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Trump Discharged from Walter Reed

Donald Trump values his own life enormously. However, he may value his self-image even more. And so, he departed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, so that he could make a "statement" and then continue his convalescence at the White House.

Poetically, at least, Trump wasn't a great fit for that hospital. After all, it was named for Maj. Walter Reed, a man who took pandemics very seriously, and who helped figure out how to defeat yellow fever. Trump, by contrast, continues to downplay the disease and to behave irresponsibly. In fact, with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let us count the ways:

  1. The Joyride: The President's absolutely unnecessary Sunday limousine trip, undertaken to thrill the pro-Trump crowd gathered outside Walter Reed (and presumably to stroke The Donald's ego), remained under the microscope on Monday. Members of the Secret Service, who normally remain invisible, and who had to speak off-the-record, blasted the President. "That should never have happened," said one. "The frustration with how we're treated when it comes to decisions on this illness goes back before this though. We're not disposable." "It was simply reckless," declared another. "You can't say no," added a third.

  2. The Discharge: Details on the President's health are sketchy and unreliable. Presidential physician Dr. Sean Conley, who has already shown himself willing to put politics above the Hippocratic Oath, said on Monday that Trump's "clinical status" supports departing the hospital, although even Conley conceded that The Donald may not be "out of the woods." Other physicians were far less willing to play cheerleader, pointing out that even if we limit ourselves to the handful of facts that have actually been verified (e.g., oxygen was given, unusual drugs were administered), Trump is in the middle of a particularly vulnerable window right now, and should be under close observation.

    Incidentally, the two people most responsible for persuading Trump that the time had come to return to the White House were Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and social media guru Dan Scavino. Because who needs folks who spent years learning how to practice medicine when you've got political operatives to advise you on how to handle a life- and election-threatening disease?

  3. The Tweet: Shortly before leaving Walter Reed, Trump sent this tweet:

    It would appear that in addition to being no big deal (though the CDC, NIH, and WHO might disagree), COVID-19 is also the fountain of youth. If only someone had told Juan Ponce de León. Of course, the 215,000+ Americans who have already died of the disease might also disagree with both of those propositions.

  4. The Prodigal Son Returns: Continuing with the "it's no big deal" theme, the very first thing Trump did on his return to the White House (after reentering the building via a special flag-lined walkway set up by his staff) was give the thumbs up and then rip his mask off.

  5. The Staff: Trump took few questions from reporters on returning to the White House, but one of the ones that did get asked—how many people around you have now tested positive for COVID-19?—he was unable to answer (the total is currently 30). Many White House staffers are scared witless, especially now that they have to deal with a president who has an active case of the disease and no apparent concern for their health. Presumably, this will not be good for morale.

    Incidentally, the latest high-profile member of the administration to test positive is Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. According to the administration, she has a mild case with no symptoms. With this White House, that could mean anything from "she has a mild case with no symptoms," to "she died last Friday, and the funeral is tomorrow."

  6. Return to Campaigning: Shortly after returning to the White House, Trump got out his phone and made this promise to his followers:

    Assuming he is using a standard meaning of the word "soon," then if he follows through with that, he'll be taking serious risks with his health, his staff's health, and his followers' health.

  7. Return to Rallying: Obviously, a return to the campaign trail, whenever it comes, means a return to rallying. On Monday, spokesperson Jason Miller made clear that there will be no changes in safety protocols at future rallies. That despite the fact that Trump's last rally before falling ill was a greatest hits of worst practices when it comes to pandemic management. Oh, and there's also the small matter that the protocols failed completely, and left Trump seriously ill.

  8. Don't Be Like Mike: As we pointed out yesterday, the Constitution is not well suited to dealing with a situation where both the president and vice president are living, but seriously ill. That means that the best thing for the country right now would be for VP Mike Pence to hunker down in a bunker somewhere, and to do everything possible to make certain that he remains healthy and COVID-free. Of course, there's also an election in a month, and Pence is the highest-profile member of the administration who is currently in a position to hit the campaign trail. That means that the best thing for Trump 2020 right now is some vigorous vice-presidential campaigning. When it comes to choosing between "what's best for the country" and "what's best for Team Trump," you presumably don't need us to tell you which one won out.

In short, the President and his underlings are making very bad choices in terms of his health, in terms of the well-being of those around him, in terms of the stability of the U.S. government, and in terms of setting a good example for the American people. And that is before we talk about the new study suggesting that one-third of hospitalized COVID-19 patients suffer long-term deterioration of neurological function. As you may recall, this was an area where the President already appeared to be rather short of the 99th percentile.

All of these bad choices are being made in service of political gain but, with all due respect to Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino, who have done such a great job of driving Trump's approval rating from 42% all the way up to 43%, it's clear the President is doing himself more harm than good with his approach. As J.G. in San Diego and other readers pointed out this weekend, Trump had a chance here to take lemons and make some lemonade. He might plausibly have made himself into something of a sympathetic figure, particularly if he "turned over a new leaf" in terms of his COVID messaging. Instead, in the rolling CNN/SSRS poll, 72% of respondents now believe Trump has behaved irresponsibly in his handling of his diagnosis, and 60% disapprove of his overall handling of the pandemic.

The President is taking these political hits so that he can reconnect with his base—via limousine joyrides, via reckless tweets, via the resumption of campaigning and rallying—as rapidly as possible. This despite the fact that these people are already on board. It's positively Nixonian—Trump is so insecure that he just can't persuade himself that his supporters really support him, and so he constantly has to re-earn their love and respect. That sort of insecurity is what leads to things like the Watergate break-in, not to mention wild and reckless choices made while one is suffering from a very dangerous disease that has claimed more than a million lives worldwide in the last nine months. (Z)

Thomas and Alito Remind Everyone Where They Stand on Gay Marriage

Kim Davis is the former Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, despite gay marriage having been legalized. She was suspended and eventually jailed, and so she sued. After appeals, her case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday, the Court announced that it would not consider the matter, meaning that Davis' punishments stand.

When the Court declines to hear a case, it is not necessary for any of the justices to comment, though they are allowed to do so if they wish. And justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas just could not resist the opportunity to issue a blistering statement declaring that the decision that legalized gay marriage—Obergefell v. Hodges—is bad law that, in Thomas' words, "enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss."

For social conservatives, the message here could not be more clear: "If we can get another arch-conservative Catholic on the Court—say, someone like Amy Coney Barrett—maybe we can finally roll back some of this pro-LGBTQ+ jurisprudence."

Meanwhile, for Democrats, the message also could not be more clear: "If the Republicans get another arch-conservative Catholic on the Court—say, someone like Amy Coney Barrett—then they could try to roll back nearly anything. Roe? Obergefell? Miranda? Who knows?" In short, even if they did not mean to do so, Thomas and Alito just did an excellent job of warming some moderates up to the idea of adding two or four or six more justices to the Supreme Court. (Z)

The Ballot Wars Are Well Underway

Inasmuch as there are hundreds of ballot-related court cases underway, not to mention politicians and political operatives of various sorts who are trying to gain an advantage in any way they can, there is a lot of news of the sort that we're incorporating into this item.

Since we just talked about the Supreme Court (see above), let's start there. On Monday, they overturned a lower-court order that suspended South Carolina's "you must have a witness sign your absentee ballot" rule. Democrats had argued, successfully prior to Monday, that the witness requirement posed an undue burden in the midst of a pandemic. Now, the Republican position has won out. Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were willing to invalidate all ballots submitted while the rule was stayed, but their five colleagues thought that was too much, and decided that those ballots would still count, as would any un-witnessed ballots received by the end of business on Wednesday.

That's not the only victory for Team Red. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), who is always happy to tote the GOP's water, announced that the number of drop boxes for ballots would be limited to one per county (the same as in Ohio). Texas, as you may have heard, is a very large place, which means that people trying to deliver their ballots could easily spend three or four hours, round trip. For example, if you live in the border town of Lajitas, TX, you're more than 90 miles from the "local" drop box in Alpine, TX.

On the other hand, the Democrats also got some good news. In Iowa, Judge Robert Hanson allowed Iowa counties to send absentee ballot forms with voters' personal information already filled in. In Arizona, Judge Steven P. Logan extended the deadline for voter registration to Oct. 23, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And in Montana, Judge Dana Christensen refused to disallow mail-in voting, and chastised the Trump campaign while he was doing it: "Central to some of the [Trump campaign's] claims is the contention that the upcoming election, both nationally and in Montana, will fall prey to widespread voter fraud. The evidence suggests, however, that this allegation, specifically in Montana, is a fiction."

There was also one other win for Democrats, accompanied by a dash of comic relief. Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are Republican political "operatives"; we put that latter word in quotations because they are so comically inept. They are the duo that tried to entrap Pete Buttigieg in a sexual assault scandal, and then tried the same again with Robert Mueller, among other half-baked scams. Their latest scheme was to target minority voters with threatening robocalls that falsely claimed their mail-in ballots could be used to enforce outstanding warrants or unpaid credit card debts. They were just charged with numerous felonies in Michigan, and charges in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois could follow. And this on top of the multiple charges for securities fraud that Wohl is already facing. He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so someone should really tell him that the presidential pardons he's counting on do not apply to state-level charges. (Z)

Trump Campaign Microtargeted Black Voters

When Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman (see above) cooked up their plan meant to stop some minority voters from casting ballots, they were just taking a cue directly from the Trump campaign. A new report from the UK's Channel 4 news reveals that Team Trump made a conscious effort to persuade Black folks not to vote in the 2016 election. Recognizing that for most of them, a vote for Trump was a bridge too far, the goal of the "voter disengagement tactics" was to get them disenchanted with Hillary Clinton by bombarding them with negative information about the 2016 Democratic nominee.

This makes clear, yet again, that the Trump 2020 campaign has no interest in winning over sizable numbers of Black voters, and no serious expectation of being able to do so. Any appeals of this sort serve two purposes: (1) to give white voters permission to vote for the "not racist" Trump, and (2) maybe to muddy the waters just enough that some Black voters don't feel it's all that important to get to the polls to pull the lever for Joe Biden. The problem here is that there is rather less here to hit Biden with than there was for Clinton. The exception that (really) proves the rule came at the presidential "debate," when Trump tried to get some mileage out of the claim that Joe Biden once referred to Black criminals as "super predators." However, it was actually Hillary Clinton who said that.

In 2016, exit polls revealed that Hillary Clinton got about 89% of the Black vote, as compared to 9% for Donald Trump. At the moment, Joe Biden is polling at around 84% with Black voters, as compared to 10% for Trump, with 7% undecided. That means the potential exists for Biden to equal or surpass Clinton's +80 with the most Democratic of all demographics. Black turnout figures to be way up this year. So, if Biden can reach Clinton's number, or he can come close, then that and his roughly +10 with white voters relative to Clinton will make for a tough combo to beat. (Z)

Black Voters' Absentee Ballots Much More Likely to Be Rejected

One of the big concerns with the 2020 election, given the sharp increase in absentee voting, is ballot "spoilage." With in-person voting, it's pretty rare for a ballot to be rejected (West Palm Beach, FL, circa 2000 notwithstanding). With absentee ballots, the rejection rate is often in the 1-2% range, as ballots are tossed because the signature isn't a close enough match, or at least one of the security envelopes is missing, or the rules have not been followed in some way.

As it turns out, sadly, this is yet another area where Black voters have worse outcomes relative to white voters. Studies have shown that minority voters' absentee ballots are about twice as likely to be kicked as white voters' absentee ballots, and events in 2020 thus far have sustained that hypothesis. In fact, in North Carolina—the early-voting state with the largest percentage of Black voters—it's even worse; Black voters' absentee ballots are being turned down at more than triple the rate of white voters' absentee ballots (7% for Black voters to 2% for white ones).

The reporting on this matter does not make clear exactly what the problem is, beyond noting that the rejections are most commonly due to ballots failing the signature match. If we are looking for a racially/politically motivated explanation, it's possible that poll workers are targeting names that sound "ethnic." There's an above-average chance that a voter named José Martínez is Latino, or that a voter named LaShawna Jackson is Black. If we are looking for a non-racial/non-political and totally innocent explanation, well, we can't think of one. In any case, the lawsuits are flying, of course. Some states require that voters whose ballot was rejected be contacted and given the chance to "cure" the problem, and Democratic lawyers are trying to force the remaining states to do the same. (Z)

All the Way with LBJ

No, not that one. Basketball star LeBron James. Unlike many NBA superstars of recent vintage (most obviously Michael Jordan), James is outspoken when it comes to politics, and is working hard to "be the change you want to see in the world." He's already been a part of efforts to pay off felons' debts in Florida, and to repurpose athletic venues as mega-voting centers, and now he's moving on to his next project: recruiting poll workers.

The organization that James has formed to advance this end—More Than a Vote—also includes a sizable number of his celebrity friends (among them Barack Obama), and is partnered with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Reportedly, More Than a Vote has already recruited more than 10,000 volunteers who will primarily work the polls in minority communities. The organization is particularly focused on the cities of Birmingham, Jackson, Houston, San Antonio, Montgomery, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Flint, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but will also have a presence in other cities. The latter six of those are in clear battleground states and two others—Houston and San Antonio—are in the semi-swingy state of Texas.

We have heard from many readers who are interested in this sort of volunteerism; if you'd like to take a look at what More Than a Vote is doing, or to sign up to work with them, the site is here. (Z)

To Gerrymander or Not to Gerrymander, That Is the Question

When Republicans controlled the state of Virginia, something they did pretty consistently from the 1970s to the 2010s, they were more than happy to use the gerrymander to maintain their grip on power. Indeed, even as the state has gone from purple to blue, the Red Team was able to retain control of at least one house of the state legislature until January 8 of this year.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Democrats not only control the governor's mansion and both houses of the legislature, they also have a comfortable majority of the state's voters. And in November, those voters will pass judgment on Amendment #1, which would take responsibility for drawing the state's electoral maps away from the (now-Democratic-controlled) legislature and would place it in the hands of a bipartisan 16-person commission. This would follow the lead of 21 other states that have adopted a similar approach.

So, Virginia Democrats are facing a classic choice between power or principle. On one hand, after getting the short end of the stick for many years, they would very much like to turn the tables on Republicans. On the other hand, members of the Blue Team flatter themselves that they are the ones who put country (or state) before party, and this would be a high-profile opportunity to make a statement on that front and to pat themselves on the backs. These sorts of anti-gerrymander initiatives tend to be pretty popular and tend to attract bipartisan support, so our guess is that when the dust settles, Amendment #1 will pass. We'll see in about a month. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

If there is good news here for Donald Trump, we're not sure what it is. Alabama is safe? That's nine whole EVs that are in the bank. Meanwhile, as the number of days to the election dwindles, Joe Biden is holding steady or growing stronger in every swing state. For example, that's his best number in Michigan since July. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Alabama 37% 57% Sep 30 Oct 03 Auburn U. at Montgomery
Arizona 49% 41% Oct 01 Oct 03 Siena Coll.
Delaware 54% 33% Sep 21 Sep 27 U. of Delaware
Michigan 48% 39% Sep 30 Oct 03 Glengariff Group
North Carolina 50% 46% Oct 04 Oct 05 PPP
Pennsylvania 50% 45% Sep 29 Oct 05 Ipsos
Utah 40% 50% Sep 26 Oct 04 Y2 Analytics
Wisconsin 50% 44% Sep 29 Oct 05 Ipsos

Today's Senate Polls

Will this be Cal Cunningham's high point? This is probably the last poll to be completed before all voters had heard that, like Donald Trump, he can't quite control himself. Meanwhile, it's about time for Doug Jones and Martha McSally to cue up the "Sound of Music" soundtrack: "So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye." (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Alabama Doug Jones* 42% Tommy Tuberville 54% Sep 30 Oct 03 Auburn U. at Montgomery
Arizona Mark Kelly 50% Martha McSally* 39% Oct 01 Oct 03 Siena Coll.
Arizona Mark Kelly 51% Martha McSally* 38% Sep 22 Oct 01 Morning Consult
Delaware Chris Coons* 57% Lauren Witzke 27% Sep 21 Sep 27 U. of Delaware
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 48% Thom Tillis* 42% Oct 04 Oct 05 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct05 Trump Could Be Discharged Today
Oct05 Trump Isn't the First President To Be Hit by a Pandemic Virus
Oct05 Post-Debate Polls: Biden Up by Double Digits Nationally
Oct05 Biden Is Doing Well Compared to Previous Democrats
Oct05 Voting Has Started in More States
Oct05 Trump Campaign Has to Rethink Everything Now
Oct05 What Happens If Mike Pence Also Gets Sick?
Oct05 Voting Rights Group Raised $16 Million to Pay the Fines of Florida Felons
Oct05 Cunningham Sent Romantic Text Messages to a Woman Not His Wife
Oct05 Graham and Harrison Debate
Oct05 Pat Toomey Will Retire in 2022
Oct05 Why Trump Does Well with Working-Class Democrats
Oct05 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct04 How Sick is Trump?
Oct04 Sunday Mailbag
Oct04 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct03 Trump Heads to Walter Reed
Oct03 COVID Complicates Committee Conclave
Oct03 Saturday Q&A
Oct03 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct03 Today's Senate Polls
Oct02 The Trumps Have COVID-19
Oct02 House Approves COVID-19 Relief Measure
Oct02 Trump Finally Condemns White Supremacists
Oct02 New York City Botches the Absentee Ballots
Oct02 The Pope Is No Dope
Oct02 Could McCain Bring in Arizona for Biden?
Oct02 Money, Money, Money
Oct02 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct02 Today's Senate Polls
Oct01 Some Takeaways from the Debate
Oct01 Results of a Debate Focus Group
Oct01 Republicans Fear Trump Blew It
Oct01 Senate Republicans Locate Missing Spines and Other Body Parts
Oct01 Biden Urged to Demand New Debate Rules--but He May Not Have to
Oct01 Money Is Pouring in for the Democrats
Oct01 Both Parties Worry about Absentee Ballots
Oct01 Barrett Won't Pledge to Recuse Herself from 2020 Election Cases
Oct01 Appeals Court Lets Extended Deadline for Ballot Receipt in Wisconsin Stand
Oct01 The Six Races That May Determine Whether Future Elections Are Honest
Oct01 Voters Don't Expect to Know the Winner Nov. 3
Oct01 Seniors Are Up for Grabs in Florida
Oct01 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct01 Today's Senate Polls
Sep30 What a Sh*tshow
Sep30 All of Trump's Success Is Based on Two Lucky Breaks
Sep30 Biden and Harris Release Their 2019 Tax Returns
Sep30 The Nerd Who Could Save America
Sep30 A COVID-19 Relief Deal Is Still Possible
Sep30 House Democrats Are Moving from Defense to Offense