For all of the news we’ve been inundated with, is it strange to say that this felt like a slow news week? Sure, we had a debate, but ultimately the news is: Donald Trump is losing the election; the Senate is rushing through a Supreme Court justice; and the vice-presidential debate seems to have had about as much an effect on the race as any other vice-presidential debate (which is to say, none).
An interesting thing did happen with the VP debate, however: I think there was a big assumption amongst pundits on Twitter and even my friends that either Pence won or Kamala wrestled it to a tie. Actual polls conducted after the debate show that voters thought Kamala walked away with a win. I think these results factor into the larger environment that we are seeing play out: The Currently Super-Spreading COVID-19 Trump Administration is simply not popular with the American people and there isn’t much they can do about it.
Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report has a really good “should-read” article where he asks an interesting question: Was Trump ever really a favorite for reelection? He ultimately says no. This factors into why I have been bullish on Biden for a while:
Part of the reason for that has been Trump’s low approval rating throughout his presidency (something Cook mentions in his piece above as being predictive). The 2018 election sort of gave us insight into this as well: Lots of voters - especially women - simply do not like Trump’s “style” of governing. I think this helps explain why voters were more likely to say Harris won the debate: At this point, the Trump Administration is seen as a chaotic failure or an experiment that has gone horribly wrong; although Pence has done a decent job of staying quiet, he is ultimately tied to an Administration that is deeply unpopular.
You could say then, with an Administration this unlikable, that virtually any Democratic candidate would have been expected to beat Trump. But I think Biden is an appealing choice because these voters want someone who not only knows how to get government back to “normal” and end the chaos, but see him as someone who can do it relatively quickly. Long story short: People would like to go back to forgetting about the President for a few days a week. The expectations of these voters may or may not be right, but I think one of the narratives that could emerge post-election is that Joe Biden was actually just a very good candidate to tackle a chaotic Trump Campaign. He did not want a revolution (Bernie) and he would not signal a massive social shift (Mayor Pete): He would simply take America back to 2014.
It’s probably more than a little naive, but it’s a compelling argument. It’s also probably why the race seems to be relatively stable. Yet, I still can’t shake the feeling that there is still something that could upend the whole thing. While Biden currently has a lot of buffer room, an October Surprise™ that draws into question Biden’s ability to provide the stability that voters want could have an outsized effect. And we still have one final debate left to go, assuming Trump doesn’t back out of that one too.
Ironically, the Trump Campaign would probably have more Hunter Biden/Ukraine material to work with had Trump not gotten himself impeached over it LESS THAN A YEAR AGO in December of 2019. I don’t want to suggest that Nancy Pelosi had a grand strategy in mind, but by impeaching Trump she essentially nullified the Hunter Biden issue, which could have been a “…but her emails” argument for this election cycle.
One final point on this topic: It is weird to say that the worst poll to come out for Trump over the last few weeks is one that shows him winning by 14 points, but that really is the case. The poll in question was taken in West Virginia, and it has him beating Biden 53% to 39%. Why is this bad? Because Trump beat Hillary Clinton there 68% to 26%. If Biden has improved ~13 points in West Virginia, it validates his leads in states that are demographically similar, like Pennsylvania and Ohio. And those are states Trump has to win.
It is straight-up a bad national environment for the President. He is behind; his time is running out; and he could still win the whole thing. #analysis
I wanted to touch on a thing from the Vice-Presidential debate and get into how hard it can be to do fact-checking. Pence made an often repeated claim that Biden called Trump’s initial travel restrictions “xenophobic.” Fact-checkers from the New York Times to CNN to Politifact all rated this claim to be false, which was objected to by most (and even some Never Trump) Republicans.
Spoiler: The fact-checkers are right and the Trump Campaign is wrong, but it does get complicated. For one, I think it’s important to state off the bat that Biden’s advantage here is that he never explicitly addressed the travel restrictions themselves and always spoke in more general terms when discussing the issue (Biden has a penchant for being more evasive and general when it comes to questions he doesn’t like, as he’s doing with certain topics now).
The two key pieces of evidence against Biden (cited to in the Examiner piece above), are two tweets: One from February 1, 2020, and a second one from March 18, 2020:
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrumpI always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China - against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!
The argument for the March 18th tweet really requires you sucking all logic and reasoning out of your brain. By March 18th, every state and U.S. territory had issued a state of emergency due to COVID-19. California’s stay-at-home order came on the 19th, with most states following suit over the next ten days. The idea that Biden was going to take this time to start bashing a travel restriction from China is ludicrous.
The argument gets even weaker when you look at the basis for Biden’s Tweet: It’s pulled from his speech on March 12, 2020, where he conceded that travel restrictions may "slow" the spread of the disease. In the same speech he clearly says that we should not fall back on, "xenophobia, labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus." It’s pretty clear that the “xenophobia” that Biden was talking about was Trump’s use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” in his tweet. Also in the March 12th speech, Biden says that any travel restrictions should be based on "risk" and not "politics" and "favoritism,” which sort of nukes the argument that Biden was opposed to travel restrictions.
The case for the February 1, 2020, tweet is a little bit stronger, but not by much: When you look at Biden’s speech from a day earlier, he clearly cites to Trump’s unwillingness to work with foreign governments to curb the spread of the disease:
“We have, right now, a crisis with the coronavirus,” said Biden, who is in Iowa campaigning before the Midwestern farm state holds Democrats’ first nominating contest on Monday. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia - hysterical xenophobia - and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”
Biden said Trump had rolled back progress on global health oversight that occurred when he was vice president from 2009 to 2017.
In particular, he cited “draconian cuts” the White House proposed to the budgets of “the very agencies that we need to fight this outbreak,” including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
But here is the kicker: When asked for comment about Biden’s statement, Matt Wolking - a Trump Campaign spokesman - said Biden made “‘foolish comments’ as vice president in 2009 about avoiding airplanes during a swine flu crisis and ‘caused a public panic.’” You read that right: The Trump Campaign actually complained about Biden overreacting to COVID-19 on January 31, 2020.
So, while the fact-checkers are generally right, they really do not provide any of the fun, extra context.
Given all of the discussions centered around originalism and textualism currently floating around, Eric Segall has a piece from 2017 that is probably the biggest counter-argument to the originalist philosophy. I refer back to it a lot.
Sloan’s Lake has been absolutely breathtaking this fall, as the leaves are changing color and the sunsets are getting more and more gorgeous.
Sorry I was late this week, but I actually had off yesterday for Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Denver. See all of my beautiful babies soon.