Elections

Biden Wants It Both Ways

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tenn., U.S., October 22, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This week felt like a month. On the menu today: After President Trump asked, “Would you close down the oil industry?” Biden responded, “I have a transition from the old industry, yes,” and now Biden’s campaign insists the candidate didn’t mean it. Biden also insisted that he “never said I oppose fracking,” which is contradicted by many of Biden’s past statements. It was that kind of a debate, wrapping up that kind of a week. Also, Operation Warp Speed’s chief adviser, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, offers a really encouraging timeline for vaccine distribution.

 Joe Biden: ‘I Have a Transition from the Old [Oil] Industry, Yes’

After the catastrophic failure of the much-hyped “Battleground Texas” project by Democrats in 2014, Lone Star State Republicans could be forgiven for thinking their opposition would never get their act together.

The first tiny rattle in the engine came in 2016, when Donald Trump won the state by “only” nine percentage points. Because we’re talking about such a huge state, that amounts to more than 800,000 votes. But it was a somewhat smaller margin than preceding cycles. Mitt Romney had won the state by 1.2 million votes, and John McCain won by about 950,000 votes.

And then in 2018, Beto O’Rourke came respectably close in the Senate race against Ted Cruz, Republicans swept all the statewide offices again, but incumbents who usually won by wide margins, like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and state attorney general Ken Paxton, won by just a handful of percentage points. Democrats picked up two U.S. House seats, two state senate seats, and a dozen state House seats. Suddenly the Democrats’ dreams of winning the state were unlikely, but no longer laughable.

Heading into 2020, some Democrats started to believe that this was the year. A few polls here and there put Joe Biden ahead in Texas, and when Trump led, it was rarely by more than four or five points. Trump largely alienates suburbanites, and Texas has a lot of suburbs. Those allegedly boring college-educated minivan-driving soccer moms and white-collar dads used to be the bread and butter of the Republican Party. Trump had started to enjoy better polls, and the formula at FiveThirtyEight suggested Biden’s chances had never been better than one in three.

And then during last night’s debate, Joe Biden said this:

TRUMP: Would you close down the oil industry?

BIDEN: By the way, I have a transition from the old industry, yes.

TRUMP: Oh, that’s a big statement.

BIDEN: I will transition. It is a big statement.

TRUMP: That’s a big statement.

BIDEN: Because I would stop.

KRISTEN WELKER: Why would you do that?

BIDEN: Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly.

TRUMP: Oh, I see. Okay.

BIDEN: Here’s the deal-

TRUMP: That’s a big statement.

The Biden campaign is insisting Biden only meant he would transition away from federal subsidies to the oil industry, not away from the use of oil entirely. In their defense, after the above exchange, Biden did focus on “subsidies,” but only after saying, “it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

BIDEN: Well, if you let me finish the statement, because it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time, over time, and I’d stopped giving to the oil industry, I’d stop giving them federal subsidies. You won’t get federal subsidies to the gas, oh, excuse me to solar and wind.

TRUMP: Yeah.

BIDEN: Why are we giving it to oil industry?

When Biden says “subsidies,” you may be picturing the U.S. government handing a check to oil companies. What he means are provisions in the tax code that allow companies to deduct a majority of the costs incurred from drilling new wells domestically, percentage depletion that works akin to depreciation in assets, tax credits for reducing carbon emissions, and a 2004 reduction in the corporate tax rate. When Biden says he’s going to “stop giving them federal subsidies,” what he means is that he wants to repeal previous changes to the tax code that were designed to increase domestic energy production.

Biden kept going, making comments that indicate he wants the oil industry to disappear in the next 15 years: “He takes everything out of context, but the point is, look, we have to move toward net zero emissions. The first place to do that by the year 2035 is in energy production, by 2050 totally.”

It will be quite difficult for any Democrat to win the state of Texas while calling for the entire U.S. oil industry to be phased out within a decade and a half. The pandemic has generated record layoffs, but the industry still employs 162,000 Texans in drilling and oil-field services, and those jobs pay 40 percent more than the median job.

The desire to phase out the oil industry is also not likely to be a winner in certain corners of Pennsylvania, where, as of 2019, nearly 18,000 people are employed in oil and petroleum production.

The related topic of fracking returned, and Biden insisted that not only does he not want to ban fracking, but that he never said he opposed fracking, which is a lie:

BIDEN: I never said I oppose fracking.

TRUMP: You said it on tape.

BIDEN: Show the tape, put it on your website.

TRUMP: I’ll put it on.

BIDEN: Put it on the website. The fact of the matter is he’s flat lying.

WELKER: Would you rule out about banning fracking?

BIDEN: I do rule out banning fracking because the answer we need, we need other industries to transition, to get to ultimately a complete zero emissions by 2025. What I will do with fracking over time is make sure that we can capture the emissions from the fracking, capture the emissions from gas. We can do that and we can do that by investing money in doing it, but it’s a transition to that.

In the July 2019 debate, Biden was asked about fracking by CNN’s Dana Bash:

BASH: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to clarify, would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?

BIDEN: No, we would — we would work it out. [Biden makes a hand gesture, suggesting pushing something out or away.] We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.

In Biden’s final debate with Bernie Sanders in March, the former vice president said:

SANDERS: I’m talking about stopping fracking, as soon as we possibly can. I’m talking about telling the fossil fuel industry that they are going to stop destroying this planet. No ifs, buts and maybes about it. I’m talking about speaking-

BIDEN: So am I.

And then later in that debate:

SANDERS: You cannot continue, as I understand Joe believes, to continue fracking, correct me if I’m wrong. What we need to do right now is bringing the world together, tell the fossil fuel industry that we are going to move aggressively to win solar, sustainable energies and energy efficiency.

TAPPER: Thank you, senator.

BIDEN: No more, no new fracking.

Between this and the various times Biden has told environmentalist protesters or supporters that he wants to “end fossil fuels,” “get rid of fossil fuels,“phase out fossil fuel production,” and “ban fossil fuel exports,” there is a pattern that whenever Biden is challenged on being insufficiently committed to the green agenda, he insists he agrees with his critic. And then when called out for those comments, Biden insists he never said what he said.

Joe Biden’s true energy policy is that he agrees with whomever is in front of him, whether it’s a hardcore green activist or an oil-field worker who wants to keep making good wages to support his family. Biden wants it both ways because he wants both votes, and he is adamant that no decision he reaches will ever disappoint either side. If he is elected, energy policy in the Biden administration would be a jump ball, depending upon who gets appointed to those key positions of Secretary of Energy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the commissioners on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, etc.

Also note that Kamala Harris, who would take over if Biden could not complete his term, completely supports banning fracking, propose the “cooperative managed decline of fossil fuel production,” and backs the Green New Deal.

Apocalyptic Joe

I do worry that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will get worse as the winter months arrive. People will spend more time indoors, increasing their close contact, and if infected, spread it to others in their household. People are going to have a tough time resisting getting together with relatives for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The good news is that your odds of surviving an infection are better than ever: “Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.”

Meanwhile, Operation Warp Speed’s chief adviser, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, told ABC News this week that “It’s not a certainty, but the plan — and I feel pretty confident — should make it such that by June, everybody could have been immunized in the U.S.” What’s more, “Moderna and Pfizer are likely to be the first to apply for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, possibly as soon as November or December. If a vaccine is authorized before the end of the year, Slaoui said approximately 20 to 40 million doses of it will be stockpiled and ready for distribution for a limited population.”

First doses for the most vulnerable by the end of the year, and everybody’s safe by June. The end is in sight, people. Between the improved treatments and the pace of vaccine development, we’re almost through with this thing; we just need to be smart and careful for the next few months.

But last night, Biden went well beyond any measure of reasonable wariness and declared, “The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year.” As of last night, there were 70 days left in this year. That comes out to 2,857 deaths per day, every day, from now until January 1. Our daily rate of deaths has been around 1,000 — generally below it — since late August. If we lost 900 souls a day for the rest of the year, that would add up to 63,000 additional deaths.

The truth is bad enough, there’s no need for Biden to veer into the dire scaremongering. (Right now in the comments section, some regular readers are stunned that I, of all writers, could find someone else’s assessment to be fearmongering.)

ADDENDUM: My colleagues David Harsanyi and Kyle Smith have more on some really glaring lies by Biden — “not one person with private insurance would lose their health insurance under my plan, or did they under Obamacare,” “there is no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage, businesses go out of business” — and it overall reinforces what Democrats would prefer to not notice. Biden just blurts out the first thing that comes to mind, regardless of its accuracy, as much as Trump does, and either can’t remember or doesn’t care what the actual truth is.

Law & the Courts

Who Are the Last Swing Voters in This Election?

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President Donald Trump walks on stage before delivering remarks during a Latinos For Trump campaign event at the Trump National Doral Miami resort in Doral, Fla., September 25, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the menu today: a deep look at Latinos, who might be the last of the swing voters in our heavily polarized political environment; Joe Biden wants a blue-ribbon commission to give him recommendations about the federal judiciary; a pretender and a contender for the title of Great Southern Democratic Hope; and a note of thanks.

In 2020, Latinos Are Perhaps the Last of the Swing Voters

Washington Post columnist Ruben Navarrette makes a sharp observation: “This was supposed to be The Latino Election. Even more so than 2016, which was supposed to be The Latino Election — but never was. Latinos were supposed to get top billing. Yet that never happened. Immigration is off the agenda, since neither Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden seems eager to discuss it.”

It’s not that the two major candidates never discussed immigration; it’s that other hugely consequential issues squeezed immigration out of the spotlight. The coronavirus pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime menace, as is the related economic downturn. This year’s national convulsions over issues of race, crime, police brutality, and order in our cities is also impossible to ignore. If the virus in Wuhan had not escaped out into the broader population, the entire course of 2020 might have been different, and we might be in the middle of a presidential campaign that focused as much on immigration as the previous one did.

Whether or not Navarrette thinks Trump and Biden are eager to discuss the topic of immigration, does anyone have any questions or doubts about where President Trump stands on immigration issues after four years in office? If Trump wanted to make a deal on the Dreamers, it would have happened by now. We don’t have a “big, beautiful wall,” paid for by Mexico, but we have 371 miles of replaced or new border fencing. Trump made asylum rules stricter and increased Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.

Similarly, Biden may not spend a lot of time talking about his immigration plans — with all of those early lids, he’s not spending a lot of time talking about much of anything — but his plans are there for anyone who bothers to look. A path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, instant restoration of DACA, a moratorium on deportations in his first 100 days, cease the current replacement of border fencing, protect sensitive locations from immigration enforcement actions, expand the supply of temporary workers, and allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigration.

As far as we can tell from public-opinion polls, there are at least two groups of Latinos that are gravitating towards Trump. The first is Cuban Americans, and if Trump wins Florida again, he will probably have this group to thank. Not only do 59 percent of South Florida Cuban Americans say they will vote for Trump, they support him across the board on a variety of issues. At least 55 percent of South Florida Cuban Americans support Trump on immigration, race relations, national protests, health care, Cuba policy, China policy, and the COVID-19 crisis. Among this demographic, 80 percent approve of how Trump is handling the economy.

The second demographic of Latinos that is shifting in support of Trump is Venezuelan Americans. “Venezuelan support is a small, new prize in Florida, a presidential battleground with 14 million votes up for grabs, that is often decided by the slimmest of margins. About 238,000 Venezuelans live in the Sunshine State, and some 67,000 were naturalized citizens as of 2018, according the U.S. Census. A recent University of North Florida poll estimated that 55,000 of them are eligible voters — and nearly 7 out of 10 support Trump over Democrat Joe Biden.”

One wonders if Venezuelan Americans will be more energized about the president in the aftermath of the report that Richard Grenell, former U.S. ambassador to Germany and former acting director of national intelligence, met with an ally of Venezuelan dictator Nicholas Maduro in an attempt to “facilitate a peaceful transition of power.” On September 17, Grenell met near Mexico City with Jorge Rodríguez, a former Venezuelan vice president and close ally of Maduro. Obviously, whatever incentives the administration laid out to encourage Maduro to step down, it wasn’t enough.

A potential third group of Latinos who are warming up to Trump are Nicaraguan Americans, although there’s less concrete evidence of this shift: “Eduardo Gamarra, who directs the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University, said that based on polling conducted among Central Americans, he believes that more Nicaraguans support Trump today than in 2016. It’s a trend that runs parallel to that seen in Cubans and Cuban-Americans, he noted, who supported Barack Obama in 2012 in record numbers, but in 2020, favor President Trump. In focus groups of Nicaraguans, especially after President Daniel Ortega’s 2018 crackdown, Gamarra also noted more support for the American president than before.”

What do immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua have in common? Almost all of them have experienced life under Communist or socialist dictators. For a while now, conservatives have speculated that Bernie Sanders and his supporters openly embracing the “socialist” label would spur those who had firsthand experience with socialist regimes to run away from the Democratic Party.

The Floridian Nicaraguan-American community that supports Biden is quick to emphasize its anti-Communist stance. According to the Miami Herald, “Along with signs saying ‘Nicaraguans with Biden’ and portraits of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the most common car decorations for the caravan were signs that proclaimed attendees were ‘100% anti-comunista.’ The caravan drew a cross-section of voters: second-generation Nicaraguan-Americans who were first-time voters along with older Nicaraguan immigrants who moved to South Florida in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as part of the wave of immigration sparked by the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s rise to power.”

Navarrette’s Post piece continues, “For his part, Biden never launched a ground game with Latinos. He was too busy trying to make peace with African Americans, many of whom were leery of a tough-on-crime politician who built a career protecting White folks from Black folks and wrote the law that fueled mass incarceration. The best Biden had to offer Latinos was to greet a gathering a few weeks ago by holding up a phone and playing Justin Bieber singing the Spanish-language love song ‘Despacito.’”

(On paper, a Biden presidency should obliterate wokeness as a social movement once and for all. If Democrats want to argue that Biden is somewhat less tin-eared, dated, condescending, and insensitive — “you ain’t black,” “are you a junkie?” “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent” — fine, but let’s all acknowledge that Biden is only marginally more sensitive on race and ethnicity than Trump. For a guy who’s supposedly this endless fountain of empathy, Biden keeps blurting out things that would get less powerful and famous Americans fired, canceled, or given a stern warning from their employer’s human-resources department. On paper, the double standard from the Woke Left should destroy the notion that a single racially insensitive or controversial comment should be a career-ender in American life. But it’s more likely that a Biden presidency would demonstrate that the Woke Left has an unending willingness to accept double standards.)

This morning, I began by wondering just how many swing voters were left. Who could still be struggling to decide? These two major party candidates are the ultimate known quantities. Trump might be erratic, but there’s little reason to think four more years of Trump would be dramatically different. And Biden has literally been in public office longer than the average American has been alive.

But Latinos might be the last of the swing voters. They’re splitting two to one in favor of Biden, but Trump doesn’t need to win this demographic to win another term, he just needs to not get blown out. David Leonhardt of the New York Times observes the gender gap within this group is considerable: “Among Latina women, Biden leads Trump by a whopping 34 percentage points (59 percent to 25 percent). Among Latino men, Biden’s lead is only eight points (47 percent to 39 percent). These patterns are similar across both Latino college graduates and those without a degree.”

And elsewhere in the Times, Jennifer Medina observes that “what has alienated so many older, female and suburban voters is a key part of Mr. Trump’s appeal to these men, interviews with dozens of Mexican-American men supporting Mr. Trump shows: To them, the macho allure of Mr. Trump is undeniable. He is forceful, wealthy and, most important, unapologetic. In a world where at any moment someone might be attacked for saying the wrong thing, he says the wrong thing all the time and does not bother with self-flagellation.”

Biden: What We Need Is a Blue-Ribbon National Commission!

In an interview with 60 Minutes’ Norah O’Donnell, Joe Biden sort-of kind-of offers a further explanation on court-packing:

JOE BIDEN:  If elected, what I will do is I’ll put together a national commission of bipartisan commission of scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberal/conservative. And I will — ask them to over 180 days come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack- the way in which it’s being handled and it’s not about court packing. There’s a number of other things that our constitutional scholars have debated and I’ve looked to see what recommendations that commission might make.

NORAH O’DONNELL: So, you’re telling us you’re going to study this issue about whether to pack the court?

JOE BIDEN: No, whether– there’s a number of alternatives that are– go well beyond packing.

NORAH O’DONNELL: This is a live ball?

JOE BIDEN: Oh, it is a live ball. No, it is a live ball. We’re going to have to do that. And you’re going to find there’s a lot of conservative constitutional scholars who are saying it as well. The last thing we need to do is turn the Supreme Court into just a political football, whoever has the most votes gets whatever they want. Presidents come and go. Supreme Court justices stay for generations.

If Biden thinks he’s going to find “a lot of conservative constitutional scholars” who endorse expanding the size of the Supreme Court, he really has gone senile.

The “blue-ribbon commission” is a standard Washington maneuver to do something that is not all that popular. You gather a bunch of respected retired old-timers from both parties, hold some public hearings, let their staff write up a detailed report that few people will actually read, allow them to propose the controversial idea, and then lawmakers get to support it, saying that the controversial idea has been endorsed by the blue-ribbon commission as necessary.

The Great Democratic Southern Hopes

In case you missed it yesterday, I usually enjoy mocking the wild hype-to-performance ratios of each election cycle’s “Great Democratic Southern Hopes” — the Alison Lundergan Grimeses, the Michelle Nunns, the Beto O’Rourkes. You’ve probably read those glowing profile pieces in the national political press, gushing about how this year, the Democrats have found a winner who is going to shock everyone in this or that red state. (I called O’Rourke the king of the Great Democratic Southern Hopes, and perhaps Wendy Davis should be considered the queen.)

This year we’ve got another who fits the wildly overhyped label in Kentucky’s Amy McGrath. But we should recognize that a little further south and east, there’s a genuine Great Democratic Southern Hope in Senate candidate Jaime Harrison. Harrison might not win, but he’s uncomfortably close in what is arguably the most Republican state in the country.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to everyone who ordered Hunting Four Horsemen yesterday. Several of you will be contacted shortly about receiving an inscribed copy of Between Two Scorpions.

Elections

Vote-Counting Begins in Earnest

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A voter casts his ballot at the Milwaukee Public Library’s Washington Park location on the first day of in-person voting in Milwaukee, Wisc., October 20, 2020. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

On the menu today: Why those ominous predictions that we won’t know who won the 2020 presidential election for days, or perhaps weeks after Election Day may not pan out; some back-and-forth decision-making from the Trump campaign; and a special request.

Your State May Already Be Counting Your Vote!

You may have heard it could be a while before all the votes are counted after Election Day. That . . . may not turn out to be the case. At least three of the most pivotal states in the presidential race are already tabulating the early votes.

Thirteen states allow election officials to begin counting absentee or mail-in ballots before Election Day, and those states include Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. In fact, if you had to pick a half-dozen states that could determine the outcome of the presidential election, those three would make just about everyone’s list.

In Arizona, just under 900,000 people have already voted, and state law permitted counting to begin yesterday, October 20. The law is the same in North Carolina, where more than 1.8 million people already voted. In Florida, where more than 3 million people (!) already voted, state law allowed counting to begin October 12.

In Texas, certain large localities are allowed to start a little early. The statute reads, “when the polls open on Election Day; in a jurisdiction with more than 100,000 people, counting can begin at the end of the early voting by personal appearance period.” The early voting period in Texas ends October 30.

Other states allow similar processing of the ballots, readying them for counting, but not actual counting. Under Nevada law: “Not earlier than 4 working days before the election, the county clerk shall deliver the ballots to the absent ballot central counting board to be processed and prepared for counting pursuant to the procedures established by the Secretary of State to ensure the confidentiality of the prepared ballots until after the polls have closed.” In Nevada, more than 264,000 people have voted so far.

In Ohio, where 1.2 million people have already voted, the statute permits “scanning the absent voter’s ballot by automatic tabulating equipment, if the equipment used by the board of elections permits an absent voter’s ballot to be scanned without tabulating or counting the votes on the ballots scanned.”

In many states, registered Democrats are returning absentee ballots in higher numbers than registered Republicans, and in polls, self-identified Democrats are expressing much greater interest in voting by mail or voting early than self-identified Republicans. If the early vote is mostly Democrats, and the Election Day turnout is mostly Republicans, this will have two effects on early perceptions of who is “winning.”

First, the early “waves” of tallies may well look like a Democratic landslide, if counting begins with the previously tabulated early votes. Then, as the Election Day tallies are added, the numbers will gradually (or perhaps not-so-gradually) shift towards Republicans.

Second, organizations that conduct on-the-ground interviews for exit polls may find their numbers point to a Republican landslide.

With the head start, and the potentially lower total number of ballots cast on Election Day because of all of the early votes, states such as Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina should be able to count their votes relatively quickly. (We can probably throw in Ohio, too.) And if we know who won those key states, along with the roughly 35 to 40 states that aren’t that competitive, we will have a good sense of which candidate is closer to 270 electoral votes.

With all of that said, several other key states do not allow officials to start counting ballots until Election Day, including Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Some states have specific times written into the statute. In Georgia (1.6 million early votes so far), Pennsylvania (just over 1 million early votes so far), and Wisconsin (915,000 early votes so far), officials are not allowed to start counting ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. In Maine and New Hampshire, no counting begins until the polls close.

News organizations are more cautious about declaring winners than they used to be; you may recall the television networks forgetting that Florida has two time zones and calling the state for Al Gore while voters were still casting ballots in the Panhandle. Looking back four years ago, the Associated Press called Ohio for Trump at 10:36 p.m. eastern, Florida at 10:50 p.m., and North Carolina at 11:11 p.m. It’s easy to forget now, but the AP didn’t call Arizona for the president until two days later.

Four years ago, with fewer early votes to count, the AP called Georgia at 11:33 p.m., Iowa two minutes after midnight, Pennsylvania at 1:35 a.m., and Wisconsin at 2:29 p.m., triggering the AP flash that Trump had just been elected the 45th President of the United States. Michigan was so close — 10,704 votes, or less than a quarter of a percentage point — that Trump wasn’t certified the winner for three weeks.

Pennsylvania is likely to be the really thorny one this year, as that state previously had strict rules about absentee voting, which means many Pennsylvanians will be voting by mail for the first time. The fear is that significant numbers of voters will turn in their ballots “naked” — that is, without the required secrecy envelope — and, in accordance with state law, those ballots won’t be counted. In past Pennsylvania elections, about 5 percent of voters didn’t use the secrecy envelope and their ballots were disqualified. One of the reasons you can’t write off Trump’s chances of winning the state is that if more Democrats vote by mail, it’s likely more Democrats will forget to use the secrecy envelope. Republicans who are voting in-person on Election Day won’t face that issue.

As of this morning, the Keystone State has 1,028,431 returned ballots — 749,016 from registered Democrats, 190,668 from registered Republicans. If you assume 5 percent, across the board, don’t use the security envelopes, that means 37,451 Pennsylvania Democrats think they cast a legal ballot but didn’t, while only 9,534 Pennsylvania Republicans think they cast a legal ballot but didn’t.

The thing is, even if you imagine a scenario where Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin take forever to count their ballots . . . if the quicker-counting states break solidly in favor of one candidate, Biden can reach 270 electoral votes, or Trump can be knocking on the door of that threshold.

I could go through a lot of scenarios in the Electoral College map, but the general gist is, if Biden wins Florida and its 29 electoral votes, he has a lot of ways to each 270. If he wins Ohio and its 18 electoral votes, he has almost as many ways. North Carolina has 15 electoral votes, and Arizona has eleven, and not winning either or both of them would greatly complicate Trump’s path to 270.

If Trump wins Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, and you give him the rest of the traditional red states, that puts the president at around 237 electoral votes (I say “around” because we can argue about Nebraska’s Second Congressional District and Maine’s Second Congressional District.) The president’s fate would be in the hands of the slow-counting states. If Georgia and Iowa come in red, Trump is at 259 electoral votes — and his reelection would depend upon winning one of the big three from last cycle, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin.

Just What Is the Game Plan Here?

Pretty soon, the arguments about whether there was a method to the madness will be resolved.

Tomorrow night, Americans will watch the second and perhaps final presidential debate of the 2020 election. If Trump wants to debate Joe Biden, then he should go debate Joe Biden. If he doesn’t want to debate Biden, then he shouldn’t. If the president is confident that he can mop the floor with him, and that his opponent is a drooling imbecile, Trump should be itching for any and all opportunities to draw that contrast before as may viewers as possible.

Thus, it didn’t make much sense for Trump to withdraw from the second debate, objecting that the debate will be held virtually, and then complain that the Biden camp won’t agree to their offer to hold the debate on another date. If Trump can beat Biden in a debate on stage, he can beat him when they are in separate television studios. He can complain about the moderator and the debate commission aren’t being fair and refuse to participate, or he can get out there and make the case for a second term. The moment the Trump campaign refused to do the virtual-only debate, they gave their counterparts an escape hatch to avoid a third debate entirely.

Last week, Trump counter-programmed Biden’s town hall on ABC with his own event on NBC and its cable affiliates, apparently convinced he would garner much higher ratings and effectively win the night in lieu of a debate. And then Biden actually attracted a slightly higher audience, 14.1 million total viewers on ABC alone, while Trump brought in 13.5 million across NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC combined. By comparison, 73 million people watched part of the first Trump-Biden debate.

If President Trump wants to be interviewed by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, then he should do the interview. If he doesn’t want to do the interview, then he shouldn’t do it. But it doesn’t make sense to grant Stahl the interview, and then apparently storm away after 45 minutes, and then tweet about her not wearing a mask and threaten to release the interview himself.

No doubt, someone out there will assure us this is another signature display of three-dimensional or four-dimensional chess, and that the few remaining undecided voters out there were just waiting for a leader to take a bold stand against the longstanding national menace that is Leslie Stahl.

Meanwhile the president’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee worked together to raise more than $1.5 billion this cycle and only had $251 million in the bank at the start of September. Does this look like a campaign that spent more than a billion? Does it feel like Brad Parscale’s “Death Star” juggernaut campaign is fully operational?

ADDENDUM: If you’ve preordered Hunting Four Horsemen already, thank you. If you haven’t . . . today is a good day to do it.

If you pre-order a copy and tweet me a screenshot of your preorder to @jimgeraghty, I will select at least one winner and send you a copy of Between Two Scorpions, inscribed however you like. If you’ve already got a copy, you can give an inscribed copy for a friend. (The holidays are coming!) Or you may keep the inscribed one for yourself and give your other copy away. It’s your life, make your own decisions. And I may pick more than one winner!

I can’t get into all of the details because I don’t really understand all of the details, but apparently some high mucky-mucks at Amazon are considering something about Hunting Four Horsemen tomorrow, which means the preorder numbers today will be really important. I understand Between Two Scorpions will be a “Kindle Unlimited Feature Book” next month, which helps bring it to a wider audience. (If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you get access to more than a million titles, current issues of magazines, unlimited audiobooks, etc.) If you’ve been thinking about preordering — and we’re talking a couple of bucks here — today is a terrific day to do it!

As Bartles and James used to say: “Thank you for your support.

Elections

Why Does America Have a Commission on Presidential Debates?

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The stage for the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio, September 28, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Good morning. Today’s Morning Jolt will try really, really hard to skip over juvenile jokes about Jeffrey Toobin. On the menu today: The Commission on Presidential Debates decrees that the microphones will be muted for candidates during the opponent’s time, the huge divide between the politically engaged and the politically unengaged, a series of thanks, and Greg Corombos and I get metaphorically stuck in a walk-in freezer.

In Thursday’s Debate, the Microphones Will Be Muted

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that “President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones muted during Thursday’s presidential debate to ensure each candidate can get his points across uninterrupted.

Even before this latest decision, Trump’s campaign manager was calling them the “Biden Debate Commission,” and earlier this month, former GOP nominee Bob Dole contended, “The Commission on Presidential Debates is supposedly bipartisan with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. I know all of the Republicans and most are friends of mine. I am concerned that none of them support Donald Trump. A biased debate commission is unfair.”

You may recall Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, insisting that moderator Steve Scully’s Twitter account was hacked; days later, Scully admitted his account had not been hacked.

In an era where every old respected institution in American life seems to be crumbling before our eyes, the Commission on Presidential Debates is strangely impregnable. No one elected them. Few Americans know them. Even most political junkies couldn’t name who’s on the commission. And yet, they more or less decree the rules for the presidential debate every four years, and other than Trump, no candidate really wants to cross them. When wildly popular podcasting star Joe Rogan proposed hosting a debate on his program — no audience, going on for hours, just the two candidates and the host, few major figures in the political firmament took it seriously. (Trump said he was game.)

There is no equivalently powerful institution that manages the primary debates, and thus we’ve seen a lot more debates in primary season.

Back in the 2008 cycle, the Democratic Party had 26 presidential debates and “forums” where multiple candidates appeared. That cycle the Republicans had 21; four years later, Republicans had another 20. The respective party committees didn’t want to have so many debates and forums where the candidates appeared on the same stage, one after another, but for a while neither the campaigns, nor the television networks, nor the sponsoring organizations cared. Lesser-known candidates needed every opportunity they could get, and the networks liked the ratings. Eventually the party committee was able to restore a bit of its own authority, threatening to sanction candidates who participated in “unauthorized” debates, and limiting the process to just six primary debates — a move that many Bernie Sanders fans interpreted as an attempt to help Hillary Clinton. This cycle, Democrats had “only” eleven debates.

In the past few cycles, primary debates have multiplied like rabbits, while the general-election debates have remained pretty much the same: three presidential debates, one vice-presidential debate, with one of the evenings featuring a “town hall” style questions from “ordinary Americans” who allegedly are not pulling for one candidate or another. The moderators are usually news anchors well into distinguished careers. The only time an independent or minor-party candidate has been invited was H. Ross Perot and Admiral James Stockdale in 1992.

The questions are usually predictable and generic, the answers have usually been focus-group-tested to the point of terminal blandness. As I noted earlier this year, “many voters and members of the media seem to think caring about a problem — or more specifically, appearing to care about a problem — is the same as having a workable plan to solve a problem. They mistake the destination for the path.” The moderators rarely follow up or press hard for details. No one breaks out the calculators to make sure the proposed numbers add up.

Would Joe Rogan help create a more edifying and interesting debate? Lawrence Wright? Tim Ferriss? Arthur Brooks? How about Fed chairman Jerome Powell? How about retired generals or diplomats asking about the military and geopolitical problems they see lurking on the horizon? They used to have panels of three or four journalists asking questions, why not multiple questioners? How about the commissioner of the Social Security Administration giving a quick update on the latest numbers, and then asking the candidates how they intend to address the future shortfall?

The Commission on Presidential Debates keeps the debates this way the because the candidates largely want them to be this way — safe, predictable, barely scratching the surface of complicated problems and complex topics.

Please note we are halfway through the Jolt and have not yet made any juvenile jokes about Jeffrey Toobin.

The Most Annoying Partisan You Know Is Not Necessarily Representative

Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan teach political science at Stony Brook University, and in today’s New York Times, they argue that the biggest divide in America is not between the left and the right, but between the tuned-in and the tuned-out:

What’s really fascinating is that tuned-in Democrats worry about different topics than tuned-out Democrats, and the same phenomenon is at work among tuned-in and tuned-out Republicans.

On a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.

Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.

A wiser and sharper political figure could come up with a way to capitalize on that. If you were an ambitious Democrat, you might focus your public remarks on “moral decline,” and not only give less-engaged Democrats a reason to get excited, you might turn some heads among the Republicans, too. The quasi-populist tone of the likes of Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley would lend itself well to a focus on increasing hourly wages as an explicit goal of economic policy.

The authors also note, “This gap between the politically indifferent and hard, loud partisans exacerbates the perception of a hopeless division in American politics because it is the partisans who define what it means to engage in politics. When a Democrat imagines a Republican, she is not imagining a co-worker who mostly posts cat pictures and happens to vote differently; she is more likely imagining a co-worker she had to mute on Facebook because the Trump posts became too hard to bear.”

We are nearly through the Jolt and have not yet made any juvenile jokes about Jeffrey Toobin.

ADDENDA: If you missed yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, the ten-year anniversary of the show, you missed the equivalent of an old sitcom where Greg and I accidentally get stuck in a walk-in freezer and reminisce about all of our greatest hits over the past decade: our pitch for an HGTV show called Greg and Jim Have No Strong Feelings about Interior Decorating, William F. Buckley’s presence at the 2004 National Conservative Writer Draft, our attack ads the week of the Bears-Jets game, and of course, Disney’s CTU.

. . . Thanks to everyone who preordered Hunting Four Horsemen yesterday. I am humbled by your faith that it is worth reading. Then again, if you’re not sure, Between Two Scorpions is just $3.99 on Kindle, and if you like that, you’ll probably like the next one.

. . . Okay. Let’s just say that you were writing a satirical novel. You create a character who’s a well-known legal analyst on a cable-news network and who writes for The New Yorker, married, and who has an affair that results in some pretty sordid personal drama with his colleagues. Your legal analyst gets dragged into court to pay child support. But somehow all this mess doesn’t really interfere with his thriving television journalism career.

And then you write that during a Zoom call with New Yorker magazine colleagues, this legal analyst . . . seems to get bored and take matters into his own hands, so to speak, while everyone else on the call can see what he’s doing. Imagine that in a one-liner that strains credulity, your imaginary legal analyst declares, “I thought I had muted the Zoom video,” as if the real problem was the audio quality.

If you wrote all that, wouldn’t some editor at the publisher conclude, “naming that character ‘Toobin,’ is a little on-the-nose, don’t you think?”

Politics & Policy

What a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ Would Actually Look Like

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President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Carson City, Nev., October 18, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: Robert Reich and other Democrats yearn for a post-Trump “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”; a Republican pollster lays out why he thinks Trump has a much better chance to win reelection than the conventional wisdom suggests; and a pair of very special announcements.

Democrats Haven’t Thought Through a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission,’ Have They?

Former secretary of labor Robert Reich garnered some attention this weekend for a tweet calling for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to be established “when this nightmare is over” — presumably he means after Trump is defeated in the upcoming election and when Joe Biden is president. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes made similar comments earlier this month.  

This isn’t Reich being short-tempered or flying off the handle in a moment of passion; some on the left have been calling for this idea for years. In May 2018, Kevin Baker wrote an extremely lengthy cover piece in The New Republic calling for one after the Trump era, but at least he acknowledged that the election of a president who drove one side of the aisle crazy with outrage was not the traditional situation that required this kind of commission:

I don’t mean to claim that what has gone on here since the election of Donald Trump approaches what most of those other nations that used truth and reconciliation commissions have endured. The first such effort, initiated by President Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina in 1983 — one earlier attempt, in Bolivia in 1982, was shut down before it was completed and another one, in Uganda in 1974, was overseen by Idi Amin; I’m not counting either — was created to soothe the still-raw wounds of a military dictatorship and “Dirty War” that disappeared some 30,000 people. Since then, at least 42 other nations have tried similar means of getting past the past, and the crimes they have confronted have usually been even more horrific and wide-reaching: the genocides in Rwanda and East Timor; the reign of the white supremacist, apartheid regime in South Africa; Soviet-imposed communism in East Germany; the slaughters perpetrated in Haiti after the overthrow of Aristide, in the Yugoslavian civil wars, and by Mobutu, Kabila, and so many others in the Congo; the atrocities committed by U.S.-backed, enabled, and even encouraged regimes in Brazil, South Korea, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, Uruguay.

If the first point you have to concede is that this is nowhere near the sort of circumstance that requires a truth and reconciliation commission, then you don’t really need a truth and reconciliation commission.

I suspect many of those currently calling for an American Trump-era Truth and Reconciliation Commission know South Africa had an institution by that name, but don’t know many of the details. For starters, “reconciliation” necessarily includes a widespread acceptance, however begrudging, of those believed to have committed significant wrongs, even violent crimes. South Africa’s TRC aimed for restorative justice, not retributive justice, which left quite a few victims of the system believing that some perpetrators escaped true accountability. South Africa’s commission “received 7,112 amnesty applications. Amnesty was granted in 849 cases and refused in 5,392 cases, while other applications were withdrawn.” The U.S. Institute of Peace concluded that “few trials were actually held. Several high-level members of the former police were convicted for the attempted murder of Reverend Frank Chikane in 1989. The trial of former minister of defense Magnus Malan and nineteen others ended in acquittal.” The commission called for reparations for victims of the Apartheid state, but only 21,000 people received the payments. South Africa’s TRC was called a “gold standard for how a divided society with a violent past might work through that past and move forward,” and maybe it really did represent the best possible option in one of the worst possible situations. But that didn’t mean everyone went home satisfied.

In the “Trump Presidency Truth and Reconciliation Commission” that Reich envisions, does Stephen Miller get prosecuted — crimes to be determined later — but a less-controversial cabinet member like Rick Perry gets a pass? Attorney General Barr would surely be a top target, too. Does Brett Kavanaugh become a target of the commission? Do administration members who criticized Trump after leaving their positions get a pass, or are they targets of investigation for enabling the president early on? Does Kayleigh McEnany make the cut, or did she sign on too late?

Is the Democratic Party’s agenda truly to see all of their opponents during this presidency locked up in jail, all in the name of upholding the law and protecting human rights?

You may recall that after Barack Obama became president, some Democrats wanted prosecutions of his predecessor and Bush administration officials for alleged “war crimes,” the CIA’s rendition programs, etc. Even before he was sworn in, President-elect Obama indicated he had no real interest in that: “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. . . . And part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the C.I.A., you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.” Obama recognized that he could extract vengeance upon the preceding administration, or he could get his agenda passed, but not both. This outraged quite a few folks on the left, who had convinced themselves that the Bush administration policies ranked among the greatest crimes in human history.

If elected, Joe Biden will face a similar choice. He can set out to put the preceding administration behind bars — and watch Trump make the O. J. Simpson trial look quiet, obscure, and dignified — or he can focus on enacting the policies he wants passed by a Congress that will still probably be closely divided. But Biden can’t have both.

Finally, there is a separate, less partisan proposal we will need to consider soon. At some point, hopefully early next year, the coronavirus pandemic will be over. And just as the 9/11 Commission offered valuable insights into how our country was not prepared for those abominable terrorist attacks, we will need to study how we could have been more prepared for this pandemic. “It’s Trump’s fault!” is not enough (or all that illuminating or accurate, really). We have tough questions to face about how much we can trust the Chinese government, how economically entangled we want to be with that country, why the first warnings of the virus spurred accusations of xenophobia, why the medical advice on masks changed so quickly and how to avoid exacerbating public confusion and skepticism, whether the sweeping lockdowns did any good or represented a panicked overreach, why the first tests from the CDC didn’t work, why certain contagious patients were sent to retirement homes, etc. A bipartisan commission of respected experts, with no partisan axes to grind, would be genuinely useful.

Proposals such as the one from Robert Reich add to public cynicism about bipartisan commissions, suggesting that they’re a fig leaf for one side’s vindictive agenda.

The Interview That Every Poll-Skeptic Has Been Waiting to Read

Over on the home page, Rich interviews Robert Cahaly, founder and senior strategist of the Trafalgar Group. In the interview, Cahaly lays out the single most compelling argument of how the polls could be significantly off-base this cycle:

One is the number of questions on its surveys. “I don’t believe in long questionnaires,” Cahaly says. “I think when you’re calling up Mom or Dad on a school night, and they’re trying to get the kids dinner and get them to bed, and that phone rings at seven o’clock — and they’re supposed to stop what they’re doing and take a 25- to 30-question poll? No way.”

Why does that matter? “You end up disproportionately representing the people who will like to talk about politics, which is going to skew toward the very, very conservative and the very, very liberal and the very, very bored, “Cahaly explains. “And the kind of people that win elections are the people in the middle. So I think they miss people in the middle when they do things that way.”

According to Cahaly, most polls are more than 25 questions. He keeps it between seven and nine, so respondents can answer in a matter of minutes.

The Bored-American community is important, but they’re not necessarily a majority.

ADDENDUM: Special announcement No. 1. . . . For everyone who’s asked, “when are you going to write a sequel to your thriller, Between Two Scorpions?” . . . it’s now available for preorder: Hunting Four Horsemen.

I spent much of autumn 2019 writing out a completely separate idea for the sequel, revolving around a long-lost diary full of Cold War secrets — real-world, little-known secrets, like the CIA’s work with the Dalai Lama in the 1950s and 1960s. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the stakes of that story just didn’t seem high enough, when the world outside our windows was facing a crisis on this scale. And I started to think about what the world will be like, once this virus is in our rear-view mirror . . .

In Hunting Four Horsemen, the coronavirus pandemic is finally over, and a bruised, wary world is trying to return to something resembling normal — including the CIA’s Katrina Leonidivna and her Dangerous Clique team, tracking down a rogue Iranian spy with ties to the now-mostly-forgotten Atarsa terrorist group. But that spy reveals a terrifying new threat: someone calling himself “Hell-Summoner” has approached Tehran — and other rogue regimes — offering to sell them a virus that can be engineered to target any particular genetic sequence.

Katrina, Alec, and the rest of the team learn, to their horror, that the technology to engineer a virus that only infects particular people is very real and if used, could launch a cataclysmic new era of biological warfare. The hunt to find Hell-Summoner is on, at a breakneck pace, from flooded ancient tunnels to an old Nazi fortress to an island of diseased monkeys to a tower of skulls to a lake rumored to turn people to stone — up against ruthless Russian mercenaries, cutthroat Serbian war criminals, cruel animal smugglers, and every other extremist who would want to turn a virus into an unstoppable, invisible and precise weapon of war.

For the team, the stakes have never been higher — the barn door is already open, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse are already riding. For Katrina, Alec Flanagan, Ward Rutledge, Raquel Holtz and the rest, this mission is win or die trying — with that second option unnervingly likely.

Ready for something really chilling? The scenario I envisioned in this novel, of someone offering a rogue state a biological weapon that would only target particular genetic groups . . . already happened in real life. In the mid 1980s, someone — no one ever determined who — approached the South African defense attaché in London and offered to engineer bacteria that would only target and kill “pigmented people.” The South African government researched it and determined the science was plausible . . . but never followed up, or so they say, because they thought it might be a trap by a hostile foreign-intelligence service.

I am far from a perfect writer, but if you check the Amazon reviews for Between Two Scorpions, you’ll see readers by and large received what I wanted to give them —  pop-culture-literate wisecracking protagonists, settings in bizarre and unique corners of the world, villains who are convinced they’re the real heroes of the story and building a better world, glimpses of long-forgotten chapters of world history, and the occasional observation about who we are and the world we live in.

Special announcement No. 2. . . . Can you believe that as of today, Greg Corombos and I have been taping the Three Martini Lunch podcast for ten years?

Elections

Grueling Dueling Town Halls

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The dual town halls of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are seen on television monitors at a restaurant ahead of the election in Tampa, Fla., October 15, 2020. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

On the menu today: a whole lot from last night’s dueling network town halls, where Biden said he’ll reveal his position on Court-packing later; Kamala Harris insists that confirming judges she opposes constitutes Court-packing; and Donald Trump says he has “no position” on the conspiracy theory that Joe Biden orchestrated to have the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden.

Biden: Voters ‘Will Have a Right to Know Where I Stand Before They Vote’

Maybe the dueling network town halls last night were almost as informative as a debate between President Trump and Joe Biden. We got one genuine bit of news out of Biden last night.

BIDEN: It is, but, George, if I — if I say — no matter what answer I gave you, if I say it, that’s the headline tomorrow. It won’t be about what’s going on now, the improper way they’re proceeding.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But don’t voters have a right to know where you stand?

BIDEN: They do have a right to know where I stand. And they will have a right to know where I stand before they vote.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you will come out with a clear position before Election Day?

BIDEN: Yes, depending on how they handle this. But, look, what you should do is, you got to make sure you vote, and vote for a senator who, in fact, thinks — reflects your general view on constitutional interpretation. And vote for a president who you think is more in line with you. And if you oppose the position that I — I would not have appointed her. But if you oppose my position, vote for Trump. Vote for a Republican who shares that view. But that’s your opportunity to get involved in lifetime appointments that a — presidents come and go. Justices stay and stay and stay.

Remember, one of the Democrats’ arguments against Barrett’s confirmation is that people are currently voting, and in their minds, the Senate should not vote to confirm a justice while people are voting. But nearly 20 million Americans have already voted, and Biden says Americans “will have a right to know where I stand before they vote.” By his own standard, he should have revealed his position weeks ago.

Later in the evening, Kamala Harris did an interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon. Lemon cannot be characterized as a hostile interviewer of Harris. Lemon himself said he believed the issue of Court-packing in this presidential campaign is a “distraction.” Lemon himself suggested that the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal in 2016 was somehow illegitimate or an error. But even Don Lemon could recognize that a presidential candidate not willing to say whether he believes the court should be expanded beyond the nine-justice size that has been in place for 150 years was news, and he pressed Harris to expand upon it.

And Harris dodged the question, responding that the confirmation of justices she opposes constitutes “Court-packing,” and that none of Trump’s appellate-court nominees have been black. (This is true of appellate-court nominees, but not for all of Trump’s judicial nominees. None of his 53 appellate appointments are black; eleven of his 161 district-court appointees are black, according to Federal Judicial Center data. On September 23, Roderick C. Young was confirmed 93-2 to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia where he is currently a magistrate judge. Kamala Harris missed the vote.)

LEMON: But this whole idea — were you surprised to hear the former vice president say that he’s going to have — take a stance or give his position on this court packing before the people vote?

HARRIS: I think that Joe Biden has been consistent about saying that this is not the time right now to have this discussion.  And, frankly, to be honest with you, Don, and just to be very straightforward, if we’re going to talk about court packing, which is something that all of a sudden has become a big point of discussion, I think . . .

LEMON: Right.

HARRIS: . . . because our opponents are trying to create a distraction.

LEMON: The only reason I’m bringing it up is just because I want to — I actually think it is a distraction.

HARRIS: But — but . . .

LEMON: And I just wanted to get you on the record.

HARRIS: Yes.

LEMON: So — because maybe, if you — if you guys answer it, you will get it behind you, and it doesn’t become her e-mails. And that’s up to the media, too, to not make it her e-mails.

HARRIS: But I’m not — and not fall into the trap, because, look if we want to — seriously, if we want to talk about court packing, can we please talk about — and I have witnessed this firsthand on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They have been, one after another, nominating people who are unqualified, people who refuse to say that Brown vs. Board of Education is precedent. Do you know that they put 50 people on the lifetime court of a federal court of appeal, and not one is black? I mean, I just — I’m sorry, but I can’t have a conversation about court packing around something . . .

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: . . . that has not even happened yet, which is who is going to be the next president, without dealing with what they have been doing for the last few years.

This reminds me of when Hillary Clinton would say she refused to answer any hypothetical questions. When you’re running for president and you haven’t been elected yet, every question about what you would do as president is a hypothetical question.

With no president to interrupt him, and George Stephanopoulos and the town-hall participants too polite to interrupt the lengthy monologues, Biden talked, and talked, and talked. No, Biden isn’t drooling on himself or utterly senile. But viewers were treated to a combination of Biden’s old lengthy Senate soliloquies and story time with grandpa.

The problem with Joe Biden is not that he’s no longer capable of putting two thoughts together. The problem is he keeps grabbing two handfuls of dozens of thoughts and mushes them all together in one long, meandering, twisting-and-turning, Mississippi River-like stream.

Joe Biden Sort-Of, Kind-Of Remembers What It Takes 

Biden was asked, “As president, how will you avoid the temptation to exact revenge and instead take the high road and attempt to restore bipartisanship, civility, and honor to our democracy?”

Biden chucked and answered, “And as written by a fellow who won the Pulitzer Prize for a book he wrote about the presidency, he said, ‘You know, I doubt whether Biden is really Irish. He doesn’t hold a grudge.’”

My first thought was that Biden was referring to Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes, a series of extraordinarily detailed profiles of eight men running for president in 1988, which has a section on Biden’s first campaign for the Oval Office. Cramer didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for that book, but he did win a Pulitzer for his international reporting in 1979, and he was nominated for the prize again in 1981. And I didn’t remember that quote in the book. It does not appear in the book. As far as I can tell from Google searching, no one has ever been quoted in a news article, magazine profile, op-ed, or letter to the editor, “I doubt whether Biden is really Irish. He doesn’t hold a grudge.’

Cramer did say something sort of along those lines in a 1992 interview with the Washington Post:

As Cramer wrote, he did an unusual thing. He sent out sections of his book to his subjects. “No surprises” had been a promise to the candidates. “And I wanted to be corrected,” he says, “if anything was inaccurate.”

The reactions were mixed. Mrs. Bush, who received the sections about herself and her husband, stopped reading them after a while, because she said it was “too painful, too hurtful,” according to Cramer. He turned to the president’s sister for help on details.

“Joey Biden,” says Cramer, “read the stuff, had lots of corrections about his mansion, but his reaction to the book was of such wonderful largeness and humanity.”

(By the way, if you haven’t read What It Takes, do so. The portrait of Biden alone is worth the price.)

If all you want out of the 2020 election is for the Trump presidency to end, Biden can do that for you. Beyond that, everything’s a little iffy.

Trump on QAnon: ‘I Do Know They Are Very Much Against Pedophilia’

Meanwhile, over on NBC, President Trump proved, for what seems like the millionth time, that he cannot bring himself to utter a critical word about any group that likes him, no matter what else they believe:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: All right, while we’re denouncing, let me ask you about QAnon. It is this theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior, of that. Now can you just, once and for all, state that that is completely not true, and-

PRESIDENT TRUMP: So, I know—

GUTHRIE: — disavow QAnon-

TRUMP: Yeah.

GUTHRIE: — in its entirety?

TRUMP: I know nothing about QAnon.

GUTHRIE: I just told you.

TRUMP: I know very little. You told me, but what you tell me, doesn’t necessarily make it fact. I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it. If you’d like me to-

GUTHRIE: They believe that it is a Satanic cult run by the deep state.

TRUMP: —study the subject.

And then on to a nutty conspiracy theory he retweeted last week:

GUTHRIE: Just this week, you retweeted to your 87 million followers, a conspiracy theory that Joe Biden orchestrated to have SEAL Team Six, the Navy SEAL Team Six, killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden. Now, why would you send a lie like that to your followers?

TRUMP: I know nothing about it, can I–

GUTHRIE: You retweeted it.

TRUMP: That was a retweet. That was an opinion of somebody-

GUTHRIE: But-

TRUMP: –and that was a retweet. I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position.

GUTHRIE: I don’t get that, you’re the President. You’re not like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just–

TRUMP: No, no. No, no.

GUTHRIE: –retweet, whatever.

TRUMP: That was a retweet. And I do a lot of retweets. And frankly, because the media is so fake, and so corrupt, if I didn’t have social media… I don’t call it Twitter, I call it social media. I wouldn’t be able to get the word out. And the word is-

GUTHRIE: Well, the word is false.

TRUMP: –and you know what the word is? The word is very simple. We’re building our country, stronger and better than it’s ever been before.

It’s not surprising, but it’s now explicit: Trump doesn’t believe he has any responsibility, duty, or obligation to ensure what he shares with his 87 million followers is true. In the end, he doesn’t really care whether what he’s telling the world is true or not.

And thus he “doesn’t have a position” on whether or not Joe Biden orchestrated to have the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden.

ADDENDUM: I must attribute this next astute observation to our Jack Butler: Did you notice that with the U.S. Capitol’s pandemic social-distancing restrictions in place, there were no protesters interrupting the confirmation hearings? No Code Pink members screaming and being dragged out by U.S. Capitol Police as the proceedings get started? No one in a Handmaid’s Tale costume trying to run in front of the cameras?

It was kind of nice, wasn’t it?

Media

Censored and Suppressed

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(Pixabay)

Today is a doozy: Facebook and Twitter decided that their users shouldn’t see or be able to read a particular article in the New York Post, and why so many Democrats perceived the Post story as a traumatic flashback to former FBI director James Comey’s letter about Hillary Clinton on October 28, 2016.

‘There Is No Credible Reason for This Kind of Targeted Suppression’

The editors of National Review have something important to say about the way two of the largest and most prominent social-media companies, Facebook and Twitter, decided to effectively block access to a news article in the New York Post.

Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications manager (and, per his bio, a former staffer for Barbara Boxer, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the House Majority PAC), announced that the social-media giant would begin “reducing” the “distribution” of a New York Post investigation into emails purporting that Joe Biden met with a top executive from the Ukrainian natural-gas firm Burisma Holdings at the behest of his son Hunter Biden.

Bad idea.

Instead of simply asking pertinent questions, or debunking the Post’s reporting, a media blackout was initiated. A number of well-known journalists warned colleagues and their sizable social-media audiences not to share the story.

By the afternoon, Twitter had joined Facebook in suppressing the article, not only barring its users from sharing it with followers, but barring them sharing it through direct messages as well. It locked the accounts of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the Post, and many others for retweeting the story.

There is no credible reason for this kind of targeted suppression. Over the past five years there have been scores of dramatic scoops written by major media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN that were based on faulty information provided by unknown sources that turned out to be incorrect. Not once has Facebook or Twitter concerned itself with the sourcing methods of reporters. Not once did it censor any of those pieces.

The editors conclude the mentality at work in the high commands of Facebook and Twitter “further damages the reputation of Big Tech. For another, it renders the industry more susceptible to a new regulatory regime already being championed by some in Congress. Mostly, however, it just makes the story they’re trying to suppress a far bigger deal.”

Last night, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey offered a tweet conceding, “our communication around our actions on the New York Post article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

He linked to a series of tweets from the corporate account declaring:

The images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules. As noted this morning, we also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy. Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren’t a violation of this policy. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves. We know we have more work to do to provide clarity in our product when we enforce our rules in this manner. We should provide additional clarity and context when preventing the Tweeting or DMing of URLs that violate our policies.

If you believe that news organizations should never publish anything that was not legally obtained or distributed, you would bar the publication of the Pentagon Papers and President Trump’s tax returns.

Note that according to the New York Post, the information wasn’t “hacked” by any traditional definition: “The email is contained in a trove of data that the owner of a computer repair shop in Delaware said was recovered from a MacBook Pro laptop that was dropped off in April 2019 and never retrieved. The computer was seized by the FBI, and a copy of its contents made by the shop owner shared with The Post this week by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.”

In fact, the dynamic at work in the New York Post story about the emails regarding Biden is the same as the New York Times scoop about the president’s tax returns. That computer repair shop in Delaware has legal access to the files in the computer (because they were presumably hired by the FBI to fix something) but not legal authority to distribute what’s in those files. The New York Times’ source has legal access to the president’s tax returns, but not legal authority to distribute what’s in those tax returns. There is no moral distinction, just a partisan one.

The distinction between being a “platform” and being a publisher is impossible to ignore, and the longtime insistence from those big tech companies that they’re not publishers is no longer operable. For years, they insisted they were no more responsible for what gets written on Facebook then the people who build bathroom stall walls are for someone writing “for a good time call Jenny at 867-5309.”

The spectacularly wrongheaded decision-making at Facebook and Twitter is going to set off a lot of deliberately obtuse semantic arguments about whether or not what the companies did can legitimately be labeled “censorship,” driven by those who insist that only government actions can constitute censorship.

As we all know and are unnecessarily reminded every time one of these controversies comes down the pike, Facebook and Twitter are private companies. Users sign on to operate under the companies’ rules and judgment. The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee you a right to speak your mind on a private company’s online platform. If you go to the New York Times and say, “I have a terrific and important freelance article or op-ed or letter to the editor,” and the Times declines to run your submission in its pages, no one believes they’ve been censored.

But the companies touted themselves as neutral, minimally restrictive “platforms” and have, year by year, morphed into publishers with broader (and vaguer) limitations on what can be posted and shared on their sites. As I wrote back in 2018, when Apple, Google, Facebook, and Spotify erased most of the posts and videos on their services from raving lunatic/radio- and web-show host Alex Jones, “none of the people who run these companies are constitutional scholars specializing in First Amendment cases, nor did they ever aspire to be in that role. They set up and joined these companies to make money — and now they’re in the weird position of American Public Discourse Police.”

Facebook’s slogan used to be, “make the world more open and connected.” Twitter’s slogan was, “see what’s happening.” They sold themselves on the notion that you could have a platform, and “make your voice heard,” no matter who you were. They clearly envisioned a society full of pleasant, relatively polite stamp collectors and poodle owners and wildlife photographers and Trekkies, groups of individuals who would want to connect and share their passions and who would do so in an amiable, harmonious, focus-group-pleasing way that could never harm others.

Except society isn’t just made up of nice people with noncontroversial interests and hobbies. Our world has more than a few lunatics, hate groups, conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, violent criminals, and every other unsavory type, and much to the surprise of these companies, they want their voices heard, too! They may be particularly driven to share their views online, because people are so unreceptive to their views when they share them offline.

And for a long while, most people didn’t mind Facebook and Twitter and the rest taking a tougher stance to remove lunatics, hate groups, conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, violent criminals, etc. Although sometimes the line between the dangerously unacceptable and simply odd or outlandish is hard to draw. QAnon is a nutty conspiracy theory, but so is the idea that Trump has been an asset of Russian intelligence since 1987. Smart, seemingly normal people can buy into conspiracy theories.

Now that they’ve built their user base, Facebook and Twitter and other social-media companies want to change the rules. They want to limit what sorts of political news stories can be shared, which was never how they sold themselves or what they promised. No one complains about the New York Times refusing to publish a letter to the editor, because the Times never sold itself as “the place where everyone has a voice and everyone gets a chance to speak their mind.”

They might as well update the user agreement language: “User agrees to believe all denials from Joe Biden regarding anything involving his son’s international business partners.”

The Traumatic Flashbacks of Comey’s Letter

Why did the tech companies, and quite a few big names in mainstream journalism, go to DefCon One on a story with evidence suggesting Biden lied about meeting a Ukrainian politician?

Allow me to suggest that yesterday, a lot of people had flashbacks to FBI director James Comey sending a letter to Congress announcing the reopening of the email probe on October 28, 2016, eleven days before the November 8 election.

The fact that President Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton was so narrow — he won Michigan by 10,704 votes, Pennsylvania by 49,543 votes, and Wisconsin by 27,257 votes — means that any one factor can plausibly be labeled the decisive one. Many Democrats reacted to Clinton’s shocking loss by looking for the most convenient explanation possible. For some, it was Russian disinformation on social media. For others, it was Jill Stein siphoning off votes that Hillary Clinton deserved. For others, it was that the country was full of racist “deplorables,” even though many of these voters had just cast ballots for Barack Obama twice.

But I suspect quite a few Democrats chose to believe that it was Comey’s letter which decided the election. Never mind that Comey wrote another letter, two days before the election, declaring that the reopened investigation had found nothing new or incriminating. (Yes, 24 million Americans cast early ballots in 2016, but that’s out of 136 million total votes in the presidential election.)

This is one of the reasons political journalism matters. What happens is important; what we choose to learn from what happens is almost as important. Many elite progressives chose to learn the lesson that “late-breaking news stories that look bad for the Democrat can elect the worst Republican in the world,” and thus that scenario must be prevented, at any cost.

If a person believes that a big scoop involving the FBI looking into emails of the Democratic nominee led to Trump’s election . . . how do you think they will react to the New York Post announcing this week they have a big scoop involving the FBI looking into emails of the Democratic nominee?

ADDENDUM: In the middle of all this, keep in mind that Joe Biden does not believe that Burisma was attempting to influence U.S. policy when they hired his son, that his son was hired on his own merits, and not because his father was vice president, but “because he’s a very bright guy.”

Elections

Voter Turnout for 2020

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People wait in line to cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas, October 13, 2020. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

On the menu: a deep dive into the predictions of massive turnout in this year’s elections, why the decline in the rate of increase of voter registration isn’t quite as big a deal as some believe, and why the GOP will rise or fall as Trump rises or falls this November.

Just How Many Americans Will Vote in 2020?

We can’t realistically compare early voting in this election year to past election years. The factor of the coronavirus pandemic, and so many voters’ desire to not stand in line outside or inside a polling place on November 3, makes this year just too different.

As of this morning, more than 13 million Americans have already cast ballots in the 2020 elections. More than 1.7 million Floridians have voted already; 5.6 million voters requested absentee ballots. In 2016, 9.4 million Floridians cast ballots — 74 percent of the registered voters, 66 percent of the voting-age population. More than 1.1 million Californians have cast ballots already, and Michigan and New Jersey will probably surpass a million cast ballots in the next day or so.

Over at The Atlantic, Russell Berman writes, “There are ample reasons to think turnout might surge. Polling data and early-voting levels, along with turnout and registration numbers during the Trump era, all point to a surge at the polls unseen in decades, election experts say . . . the tens of millions of votes likely to be cast earlier than ever before could alleviate long lines at many polling places on Election Day and help the two parties focus their resources on turning out the hardest-to-reach voters.”

Our old friend Tim Alberta writes, “I’m not certain that we break the 60 percent barrier this year. But I am certain that the raw turnout of 2016 — 136,669,276 ballots cast for president — will be thumped in 2020.”

Keep in mind, four years ago, many political observers thought the stars had aligned for record-setting turnout. Hillary Clinton was the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party. Donald Trump was a larger-than-life celebrity, well known outside of the realm of politics. Even the nominees of the minor-parties, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, were running relatively high-profile efforts. The 2016 election had wild, crazy twists and turns such as the Access Hollywood tape, the letter from FBI director Jim Comey, and so on. It isn’t overstating it much to say partisans on both sides saw the stakes of the election as apocalyptic.

And the turnout in 2016 wasn’t bad — 138.8 million ballots cast, 136.7 million ballots cast for the highest office, 59.2 percent of the voting-eligible population, 54.7 percent of the voting-age population. (Yes, this means that more than 2 million Americans left their ballot blank in the presidential race.) When we measure what percentage of Americans turned out, one question is whether we measure the percentage of the voting-eligible population, or the percentage of voting-age population. Most analysts use the percentage of voting-age population, but that strikes me as less accurate. No one should be surprised that people who aren’t eligible to vote very rarely cast ballots. That’s the way it’s supposed to be!

There’s a surprisingly widespread perception that the turnout in 2016 was low, probably driven by articles written in November, before all the final counts were in. A narrative set in that Trump won because the turnout was so low, and because half the country didn’t vote, only a quarter of Americans selected Trump. (Of course, any president’s share of public support looks small when you limit him to the share of the overall voting-age-population that cast ballots for him. In 2012, Barack Obama won 51 percent of 54.9 percent of the voting age population, so about 27.9 percent of the voting-age population picked Obama. In Obama’s landslide victory four years earlier, he won 52.9 percent of 58.2 percent of the voting age population, so about 30 percent of the voting-age population picked Obama.)

The Census Bureau estimated that the percentage of the voting-age population that cast a ballot in 2016 was one percent higher than in 2012, but about two percentage points lower than in 2008. Note that each cycle, the United States adds a couple million more eligible voters to the pool as young adults turn 18 and legal immigrants becoming U.S. citizens. The Millennials are now all over 18, and if you count “Generation Z” as those born from 1997 to 2012, they represent those turning 18 to roughly 23 years old.

The Brennan Center studied the counts of registered voters in states where the count is updated each month and available on state election websites. They calculated the growth rate in registrations between January and August of 2016 and again between January and August of 2020 to account for baseline population differences in each of the states.

They write, “the first and most striking observation is that most — 17 of the 21 — report lower registration growth rates in 2020 than in 2016. On average, these 17 states have seen registrations decline by 38 percent this year.” I think that wording is easily misinterpreted; the number of registered voters isn’t down 38 percent; the rate of increase from January to August is down 38 percent compared to the rate of increase from January to August 2016.

One big reason to think that turnout will be big this year is because two years ago, 53 percent of the citizen voting-age population voted, generating the highest midterm turnout in four decades. Also note that we saw a similar pattern in some, but not all, off-year statewide elections during the Trump presidency. In 2017, Virginia saw the highest turnout in its gubernatorial election in two decades, Kentucky saw a surge of turnout in its 2019 gubernatorial election, and Louisiana saw about 400,000 more people vote in its runoff gubernatorial election compared to four years earlier. There are a few exceptions; New Jersey had record low turnout in its gubernatorial election in 2017.

You probably noticed that with the exception of the Senate races, the elections of 2017, 2018, and 2019 generally went badly for Republicans. There is no disputing that President Donald Trump is one of the most effective get-out-the-vote tools the Democratic Party has ever had.

In 2017, Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie won 1,175,731 votes, which was more votes than any other Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history, including 12,208 more than Bob McDonnell won in his landslide victory in 2009. But Gillespie got thumped, 54 percent to 45 percent. You can argue that Trump helps increase GOP turnout as well. But he probably helps the Democrats more, at least among women, minorities, white-collar workers, Millennials and young voters, and suburbanites.

Trump dominates the news cycle, almost all day, almost every day, and he defines the image of the Republican Party. It is nearly impossible for a down-ticket GOP candidate to cultivate an image separate from Trump’s. In 2019, you could determine whether or not Republicans could keep a contested state legislative seat simply by seeing if the district had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 or not. This is a particularly ominous indicator for Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine, and Martha McSally in Arizona.

The enormous interest in the presidential race, in a pro-Trump/anti-Trump dichotomy, probably explains why we see pollsters asking about both the presidential race and key Senate races in swing states and finding significantly lower levels of support for the Senate candidates. There’s just not much oxygen left over for those down-ticket candidates, for good or for ill.

For example, this week Siena surveyed 614 likely voters in Michigan and found Joe Biden with 48 percent, Trump with 40 percent, Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen with 1 percent, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins with 1 percent, one percent volunteering “someone else”, and 8 percent said they didn’t know or refused.

When asked about the Senate race, 43 percent said they’re voting for incumbent Democrat Gary Peters, 42 percent said they’re voting for Republican John James, 1 percent said they were voting for Green Party nominee Marcia Squier, 1 percent volunteered, unprompted, they would not be voting for any Senate candidate (!), and 13 percent said they didn’t know.

Roughly 5 percent of respondents — about 30 people? — know how they’re voting in the presidential election but don’t know how they’ll vote in the Senate race. I suspect to some of them, “Gary Peters” and “John James” are just a quartet of first names.

ADDENDUM: National Review is doing another webathon, and Dan McLaughlin lays out what your support means:

As a full-time writer at National Review, I’m free to bring my decades of legal experience to bear to cover anything, and I have the time to go in depth. In the Barrett fight, that has paid dividends. In August, seeing the possibility that there might be a Supreme Court vacancy before the end of Donald Trump’s term, I dug into the history and laid out the case for why precedent supported filling the vacancy. Being ready to go with that research made a difference: As Rich Lowry noted on Monday and as Politico has reported, my essay and the statistics I developed have been cited by the White House and multiple senators in this controversy, including during these hearings. And knowing the history meant that I could put up a quick Corner post during the vice-presidential debate rebutting Kamala Harris’s fabricated history of Abraham Lincoln’s nomination of a new chief justice in 1864 — a post that was one of the most widely shared things on the site all year.

I was able to come aboard at NR and write these things because of NR’s readers, subscribers, and donors. We’re not just casting words into a void, and we can’t do it without you as part of our team.

As always, thank you for your support.

U.S.

Optimism Is in the Air

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A volunteer is injected with a vaccine as he participates in a coronavirus vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Fla., September 24, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

On the menu today: a striking note of optimism about our fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and a declaration that the U.S. government’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine-development program is “working with remarkable efficiency”; wondering who the true anti-vaccination crowd is now; a cautionary note about the current moment; and National Review asks for your support.

‘Operation Warp Speed’ Is ‘Working with Remarkable Efficiency.’

About a month ago, as the country was on the brink of 200,000 coronavirus deaths, I wrote a seemingly deeply unpopular article contending that unrealistic optimism, both inside and outside the government, has hindered our response to the pandemic. The virus was not going away like a miracle, it was not less deadly than the flu, warm weather did not alleviate it much, and despite the insistence of lots of folks on social media, we were not on the verge of herd immunity.

For those who contend I’m locked in to gloom and doom, longtime New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. lays out a compelling and realistic case for optimism in our fight against the coronavirus:

Since January, when I began covering the pandemic, I have been a consistently gloomy Cassandra, reporting on the catastrophe that experts saw coming: that the virus would go pandemic, that Americans were likely to die in large numbers, the national lockdown would last well beyond Easter and even past summer. No miracle cure was on the horizon; the record for developing a vaccine was four years.

Events have moved faster than I thought possible. I have become cautiously optimistic. Experts are saying, with genuine confidence, that the pandemic in the United States will be over far sooner than they expected, possibly by the middle of next year.

Those who are convinced that the New York Times never writes anything positive about the Trump administration should note these paragraphs:

Sometime in the next three months, health experts say, the F.D.A. is likely to begin granting approval to vaccines now in the works.

Despite the chaos in day-to-day politics and the fighting over issues like masks and lockdowns, Operation Warp Speed — the government’s agreement to subsidize vaccine companies’ clinical trials and manufacturing costs — appears to have been working with remarkable efficiency. It has put more than $11 billion into seven vaccine candidates, and the F.D.A. has said it will approve any one that is at least 50 percent effective at preventing infection or reducing its severity.

Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientific adviser and a former pharmaceutical executive who has overseen the development of 14 vaccines, has said repeatedly that he expects some of the candidates that he picked to have 75 to 90 percent efficacy and at least two to win approval by early January.

By then, Dr. Slaoui has estimated, the factories under contract will have produced enough vaccine for 30 to 40 million people, and then another 80 to 90 million people every month after that. Assuming nothing goes wrong, he said, there will be enough doses for all 330 million Americans to be vaccinated by next June. Bill Gates, who is not part of Operation Warp Speed but works with it to develop vaccines for the world’s poor, has agreed with that timetable.

There will inevitably be distribution problems, but the military is standing by to help. The chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed is General Gustave F. Perna, a logistics specialist.

All year long, the Department of Health and Human Services has been investing gobs of money to expand production and distribution capacity — syringes, vials, you name it.

We don’t know if the Trump administration will continue past January 20. If Operation Warp Speed leads to 30 to 40 million people being vaccinated against the coronavirus in January, and the most of America getting vaccinated in the months after that, the administration will have saved the best for last. You can love the Supreme Court justices, the tax cuts, the defense buildup, Right to Try, and the First Step Act. And the administration will continue to face the judgment of history for the portions of its response to the pandemic that didn’t work. But to go from zero to a working vaccine within a year, to stop a virus no one had ever seen before, would represent one of the great achievements of the U.S. government in the modern era.

(Note the allegedly xenophobic Trump administration has entrusted its most important initiative, with millions of lives at stake, to Dr. Slaoui, a Moroccan-born Belgian-American scientist who shepherded vaccine development at the U.K. drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline from 1988 to 2017. On the Fourth of July, the Carnegie Corporation recognized Dr. Slaoui as part of its “Great Immigrants” program. This is why we love legal immigration. The person this country welcomes in might make all the difference in our lives.)

The Times published this long essay by McNeil right as Johnson & Johnson announced it paused further dosing in all clinical trials of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine because a study volunteer had an unexplained illness. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is in “a large Phase 3 trial that began in September and aimed to enroll as many as 60,000 people in the U.S. and several other countries.”

This is frustrating but normal and not necessarily a sign of a serious setback. Sometimes a trial participant gets sick, and the doctors have to determine if the sickness is a result of the vaccine or not. Sometimes trial participants get sick for unrelated reasons. Back in September, the vaccine trial run by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca ran into a similar issue. Within a few days, “the independent review process concluded and following the recommendations of both the independent safety review committee and the U.K. regulator, the MHRA, the trials will recommence in the U.K.” Oxford did not cite specific information about the illness, citing patient confidentiality.

Wait, Who Are the Anti-Vaxxers Now?

McNeil says he thinks vaccine “hesitancy may dissipate, if no major safety problems emerge as the first few million Americans are inoculated.” I think he’s right, and I hope he’s right. It’s one thing to tell a pollster that you won’t take a vaccine when it doesn’t exist yet, and another thing to refuse it once it’s available at your doctor’s office, or perhaps CVS or Walgreens someday.

But yesterday I noted Gallup polling showing that vaccine skepticism was declining among self-identified Republicans, but spiking among self-identified Democrats. The self-proclaimed “Party of Science” is turning anti-vaxxer overnight, because they seem to believe that President Trump will single-handedly produce and distribute some snake-oil fake vaccine that either is dangerous or doesn’t work or both, over the objections of doctors inside and outside of government who will, in the words of Kamala Harris, “be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days and he’s grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not.” This is a QAnon-level conspiracy theory.

As Michael Brendan Dougherty put it last month:

There is no Trump vaccine for COVID-19. Nor will there ever be one. If Trump tells you there is a Trump vaccine, and you should take it and reelect him, don’t believe him. If Trump’s opponents tell you there is a Trump vaccine, and you can’t trust it because he’s trying to get reelected, don’t believe them. Donald Trump is not a medical scientist. He is not a pharmaceutical research team. Trump is not a pharmaceutical manufacturer that can go rogue and produce a vaccine.

There is no possible world in which you would have to place your personal faith in Trump’s integrity before giving consent to a needle being put in your arm or in the arms of your children. Anyone who tells you differently is ignorant, cynical beyond measure, or simply using Trump as a way of laundering views about vaccines that would get them labeled an anti-vaxxer.

The need to filter all issues and information through a partisan lens to advance a particular narrative is now so pervasive, and so all-consuming, that it presents a threat to life and limb.

The End of the Year Is Looking Better . . . but We’re Not out of the Woods Yet

One more observation: In May, as the killing of George Floyd dominated the national conversation, a lot of people across the country started to behave as if the coronavirus pandemic was over. And then in June, as angry mobs started tearing down statues in cities, a lot of people across the country started to behave as if the coronavirus pandemic was over. And then in July, when New York governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his celebratory victory poster, a lot of people across the country started to behave as if the coronavirus pandemic was over. And then in August, as the parties held their conventions and attention turned more fully to the upcoming elections, a lot of people across the country started to behave as if the coronavirus pandemic was over.

And late last month, as the first presidential debate began, a lot of people across the country started to behave as if the coronavirus pandemic was over. And then the president caught the virus and required hospitalization; thankfully he appears to be well along the road to recovery.

The outlook for late this year and early next year is looking good, but the pandemic is not over.

“That’s a bad place to be when you’re going into the cooler weather of the fall and the colder weather of the winter,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview on The News with Shepard Smith. “We’re in a bad place now. We’ve got to turn this around.

ADDENDUM: In case you haven’t noticed, National Review is doing another webathon, and Rich lays out the stakes at this moment:

When there is so much nonsense to knock down, we go into overdrive to do it. We are now in the same mode that we were in during the Kavanaugh fight — on high alert, rebutting all the shoddy journalism and tendentious arguments.

Back in August, when people were starting to discuss in earnest the possibility of a court vacancy, Dan McLaughlin wrote a piece titled “History Is on the Side of Republicans Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy in 2020.”

The piece really exploded after the news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, when Senate Republicans were considering whether to try to confirm a nominee before the election.

It’s impossible to exaggerate the influence of Dan’s piece. It seems that every Republican senator who matters read it. It sounded like Mitt Romney was cribbing from it in his statement coming out in favor of a vote. A high-ranking White House official personally thanked me for it.

Senator Lindsey Graham’s opening statement on Monday echoed the arguments and history in Dan’s piece quite a bit:

Here’s the history as I understand it: There’s never been a situation where you had a president of one party and the senate of another, where the nominee the replacement was made in election years been over 140 years. I think there have been 19 vacancies filled in election year. Seventeen of the 19 were confirmed to the court when the party of the president and the Senate were the same. In terms of timing, the hearing is starting 16 days after nomination. More than half of all Supreme Court hearings have been held within 16 days of the announcement of the nominee: Stevens 10, Rehnquist 13, Powell 13, Blackman 15, Burger 13. All I can say is that I feel that we’re doing this constitutionally.

Law & the Courts

Signs of the Times

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Signs supporting President Donald Trump stand in the front yard of a home in Bainbridge, Ohio, September 30, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

An observation from on the ground in one of Pennsylvania’s swing counties that suggests enthusiastic indefatigable Trump supporters are ubiquitous; the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett get underway; the New York Times notices a form of market saturation among former Republicans raising money to oppose Trump’s reelection; and a spectacular record of unaccountability at Florham Park, N.J., continues.

Trump Yard Signs Have Taken Over Bucks County, Penn.

Let’s not mince words: The outlook for President Trump’s reelection is about as grim as it gets. The president and his campaign have a steep uphill climb; the president’s coronavirus infection did not help, the bad polls aren’t budging, more than 9 million ballots have already been cast, and so far, registered Democrats are outpacing registered Republicans in turning in ballots by a 2-to-1 margin. Right now, based upon everything we can see, the president is less likely to win the election.

But “less likely to win” does not mean “cannot possibly win,” which is why most campaign watchers, including myself, are hesitant to shut the door on the possibility of a Trump victory.

If I give you a six-sided die, and told you to roll a six, and you rolled a six, neither of us would faint from shock. You’re more likely to roll one of the five other numbers, but you’re going to roll a six roughly one out of every six times. You have a 16.6 percent chance of rolling a six when you roll a die. As of this writing, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com calculates Trump’s chances of winning reelection about 14 percent — not all that far from the odds of rolling a six on a six-sided die.

Right around this time four years ago, Silver tried to explain — and in retrospect, warn his readers — that Hillary Clinton being much more likely to win the election did not mean she was a near-certainty to win the election:

FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model puts Clinton’s chances at 85 percent, while our polls-plus model has her at 83 percent. Those odds have been pretty steady over the past week or two . . . Other statistical models are yet more confident in Clinton, however, variously putting her chances at 92 percent to 99 percent. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big difference, since people (wrongly) tend to perceive odds above 80 percent as sure things . . .

If Trump loses, the conclusion will be, “the polls were right, he was always swimming upstream, he never broadened his base of support,” etc. But if Trump exceeds his support in polls, we will look back for signs of this support that were missed. And I wouldn’t make too much of the difference in the partisan affiliation in those who have voted early, because the Trump voters that are out there appear willing to walk across broken glass barefoot to cast a ballot for him on November 3.

I spent this weekend in Bucks County, Penn. — the classic big suburban county, fourth-most populated in the state, where George Washington crossed the Delaware, site of the second Levittown, and the farm country where aliens chased Mel Gibson in Signs. As of January, the county has 195,755 registered Democrats, 183,888 registered Republicans, and 75,059 registered “other.” Four years ago, Hillary Clinton narrowly won Bucks, 48.4 percent to 47.6 percent, while Libertarian Gary Johnson took 2.5 percent. (Meanwhile, in the Senate race, Republican Pat Toomey won 52 percent in the county.)

We regularly hear that Donald Trump is toxic in the suburbs, and all over the country in 2018, heavily suburban congressional districts tossed out their Republicans and elected Democrats. But Bucks County largely aligns with the lines of Pennsylvania’s first congressional district, and last cycle first-term GOP representative Brian Fitzpatrick — brother of longtime congressman Mike Fitzpatrick — hung on to win his second term, 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. He carried Bucks County by 12,000 votes, more than his overall margin across the district; meanwhile, on the top of the ticket, Democrat Tom Wolf won reelection with 57 percent of the vote statewide and 59 percent of the vote in the first congressional district.

What can we learn from this? First, don’t underestimate Brian Fitzpatrick. A Republican who can hang on to a suburban district in 2018 when the top of the ticket is getting demolished has got some serious campaigning skills. And this weekend, I saw Brian Fitzpatrick yard signs everywhere.

Second, maybe Bucks County is still a little-more Republican friendly than your average suburban region — and in a state where Trump won by 44,000 votes in 2016, keeping the margin close in Bucks could be the difference between victory and defeat.

I have traditionally been underwhelmed by the arguments that the number of yard signs someone sees is a good indicator of who is going to win. I can recall lots of Creigh Deeds signs lining the roadways of northern Virginia in 2009 and he got walloped, 58 percent to 41 percent. (I do think yard signs matter in local races, where people may not know the candidates as well. If you don’t know much about your local state representative or town councilman, but your neighbor who lets you borrow his snowblower thinks he’s doing a good job, your neighbor’s endorsement probably carries some weight with you.)

But on seemingly every suburban street and intersection in Woodbourne, Richboro, Langhorne, Churchville, and other small suburban communities in Bucks County, Trump-Pence yard signs were everywhere. Not just the little ones that are put in the ground, but giant five-foot-by-seven-foot ones. And Trump flags. And “Thin Blue Line” flags, and “WE SUPPORT OUR POLICE” signs. There were a smattering of Biden-Harris signs, but they were vastly, vastly outnumbered. Trump signs also outnumbered the home-security signs, the realtor signs, and the SLOW DOWN signs. The Trump supporters in Bucks County have clearly made their presidential preference a lifestyle choice; it’s as if the region is celebrating a holiday called “Trumpmas.”

(We also traveled across the river into New Jersey, into the horse country past Trenton, and Trump signs were ubiquitous there, too. By the time you reach upper Freehold, you’re in Monmouth County, which Trump carried 52 percent to 43 percent. As I observed about Los Angeles last week, just because Trump supporters are outnumbered by Democrats in blue cities and states doesn’t mean they aren’t there in significant numbers. New Jersey had 1.6 million Trump voters in 2016.)

Does this mean Trump is going to win Bucks County? Not necessarily; all of these people who put out yard signs may have supported him four years ago, and he narrowly lost the county then. But whether or not Bucks County is Trump country, the Trump voters there ardently want to demonstrate that it is. And Trump doesn’t need to win Bucks County, he just needs to keep it close and run up his margin in the small towns and rural parts of the state, as Politico and the New York Times are noticing.

In the next issue of the magazine, I have a long look at Pennsylvania — at the shifts in voter registration that appear to favor the GOP, the consistent statewide polling lead for Joe Biden, and the many complications in the state’s system for voting by mail. I don’t know if there are more Trump voters than Biden voters in the Keystone State. But I do know that if Trump loses the state, it won’t be because his supporters were too quiet or shy or reticent about showing their support. A begrudging vote counts as much as a wildly enthusiastic one, but if this election really does come down to which candidate excites his supporters more, and stirs the wavering supporters to stand on line on the first Tuesday in November, then it would be foolish to write off Trump’s chances of winning Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes — and with that, the election.

Watch for Levitation at the Amy Coney Barrett Hearings

The confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett begins this morning and will probably be underway by the time you read this. Our Michael Brendan Dougherty observes, “Amy Coney Barrett’s antagonists don’t understand her. Her success strikes them as abnormal and vaguely offensive. It always annoys people who spent so much effort following the rules that someone else did an end-run around them. Successful people, they believe, don’t go to those schools, they don’t have a family like that, and they don’t pray that way. Her ascent is a rejection of the laws of our hardening class divisions. When she sits in front of Senators Feinstein, Harris, and Hirono, Amy Coney Barrett might as well be levitating.”

Is an Anti-Trump Former Republican Consultant All That Rare or Surprising Anymore?

Is there such a thing as market saturation for former Republicans who do not merely criticize or object to President Trump, but who actually advocate the election of Democrats? Apparently so, according to the New York Times:

The two biggest groups that dominate the anti-Trump Republican landscape, the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump, have both become multimillion-dollar operations that conduct their own sophisticated data research and polling.

Then there’s the Bravery Project, led by Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois; Stand Up Republic, which recently introduced a spinoff, Christians Against Trumpism & Political Extremism; the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform, known as Repair and led by two former top Trump administration officials; and 43 Alumni for Joe Biden, which consists of alumni from President George W. Bush’s administration.

And don’t forget about the short-lived Right Side PAC, founded by Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, and Matthew Borges, a former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. The group formed in June with the mission of turning out Republican voters for Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in battleground states, but it shut down after Mr. Borges was arrested on federal corruption charges. Mr. Scaramucci has since given the money to the Lincoln Project and teamed up with Repair.

The crowded, competitive space of party-less anti-Trump Republicans is, in some ways, a product of the fact that not having a party means not having any clear leader. Groups with similar missions engage in little coordination or sharing of resources.

So, um . . . what are all of these people going to do if Biden wins?

And do any Democrats ever feel like they’re being told exactly what they want to hear in order to generate donations? Nah? Hey, it’s your money, guys.

ADDENDUM: An NFL coach who started the season 0-4 was fired last week, and an NFL coach who started the season 0-5 was fired this week. Is there anything you would like to share, Christopher Johnson?

Elections

Polling Pluses and Minuses

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People line up to cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 2020. (Megan Jelinger/Reuters )

On the menu today: A slew of new polls show really good news for Republicans, a little bit of fine print on those surveys, and an update on the very-much-in-flux presidential debate schedule.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses!

Earlier this week, Morning Consult released poll numbers that showed Amy Coney Barrett made a terrific first impression and that public support for her confirmation to the Supreme Court was solid and growing:

Democrats are losing the Supreme Court messaging war, new polling indicates, with support for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation trending in the GOP’s direction.

Nearly half (46 percent) of voters in an Oct. 2-4 Morning Consult/Politico poll said the Senate should confirm Barrett — up 9 percentage points since President Donald Trump announced her nomination on Sept. 26 — as more voters say the chamber should consider her elevation to the high court as soon as possible, regardless of who wins next month’s election.

The share of voters who said the Senate should reject her nomination dropped 3 points, to 31 percent, from polling conducted on Sept. 26. Both polls were conducted among roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with 2-point margins of error.

Seventy-seven percent of GOP voters back Barrett’s confirmation, up 6 points from late last month. Among independents, the share who said she should be confirmed increased 8 points, to 36 percent, while the share of Democratic voters who said she should be confirmed increased 10 points, to 24 percent.

Meanwhile, Gallup finds “a clear majority of registered voters, 56 percent, saying they are better off now than they were four years ago, while 32 percent said they are worse off.” Considering the pandemic and its economic-related troubles, and the protests and violence of the summer, that’s a fantastic figure for an incumbent president. The 56 percent saying they’re better off now than four years earlier is better than the 45 percent in 2012 (when Barack Obama was reelected), the 47 percent in 2004 (when George W. Bush was reelected), and the 44 percent in 1984 (when President Reagan was reelected in a landslide).

Gallup also found that 49 percent of registered voters said they agree with Donald Trump more on issues, compared to 46 percent who said the same about Joe Biden.

The latest poll from the Pew Research Center found 50 percent of registered voters think President Trump is “mentally sharp” — while only 46 percent say they believe Joe Biden was mentally sharp. The survey found 69 percent say the president stands up for what he believes in, and 52 percent were very or somewhat confident that Trump would make good decisions on economic policy.

And in a recent Emerson poll of likely voters Michigan, Trump supporters seem considerably more enthusiastic than Biden supporters: “Amongst those who support Biden, 43 percent report being extremely excited to support him, 25 percent as very excited, 20 percent as mildly excited, and 13 percent as not that excited. As for the President’s supporters, 63 percent report being extremely excited, 16 percent very excited, 14 percent mildly excited, and 7 percent not that excited.”

The Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll of 1,147 New Hampshire likely voters finds GOP governor Chris Sununu remains very popular, with a 65 percent to 34 percent favorable image, a 68 percent to 31 percent job approval, and on his way to a blowout win over his Democratic opponent, Feltes, by a margin of 58 percent to 35 percent.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the hopes of Democrats that they can turn the David Perdue-Jon Ossoff Senate race into a competitive race appear to be fading. The incumbent Republican Perdue leads Ossoff, 49 percent to 41 percent, in the latest University of Georgia poll. In the state’s other U.S. Senate race this year, if no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers, regardless of party, head to a runoff. Democrat Raphael Warnock is at 28 percent, while two Republicans, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Representative Doug Collins are at 22 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Republicans feel reasonably confident about their chances of prevailing in a post-November 3 runoff.

[Fun experiment: see how many people stop reading right about here.]

But the polls are always wrong, I’m frequently told. The overwhelming majority of pollsters either don’t include enough Trump supporters and Republicans in their samples, or they deliberately skew their samples to depress those groups. Polls are more or less propaganda for Democrats, designed to fire up their side and demoralize their opponents. Many people tell me this with great confidence, and they know it to be so because a pollster has never called them.

It turns out that all of the above pollsters that had some good news for Republicans also found some bad news — in some cases, some seriously bad news.

Morning Consult’s tracking poll — among 17,294 likely voters! — found Trump trailing Biden by 9 points, 52 percent to 43 percent nationally. A survey released this morning found 64 percent supported making the next debate virtual, while only 26 percent disapproved, and that 51 percent opposed Trump skipping the virtual debate, while 35 percent approved.

Gallup polling also found that 58 percent of Americans think President Trump is disseminating “a great deal of misinformation,” with another 11 percent saying it’s “a fair amount.” When asked about Biden, 30 percent said the Democratic nominee was spreading a “a great deal of misinformation,” with another 19 percent saying it’s “a fair amount.”

The poll from the Pew Research Center also found Biden ahead nationally, 52 percent to 42 percent. What’s more, among those who didn’t vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden leads, 49 percent to 26 percent. The survey finds registered voters have more faith in Biden to bring the country together, handle the coronavirus outbreak, make good decisions in foreign policy, select good nominees to the Supreme Court, and handle law-enforcement and criminal-justice issues.

That Emerson poll of Michigan likely voters found 52 percent of voters plan to support Biden, 42 percent intend to vote for Trump, 2 percent plan to vote for another candidate, and 3 percent remain undecided at this point. They also found Democratic senator Gary Peters ahead of GOP challenger John James, 51 percent to 41 percent.

That Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll found Biden leading Trump in New Hampshire, 53 percent to 41 percent.

And that University of Georgia poll that had such good news for David Perdue also finds Trump barely ahead of Biden in the Peach State, 47.5 percent to 46.4 percent.

But remember, all of those bad numbers for Trump are just skewed samples and the pollster’s anti-Republican bias, a bias that apparently the pollsters just forgot about when asking about Amy Coney Barrett, whether the respondent is better off now than four years ago, which candidate is mentally sharp, which candidate’s supporters are more enthusiastic for their selection, the New Hampshire gubernatorial race, or the Georgia Senate race.

Because if the pollsters weren’t all secretly conspiring to make the president’s public support look worse than it is . . . why, that would mean that his flaws, behavior, statements, and actions drive his public support down, even in circumstances where other presidents would benefit.

Debate Schedule Update

Remember, not that long ago, when the debates were how Trump was going to roar ahead in this race? During the presidential primary, we witnessed Joe Biden have some pretty good nights and also have some not-so-good nights. While the claim that he was senile or the prediction that he would drool on himself were always exaggerations, Biden had enough moments of lost trains of thought, seeming confusion, and word-salad answers to make Democrats nervous. It was not difficult to imagine a scenario where Biden froze or seriously stumbled and left the electorate doubting he could handle the job. There was a reason so many Democrats spent August urging Biden to not participate.

But then, in that first debate, Trump came out with such thundering bluster and relentless, constant interruptions that Biden rarely had a moment to look bad. The most dangerous sound for Biden would be silence, a sign he’s struggling to find the words. Instead, Trump filled every moment, heckling, hectoring, shouting, and jeering. Even if you loved Trump’s approach, absolutely nothing indicates that approach achieved what Trump needed it to do: expand the number of people who want to vote for him.

And then Trump tested positive for coronavirus. It is likely Trump was already infected with the coronavirus at the debate; if he had tested negative after the September 29 debate, the White House medical office would have told us by now. (President Trump told Maria Bartiromo yesterday that he may have contracted the virus at a September 27 event at the White House with Gold Star families.) The Cleveland Clinic had testing on-site, but the president arrived late, and the assumption was that he had already tested negative in a recent test administered by the White House.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, having had one debate where a participant was infected, now wants to hold the next one virtually — with the candidates appearing remotely from separate locations. They reached this decision entirely because of the decisions and actions of the president. If the president of the United States wants to get tested every day, he will get tested every day. If the president does not want to get tested daily, he will not get tested daily.

Then Trump announced he wouldn’t participate in a virtual debate. (If you believe that Trump is capable of walloping Biden in an in-person debate, he should be able to wallop him in a virtual debate. Even if Biden has a teleprompter, if you’ve got the better and more compelling argument, you’ve got the better and more compelling argument.)

Then the Biden campaign announced they wouldn’t participate, either, scheduling a prime-time event with former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos on the Disney-owned ABC television network. The Trump campaign’s counter-proposal — move each debate back a week, and then hold them in person, is reasonable. But now the Biden camp says the October 22 debate should be the last one of the campaign — meaning we would have only two presidential debates.

Republicans will accuse Biden of ducking the debates, but Biden can now accurately say Trump pulled out of the debates first. I thought the point was to get Trump and Biden debating as much as possible, because the contrast was such a natural advantage to the president.

ADDENDUM: Kevin Williamson, assessing the predictions of a Trump landslide victory in some corners of the conservative media: “If conservatives expecting a Trump landslide find themselves grumbling disconsolately into their oatmeal on the morning of November 4, then they might ask themselves why so many of their most influential media figures lied to them, what was gained by those lies, and what was lost by them.”

Elections

Pence Won Last Night, but It Probably Won’t Matter

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Vice President Mike Pence takes notes as Democratic vice presidential nominee and Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 2020 vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., October 7, 2020.   (Morry Gash/Reuters)

On the menu today: The vice-presidential debate is complete, and Mike Pence turned in another top-notch performance — which doesn’t mean that there aren’t tougher questions to be asked about how he and his values fit in the larger overall Trump administration. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris was her usual self, and it feels as if the coverage of her since 2016 has been a long exercise in gaslighting. Finally . . . we may not have more debates this year!

‘A Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in That Order’

Vice President Mike Pence won last night. Whether a vice-presidential debate will significantly alter the course of the campaign is another question.

There is probably no figure in American politics who would be a “natural fit” as Donald Trump’s vice president. Up until he was required to have a running mate, Trump was a one-man show, the one-man circus coming to town, unpredictable, controversial, larger-than-life.

Former Indiana governor Mike Pence is none of these. Trump vents his spleen at every opportunity; Pence is reserved and even-keeled. Trump trusts his gut, improvises, and changes his mind; Pence emphasizes that he prioritizes timeless conservative values. For a while, it looked as if the pair could make an effective Felix-and-Oscar, yin-and-yang partnership.

But for four years, it’s been clear that this is the Trump presidency, and Pence is largely a background figure handling the details behind the scenes. Both Trump and Pence are fine with this arrangement, and either man would probably be uncomfortable in the other’s role — or at least Trump has no interest in a supporting role, and Pence doesn’t feel any inclination to take the spotlight away from the president.

Pence’s slogan for a long time was, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” This was often an applause line, and it deserved to be. Pence introduced himself as a man who had his values and priorities in order.

Pence will probably never write a tell-all, so we’re left to speculate if he feels like he’s ever had to compromise his values in this administration. Did he see the policy of separating children from their parents at the border as consistent with his Christian values? Did he hear the arguments “we need to take away children” or “it did not matter how young the children were” and conclude they were consistent with what Jesus Christ would want him to do? When Trump goes on a Twitter tirade, telling a story of Mika Brzezinski “bleeding badly from a facelift,” did Pence believe he was witnessing good Christian values? Or the time Trump called Stormy Daniels “Horseface”? Or calling Omarosa “that dog” — to say nothing of the decision to hire Omarosa in the first place? When Trump insisted he had never called McCain a loser — and it’s on video, “I don’t like losers” — did Pence think this was consistent with Christian teachings?

Has Pence ever felt the need to tell the president he’s doing something wrong?

Does Pence believe that the president publicly speculating that Joe Scarborough killed his intern decades ago is consistent with Pence’s values? Would Jesus have met politely with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un and not brought up their abominable records of human-rights abuses? Would the Son of God have shrugged off the Saudi regime’s murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi with, “It’s all about America first”?

You can argue that some of these decisions are understandable losses of temper or concessions to the reality of statecraft. But it’s much harder to argue that all of these policies, statements, and actions reflect an administration guided by the values and principles of Jesus Christ.

And perhaps Jesus’s inherent divine ability to heal the sick gave Him a different perspective on contagious disease prevention, but wouldn’t He have wanted all of us to be careful to not spread the coronavirus to others? Would He have wanted frequent testing, and immediate notification of anyone in contact with a potentially contagious carrier? What would the Son of God make of a White House team that refuses to do contact tracing of those within its own walls? How many times has Pence had to bite his tongue, or resist the urge to object to what he’s seeing and hearing in front of him?

And would Jesus want the vice president to bite his tongue, or resist the urge to object to what he’s seeing and hearing in front of him?

And if Pence sees things that he thinks are morally wrong and contrary to his Christian values happening around him . . . and he doesn’t speak up for what he believes in . . . is he really “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order”?

And on the Other Side of the Stage . . .

But last night featured Pence up against Kamala Harris.

Ever watch a movie or read a book that everyone around you seems to be raving about, and feel like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes? Whatever magnificence, excellence, and brilliance that everyone else seems to see, you can’t see it, and you can’t tell whether everyone else is crazy or you are?

That’s how I feel with Kamala Harris. The appeal of Harris eludes me the way opposing skill position players elude New York Jets defenders. No matter how I move, no matter what angle I take, I feel as if I never come close.

What has me suspecting that I’m not the crazy one is that if Harris was as good as her fans both inside and outside the media insist . . . she would not have dropped out of the presidential race on December 3, well before the Iowa caucuses.

Her official explanation was that she didn’t have the financial resources to continue. Okay, but why? Large and small donors are out there, and they’re not feeling stingy in general. Democratic candidates at all levels have raised and spent more than $5 billion this cycle. What gave Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren the resources to last until Super Tuesday, but not Harris? It’s not as if there was a lack of debates or opportunities to get her message out or attract attention.

Inject me with sodium pentothal, and I’ll blurt that Harris is just not that good, that decades of closing arguments to juries as a prosecutor have left her sounding as if she’s always giving the kind of dramatic monologue that Sam Waterston would give in the final minutes of a Law and Order episode. “How dare I? How dare you, sir! I say this because we pledge allegiance to a flag. And to a Republic for which it stands! One nation under God! Indivisible! With liberty and justice for all! No more questions, your honor!”

I also suspect that by running for office as a Democrat, in the political environment of first San Francisco and then California as a whole, she’s had the political wind at her back her whole career and doesn’t realize what a help that was. Yes, almost all politicians traffic in clichés, dodge questions, and try to be as charming as possible. But Harris often particularly seems like an actress playing a role. Maybe it’s that she now thinks and just naturally speaks in phrases that sound as if they were tested in focus groups. She seems rehearsed when she speaks off-the-cuff and guarded during her appearances that are supposed to be unguarded.

No doubt some of my skepticism about Harris is shaped by coverage that, early in the cycle, treated every little thing she did as magic, even shopping for clothes. Harris arrived in Washington, and many people in the media world seemed to instantly decide the former state attorney general was inherently awesome, and that coverage of her had to treat her as this Oprah-like, universally beloved figure. Her record as a prosecutor and state AG has a lot for skeptics to pick over, but it felt as if most of this got dismissed as ancient history. As Jack Shafer observed in August, the media rarely covers the California senator as if her own presidential bid crashed and burned less than a year ago: “Yesterday, Harris was just another overbaked politician. Today, she’s fresh as can be, and the press corps can’t stop salivating.”

Actually, if you were looking for them last night, you could find assessments of Harris that were not so glowing, suggesting that maybe some other people see the same under-appealing figure on stage that I did.

Our old friend Tim Alberta: “This debate is dull and devoid of any big, memorable, needle-moving moments. But it’s pretty obvious Kamala Harris spent more time rehearsing attacks on Donald Trump than she did rehearsing defenses of Joe Biden.” Alberta later relayed the assessment of Harris from a Frank Luntz focus group: “evasive . . . nervous . . . shifting blame . . . caring . . . snarky . . . too rehearsed . . . nervous . . . evasive . . . abrasive . . . unsteady . . . rigid . . . unpresidential.

Megan McArdle: “Kamala Harris is . . . not a great debater.

Damon Linker: “She’s bad on her feet. Slow. She should have handled that exchange with Pence much more deftly.

Maybe No More Debates This Year?

Breaking shortly before I sent off this newsletter, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the next presidential debate will be virtual, not in person, and the Trump campaign said . . . in-person, or no debate at all.

A released statement from Bill Stepien, Trump 2020 campaign manager:

President Trump won the first debate despite a terrible and biased moderator in Chris Wallace, and everybody knows it. For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic. That’s not what debates are about or how they’re done. Here are the facts: President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration. The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.

ADDENDUM: Are we really two debates into this cycle with no questions about reopening America’s schools during the pandemic?

Elections

Tonight’s VP Debate

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On the menu today: a big preview of tonight’s much-higher-stakes-than-usual debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, and a rather absurd criticism of Amy Coney Barrett.

Pence. Harris. The Veep Debate Is Tonight

Tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern is the vice-presidential debate, and almost every four years, the media hype the event with “most vice-presidential debates don’t amount to much, but this year, this one really matters!” And for once, it appears true. The president appears to be recovering from his coronavirus infection well, but we never know for certain whether a president will serve a full term. And Joe Biden turns 78 shortly after the election. Either Mike Pence or Kamala Harris could well end up taking the oath of office before January 20, 2025.

Virginia senator Tim Kaine was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2016. I mention this because many people, including those who follow politics, periodically forget this fact. It was the wildest, craziest, most unpredictable, and most surprising presidential race in U.S. history, and somehow, it’s as if the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee was erased from our collective memories.

I remember Pence doing well in the debate four years ago, but I didn’t remember how many headlines — at media institutions that never wanted to give the Trump campaign much credit for anything — begrudgingly admitted Pence did a better job than his Democratic counterpart.

The Los Angeles Times: “We scored the debate and Mike Pence won.

The Guardian: “It wasn’t a pretty night for Tim Kaine.

Vox: “Why Mike Pence beat Tim Kaine at the VP debate, in one tweet.

The Associated Press: “Republican Mike Pence won bipartisan plaudits for a calm and collected performance in the vice presidential debate . . . even Clinton’s team wasn’t claiming that Kaine had come out on top, despite the chest-puffing that usually follows a political debate. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said only that Kaine had succeeded in his ‘strategic mission’ to challenge Pence to defend his controversial running mate.”

Kamala Harris will be more aggressive than Tim Kaine; she was aggressive enough to more or less call Joe Biden a racist in that first debate, a direct attack that had stunningly little long-term fallout.

The word is Harris will go after Pence for the administration’s response to the coronavirus, including Pence’s April 24 statement, “I think honestly, if you look at the trends today, that I think by Memorial Day weekend we will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she brought up Pence not wearing a mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic in April; Pence subsequently said he should have worn a mask.

Harris may well point out that at last week’s debate, Trump declared, “I don’t wear a mask like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” As we now know, sometime that week Trump was infected with coronavirus.

Harris and Pence will be separated by Plexiglas barriers, and at some point, Harris may emphasize that she thinks it is necessary after last week’s revelations. A moment before mocking Biden’s masks as being too large, Trump said, “I have a mask right here. I put a mask on when I think I need it. Tonight, as an example, everybody’s had a test and you’ve had social distancing and all of the things that you have to, but I wear masks when needed.”

Except the Cleveland Clinic, which was in charge of coronavirus precautions for the event, didn’t test the president and his entourage. Their statement was, “Individuals traveling with both candidates, including the candidates themselves, had been tested and tested negative by their respective campaigns.” The clinic and debate organizers presumed that President Trump, the first lady, and his staff had been verified as virus-free by the White House and/or Trump campaign . . . except we now learn that assurances that the president being tested “regularly” did not mean “every day.”

Yet the president himself was not tested every day, according to two people familiar with the practices. A senior administration official would only say on Tuesday that Mr. Trump was tested “regularly.” Mr. Trump himself told reporters in the White House briefing room in July that “I do take probably on average a test every two days, three days.”

And the first family, including Melania Trump, did not wear masks at the debate. Harris is likely to declare that the president scoffed about Biden’s mask when he was either infected, or on the verge of being infected, and then likely brought infected people with him to the last debate.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed June 16, Pence declared, “Cases have stabilized over the past two weeks, with the daily average case rate across the U.S. dropping to 20,000 — down from 30,000 in April and 25,000 in May. And in the past five days, deaths are down to fewer than 750 a day, a dramatic decline from 2,500 a day a few weeks ago — and a far cry from the 5,000 a day that some were predicting.” Daily new cases increased for a while after that, peaking around 75,000 new cases in stretches of late June and July, and daily new deaths in the 1,000 to 1,500 range in summer. We are in somewhat better shape these days, with about 40,000 new cases per day, and about 700 to 900 deaths per day.

That op-ed declared, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave.’” That is a reasonably accurate assessment, in the sense that the first wave never really stopped spreading into new communities.

There are other vulnerabilities for the vice president regarding administration’s coronavirus response. A school that Pence visited in August had to enact a quarantine days later after a student tested positive. A meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colo., that Pence urged to remain open had three workers die of coronavirus infections after reopening. The vice president did not carry empty boxes in a photo-op meant to suggest he was personally delivering personal protective equipment, but the head of an association of 5,000 assisted-living facilities did write to the vice president, “While it may not be your intention, these photo-ops send a false impression that nursing homes and other aging services providers are getting what they need. That is nowhere close to the truth.” Pence had better be ready to address and rebut any of these arguments or examples.

On paper, that looks like a tall order for Pence. His largest advantage may be that all of these attacks are coming from Kamala Harris.

Harris’s political instincts are not great, or at least not consistently good. In the first two months of 2019, Harris — then still a hyped early contender for the Democratic nomination — pledged to eliminate private insurance in a CNN Town Hall and then quickly reversed herself, called the alleged “attack” on actor Jussie Smollett as “a modern day lynching,*” and had joked that of course she liked smoking marijuana because of her Jamaican heritage. This spurred one of the few public comments from her father, economist Donald Harris, who was irked:

 “My dear departed grandmothers as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation, and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics,” Donald Harris wrote to the Kingston-based website Jamaica Global Online. “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty.”

Matt Continetti astutely observed, “What trips up Kamala Harris is an evident desire to please her audience. She wants no enemies to her left, no identity politics left untouched. She can’t run as a prosecutor — crime fighting is so 1990s — but she can run as brash, bold, and woke. Her verbal miscues are possible evidence that this latest political fashion doesn’t quite fit.”

In Vanity Fair, Peter Hamby wrote a blistering postmortem of her campaign, in part because it was so simple and fair:

Her San Francisco-based consulting team was blamed for trying to graft a California political strategy onto a national campaign. Staffers also blamed the communications team for devoting too much energy to Twitter spats invisible to the public at large, antagonizing reporters rather than managing their fragile egos. But as with any campaign, the fault lies with the candidate, for not making hard calls and failing to give the campaign a North Star to push it forward and above the drama. No staffer is to blame. No family member is to blame. The media isn’t to blame. Twitter isn’t to blame. Biden and Buttigieg and Warren and Sanders aren’t to blame, and neither are their supporters. The only person responsible for erasing Kamala Harris is Kamala Harris, for the too-often-overlooked reason that she failed to explain to Democrats why she deserved to be president of the United States.

Harris is significantly to the left of Joe Biden, the average Democrat, and the average American. All Pence needs to do tonight is get Harris to show that, and he will have made the best possible case for four more years of the Trump administration.

*Harris’s tweet declaring that the Smollett hoax was a “lynching” is still up.

UPDATE: This morning, the Washington Post reports, “a 2010 People of Praise directory states that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett held the title of “handmaid,” a leadership position for women in the community, according to a directory excerpt obtained by the Post.” Good God, ACB’s story literally is a Handmaid’s Tale!

Senator Ben Sasse sends along his reaction to the story: “Catholic believes Catholic stuff, story at eleven. . . . This conspiracy theory that a brilliant jurist and an accomplished lawyer is secretly a subservient woman controlled by her husband’s ‘shadowy organization’ isn’t just stupid — it’s bigoted and sexist.”

As mentioned on The Editors podcast yesterday, just think of where Amy Coney Barrett would be now if her husband wasn’t keeping her down in accordance to some ancient sexist religious dogma: Instead of being a “mere” federal appellate judge, professor of law at Notre Dame, and nominee to be a Supreme Court justice, she would have already united all of the nations of earth, built a fearsome space armada, and began her conquest of the known universe.

White House

Trump’s Return to the White House

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President Donald Trump walks out the front doors of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after a fourth day of treatment for the coronavirus in Bethesda, Md., October 5, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the menu today: The president returns to the White House and boasts that he led despite the risks; contract-tracing efforts within the White House appear to be minimal or nonexistent; and the president assures the nation, “don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently.”

‘Maybe I’m Immune’

The president, in a video recorded at the White House last night: “I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did. And I know there’s a risk. There’s a danger, but that’s okay. And now I’m better. And maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.”

The generous interpretation is that Trump is saying that now that he has the virus, he will be immune to reinfection in the future — at least for a while. The less generous interpretation is that when he says, “maybe I’m immune,” he has convinced himself that he was never in much real danger.

At some point in the past week, the president of the United States was infected with SARS-CoV-2. We don’t know when, in part because White House officials and the president’s doctor steadfastly refuse to disclose the date of the president’s last negative test. This is ominous, because back in July, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told us the president is “tested more than anyone, multiple times a day.” If he really is being tested multiple times a day — or even once a day — we should be able to narrow down the window of his infection to a 24-hour period or less. If he’s not being tested once a day, then the president is being reckless, and his staff is lying to the public about this basic matter of the president’s protection from a contagious and deadly virus.

The other possibility is that they don’t want to disclose the date of the president’s last negative test because they are indeed testing every day and the last negative test was not Thursday.

The president’s infection was disclosed at 1 a.m. Friday. Last week, the president attended the presidential debate Tuesday, an indoor private fundraiser and an outdoor rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and a private fundraiser at his resort in Westminster, N.J., on Thursday. At some point in that week, a test of the president came back positive, and it’s possible this development didn’t send everyone around the president to red alert.

The cluster of cases among attendees of the Rose Garden ceremony for the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, September 26, suggests that the president may well have caught the virus at that event — even though all guests were supposed to be screened for the virus beforehand.

As the NR editors observe, “The White House believed that it could dispense with masks because it has a regime of daily testing. We now know the virus can slip through even frequently administered tests (and it turns out the tests used by the White House were prone to false negatives).”

As noted, false positives are pretty rare and usually involve lab errors and cross-contamination. But false negatives aren’t so rare, and this weekend, FDA commissioner doctor Scott Gottlieb pointed out that a system designed to protect the president that is reliant on one instant test, is going to fall apart after a false negative:

The Abbott test is a very good test when used appropriately. You have to fit the right test to the right purpose. The White House was relying almost solely on testing as a way to protect the President. They needed a zero-fail testing protocol because they weren’t taking any precautions beyond testing people who are going to be in contact with the President. And that requires multiple layers of testing. If you want a — something close to a zero-fail testing protocol, and you’re never going to be able to achieve a hundred percent, you would probably be needing to use a PCR-based test at the point of entry at the White House. So the Cepheid GeneXpert probably would be more fit to purpose. But, frankly, you’d need double layers of testing. You’d probably want to test people before they depart for the White House and then test them again when they arrive. And even that wouldn’t be a hundred percent, but it would get you closer. Using these kinds of tests — and they’re now using the Binax as well as — the antigen-based tests  and– and the Abbott ID NOW, using that to screen an asymptomatic population to try to detect virus, you might only have fifty percent sensitivity –, perhaps, a little bit better than that.

The possibility that the president (and others) caught the virus at the Barrett ceremony is particularly ominous because those infected with coronavirus can become contagious “two to three days before symptoms start and are most contagious one to two days before they feel sick.” Symptoms usually show up five days after infection, but they can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after infection.

Yet the White House is not doing contact tracing for the Rose Garden ceremony . . .

The White House has decided not to trace the contacts of guests and staff members at the Rose Garden celebration 10 days ago for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, where at least eight people, including the president, may have become infected, according to a White House official familiar with the plans.

And it’s not clear that the White House is doing much contact tracing at all:

Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, told reporters on Saturday that his team was working with the agency to trace contacts. But according to the federal official, while the C.D.C. had a team of experts on standby to help the White House, it has not been approached to do so.

In an interview Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, also offered evidence suggesting that no robust contact tracing effort was underway. Dr. Gottlieb said he had spoken to several officials who attended the Rose Garden event and who had not been spoken to by any contact tracers.

“I think they have an obligation to understand how the infection was introduced into that environment,” he said of the White House. “There doesn’t seem to be a very concerted effort underway.”

It’s easy to imagine other administrations launching a contact-tracing effort and getting poorly executed, delayed, or muddled and incomplete results. This administration does not appear to be even trying.

As far as excuses go, “the president is poorly served by his staff” is a good one because it often has the advantage of being accurate. It is not reasonable to expect Trump to direct the contact-tracing effort from Walter Reed or his private residence. But he did hire all of these people.

“Maybe I’m immune.”

According to White House physician Dr. Sean Conley, by Friday afternoon, “the President had a high fever and his oxygen saturation was transiently dipping below 94 percent.” The president was given oxygen. On Friday afternoon, Conley said in a White House letter that Trump received “a monoclonal antibody cocktail — an investigational immune system treatment from the biotechnology company Regeneron — and had taken zinc, vitamin D, the heartburn drug famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin.”

The situation was serious enough to spur the decision to move him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

On Saturday, “there was another episode where [the president’s oxygen saturation] dropped down to about 93 percent,” and Trump’s physicians decided to give him the corticosteroid drug dexamethasone, which has been shown to help coronavirus patients and is typically given to patients on supplemental oxygen or ventilation.

Monday, shortly before the president returned to the White House, Conley declared the president “may not be entirely out of the woods yet.”

“Maybe I’m immune.”

In last night’s video, Trump declared, “I could have left two days ago. Two days ago, I felt great, like better than I have in a long time. I said just recently, better than 20 years ago.”

Ah, Donald Trump. It’s not enough for him to tell us he’s feeling better or recovering well; he needs to go that extra mile and insist that after three days of hospitalization, a high fever, and low oxygenation, he feels better than he did at age 54. I’m not going to engage in Zapruder-film-level analysis of the footage of President Trump on the White House balcony last night, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was experiencing shortness of breath or pain. He’s still fighting off a serious virus!

“Maybe I’m immune.”

The president also told the nation, “don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.”

He has access to the best doctors, the best medical equipment, and the best medicines, including experimental treatments. Not everyone else in America or the world has the same.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, Pennsylvania Republican senator Pat Toomey says that this term in the Senate will be his last, and that he won’t run for governor or any other office. I’m starting to miss him already.

White House

HIPAA Applies to the President, Too

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Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, talks to the media about President Donald Trump’s health after the president was hospitalized for the coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., October 3, 2020. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

On the menu today: HIPAA, the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, and other factors that prevent the president’s doctor, Sean Conley, from revealing too many details of President Trump’s condition without the patient’s permission; wondering just how reliable the rapid tests used by the White House are; Andy McCarthy elaborates on FBI director Christopher Wray and his definition of Antifa; and a painfully plausible commercial in the sports world.

Why the President’s Doctors Can’t Lay Out Every Detail of His Condition

In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which took steps to ensure patient privacy and set rules for the handling of “protected health information.” Personal health information is exactly what it sounds like — medical history, test and laboratory results, clinical notes, insurance information and other data that a health-care professional collects in the process of providing care. HIPAA applies to the president’s doctors, and under the law, the president is entitled to the same right to privacy as every other American citizen. We can argue about whether that should be the case, but that is indeed the law right now; there is no presidential exception to HIPAA.

In addition to HIPAA limitations, the American Medical Association’s code of ethics declares, “Physicians have an ethical obligation to preserve the confidentiality of information gathered in association with the care of the patient . . . In general, patients are entitled to decide whether and to whom their personal health information is disclosed.” The exceptions listed are when the doctor is required by law or when “the patient will seriously harm him/herself or the patient will inflict serious physical harm on an identifiable individual or individuals.” There is no exception listed for when the patient is the president of the United States and there is great public interest in his condition.

In other words, the president’s doctor, Sean Conley, can only release information the president is comfortable releasing. (We can surmise that if the president is telling his doctor not to release certain information, that the president is awake and alert.)

The fact that the president is tweeting again this morning, in ALL CAPS, is another good sign. In at least one habit, he seems very much “back to normal.” Those stretches of Twitter silence this weekend were a little ominous. We know this guy; we’ve been living under him as president for almost four years now. If he’s awake, he’s tweeting.

On Sunday, the president’s doctor said: “late Friday morning when I returned to the bedside, the president had a high fever and his oxygen saturation was transiently dipping below 94 percent.” Conley later elaborated “about 93 percent” and “it wasn’t down in to the low 80s or anything, no.” He did say, “I was concerned for possible rapid progression of the illness.” You want your blood oxygen level to be somewhere between 95 and 100.

You’re going to hear a lot of doctors and medical students of Social Media University make sweeping conclusions about the president’s health. A few pieces of common sense:

  • Each day the president’s condition doesn’t worsen is a good sign, and further indication he will pull through. He’s in a top-tier medical center with the best doctors and every piece of equipment and every treatment they could ever want.
  • The president is a 74-year-old man who suffered drops in his blood oxygen levels and “a high fever,” and his doctor was “concerned for possible rapid progression of the illness.” This is not something that can be hand-waved away as mere precautions.
  • The president wouldn’t be in the hospital if people responsible for his health didn’t think he needed to be there, and he wouldn’t be given these medicines — the Regeneron treatment, remdesivir, and dexamethasone — if they didn’t think they were necessary or a good idea to help with recovery.

What has people raising their eyebrows about the use of dexamethasone is this:

The effect of dexamethasone was most striking among critically ill patients on ventilators. Those who were receiving oxygen therapy but were not on ventilators also saw improvement: their risk of dying was reduced by 20%. The steroid had no effect on people with less severe cases of COVID-19 — those not receiving oxygen or ventilation. 

Shortly after the results were released, the UK government announced that it had immediately authorized the use of dexamethasone for patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who required oxygen, including those on ventilators. The researchers say that they are also sharing their findings with regulators in the United Kingdom and internationally.

There is this odd and somewhat absurd futility in attempting to spin the president’s condition as better or worse than it is; as Trump said of the pandemic death toll: “It is what it is.” If, God forbid, the president doesn’t pull through, or he has lingering health issues because of his fight with the virus, there won’t be any way to put a positive spin on those scenarios. If, in the coming days, the president walks out of the hospital and returns to the White House in visible full health, his recovery will be clear, and no one will be able to argue the doctor’s assessments were excessively optimistic or misleading.

When Was the President Infected?

Ideally, by now we would have a complete and accurate timeline of the president’s recent coronavirus tests, so that contact tracers could identify a window when he was infected and figure out who he caught the virus from — to ensure others who have been in contact with this person are informed, and also to determine where the protective efforts have failed. Trump may have caught the virus from Hope Hicks, or it may be someone else.

This report, in the Wall Street Journal, is troubling. The whole point of contract tracing is to quickly notify those who have been exposed to a potentially contagious person. There is little or no indication of a swift and comprehensive contact-tracing effort going on:

President Trump didn’t disclose a positive result from a rapid test for Covid-19 on Thursday while awaiting the findings from a more thorough coronavirus screening, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Trump received a positive result on Thursday evening before making an appearance on Fox News in which he didn’t reveal those results. Instead, he confirmed earlier reports that one of his top aides had tested positive for coronavirus and mentioned the second test he had taken that night for which he was awaiting results.

“I’ll get my test back either tonight or tomorrow morning,” Mr. Trump said during the interview. At 1 a.m. on Friday, the president tweeted that he indeed had tested positive.

As the virus spread among the people closest to him, Mr. Trump also asked one adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” Mr. Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

The White House uses rapid tests, Abbott Laboratories ID NOW COVID-19 tests, and those tests can give false negative results. One study in August concluded that the ID NOW test catches 74 percent of positive samples — meaning about one in four is not caught.

I initially wondered if the rapid tests created a sufficient number of false positives, so that an initial positive rest turned into the equivalent of a car alarm — an emergency alert that occurred so often in so many non-emergencies, that people started to tune them out. But apparently the rate of false positives is pretty darn rare, no matter what the test is; a false positive usually indicates a cross-contamination at the lab doing the testing.

Unfortunately, it appears the testing at the White House offered a false negative, probably at the ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett. And the attendees, believing everyone in attendance had tested negative, let their guard down and did not practice social distancing.

‘We Can’t Delude Ourselves into Thinking We Can Beat It by Taking Out Any Particular Organization’

Over the weekend, our Andy McCarthy elaborated on how FBI director Christopher Wray’s assessment of Antifa is being misstated and misconstrued by Joe Biden and other Democrats: 

Wray is not denying that Antifa is infecting and driving violent anti-American anarchists. Those anarchists, he indicated, include collections that range from ad hoc groups of individuals who self-identify as Antifa to more regimented “nodes” that are “coalescing regionally.”

Does that sound familiar? It should. On a global stage, it mirrors in many ways the Muslim Brotherhood. Not a precise reflection, but it is similar (and bear in mind that these movements are in very different stages of their historical development) . . .

Regarding Antifa, what Wray appears to be saying is that, if the FBI is going to counter Antifa effectively, it has to recognize, first and foremost, the ideological thread that knits all the militants together. You can’t kill it by arresting ten guys in balaclavas mixing Molotov cocktails in Portland.

If that is the FBI’s logic, it’s not only right; it is progress . . .

Chris Wray is right. He is not saying that the FBI is making no cases on violent insurrectionists who are driven by Antifa’s anti-American ideology. He is saying that if we’re confronted by a movement, and we want to protect the country, we can’t afford to delude ourselves into thinking we can beat it by taking out any particular organization. It’s bigger and more insidious than that.

ADDENDUM: Yes, everyone, I saw the Forgetitol commercial on Fox Sports this weekend. Thanks for asking.

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