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.

Trump Has Convinced Me

A close friend, no fan of President Trump, texted me a few days ago, and said in part:

“As you know, I’m voting in person.  It’s not a political statement, but a practical statement.  The way your vote doesn’t count is screwing up filling out the ballot properly.  I know I won’t screw it up in person.”

I have also decided that I’m going to vote in person.  Although I’m at least as likely to screw up a mail-in ballot as our friend is, mine is a practical decision born of a different concern.  In a note a while back, I indicated, “I hope it won’t be necessary, but if it is, on November 3, for the country I want my children and grandchildren to live in, I will be willing to shake the hands of 20 desperately ill COVID patients and hug 20 more if that is what is required to reach a ballot box to vote against Donald John Trump.”  It’s time to back that up.  While measures that extreme probably won’t be necessary, given the malevolent manner in which Mr. Trump has sown distrust in a process which provides more of our people an opportunity to vote (an approach for which there is no credible evidence of any significant fraud having ever occurred in this country, and an approach he himself uses), the high likelihood that his lawyers will seek court orders to prematurely stop the counting of mail-in ballots in swing states such as Wisconsin, and the equally high likelihood of complicity to keep Mr. Trump in power by the bitter and resentful Republican Relics that control my state’s legislature, I refuse to be disenfranchised.  If there are but two Wisconsin votes recorded for Mr. Biden on Election Day [our friend undoubtedly being the other ;)], I want to know that one of them is mine. 

Impressions on RBG’s Passing: Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  ;)]

Upon hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and my estimation that it was likely that Republicans would immediately move to fill her seat, I feared that given progressives’ capacity for uncontrolled outrage, exacerbated by Republicans’ inexcusable refusal to act on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland four years ago, progressives wouldn’t be able to contain themselves.  In a random sampling of liberal outlets over the weekend, there appeared wall-to-wall liberal apoplexy about Republicans’ filling Justice Ginsburg’s seat.  I would suggest that such frenzy is counterproductive.  Bob Woodward reports in his book, Rage, that Presidential Advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s “… core understanding of communication strategy … is, ‘Controversy elevates [Trump’s] message.’”  If – while it remains to be seen how big an “if” it is — Senate Republicans suffer no more than three defections in seeking to confirm Mr. Trump’s nominee, they hold the winning Senate procedural hand.  For progressives to expend undue emotional reserves on a contest that they’re likely to lose at the expense of a contest that they can win – the presidential election – is at best a political gamble and at worst, detrimental to their strategic electoral designs.

That said, there is a distinction between luxuriating in incendiary rhetoric and outwardly temperate expression (even if seething inwardly) of distress and concern with the impact another conservative Supreme Court Justice might have on American rights, and with the blatantly partisan nature of the Republicans’ maneuvers.  The Democrats’ target audience, persuadable swing voters, could be alienated if they make hyper-partisan declarations, but may well be amenable to reasoned arguments and indignation.  While Republicans will attempt to make the fight about abortion, I would offer that Democrats’ best approach will be the line that some have already adopted:  how another conservative Trump appointee might adversely impact the now widely-popular Affordable Care Act, with dispassionate commentary on the contrast between the Republicans’ refusal to proceed with Judge Garland’s nomination and their rush to judgement on the Trump nominee.  Then, get back to the Coronavirus.  They should follow the wise advice of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, near the end of the film, Pulp FictionBe cool.  I’m somewhat reassured that at least Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden apparently understands this; reports indicate that he said nary a word about the Supreme Court during a recent trip to Wisconsin. 

Recent accounts indicate that the Trump Campaign is calling upon Mr. Biden to identify whom he would nominate to the Supreme Court if elected, and that Mr. Biden is rebuffing such calls.  Here, I think he is missing a golden opportunity.  He should declare that he will re-nominate Judge Garland.  I submit that such a declaration would be brilliant politically.  Progressives will grumble, but faced with the prospect of another Trump term and Trump Supreme Court nominees, will ultimately stay in line behind Mr. Biden; Mr. Garland will have the aura of having been previously nominated by Mr. Obama, providing Mr. Biden cover with his constituencies preferring a nominee of color; Mr. Biden’s naming of Judge Garland, a moderate, would destroy Mr. Trump’s argument that Mr. Biden is a tool of the “alt-left”; and Mr. Biden’s selection of Mr. Garland would seem fitting to swing state swing voters offended  by Republicans’ unfair treatment of him.  I believe that if Mr. Biden would name Judge Garland, he “wins” the Supreme Court debate with persuadable voters no matter what the Republicans do with a Trump nomination.

While political prognostication is engaging, Justice Ginsburg’s passing and the potential fallout has left me with a couple of more fundamental impressions.  The first – perhaps to the surprise of those who are aware of my obsessed keyboard frothing about Sen. Mitch McConnell’s contemptible, despicable, execrable dereliction of duty in refusing to proceed with the Senate confirmation process for Judge Garland – is that President Trump should put forth a nominee, and if, after appropriately-paced and illuminative confirmation hearings, the nominee is found to be judicially qualified and without other objective “disqualifying” factors such as drug addiction (not subjective legal views), the nominee should be confirmed.  Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides:  “[The President] … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme [sic] Court.”  Four years ago, I wrote U.S. IA Sen. Charles Grassley, then the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:  “I see nowhere in the [Constitution] any language limiting the President’s powers of nomination and appointment to the first three years of his/her term.”  Mr. Trump is the President.  He is within his term.  He has not just the “Power” but the duty to put forth a Supreme Court nominee.  As the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain once urged in another context:  Let’s return to regular order.  To me that needs to apply whether or not one finds “regular order” convenient.  As abhorrent as I find Messrs. Trump and McConnell, there is no value to enshrining the notion that a President cannot perform a vital Constitutional function a quarter of the time.  As our mothers taught us:  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We were with good friends [at a socially-distanced outside gathering ;)] when word came of Justice Ginsburg’s death.  All felt a deep sadness both for the passing of a great American and for what it might mean for our country.  My thoughts initially drifted to the likely political ramifications of Ms. Ginsburg’s passing, but as I contemplated the fire, I considered that no issue so divides our people as does abortion — which Supreme Court nominations have come to symbolize in the public mind — and that Justice Ginsburg’s passing, coming right when it did – neither early enough in Mr. Trump’s term that progressives would ultimately emotionally reconcile themselves to another conservative Supreme Court Justice, nor after Mr. Biden’s inauguration (if such occurs), when conservatives would emotionally accept that Ms. Ginsburg would be replaced by another liberal – could violently deepen the cultural chasms already existing between us; that the impending Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process has the potential to further rip and salt our deepest wound. It is easy to presume that as her condition reached its final stages, Justice Ginsburg explored with her physicians whether there was any way to keep her medically alive through January 20.  There obviously wasn’t. Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

Notwithstanding Mr. Biden’s apparently encouraging lead in the polls, as we enter what I consider the most dangerous months for the future of our democracy since the defeat of Nazi Germany, it is difficult not to have concerns; we seem beset on so many sides. Yet, I find solace in Proverbs 3:5:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not .…”  

May we hold ourselves together.

Impressions on RBG’s Passing: Part I

[Comment:  These notes frequently take shape over several days.  Although I dislike regurgitating old ground, I have taken the liberty of leaving in concepts drafted before they were confirmed by subsequent events or expressed by pundits, such as the likelihood that President Trump would nominate a woman for Justice Ginsburg’s seat and the political conundrum that the Justice’s passing creates for GOP Senators such as Sen. Collins.]

I never engaged in Constitutional Law during my decades of law practice, and never developed any detailed understanding of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s jurisprudence beyond that she was a liberal icon.  What I found notable about her was the extent to which she “broke through” to the public as a woman’s rights icon and a person of grit and stamina respected across the political spectrum.  Even President Trump, who never misses an opportunity to be churlish in his description of anyone who doesn’t agree with him, was gracious in his initial comments after learning of her passing.  I’d wager that if last week, a cross section of Americans was asked to name members of the Supreme Court, the highest percentage would have mentioned Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Roberts, and Brett Kavanaugh [I suspect that the latter would rather not be as readily remembered as he is  ;)].     

At this point, the political maneuvering is well underway.  “All politics is local” is a well-known maxim most closely associated with the late former Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Jr.; I would suggest that the maxim is a subtler way of saying, “All politics is personal survival.”  How Justice Ginsburg’s passing will affect individual politicians will seemingly vary greatly.  We’ll get to the President in a minute.   

First, the easiest:  Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  The play for Sen. McConnell – or if you prefer, Moscow Mitch, The Man of Many Chins, or The Evil Weasel — is obvious:  push the nomination through.  Mr. McConnell views the conservative stacking of the federal judicial system as his legacy.  He has no qualms about fairness or decorum.  He undoubtedly realizes that this could be his last chance to put another conservative on the Supreme Court.  Even so, perhaps the most important point for him:  despite the egregious hypocrisy involved in proceeding with efforts to confirm any Trump nominee given his thwarting of former President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland four years ago, I’ll venture that the majority of Kentuckians will approve of his moving forward.  Such an approach may well seal his victory in his 2020 U.S. KY Senate race.  At a guess perhaps born of northern ignorance, an aggressive Republican move also seems to help Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Thom Tillis (NC), and Sonny Perdue (GA) in their tighter-than-expected races.

At the other end of the spectrum is U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins and perhaps other Republican Senators in close races in more moderate states, such as Republican Sens. Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), and Joni Ernst (IA).  None will win without rabid support among committed conservatives but perhaps can’t win without some support from moderates who may be offended by a blatantly political Republican move to cram a nominee into Ms. Ginsburg’s seat. Calls by Sen. Collins and her friend, U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to delay any Senate confirmation vote until after Election Day demonstrate that they understand that the upcoming process places Sen. Collins in acute political peril. The decision by Messrs. Trump and McConnell to proceed — although it arguably reduces their odds of maintaining a Republican Senate majority in January — simply confirms that at bottom, all politics is … personal survival.

As to the President:  He has already indicated that he intends to send a nominee to the Republican-controlled Senate in short order.  The nominee will undoubtedly be an avid cultural conservative and pro-life advocate.  I’ll be shocked if it’s not a woman; the Trump Administration will attempt to defuse by at least a bit the feminist ire that would result from women “losing” a seat on the Court.  No matter whom the President chooses, going forward with the nomination is the obvious play for him.  He would absolutely grievously offend and lose vital support among evangelicals and cultural conservatives if he doesn’t proceed.  The beauty of this from his perspective – although he has already proven too ham-handed to take advantage of it – is that he could have gained political advantage for himself – all he cares about – and while seemingly sticking to the high ground:  a Supreme Court Justice has died; he’s President; he’s going to put forth a nominee to fill the seat, as the Constitution requires; he had no part in the Senate’s lack of action on the Garland nomination; what the Senate does with his nomination is up to the Senate.  Since he isn’t subtle enough to stick to that tack, Mr. Trump could well lose some swing state suburban moderates who may be concerned that an unfairly partisan rushed confirmation process will endanger pro-choice and health care protections, but this is obviously an electoral risk he intends – and from the standpoint of his cold political need for staunch religious conservative support, has — to take.

All that said, I would submit that the most important political advantage the nomination provides Mr. Trump:  every day the discussion is about the Supreme Court and not about the Coronavirus is a good political day for him.

In an effort to keep these posts to at least a somewhat manageable length, what remains of this note will appear in Part II.

A Profile in Courage

Other obligations have limited the time I’ve had to devote to these pages in recent days, but I want to note the video posted yesterday by Olivia Troye, attached below.  There are now so many “tell-all” accounts regarding President Trump that they no longer seem worth noting [I declare as I’ve spent some time going through Bob Woodward’s book, Rage ;)]; to borrow from the Lord, all that have ears to hear regarding the President’s malign character and blatant incompetence … have already heard.  Even so, I want to echo what I’ve seen a couple of others note:  Ms. Troye, a lifelong Republican who until recently served as Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Advisor to Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Pence’s lead staff member on the COVID-19 response, is, out of love of our nation, risking what has been shaping up to be a noteworthy career to speak out about Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for the presidency.  Her courage is of the type shown by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and others who might be described as “just regular public servants,” and puts to shame all of the gutless current Republican officeholders who know – who know – that the President is unfit, people such as former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan who ran from the field with their tails between their legs rather than speak out about the President, and most particularly … her former boss, Vice President Pantywaist.  The selfless courage of Americans such as Ms. Troye provide our greatest hope for the future.

Initial Reflections on Woodward Book, Rage

As I suspect all that wish to be aware are aware, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has published a new book, Rage, including many hours of interviews with President Trump in the early months of this year in which the President made plain that he understood the Coronavirus’ virulence and its potential for spread among Americans much more clearly than he publicly articulated at the time or for months thereafter (or arguably, given his inconsistency, to this day).  I haven’t yet read the book [I have signed up to get it upon its general release  ;)], but the interview recordings Mr. Woodward has made available along with the book’s preliminary release – tapes undeniably bearing Mr. Trump’s voice – seem to warrant some initial impressions.

On March 19, after months of scoffing at the severity of the disease or the likelihood that it would spread in America, Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward, “I always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Sometimes Presidents have to lie.  It’s a part of the job.  I am confident that if President Harry Truman had been asked the day before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima whether he had approved use of such a weapon at that time at that site, he would have denied it.  If President Barack Obama had been asked the day before the raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden whether such a raid was imminent, he would have denied it.  I suspect that President Franklin Roosevelt felt less optimism about a successful outcome of the war against Japan than he expressed the day after Pearl Harbor, with the American Pacific Fleet then in tatters and little between the Sea of Japan and San Francisco Bay to defend us against the Imperial Japanese Navy.

I would submit that Mr. Trump’s false representations fall into a completely different category.  He was neither lying in the interest of national security nor seeking to maintain the mood of our people at a time – such as the day after Pearl Harbor – when there was nothing they could realistically do but hope.   I would suggest that what Mr. Trump really meant when he spoke to Mr. Woodward on March 19 was, “I don’t want to create a panic in the financial markets, since my only hope for re-election is a healthy economy.”  I would assert that the Coronavirus, unlike Hiroshima, bin Laden, or Pearl Harbor, presented a danger akin to a hurricane, in which affirmative efforts by our people, had they been told the truth, could have saved thousands upon thousands of lives.  If told a Category 5 hurricane is coming, coastal Americans evacuate, board up windows, collect supplies.  If they’re told a light tropical storm is approaching … they don’t.

Although Americans live in different information silos and I doubt that Mr. Woodward’s revelations – any more than recent reports that Mr. Trump was advised early this year that Russia had put bounties on the heads of American soldiers in the Middle East or that Mr. Trump has declared those that served in Vietnam “suckers” and those that have died in battle “losers” — will have an adverse impact on Mr. Trump’s cult support.  I would venture, however, that Mr. Woodward’s account could have a pivotal impact upon the election because of the effect that it might have on those reluctant 2016 Trump voters not entirely in the right-wing information silo who polls indicate were leaning toward Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden in the first half of the summer but have more recently been considering returning to Mr. Trump.  Mr. Woodward’s book turns the nation’s eyes back from our sporadic urban unrest to the Coronavirus, and appears likely to command the media spotlight for days.  It seems a prime subject for inquiry at the first presidential debate on September 29.  If the attention on Mr. Woodward’s reports reduces wavering 2016 Trump voters’ return to the President by even 1% in pivotal states, such could have a decisive electoral impact.

As to Mr. Woodward:  notwithstanding my extremely high regard for – and frequent references to — the late Author and New York Times reporter David Halberstam, I would submit that if the tapes of Mr. Woodward’s interviews of President Trump indeed help persuade significant segments of independent voters to repudiate Mr. Trump, Mr. Woodward’s work here, taken together with his Watergate reporting, will mark him as the most influential political journalist of his time.

Electoral College Bingo: Round 1

This week, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe (MJ) has been gleeful about new Morning Consult (MC) polls which he claims strongly favor Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Biden over President Trump.  Mr. Scarborough further asserts that the polls show that the President’s recent emphasis on law and order isn’t helping him.  I assume that Mr. Scarborough is spinning left because that’s what MSNBC does.  The candidates’ polling numbers on FiveThirtyEight.com (538) between the beginning of the Republican Convention and now indicate that the race is tightening; the MC polls seem to me to indicate an Electoral College Contest perhaps on its way to narrowing from six swing states to two.

In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won states with 232 Electoral College votes (she lost some to “faithless Electors” – too hard to assess for 2020 other than to acknowledge that each candidate will want to achieve a total exceeding 270 in order to compensate for any “faithless” Electors).  To win the presidency, Mr. Biden needs to hold the 2016 Clinton States and claim 2016 Trump States with 38 or more Electoral College votes.  Let’s review the bidding:

MC showed Mr. Biden to be significantly ahead in Michigan, a 2016 Trump State with 16 Electoral College votes.  All seem to consider Michigan in the bag for Mr. Biden.  Let’s say they’re right, although 538 shows Mr. Biden’s lead to be narrowing a bit.  That brings Mr. Biden to 248 Electoral College votes (assuming that he holds all 2016 Clinton States with no Faithless Electors).   

The MJ team chortled that MC indicated that Mr. Biden was beating Mr. Trump by 10 in Colorado and 7 in Minnesota.  In fact, 538 indicates that Mr. Biden has lost almost half the Minnesota lead he enjoyed six weeks ago.  In any event, I don’t see why he should be excited about having a sizeable lead in either state.  Ms. Clinton won both.  If he can’t carry them, he would need more than 22 Electoral College votes even with Michigan in his column.

MC found Mr. Biden narrowly ahead in North Carolina – considered a swing state because former President Barack Obama won it in 2008 — and Georgia, and trailing narrowly in Texas – all three 2016 Trump States.  While a victory in North Carolina would probably seal the presidency for Mr. Biden, the Tar Heel State seems to me a long shot and the Peach and Lone Star States but electoral Fool’s Gold.  [Georgia Republicans have wrested the title from Chicago Democrats and Louisiana Democrats as the nation’s best election thieves  😉 ].

The MJ team noted that Mr. Biden was beating Mr. Trump by 10 in Arizona and by 9 in Wisconsin, both 2016 Trump States.  538 shows the Democrat to have smaller, but nonetheless notable and consistent, leads in both states.  Certainly encouraging for Mr. Biden; but even assuming that he ultimately wins both states, their combined 21 Electoral College votes plus Michigan’s 16 are still one short of the 270 Mr. Biden needs even if he holds all 2016 Clinton States with no faithless Electors.

So in the next 60 days, Mr. Biden will need to maintain his leads in Arizona and Wisconsin and challenge Mr. Trump in North Carolina – if for no other reason than to help Democrat Cal Cunningham in his Senate race against apparently unpopular Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis – together with feints into Iowa (an Obama State which 538 shows the President to have but a narrow lead and whose 7 Electoral College votes would, together with the 2016 Clinton States, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin, win Mr. Biden the presidency).  Mr. Trump seems to need repeated forays into North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arizona with occasional feints to Minnesota. 

All that said:  it may ultimately come down to two states:  Pennsylvania and Florida.  If the 2016 Clinton States, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin ultimately go to Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump holds North Carolina and Iowa, the good news for Mr. Biden and the bad news for Mr. Trump:  Mr. Biden needs only Pennsylvania or Florida to secure the presidency; Mr. Trump needs both.  What I consider disquieting for Mr. Biden and encouraging for Mr. Trump:  MC, which gave Mr. Biden implausibly wide margins in Arizona and Wisconsin, gave him only a 4 point lead in Pennsylvania (538 has him doing a bit better, but indicates that he’s lost a third of the margin it showed him as having before the Republican Convention).  For a senator that spent his career representing a neighboring state and has had a good record with blue collar workers, this is uncomfortably close.  Mr. Biden was shown to have but a 2-point margin in Florida – making the state, controlled by Republicans and won by a point by Mr. Trump in 2016, clearly a toss-up (538, again, shows Mr. Biden faring a bit better but still having lost almost half of the Sunshine State lead he had before the RNC). 

It is perhaps no secret why both candidates this week visited Pittsburgh, in the western (more conservative) part of Pennsylvania and events dictated that both travel to Kenosha (albeit to give very different messages), located in a pivotal state (while Mr. Trump has not traveled to Portland, in a solidly Democratic state).

There was one Morning Joe observation this week with which I entirely agree:  in starkly political terms, every day the candidates, the media, and our citizens focus on the unrest in some of our cities, or on any issue that is not on the Coronavirus, is a good day for President Trump.  Unfortunately, our attention span is scant.  I am concerned that we have become numb to the increasing numbers:  over 6 million cases and approaching 190,000 deaths as of the date this is posted.  I fear that Coronavirus many not reclaim our citizens’ focus until we inevitably reach the grim milestone of 200,000 dead.

Stay safe.

Kenosha, Portland, and a Lesson from Mr. Lincoln … and Mr. Putin

As all are aware, on August 25, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, apparently drawn to Kenosha, WI, from his residence in Illinois by the protests attending the August 23rd shooting of Jacob Blake, killed two protestors with the AR-15 rifle he had brought with him.  His attorneys assert that he was defending himself.  This past Saturday night, following a day in which 600 pro-Trump vehicles had amassed in a Portland, OR suburb before proceeding into the city, Aaron Danielson, a member of Patriot Prayer, a far-right Portland group, was shot dead in Portland; the Wall Street Journal reports that police have an interest in Michael Reinoehl, allegedly a member of Antifa.  It’s not clear from the account whether Mr. Reinoehl resides in the Portland area.  While Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has condemned violence on all sides in all places, President Trump has at least tacitly supported Mr. Rittenhouse.

Events are spinning out of control.  I consider these protest-related shootings conceptually different from the precipitating incidents involving George Floyd and Mr. Blake.  Although those atrocities are recent examples of the centuries-old pattern of systemic police brutality against African Americans, I would submit that they were still in a sense random.  Neither Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin nor Kenosha Officer Rusten Sheskey could have desired the results they brought about; aside from any feelings of human remorse they may or may not feel, they undoubtedly realize that no matter what the outcome of official proceedings regarding their conduct, their lives will never be the same.  (Indeed, I suspect that Mr. Chauvin, given the inhuman nature of his conduct toward Mr. Floyd, will need to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life).

The Kenosha and Portland protest shootings seem to me to present a different type of danger – that of a society beginning to unravel.  They conjure the impression of opposing armies intentionally positioning themselves for battle.  Heretofore random impulses seem poised toward coordinated activity.  In Gettysburg, Bruce Catton shows that the great battle didn’t just happen to occur there; both armies intentionally headed to meet there because of its perceived tactical advantages. Kenosha police have indicated that the majority of those arrested during the last week of protests come from outside Kenosha.  The Journal reported Monday that after a couple of nights of protests, former Kenosha Alderman Kevin Mathewson posted a “call to arms” on his “Kenosha Guard” Facebook page, and that Mr. Mathewson stated that “thousands responded that they would be attending.”  We now not only have authorities – be they scared, misguided, or malign – taking action against peaceful protestors; we not only have citizens – whether misguided or malign – destroying property; we now have our citizens traveling to where they can shoot at each otherover political beliefs.  These are not “militia”; they are army and cop wannabes exploiting our current unrest to either live out their fantasies or unleash their hateful tendencies. 

I think all but President Trump’s most cultish supporters would acknowledge that he sees division among our citizens to be to his political advantage.  He has exacerbated Americans’ tensions and granted our unstable elements the permission “to act out” to the extent that we now have levels of unrest unseen since the 1960s. How anyone can offer even faint support for a 17 year-old-boy who traveled across state lines and killed two people with a semi-automatic weapon more than strains reason; it constitutes insanity.  I would submit that Mr. Trump is going to Kenosha today – in defiance of the requests of both WI Gov. Tony Evers and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian – because he wants a riot – the riot he wanted and didn’t get (because nobody showed up) at his embarrassing June campaign rally in Tulsa, OK. 

While it would be appropriate to conclude this note with a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s observation that “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” what came to mind as well is striking similar advice from a most unexpected source:  Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The principle that emerges most prominently from the early chapters of Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy – a work more psychological profile than biography — was at least to me unexpected:  President Putin’s obsession, in some ways incongruous given his dictatorial ways, that the Russian government needs to maintain a genuine general affinity with and among Russian citizens if Russia is to survive as a state.  Ms. Hill and Mr. Gaddy state that Mr. Putin considers the disintegration of Tsarist Russia and the USSR to have resulted from those regimes’ failures to keep faith with Russian citizens (which he interestingly considers to include all who live within Russia’s borders of any ethnicity, resisting efforts by some Russian officials to elevate ethnic Russians).  Mr. Putin’s premise that the need for unity among citizens is the key to a nation’s strength, while presumably the insight underlining his efforts to sow discord among our people, nonetheless offers leadership precepts directly at odds with Mr. Trump’s instincts and actions.

Hill and Gaddy write:  “[J]ust before the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections … Putin proclaimed:  ‘… Let those who proclaim the slogans of social and ethnic intolerance, and are smuggling in all kinds of populist and provocative ideas that actually lead to national betrayal and ultimately to the breakup of our country, know that we are a multinational society but we are a single Russian nation, a united and indivisible Russia.’”

While I generally strongly believe that we can only have one President at a time, right now, in practical terms, we don’t have any President.  Whether by design or accident, President Trump’s course furthers Russian strength while disintegrating our own.  Mr. Biden must summon what it takes to point out to those of us open to reason the heightening danger of our discord.  He needs to continue to make clear – if necessary with a bullhorn, as George W. Bush did after 9/11 – that while we as a people need to rise up to address the sins visited upon our oppressed, we must at the same time condemn with equal passion violence and destruction … and that, as Messrs. Lincoln and Putin, as diametrically different as they are, each observed a century and a half apart: a nation’s survival depends on its capacity to unite.