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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trump Squandered Money, Biden Leads Money Race

In Defying the Odds, we discuss campaign finance and campaign technologyThe 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Fredreka Schouten at CNN:
President Donald Trump's campaign entered October with just $63.1 million in remaining cash reserves, new filings show, underscoring his financial vulnerabilities as Election Day fast approaches.
His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, had nearly three times that amount -- more than $177 million -- remaining in his war chest, highlighting how the former vice president's fundraising success in recent months left him with a substantial money advantage as the fall campaign got underway.
Trump's campaign burned through more money than it took in last month, spending more than $91 million on advertising alone, according to a report it filed Tuesday evening with the Federal Election Commission. But the President's campaign has been outspent on television in recent weeks, as Biden has battered him on the airwaves, particularly in three swing states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- that helped Trump secure the White House four years ago.
One sign of the President's cash crunch: Over the weekend, he flew to deep-blue California for a high-dollar fundraising event that aides say brought in $11 million for his reelection..

Brian Slodysko and Zeke Miller at AP
Since 2017, more than $39 million has been paid to firms controlled by Parscale, who was ousted as campaign manager over the summer. An additional $319.4 million was paid to American Made Media Consultants, a Delaware limited liability company, whose owners are not publicly disclosed.

Campaigns typically reveal in mandatory disclosures who their primary vendors are. But by routing money to Parscale’s firms, as well as American Made Media Consultants, Trump satisfied the basic disclosure requirements without detailing the ultimate recipients.

Other questionable expenditures by Trump and the RNC that are included in campaign finance disclosures:

— Nearly $100,000 spent on copies of Donald Trump Jr.’s book “Triggered,” which helped propel it to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

— Over $7.4 million spent at Trump-branded properties since 2017.

— At least $35.9 million spent on Trump merchandise.

— $39 million in legal and “compliance” fees. In addition to tapping the RNC and his campaign to pay legal costs during his impeachment proceedings, Trump has also relied on his political operation to cover legal costs for some aides.

— At least $15.1 million spent on the Republican National Convention. The event was supposed to be in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Trump relocated it to Jacksonville, Florida, after a dispute with North Carolina’s Democratic governor over coronavirus safety measures. The Florida event was ultimately canceled, with a mostly online convention taking its place. Disclosures show the RNC still spent $1 million at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island, near Jacksonville.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020


In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House.  They are not working in his favor this time.

 Lloyd Green at The Guardian:

The chasm between the two Americas – “Unemployment America” and “Stock Market America” – made starkly visible this spring, has not disappeared. Instead, the divide has widened.

America’s stock indexes have weathered the pandemic; the country’s job markets less so. On Thursday, the labor department reported nearly 900,000 new unemployment claims and Columbia University announced that 8 million Americans had fallen into poverty since May.

Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19 cases continues to climb, the Affordable Care Act stands in legal jeopardy, and Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s latest pick for the supreme court, will not tell us if she believes that Medicare and social security pass constitutional muster. The New Deal may yet be undone.

On that score, language that soothed the White House and Republicans may come back to haunt them at the ballot box. According to polls, older voters are prepared to vote for Joe Biden, a Democrat, in a marked departure from elections past.

The gaps between the rural US, white evangelicals, white voters without college degrees and the rest of the country have not disappeared. Military suicides are up by a fifth and death by opioids has returned. Beyond that, the issue of immigration retains its potency.

Monday, October 19, 2020


In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential raceConspiracy theory seems to be seeping into the GOP grassroots.  Party leaders are tacitly encouraging it.

Over the summer, Republicans nominated QAnon backers in congressional and legislative primaries, a sitting US Senator embraced a Q candidate in her home state, the president refused to condemn the conspiracy, and twice seemed to go out of his way to shower it with praise. Polls now suggest that a substantial number of Republicans are, at minimum, Q-curious, and now in the final days of the campaign, party leaders have begun to embrace Q-tinged themes.

Yesterday, we had a sitting U.S. senator (from my home state) openly speculating about Hunter Biden and child pornography.


It can get worse.

Just last week, Trump was given a chance to repudiate the movement.

President Trump: (18:41)
I know very little. You told me, but what you tell me, doesn’t necessarily make it fact. I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard.
This was not the first time that Trump dodged the question. Back in August, he also went out of his way to praise Q:
“I’ve heard these are people that love our country,” Mr. Trump said during a White House news conference ostensibly about the coronavirus. “So I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me.”
A reporter gave him a chance to clarify this, by telling Trump that one of the central tenets of QAnon is that Trump is saving the world from a satantic cult of pedophiles and cannibals connected to prominent Democrats, celebrities, and denizens of the Deep State.
Trump said: “I haven’t heard that. But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, and I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are, actually. We’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country. And when this country is gone, the rest of the world would follow.”

As the Times deadpanned the next morning, “Mr. Trump’s cavalier response was a remarkable public expression of support for conspiracy theorists who have operated in the darkest corners of the internet and have at times been charged with domestic terrorism and planned kidnapping.”

Trump’s flirtation with Q is not accidental or casual. Trump and other Republicans increasingly see QAnon as an essential part of their coalition. Business Insider reports:

GOP political strategists acknowledged in interviews with Insider that Republicans view QAnon believers and the movement not as a liability or as a scourge to be extinguished, but as a useful band of fired-up supporters. While they're careful not to embrace QAnon explicitly, these Republicans said, they make sure not to adopt messages that alienate what has become a key part of the Republican coalition.

"The surrogates around Trump try to keep [QAnon supporters] happy because they know they're going to vote," said one Republican close to the president's campaign who asked to speak on condition of anonymity.
Politico has noticed the same thing:
The QAnon world is no longer simply a social media community trafficking in conspiracy theories. It’s increasingly a new constituency for the GOP — one that’s fired up like the rest of the MAGA movement, warring with tech giants and ready to battle through Election Day on behalf of a struggling president.
As usual, Trump is both cause and effect. His attitude has certainly given the conspiracy movement oxygen to spread; but he is also responding to the growing evidence that it represents a larger and growing part of his own base.
Hunter Woodall at The Daily Beast:
President Trump dodged directly answering a question about the QAnon conspiracy theory Friday, days after he cheered on one of its supporters who is well on her way to winning a congressional seat. Trump celebrated the victory of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who defeated a fellow Republican by 14 points Tuesday, advancing to what is likely to be a win in November for Georgia’s 14th congressional district seat. Greene believes in QAnon, the bonkers pro-Trump conspiracy premised on mass executions of Trump’s political opponents. The FBI considers it a potential source of domestic terrorism.

“Well she did very well in the election,” Trump said during a White House press briefing Friday. “She won by a lot. She was very popular. She comes from a great state and she had a tremendous victory, so absolutely I did congratulate her.” When a reporter from the Associated Press tried to press him on whether he agreed with the candidate embracing QAnon, Trump moved on to another reporter. QAnon believers desperate to see their beliefs validated have long wanted a White House reporter to ask Trump about QAnon, even launching email writing campaigns asking journalists to “ask the Q” at a press briefing. On Wednesday, following Greene’s victory, Trump tweeted that she is a “future Republican Star.” 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Right Fears the Left

Ross Douthat at NYT:
Let me try to elaborate on what this right is seeing. The initial promise of the internet era was radical decentralization, but instead over the last 20 years, America’s major cultural institutions have become consolidated, with more influence in the hands of fewer institutions. The decline of newsprint has made a few national newspapers ever more influential, the most-trafficked portions of the internet have fallen under the effective control of a small group of giant tech companies, and the patterns of meritocracy have ensured that the people staffing these institutions are drawn from the same self-reproducing professional class. (A similar trend may be playing out with vertical integration in the entertainment business, while in academia, a declining student population promises to close smaller colleges and solidify the power of the biggest, most prestigious schools.)

Over the same period, in reaction to social atomization, economic disappointment and conspicuous elite failure, the younger members of the liberal upper class have become radicalized, embracing a new progressive orthodoxy that’s hard to distill but easy to recognize and that really is deployed to threaten careers when the unconvinced step out of line.

...[The} spread of online conspiracy theories has encouraged liberals in a belief that the only way to safeguard democracy is for this consolidated establishment to become more aggressive in its attempts at cultural control — which is how you get the strange phenomenon of some journalists fretting about the perils of the First Amendment and demanding that the big social-media enterprises exert a kind of prior restraint over the American conversation.


 In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Texas, once part of the GOP base, is competitive this yearCandace Valenzuela will probably succeed a Republican in representing a Dallas-area House seat.

Dan Balz at WP:

The story of the political change in Texas begins with the enormous population growth the state has experienced over the past decade, with most of it concentrated in the major metropolitan areas of Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin.

Between 2010 and 2018, the 27 counties that comprise these major metropolitan areas collectively added nearly 3 million people — an increase of 19 percent — and today they make up one of the most vibrant economic areas in the entire country. Republican elected officials have bragged about the state’s ability to attract new businesses, but the added growth has helped to change the political balance in the state.

One change is the increased dominance of the big cities and suburbs in overall turnout. According to data compiled by Richard Murray and Renee Cross of the University of Houston, the 27 counties that make up the major metropolitan areas account for 69 percent of the statewide vote, compared with 60 percent in 1996 and 52 percent in 1968.

For a long time, the balance between metro and non-metro Texas didn’t make much difference. The metropolitan areas split their votes between Republicans and Democrats in about the same proportions as in the smaller towns and rural areas, according to Murray and Cross. That began to change in the past two decades and has quickened in the past five years. Not only do the big cities and surrounding suburbs account for a larger proportion of the statewide vote, they are increasingly voting Democratic.

Changing demographics are a major factor as well, as Texas becomes increasingly diverse. For years, Democrats have pointed to the growth in the Latino community as the pathway to turning Texas blue — the demographics-as-destiny argument. With birthrates in the Anglo community having slowed, the Latino population is on pace to equal or surpass the non-Hispanic White population by 2022.

Before Trump came on the scene, some Texas Republicans had made more significant inroads among Hispanic voters than, say, Republicans in California. Former president George W. Bush focused on Latinos and was rewarded in both his gubernatorial and presidential races. Other Republican elected officials are still able to attract good levels of Latino support.

The success of Republicans like Bush and others frustrated the predictions of Democrats of a more rapid red-to-blue shift in the state, as the party’s disappointing showing in gubernatorial and Senate races over the years has shown. But Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has made it more difficult for Republicans to maintain, let alone expand, their Latino support.

Beyond the growth in the Latino population, another demographic change that is affecting the political balance is the rise of Asian Americans: Vietnamese, Indians, Chinese and others. Asian Americans are now the fastest-growing segment of the Texas population, and they are voting for Democrats more than they once did.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Bluing of the Sunbelt

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Arizona and Texas, once part of the GOP base, are competitive this year.

At Politico, Sabrina Rodriguez reports on Arizona:

Arizona’s state races haven’t gotten so much attention given the millions of dollars being pumped into the presidential matchup and expensive race between appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Kelly, which could help tip the Senate over to Democrats. But it’s the possibility of flipping that state legislature that has many Republicans thinking about the long-term effects of Trump’s GOP.
“The Republican Party needs to understand that there’s a large number of us voting Democrat all down the ballot because of Trump, and they need to realize that their choice to blindly follow him will impact the state politics,” said Daniel Barker, a former Arizona Court of Appeals Judge who started Arizona Republicans Who Believe In Treating Others With Respect, a PAC that’s supporting Biden.

“We need to change direction,” he added.
The November election will provide the first indication of whether Arizona is becoming Democratic-leaning territory, like Colorado and Virginia — or a perennial swing state, like Florida. The state’s growing Latino population and shifting attitudes among college-educated white voters across the state have been a boon to Democrats. Almost a third of the state is Latino — and while only about half of them are expected to vote, they are likely to break heavily for Democrats: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema secured 70 percent Latino support in her 2018 run.

Matt Levin at CalMatters:

“Where things look really different in Texas politics right now are in these districts that have seen rapid population growth, and Californians have been a part of that growth,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

While the prospect of Texas as a swing state may shock those who associate the state with George W. Bush, it shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to its politics over the last decade. While Barack Obama lost Texas by 16 points in his 2012 re-election bid, in 2016 Hillary Clinton closed that gap to single-digits. Two years later, Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz by less than three points.
The improving performance of Texas Democrats tracks well with the exodus of Californians into Sun Belt states over the past two decades. Since 2008, more than 700,000 Californians have moved to Texas, at first propelled by the Great Recession and later by their home state’s increasingly untenable cost of living. ...

Henson warns it’s seductively reductionist to attribute Texas’ rapid statewide purpling simply to California expats. When you factor in the number of Texans that have moved to California over the last decade, the net political effect on a state with 29 million people is less progressive tidal wave and more trickling blue-ish tributary. With a rising Latino population and growing metropolitan areas, Texas’ internal demographic shifts have combined with out-of-state immigration (not just from California) to alter its politics.

It’s also a mistake to think everyone from California moving to Texas drove there in a Prius adorned with a “Billionaires can’t buy Bernie” bumper sticker. While precise polling on ex-Californians’ political persuasions is hard to find, loads of anecdotal evidence suggest a decent chunk of Golden State emigres are fleeing the state precisely because of its progressive culture.

But the parts of Texas where Californians are most likely to move — the sprawling suburbs of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth — are now politically competitive in a way that was unfathomable 20 years ago. Even if progressive Californians aren’t numerous enough to push Texas away from Trump, they can still tilt congressional and state legislative races. In many places, they already have.

“Those areas, particularly the suburban and exurban areas outside of Texas metros, have become ground zero for a much more competitive Texas in which the Republican hegemony that has been so uniform here for the last twenty years has come under siege,” said Henson.

 Patrick Svitek at The Texas Tribune:

All but one of the 10 Democrats running to flip nationally targeted U.S. House seats in Texas raised more than their Republican opponents over the past three months, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

In six of those nine races, the Republican ended the quarter with more cash on hand, a financial advantage heading into the last full month before Election Day. But the Democratic fundraising shows serious momentum as the national party reaches the finale of its drive to make Texas the top congressional battleground nationwide this November.

Republicans also had a bright spot in one of the two seats they are trying to win back, that of Democratic Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston. Her GOP challenger, Wesley Hunt, soundly outraised her. She ended the quarter with a small cash-on-hand advantage.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Democratic Fundraging

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Fundraising is an important part of the story.

Julie Bykowicz at WSJ:
“ ‘Fundraging’ very neatly summarizes low-dollar donor behavior, the collision of emotion and giving,” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster and digital strategist.

Across the 14 most-competitive Senate races, Democrats collectively raised nearly $200 million more than their Republican counterparts in the three-month period that ended Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed Thursday. Leading the pack was Mr. Harrison, who collected $58 million for the quarter, beating the previous quarterly Senate fundraising record by about $20 million. Mr. Graham, who has been vocal about his challenger’s formidable cash hauls, raised $28 million, the most ever for a Republican Senate candidate. Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.

From AP:

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock raised more than twice as much money for his Senate campaign as incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines did in the latest reporting period, according to numbers released by their campaigns on Thursday.

Bullock reported raising $26.8 million in the three months between July 1 and Sept. 30, while Daines reported raising $11.5 million.

Bullock’s fundraising total now stands at nearly $38 million since he filed as a candidate in March while Daines’ total is $24.5 million since he began his first term in 2014, Lee Newspapers of Montana reports.

Bullock’s quarterly contributions exceed the nearly $26.6 million in total fundraising for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale in their 2018 race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Tester raised $20.9 million.

Total spending in the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Montana was about $60 million. Spending by campaigns and outside groups in this year’s contest is expected to reach at least $146 million as the parties battle for control of the Senate.



Thursday, October 15, 2020

Bad Numbers for Trump as Time Starts Running Out

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway.

 Christopher Rugaber at AP:

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week by the most in two months, to 898,000, a historically high number and evidence that layoffs remain a hindrance to the economy’s recovery from the pandemic recession.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department coincides with other recent data that have signaled a slowdown in hiring. The economy is still roughly 10.7 million jobs short of recovering all the 22 million jobs that were lost when the pandemic struck in early spring.

Talal Ansari and David Hall at WSJ:

New coronavirus cases in the U.S. neared 60,000, driven by a resurgence of infections in the Midwest and other areas of the country.

The U.S. reported more than 59,000 infections, bringing the nation’s total to more than 7.9 million confirmed cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The death toll surpassed 217,000.

Trevor Hunnicutt at Reuters:

The Democratic fundraising organization ActBlue reported on Thursday that it collected $1.5 billion on its online platform from July to September, the most it has ever raised in a quarter.

By comparison, WinRed, a major Republican fundraising platform, said on Monday that its platform collected $623.5 million in the third quarter.

The Democratic sum includes donations made to several groups and political candidates as well as the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, who looks poised to head into the closing weeks of the race with a financial advantage.



Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Trump Has Problems with Weaponization of Government

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway.  Trump is weaponizing the federal government for his political benefit.

Lara Seligman at Politico:
President Donald Trump's campaign is running an online political ad that uses an image of his vice president, his Pentagon chief and his most senior military adviser watching the raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the Situation Room on Oct. 29, 2019.

"President Trump wants you to request your ballot," the ad says. Clicking on the ad, which includes the tagline "Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc," leads to the Trump campaign's voter sign-up page.

But the campaign didn't seek approval from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to use his image in the ad, a defense official said. “This photo, like many others, was not used with [Milley's] knowledge or consent,” said the official, who requested anonymity to speak about a sensitive topic.

Erin Banco and Justin Baragona at The Daily Beast:

The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci demanded that the Trump campaign refrain from using him in future campaign ads, saying Monday that it would be “outrageous” and “terrible” if he was featured in another commercial and it could “come back to backfire” on Team Trump.

Asked by The Daily Beast if his comments were a thinly-veiled threat to leave his post if he ended up in a new campaign spot, Fauci replied: “Not a chance.”

"Not in my wildest freakin’ dreams,” he said, “did I ever think about quitting."

From there, Fauci went on to explain what he meant by “backfire.”

"By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,” Fauci said. “Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off."

Stephanie Armour at WSJ:

President Trump’s plan to send 33 million Medicare beneficiaries a card that can be used to help pay for as much as $200 in prescription drug costs won’t be completed until after the election, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The cards will be mailed in phases, with some likely going out later in October but most not until after the Nov. 3 presidential election, the person said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is spending an estimated $20 million for administrative costs to print and send letters to Medicare beneficiaries informing them that they will be getting cards, the person said.

Plans for the overall drug-discount program have been sent to the Office for Management and Budget, the person said. It is unclear if or when the office will approve the program, which could cost $8 billion, the person said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare designed for people 65 and older, is unable to say exactly when the cards will go out because the proposal is still at OMB. Beneficiaries will have two years to use the discount cards, the person said. 
 Matt Zapotosky and Shane Harris at WP:
The federal prosecutor appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr to review whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents has completed his work without finding any substantive wrongdoing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The revelation that U.S. Attorney John Bash, who left the department last week, had concluded his review without criminal charges or any public report will rankle President Trump at a moment when he is particularly upset at the Justice Department. The department has so far declined to release the results of Bash’s work, though people familiar with his findings say they would likely disappoint conservatives who have tried to paint the “unmasking” of names — a common practice in government to help understand classified documents — as a political conspiracy.
The president in recent days has pressed federal law enforcement to move against his political adversaries and complained that a different prosecutor tapped by Barr to investigate the FBI’s 2016 investigation of his campaign will not be issuing any public findings before the election.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

House and Senate: Alia Iacta Est

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

James Arkin and Elena Schneider at Politico:

In mid-April, senior advisers to a dozen Republican senators gathered on the second floor of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s offices, where NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin detailed the stark online fundraising disparities that led to eight GOP incumbents getting outraised by Democrats in the first three months of 2020.

McLaughlin concluded his presentation with a dire warning: If campaigns didn’t improve their digital fundraising dramatically, they’d have no way to counter a “green tsunami” of Democratic spending in the fall, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

Six months later, the green tsunami is here. And it’s threatening to wipe out the Republican Senate majority.

The online fundraising edge that Democrats have enjoyed for years has mushroomed into an overpowering force, with small-dollar donors smashing “donate” buttons over the last three months to process their disgust for President Donald Trump, fury with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and grief for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Propelled by the wave of money, Democrats have suddenly expanded the Senate battlefield to a dozen competitive races, burying long-contested states like Iowa and Maine in TV ads while also overwhelming Republican opponents in states like Alaska, Kansas and South Carolina that are suddenly tightening.


Josh Holmes, a top McConnell adviser, said every news development activates Democrats’ donor base and “their default is to give $5 every time something angers them.”

But “when your average Republican is watching Hannity and something upsets them, their response is to write something on Facebook,” Holmes added

“You get to a certain point where the die is cast,” said one national Republican strategist, granted anonymity to discuss the issue candidly. “You can’t capitalize on a huge moment like SCOTUS vacancy if you haven’t spent the last 6 months or 12 months building the asset to maximize the value of it. There’s a limit to what you can accomplish if you haven’t done the work.”

Ally Mutnick at Politico:

Here’s how grim things look for House Republicans three weeks out from the election: They’re struggling to win back seats even in conservative bastions like Oklahoma and South Carolina, where Democrats staged shocking upsets in 2018.

About a half-dozen seats fall in that category — the lowest of low-hanging fruit for Republicans. But most private and public surveys from both parties show either dead heats or the Democratic incumbent with a modest lead, a startling position for a crop of candidates running in Trump country. The seats were won in 2018 by Reps. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).


Republicans' outlays against a handful of the most beatable Democrats have hampered their ability to craft a serious path back to the majority. Democrats have seized on their cash advantage to contest districts in deep-red territory, forcing the GOP to retrench and protect incumbents and open seats.

As of mid-October, national Republicans are playing more defense than offense, airing TV ads in 28 GOP-held districts compared to 25 Democratic-held ones, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from Advertising Analytics, a TV tracking firm.

“We’re able to flip the tables and focus on expanding the map. And I do think that that’s a shift,” said Abby Curran Horrell, the executive director of House Majority PAC, Democrats' main House super PAC. "They are tied down in districts that I think they expected that they would be able to win easily. But it is not that type of year."

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Lincoln Project

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway

Lesley Stahl: Have you given up your careers?
Steve Schmidt: None of us will ever work in Republican politics again. We-- we joke that like some of the explorers who came to the new world, they were incentivized by the captain when he burned the ships that there was-- (LAUGH) there was no return (LAUGH) going back. 


Lesley Stahl: Who are you aiming for? What kind of a voter?
Rick Wilson: So those independent-leaning men, those college-educated Republicans, the suburban Republican women. We understand where these voters are, we understand who they are and how they think. And Lesley, it's a game of small numbers. I mean, Donald Trump won this election by 77,000 votes in three states.
Lesley Stahl: You basically have endorsed Joe Biden.
Reed Galen: We have. We have endorsed Joe Biden. Yes.

"Mourning in America" was a pivotal moment

Reed Galen: The President attacked all of us by name. Called us losers. And we raised $2 million in 48 hours.
Lesley Stahl: So he's helping you?
Reed Galen: He bought us instant credibility.
Reed Galen: We have a standing buy on Fox News in Washington, D.C. with Fox and Friends, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, every night.
Lesley Stahl: Is that because he watches?
Reed Galen: Yes. Because we know he's in the residence with his super TiVo watching.Lesley Stahl: Why is provoking him a good strategy?
Rick Wilson: Every time Donald Trump loses his mind and throws things at the wall because a Lincoln Project ad is up, that takes the whole campaign off track. There's one thing you never get back in a campaign. That's a lost day.
Lesley Stahl: Are you concerned that you're stooping to the president's level of being mean?
Rick Wilson: I hope so. (LAUGH) There's always a reflexive sort of-- do-gooder instinct to say, "Oh, I hate negative ads." People do hate negative ads, but negative ads work.


 Mike Madrid: The real dividing line in the Republican Party is between college-educated and non-college-educated voters. And what we're seeing is, when Donald Trump starts to push messages like law and order, or defends, you know, the Confederate flags and Confederate monuments, he does seem to be able to coalesce a small number of non-college-educated workers in the Rust Belt states. But at the same time, he's pushing white, college-educated workers in the Sun Belt states out of his column.

It's a reverse twist on the old Southern strategy where Republicans used racist appeals to attract white voters in the South. And they're trying to capitalize on it.

Mike Madrid: What we see in the South is more and more people in high-tech industries saying, "This is a politics that I reject."


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Blue Wave on the Hill?

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race. In 2020, Senate Democrats are trying to leverage the Supreme Court fight and Obamacare.  

Trump's COVID behavior is hurting GOP prospects.

James Arkin at Politico:

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison raised a staggering $57 million in the third quarter of this year, shattering the previous record for a Senate candidate as he seeks to unseat GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The haul only increases Harrison's massive financial advantage over Graham, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate and facing the most competitive reelection race of his career.
John Avlon at CNN:
[B]adly trailing in the polls and marred by increasingly erratic, self-sabotaging behavior — there are signs that some Republicans are beginning to distance themselves from Trump in a desperate attempt to avoid political doom.

The unlikely canary in the coal mine came in the form of Arizona Sen. Martha McSally — typically a Trump sycophant — who avoided answering several direct questions on whether she was proud of her support for the President during her debate against Democratic challenger Mark Kelly. Instead, she robotically repeated that she was "proud to be fighting for Arizona."


It's not just an Arizona problem. In Texas, polls show a surprisingly tight race between Trump and Biden. Perhaps not coincidentally, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn — running for a fourth term against combat veteran M.J. Hegar — notably dared to criticize Trump last week, saying that the President "let his guard down" and stirred "confusion" with his chaotic response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think the biggest mistake people make in public life is not telling the truth," he said, "particularly in something with as much public interest as here because you know the real story is going to come out."

In Iowa — a state that voted for Trump by a margin of almost 10 points in 2016Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is down 5% to her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.
In Colorado, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has been trailing former Gov. John Hickenlooper for the duration of the race. In Maine, self-styled moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins — who refused to even vote for witnesses during the Trump impeachment trial — finds herself staring at the end of a quarter-century career.
Legendary Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins, who is the chair of the pro-Donald Trump Great America PAC, told me "I'm afraid the race is over." Rollins said that he "would definitely recommend that candidates make the case for their own reelection, and when asked about President Trump they should say 'I support him when it's in the interest of my state, North Carolina, Arizona — and oppose him when it's not in the interest of our state. My job to support the people of our state.'"

In North Carolina, a sex scandal may have hurt Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, Politico reports. But Thom Tillis made a Madisonian pitch:

If Tillis can mount a stunning comeback, Republicans hope he can save their majority — even if Joe Biden defeats Trump. And though the first-term Republican still sees a path for Trump to win and said nothing critical of the president, he also indicated he’s running as a check on a potential President Biden.

“The best check on a Biden presidency is for Republicans to have a majority in the Senate. And I do think 'checks and balances' does resonate with North Carolina voters,” he said.

Republicans made the same pitch in 1996, when it was clear that Clinton would win

GOP problem 1:  public opinion has shifted against divided government.  Jeffrey M. Jones at Gallup: - 

A new high of 41% of U.S. adults say it is better to have a president and Congress from the same political party. Twenty-three percent would rather have one party control the presidency and the other control Congress, while 32% say it makes no difference to them.

 GOP problem 2:  The confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett would effectively make the Supreme Court a Republican body.  Democrats will argue for control of the White House and the Senate as a check on the judiciary.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Donald Trump's Freaky Friday

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character and record of dishonestyThe update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. 

Anne Gearan, Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian and Josh Dawsey at WP:
President Trump publicly pressured the Justice Department on Friday to move against his political adversaries and complained that Attorney General William P. Barr is not doing enough to deliver results of a probe into how the Obama administration investigated possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

The delayed report is “a disgrace,” and Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, should be jailed, Trump said in a rambling radio interview, one day after he argued on Twitter that his current Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, is a criminal who should be barred from running.

Three weeks before the election and trailing Biden in polls nationally as well as in key states, Trump is issuing a new torrent of threats and demands for federal action against Democrats, including former president Barack Obama, that go beyond his familiar and often erroneous claims of wrongdoing by his perceived political enemies.


 Trump said he is disappointed in Barr over the federal probe, the results of which Barr has told Republicans will not be ready before the Nov. 3 election, said people familiar with the discussions who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

“If that’s the case, I’m very disappointed,” Trump said during an interview with radio host Rush Limbaugh. “I think it’s a terrible thing. And I’ll say it to his face.”

Later, he added: “That’s a disgrace. I think it’s a disgrace. It’s an embarrassment.”

On live national radio, the Leader of the Free World dropped an f-bomb:


Friday, October 9, 2020


 In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway.  Trump is weaponizing the federal government for his political benefit.  Calls for prosecution and arrest are an ominous step.

Four years ago, Benjamin Wittes wrote:

The soft spot, the least tyrant-proof part of the government, is the U.S. Department of Justice and the larger law enforcement and regulatory apparatus of the United States government. The first reason you should fear a Donald Trump presidency is what he would do to the ordinary enforcement functions of the federal government, not the most extraordinary ones.

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman at NYT:
President Trump berated his own cabinet officers on Thursday for not prosecuting or implicating his political enemies, lashing out even as he announced that he hoped to return to the campaign trail on Saturday just nine days after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

In his first extended public comments since learning he had the virus last week, Mr. Trump went on the offensive not only against his challenger, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but the Democratic running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, whom he called “a monster” and a “communist.” He balked at participating in his debate next Thursday with Mr. Biden if held remotely as the organizers decided to do out of health concerns.


The president castigated his own team, declaring that Attorney General William P. Barr would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he did not indict Democrats like Mr. Biden and former President Barack Obama. He complained that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had not released Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “I’m not happy about him for that reason.” And he targeted Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director. “He’s been disappointing,” Mr. Trump said.
“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the investigation into his 2016 campaign ties with Russia. “But these people should be indicted. This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country, and that includes Obama and it includes Biden.”

Mr. Trump has often argued that his political antagonists should be prosecuted, but in this case, he went further by indicating that he had directly pressured Mr. Barr to indict without waiting for more evidence. “He’s got all the information he needs,” the president said. “They want to get more, more, more, they keep getting more. I said, ‘You don’t need any more.’”
The president was all over the map in his two Fox phone calls, throwing out unsubstantiated or discredited accusations, explaining that he wanted to bring home troops from Afghanistan to be ready to fight China or Russia if necessary and calling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan “the lockup queen” even as his own Justice Department was announcing the existence of an anti-government group’s plot to kidnap her.


Weaponizing Government

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underwayTrump is weaponizing the federal government for his political benefit.

Dan Diamond at Politico:
Caught by surprise by President Donald Trump’s promise to deliver drug-discount cards to seniors, health officials are scrambling to get the nearly $8 billion plan done by Election Day, according to five officials and draft documents obtained by POLITICO.

The taxpayer-funded plan, which was only announced two weeks ago and is being justified inside the White House and the health department as a test of the Medicare program, is being driven by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the officials said. The administration is seeking to finalize the plan as soon as Friday and send letters to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries next week, informing seniors of Trump's new effort to lower their drug costs, although many seniors would not receive the actual cards until after the election.

The $200 cards — which would resemble credit cards, would need to be used at pharmacies and could be branded with a reference to Trump himself — would be paid for by tapping Medicare's trust fund.

“The goal is to begin the test by distributing cards starting in October 2020,” according to a draft proposal circulated within the White House last week and obtained by POLITICO.

Career civil servants have raised concerns about the hasty plan and whether it is politically motivated, particularly after Verma pushed Medicare officials to finalize the plan before the Nov. 3 election, said two officials.

The plan to lower seniors' drug costs comes as administration officials grapple with Trump's falling support among older Americans, a significant threat to his re-election. Trump is currently lagging challenger Joe Biden by as much as 27 points in recent polls among Americans ages 65 and older, a major reversal from the 2016 campaign, with seniors now voicing concerns about Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his chaotic leadership style.

Ryan McCrimmon at Politico:

The Office of Special Counsel on Thursday ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reimburse taxpayers for using an official event to promote President Donald Trump’s reelection, a violation of ethics laws that prohibit certain political activity by executive branch employees.

Perdue's reprimand comes after the USDA chief has increasingly blurred the lines between his public duties and his political support for Trump, as POLITICO reported on Monday.

At an event with Trump and North Carolina food producers in August, meant to showcase the Agriculture Department’s coronavirus relief efforts, Perdue offered a lengthy endorsement of the president that sent the audience into a chant of “Four more years!” The secretary praised Trump as a champion for “forgotten people” and a tireless worker with “business speed, not government speed,” among other plaudits.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group, filed a formal complaint that Perdue’s remarks were a clear violation of the Hatch Act. The special counsel's office on Thursday concluded that Perdue had indeed crossed the line and ordered him to reimburse the government for travel expenses and other costs of his involvement in the North Carolina event.

“Taken as a whole, Secretary Perdue’s comments during the August 24 event encouraged those present, and those watching remotely, to vote for President Trump’s reelection,” the office wrote. “His first words were not about USDA, but about the president’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.”
John Maxwell Hamilton and Kevin R. Kosar at Politico:
Three hundred million dollars — that’s how much the Trump Administration intends to spend on an ad campaign to buck up a country that is beleaguered by one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world. The media blitz planned by the Department of Health and Human Services will reportedly feature inspirational videos from administration officials and celebrities, including actor Dennis Quaid and singer CeCe Winans.

Three hundred million dollars is a lot of money, and it is dubious that an advertising campaign even of that magnitude can cheer up Americans who have lost their businesses or jobs, are struggling to arrange schooling for their children, and working to keep their marriages together and stay healthy. Also troubling is the timing of the “defeat despair” campaign, beginning shortly before the election, which adds an unsavory and self-serving taint to the enterprise. Congressional Democrats are also vexed that this money, which they appropriated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is being redirected in part to a crony of controversial HHS spokesman Michael Caputo.

But the waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars is not the only reason for outrage. It’s that there’s a better label for this type of ad campaign, one that aims to stir positive emotions in contravention of the facts. It’s called propaganda, and it’s a form of communication that many Americans have trouble recognizing.

And from March:

The Trump administration has not yet repaid the United States Postal Service more than six months after the agency sent out COVID-19 guidelines on postcards prominently featuring the president’s name.

USA TODAY reported earlier this year the total cost of printing and mailing the postcards was $28 million, with a total printing cost of $4.6 million, and the Trump administration was negotiating the reimbursement with the Postal Service for the cost.

But the bill for the postcards sent to 138 million residential addresses has still not been paid.

“No reimbursements have been made at this time,” said Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer.