"So I ask you to do me a favor. Suburban women: will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK? The other thing: I don't have that much time to be that nice. You know, I can do it, but I gotta go quickly." — President Donald J. Trump
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 20 days until Election Day and then 78 until the Inauguration.
Let’s start with this: The president retweeted a story suggesting that Barack Obama had Seal Team 6 murdered. And it hardly made a ripple in the news cycle, three weeks before the election.
As Bill Kristol notes in this morning’s Bulwark, “Deviancy has been defined so far down that President Donald Trump’s retweet at mid-day Tuesday was barely noticed.”
After all, what’s new? And who cares?
So what if the president of the United States brought to prominence an insane conspiracy theory that his predecessor, Barack Obama, arranged for four Americans to be killed at Benghazi to cover up an even bigger intentional blood-sacrifice of Navy SEALs—which in turn covered up the fact that Osama Bin Laden was still alive. Since it was a body-double who was in fact killed in 2011.
Or at least I think that’s the story Trump was amplifying. You’ll forgive me if I got some twists in the plot wrong.
Anyway, what’s the big deal? It’s just Trump being Trump. The important things were happening elsewhere, in the back and forth between Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and various senators on Capitol Hill. That’s what serious conservatives were focused on. That’s what’s going to make a difference. If crazy tweets are the price we pay for an originalist justice, these people tell us, then it’s well worth it.
After claiming that Democrats used the pandemic to take away gun rights, which did not happen, he mentioned the McCloskeys, the couple who wielded guns on the porch of their St. Louis mansion in front of Black Lives Matter demonstrators who were passing by. Giuliani claimed, falsely, that the protesters had yelled, “’We want to rape your wife! We want to rape your wife! We want this for reparations! This is number one for reparations! Biggest house here! Reparations!’” He added, “Nobody knows this, but at the time, their daughter was upstairs under the bed because she was afraid they’re going to come in and they’re talking about rape and they’re going to rape the wife and they’re going to find the daughter.”
None of that was true.
And now we learn that Trump has chosen Rudy and Jay Sekulow to run his post-election operation. What could possibly go wrong?
How is Trump’s final act playing with women? Not well, apparently.
Acyn Torabi @AcynTrump: Suburban women, will you please like me? https://t.co/efn79VuVA3
A reporter from the Economist who watched the focus group:
Easy questions. On balance, Amy Coney Barrett is doing as well as could be expected in the kabuki-theater hearings over her nomination. Senators bloviate and ask questions she won’t answer. She doesn’t use notes. We know how it ends.
But the thing about easy questions is that they are easy.
Questions like: Can the president unilaterally move the date of the election? The easy answer is no, he can’t. That requires an act of congress. It’s the law.
“Well, Senator, if that question ever came before me, I’d need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues and go through the opinion-writing process,” she said. “So, you know, if I give off the cuff answers, then I would be basically a legal pundit, and I don’t think we want judges to be legal pundits. I think we want judges to approach cases thoughtfully and with an open mind.”
Here’s another one.
I’m not not a lawyer, but shouldn’t a constitutional “originalist” believe that the constitution requires a peaceful transfer of power? And that the founders kind of thought it was important? When did that become “political controversy”?
And, then there was this question about voter intimidation. “Sen. Amy Klobuchar brought up efforts by President Trump to get his supporters to the polls to observe voting activity and asked Judge Amy Coney Barrett if under federal law it is illegal to intimidate voters at the polls. “
"I can't characterize the facts in a hypothetical situation, and I can't apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts."
She continued: "I can only decide cases as they come to me litigated by parties on a full record after fully engaging precedent, talking to colleagues, writing an opinion, and so I can't answer questions like that."
Easy answer: it is against the law to intimidate voters, and as a judge I believe in upholding the law.
Why is this so hard? (And, yes, that is a rhetorical question.)
Well, how about that. Biden says that he is “not a fan of court packing.”
"I've already spoken on — I'm not a fan of court packing, but I don't want to get off on that whole issue. I want to keep focused," the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee said in an interview with Cincinnati's WKRC.
We are now free to get back to Hillary’s emails.
Not with a bang or even a whimper. “‘Unmasking’ probe commissioned by Barr concludes without charges or any public report.”
Or, as Tim Miller puts it in today’s Bulwark, “Another ‘Deep State’ non-scandal goes down the memory hole.”
Guess we can close the file on that one.
William Barr has quietly ended the probe into the supposed “unmasking” scandal which was only opened as fan service for Republican elected officials and conservative media in the first place. (Trump had suggested to Maria Bartiromo that the perpetrators be given 50 year sentences on Fox.)
I suspect that Barr had hoped that maybe, with a little luck, his investigation might snare somebody in some tangential wrongdoing. Or be able to do some strategic leaking. Or at least keep the issue open until after the election.
Alas, the president’s lawyer daddy struck out. Again. Thus bringing to a close a matter that—in a saner world—would have been the stupidest fake scandal in decade.
Romney sort of goes there. I blame myself a bit for this, because the other day I highlighted Keith Olbermann’s deranged rant. But I was just taking a cheap shot, not attempting to weigh the comparative insanity of the two sides of our political divide.
Which brings me to Romney, who put this out yesterday:
This is good, sort of. This is the strongest denunciation of Trump’s toxic crackpottery from any Republican. (It may be the only one?) But what caught the most attention was Romney’s suggestions that there was some rough moral equivalency between comments by the president of the United States and a washed up sports guy on a YouTube video.
Both were bad. One has the nuclear codes.
So, unfortunately, this falls into the category of: Meant Well, But Actually Missed the Point.
Mitt Romney doesn’t want that to be his epitaph.
A final off-ramp for the GOP establishment?
As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, Politico’s Tim Alberta suggests that the GOP might still break with Trump… after the election. If the election is a blowout, he writes, “and Trump is flinging wild accusations about wide-scale fraud and deep-state conspiracies to take him down, Republicans will be forced to choose a side.
“They will either stand with a battered soon-to-be-former president whose days in office are numbered whether he likes it or not, or they will stand with the democratic norms that have guided the nation for 244 years.”
I suspect that he’s at least partly right. Some members of the GOP Old Guard might be willing to tell Trump to go. But Ted Cruz? Josh Hawley? Marco Rubio? Nikki Haley? Lindsey Graham? Forget about it.
Instead, backing Trump is more likely to become the new litmus test of tribal loyalty.
Foxconn turns out to be a massive boondoggle. Who knew?
Something for the bedwetters. We’ve seen way too much hope and optimism lately, so I wanted to pass on this piece from Thomas Edsall, who warns that Biden is not yet out of the woods.
Here are some of the things causing anxiety among Democratic partisans, particularly political professionals.
One way to measure voter enthusiasm is to compare voter registration trends for each party. A Democratic strategist who closely follows the data on a day-to-day basis wrote in a privately circulated newsletter:
Since last week, the share of white non-college over 30 registrations in the battleground states has increased by 10 points compared to September 2016, and the Democratic margin dropped 10 points to just 6 points. And there are serious signs of political engagement by white non-college voters who had not cast ballots in previous elections.
But, but, but… Biden is now leading in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Arizona and the Economist Forecast gives him a 91 percent chance of winning the election. The FiveThirty Forecast has Biden at 87 percent.
The RealClearPolitics average now puts Biden’s lead at 10 points.
There are 20 days to go.
1. Breaking News: Not Everything Is Terrible
Ok, sorry about the downer item above. As an antidote, make sure you read this piece by Mona Charen in today’s Bulwark.
We devote a lot of mental energy to things that are going wrong or could go wrong. It’s human nature. As the sociobiologists teach us, our ancestors were not the ones who heard a rustling in the grass and figured, “Eh, it’s probably nothing.” We are descended from the ones who said “What the hell was that? Could be a cobra. Better run the other way.” Vigilance is our default mode.
But seven months after the start of this plague, we shouldn’t lose sight of the things that went more right than we expected for two reasons: 1) gratitude is good for the spirit and the soul, and 2) we must guard against catastrophizing.
2. What Do We Do About Voter Intimidation?
Leaders, especially in law enforcement positions, can counter the president’s effort to stir up voter intimidation by making it clear they’ll prosecute election-related crimes, as Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford did after the debate.
Police should prepare for the possibility of armed intimidation at polling places. And concerned citizens should prepare for the unlikely, but not impossible, scenario in which some police are overwhelmed — or choose to look the other way — by being ready to calmly, peacefully escort any intimidated voters into polling places.
Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection recommends documenting what you see—if uniformed militia show up, photograph or take note of any insignias—and offers fact sheets on the relevant laws in 50 states, which you can find here.
1. The GOP’s Bad News Bellwethers
Republicans are now bracing for a punishing Election Night, resigned to losing the presidency, alarmed that Democrats will pad their House majority, and growing increasingly concerned that Chuck Schumer will be the next Senate majority leader. Most are hoping for a mere blue-wave election, rather than a potential tsunami that would wipe out some GOP members of Congress in reliably red states and districts. “He’s losing older Republicans over COVID,” said one alarmed senior Republican strategist. “They take their health seriously, and they see the nonsense out of the White House and it’s off-putting.”
So today’s column is something of a scorecard that will indicate just how bad the Election Night environment will be for Republicans. These are all races that, in normal times, should be fairly safe seats for the Republican Party. But they’re shaping up to be uncomfortably close. If Democrats win even one of these four races, it’s a sign of a big blue political wipeout.