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The Washington Report: October 2, 2020 … “The Year That Just Won’t Let Up”

02 Oct 2020

The Washington Report: October 2, 2020 … “The Year That Just Won’t Let Up”

The October Surprise … Failure Of Deep Denial Approach … Reality Intrudes On The Capital City … The Year That Just Won’t Let Up … Jobs … Portrait Of Debt and Money Losing Businesses … The Debacle (uh, Debate) … The Senate: The Big Casino …  and other news of the week.
Best,
JR
Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners
P.S. Welcome to October, ONE MONTH and ONE DAY until Election Day.
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The October Surprise

WaPo “… President Trump’s 12:54 a.m. announcement that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive is a reminder that no one is safe – not presidents, not princes, none of us. The president joins at least 7,248,000 other Americans who have tested positive since March.

This October surprise upends the presidential campaign with just over a month until Election Day.

Failure Of Deep Denial Approach

Axios “The story began unfolding late last night as Trump tweeted confirmation of the news that Hope Hicks, the West Wing aide who’s closest to him outside the family, had “tested positive for Covid 19.
Trump has pointedly flouted his own experts’ advice about the coronavirus, and said at an Ohio rally just two weeks ago that it “affects virtually nobody” besides the elderly. Trump has shown disdain for masks at every turn, despite the evidence that they help inhibit transmission of the airborne virus. White House and Trump campaign aides rarely wear them, as the practice became so political that packed-together supporters at recent rallies in New Hampshire and Ohio booed the mere mention of masks. Several times, Trump scolded reporters who were wearing masks when asking him questions, saying he couldn’t understand them.
THE POLITICS: In late-night and early-morning texts, several Trump confidants privately fretted about what this diagnosis would mean for his re-election. Trump and his team have tried relentlessly to shift the election conversation away from COVID and health care — two topics they know Trump polls badly on — and toward the more favorable ground of the economy and law and order. Trump’s diagnosis will ensure that COVID is the 24/7 story from here until Election Day.
An influential adviser texted this shortly after 5 a.m.: “Hard to know but likely hurts Trump as it makes COVID the big issue and points to the failure of his deep denial approach. I doubt it moves many voters either way. I think Trump has a very narrow path to 270. I have his best map at a 269 tie. I think that is a low probability map.”

Reality Intrudes On The Capital City

Playbook “Americans have been living a grim reality for seven months — a sheltered and lonely existence tainted by disease, layoffs and general malaise. But the political class in Washington, D.C. has been chugging along as if little has changed. Congress comes into session nearly every week without an institutional testing mandate — thank the bipartisan leadership for that. President Trump holds mostly maskless rallies — and, for good measure, this week his out-of-town event was matched with a Trump Victory watch party at the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, where lawmakers mingled with one another. And Congress and the administration have been unable to notch a Covid relief agreement for months.

REALITY HAS SUDDENLY INTRUDED ON THE CAPITAL CITY.  … the protective bubble the White House created, is pierced. At least one member of the Senate — Mike Lee, Republican of Utah — tested positive, after hobnobbing on the White House lawn, meeting with Amy Coney Barrett (the Supreme Court Nominee) and attending a Senate Judiciary meeting, at times without a mask.  And, all of a sudden, the city’s political calculuses appear to have changed.

Virus Check

(it’s worth remembering that these tests don’t always capture coronavirus infections, especially very recent ones. There can be false positives as well.):
CORONA POSITIVE:  Trump, first lady Melania Trump, RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, White House aide Hope Hicks and Senator Lee. Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins (who was at the White House unmasked for Barrett announcement on Saturday.
CORONA NEGATIVE: Joe and Jill Biden, VP Mike and Karen Pence, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, WH COS Mark Meadows, HHS Sec. Alex Azar and Sen. Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff.

A COVID RELIEF DEAL between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is suddenly looking a smidge more likely. Pelosi suggested the two sides were coming to terms on a price tag, and were expected to focus now on crafting legislative language. (Stay tuned to see what the Senate thinks of it.) And if a deal isn’t reached, Congress seems poised to bail out the nation’s airlines, once again.

MEANWHILE, the “House Passed a 2.2 Trillion Stimulus Bill Thursday
WaPo “The legislation, which passed 214 to 207, has no chance of advancing in the Republican-led Senate and is opposed by the White House. … “[But] with the House set to recess today through the election, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) acceded to demands from moderate Democrats who wanted to take new action … before heading home to campaign for reelection.”
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The Year That Just Won’t Let Up

NYT “Sure, 2020. Why not?
President Trump’s pre-election turn as the world’s most famous coronavirus case is at once stunning, startling and somehow spiritually consistent with the bleaker-than-fiction course of this endless, relentless year.
A campaign season that began with the relative quaintness of an impeachment inquiry has advanced to a level of crisis that threatens the health of America’s citizens, institutions and democratic processes. And that was before the health of its president became a matter of urgent concern early Friday morning.
The grim irony of this arc is impossible to avoid. At the start, Mr. Trump predicted the virus would disappear like a miracle. He shared epidemiologically indefensible visions of packed churches on Easter. He pushed dubious remedies for a disease that has now killed more than 200,000 of his constituents. “What do you have to lose?” he asked this spring, promoting an unproven treatment, hydroxychloroquine, that he said he had taken himself, just because. … Pining for the glow of insta-feedback from supporters, Mr. Trump resumed campaign rallies against the advice of public health experts. Guests who registered on his website were asked to acknowledge that they “voluntarily assume all risks.”
To the extent that the president has focused on his own health publicly, it has often been to swat away suggestions that he was concealing any maladies … They say there’s something wrong with our president!” Mr. Trump swaggered at his indoor Tulsa rally in June … “I’ll let you know if there’s something wrong.”
WELL There’s something wrong. The man who repeatedly assured Americans that he had a plan — and whose administration repeatedly failed to demonstrate as much — now sits in the White House as a septuagenarian patient of high actuarial alarm.
As recently as Thursday night, he had said that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” At the debate on Tuesday, he mocked Joe Biden for wearing “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen…”
“We’ve had no negative effect,” the president said of his own rallies. Yet the iron rule of 2020 seems to be that every Chekhovian gun will be fired — and then a few more, scattershot into the night, lest anyone get too comfortable with a mere pandemic-cum-protest-cum-wildfire national epic that does not include a commander-in-chief-in-quarantine.”
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Jobs

Axios “This week was among the worst in recent history, with tens of thousands of workers laid off at America’s biggest businesses — including 28,000 workers at Disney theme parks. Airlines are beginning to let go of 32,000 employees, in the absence of additional stimulus from Washington. None of these losses will appear in the jobs report, since the survey period ended in mid-September. The bottom line: Economists warn it will be years before the labor market recovers.”
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Portrait of Debt and Money-Losing Businesses

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data for President Trump and his companies that covers more than two decades. Mr. Trump has long refused to release this information, making him the first president in decades to hide basic details about his finances. His refusal has made his tax returns among the most sought-after documents in recent memory.
“It is important to remember that the returns are Trump’s own portrayal of his companies, compiled for the I.R.S.”
Among some key findings of The Times’s investigation:
  • Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined. In 2017, after he became president, his tax bill was only $750.
  • He has reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that is the subject of an on-going audit by the IRS.
  • Many of his signature businesses, including his golf courses, report losing large amounts of money — losses that have helped him to lower his taxes.
  • The financial pressure on him is increasing as hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he personally guaranteed are soon coming due.”

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The Debacle

An Axios-SurveyMonkey poll (2,618 U.S. adults: ± 2-point margin of error) shows that Trump hurt himself more than Biden in what’s been called the worst U.S. presidential debate in history.
Axios “President Trump’s refusal to take Chris Wallace’s prompt to condemn white supremacy during Tuesday’s debate and his “stand back and stand by” comment about the Proud Boys became the No. 1 storyline from the debate online.

Why it matters: The post-debate response put Trump — not Joe Biden — on the defensive, and allowed the former vice president to dodge blowback from his own shortcomings in the debate.”

48 HOURS LATER… Politico ” … in a phone interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump condemned white supremacist groups Thursday, two days after he came under fire for his comments on the issue during a debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden.”
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Ohio In Play?

“Joe Biden’s campaign is making Ohio a battleground again. Buoyed by polls showing him leading President Donald Trump, Biden’s campaign boosted its TV advertising budget to $4.1 million for this month, nearly quadruple what he spent last month and two-thirds of his total ad budget for the state. The day after the first debate with Trump in Cleveland, Biden made his first appearance in Ohio on Wednesday as the Democratic presidential nominee.

“A confluence of forces has made Ohio competitive again in the eyes of Democrats. The economy and health care amid the pandemic are bad. Trump is bleeding white working-class and suburban voters in polls. Conservatives in the state are warring with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine for locking down the state during the pandemic. And DeWine’s Republican predecessor, John Kasich, is backing Biden.” (Politico)

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Watch Michigan’s 8th

Has Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) Detected Early Hints of a Biden Blowout?” “… last week, the campaign received the results of an internal poll that was shocking in the best way possible; it showed Slotkin at her highest marks to date in Southeastern Michigan’s 8th Congressional District. It’s the sort of place Republicans figured to rule forever, the sort of place Trump won comfortably (by 7 points, to be exact) and the sort of place where a suburban realignment to the left could ensure not only a Democratic grip on the hard-won House seats of 2018 but a Joe Biden blowout across the battleground map of 2020.”(Politico)

VOTER SUPPRESSION “Yesterday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered Texas counties to limit the number of drop-off locations they have for mail-in ballots to…ONE. Starting today, Texans who are voting by mail (which is pretty limited) can drop their ballots at locations determined by their county’s early voting clerk. Harris County – which includes Houston, has over 2 million registered voters, and is bigger than the state of Rhode Island – had planned to have 12 drop-off locations. Now, it’s got to scale that back to one. Counties will also be required to allow poll watchers to monitor their drop-off spots. … legal challenges against the governor’s order are expected. SHOCK: The move significantly affects the Democratic stronghold of Harris County, which is the state’s largest county by population—one of the most populous in the country—and covers a massive area.” (Politico)

BIG EYES EMOJI “Florida’s record-breaking campaign season continues to scale stunning new heights, with the presidential campaigns and their allies preparing to spend at least a $250 MILLION (a quarter of a billion dollars) on television ad time between now and Nov. 3.”
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The Senate: The Big Casino

Cook Report “Something … happens right about now every four years: Pundits start to shout that it “all comes down to turnout.” Here, they have a point. This year, in fact, we may well see the highest voter turnout in American history, matching the 65% of the voting-age population that cast their ballots in 1940 and 1960. (Keep in mind that noncitizens and felons in states that do not allow them to vote are included in the number.)
… My thoughts are increasingly moving toward whether the GOP can hold onto their majority in the Senate. … On a really bad Election Night, Republicans could lose five, six, or even seven. Keep in mind they’re defending nine competitive seats, while Democrats are only concerned with two (Alabama and Michigan). Given how many relatively small states are very close—Maine, Montana, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina—we could easily see the difference between a really good night for Republicans and a crushing defeat come down to a matter of 50,000 or 100,000 votes.
With the increasingly partisan nature of our politics today and less ticket-splitting than ever before, it’s important to keep in mind that one party usually wins the lion’s share of the really close contests. …For instance, in 1998, Democrats won six out of the seven Senate races rated as Toss-Ups going into Election Day in The Cook Political Report. In 2000, Democrats prevailed in seven out of nine; in 2002 the GOP won six out of nine. In the most recent elections, Republicans won eight out of nine in 2014, five out of seven in 2016, and five out of nine in 2018, the most even split over the 11 elections covered.

The possibility of an explosive Senate result is very real, and dependent upon relatively few votes. And given how badly the congressional and presidential races are going for the GOP, the Senate may end up being the big casino on Election Night.

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2020 Senate Race Ratings

Cook Political Report.
September 23, 2020

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