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Charlie Sykes
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Election Countdown Diary: Day 84

Nikki Haley goes after the Popcorn Factory, Ben Sasse remembers that Trump is unfit for office, and Biden's lead is much bigger than Hillary's.
August 11, 2020
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First the good news: there has long been a dark tradition in my family that men tend to die on August 10. Not this year, at least.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 84 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration day.

We are having a normal one.

At yesterday’s briefing, the president had to briefly leave the podium after shots were fired outside the White House. When he returned he mused about cutting the capital gains tax and made a series of claims about his handling of the coronavirus that ranged from the misleading to pure bullshittery. (Here’s the fact-check.) At one point he suggested that the 1918 Spanish Flu probably ended World War II, which actually didn’t begin until two decades later.

In Chicago: “Hundreds of young people looted stores, broke into indoor shopping malls and battled with police overnight Sunday into Monday in the city’s central downtown business district.” Several looters explained they were reacting to reports of a police shooting of a Black man, but  “police said those accounts were misinformation spread across social media that appeared to encourage people to head downtown to create violence.”

Our leaders continue to have their eyes on the prize. On the day that the number of American deaths from the pandemic hit 163,000, Trump tweeted  “Play College Football.”

Also on Monday, the government of Lebanon resigned; a leading pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong was arrested; and there were massive demonstrations in Belarus. Former U.N. Ambassador and veep wannabe Nikki Haley weighed in:

We leave it history to provide the context, which we can only guess at.

And in other breaking news, we learned from a website called “HotNewHipHop” that “Ellen DeGeneres reportedly bullied an 11-year-old boy in the 1970s.” HipHop’s tweet was retweeted more than 4.4K times, because we all really want to judged by what jerks we were (checks notes) 45 years ago.


Oddly enough, today is election day in Wisconsin, sort of. We have a very low-key partisan primary and I voted Monday by dropping my ballot off early. As the date got closer, I’ll admit I got nervous about putting it in the mail, which I know is probably unreasonable, but I’m becoming obsessed about having my vote invalidated. The president continues to deconstruct the Post Office and is openly mulling executive actions to curb voting by mail.

Donald Trump says he’s thinking about delivering his acceptance speech in Gettysburg, but nobody knows if that is real, or just a presidential brain bubble. (He probably likes the idea that he will be compared to Abraham Lincoln; until someone points out to him how he is likely to be compared to Abraham Lincoln.)

Lincoln rather famously appealed to the “better angels of our nature,” but on Monday, Trump doubled down on his attacks on Joe Biden’s religious faith. Last week, he said that Biden would “hurt the Bible,” and “hurt religion,” and apparently thinks that is a winning issue. On Monday he said: “If you look at their stance on religion and things having to do very importantly with aspects of religion and faith, I don’t think a man of deep religion would be agreeing with the Bernie Sanders plan. You take a look at what they have in it,” Trump said, “You can’t put that into the realm of a religious group of people, I will say that.”

The president also took time to lash out at a Republican member of the United States Senate, who had criticized his weekend spurt of executive orders as “unconstitutional slop.”

It’s worth remembering that like his colleagues, Ben Sasse had voted against hearing impeachment witnesses, rubber stamped the president’s executive order on the border, and maintained radio silence about the president’s misconduct until last month. But apparently there is an expiration date to both sycophancy and presidential favor.

Sasse appeared to try to calm the stormy waters by writing a letter to Trump that began: “Mr. President—I understand that you’re mad. A few thoughts….”


The latest Morning Consult poll has Biden leading Trump by 8 points nationally.

Trump has seen his lead evaporate in certain must-win states, such as Florida and Texas, and he doesn’t hold a lead outside the margin of error in any of the 12 states included in this release.

The polling finds former Vice President Joe Biden has an outright advantage in four states Trump won in 2016: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. He also leads within the margin of error in Florida, Georgia and Texas, three other states Trump carried over Hillary Clinton.

Look, from now until November 3, we will all be obsessively looking at polls, so a quick reminder: only the state-level polls in the swing states really matter. And the quality of the polls varies widely, so don’t get hung up on any single poll.

Since it’s easy to get too excited by good polls and terrified by bad ones, it’s also worth remembering (deep breath here) that the race will likely tighten at some point and the numbers will move. And let’s admit it, we are all traumatized by 2016. It’s easy to forget that the national polls of the popular vote actually were pretty close, because the results in the electoral college were so stunning. So the skepticism is baked in.

But today, I’m looking at two new polls CBS (YouGov) that has Biden up by 6 points in Wisconsin: 48-42 among likely voters. That’s consistent with the UW-Madison poll that has Biden 49 to Trump 43 (among registered voters) and Biden up 52 to 44 among voters who say they’re “certain” to vote. That same poll has Biden up by 4 in Michigan and 9 in Pennsylvania.

The gender gap continues to be stunning. The UW poll has Trump losing women in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by 19 points. 

We’ll get another important poll out of Wisconsin later today when the Marquette University poll drops. In June, that poll, which is considered the gold standard around here, showed Biden with an 8 point lead  in Wisconsin. So stand by.

My take? These are the numbers that matter because I’ve been saying for months now that the election runs through the upper Midwest and there is no way Trump wins a second term without these three states. But, I’d rate my mood only as cautiously optimistic, because these numbers are still somewhat close.

Given the collapse of Trump’s presidency—his botched pandemic response, a tottering economy, social unrest, and his mad king demeanor—shouldn’t the numbers be more solid? Or am I just concern-trolling myself here?

The Economist’s G. Elliott Morris reminds us that Biden’s lead has been solid and durable:

 

CAVEAT ALERT: the folks at 538 attached a disclaimer to their current election forecast.

That’s a hell of a warning… and a hedge.


On Sunday, we had a video call with my grandson in France. Silas is 8, and this is the first time that we have’t been together for his birthday. Normally, they come here for a month in summer, but those plans had to be scrapped like so much else. Silas and his brother, Elliott, had been hoping we might be able to get together for Christmas instead, and their disappointment was heartbreaking when we pointed out that right now, Americans weren’t allowed to travel to Europe.

Trump got his wall after all, and it has cut us off from the world and the people we love.


More personal news: I may have to shave today because television. But I still won’t be wearing long pants, because, frankly, I’m not sure I can still button them. Would rather not know.


I get mail.

My wife is horrified by this, but I actually like to collect my favorite bits. In my inbox today: “You stupid bitch…whine all you want…YOU are to blame for this bedshitter trump and mc con nell….too late for remorse you do nothing cunt.” (sic)

It’s 2020, we all get these. All the time.


The other day, Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera tweeted out: “There are reasons to vote against @realDonaldTrump. If he loses though, I’ll blame Republican traitors.”

Of course it has been (at best) decades since anyone took Rivera’s political judgments seriously, but it was still an odd comment, and certainly not one that reflects a lot confidence in the Trumpy precincts where Rivera is spending the twilight of his career. Rather than celebrating Trump’s greatness and ability to dominate his foes, Rivera is already thinking about who he’s going to be mad at.

Think about his options: If Trump loses he could blame Trump himself and his many blunders, cruelties, and deceptions. Or he could blame the Democrats who will actually unseat him. He could also blame the media and other Enemies of the People. But instead his mind drifted back to the traitorous NeverTrumpers.

Like others in Trump World, he apparently can’t decide whether they are a small, insignificant group of irrelevancies or a mighty force that can topple a presidency.

But this is your brain on Trumpism in the summer of 2020. Just last month, Rivera declared that Trump was “brave” to offer well wishes to accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell. And Rivera didn’t stop there, saying the pre-trial detention of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged procurer of underage girls is just “woke politics.”


Speaking of our collective moment of inanity…

In Florida, Rep. Matt Gaetz and felon Roger Stone announced their endorsement of far-right nutjob Laura Loomer for Congress. Loomer is “a far-right activist who has been the subject of controversy in the past for making a string of anti-Muslim remarks online” and has been “booted from multiple social media platforms in recent years,” because she’s a bigot and a loon. But 2020, baby.

My home state senator, Ron Johnson wrote an 11-page letter justifying his obsession with investigating Hunter Biden, but, honestly, I’m too embarrassed by the whole thing to talk about it.  He also said it was “good news” that the talks over the coronavirus aid package had fallen apart. “It’s very good news for future generations,” Johnson said.

And mark this one down: the attorney general of the United States, the nation’s chief enforcement officer, poured balm on a troubled nation by lashing out at Black Lives Matter protesters. The AG was a Vesuvius of Pejoratives. “They are a revolutionary group that is interested in some form of socialism, communism,” Barr said of Black Lives Matter. “They’re essentially Bolsheviks,” whose tactics were “fascistic.”

There are 84 days to go.