own way.
The most notable—and perhaps most characteristic—difference is immediately evident in pictures of the First Couple and the would-be First Couple:
There is nothing surprising here; Donald Trump has taken the positions that COVID-19 is overblown, the crisis is basically over, and masks are for the weak. Joe Biden has taken the opposite positions. If there's anything worth noting here, it's probably that Melania Trump is basically a First Lady in absentia and, by all indications, plays a very limited role in the administration. However, on those occasions she's called upon to make a public appearance, she is more than happy to toe the party line.
When it comes to the remarks that the two men delivered (one brief set for Biden, one brief and one longer for Trump), the actual words were not especially notable, beyond being the standard Memorial Day stuff. What got the most attention, after the masks, was the President's...instability, for lack of a better word. We don't mean "stable genius" type stability, we mean his literal sense of balance. See, for example:
Is the President having trouble standing up straight as the National Anthem begins at Arlington Cemetary or am I seeing things? pic.twitter.com/vj81gl4gwO— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) May 25, 2020
Was the slight breeze giving him issues? Was he wearing too-large lifts in his shoes? Is there some underlying physical issue? Those are the most common theories, though only Trump knows for sure.
After their public appearances, Trump and Biden both got out their iPhones for a little tweeting. The former Veep sent a total of four tweets, all of them consistent with the spirit of the day, including this one:
There’s not a single thing the American people can’t do if we do it together.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 26, 2020
Trump, for his part, sent out 24 tweets. They were evenly divided; half of them were the sort of Memorial Day tweets that any president might have sent out, and the other half involved the President celebrating his own greatness or attacking his enemies. An example from the latter group:
Nobody in 50 years has been WEAKER on China than Sleepy Joe Biden. He was asleep at the wheel. He gave them EVERYTHING they wanted, including rip-off Trade Deals. I am getting it all back!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020
Anyone who goes to the polls on Nov. 3 and does not realize that they are choosing not only between very different political agendas, but also very different styles, has not been paying attention. (Z)
Speaking of Monday's angry presidential tweets, four of them lit into North Carolina governor Roy Cooper (D), including this one:
I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August. Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020
The basic idea is that Cooper needs to step up right now and promise that the Republicans can have their convention in August, or else the GOP might just have to take its business elsewhere.
Whether Trump knows it or not, this is an empty threat, for several reasons:
- Economics: There are many people who believe that big events (Super Bowls, Olympics,
political conventions, etc.) are boons for the local economy of the places where they are held. Not so much, as it turns
out. Yes, these kinds of events bring a lot of people and a lot of money to town. However, they also cost a lot of money
in terms of increased costs in security, sanitation, etc. They also tend to push out a lot of economic activity that
would otherwise take place. Robert A. Baade, Robert Baumann, and Victor A. Matheson specifically
took a look
at the cost-benefit analysis of holding political conventions and found that they are a wash in the best of
circumstances, and a net loss in all other circumstances. So, it's not such a big deal if the RNC takes its business
elsewhere (as indicated by the fact that only two cities offered to host the convention in the first place, and the fact
that the DoJ was compelled to chip in $50 million toward security costs).
- Politics, Part I: It is true that Cooper was elected in 2016 by a very small margin (less than
10,000 votes), and that he needed some crossover votes to pull that off. However, he's in a very different position as
he runs for reelection in 2020. The Governor's last run was in a Republican wave year, and he was challenging an
incumbent. This time, by contrast, it looks to be a Democratic wave year, Cooper himself is the incumbent, and his
opponent—Lt. Gov. Dan Forest—is none too popular. The race has been very well polled, and as you can see:
Pollster Dates Cooper Forest Cooper Lead Neighbourhood Research & Media May 12–21, 2020 47% 35% 12% East Carolina University May 7–9, 2020 51% 36% 15% Civiqs/Daily Kos May 2–4, 2020 53% 44% 9% Meredith College April 27–28, 2020 52% 32% 20% SurveyUSA April 23–26, 2020 57% 30% 27% Public Policy Polling April 20–21, 2020 53% 40% 13% Garin-Hart-Yang/Put NC First April 13–18, 2020 55% 36% 19% Public Policy Polling April 14–15, 2020 50% 36% 14% Harper Polling/Civitas (R) April 5–7, 2020 50% 33% 17%
It's clear that Cooper is in the driver's seat, leading Forest by double digits in eight of nine recent polls, and by 9% in the ninth. The Governor has no particular need to court Trump voters; he just needs to keep his base of support intact.
- COVID-19: Everything we write above would hold true even if a pandemic was not underway
right now. It becomes doubly true in a world with COVID-19. The economics of a convention become even more grim if
Cooper has to institute limits on how many people can attend, or he has to limit public spaces to conventioneers only,
or he has to play some role in testing/temperature-taking for attendees, or has to implement patrols to make sure people
are behaving responsibly. There is zero chance that the city can make money off this convention. Meanwhile, the quickest
way Cooper could bleed his significant lead in the polls would be to allow the convention to move forward, to have an
outbreak of COVID-19 in Charlotte, and for a large number of people to die in September.
Put it this way, which is the better position for Cooper to stand on? (1) "I put my constituents' lives at risk in order to accommodate Donald Trump's demands," or (2) "I have no higher priority than the health and well-being of my constituents, even if it means standing up to Donald Trump."
- Politics, Part II: Part of the reason that the Republicans chose North Carolina is that
they hoped for a little boost in a state that will have a tight presidential election and a tight Senate election. The
evidence that conventions actually give this sort of boost is scant, but that was the goal. Naturally, if the Party
moves its convention elsewhere, they lose this benefit.
The backup plan is, allegedly, Trump Doral in Miami. It's true that Florida is also a swing state, but it has no Senate race this year. Further, holding the convention at a Trump resort might remind folks of the President's habit of profiting off his office, and it will also deny him the shots of huge, raucous crowds he so desperately wants (since Trump Doral can't hold nearly as many people).
In short, losing the convention probably isn't a bad thing for North Carolina or for Roy Cooper, and, under the circumstances, it may even be a relief to them to have it out of their hair. Meanwhile, it probably is a bad thing for Trump and the Republican Party, since any alternate location would almost certainly be inferior.
So, what is Trump's game here? Maybe this is just the garden-variety grousing, and there's no larger meaning. Or, maybe he's tired of the convention being in limbo, and he wants resolution now. It's also possible, however, that the President already knows that a convention is not viable, and that he's just trying to pass the blame to a scapegoat.
Whatever the case may be, Cooper has thus far been noncommittal, offering only vague platitudes in response to the President's slings and arrows. But given that the convention date is drawing near (August 24-27), and that planning needs to shift into high gear soon, the rubber is about to meet the road. And Cooper will likely shift from platitudes to calling the President's bluff, something along the lines of, "We can only hold the convention here if [fill in the blank] conditions are met, so as to safeguard the public. Otherwise, best of luck to the Republican Party as they search for a new venue." (Z)
This news was implied by the Trump administration's withdrawal last week from the second of three major arms-control treaties with Russia. And now it is confirmed: Team Trump is thinking about conducting the United States' first nuclear arms test in nearly 30 years.
At this point, let's talk a little history. The heyday of nuclear testing came, of course, during the Cold War, especially the 1950s. There were two major purposes behind the testing. The first, and more obvious, was to better understand nuclear weapons and how they work. There were many questions back then about what type of bomb design (and what type of fissile material) worked best, exactly how much damage various types of bombs might do, the short- and medium- term effects of nuclear radiation, and so forth.
A second purpose, perhaps less obvious to the average citizen, but quite clear to the political and military leadership, was intimidation. The Russians tried to convince the Americans that their nuclear capacity was vast and scary, and the Americans tried to convince the Russians of the same. The most obvious manifestation of this was the construction of what were called "propaganda" bombs—nuclear weapons so large that it would be impractical to actually use them (too big to transport, and they would destroy any plane that dropped them anyhow). The sole purpose of these bombs was to throw a scare into the other side.
How far did this little game of chicken proceed? Well, the United States' largest bomb was the Castle Bravo, which was detonated in 1954, weighed nearly 24,000 pounds, and had a yield of 15 megatons of TNT. That made it about 1,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and about 5 times more powerful than all the bombs dropped by the United States in World War II combined. The damage done by the Castle Bravo test remains quite visible on Google Maps, 66 years later. The Russians' largest bomb was Tsar Bomba (a.k.a. "King of Bombs"). It was detonated in 1961, weighed more than 60,000 pounds, and had a yield of 50 megatons of TNT. That one had the power of two volcanoes erupting simultaneously, and leveled an (unpopulated) area about the size of Rhode Island.
Building big and scary bombs may have felt good to leaders in both countries, but the real question was: Were they willing to use them? And, not too long after Tsar Bomba, that question was answered. There was a little matter in 1962, which you may have heard of, called the Cuban Missile Crisis. For 13 days, the fingers of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev hovered right over the button, with advisers on each side telling their leaders that nuclear war was inevitable, and that they might as well get a leg up while there was still a chance. In the end, of course, the crisis was resolved and it became clear that neither side was willing to be the aggressor in (a nuclear) World War III.
Thereafter, the primary concern became an accidental nuclear war that happened as a result of human error or of misunderstandings (an issue that was explored extensively in popular culture, in films like "Dr. Strangelove" and "WarGames" and songs like "99 Luftballoons" and "Forever Young"). The best way to prevent an accidental nuclear war is to reduce the number of weapons in service, and to allow nuclear powers to keep a close eye on one another. And so, the post-Cuban Missile Crisis years witnessed the adoption of a wide range of treaties geared toward those two goals, including the Treaty on Open Skies that the Trump administration announced its intention to abandon last week.
And that brings us back to the present day. With the heyday of nuclear arms testing more than 60 years in the past, and with the (apparent) concluding act of testing nearly 30 years in the past, why would the Trump administration reopen that can of worms? According to administration officials, who are only speaking off the record, the purpose is to throw a scare into the Russians and the Chinese, and to give the U.S. the upper hand in future arms treaty negotiations. In short, and not for the first time, the administration is apparently returning to the geopolitical posture of generations past.
If this really is the plan, then it is, to use the technical term, dumb. First of all, the U.S. still conducts bomb tests, it just doesn't detonate the nuclear payloads anymore. The same is true for the other nuclear powers. So, nobody doubts that America could launch a nuke if it really wanted to. The threat implied by detonating actual nuclear payloads will only have an impact if Russia, China, etc. think that the U.S. might actually deploy a nuclear weapon. But they know that is not going to happen. First of all, they remember what happened in 1962, too. Second, they know that none of the major powers would deliberately launch a nuclear strike because they don't want to suffer the inevitable counterstrike. Third, they know that Trump in particular is squeamish about actually pushing the button, even when we're talking fairly small-scale attacks with conventional bombs.
Another possibility is that all of this nuclear talk is just for the base, and has to do with appearing strong and powerful. If so, we wonder how well that messaging will land. Trump's base skews pretty old, and contains millions of people who remember not only the Cuban Missile Crisis, but also "duck and cover," and nuclear bomb drills, and the like. Will they be pleased by posturing that threatens to bring that era back to life?
Whatever the plan is, Trump is playing with some very dangerous fire here. All of this saber-rattling is unlikely to impress Russia and China, and is unlikely to improve the United States' bargaining position. What it will do, in those countries, is cause them to take steps to solidify their positions, whether that means building more bombs, or conducting arms tests of their own, or engaging in other sorts of Cold War-era maneuvering. And, as people figured out half a century ago, that is the circumstance in which very dangerous accidents can happen.
Further, there is one big difference between the year 2020 and the years in which United States' early nuclear dabbling took place. Today, there are multiple second-tier states that are nuclear, or near-nuclear, including North Korea and Iran. Given the Trump administration's inconsistent, and often hostile, posture toward those nations (especially Iran), this could give them encouragement and political cover to develop their nuclear programs. Those are the nations much more likely to have an accident, or even to launch a nuke on purpose, since they have less to lose.
We wondered last week if this issue will have anything close to the salience it had back in the 1950s and the 1960s, when the world was considerably closer to the brink of nuclear war. We still don't know the answer to that, but given the Trump administration's apparently careless and ill-considered policy, it probably should be a major campaign issue. (Z)
There is much COVID-19 information on Twitter these days. And a fair portion of that is either of dubious quality, or is overtly inflammatory. A new study of 200 million COVID-19 tweets, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, helps us to understand why, at least in part: Nearly half of the COVID-19 tweets (45%) are the work of bots. The bots are particularly likely to spread conspiracy theories, dubious health advice, and complaints about masks/shutdowns.
The researchers have not yet had time or resources to trace the bots back to their source. However, it is clear that someone has an interest in using COVID-19 to sow dissension in the United States in the middle of an election year. It's also clear that mysterious someone has significant technical expertise and extensive financial resources. Perhaps this description brings a possible culprit to mind? It certainly did to one of the lead researchers for the CMU study, computer scientist Kathleen Carley, who said: "We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks."
The evidence is only circumstantial, thus far. However, there is zero question that the Russians (and likely the Chinese) plan to muck around in this year's election. Given that COVID-19 is the hot-button issue of the day, the bad guys would be fools not to leverage it (and whatever they may be, they are not fools). The CMU study is just our first hint that Team Putin has put два and два together, as we would expect them to do.
There is no doubt whose team Vladimir Putin is on. He thinks Trump is dumb and easily manipulated. All he has to do is dangle a 100-story Trump Tower Moscow in front of him, and Trump will do whatever Putin wants. Xi Jinping is a different story. He knows that Trump can be manipulated, but he also knows that Trump really dislikes China and really likes tariffs and really would like to punish China. Biden is more likely to go with business as usual, albeit with a bit of pressure on China to buy a few more American soybeans. So it is a bit difficult to figure out whose team Xi is on. (Z)
As we note above, Joe Biden emerged from his basement on Monday for the first time in weeks. Who knows when he will venture out again? What is clearer, as The Washington Post's Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent point out, is that events have conspired to create a campaign that is practically custom-made for his needs.
To start, everyone knows that Biden has a habit of putting his foot into his mouth, as he did last week with his "you ain't black" remark. It's clearly impossible to completely erase his gaffe-producing potential, but a campaign conducted electronically necessarily involves a lot of pre-recorded messages and edited videos. It also allows for the use of scripts and, if needed, Teleprompters. So, the number of gaffes can be sharply reduced relative to what might happen at rallies, open forums, and the like.
At the same time, the candidate can also focus upon, and emphasize, his strengths. Biden's greatest asset in his political career has been that he's a likable guy who gets along with everyone and thus networks very well. And so, what is he doing from his basement? Networking with his former rivals, in an effort to bring them and their followers into the tent, and to borrow the best parts of their now-abandoned campaigns. For example, he joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a session of calling and talking to supporters, and he (virtually) met up with Pete Buttigieg to hold a small-dollar grassroots fundraiser.
And finally, Biden knows that we are very much in a "throw the bums out" era of American politics. Consider how different Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were from Jimmy Carter, or how different Bill Clinton was from Bush 41, or how different Barack Obama was from Bush 43, or how different Donald Trump was from Obama. Biden spends his days projecting the message that voters these days want to hear the most, it would seem: "I am the opposite of the other guy." Trump is mercurial, Biden is calm. Trump takes a sledgehammer to normalcy, Biden is normalcy. Trump hates the popular Barack Obama, Biden is best buds with #44. Trump has one approach to COVID-19, and Biden has another. In fact, here is the pinned tweet for Biden's Twitter account:
I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 24, 2020
Note that tweet has 1.66 million likes. The most popular tweet Trump ever sent has 840,000 likes, or just over half that. What makes that particularly interesting is that Trump has nearly ten times as many Twitter followers as Biden does.
And speaking of Trump, he's obviously got some advantages over Biden, like access to the bully pulpit, and a large war chest. But, as Waldman and Sargent point out, they aren't doing him much good. The President has leveraged his platform (and his Twitter account) to the hilt, has already dumped $100 million into advertising, and has tried (without much success) to find a scandal he can tar Biden with. The net result of this is that, at best, Trump is treading water. And actually, if you look at Fivethirtyeight's aggregation of approval polls, it appears that the trendlines are headed in the wrong direction for Trump:
Meanwhile, of the last 50 polls of the Trump vs. Biden matchup, there have been two ties, and one (from way back in February) that had Trump leading (by 4 points). The other 47, including every single one released in May, had Biden in the lead.
As we so often point out, a week in politics is a lifetime, and there are many weeks between today and Nov. 3. Nonetheless, it certainly looks like the only thing Joe Biden needs to do is play defense. And it's hard to think of a better place to do that than from one's own basement. (Z)
Marylanders are pretty happy with their Republican governor (78% approval), and pretty unhappy with their Republican president. (Z)
|Maryland||59%||35%||May 19||May 23||Gonzales Research|
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May25 Many States Have Changed Voting Procedures Already
May25 Federal Judge Says Florida Felons Can Vote
May25 Seniors Like Biden
May25 Possible Winner of the Election on Nov. 3: Nobody
May25 Why Does Trump Want Churches to Open?
May25 The Veepstakes Are Heating Up
May25 Will Trump Dump Pence?
May25 Dr. Joanne Jorgensen Is the Libertarian Party Nominee for President
May25 Third-Party Vote is Likely to Be Smaller This Time
May25 Biden Wins the Hawaii Primary
May25 Tara Reade's Lawyer Drops Her
May25 Today's Presidential Polls
May24 COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition
May24 Sunday Mailbag
May24 Today's Presidential Polls
May23 Saturday Q&A
May22 Ratcliffe Confirmed as DNI
May22 U.S. To Pull Out of Another Treaty
May22 A COVID-19 Train Wreck Is Looming
May22 There's No 3-D Chess Going on Here, Part I: Trump vs. Obama
May22 There's No 3-D Chess Going on Here, Part II: Voting by Mail
May22 Warren Likes Obamacare Again
May22 Republican Party Abandons Its Candidate in CA-10
May22 Loeffler Doesn't Know She is Toast
May22 Today's Presidential Polls
May21 Quinnipiac Poll: Biden Has 11-Point Lead Nationally
May21 Michigan Sent Absentee Ballot Applications to All Voters
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May21 Local Officials Are Now Battling Governors about Reopening the Economy
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May21 Supreme Court Blocks House from Accessing Mueller Documents
May21 Florida Health Data Specialist Fired for Refusing to Alter Data Website
May21 Arpaio Is Back
May21 Firm That Lobbied Trump Got a $1.3 Billion Contract to Build Some Fencing
May21 Today's Presidential Polls
May20 Trump Continues to Earn Low Marks for Handling of COVID-19 Pandemic
May20 Will Trump Really Try to Hold Rallies This Year?
May20 Donald Trump, Military President
May20 The Legal Blotter, Part I: Voting Wars Continue in Texas
May20 The Legal Blotter, Part II: Oregon Stay-at-Home Orders Are Back on, for Now
May20 The Legal Blotter, Part III: Another Trump Family Lawsuit
May20 Loeffler is Toast
May20 The COVID Diaries
May20 Today's Presidential Polls
May20 Today's Senate Polls
May19 Pompeo Plot Thickens
May19 Burr Plot Thickens, Too
May19 Trump Is Taking Hydroxychloroquine
May19 The One-Two Punch: Eric Trump...