Stalking the Independent Voter

KFF Health Tracking Poll—September 2020

The 2020 Battleground States: Updates on the Swing Voters

Does Biden Need a Higher Gear? Some Democrats Think So

My first thought was, are there any Independents left? The polls say there are plenty, even at a time when the media plays up the extremes of partisanship. Gallup most recently found (July 30-August 12) that 26% of voters identified as Republicans, 31% as Democrats, and 41% as Independents. This would lead one to think the election might be much more unsettled than we are led to believe.

Where do they fall on the issues? The Kaiser Family Foundation has the most recent data (September 10). It found, unsurprisingly, that Independents were right in the middle on most questions. And, of course, “There is a strong partisan divide, with Republican voters prioritizing the economy followed by criminal justice and policing, and Democratic voters prioritizing coronavirus followed by race relations.”

According to this, the economy has displaced the virus as the most important issue. And yet the swing voters remain uncertain and unfocused. As everyone knows, the election will depend on a few battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. There may be others, like Minnesota.

My take, for what it’s worth, is that the Biden campaign needs rapidly to get off its fixation on online media and ads and do more in-person events, sign-planting and door-knocking. They need to undertake an old style campaign even with the limitations the virus imposes. As dumb as they are, Trump’s rallies get media coverage. Biden does press conferences and small meetings. Kamala Harris and her speeches go mostly unnoticed. The Latino vote for Biden is precarious.

Trump’s hats and signs and posters get noticed. Where are Biden’s? To some, he seems to be hiding behind a mask. His demeanor and speech have improved, but to many he remains largely unknown. He doesn’t have much time to make up that deficit.

Trump Disparages the Military

Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’

Did Trump call US war dead “losers” and “suckers”? The controversy, explained.

Trump Faces Uproar Over Reported Remarks Disparaging Fallen Soldiers

The story, all over the media for the last four days, pits Trump’s denials against the comments of several anonymous but respected (even by Fox News) sources. Vox comments:

Four reputable news outlets, all citing anonymous sources, report President Donald Trump disparaged US troops, veterans, and missing service members, with several outlets reporting he has called military members “losers.” Yet the president, along with current and former staff on the record, continues to dispute those stories.

The reporting is explosive. The denials are emphatic. And the consequences are potentially enormous.

This is proving to be a Big Story because the last thing you want to do as president is insult the U.S. military. It’s the third rail of presidential politics. It has been pro forma for every president to praise, if not worship, the military. Trump’s gaffe may end up costing him the election since the millions of active duty, reserve, retired and disabled service members are not going to take his comments lightly.

I think the perpetual praise of the military has often verged on idolatry, causing bloated budgets and sometimes reckless decisions. How did you like Teddy Roosevelt’s blustering adventures? Reagan’s invasion of Grenada?

I’d always had a kind of left-wing reaction to the military until I went to work for the Navy. I spent three years doing PR and communications for NAVAIR, the Naval Air Systems Command (which develops, procures, repairs and tests all U.S. Naval aircraft and weapons systems). It was a rewarding and sometimes trying experience.

The military bureaucracy is frequently a fearsome thing. The glut of money over time has produced not only a daunting military-industrial complex but a lot of technocratic operational inefficiencies: a special office for this, a unique procedure for that, a command structure that doesn’t always reward competence.

The people who worked in my office, civilians and contractors like me plus the military staff, were decent, hardworking folks. There was an unwritten rule not to discuss politics, though nearly everyone was conservative. We did get into amicable political discussions over after-work beers. I learned how conservatives think.

In short, I discovered firsthand the strengths and weaknesses of our military. It has taken on all the virtues and failings of our government, but few recognize how hard and effectively its members work. They are anything but suckers and losers. For the bone spurs dropout to denigrate these people is one more demonstration of his depravity—and his political stupidity.

What Should Biden Do?

Joe Biden Had Better Watch It

As the election approaches Joe is getting advice from some rather unlikely sources. This comes from folks like Andrew Sullivan and Bret Stephens, whom I want to call liberalized (i.e., wimpy) conservatives. Each enjoys taking on the follies of the far right while advancing the cause of what might be called liberal centrism. Which forces them to take shots both from liberals and conservatives.

Stephens in particular caused a mighty flap when he was hired by the New York Times. The first occasion was his skepticism about climate change. Recently he’s been writing a weekly column with Gail Collins and calling himself a pro-Biden conservative. The guy writes well (he won a Pulitzer Prize) and has a disarming way of glossing over some of his more conservative views.

We can learn from people like this. In his most recent column, he and Gail discuss ways in which Biden should frame the campaign issues going forward. Stephens has a pretty good prescription (though he avoids mention of the pandemic, issue number one). Here is some of it. Biden, he says, should focus on “the Supreme Court, for starters.”

A second Trump term almost certainly means a third (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), fourth (Stephen Breyer) and possibly fifth (Clarence Thomas) Trump pick. Roe v. Wade doesn’t survive on that court. If I were Biden, I’d ask Kamala Harris to go on a swing through Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin to explain that if Trump wins, legal abortion will become a thing of the past for every woman living in a red state.

 . . . A second [issue] is ethics. Has the swamp ever been swampier than under Trump? Who elected Ivanka to rule over us? How did Jared get to lord it over us? Who turned the White House into a stage prop? Since when does the president use his office to blackmail foreign leaders into doing him political favors? Why is it that nearly everyone who has ever worked for Trump, people like John Bolton and John Kelly, finds him despicable? And did he get somebody to take his S.A.T.s for him? Biden should run a five-minute online spot titled “A Cheater From the Beginning.” Highlights would include bone spurs, (alleged!) cheating on the S.A.T.s and Marla Maples.

 . . . Third issue: Dictator suck-up. No president in history has ever had nicer things to say about America’s enemies than Trump, just as no president has ever had nastier things to say about America’s friends. I also can imagine the imagery for this: Trump at Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, Trump at Panmunjom with Kim Jong-un, Trump in Osaka with Xi Jinping, Trump in the White House with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The big recent issue of course is Trump’s flagrant promotion of violence in the cities. Which means Biden needs to hit hard on Trump’s history of division, racism and alt-right sympathies—“when the looting starts the shooting starts.” This could be Biden’s sharpest weapon, particularly if he links it to the pandemic, Trump’s violence against his own citizens.

Why I’m Not Watching

”Only a masochistic brain-dead racist could bear to watch the Republican Convention.”

“But John, you need to watch in order to know thine enemy and understand how they think and what they are planning. Only then can you win the argument that constitutes the election.”

“The election is not an argument. It’s a contest as to whether the country will survive or not. Biden still thinks he can somehow accommodate to these people. I do not. The Republicans and I are singing from completely different musical scores. And it’s the 100th anniversary of Charlie Parker’s birth. I want the same kind of revolution in politics he brought about in music.”

“Well, it’s true there is a lot of flak and noise that keeps you hitting the mute button. Jennifer Rubin seems to endorse your idea: She says the convention has no agenda, no arguments worth hearing, just ‘screaming, dog whistles and bullhorn appeals to White supremacy and abjectly ridiculous accusations’ about Biden.”

“The perfect example of that is Kimberly Guilfoyle’s unhinged rant on the first night, building in decibels and discord as she proceeds. Born from a Puerto Rican mother, she calls herself an immigrant.”

“You still ought to watch the convention, John, to see how permeated their thinking is with appeals to race. It’s the dominant focus of Trump’s agenda.”

“The NY Times agrees with you. Politico magazine agrees with you. I agree with you. But I’d rather hear their reporting than the outsized race-baiting the convention seems fascinated with. Better some media outrage than hearing another speech from Patricia and Mark McCloskey.”

“Patricia said, ‘Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.’”

“Let ‘em go back to their fortified St. Louis mansion. If I want to be depressed I’d rather read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, a book about how deeply immersed our country is in maintaining racial separation. She mixes stories about how caste is embedded in our everyday life with comparisons to India and Hitler’s Germany. We are throttled still and now by caste and its consequences. Do we really need to hear more praise of Trump and his fealty to the cause of caste, hate and fear?”

Frank Bruni on Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama Showed Us Why These Democrats Are Our Last Best Hope

. . . I want to note that nowhere in Trump’s inner circle is there anyone with the gravitas and grace of Michelle Obama, because someone like her wouldn’t last a nanosecond there. Trump would find the example of her too threatening, the yardstick of her too diminishing. She’d find his ethical ecosystem uninhabitable: the cold, dark surface of the moon without a spacesuit.

I want to savor her every word on Monday night, when she so beautifully distilled what’s wrong with Trump — “He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us,” she said — and so hauntingly defined what it feels like to live in Trump’s America.

“Kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another,” she said. “They’re looking around wondering if we’ve been lying to them this whole time about who we really are and what we truly value.”

“What’s going on in this country is just not right,” she added. “This is not who we want to be.” It was an excellent speech, gorgeously delivered, and that’s in large part because she recognized and maximized the fact that many Americans see her as someone less partisan and more practical than the conventional convention orator.

“You know I hate politics,” she said, making no apologies for that. “But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.” From that perspective came this plea: “We have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”

That was the message of many of the speakers. Their words varied; their urgency didn’t. Usually when politicians adopt such epic, dire tones, I want to reach for some bleach to wash the purple from their prose. On Monday night I just nodded (and, in Obama’s case, got a little teary, too).

The Post Office Hustle

Trump Admits He’s Starving the Postal Service to Sabotage Voting by Mail

 How Trump’s Attack on the Post Office Could Backfire

 Is Trump Sabotaging the Postal Service?

You may have noticed that Trump will try anything to achieve his ends, even if it means endorsing something that people will hate. So he tries to starve the post office of funds—the country’s most popular and historic agency—because he thinks vote-by-mail works to create fraud. The fact that it doesn’t makes no difference. He thinks like his followers who hate the policies that are actually in their own interest.

Trump’s buddy Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general, has instituted operational changes in the Postal Service that make it much less efficient, less capable. He is in the process of removing hundreds of powerful sorting machines, for instance, plus curtailing overtime. Between Trump and DeJoy the intention is clear: hobble the post office so they can call in question the November vote, which will come in late and fragmented. The outcome will be simply to disenfranchise voters by slowing or disabling the count.

Here is a pretty fair summary of the problems these moves by DeJoy and the president have created. It’s a complicated story because the Postal Service has been shackled for years by Congress’ decision requiring it to prefund 75 years of its retiree health benefits in advance. No other organization does this. There is a deep Republican prejudice against the post office, which Trump continues to foster.

Yet, a record 76% of Americans can vote by mail in 2020. With the virus present, up to 50% are predicted to do so. My prediction is that the constant protests from Pelosi and Schumer about tampering with the franchise will have their effect. But the Republicans may also be whispering in Trump’s ear,

 Hey, you might be screwing us over, too, by doing this. And so maybe, just maybe, that provides an opening to actually try to take action to fix what’s wrong with the Postal Service right now. But I would not count on a big hand from Republicans on this. Let’s put it that way. There needs to be as much volume about this as possible as soon as possible. If I’m the Democrats right now, I’m just talking every single day about how Donald Trump is sabotaging the Postal Service.

Along with DeJoy’s “reforms” that slow down mail delivery enormously,

For the president to admit to deliberately trying to slow the mail process in order to curb mail-in voting is “stunning, because it is political sabotage,” says [Philip F.] Rubio, himself a former letter carrier who spent two decades working for USPS. “He’s using his power of the veto [to hold up funding and] to interfere with the democratic process.”

This is clearly a story that has legs, and it keeps unfolding. Nonetheless, we are watching a fundamental undercutting of the democratic right to vote. People will not take this lying down. Neither should you.

P.S. An update: more info on DeJoy and the USPS mess.

P.P.S.  House calls DeJoy and USPS Board of Governors chairman to emergency hearing, Aug. 24.

Trump Resignation Speech

Some misguided Democrats have said that we aren’t responding to the needs of our people. In fact, my administration already enacted $3 trillion in economic relief. It’s been very, very successful and you saw that by the numbers that were issued yesterday and the day before as to used car sales and auto production. They’ve been incredible numbers, actually. Our used car sales are way up.

This administration produces incredible numbers. But the Democrats have refused to negotiate so I took matters into my own hands and had this wonderful ceremony at Bedminster, celebrating the great sport of golf, and we’re going to take matters into our own hands now and sign into law another $400 a month for the unemployed, stop the evictions, cancel student loans and the payroll tax.

No president since Lincoln has done as much for this country. But the Democrats are primarily interested in a $1 trillion bailout of their poorly run states. You know what states I mean. We don’t have to go through names. But they’ve been very poorly run over the years and we can’t go along with the bailout money. We’re not going to go along with that, especially since it’s not COVID-related.

I am extremely tired of fighting with these Democrat losers who will never recognize the enormous progress we’ve made fighting COVID. Joe Biden and his crew of radical lefties have left God behind and can never recognize the progress we’ve made with outdoor dining, limited indoor dining and most of the other businesses in Arizona and Texas that have remained open and very vibrant. They’re doing just incredibly well. This is an approach and it’s an approach that’s been incredibly successful.

The Democrat losers don’t recognize the importance of getting kids back to school and how vigilant we are in shielding of the elderly and those with underlying conditions. They fight with us constantly and undermine our reelection efforts at every turn. You can’t negotiate with people like this.

I have brought peace and incredible prosperity to this country, only to endure constant sniping and criticism which is affecting my health and prevailing good humor. I aced the cognitive ability test, you know. But my doctors have told me that I have cerebral palsy and must avoid unnecessary stress. Stress kills, they tell me.

So it is with great reluctance that I must resign the office of the Presidency, effective tomorrow. Is it tomorrow, Kayleigh? My poll numbers have no bearing on this decision. Jared Kushner will assist Mr. Pence until the election. Then if he survives it you’ll have four years of Joe Biden. See how you like that.

Birx and Redfield, Equivocal Leaders

Birx stung by first public attack from Trump

C.D.C.’s Dr. Robert Redfield Confronts Coronavirus, and Anger

 CDC director: COVID-19 reporting change was made without agency’s input

Two medical doctors with military backgrounds are uncomfortably serving the Trump administration on its Coronavirus Task Force. Both have good reputations as physicians, but they continue to flounder through the political flak that Trump creates.

I keep wondering why they don’t quit. But it’s obvious they’ve got important jobs and so feel the need to eat a little Trumpshit to maintain them. Dr. Birx is now getting it from both Trump and Pelosi, so her situation gets hotter. Dr. Redfield just wants to be a good researcher yet doesn’t seem capable of heading the once-world-renowned-now-faltering CDC.

Both these folks are out of their depth, as are so many of Trump’s appointees. It’s not stretching things to say that the country’s response to COVID-19 has suffered because of their limitations. Learning to play politics with health care is not something either appears to have signed up for.

Dr. Birx, the scarf lady, is famous for sitting on her hands when Trump floated disinfectant and UV light as a cure. She can’t decide which side of the fence she’s on, so she’s taking it from both sides. Most recently Trump called her “pathetic,” then went on to praise her. Speaker Pelosi also let her have it last week:

“Deborah Birx is the worst. Wow, what horrible hands you’re in,” she is quoted as saying [in a meeting with Mnuchin and Meadows]. She also described Dr Fauci as a “hero.”

There’s your reward for having an office in the West Wing.

Redfield’s problems began with the still unresolved testing debacle at the CDC at the beginning of the viral crisis. He has still not accounted for what happened, but something bad did and as a result the country is way behind on any significant testing.

Last week he was blocked from giving testimony to a Congressional committee on school openings. The week before that, the administration pulled the rug out from under him by ordering all patient data on COVID to bypass the CDC and go directly to HHS. Hospitals now claim chaos in reporting, and the data of course are ripe for political massaging. Redfield’s comments were a study in milquetoast response.

Birx and Redfield are both trying to do their jobs under most difficult circumstances. We give them that. But both are operating under impossibly conflicting demands—speaking the truth as leaders or keeping their jobs as toadies. Each finally has to determine, one way or another, to stand up to Trump, whose political position now I think is too weak to fire them. Well, does either have the guts to do this? I’m not betting on them.

The Maskless Ones

A Detailed Map of Who Is Wearing Masks in the U.S.

Texas ‘wide open for business’ despite surge in Covid-19 cases

Rep. Louie Gohmert, and the rest of the anti-maskers, are beyond irrational

The band struck up “Louie Louie.”

We pretty well know why Trump goes maskless. One reason is his vanity; the other is political: if he masked up, his persistent denial of the virus would be in jeopardy. Lordy, if he would only test positive, it could change the course of the disease. His toadies might just rethink their maskless lunacy.

Masking only works if a great majority wears them. The way things are going now in the U.S. we are in for a long onslaught of plague. Obviously, the virus numbers grow as the fools unmask and gather in bars, etc. Texas is the prime example. Despite a mandatory mask order, people continue flocking to “bars, restaurants, movie theaters and shopping malls” because Republican Governor Greg Abbott called them “wide-open for business” back in May. Interesting, isn’t it, that Republican governors have been responsible for most of this confusion nationwide.

This past week that wise old dog, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, tested positive and cheers went up from Democrats everywhere. Gohmert has consistently gone unmasked in the halls of Congress, spraying droplets everywhere and pissing off everyone from Pelosi on down. Meanwhile the band struck up “Louie Louie.” Remember that one?

And Republicans, not just Trump followers, form the overwhelming majority of the maskless. It’s their protest, not against science, but against reason—of which they have a bare minimum. Some of them chant, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: “there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.” He noted he’d rather die than see the economy destroyed. Well, Dan, you are in line for the first Louie Gohmert Viral Dysfunction Award.

The maskless are making their statements not just in Texas and the U.S. but around the world. Russia, the U.K., Germany, the Scandinavian countries—they’re all opening up. The reasons for this behavior vary, of course, “But some might be to show defiance, to make a political statement, to somehow express or feel like they are free and can do whatever they want.” Add to that a general distrust of government.

Such behavior is basically childish, and one of the prime examples is the Mexican president, López Obrador. He takes pride in going maskless, like Bolsonaro and Trump. He recently said, “I am going to put on a mask, you know when? When there is no corruption anymore, then I will put on my mask.” Mexico now has the third highest death toll in the world and corruption is more than ever a fact of life.

Asking people to grow up is certainly a fool’s errand. But how many will have to die before they wake up? Said Virginia Heffernan, LA Times writer, “Refusing to wear a mask is like supporting the fire against the fire department. It’s like openly sneezing into a packed elevator. It’s stupid. It’s also kind of disgusting.”

The Politics of Lunacy

  • On the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, President Donald Trump talked about dishwashers, dryers, shower heads, and faucets. . .[while] the U.S. shattered its single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday, reporting more than 77,000 thousand cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. —David Gilbert
  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp urged residents Friday to wear a face mask when in public, two days after blocking local cities from enforcing their own rules to further prevent the spread of Covid-19. —CNBC
  • In Maine, Republican Senator Susan Collins is fighting for survival. You may remember Collins as the self-styled brave independent moderate, who spends most of her working days caving in. —Gail Collins
  • It’s a little weird contemplating Sessions now. Trump’s treatment of him was outrageous, but if anybody’s going to suffer a political stab in the back, you have to be glad it’s the guy whose policies as attorney general ranged from keeping more people in prison longer to “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” —Gail Collins
  • [Arizona Governor Doug] Ducey several times said the increase in cases correlated with the increase in testing. But over the past two weeks, cases increased by 76% and tests increased by just 52%. —azcentral
  • Hardly any leaders even floated mask-wearing advisories until they were themselves neck-deep in a local pandemic crisis. They could not learn from others, only taking actions like these in a sort of last-gasp panic state. —David Wallace-Wells
  • “When you’re in show business, you meet people like Trump, you meet people who literally don’t exist in the same dimension as you; they’re just gone. And that’s what he’s like. He’s like Cosby in a way, these people who are completely deluded and they’ve been famous and all of their wishes are attended to—they lose complete touch with reality,” Apatow adds, calling Trump the “abusive parent to the country.” —Judd Apatow
  • “I don’t want to spend my time doing things that I don’t think are valuable enough to me personally,” [CNN’s Chris] Cuomo said in audio heard by the New York Post and CBS News. “I don’t value indulging irrationality, hyperpartisanship.”
    “I don’t like what I do professionally,” he said. “I don’t think it’s worth my time.” —Julia Reinstein
  • “I’ve never been in a better position professionally, I’ve never been more grateful, I’ve never been on a better team,” Cuomo said Tuesday [the next day] on his SiriusXM show. “I love where I am. I love the position that I’ve been given.” —Mark Kennedy
  • No one in the campaign can control him. No one in the White House even wants to. As CNN’s Jim Acosta put it after this latest disaster [the Tuesday Rose Garden briefing], “We are down to Kool-Aid drinkers and next of kin” at the Trump White House. No one there will stop him, because Trump has worn down every competent, sane person who would possibly imagine working in his White House. It’s the most thankless job in D.C., and rats notoriously leave sinking ships rather than board them. —Rick Wilson
  • In Britain, as in the United States, hooligans have been pulling down statues. And in Britain, as in the U.S., the media have absurdly tried to frame their vandalism as some sort of civil rights protest, as if all they wanted were equal treatment. —Dan Hannon
  • Kanye West is officially on the ballot as a presidential candidate in the state of Oklahoma. —Ben Jacobs