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Another Bad Day on the COVID-19 Front

These days, every day is a bad day on the COVID-19 front. At the moment, another American succumbs to the disease every 106 seconds, meaning the nation will surpass 195,000 deaths sometime Thursday, and will surpass 200,000 deaths by the middle of next week. That said, Tuesday was maybe a little worse than most days, as several unpleasant stories broke within hours of each other.

To start, and in no particular order, a new report confirms what we all knew would be the case: The almost-completely-maskless Sturgis motorcycle rally has turned into a superspreader event. And because the 500,000 participants so kindly scattered across the entire country afterwards, the total cost to public health is estimated at a staggering $12.2 billion. In case you were wondering, that is $24,400 for each and every attendee. If you look up "selfish" in the dictionary, there's a picture of Sturgis 2020. And maybe it would be worth it if some lessons were learned but, of course, that did not happen. Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), who might plausibly have stopped the gathering but chose not to, slammed the report as "nothing short of an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis." Already, one person has died from COVID-19 contracted at the event. The report estimates that, ultimately, there will be more than 250,000 additional cases linked to Sturgis attendees. Assuming that is on target and that the United States' current fatality rate (about 2%) holds, then roughly 7,500 others will be joining the fatality list. If so, that would make Sturgis 2020 more deadly to Americans than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined.

Moving along, in a development that was equally as foreseeable as the Sturgis outbreak, AstraZeneca has been compelled to pause its vaccine trials because one of the participants had some sort of unexpected complications. Those complications might have something to do with the vaccine, and they might not, but the company has no real choice but to stop and figure it out before moving forward. This is why anyone and everyone who is not currently a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue recognizes that a pre-election vaccine is basically an impossibility. Even successful drugs/vaccines hit roadblocks along the way; that's just the way the cookie (or the virus) crumbles.

And finally, another new story confirms yet another thing we all knew (or, at very least, suspected): COVID-19 is hitting Black Americans and Latinos much harder than it is hitting white Americans, both in terms of infection rate and mortality rate. The disparity between Black and white Americans is particularly galling; Black folks are more than twice as likely to be infected and twice as likely to die. But hey, All Lives Matter.

We're a political site, so we'll bring it back to that to wrap this up. If there's a single bit of information here that's not damaging to Donald Trump, we don't see it. The 200,000 deaths will be yet another bright, red line that sticks out to people. Sturgis, and Noem's response, are a high-profile reminder of the cavalier attitude that Trump and his supporters have adopted toward the pandemic. The AstraZeneca news is yet another nail in the already pretty-well-sealed "no vaccine before the election" coffin. And the disparate COVID-19 outcomes further undermine the President's already nonsensical claim that he's done more for Black people than any president except maybe Lincoln. (Z)

The Justice Department Confirms It Is Indeed Trump's Personal Legal Team

Many commenters, us included, have observed that AG William Barr sees himself as Donald Trump's personal lawyer, as opposed to an advocate for the American people. This isn't even particularly in dispute anymore, given how many times Barr has bent legal ethics (and maybe even the law) to protect his boss's back. The AG did pay lip service to the notion that he was still a fair and impartial public servant who was just doing his job, but even that went out the window on Tuesday, when the Dept. of Justice announced that it would be taking over the President's defense in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll, and the services of the private attorneys that had been handling the case would no longer be needed.

The DoJ's justification for this is that when Trump made the allegedly defamatory statements, he was acting in his official capacity as President of the United States. Riiiight. If so, that would mean "E. Jean Carroll is a liar" and "E. Jean Carroll is not Donald Trump's 'type'" are the official policy of the United States government. When Bill Clinton got caught...using cigars in the Oval Office and lying about it, he actually had a stronger case for being defended in his official capacity as president, since the impeachment was politically motivated. But even he hired private counsel (specifically, Robert Bennett, David Kendall, and Mickey Kantor).

We're not sure exactly what the motivation is here, though we imagine it's one or both of two things: (1) Trump is parsimonious enough that he wants the people of the United States to foot his legal bills, or (2) He thinks that facing off against the might and the combined resources of the Dept. of Justice will intimidate Carroll and get her to back down. The long-term problem with each of these is that Trump may not be president when this case goes to trial, and if he's not, the DoJ certainly isn't going to defend him. And the short-term problem, at least from where we sit, is that this is a campaign that's lagging badly in the polls heading into the home stretch. You would think they would want to avoid any damaging headlines that are within their power to avoid. Maybe they know something about politics that we don't know. (Z)

Cohen Book Is Released

Since we just talked about Donald Trump's current personal lawyers/fixers, let's keep going and talk about his past lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen. His tell-all book, Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump was released yesterday. As one headline put it, the book presents the President as "a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man, and amoral." Put another way, it confirms what we already thought, but it doesn't actually have much in the way of new revelations.

Perhaps the biggest piece of new information is the one that already came out last week, namely that—at least according to Cohen—Jerry Falwell Jr.'s endorsement and enthusiastic support were something of a quid pro quo in exchange for help keeping the naughty photos of Mrs. Falwell from seeing the light of day. On that same general subject, Cohen also writes that the President was frequently dismissive of religion/Christianity, once exclaiming, for example, "Can you believe people believe that sh*t?" The specific quote is new, yes, but was there really any doubt Trump felt this way?

A major theme of the book is that Trump is a racist who regularly says derogatory things about people of color, both mighty and meek. The President held a low opinion of Nelson Mandela, calling him "no leader," and of course absolutely loathes Barack Obama. In one chapter, Cohen claims that Trump hired a Barack Obama impersonator to sit in a chair so Trump could berate him for 10 minutes and then "fire" him. On the other hand, The Donald is quite the fan of Vladimir Putin, and Cohen explains why (at least in part): because Putin runs Russia as if it were his own personal business, and that is the model Trump aspires to (see above).

Cohen's book is topping the bestseller lists, but appears to be having relatively little impact. That is presumably due, in part, to the lack of serious dirt in the book. However, it's due even more to the fact that the story in The Atlantic, about Trump's slurs on dead and injured veterans, is still sucking up all the "scandal" oxygen. It is clear, at this point, that Jeffrey Goldberg's reporting is the most damaging "can you believe what Trump said?" news story since, at very least, Charlottesville, and more probably since "grab 'em by the pu**y." Behind the scenes, Team Trump is deeply upset by what Goldberg wrote, and is hoping that the sources being anonymous will save Trump 2020's bacon. By contrast, the administration and the President have barely said a word about Cohen's book. (Z)

McConnell Prepares for Some Senatorial Kabuki Theater

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would very much like to keep his job. And if that is going to happen, most of the vulnerable members of his caucus who are up for reelection in 2020 need to win. And as they (virtually) campaign in the next 54 days, they need to be able to tell voters that they're trying their little hearts out to do something to ameliorate the impact of COVID-19, but those infernal Democrats won't let it happen.

In view of all this, McConnell has put together a bill for his caucus to vote on, with the first procedural vote scheduled for Thursday. It is not a serious attempt at legislating; it's a frankenbill constructed with an eye toward attracting the necessary 51 Republican votes for the kabuki performance. Among the key provisions:

  • More PPP money ($257.7 billion)
  • Extension of jobless benefits, but at $300/week instead of $600/week
  • Forgiveness of a $10 billion loan made to the USPS (this is to make the bill look "bipartisan")
  • Tax credits for private/home schooling (this is to get the votes of Sens. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Tim Scott, R-SC)
  • COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, universities, hospitals, and health care workers

The bill appropriates about $500 billion, which is less than either the White House ($1 trillion) or the Democrats ($3 trillion) want. And even that total is misleading, since about $200 billion of the $500 billion comes from money already appropriated by the CARES Act. So, McConnell does not appear to be making a serious attempt at problem-solving, excepting maybe the problems of businesses who would like to avoid the expense of providing employees with protective gear without having to worry about being sued for negligence. Meanwhile, the bill does not reflect Democratic priorities at all, so it's not exactly a model of the art of compromise. In particular, Democratic leadership has made clear, again and again, that total protection from liability is a nonstarter. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reiterated that on Tuesday, and declared that the McConnell bill is "headed nowhere."

In other words, there is zero chance that the bill will get the 60 votes it needs to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and even less chance that it will pass the House. It's actually not even clear that McConnell can get the 51 votes he needs for his caucus to be able to claim "hey, we Republicans tried to do something." The Majority Leader will spend his day today whipping votes as hard as he can. If he fails, then he'll end up with egg on his face, and the Democrats will say "No wonder we couldn't work with them; they can't even agree among themselves!" If he succeeds, then both sides will spend the next 45 days claiming they wanted to help, but the other side simply wasn't willing. The odds of an actual relief bill are looking pretty slim at this point. (Z)

Trump Yet Again Encourages Supporters to Take the Law Into Their Own Hands

For a fellow who rails against thugs and troublemakers when they happen to be left-leaning and/or of color, Donald Trump has absolutely no problem with people taking the law into their own hands when they happen to be white and/or supporters of his. His latest on that front came on Tuesday, when he called on his supporters in North Carolina to act as poll watchers in order to prevent the "thieving, and stealing and robbing" that he predicts will happen on Election Day.

There is, of course, no evidence that any of that is going to take place. And it is particularly unlikely to take place at a polling place (more effective would be to sabotage absentee-ballot-collecting repositories). And if it did somehow happen at a polling place, there is no reason to think that untrained Trump supporters would be able to identify it. So, the President's command to his followers essentially translates to: "Show up on Election Day, and harass/challenge voters you think are going to vote against me." And since it's awfully hard to guess a white person's political affiliation at a glance (unless they happen to be wearing Birkenstocks and a Bob Marley shirt, or cowboy boots and a Hank Williams shirt), this is effectively an instruction for white Trump voters to harangue Black voters. It's sleazy and depressing at the same time; so much for having learned the lessons of the 1950s and 1960s.

With that said, there is clearly one thing that we and Team Trump agree upon: North Carolina is key for him. If Joe Biden wins the Tar Heel State, it is mathematically possible for Trump to still win, but it is highly implausible. And so, the President is laser-focused on North Carolina, and is doing everything he can to throw wrenches into the works, either to keep the state in his column or, at very least, to throw it into doubt and deny it to either candidate. The good news for fans of free and fair elections is that Trump is utterly lacking in subtlety. Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) and AG Josh Stein (D-NC) are pretty shrewd, and are going to be ready for shenanigans. So too are an army of Democratic lawyers, along with representatives of voter-rights' groups. That might just be enough to counteract the presidential chicanery. (Z)

Trump Campaign Has Cash Flow Problems

The Trump campaign has had no difficulty taking cash in, in significant part because they've been fundraising nonstop for four straight years. Unfortunately for them, they're not so good when it comes to spending that money. They've burned through at least $800 million, leaving them (amazingly) trailing Joe Biden in terms of cash-on-hand, with no real hope of catching up. And the campaign has gotten precious little for its nearly $1 billion in spending; Trump is behind in most swing states, is well behind in national polls, and his approval rating is mired in the low 40s.

The Trump campaign's poor return on investment appears to come down to two basic things. The first is grift. Just about everyone in the family is on the campaign payroll, as are many friends/supporters, and at salaries far in excess of what their résumés call for. The campaign has also made a habit, of course, of utilizing Trump-owned venues and paying full price for the privilege.

The second problem is that when investing in actual campaigning (e.g., TV ads), Team Trump is stunningly inefficient, and makes shockingly amateurish decisions. For example, the campaign spent $11 million on two Super Bowl ads in February. As we pointed out at the time, that was a foolish outlay so early in campaign season. By contrast, the campaign's ad spending in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota through the end of July? $3.9 million. Similarly, the campaign's approach to direct-to-voter advertising (e.g., mailers) has been buckshot-like, rather than laser-focused. Countless people (including some of our readers) have reported receiving very expensive Trump mailers (with things like "VIP" gold MAGA cards), despite being lifelong Democrats who have never voted for a Republican. If you drop a buck per voter taking moonshots like that, you're going to burn through a mountain of cash very fast with considerably less than a molehill's benefit.

With the Biden campaign setting fundraising records (they pulled in a staggering $365 million in August), the disparity in resources has now become quite evident. In the last two weeks of August for example, Biden 2020 spent $35.9 million on TV ads, while Trump 2020 spent only $4.8 million. And there's little chance of things improving for the President. His fundraising machine has been running at full throttle since Jan. 21, 2017; it doesn't have a higher gear left. He's not willing to do Zoom fundraisers, despite ample evidence that they are both efficient and lucrative. He said on Tuesday that he was willing to spend his own money, if it comes to that, but take that with a few grains of salt. It's never been clear exactly how wealthy he is, but whatever he has just dropped in value by $600 million, according to Forbes. Further, most of his net worth is tied up in real estate, and in the value of his "brand," neither of which are liquid assets.

We remain skeptical that spending money translates to votes. Actually, it's TV advertising that we're really skeptical about; spending money on campaign infrastructure and get-out-the-vote operations (or get-the-absentee-ballot-in-the-mail operations) probably does help. In any event, to whatever extent cash matters, Team Biden has the edge now, and they will for the rest of this cycle. (Z)

DeJoy Investigations Are Coming

The actual headline on The Washington Post's story this weekend about Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was "Louis DeJoy's rise as GOP fundraiser was powered by contributions from company workers who were later reimbursed, former employees say." However, it might as well have been "Memo to Josh Stein: You really should investigate Louis DeJoy, and here is where you should look."

Stein is no dummy, and he clearly got the memo. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the NC AG said that "Any credible allegations along those lines need to be investigated to determine whether the law was violated, whether it's state law or federal." If that seems a little noncommittal, Stein helpfully reminded those in attendance that as AG, he wears multiple hats, including serving as counsel to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and also assisting local DAs, so he can never comment publicly on the details of any specific case. Translation: "Louis, it's time to lawyer up."

The House Oversight Committee announced on Tuesday that it is launching its own investigation of DeJoy. If Donald Trump wins reelection, then that investigation won't mean anything, since a Barr-led DoJ isn't going to prosecute, and Trump would surely pardon DeJoy anyhow. If Trump loses, on the other hand, then all bets are off. And either way, developments in North Carolina are a real problem for the PG, since that state has no statute of limitations on felonies, and since, of course, presidential pardons don't apply to state-level crimes. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

As Led Zeppelin observed, the song remains the same. Joe Biden consistently has an outside-the-margins-of-error lead in his must-have states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin), and even in some of his wouldn't-that-be-nice states (Arizona). Meanwhile, the other wouldn't-that-be-nice states are toss-ups. Donald Trump is not going to win 8 of 8 coin flips, and even if he does, it still might not be enough. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 48% 43% Aug 30 Sep 04 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Florida 47% 44% Aug 30 Sep 03 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Florida 48% 48% Aug 31 Sep 06 Marist Coll.
Michigan 47% 42% Sep 01 Sep 03 Glengariff Group
Michigan 51% 40% Aug 30 Sep 03 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Missouri 44% 49% Sep 01 Sep 03 We Ask America
North Carolina 43% 44% Aug 30 Sep 03 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
New Jersey 58% 40% Sep 04 Sep 07 Emerson Coll.
Ohio 51% 47% Sep 01 Sep 02 Pulse Opinion Research
Pennsylvania 48% 43% Aug 30 Sep 03 Redfield and Wilton Strategies
Texas 47% 48% Sep 01 Sep 02 PPP
Wisconsin 50% 41% Aug 30 Sep 04 Redfield and Wilton Strategies

Today's Senate Polls

The good news for John James and MJ Hegar: They got their best polls in a while. The bad news: The polls are probably outliers. That said, Hegar has had more results close to this than James has, so if either of them is actually making up ground, it's likely her. Meanwhile, Rik Mehta can get to work planning his defeat party. No need to waste time on things like campaigning or fundraising. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Michigan Gary Peters* 44% John James 41% Sep 01 Sep 03 Glengariff Group
New Jersey Cory Booker* 52% Rik Mehta 28% Sep 04 Sep 07 Emerson Coll.
Texas Mary "MJ" Hegar 40% John Cornyn* 44% Sep 01 Sep 02 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep08 Trump Blames the Democrats for...Everything
Sep08 Trump Attacks the Military's Leadership, Too
Sep08 Trump Tosses Out Some Very Red, Culture-Wars-Flavored Meat
Sep08 DeJoy Gets Introduced to the Underside of the Bus
Sep08 Poll: Voters Think Trump Is More Likely to Win the Debates
Sep08 Judge to Census Bureau: Keep Counting
Sep08 Chris LaCivita Will Try To Rescue Trump
Sep08 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep08 Today's Senate Polls
Sep07 National Poll: Biden Leads Trump by 10 Points
Sep07 Trump Is Betting on YouTube This Time
Sep07 Trump Is Going after Harris
Sep07 Kevin McCarthy: Trump's War on Absentee Ballots Could Screw Us
Sep07 Jeffrey Goldberg: I Stand by My Reporting
Sep07 DeJoy May Have Broken the Law
Sep07 Barr Is Trump's Lap Dog
Sep07 When Will Absentee Ballots Be Processed and Counted?
Sep07 Secretaries of State Warn that Election Day Could Become Election Week
Sep07 Anita Hill Will Vote for Biden
Sep07 Sensitivity of Our Map Algorithm
Sep07 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep07 Today's Senate Polls
Sep06 Sunday Mailbag
Sep06 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep05 Saturday Q&A
Sep05 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep04 Trump Tells Residents of North Carolina, Pennsylvania to Vote Twice
Sep04 Trump Allegedly Smeared Dead, Disabled Veterans
Sep04 Biden Goes to Kenosha
Sep04 Biden Picks Up 100 More Endorsements from Prominent Republicans
Sep04 Pelosi, Mnuchin Reach Tentative Deal to Avoid Shutdown
Sep04 Facebook to "Limit" Political Ads Right Before the Election
Sep04 Judges Say: "No Way, 'Ye"
Sep04 Georgia Appears to Have Wrongfully Struck 200,000 People from Voter Rolls
Sep04 A Bookish Solution to Absentee Voting
Sep04 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep04 Today's Senate Polls
Sep03 Biden Leads Nationally by 8-10 Points
Sep03 Biden Raises an Incredible $365 Million in August
Sep03 Florida's Latinos Could Pick the President
Sep03 Could a COVID-19 Vaccine Be the October Surprise?
Sep03 Debate Moderators Announced
Sep03 An Election Night Doomsday Scenario
Sep03 McConnell Doubts There Will Be Another Relief Bill
Sep03 Pence De Facto Admits That He Was on Standby When Trump Visited Walter Reed
Sep03 Outlook for Republican Women is Good in the House, Bad in the Senate
Sep03 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep03 Today's Senate Polls
Sep02 Massachusetts Likes Its Incumbents
Sep02 Trump Gotta Trump