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Political Wire logo Trump Running Out of Time
Trump’s Raucous Crowds vs. Biden’s Distanced Gatherings
Trump Will Lose a Race About Him
Biden Leads In Pennsylvania
How Political Sources Play the Anonymity Game
GOP Lawmaker Spent $70K in Campaign Funds on Meals

Trump Blames the Democrats for...Everything

For the first couple of years of Donald Trump's presidency, op-eds with headlines "This is the worst week Trump has ever had" were pretty frequent. You don't see those anymore, perhaps because he's had so many bad weeks, there's just no way to pick the very worst one. It's even harder than picking, say, the worst pitcher on the Pirates, or the worst song by Nickelback. In any event, whether it was his very worst, or just one of them, Trump definitely had one of those weeks last week.

Of course, nobody puts baby in a corner. And when they do, baby lashes out. And so, Trump has been on a three-day jag of blaming the Democrats for everything under the sun. He blames them for the article in The Atlantic. He blames them (specifically Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA) for undermining Americans' confidence in a hypothetical vaccine. He blames them for the current violence in cities. He blames them for the fact that there's no COVID-19 stimulus package. He blames them for the sinking of The RMS Titanic. Ok, he hasn't quite gone there yet, but he will if Fox News tells him to (see below).

Some Democrats, doing their best Chicken Little impersonation, are deeply worried that Trump is successfully shifting the narrative away from his failures (specifically his failures on COVID-19). Frankly, we don't see it. Trump has been playing the "buck stops anywhere but here" game for four years, and what has it gotten him? His approval ratings are steady (and consistently low). Joe Biden's lead in the polls is steady (and consistently at or near 10 points nationally). We just don't see what large group of people might be swayed by this week's lies and propagandizing that weren't already in Trump's corner. So we don't buy that the President is going to be able to change the narrative with a handful of tweets and a press conference or two. That said, your mileage may vary, so we pass it on nonetheless. (Z)

Trump Attacks the Military's Leadership, Too

Donald Trump knows that the recent reporting in The Atlantic, covering his alleged nasty remarks about dead and disabled service members, has the potential to do real damage. And in response, it would appear that he's developed a two-prong strategy: (1) deny, deny, deny and (2) claim that top military brass has an axe to grind, and that is why they make up "lies" about him. This is what Trump said on Monday: "I'm not saying the military's in love with me—the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren't because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy."

What Trump is describing, of course, is the Military-industrial complex (MIC). Whether or not he knows that is anyone's guess. When Dwight D. Eisenhower first warned against the MIC in his farewell address, people sat up and listened because he was a five-star general and two-term president with more than five decades' service to his country under his belt. Trump does not have that credibility. Further, unlike Ike, Trump's goal is not to identify a serious problem that needs monitoring, it's to smear high-ranking officers in an effort to salvage his own image.

This is, in the end, a very unwise approach, we think. To start with, if your goal is to convince service members, ex-service members, and supporters of service members that you would never, ever say nasty things about service members, then popping off with more nasty comments about service members is probably not the way to make that point. Inasmuch as Trump has never served, nor really been in the middle of a chain of command of any sort, he presumably does not appreciate that respect for officers is drilled into soldiers, and that for the good officers, that respect is often accompanied by admiration and affection. Put another way, rank-and-file soldiers did not take kindly, in their respective eras, to smears on George Washington, William Tecumseh Sherman, John J. Pershing, Eisenhower, or Colin Powell. We don't believe that dynamic has changed today.

Beyond that, the linked article makes clear that the Pentagon's leadership is weary of Trump, and is tired of having to try to keep politics and military affairs separate because he won't do it. The more the President pokes the bear, the more likely that one or more of the officers who spoke to The Atlantic (and other outlets) off the record decides to throw caution to the wind and to go on the record. Then Trump would be stuck trying to argue that, say, a three-star general with 37 years' service is an inveterate liar. Not an easy case to make, and hearing the claims directly from a high-ranking general would certainly make an impression on some Trump voters. (Z)

Trump Tosses Out Some Very Red, Culture-Wars-Flavored Meat

This weekend, Donald Trump took two steps to signal to the base exactly what side he's on when it comes to the national reckoning on race. To start, he issued a memo banning "anti-American" diversity training in federal departments, calling it a waste of millions of dollars. Then, he declared that he would try to withhold funding from schools that adopt the 1619 project (about the history of slavery). He probably can't legally do that, but he just wanted to make the announcement as a dog bullhorn for his base. The former idea, incidentally, was put into his head by a segment on Tucker Carlson's show on Friday. It must really be eerie for a TV personality to have that much power over the President of the United States. And we don't really know if what Carlson says on air was thought up by Carlson or is from his producer or from Fox News' top management. If we somehow had that power, the first thing we would do is announce that the alien invasion from Mars is imminent, and then sit back and see what happens. Oh wait. That's been tried already. This time we'd post it to social media.

In any event, it is clear yet again that Trump has no interest in improving race relations or correcting the racial disparities in America. He's introduced no meaningful initiatives on that front, and he's trying to dismantle several existing initiatives. Given how furious Trump's base gets when there is talk of reducing George Washington's role in textbooks, or saying a bit more about the bad things Christopher Columbus did, we think it's safe to guess that his pooh-poohing of the 1619 Project, in particular, will infuriate many Black voters. After all, they would like to hear about their history, too. And so this makes clear, once again, that all the "Trump is not a racist" talk at the convention was not about reaching out to black voters, it was about giving white voters permission to vote for the President. (Z)

DeJoy Gets Introduced to the Underside of the Bus

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy looks to be in big trouble. As The Washington Post reported this weekend, he appears to have circumvented campaign finance laws, and to have done so in a clumsy manner that will be very easy to prove. This is both a federal and a state level crime (in his home state of North Carolina), and so even a presidential pardon won't save the PG if he is indeed guilty.

Of course, DeJoy has already done about as much damage as he's going to be able to do. He threw several wrenches into the gears of the USPS while folks weren't watching, and now that everyone has their eyes on him, he probably can't get away with any more wrenches. Put another way, he's served his purpose for Donald Trump. We all know what happens when someone is in hot water, and is no longer of use to the President. And so, Trump said on Monday that he has no objections to DeJoy's being investigated, prosecuted, and possibly dismissed (a decision that would rest with the USPS Board of Governors). And so, the PG is now traveling the same road traveled by Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Sam Patten, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, and a host of others. The only questions now seem to be: (1) Does DeJoy have dirt on Trump?, and (2) Will he spill it? (Z)

Poll: Voters Think Trump Is More Likely to Win the Debates

In 1960, the very first presidential debate—between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon—was broadcast over TV and radio. Kennedy won that debate handily, according to polls, due to his success with the TV viewers (a much larger segment of the audience). This is often held out as an example of the power of TV to shape voters' perceptions, although there's strong evidence that the poll was really just a case of confirmation bias, and that TV viewers (urban, middle class) were more likely to be Democrats, while radio listeners (rural, older) were more likely to be Republicans.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan debated Jimmy Carter. Thanks to the Gipper's presidential run in 1976, the Democrats had spent four years portraying him as an intellectual lightweight (which, truth be told, he was). The wonkier and more experienced Carter was expected to win in a romp. What people forgot is that Reagan, being an actor, was excellent at playing the role of "debating president." He was warm and charming and delivered his pre-scripted joke lines with great precision and timing. And so, Reagan trounced Carter. The debates, and the Iran hostage crisis, conspired to spell doom for the Peanut Farmer.

We mention these two examples because a new poll from USA Today/Suffolk reveals that 47% of voters expect Donald Trump to win the debates, and 41% expect Joe Biden to win. Maybe this is mostly confirmation bias, as with Nixon-Kennedy, and most people are just casting their lots with the candidate they prefer. Or maybe this is mostly the low expectations that Trump and the Republicans have conspired to create for Biden, as with Reagan-Carter. Or maybe it's both of these things.

Whatever is going on, it's likely good news for Biden. If attitudes are pretty much already set, then it means the debates are not likely to move the needle. And if they are not set, then low expectations are much easier to outperform than high expectations. We'll be very interested to see what the "who won?" polling looks like after the first debate on Sept. 29. (Z)

Judge to Census Bureau: Keep Counting

Originally, the 2020 census was scheduled to conclude at the end of October, which was a tight timeline compared to other census years. Then, the Census Bureau decided to shave more than a month off of that, causing a consortium of municipalities and civil rights groups to file suit, arguing that the new timeline would lead to an undercount of minority communities. On Monday, that consortium got a (temporary) win, as Judge Lucy Koh ruled that the Census Bureau may not begin winding down until the case is heard and ruled on later this month. Given the Trump administration's general difficulty in justifying its actions, not to mention the wording of Koh's injunction, it is not likely the Bureau will prevail, meaning that the original October deadline is likely to be restored.

It is yet another reminder that while Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may have conspired to stack the judiciary with as many friendly judges as is possible, the third branch of government is still very often a thorn in their sides. There's another example of this looming on the horizon, one having to do with Obamacare rather than the census. In November, the Trump administration will go before the Supreme Court and argue that when Congress reduced the ACA tax penalty to zero, its intent was to overturn the whole law. It's a shaky argument at best, and since the administration first made it, Congress has approved multiple rounds of COVID-19 funding that, in part, expanded the reach of the ACA. It will be rather difficult to make the case that Congress intended for Obamacare to be dead when they continue to utilize it as an instrument of policy. Undoubtedly, Clarence Thomas will find a way to ignore that Gordian knot, but for the other four conservative justices, it won't be so easy. (Z)

Chris LaCivita Will Try To Rescue Trump

Chris LaCivita, best known as the mastermind behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has decided to get the band back together in an effort to save Donald Trump's reelection campaign. Backed by money from Sheldon Adelson, Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, and others, LaCivita has founded a super PAC called Preserve America and will launch an advertising blitz in swing states. The first ads all feature individuals who have lost family members to tragedy (a widow of a policeman killed in a shooting, a man whose daughter was killed by gangs) and who will argue that electing Joe Biden will lead to more such tragedies.

Obviously, LaCivita is very good at what he does, since he delivered the only popular vote win for the Republicans in the last seven presidential elections. That said, he pulled that off in a different and less fractured media environment in which it was considerably easier to reach persuadable voters with one's advertising pitch. Further, he launched his efforts in 2004 much earlier in the cycle, and—in John Kerry—was targeting someone who was something of a cipher to much of the American public. Biden was in the Senate for nearly 4 decades, was VP for 8 years, and has been on the presidential campaign trail for at least a year. We're not so sure there's much room left to define him in the minds of voters. It's also going to be much harder to pepper persuadable voters with ad after ad (especially starting with a relatively modest $30 million budget). Finally, LaCivita is working with a very tight timeline, especially since early voting begins in just days in some places.

It should be noted that, in 2016, there was a similar last-minute push from a similar PAC named Future45. And that last-minute push may just have helped pull Trump over the finish line. However, if we examine all of the national polls released in, say, the first half of September 2016, we find that Hillary Clinton averaged 45%, Donald Trump 43%. That's 12% of the electorate undecided, enough (obviously) to swing the election. If we look at the last dozen polls of this year's race, by contrast, we find that Joe Biden is averaging 50%, Donald Trump 42%. That's only 8% undecided, with Biden at the critical 50% mark. In short, LaCivita's goal has to be to win over nearly every undecided voter and then to hope the Electoral College works some magic. It's a tall order. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Our database has 17 polls of Wisconsin released since Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee. Donald Trump has never led, never been tied, and came as close as 3 points only one time. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Wisconsin 51% 43% Sep 01 Sep 02 Pulse Opinion Research

Today's Senate Polls

This race has been polled only twice, because New Mexico is a solid-blue state, and Lujan is going to win. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
New Mexico Ben Ray Lujan 49% Mark Ronchetti 40% Aug 26 Sep 02 Research and Polling

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep07 National Poll: Biden Leads Trump by 10 Points
Sep07 Trump Is Betting on YouTube This Time
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Sep07 Kevin McCarthy: Trump's War on Absentee Ballots Could Screw Us
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