By tomorrow (when we should get some big new polls), we’ll have a pretty good idea whether Thursday’s debate changed the dynamics of the presidential race. My prediction: it won’t, because this thing is close to being baked.
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 10 days to go until Election Day, and then 78 days until the Inauguration.
On days like today, it is probably a good idea to separate the psychology of politics from the reality.
The data overwhelmingly suggests that Trump is losing the race, but TrumpWorld is furiously trying to convince itself that everything is breaking Orange. They think the debate was a turning point and Trump is poised to shock the world again.
Some of this is the natural instinct to keep morale high but some of it is just fan service. And a lot of it is the punditry of low expectations.
Yes, he lied incessantly, whiffed on the pandemic, and celebrated his own cruelty, but because he didn’t actually foam at the mouth it was VICTORY. Or at least that’s what much of the conservative media is telling itself today.
Even though Trump’s attempt to play the Bobulinski card was a flop, the fluffers desperately hope that Joe Biden’s “gaffe” about the oil industry will help Trump win Pennsylvania and Texas and perhaps a second term.
But ICYMI, the numbers increasingly look like Trump is toast.
Meanwhile Trump faces furious headwinds: the U.S. hit the highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and Biden is making Trump’s failure the centerpiece of his closing push.
Our resident pessimist, JVL, is actually pretty bullish on the outcome. From his Friday newsletter:
I spent 19 years in this business before Donald Trump took over American politics. His ascendance was dispiriting, on many levels, because it destroyed a number of my youthful illusions.
A large swath of the country fell under the thrall of a demagogue.
One of our two great political parties gave itself over to authoritarianism.
The institutional guardrails we revered turned out to be dependent on the good character of men and women, which suddenly went in short supply.
A number of people I had once respected rallied—either abjectly or gleefully—to the banner of a man they knew to be dangerous.
Others tried to maintain their political viability by focusing on the flaws of the those who opposed this would-be tyrant.
Still others walked away from the most important fight of their lives, high-mindedly insisting that while Trump might be bad, he was too clownish to be a real threat.
Or that instead of joining the fight, they intended to be umpires, standing above the grubby back-and-forth, calling balls and strikes.
This coming Sunday, October 25, is the feast of St. Crispin. And I cannot think of better lines for this moment in American history.
…This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
There are 10 days to go.
Four years ago, President Donald Trump billed himself as the voice for the "forgotten man." In 2020, he forgot about him.
While Trump cast himself as a candidate who could channel the grievances of average Americans in 2016, in 2020, the grievances he channels are squarely his own, and many of them are incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t marinated for months in Fox News, Hunter Biden’s laptop, pizzagate or other conspiracy theories….
Always a prisoner of his own narcissism, he has created an alternative-reality bubble around himself that insulates him from what is happening in his own country.
He believes we are turning the corner and learning to “live with” the coronavirus. But the same day as the debate, more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases were reported; nearly a thousand Americans have been dying every day from Covid-19; and millions of people are without jobs. Millions may be about to lose their health insurance.
But these are not Trump’s problems. Instead, he wants to talk about Hunter Biden’s laptop. He wants to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln. He wants to bask in adulation of fans who think he has made America great. He wants sympathy for all the mean and unfair things that have been done to him.
Please don’t bother Trump with stories about what average Americans who once voted for Trump are dealing with as they sit around the kitchen table. In Trump’s 2020 America, they are the forgotten ones.
We Get Mail
I am a Cheap Irish Bastard. Always have been, always will be. I take pride in this, as did my father and, one suspects, his father before him. And, as a CIB, I do not give up my cabbage easily, especially when it comes to online subscriptions and general punditry, however insightful; there's just too much of it.
I have also been a free-loading lurker of the Bulwark since day one—Hoovering up your anti-Trump screed with glee every weekday morning. I'm not proud of this, but it’s catnip to me, and it makes me think that I may one day find it in myself to forgive you for your past sins. Ditto your buds Miller, Kristol and Last, though the jury may forever be out on Kristol TBH. But, for now, you are doing God’s work, fighting the good fight, and it's nice to have you on the side of truth and justice and Apple pie.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when you switched over to a paywall, requiring a subscription, just when things were getting interesting. It was a dagger, deep and twisted; and it hurt, Charlie, it really hurt. I convinced myself you guys weren’t so smart or so insightful (c'mon, Sarah Palin?) and I could get through these last few weeks without you. You were deleted from my bookmarks. Dead to me. Gone.
But then you went on Deadline: White House yesterday with Nicole Wallace and Basil Smikle and said what you said about raising sons in the era of Trump. And kaboom.
Take my money.
Keep it up.
Burlington, Vermont 05401
Good morning Charlie,
First off, I want to thank you for what the Bulwark is doing. I think you and your team provide an important service in this madly spun world.
I decided to join Bulwark+ recently. I've thought about it since you launched it, and the only thing really holding me back was whether I really wanted another yearly subscription. They do add up... But I think Bulwark+ is important for a number of reasons.
I thought I would give you a little info about myself so you can better understand the types of people that Bulwark is pulling in. I would probably describe myself left of center. I'm 52 now, and when I was 18 I probably would have been identified as 'radical left'. As I've grown, established a career as a geologist in the oil and gas industry, bought a home, built a family, I have steadily moved further toward the center. I registered to vote when I turned 18, and have always been an independent voter. I like to keep an open mind.
There is a certain reaction that I have come to expect from people on the left during the last 4 years. The reaction is angry, it's very real, but it's not all that surprising in that it reflects the hyper-partisanship that has blossomed during this time. The reaction that I see from the Never Trump crowd is also angry, and it's also very authentic, but it's also somewhat unexpected to me. Why unexpected? Because in the past, I've seen conservatives do a better job in coming together as a group even if everyone doesn't agree on a particular position. It's a very disciplined 'circle the wagons' response that I don't see from those on the left. For that reason, the outrage of the Never Trumpers takes on an extra level of authenticity for me. It's as if to say, 'We have principles and integrity, and what Trump is doing, what he stands for is not right. And all of his sycophants who look the other way at seemingly everything for fear of an angry tweet are furthering the harm caused to our country.' To me, it is an incredibly respectable position. Your anger is visceral, and I sympathize with you for what the Republican Party has become.
I was fully on-board when I read your 'Burn It All Down' piece back in July, and I'm more than happy to support Bulwark+ because of everything that I've read over the past several months. Keep up the good work, and hopefully we will be seeing a transition of power and a return to decency in the near future.
While watching the debate last night, I had a thought. If you strip away Trump's personality, overall this is a very normal campaign season. By which I mean, nothing about this campaign is currently any different than any other end of first term campaign. After one term, what the challenger and the incumbent say is almost meaningless; you either believe that the current president deserves to be reelected, or you believe that he does not. You either want four more years of what you have, or you do not.
What makes this election different is that the incumbent is very unpopular. Historically unpopular. Generally speaking, people are liable to stick with incumbents simply because they've already been doing the job. If someone has been president already, then they probably should continue to be so, so goes the thinking. Thus, it doesn't matter if there's been two wars like there was under W. Bush, or massive economic upheaval like under Reagan or Obama, people tend to stick with the captain they have rather than roll the dice.
The exception to this rule comes when a president does something bad enough to cause the general electorate to lose faith in them. For Ford, it was pardoning Nixon. For Carter it was the Iranian hostage situation. For H. W. Bush it was being too much like Reagan, as well as the tax increases and the Gulf War.
For Trump, it appears to be the virus coupled with his personality and his inability to do anything despite claiming total authority. Your average American might not care about trade deals, allies, or the deficit. But they certainly don't like watching a president that looks and acts like a complete moron every time he opens his mouth. People have a general idea of what they want in a President. They have a general idea of what they want to see in them. It is a very generic and wide ranging concept, but it is a concept. Trump has failed to remain within the giant boundaries of the Presidency, and as such the general electorate is responding.
If he is a one term president, and we should all hope that he is, it will be because people encountered general, widespread upheaval and decided that the president was both not up to the job and actively offensive to their idea of how he should be acting. If your common man or woman says 'I could do a better job than this moron' your presidency is dead.
Thus, while this entire time feels insane, it can be helpful to remember that this election is at least like every other second term election. It just feels like it isn't because our reality tv president refuses to be quiet for even a single second of airtime.
Hugh Hewitt @hughhewittWith @realDonaldTrump win last night —in boxing terms, @JoeBiden got clobbered in the last four rounds of a 15 rounder— the race enters the crucial stretch. Early voters were never going to move, but very good for @POTUS to win big in last debate. @SenateGOP happy too. Very.
Rural America 2020 @RuralUSA2020#Wisconsin has one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the country right now. So, of course @realDonaldTrump is doing a rally tomorrow not far from a field hospital that's been set up in #Milwaukee. As always, we're up with billboards outside the event to warn WI families. https://t.co/W0nNsD2CMz
Helen Kennedy @HelenKennedyLou Dobbs: “I don’t know why anyone in the great state of South Carolina would ever vote for Lindsey Graham....Graham has betrayed President Trump at almost every turn.” https://t.co/aUrVupjoIB