1. The Scampaign
First, the NYT: “President Trump’s re-election campaign committee ended September with only $63.1 million in the bank even after canceling some television buys late last month.” The money is so tight that Trump is wasting time flying cross-country to do fundraising.
How bad is the burn rate? The campaign has raised $1.5 billion and is down to $63 million.
Then Bloomberg: Which found that for last quarter the Trump campaign was spending 77 cents to get every dollar it raised. Which is . . . not great.
And finally the AP:
Since 2017, more than $39 million has been paid to firms controlled by Parscale, who was ousted as campaign manager over the summer. An additional $273.2 million was paid to American Made Media Consultants, a Delaware limited liability company, whose owners are not publicly disclosed.
Campaigns typically reveal in mandatory disclosures who their primary vendors are. But by routing money to Parscale’s firms, as well as American Made Media Consultants, Trump satisfied the basic disclosure requirements without detailing the ultimate recipients.
Other questionable expenditures by Trump and the RNC that are included in campaign finance disclosures:
— Nearly $100,000 spent on copies of Donald Trump Jr.’s book “Triggered,” which helped propel it to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.
— Over $7.4 million spent at Trump-branded properties since 2017.
— At least $35.2 million spent on Trump merchandise.
— $38.7 million in legal and “compliance” fees. In addition to tapping the RNC and his campaign to pay legal costs during his impeachment proceedings, Trump has also relied on his political operation to cover legal costs for some aides.
— At least $14.1 million spent on the Republican National Convention. The event was supposed to have been held in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Trump relocated it to Jacksonville, Florida, after a dispute with North Carolina’s Democratic governor over coronavirus safety measures. The Florida event was ultimately cancelled, as well, with a mostly online convention taking its place.
— $912,000 spent on ads that ran on the personal Facebook pages of Parscale and Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson.
— A $250,000 ad run during Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, which came after Trump was booed by spectators when he attended Game 5.
— At least $218,000 for Trump surrogates to travel aboard private jets provided by campaign donors.
— $1.6 million on TV ads in the Washington, D.C., media market, an overwhelmingly Democratic area where Trump has little chance of winning but where he is a regular TV watcher.
I bring all of this up because for a sustained period over the spring and summer I wrote a series of pieces arguing that all of the puffery about Brad Parscale and his “Death Star” was exactly wrong: That the Trump digital operation was basically a Nigerian Prince scam run by incompetent amateurs.
Back then a lot of people told me I was an idiot and had no idea what I was talking about and that Parscale was a genius.
Two weeks from now those same people are going to be saying, “Trump would have won if Parscale hadn’t screwed him over . . .”
2. Who Is Trump’s Base?
A note from a friend who works in politics who we’ll call Professor Peter Venkman:
Bill McRaven's op-ed endorsing Joe Biden got me thinking about two things:
First, it's extraordinary that so much military brass—people who Republican voters would've looked to for guidance circa 2000 - 2015—have abandoned Trump publicly and, in some cases, thrown in for Biden. Kelly is essentially a defector. Mattis is anti-Trump. Hayden is pro-Biden. And just the sheer number of people in the defense and nat-sec establishments is staggering.
For what it's worth, I think McRaven's piece is a Bee-er Eff Dee than Mattis's: It appeared in a forum read by Republicans (the WSJ op-ed page in print instead of The Atlantic dot com), and the author went out of his way to identify himself as "a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative." That statement has a lot of "See? I'm just like you" energy for a particular audience.
The second is: We know by now that generals and admirals are speaking out in extraordinary ways, but what about the rank-and-file military vote? Where does it stand in this election? I haven't seen much coverage of it. I checked out Stars and Stripes and the Military Times, and the most recent, germane story is this one in the Military Times from August 31: "Trump’s popularity slips in latest Military Times poll — and more troops say they’ll vote for Biden." MT partners with Syracuse University for its polling, so I'm inclined to give the survey the benefit of the doubt. The caveat is that the respondents were identified just as "active-duty troops," not active-duty troops who also are likely voters. With that in mind, this is still striking:
Trump's favorable / unfavorable among active-duty troops is -12 (38 / 50).
More active-duty troops have a "very unfavorable" rating (42 percent) than a "very favorable" and "favorable" rating combined (37 percent).
For presidential preference, it's 41 percent for Biden, 37 percent for Trump(!), and 13 percent for a third party. That's compared to a 20 / 40 / 34 split for Clinton-Trump-third party in October 2016. So it's gone from Trump +20 to Democrat +4.
According to CNN's exits, military veterans made up 13 percent of the vote in 2016. And the group went 60-34 for Trump. So *even granting* that the MT / Syracuse poll is imperfect . . . it's wild to see a swing like this among such a staunchly Republican constituency. Even if the poll overstates Biden's strength, it's a certainty that Trump stands to lose a lot of ground among the military vote this year.
This invites another question: What, exactly, is "Trump's" base right now? Because it doesn't include the military. It doesn't include seniors, apparently. Who is supposed to replace the people dropping from this coalition?
That’s not a crazy question.
Trump is getting blown out with Jewish voters; losing badly among Catholics and black and Hispanic voters. He’s losing voters under 30 and voters over 65. He’s going to lose women by a historic margin.
What does that leave? White Protestant men with a high school education between the age of 35 and 64?
Some quick back-of-the envelope math:
No candidate has ever received more votes that Barack Obama did in 2008, when he won 69,498,516 votes.
Looking at the polling averages it is likely that Joe Biden is going to eclipse that number. If Biden gets ≥ 51 percent of the vote and turnout is over 136 million—which is the most likely scenario—then he will wind up winning more votes than anyone to ever have run for president.
3. Surface Spread
In the early days of COVID there was a lot of time and energy spent trying to guard against the spread of coronavirus through surface contacts. That made sense because we knew relatively little about the virus.
Wired has an update on the state of knowledge now:
One clear takeaway is that, given an adequate initial dose, some amount of the virus can linger for days or even weeks on some surfaces, like glass and plastic, in controlled lab conditions. Emphasis on controlled. For example, earlier this month, an Australian study published in Virology Journal found traces of the virus on plastic banknotes and glass 28 days after exposure. . . .
The second consistent finding is that there’s plenty of evidence of the virus on surfaces in places where infected people have recently been. Wherever there has recently been an outbreak, and in places where people are asked to quarantine or are treated for Covid-19, “there’s viral RNA everywhere,” says Chris Mason, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. That makes going out and swabbing a useful tool for keeping track of where the virus is spreading.
It’s tempting to piece those two elements together: If the virus is on the surfaces around us, and it also lasts for a long time in lab settings, naturally we should vigorously disinfect. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s happening.
In a study published in September in Clinical Microbiology and Infection, researchers in Israel tried to piece it all together. They conducted lab studies, leaving samples out for days on various surfaces, and found they could culture the remaining virus in tissue. In other words, it remained infectious. Then they gathered samples from highly contaminated environments: Covid-19 isolation wards at a hospital, and at a hotel used for people in quarantine. The virus was abundant. But when they tried to culture those real-world samples, none were infectious. Later that month, researchers at an Italian hospital reported similar conclusions in The Lancet.
In addition to environmental conditions, a confounding factor might be saliva, or the stuff that we often mean when we talk about droplets sticking onto surfaces. In her own research, Wyllie has studied how long certain viral proteins remain intact in saliva to help determine the reliability of Covid-19 spit tests. For her purposes, stability is a good thing. But some proteins have appeared to denature more quickly than others, she notes, suggesting the virus as a whole does not remain intact and infectious. That could be because saliva tends to be less hospitable to pathogens than the synthetic substances or blood serums often used in lab-based stability studies.
Consider, Wyllie says, the extraordinary chain of events that would need to happen to successfully spread SARS-CoV-2 on a surface. A sufficiently large amount of the virus would need to be sprayed by an infected person onto a surface. The surface would need to be the right kind of material, exposed to the right levels of light, temperature, and humidity so that the virus does not quickly degrade. Then the virus would need to be picked up—which you would most likely do with your hands. But the virus is vulnerable there. (“Enveloped” viruses like SARS-CoV-2 do not fare well on porous surfaces like skin and clothing.) And then it needs to find a way inside you—usually through your nose or your eye—in a concentration big enough to get past your mucosal defenses and establish itself in your cells. The risk, Wyllie concludes, is low.
The key here is that fomites are not a major—or even particularly significant—vector for transmission. We should stop freaking out about them. Libraries don’t need to quarantine books. Playgrounds don’t need to clean swingsets. You don’t need to disinfect your Amazon deliveries.
Public exhaustion is one of the big risks in trying to manage a pandemic. So instead of doing all of this hygiene theater, we should be spending our social and political capital on the big-ticket items: Using masks; curtailing large-scale, close-contact congregations of people; and cutting down on large numbers of people gathering indoors.
It’s fine to have over-reacted to the possibility of surface transmission early on before we knew much about SARS-CoV-2. But we’ve worked the problem and now we have a clearer picture of how the bug works.
We should adjust our tactics accordingly.