The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

Signs of the Times

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 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?


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