The Last Hurdle [?]

No matter the election outcome, I consider former Vice President Joe Biden to have run a generally smart and disciplined campaign from beginning to end:  at the outset, making maximum benefit of his name recognition, residual personal and Obama Administration good will; doing well enough in the Democratic presidential debates to maintain his standing; while a series of adversaries briefly shone, shrewdly pinning his prospects for the Democratic nomination on African American support in the South Carolina primary (a state that he will, ironically, probably lose to President Trump); presenting himself throughout as moderate, sane and empathetic (which, by all accounts, he is); picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, who – despite my posted misgivings – has turned out to be a safe and effective choice; and focusing his attention almost exclusively on swing states with understandable (given the polls) forays into Ohio.  He’s gotten some breaks.  He was first assisted by having his moderate rivals, who had seen what happened to the Republicans in 2016, endorse him before an arguably unelectable outsider, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, could seize the nomination.  In starkly political terms, he was aided by the outrage attending the killing of George Floyd and, primarily, by the Coronavirus, which brought into naked relief President Trump’s narcissism and incompetence, for months diverted attention from any attacks that Republicans planned to level at him, and enabled him to mostly stay out of sight – gaffe-free, while demonstrating responsible Coronavirus behaviors.

In contrast, President Trump has thrown off the fetters of the Coronavirus (both the national crisis and his own affliction) and thus far reverted to his campaign brew of chaos, incendiary rhetoric, and questionable allegations.  The polls indicate that his strategy may be helping him.  The mental image of the contest seems a boat race in which the gap appears to be narrowing as Mr. Trump revs the outboard while Mr. Biden maintains smooth sail toward shore.

One can never tell in the Alternate Trump Universe in which we are trapped, but tonight’s debate may be the last major test for Mr. Biden’s steady approach.  Since reports indicate that he has been preparing for the last couple of days, presumably he sees it as so.  Each candidate has advantages and disadvantages in this last confrontation.

First, Mr. Trump’s advantages and Mr. Biden’s disadvantages.  After the President’s boorishly buffoonish debate performance in late September – when he may or may not have been infected with COVID – expectations for him will be low.  The Trump Campaign has been doing a much better job at the “low expectations” game than it did before the first debate, while decrying the “unfairness” of the debate format it agreed to.  Mr. Trump can behave when he has to – the last two weeks of his 2016 presidential campaign showed that – and my guess is that whether or not he admits it, he realizes that his all-out assault on Mr. Biden in the first debate backfired horribly, and that he needs to look restrained and reasonable to have any hope of persuading the modicum of swing state swing voters he needs.  I expect him to take his shots, but to be more the 2016 presidential debater, when he did reasonably well against Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton.  

An aside:  each candidate’s microphone will be muted when the other is giving his opening statement on each debate topic (but not during the topic’s ensuing open discussion).  This change in debate rules is apparently at the behest of the Biden Campaign, which is reportedly seeking a “more ordered” debate.  This, against Mr. Trump, was just dumb, one of the few unforced errors the Biden team has made.  The more opportunity Mr. Biden gives the President to discard his restraint, to show his true colors, the better Mr. Biden looks.  The more Mr. Biden seemingly hesitates — perhaps merely while constructing a work around for his stuttering — in ways not attributable to Mr. Trump’s interruptions, the greater the possibility of increased voter misgivings about Mr. Biden.  In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt comments that Republicans are masters at aiming at intuition, while Democrats appeal to language-based reasoning, and that intuition trumps [if you will ;)] reasoning every time.  Democrats can turn the tables by giving Mr. Trump as much chance as possible to evoke the visceral personal distaste that polls show most not in the Trump Cult feel for him.   

 Mr. Biden’s advantages and Mr. Trump’s disadvantages:  Mr. Trump’s potential lack of restraint, and the fodder Mr. Trump has given Mr. Biden.  Mr. Biden should look for the opportunities to use these:

When Mr. Trump makes his latest claims about Hunter Biden, take your pick:

“You’ve said I’m a criminal that should be arrested.  Are you standing here tonight saying that I am a criminal that should be arrested?”  (No matter what Mr. Trump says, Mr. Biden wins the visual).

“You’re basing your claim on a lead provided by Russians [ding] to your lawyer, Rudy Giuliani [ding], for a story in the New York Post, owned by the owner of Fox News [ding].”

 “You don’t have the guts to face Putin, but you’re going after my son to hurt me.”


No matter what Mr. Trump says in his own defense:  “You sat on your hands, and now over 200,000 of our people are dead.  You deny, people die.”

“The other day, you called Dr. Anthony Fauci an idiot.  Do you think you know more about how to protect us than he does?”

“We were each supposed to take a COVID test before the first debate to protect each other.  I took the test.  Did you?”  [If Mr. Trump says he did, Mr. Biden can point out that Mr. Trump said in his NBC Town Hall that he didn’t remember; he can call upon Mr. Trump – right there – to authorize Mr. Trump’s physicians to reveal his testing regime to the public.  If Mr. Trump repeats that he can’t remember, Mr. Biden can say, “I thought I was the one that wasn’t able to remember.”]

Most importantly: 

Mr. Biden’s concluding statement, no matter what the actual specified topic, needs to be:  “Do you want four more years of this?”  [Let the viewer fill in the “this.”]

Tonight, we see.

Truly Random October Monday Thoughts

If polls are to be believed, President Trump’s standing has fallen sharply among seniors.  Commentators have generally attributed Mr. Trump’s apparent loss of senior support to his mishandling of our Coronavirus response.  If he has indeed lost senior support, I wonder whether it doesn’t have more meaning than that:  while COVID has brought into stark relief Mr. Trump’s incompetence and disregard for seniors’ safety, it has also caused seniors to confront the sheer lunacy of his presidency.  Seniors remember when the president, even if you disagreed with his particular policies, at least … made sense.  While Bernie, Elizabeth, or Pete might have conjured up fears of continued craziness, Joe Biden offers the prospect of … sanity.  Even if some fellow seniors don’t share my deep abhorrence for the president’s lies, bullying, racism, and dictatorial inclinations, I suspect that many share my attendant wish for a stop to the noise and the craziness.

I’m fascinated that in recent days the Republicans have tried to resurrect their allegations about … wait for it … former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Trump has spoken about it; Vice President Pence threw in references to Sec. Clinton near the end of the Vice Presidential debate; I saw one clip in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured us (complete with sardonic smile, almost diabolically rubbing his hands in glee) that he has Ms. Clinton’s allegedly deleted emails and will tell us more before the election.  This is obviously designed to elicit the Pavlovian response from the Republican faithful.  We ourselves have family members (of both genders) who get terribly exercised at the very mention of Ms. Clinton.  My reaction to Mr. Pompeo’s claim:  unless he produces a validated Clinton email which says, “I told Joe Biden that I was intentionally violating email security protocols and exposing our most sensitive information to Russia and China, and Joe said, ‘Great – Go for it!’”, what swing voter – upon whose vote the outcome of the presidential election will rest — cares anymore?  While she’s perhaps not the most likeable, I have never understood the Republican rabid Hillary Clinton fixation.  As First Lady and then Secretary of State, her responsibility was to support the policies of the sitting President.  Has there ever been a more inept national politician?  With all of the Clintons’ institutional advantages in 2008, how does one lose to a 2-year Illinois U.S. Senator, no matter how charismatic he is?  In 2016, how does one lose to … Donald Trump?  Let her rest in peace.

I haven’t been able to muster up that much interest in Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings or Judge Barrett’s impending ascension to the Supreme Court.  As all that read these pages are aware, I’m terribly troubled by the Republicans’ hypocrisy in thwarting Judge Garland’s Supreme Court nomination while pushing Judge Barrett’s; to me, it’s not about what the Senate had the right to do or not do, it’s about partisan Senate Republicans’ failure to honorably do what they should have done.  That said, it’s clear that Judge Barrett seems overwhelmingly likely to be confirmed.  Since she is undisputedly eminently qualified (albeit staunchly conservative) and apparently has no objective disqualifying factors such as drug addiction, I believe she should be.  I will nonetheless venture that if Mr. Biden wins the election and the Democrats gain control of the Senate, the liberal angst about Ms. Barrett’s ascension is overwrought.  Demographic and cultural mores sweeping this nation will not be held back by six conservative Justices, including the three Trump appointees, frantically trying to hold back the tide.  Public perception of the Court is no longer of robed oracles on pedestals as it was when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed his court packing plan in 1937.  Although Mr. Roosevelt’s initiative resulted in the most stinging political defeat of his career [although it didn’t stop him from being re-elected – twice – thereafter ;)], some scholars suggest that Mr. Roosevelt’s legislative overture caused “the switch in time that save nine” – conservative Justice Owen Roberts’ sudden joining with the liberal Justices to uphold New Deal positions.  I predict that independent voter support for court packing will mushroom if the Affordable Care Act is struck down or Roe v. Wade overruled.  The current conservative Justices will ultimately either accommodate their rulings to changing American sensibilities, be neutered by a legislative increase in Supreme Court seats, or depart the Court via “voluntary” retirement or impeachment.  On the other hand, if Mr. Trump is re-elected, a conservative Supreme Court majority will be among the lesser of our problems.

As the polls indicate – whether or not accurately – a potential “Blue Wave” in unlikely places such as Texas and Georgia, I wonder whether former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former GA State Rep. Stacey Abrams have experienced pangs about rejecting the Democratic National Committee’s repeated requests that they run for the U.S. Senate in their respective states in 2020.  While their reluctance earlier this year was understandable – both had come off close defeats in a non-presidential election year, and presumably didn’t like their electoral prospects against apparently popular incumbent Senators in a presidential election year – arguably the enthusiasm each engendered in their narrow 2018 defeats, against a backdrop of a seemingly dramatic shift in voter sentiment brought about by Mr. Trump, might in hindsight have given either or both of them a springboard to victory.  Two years ago, everyone knew of Mr. O’Rourke and Ms. Abrams; how many can name the current Texas and Georgia Democratic Senate candidates?

A good friend recently sent me the following link to an article reporting upon the State of Wisconsin’s ongoing negotiations with Foxconn.  The arrangement touted with such fanfare in June, 2018, by President Trump, then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and then WI Gov. Scott Walker is — and there is no kinder way to accurately describe it — a debacle.

All reports indicate that we’re going in the wrong direction on COVID.  Be careful.

On the Use of Surrogates

As the renowned British philosopher, Richard Starkey, once observed:  One gets by with a little help from one’s friends.  An American presidential election takes place on many separate battlegrounds featuring different terrains, for which there are different objectives calling for different troop deployments.   The greater an army’s troop and financial strength and the more effectively it applies its resources, generally the better it will fare.

President Trump is currently in the midst of a bunch of campaign stops.  Put aside for a moment the COVID risks his stops may engender; even put aside that his forays are in large part to indulge an ego that Mr. Trump’s niece, Clinical Psychologist Mary Trump, called in Too Much and Never Enough, “a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment.”  The stark political reality is:  he has no choice.  He must carry the load.  He has no credible surrogates.  He is the Trump Show.  Only insomniacs can have any interest in His Somnolency, Vice President Mike Pence; only maniacs can be interested in Donald Trump, Jr.  To compound the President’s difficulties, current reports indicate that his campaign is now a bit strapped for funds.       

On the other hand, by all accounts former Vice President Joe Biden has a lot of friends (in this contest, some unexpected).  Mr. Biden’s campaign is reportedly well funded.  If the Biden Campaign is undertaking many of the efforts set forth below, I apologize for failing to have noted them; but this race is not over.  Even given its need to maintain a “COVID-safe” posture with the electorate, I would submit that in the campaign’s final weeks, it’s time for a full court blitz.  The Biden Campaign should aggressively use its surfeit of potential surrogates.  Saving Mr. Biden himself for toward the end of this note:       

Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris:  When she is not engaged in the Senate Confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, she should be living in the Hispanic areas of Arizona and Florida to bolster Mr. Biden’s relatively weaker support in Brown communities and regularly visiting the cities of Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee to encourage Democratic minority support.

Dr. Jill Biden:  I’ve found her impressive, and would have her appearing in the more conservative swing state suburban communities, as much to dissuade suburban Republican women from voting for Mr. Trump as to gain voters for her husband.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama:  given Ms. Obama’s popularity, to the extent she is willing to engage, having her mine swing state cities and their suburbs would be a HUGE plus for the Biden Campaign.

Territorially effective:  Ms. Cindy McCain, widow of U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain:  The Bidens and McCains were close friends for decades.  Ms. McCain’s endorsement of Mr. Biden and her accompanying Ms. Biden on stops to undercut the President’s Arizona Republican support is, in my view, very wise.

Michael Bloomberg:  Devoting millions to the Biden Campaign in strategic locations.  (This also appears to be happening.)

U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar:  when not tied up in Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Klobuchar should be stumping for Mr. Biden to hold Minnesota, and – given her Midwest credibility stemming from her presidential campaign – in the non-urban parts of Wisconsin and Iowa.

Former OH Gov. John Kasich:  I suspect Mr. Biden’s current unexpectedly strong Ohio poll showing is partly attributable to Mr. Kasich’s efforts.

The “Big Guns”:

Former President Barack Obama:  to the extent he is willing, put him on the road in the cities of Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee.  Put him in southern Florida, the area of his primary support in a state he won twice.  Put him in Charlotte, North Carolina, a state he won in 2008.  He alone can lecture minority communities:  “I told you elections matter.  You didn’t think it mattered, you didn’t come out for Hillary, and look what happened.  Get out and vote.”    

Mr. Biden:  He himself is doing much of what I would suggest:  campaigning in the areas of Mr. Trump’s strength.  Hit western Pennsylvania.  Hit central and northern Wisconsin.  Hit the upper reaches of Michigan.  Hit the retirement communities in Arizona and Florida (pledge loudly and repeatedly to protect Social Security and Medicare).  His mission in these areas is to persuade those that are distrustful of progressives but repulsed by Mr. Trump’s antics that he is sound and moderate.  He’ll gain some votes, but if he provides sufficient reassurance to wavering Trump supporters to quell Mr. Trump’s turnout, he wins.

Finally, the most territorially tactical, but potentially the most telling.  Former President Bill Clinton and the Bush Family are close; at his father’s funeral, former President George W. Bush referred to Mr. Clinton as, “my brother by another mother.”  At the same time, as John Bolton noted in The Room Where It Happened that Mr. Trump “despise[s] both Bush Presidents,” it is obvious that the Bush Family despises Mr. Trump.  I would have Mr. Clinton call Mr. Bush and encourage him to declare, as Texas voting is now underway: 

“During my administration, I asked our people to give their lives in America’s cause.  The least I owe them is to tell them directly what I think is best for our nation.  I consider the way that President Trump has conducted himself in office to be a greater danger to America than terrorism.  I have honest disagreements with Joe Biden on many issues, but he is an honorable man who wants what’s best for our nation.  Texans love our country.  As an American and a Texan, I intend to split my ballot by voting for Joe Biden for President while also voting for my friend, Republican John Cornyn, for the Senate.”

While such an endorsement by Mr. Bush might carry some weight in certain swing state Republican suburbs across the nation, it might tip Texas, where polls currently show Messrs. Trump and Biden in a statistical tie.  Given Texas’ 38 Electoral College votes, a Biden victory in Texas … would be the coup de grace.

Hit ‘em from every angle.  This race is not over.

I Cede the Rest of My Time: Redux

[Two caveats:

As anyone that reads these pages is aware, my concern isn’t that President Trump has nominated Judge Barrett, or that she is likely to be confirmed in the Senate, but that President Obama’s nominee, Judge Garland, wasn’t – for purely partisan reasons.   The purpose of much of what follows would simply be to suggest to persuadable viewers that the Republicans are acting in an unfairly partisan manner, hopefully nudging them to vote against the GOP on November 3.

Judge Barrett would obviously waffle on a number of the questions below in a real session; what I offer is what I suggest that she would say if she was being candid.  If any of the learned legal eyes that read these pages disagree with my construction of either Roe or Heller, we can debate our interpretations over a refresher in healthier times.  : ) ]

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Judge Barrett, is consistency important in a Judge?


Is consistency in judicial rulings important?

“Generally, yes.”

Is it fair to say that your philosophy of Constitutional interpretation is much like that of the late Justice Scalia?


I want to read comments I understand that you made on CBSN on February 15, 2016, two days after the passing of Justice Scalia:

“Kennedy is a moderate Republican and he replaced a moderate Republican, Powell.  We’re talking about Justice Scalia, the staunchest conservative on the Court, and we’re talking about him being replaced by someone who could dramatically flip the balance of power on the Court.  It’s not a lateral move.  And finally the reality is that we live in a different time.  Confirmation hearings have gotten far more contentious.  I just don’t think we live in the same kind of time.  I think in sum, the President has the power to nominate and the Senate has the power to act or not and I don’t think either one of them can claim there’s a rule governing one way or the other.”  

Does that sound like you?


I don’t want to put words in your mouth; in your remarks to CBSN, were you not indicating that you thought Justices Powell and Kennedy had similar judicial philosophies?


And you were suggesting that when Justice Kennedy replaced Justice Powell, there wasn’t much shift in what you called “the balance of power” on the Supreme Court?


Now despite their well-known friendship, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg had markedly different – in many areas almost polar opposite — judicial philosophies, did they not?


In your comments to CBSN after Justice Scalia’s death, as a judicial conservative, you were expressing concern that President Obama’s nominee might be liberal — might, in your words, “dramatically flip the balance of power on the Court” — were you not?


Since you are an adherent of Justice Scalia’s philosophy, and notwithstanding your undoubted respect for Justice Ginsburg as a person and a jurist, won’t your confirmation — using your words — “constitute the dramatic flip in the balance on the Court” that you yourself warned against four years ago?

[When she waffles: “To give an answer like that, you obviously agree with my wife that I’m even dumber than I look.  I’ll move on.”]

Is it fair to say that at times Justice Scalia referred to his philosophy as “Originalism” – interpreting the Constitution according to what the Founding Fathers intended – and “Textualism” – a philosophy under which Judges should interpret the Constitution and laws as they are written?

“Again, generally, yes.”

Let’s look at the President’s Constitutional power to nominate and appoint federal judges and the Senate’s power to advise and consent on such nominees.  Is there any time frame set forth in the Constitution in which the Executive and Legislative branches need to exercise their respective powers?


Do you believe that the Constitution inherently includes an obligation upon the Executive and Legislative Branches to act within … a “reasonable time”?

“No.  As I said, there is no rule governing their behavior one way or the other.”

Is it therefore your opinion that the Founding Fathers intended that either the Article I or Article II Branches – the President by failing to nominate judges, or the Senate by failing to consent to the President’s appointments – each in the last analysis has the power to extinguish the Judicial Branch?

[Don’t care what she says.]

Let’s look at this from another way.  When Justice Scalia passed away in 2016, President Obama, a Democrat, nominated Judge Merrick Garland, and Sen. McConnell, a Republican, refused to allow hearings to go forward on Judge Garland’s nomination, declaring that the American people should have a voice in the next Supreme Court Justice through the 2016 Election, because they might elect a Republican.  From general news accounts, is that your understanding?


Do you personally know of any reason that would have made Judge Garland professionally or personally unfit for the Court?


Now, four years later, in another Election Year, President Trump, a Republican, has nominated you, and Senator McConnell has allowed these hearings to proceed, when he didn’t with Judge Garland.  His stated rationale is that the President and Senate are controlled by the same political party, where they weren’t in 2016.  Have you heard that?


I understand that you are a member of the Federalist Society. You are obviously familiar with the Federalist?


Now I have the book and you don’t, but does this sound like what you recall Alexander Hamilton writing in Federalist No 1?:  Quote, “Nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties?”


Admittedly omitting some phrases, does this sound like the thrust of what you remember James Madison writing in Federalist No. 10?:  Quote, “A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points; … an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; … have … divided mankind into parties, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good”?


Does the word, “party,” in the context of “political parties,” appear anywhere in the Constitution?


Would you agree that one – perhaps even an Originalist — might reasonably infer that at least Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison would have had concerns about Sen. McConnell’s rationale in proceeding with your nomination hearings while refusing to schedule Judge Garland’s?

“I couldn’t say.”

I’m sure you couldn’t.  Let’s move on very briefly to Roe v. Wade.  Justice Blackmun wrote in the opinion, “It is undisputed that at common law, abortion performed before ‘quickening’ — the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy — was not an indictable offense,” “That prior to quickening” – I’m condensing a bit here – “the fetus was to be considered part of the mother,” and “The significance of quickening was echoed by later common-law scholars and found its way into the received common law in this country.” 

Do you agree that the “Common Law” referred to by Justice Blackmun would have been the prevailing state of the law at the time the Constitution was written?


In District of Columbia v. Heller, your mentor, Justice Scalia, wrote:  “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.  From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”  He indicated, “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.  Miller [United States v. Miller] said, as we have explained, that the sort of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’  We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”  Finally, he stated, “It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service – M-16 rifles and the like – may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause….But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.”

Judge Barrett, you may not know a lot more about the innards of weapons than I do, but I believe that in the classes of weaponry, the M-16s Justice Scalia referred to in Heller are akin to today’s AR-15s.  Is that generally your understanding?


Can we agree that AR-15s have been the weapon of choice for perpetrators of a number of the mass shootings that our people have suffered in this century?


And that AR-15s were carried by a number of the men that entered the Michigan legislature last spring to protest the Michigan Governor’s policies to address the Coronavirus?


Have you heard reports that at least one of the men that demonstrated in the Michigan legislature has been arrested by law enforcement on the charge of engaging in a plot to kidnap the Michigan Governor?


Now, Justice Scalia simply stated in Heller that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not unlimited; the rest is admittedly dicta.  Even so, do you agree that one could reasonably infer that he suggested that it might be Constitutionally permissible under the Second Amendment to – his word – ban weapons such as M-16s?


Do you agree with Justice Scalia that an American citizen’s Second Amendment right to bear arms is not unlimited?


Finally – are you aware that President Trump has recently said, “I think this” – meaning disputes relating to the presidential election about three weeks away – “will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine Justices”?

“I am.”

You’re excited by the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court, are you not?


And you are thankful to President Trump that of all the potential Supreme Court nominees he has publicly listed over the years, at this particular time he has chosen to nominate you?

“Of course.”

Thank you.  Mr. Chairman, I cede the rest of my time.

Reflections on the Vice Presidential Debate

In Wednesday night’s Vice Presidential debate, I would submit that U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris did very well – by maintaining her poise, looking at the camera, and not trying to do too much.  She left some opportunities on the table, but was seemingly cognizant (in my view, wisely) that her main assignment was “do no harm.”  The evening appears likely to have little effect on the polls, and if such is the case, she won.  She effectively wielded a terrific asset that I had frankly forgotten she possessed, despite commenting on it in the earliest days of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination:  the best smile I’ve seen in politics since President Jimmy Carter’s run in 1976.  Although she initially muffed her description of Vice President Joe Biden’s tax plan by not making clear that the plan will not increase income taxes for anyone making under $400,000 a year, she recovered nicely.  She was effective on the consequences of the Administration’s intent to kill the Affordable Care Act.  Michigan remains, at least nominally, a swing state; she was deadly in pointing out that Mr. Biden was pivotal in the passage of the U.S. auto industry relief package during the Great Recession, while her adversary, Vice President Mike Pence, then in Congress, voted against it.  Her foreign policy answer was weak, but she got by.  Most importantly, she looked like she belonged on the stage with Mr. Pence, and that she could assume the presidency if need be.  As Theodore White commented in The Making of the President 1960 about then-untested U.S. MA Sen. John Kennedy’s first debate against the well-known Vice President Richard Nixon:  “There was, first and above all, the crude overwhelming impression that … the two seemed evenly matched – and this even matching in the public imagination was for [the lesser known candidate] a major victory.”  Although anyone that reads these pages is aware that I have doubts that Ms. Harris actually is ready to assume the presidency, I felt while watching the debate that she seems the only one of the four candidates on the two tickets that looks like the future.   

At the same time, I would credit Mr. Pence with doing as well as he could with what he had.  In certain areas, he was the more substantive.  He provided reassurance to those wavering Republicans looking for a reason to stick with Mr. Trump.  That said, his defense of the Trump Administration’s handling of the Coronavirus – positioned as it was at the beginning of the debate, when viewers would have been most closely attending – flew in the face of public experience and perception; he simply looked like the tired Trump apologist he’s been for four years.  He ducked question after question (as did Ms. Harris, although seemingly not as noticeably).  In sharp contrast to Ms. Harris’ smile, I would submit that Mr. Pence’s most notable shortcoming – a mistake that I was surprised that he made, given the terrible reviews President Trump’s boorish debate performance garnered last week – was his overbearing manner.  He regularly interrupted Sen. Harris (she also interrupted him, but again, seemingly not as frequently or egregiously) and repeatedly ran roughshod over Moderator Susan Page’s attempts to have him abide by the debate rules.  I suspect that many women found the Vice President’s performance disrespectful, a suspicion perhaps supported by CNN’s post-debate “Instant Poll,” which found that men considered the debate essentially a tie, while women judged Ms. Harris the victor by 69% – 30% — a terrible impression for Mr. Pence to have left with the largest voter segment, one in which he and Mr. Trump are already significantly trailing.  Surprisingly and ironically, Mr. Pence may have made the same mistake that I consider U.S. VA Sen. Tim Kaine to have made against him during the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate when Mr. Kaine chose to strike a somewhat contentious posture:  devalue his brand as a “nice guy.”

Both left glaring openings that Messrs. Trump and Biden will undoubtedly try to exploit in their next debate (assuming such occurs):  Mr. Pence failed to provide assurances that Mr. Trump will peacefully vacate the White House if Mr. Biden is certified the Electoral College victor, and Ms. Harris completely sidestepped Mr. Pence’s charge that Democrats will try to add seats to the Supreme Court if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the Senate.  Mr. Trump’s expressed reservations about accepting a Biden victory could appear unseemly to his conservative senior supporters and has certainly increased enthusiasm among Democrats to get out their vote.  Mr. Biden’s and Ms. Harris’ unwillingness (thus far) to expressly state that they will not support any Democratic effort to “pack the Court” if Judge Barrett’s nomination is confirmed is obviously an attempt to thread the needle between their Democratic supporters, who polls show favor expanding the Supreme Court if Judge Barrett is confirmed, and Independents, who the same polls show overwhelmingly oppose any plan to “pack the Court.”  [I concede that the level of Independents’ sentiment against such a plan somewhat surprises me, while at the same time being surprised that given my institutionalist instincts, I am not more offended by the notion of such a plan; both reactions presumably stem from my deep revulsion at Senate Republicans’ despicably partisan refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.  Some old outrages apparently never heal  ;).]    

Finally, as to the true star of the Vice Presidential Debate:  as we watched, I thought maybe I was seeing something, but TLOML suddenly said, “Is that on our screen – or is that a fly on his head?”  We were transfixed; I have no idea what Mr. Pence actually said during the minutes he and the fly shared the stage.  Of the many fine summations of those moments I’ve heard over the last day, my favorites are those of Ken Olin and Joe Scarborough.  Mr. Olin:  “The fly just got a Netflix deal.”  Mr. Scarborough:  “An update this morning:  the fly checked into Walter Reed Hospital.  Our thoughts and the prayers are with the fly.”

On we march.  Stay safe.

Early October Impressions

Until Monday evening, the media froth about incomplete, inconsistent, and/or misleading information being provided by the Trump Administration about President Trump’s Coronavirus condition and treatment struck me as unhelpful harrumphing.  My reaction, despite my deep antipathy toward Mr. Trump’s promiscuous lying, was that at times, Presidents lie about their health; it is sometimes actually necessary for national security or to avoid panic.  There are many examples:  Grover Cleveland’s surgically-removed cancerous upper jaw (emphatically denied at the time); Woodrow Wilson’s undisclosed debilitating 1919 stroke (rendering Mrs. Wilson the nation’s de facto President for over a year); Franklin Roosevelt’s (undisclosed) congestive heart failure during the last stages of World War II; John Kennedy’s Addison’s Disease (a potentially dangerous condition, vigorously denied at the time); and the extremely critical nature of Ronald Reagan’s condition (hidden at the time) in the hours immediately after he was shot by John Hinckley, Jr.

Now, to Monday night.  Momentarily put aside that the President and his cohort suffer from COVID due to his hubris and callous disregard.  At 74, overweight, appearing to suffer from COVID’s adverse pulmonary effects and perhaps other secondary indicia, he presumably remains an ill man.  Nonetheless, by taking an aggressive regime of drugs, putting on his orange makeup, getting on his feet and into suit and tie, and walking unaided from the Walter Reed Hospital entrance to Marine One and from the helicopter up the stairs to the White House residence, he showed a level of sheer determination to keep fighting – to not give up on the election or himself – that indicates that the Biden Campaign had best keep fighting, because Mr. Trump will never quit. 

Two other comments about Monday night, which I offer hesitatingly only because I dislike stating the glaringly obvious.  Mr. Trump’s tweets and video graphed comments, “Don’t be afraid of Covid [sic].  Don’t let it dominate your life,” while transparently intended to further his own political interest and cheered by his rabid base, are, first and foremost, both patently monstrous given their potential to cause his supporters to risk severe illness or death and shockingly oblivious to the losses suffered by millions of Americans due to the virus.  Second, in an election that will be decided by the moderate middle, the Biden Campaign, while it should not underestimate Mr. Trump’s will, can take heart from his colossal political stupidity.  I suspect that our 4-year-old grandson is able to recognize (our 3-year-old grandson may be a bit too young) that it is absurd for the President to urge Americans not to be afraid of a disease that has killed over 200,000 of us in seven months.

In the Trump alternate universe in which we are currently trapped, weeks become months; it is hard to believe that the President’s grotesque debate performance occurred only a week ago.  I expressed concern in an earlier note that Mr. Trump’s COVID diagnosis might arrest the accelerating voter sentiment toward former Vice President Joe Biden that had appeared in the 48 hours following the debate; at least as of today, those fears appear to have been unfounded.  If’s numbers are credible, Mr. Biden’s lead has notably widened during the past week in all six swing states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; the race is a dead heat in Ohio.  Which brings us to tonight’s debate.

Over the past several years, these pages have disparaged Vice President Mike Pence – or if you prefer, Vice President Pantywaist, Milquetoast Mike, His Sycophancy, or His Somnolency — differently, but almost as consistently, as they have President Trump.  At the same time, Mr. Biden chose U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris to run with him on the Democratic ticket not only because of her gender and ethnicity, but because she projected to be a strong fighter in an election expected to be a ferociously contentious contest.  I have seen various on-air liberal activists urging Sen. Harris to “take it to” Mr. Pence tonight.  I couldn’t disagree any more strongly. To use a boxing reference, if I was in Ms. Harris’ corner, I’d be advising:  “Stay away from this guy.  He’s dangerous.  Four years ago, Tim Kaine thought Pence would be an easy mark, and Pence destroyed him – simply by looking like a sane restraint on Trump.  His reassuring Hoosier debate performance may have eked out the tiny 2016 margins in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  There’s nothing you can throw at him that he hasn’t seen.  As every good trial lawyer knows:  when the judge is clearly preparing to rule in your favor, stay out of the way.  Take a cue from Joe:  You don’t need to win this bout to win the election; you simply need not to lose it.

Given the age of the two presidential candidates, the voters will be looking at Mr. Pence and Ms. Harris as potential Presidents.  Ms. Harris needs to maintain a calm demeanor; reject any attempt to label herself, or those around Mr. Biden, as radical leftists (including credible explanations for the discrepancies between her more-liberal presidential campaign positions and Mr. Biden’s); decry violence in the streets by right and left; point out the President’s and Mr. Pence’s many misstatements and missteps on the Coronavirus, and that the President has shut down negotiations on a Coronavirus relief package that would aid millions of Americans (or not?); take the easy shot that the President is urging Americans not to be afraid of a virus that has claimed over 200,000 Americans; emphasize the damage that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s elevation to the Supreme Court could do to health care; duck any questions about packing the Supreme Court if Judge Barrett is confirmed by the Republican Senate, while lamenting the Republicans’ unfairness in proceeding with Ms. Barrett’s nomination after refusing to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland; be ready on foreign policy, where after four years in office Mr. Pence is more deeply versed; maintain a tone of disappointment, not stridence, in criticizing Messrs. Trump and Pence; and get off the stage.      

Tonight, we’ll see.  Stay safe.

Potential Effect of the Trump COVID Diagnosis

Over the last two days, Republican officeholders have been scuttling away from both the manner in which President Trump conducted himself during Tuesday night’s presidential debate and his “Proud Boys” remarks; Fox News’ Chris Wallace has laid most of the responsibility for the debate debacle involving the President and former Vice President Joe Biden at the feet of Mr. Trump; Fox News’ John Roberts (no relation to the Chief Justice) went into an on-air diatribe yesterday regarding White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s defense of Mr. Trump’s debate comments: “Stop deflecting.  Stop blaming the media … I’m tired of it”; and Peggy Noonan, while lambasting both candidates’ debate performances in her Wall Street Journal column appearing in print tomorrow, noted that “things are congealing now” against the President, declared that Mr. Trump “acted like a bullying nut” during the debate, and concluded about Mr. Trump, given his failure to condemn white supremacy or state that he would accept the outcome of the election:  “What a loser.”

In the post that I intended to run this morning, I suggested that Mr. Biden, due more to the President’s performance malpractice than to his own presentation, appeared to have won the debate by doing “well enough,” that early indications were that Mr. Biden had at least “held serve” with Independents, and that the President had seemingly failed to gain the significant ground with the Independent voters he appears to need in order to win the swing states.  I also indicated that on the morning of the debate, I had recorded’s (538’s) data regarding the state of the race in swing states and intended to compare those debate-day findings to 538’s data for the same states a week post-debate as a reasonably objective way to determine how the candidates had respectively fared.

I instead went to 538 this morning — before the announcement regarding Mr. Trump’s COVID diagnosis could begin to show up in the poll numbers — and saw that even over the first 48 hours after the debate, Mr. Biden’s lead had gotten larger in every swing state, with Florida showing the largest relative percentage increase (from 1.8% to 2.3%).  Furthermore, Mr. Biden had claimed the lead in Ohio, and was but a hair behind Mr. Trump in Iowa (where the President once had a sizeable lead).  It is not inconceivable that the Trump Campaign’s own internals have shown an avalanche of support rumbling away from the President since the debate.

In the hours since the announcement of the President’s COVID diagnosis, I have received suggestions that he is fabricating the diagnosis to change the dynamic of the presidential contest; I have received other comments dismissing such suggestions as “conspiracy theories.”  It will come as no surprise to anyone that reads these pages that I believe that there is very little Mr. Trump wouldn’t do to retain the presidency.  That said, and no matter what one’s perspective on Mr. Trump, I would venture that this announcement came at an ideal time for him from a political standpoint.  It will engender understandable sympathy for him; it may cool some of the ardor of his impassioned adversaries; and it will present the Biden Campaign, reportedly about to go into a full blitz to press its advantage, a quandary as to how to proceed without appearing uncaring – a key part of Mr. Biden’s “brand.”  This COVID announcement could have the same effect as a basketball coach’s calling time out when he sees that if the opposition’s momentum isn’t checked, the game is lost.

Initial Impressions on the Politics of the First Presidential Debate

[As of early this morning, President and Mrs. Trump have tested positive for Coronavirus. As a result, I’ve deleted the entire substance of the note that was set to run this morning.

Despite my deepest antipathy for the President’s policies and inclinations, I will pray for their safe recovery. “For if you love those that love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Luke 6:32.

What remains is its conclusion.]

The virus is reasserting itself.  As many that follow these pages will remember the late Michael Conrad’s Hill Street Blues character, Sgt. Phil Estherhaus, admonishing long ago:  Let’s be careful out there.

On the First Presidential Debate: Part II

In Part I of this note, I referred to the concern Mr. Biden’s advisors reportedly have about his ability to withstand the barrage that President Trump is expected to try to visit upon Mr. Biden tonight.  I would suggest that Mr. Trump’s very predictability provides Mr. Biden with opportunities if he and his staff are savvy enough to exploit them.  Possibilities:

The first time the President lies [likely within his first response]:  “What you just said about [whatever] is simply not true.  Either you know it, or you’re dreaming – either is dangerous in a president.  Tonight, whenever you say something blatantly untrue, rather than waste time, I’m simply going to start my response with a ‘Ding.’” [If effectively used, this could drive Mr. Trump crazy.]

When Mr. Trump tries to interrupt him:  “I’m speaking now, Mr. President.  You have to wait your turn.”

Mail-in voting is fraudulent:  “Ding.  There is no evidence of significant mail-in fraud ever occurring anywhere in this country.  Quit being a whiny baby.  You are complaining because you think you’ll lose a fair fight.  Every time our people hear you complain about mail-in voting, they should realize you’re just making excuses.

Hillary Clinton:  “You keep trying to run against Hillary Clinton.  It’s because you’re afraid to face me.

That the Russia investigation was a hoax:  “Ding.  Four years ago, you told the American people that none of your people had anything to do with Russia.  Now, we know that during the campaign your lawyer was trying to get Putin to let you build a building in Russia.  Not only that, the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Republicans – led by Republicans — just released a report that said, “[I haven’t read the 900+ bipartisan pages, but Mr. Biden’s people have; there are plenty of plums regarding the Trump Campaign’s interactions from the Russians to choose from.]”

He’s done a great job on the Coronavirus:  “Ding.  You knew it was deadly.  You knew it passes through the air.  You told Bob Woodward that you were playing it down.  We’ve all heard you on tape.  You let the American people down.  And now more than 200,000 of our people are dead.

When he suggests that Biden will be a prisoner of the “Alt-Left”:  “Who could believe that?  Just look at me.  I come from Scranton working people.  You come from your Daddy’s mansion in New York.”

When he claims that Biden will defund the police:  “Ding.  I have never said that.  I believe that we need more funding and training for police, not less.  I condemn all violence, whether left or right.  You, Mr. President, tweeted support for a 17-year old who crossed the border to commit murder in Wisconsin.  You’ll defend anybody that supports you.  You should be ashamed of yourself.

If he challenges Biden to name his Supreme Court picks:  I’d come out with Merrick Garland. On Amy Coney Barrett, I’d point out her law review article criticizing the Supreme Court’s upholding the ACA, and take the high road on her nomination: “She seems like a nice person, but with views very different from those of Justice Ginsburg. Isn’t it fair, after what Republicans did four years ago, to wait for the outcome of the election?” He won’t stop the Republicans; but he can win the persuadable swing state voters.

If he criticizes the Green New Deal:  “First priority is to be sure that we provide a transition in jobs for our people in affected industries.  Effective manufacturing and jobs in clean energy will make us the world leader again.  We need to give tax credits so those new jobs are based in the areas affected by any transition.  But to deny climate change is silly.  Americans have the guts to look at the truth.  Look at the melting Alaska glaciers.  Look at all the wildfires.  Look at all the hurricanes.  Let’s be real.  We have no time for fantasy land.” 

If he suggests the NYT story on taxes is false:  “Fine.  Show your taxes.  The IRS says there is no reason an audited return can’t be disclosed.”

Three final notes: 

The Moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, will certainly inquire about the New York Times’ recent article on Mr. Trump’s taxes.  I think it could well cast a different tone on the debate not because of the effect it will have on the President’s supporters — independents leaning toward him have undoubtedly already accepted that he’s a charlatan and his base supporters won’t care – but because of the effect it may have on Mr. Trump.  His niece, Mary Trump, writes near the end of her book, Too Much and Never Enough:  “[Y]ou have to remember that [Mr. Trump] is still, in essential ways, the … little boy who is desperately worried that he … is inadequate and … will be destroyed by his inadequacy.”   

Mr. Biden is fiercely protective of his family, and his advisors apparently worry that he’ll erupt when Mr. Trump attacks Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine.  My advice would be:  At least outwardly, shrug it off.  (Hopefully, those preparing Mr. Biden for the debate have pounded mercilessly, ingeniously, and repeatedly on Mr. Biden about his son.)  “My son did nothing wrong.  Your bootlickers in Congress and the media are taking false information from the Russians, and they know it.  They will even traffic with our country’s enemies to win this election.  You don’t have the guts to face Putin, but you’re going after my son to hurt me.  Be a man if you can.

On the issue of Hunter Biden, I’d actually be more concerned about Mr. Wallace, who can justifiably point out that during the impeachment hearings, several members of the Obama Administration expressed concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest that arose from Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian dealings while Mr. Biden was Vice President.  If I were Mr. Biden, I’d say, “Chris, in retrospect, the appearance wasn’t the best.  Although he did nothing illegal, Hunter has said that taking the seat showed poor judgement.”

Although what I offer here cannot be assumed, there is nonetheless the possibility that an overt attack on Mr. Biden by Mr. Trump may be counter-productive.  In the Democratic presidential debates, U.S. CA Rep. Eric Swalwell, then U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris, and then former HUD Director Julian Castro had their campaigns shrivel after they overtly and personally attacked Mr. Biden.  Vicious attacks on Mr. Biden by Mr. Trump will play well with Mr. Trump’s supporters, but the game will be decided by persuadable swing state voters.  An aggressive attack on Mr. Biden by Mr. Trump could backfire because even many of Mr. Trump’s supporters don’t like him personally; Mr. Biden comes across as a decent man who means well; and people don’t like unlikeable people who attack people they like.

So tonight, we’ll see.

On the First Presidential Debate: Part I

[I find the New York Times’ just-released and exhaustively researched piece on President Trump’s income tax returns to offer important information in some areas, and simply reaffirm what most that oppose the President had assumed in other areas.  Although the article is certainly noteworthy – and worthy of a post  🙂 — I’ll venture that it will have less impact on the presidential race than the Presidential Debate upon us.]

There has been a significant amount of Democratic hand-wringing in recent days about Republican presidential nominee and current President Donald Trump’s transparent efforts to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the presidential race he is seemingly currently losing to Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden and the President’s refusal to straightforwardly state that he will cooperate with a peaceful transfer of power in the event that Mr. Biden wins the upcoming election.  It is certainly unnerving to contemplate what might happen when a man, as possessed by malignant psychological defects as Mr. Trump is and possessing the power that Mr. Trump has, might do when facing the reality of an electoral defeat; it’s made me decide to vote in person, despite COVID; even so, obviously the most important immediate priority for Mr. Biden is to indeed win.  Although one cannot dismiss the possibility that an unfortunate gaffe in one the last two presidential debates might adversely affect Mr. Biden’s prospects – some commentators believe that President Gerald Ford lost the 1976 election due to his inexplicable declaration during his second debate with then-Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter that there was then no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe – I will venture that given current trends, an effective showing by Mr. Biden in the first debate this Tuesday evening could provide him a commanding lead that could carry him to a comfortable victory.  On the other hand, a poor showing by Mr. Biden will enable the President to close the gap in key states and truly place the survival of our way of life in God’s hands.  [I’m glad Mr. Biden won’t be reading this; no pressure ;)].

In its potential to affect voter impressions, this debate has aspects of both the first 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, in which youthful-looking U.S. MA Sen. John Kennedy had to address voters’ doubts that he could stand up to the better-known and aggressive Vice President Richard Nixon, and the second 1984 Reagan-Mondale debate, in which President Ronald Reagan needed to reassure those voters leaning toward him who had developed doubts about his mental acuity due to his uncertain performance in his first debate against U.S. MN Sen. Walter Mondale.  Given independents’ concerns about Mr. Trump, I would suggest that if Mr. Biden appears sharp and effectively counters Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden reassures and wins the only audience that counts:  persuadable swing state voters.  A potential plus:  in this age of information silos, many avid Trump white working class voters in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin may not have yet actually seen Mr. Biden in action.  They’ve been fed a steady stream of Fox propaganda that Mr. Biden is demented.  We have two friends, staunch Trump supporters who don’t know each other, that have definitively declared to us that “Biden has lost it.”  If Mr. Biden instead looks coherent, competent, and moderate, this may reduce some of the anxiety fueling these white working class Trump supporters’ enthusiasm for Mr. Trump.  On the other hand, since Mr. Trump is covered by all networks, everybody has seen him in action; it seems unlikely that the President’s debate performance will counter Mr. Biden’s supporters’ unfavorable impressions of him.   

The Washington Post reported last week that although Mr. Trump has actually substantively prepared very little for the debates, the Biden Campaign is concerned about Mr. Biden’s ability to stand up under the barrage that Mr. Trump is expected to throw at him.  From the days of the first Kennedy-Nixon debates, there have emerged a number of Do’s and Don’ts for candidates, such as:  Keep your responses short and sharp; if need be, ignore the question and answer your question; wear a suit that contrasts with the studio background; remember that the TV audience — and not the moderator, your opponent, or the studio audience — is the key.  These will be important, but given – and because of – Mr. Trump’s unique style, I would suggest that Mr. Biden will have debate opportunities at least equal to his challenges if he exploits them wisely.

First, to lament an opportunity lost:  the Biden Campaign did not, as I suggested in a note a while back, utilize U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren as the stand-in for Mr. Trump, reportedly instead opting for a big white man wearing a navy suit and white shirt with cufflinks.  Ms. Warren may differ from Mr. Trump in size, gender, and cufflinks, but she has the same direct killer debate approach that the President has.  Had Mr. Biden practiced against Ms. Warren, I suspect Mr. Biden would find the actual contests with Mr. Trump a relief.

As to Mr. Trump:  We all have verbal tendencies – phrases we regularly fall back on when well-worn subjects come up.  Mr. Trump has this tendency to an extreme degree.  I would suggest that there are many subjects for which the Biden Campaign can craft short responses that could score against the President.  There are some areas in which I would, frankly, impugn his courage.

In order to keep these notes to a manageable length, we’ll visit the opportunities Mr. Biden might exploit in Part II.