On Nov. 3, the clown show will be put on hiatus for retooling

More than any devastating news reports, more than any lopsided polling, more than any Nate Silver election forecasts: this convinced me that President Trump is well and truly finished this November:

Over ten million Trump cultists, masochists and rubberneckers* watched Trump’s town hall event on NBC, but the ABC broadcast featuring boring old Joe Biden drew over twelve million viewers.

In 2016, everyone watched Donald Trump’s rallies, speeches and events just to see what crazy stuff he’d do. In 2020, the novelty has worn off. Americans have well and thoroughly had enough of the Trump era and just want the madness to end.

This should also silence critics who self-righteously slammed NBC for scheduling the Trump event at the same time as the Biden event. (Sadly, the technology to watch one show and record the other for later viewing apparently doesn’t exist yet.) Not only was Trump thoroughly cornered and flustered by Savannah Guthrie, now we have definitive proof that he can’t even draw big TV ratings anymore. Trump might be indifferent to millions of Americans contracting COVID-19, but that has to hit him where it really hurts.

By the way, that nice Florida lady who complimented Trump on his smile? She’s backing Biden.

Is 2020 Trump’s 1993?

With less than one month before Election Day, this is not what a Republican candidate wants the Drudge Report to look like:

This is not what he wants the Five Thirty Eight election prediction to look like:

And with the crucial senior-citizen vote in the balance, this isn’t what a normal candidate would want going out in his name. But we’re not dealing with a “normal” candidate, are we?

Everyone understandably compares this election to previous American Presidential contests, but I wonder if the best comparison might be to the Canadian federal election in 1993. When an unpopular gaffe-prone incumbent political party based its entire campaign on the opposition leader being “old” and “out of touch.” And ultimately resorted to television commercials which looked like they were making fun of his facial deformity, ultimately destroying whatever pockets of support they had left.

The mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was reduced to two seats in the House of Commons, never really recovered in subsequent elections, and was ultimately forced into a merger of unequals with the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance.

The Republican Party will not meet that fate in 2020 – only one-third of the Senate is up for grabs this year, and in deeply polarized America the GOP still has plenty of strongholds – but Republican strategists must be getting very nervous when polling from Georgia – Georgia! – looks like this:

In Georgia, Biden leads 51 – 44 percent among likely voters, while 4 percent are undecided. On September 29th, the race for the White House was too close to call when Biden had 50 percent support and Trump had 47 percent support. The September survey was taken before the first presidential debate and the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

[…]

Today, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue 51 – 45 percent, while 3 percent are undecided. This compares to a virtual tie in late September when Ossoff had 49 percent and Perdue had 48 percent.

The only question Joe Biden needs to ask Trump

Honestly, I’m not sure anything is going to significantly move the poll numbers by this point. If you’re still with Trump, nothing is going to change your mind by now.

But at tonight’s debate, I’d still like to see Joe Biden say something along these lines:

Mister President, COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 200,000 Americans, and the pandemic isn’t over yet. I’ve wanted to be President of the United States for many years. It is everything I have worked toward. But if dropping out of the race would somehow end the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do it without even giving it a second thought.

Would you give up the White House if you knew it would save American lives?

We all know Trump wouldn’t be able to immediately say “no.” And the true believers would rationalize it. But as long as there are some “soft” Trump supporters whose minds can be changed, it’s worth doing.

Sean Thomason of Rifftrax has another idea:

If it’s close in Texas…

The FiveThirtyEight polling average for the Lone Star State has Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump by the slightest of margins – literally, one-tenth of a percentage point – and one new survey gives Biden an even bigger lead:

Former Vice President Joe Biden has built a five-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas as unease over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic mounts, a new Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll has found.

Biden had 46% support to Trump’s 41%. If the general election were held today, the outcome could depend on the 14% of voters who were undecided or named someone else.

Biden’s lead, which comes after he and Trump were tied 43%-43% in The News and UT-Tyler’s April survey, is significant, if barely: The poll, conducted June 29 through July 7, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.24 percentage points.

The story behind Biden’s slight bulge is the softening of the Republican incumbent’s support among independents and “weak partisans,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., a UT-Tyler political scientist who helped design the poll.

“While President Trump has and still enjoys near universal approval from Republicans, and overwhelming disfavor from Democrats, he has lost considerable ground among the folks in the middle, who may ultimately decide who wins Texas in November,” Bryant said.

For years, Democrats have been counting on demographic change to flip this deeply red state, so these results must be absolutely mouth-watering. But is Joe Biden really going to beat Donald Trump in Texas this fall?

Meh, probably not. Every year seems to be the year Texas votes Democratic, but it never happens. (Remember Beto O’Rourke? No? He was a big deal once, I swear.)

The thing is, Biden doesn’t need Texas to win the election. He just needs it to be close. Donald Trump, by contrast, cannot win re-election without holding Texas.

Trump’s fluke win – and for all the talk about what it means about the American character, I still say it was very much a fluke – came about because he pulled out razor-thin victories in Rust Belt states Hillary Clinton thought she had in the bag, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump needs to win them again, and the polling is looking extremely bad for him in 2020.

The point is, Trump needs to throw everything he has at these states. But if he has divert desperately resources to Texas – not to mention other traditionally red states like Georgia and Arizona, where Biden is competitive – that hurts him in the swing states. It’s the political equivalent of Hitler sending troops to bail out Mussolini in he Balkans while he was planning his invasion of the USSR, and we know how that turned out.

(To be fair, Biden could make the same miscalculation and divert his scarce resources to states he’s unlikely to win, but my hope is that he learned from Clinton’s mistakes in 2016.)

As long as Biden keeps the pressure on in Texas, it throws the Trump campaign into further turmoil. And it could be a moot point anyway, with Trump also needing the state hardest hit by COVID-19 to win.

Meanwhile, he’s retweeting game show hosts who insist that the virus is a big hoax. That ought to play well in the Sunshine State. (“The virus that killed your grandparents is a scam. I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”)

Biden’s brilliant campaign

The other day I responded to an anti-anti-Trump Facebook friend by pointing out that pretty much every criticism of Joe Biden – he mangles his words, he seems like he’s not all there sometimes, he’s a bit handsy with women, he’s in thrall to the most radical elements of his political party – apply at least double to Donald Trump.

As Jonathan Last and Sarah Longwell put in on The Bulwark Secret Podcast (which is absolutely worth sending a few bucks to The Bulwark to access it): every Trumpy criticism of Biden works only if you assume Biden’s opponent is not Donald Trump.

And right on cue, here’s the top story on Mediaite this morning:

Jonathan Chait says that contrary to popular belief, “Sleepy Joe” is actually running the perfect campaign for 2020:

It would obviously be a fallacy to attribute Biden’s current lead entirely, or even mostly, to his campaign strategy. The polls primarily reflect a massive public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. But Biden is also doing some things right.

For all the derision that has surrounded Biden’s generally low profile, it is the broadly correct move. Trump is and always has been deeply unpopular. He managed to overcome this handicap in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was also deeply unpopular, though somewhat less so, and turning the election into a choice allowed anti-Clinton sentiment to overpower anti-Trump sentiment. The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure. It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one.

Second, Biden’s isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy. Only one of them (his Breakfast Club interview) yielded a major gaffe.

And third, Biden has managed to communicate a coherent campaign theme. This is often a challenge for Democrats, who usually want to change a whole bunch of policies (health care! environment! progressive taxation!) that resist a simple unifying slogan. But Biden has been able to carry forward the message he used to start his campaign, which he built around Trump’s shocking embrace of racist supporters at Charlottesville, into a promise of healing racist divisions.

[…]

…Biden has also done an effective job of using the most popular parts of the protesters’ message while distancing himself from its unpopular elements. Biden speaks for the transracial majority that supports systematic police reform and opposes defunding the cops. Trump is left to represent the minority that sees Floyd’s death as an outlier requiring no serious changes.

Electability was a subject of bitter contention during the Democratic primary. Many progressive critics argued either that electability is inherently unknowable, or that the key electability dynamic was the ability to motivate left-wingers who might otherwise not vote. Instead, Biden’s campaign seems to be vindicating a more conventional theory of the case. He has appealed to progressives by adopting some of the most popular pieces of their program, while steering clear of its controversial aspects. And he is winning in the very conventional way: by stealing voters in the middle who are conflicted.

2016 was a choice between two deeply unpopular candidates. In the end, Democrats nominated the only person who could lose the election to Donald Trump, and Republicans nominated the only person who could lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In 2020 it’s between an incumbent Republican President who is still widely hated, and a Democrat whom no one (outside of the far-right and far-left fringe) really seems to mind all that much. And as long as Biden can keep this election campaign a referendum on Trump, he was win bigly.

I still have post-2016 stress disorder, so I won’t take anything for granted until Joe Biden is taking the oath of office. But if the election were held today, Trump would be struggling to hang on to Texas and Georgia, much less the rust belt seats in which he narrowly beat Clinton.

Biden’s opponents are making the same mistake the PC Party made while campaigning against Jean Chretien in 1993: they assumed he was yesterday’s man, out of step with the times and easy to beat.

That’s far from the only reason the once-mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was routed – the PC vote was split badly by the emergence of the Bloc and Reform Parties, and the party was being led by a hopelessly incompetent future Twitter troll – but the fact is, Chretien didn’t last so long in politics without learning how to play the game skillfully. The same applies to Joe Biden in 2020.

What year is it anyway?

The joke going around these days is that halfway through 2020 we’ve already had 1919 (pandemic), 1929 (stock market crash), 1968 (civil unrest) and 1974 (impeachment).

The #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protests, and associated rioting and police brutality, are conjuring up memories of this famous Nixon campaign ad from 1968:

Trump has modeled much of his political career on Nixon’s 1968 campaign, and some fear the unrest of 2020 will help his re-election campaign. I don’t know. Unlike Nixon, who could point to civil disorder festering during the Presidency of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, the current situation is happening on his watch.

Trump’s position is more like that of President George H.W. Bush during the L.A. riots in 1992, only he’s handling the situation much more ham-handedly. But David Frum thinks the best comparison is with 1920:

…Trump will not repeat Nixon’s success in 1968, because he does not understand that success. Nixon joined his vow of order to a promise of peace at home and abroad. Trump offers only conflict, and he offers no way out of conflict, because—unlike Nixon in 1968—Trump is himself the cause of so much conflict.

If Trump seeks historical parallels for his reelection campaign, here’s one that is much more apt. There was a campaign in which the party of the president presided over a deadly pandemic at the same time as a savage depression and a nationwide spasm of bloody urban racial violence. The year was 1920. The party in power through these troubles went on to suffer the worst defeat in U.S. presidential history, a loss by a margin of 26 points in the popular vote. The triumphant challenger, Warren Harding, was not some charismatic superhero of a candidate. He didn’t need to be. In 2020 as in 1920, the party of the president is running on the slogan Let us fix the mess we made. It didn’t work then. It’s unlikely to work now.

Hopefully Biden will be an improvement on the guy who won in 1920. He will almost certainly be better than the guy who won in 2016.

Some take a knee to protest, others bend the knee to submit

This man was considered the future of the Republican Party, once. Now he’s defending his God-Emperor having protesters (and allegedly actual clergy) tear-gassed so he could have a photo-op holding a Bible as awkwardly as Michael Jackson kissed Lisa Marie Presley.

Trump’s opponent this fall, acting like an actual leader, met with demonstrators in person and talked to them.

But I want to go back even further, to another time when the United States of America was at war with himself. The President back then was loathed passionately by his political opponents. I’m sure death threats flooded into the White House every day. And then a shooting by authorities inflamed tensions even further.

But that President nevertheless went to the Lincoln Memorial one night, without a heavy security presence, and spent two hours talking to anti-government protesters and hearing their concerns.

That President’s name was Richard Milhous Nixon.

Update: speaking of Tricky Dick…

Two things that can be true

One: When unarmed African-American men keep dying at the hands of police, and these police officers aren’t promptly charged and ultimately convicted of murder or manslaughter, and the police departments in question have long, disturbing histories of singling out Black people for mistreatment, and all of this is happening on the watch of a President who plays footsie with racists and neo-Nazis and even personally spreads conspiracy theories about his African-American predecessor, it is perfectly understandable that frustration will eventually boil over and some desperate people will resort to violence.

As Martin Luther King Jr., an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience whose life was taken by a white racist, said: “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Two: whenever people protest peacefully against an injustice by the state, there are always a few shit-disturbers and self-professed “antifascists” who break off, start wrecking things and ruin it for everybody. Even Sean Hannity is on their side for once, but they’re going to piss away an opportunity to advance real social change. And among those rioters are opportunists who see an opportunity to cash in by stealing things. Burning down Autozone isn’t going to end police brutality. Burning down a freaking affordable housing development isn’t going to end racism.

As The Onion‘s “Our Dumb Century” book put it, “L.A. Rioters Demand Justice, Tape Decks.”

As for Rod Dreher’s headline, are these riots “unintentionally pro-Trump”? I dunno. Rioting in the late sixties certainly helped Nixon get elected, but his whole message was that he could restore law and order to a country falling into civil unrest under a Democratic President. By contrast, the 1992 Los Angeles rioting certainly didn’t help George H.W. Bush’s re-election chances.

Trump will use violent imagery from Minneapolis in his re-election campaign, with the clear message that he can protect Americans from these people, wink wink. But the fact is, this is happening on his watch. Joe Biden, second-in-command to the first Black President, might be able to do something about it. Trump has proven that he cannot.

#NeverTrump means Never Trump

Joe Walsh (not the “Ordinary Average Guy” guy, but the former Illinois Congressman) says he will not be voting for Trump under any circumstances. Yes, even if the Democrats nominate socialist Bernie Sanders:

No, never-Trump isn’t an official designation. It’s not (yet) a political party. It’s not a club with bylaws. But it is an idea. It means that President Trump — his impeachable conduct, his nonstop racist jabs, his tariffs, his nepotism, his knee-jerk foreign policy and his insistence on turning the presidency into a cult of personality — is the real bridge too far, not Sen. Sanders.

Never-Trump means that you still believe in the Constitution. It means you knew what Benjamin Franklin meant when he warned that we Americans have been blessed with a republic, “if you can keep it.” It means you recognize that Trump is enough of a threat to our founding principles that you won’t vote for him under any circumstances. And, at least to me, it also means you’ll suck it up and support his Democratic opponent, no matter who that is.  …

[…]

In 2016, sadly, I supported Trump. [Did he ever – DP] I freely admit that I’m a second-wave never-Trumper. But once I got here, it was always my plan to stay. Because, for me, the ways in which Trump threatens this country go beyond left-right ideology. He lies constantly. He grants pardons to toadies. He conflates America’s financial interests with his own. He uses his bully pulpit to air a never-ending, year-round list of Festivus grievances.

He surrounds himself with lackeys and purges staff who won’t do his bidding. He’s an authoritarian who once said, with a straight face, “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want.” That’s a bigger threat to America than free college, a $15-per-hour minimum wage and Glass-Steagall part deux. Yes, I’m a fiscal conservative who still worries about the national debt. But not as much as I worry about Trump wrecking my country.

I really, really, really don’t want Sanders as the alternative to Trump. But even he won’t be…this.

It won’t necessarily be Sanders, though.