Wednesday, October 7, 2020

I'm Becoming Optimistic About the Election

This spring Biden led in surveys. Even so, I presumed Trump would play his political cards well despite his malevolence and policy incompetence, and estimated the incumbent's electoral college chances at 65%. Now, stricken by Covid-19 himself as it rages through his unprotected government, and pulling the plug on economic relief negotiations as his own Fed Chair pleads for a bill and the economy falters, I feel he is sealing his political demise. In contrast to what I expected, Trump's politics have been as abysmal as his policies, and I feel things are starting to look very, very good to defeat him.

Financial services company Goldman Sachs today forecast that the Democrats will take both the White House and the Senate, and said a Democratic sweep would mean a faster recovery and thus would be good for the economy. Moody’s Analytics, a subsidiary of another financial services company, recently found that Biden’s plans would add 7.4 million more jobs to the economy than Trump’s would.

Real Clear Politics state by state poll averages have Biden's current electoral vote at 374 and Trump's at 164. Nate Silver's 538 site has Biden's projected Election Day chance of coming out ahead in the popular vote at 93%, and of electoral college victory at 83%. I was listening to NPR yesterday. They had the editor of The Economist on. She said their forecast, based on both polls and broader "fundamentals," many of them economic, of course, has Biden's popular vote win probability at 99% and his electoral college win probability at 90%. A New York Times Sienna College Poll out yesterday showed Trump losing senior citizens, a group he won by 9 points in 2016. The handwriting is on the wall.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Trump Insanity Intensifies

Reprinted from Heather Cox Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College, with permission.

It appears that the closing argument from the Trump campaign for his reelection was supposed to be that the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, was overreacting to coronavirus, making fun, for example, of his insistence on wearing a mask and staying distant from others. 

Trump was supposed to project strength in the face of the pandemic, suggesting that it has been way overblown by Democrats who oppose his administration and who are thus responsible for the faltering economy.

Then, of course, coronavirus began to spread like wildfire through Trump’s own inner circle after last Sunday’s Rose Garden celebration of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As Trump and increasing numbers of people in his inner circle began to test positive for the infection, the campaign first floundered, and now appears to be trying to brazen out the idea that the disease is not a big deal, and that Trump has conquered it.

This is insane. Covid-19 has currently infected more than 7 million Americans, and killed more than 210,000 of us, close to the number of Union soldiers—224,097-- who died in our bloody four-year Civil War.

Apparently, it is frustrating Trump that he cannot campaign. Last night, he traveled in a motorcade around Walter Reed Hospital, waving to supporters. The trip horrified medical personnel, who noted that the presidential vehicle is sealed against chemical attack, meaning that the secret service professionals traveling with the president were exposed to a deadly disease for no apparent reason. One of the agents assigned to the First Family told CNN “That never should have happened… The frustration with how we’re treated when it comes to decisions on this illness goes back before this though. We’re not disposable.” 

Dr. James P. Phillips, from the Walter Reed Hospital, took to Twitter: “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential “drive-by” just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”

Even staffers were complaining about the disorganization in the West Wing after Trump’s drive. But things did not get more anchored this morning. 

Early on, the president began to tweet at a great pace, in all caps, campaign slogans followed by the word “VOTE!” His promises were random and unanchored in reality, with words like “BIGGEST TAX CUT EVER, AND ANOTHER ONE COMING. VOTE!” According to Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair, the Trump family is divided over Trump’s performance. According to two Republicans close to the family, Don Jr. was worried by the drive around the hospital. “Don Jr. thinks Trump is acting crazy,” said one of the sources. But Ivanka, Eric, and Jared Kushner “keep telling Trump how great he’s doing.” All of them, though, worried about the morning’s tweet storm. 

The infection continues to spread through the White House. This morning, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced that she, too, has tested positive for coronavirus, a day after she briefed reporters without a mask. Two sources told CNN that two of McEnany’s deputies, Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt, have also tested positive, along with two members of the White House staff. McEnany said at first the White House was planning to put out the number of staffers infected, but then said it could not, out of “privacy concerns.” But of course there’s no privacy at stake in the raw numbers. 

Today we learned that another person who attended the Rose Garden event, Pastor Greg Laurie of the Harvest Christian Fellowship megachurches in California and Hawaii, has tested positive for coronavirus. In addition, thirteen workers who helped to cater a private Trump fundraiser last Thursday in Minnesota are all quarantining.

Although doctors expressed surprise and concern at the idea Trump might leave Walter Reed Hospital today, the president tweeted: “I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” 

Doctors noted that he is in a dangerous period for the progression of Covid-19, and that anyone who had required the sorts of treatments Trump has had is too sick to leave the hospital. “I will bet dollars to doughnuts it’s the president and his political aides who are talking about discharge, not his doctors,” William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University’s medical school, told the Washington Post. 

A briefing by Trump’s doctors obscured more than it revealed. The White House physician, Sean Conley, has refused to tell reporters when Trump last tested negative for coronavirus, a piece of information that would tell us when he knew he was infected. He also refused to explain why the president is being treated with a steroid usually reserved for seriously ill patients, or to discuss the state of Trump’s lungs. He did say that the president is “not out of 

the woods yet.”

Nonetheless, Trump left Walter Reed Hospital tonight, after lights had been installed to enable him to make a triumphant exit. Still infectious, he went back to the White House and climbed a flight of stairs to a balcony, where he dramatically removed his face mask and saluted well-wishers from a balcony. Although the moment was clearly designed to make Trump look strong, it was obvious he was struggling to breathe. 

Vox’s Aaron Rupar noted that “Trump has no choice but to continue to downplay coronavirus (despite 210,000 dead and record new case numbers) because if he changed course, it would be an admission that he was wrong about the defining issue of his presidency -- at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.” 

This evening, Trump released a video telling people not to let the coronavirus “dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it…. Don’t let it take over your lives.” CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta dubbed him “Coronavirus in Chief.” 

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held a town hall tonight in Miami, Florida, where he gave detailed answers to questions about police reform (more money, ban chokeholds and no knock warrants); socialism (“I’ve taken on the Castros of the world. I didn’t cozy up to them”); a mask mandate (the president can only mandate masks on federal property, but he would call on governors and mayors to do the same); and reopening schools (PPE, small classes, ventilation). Watchers noted that it was a treat both to see a normal conversation and to hear detailed, informed answers. 

To stay in touch with voters, Biden today began “Notes from Joe,” a daily newsletter.

Bloomberg is reporting that the contrast between the recent craziness of the White House and Biden’s calm detail has led the stock market to stabilize. Strategists are coming to think there will not be a contested election after all. Biden’s lead over Trump increased again after Trump’s debate performance, which apparently was designed to try to bully Biden by hitting triggers until he began to stutter, thus enabling the Trump campaign to portray him as mentally incapacitated. That strategy failed as Biden parried the triggers, and Americans were repelled by Trump’s behavior. Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank SA, told Bloomberg, “Polls are shifting from a close election and prolonged uncertainty to more a dominant Biden and clean succession…. That is reducing uncertainty and increasing risk appetite.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Can Trump's Economic Standing Save Him?

A friend sent me a recent New York Times article by Jim Tankersley on Trump's standing on the economy. The bottom line is that Trump is overall still rated better on the economy than Biden. I've been watching that too. It's the only issue running in Trump's favor, but it could be the most important issue. So if he's able to prevail, other than his efforts to cheat and manipulate the voting itself, that's what will have saved him.

The upshot of the article, when you read the details, is that Republicans still think Trump's great on the economy. That's not exactly a shocker. And Democrats think he's horrible. That's also predicable. Beyond that, here's a key passage from the article:

"But the plunge in economic activity since the coronavirus began to spread rapidly in the United States late this past winter has hurt Mr. Trump's standing on economic issues as well as his overall approval. Most polls now find Americans are evenly split on whether they approve of his handling of the issue. Gallup, for example, found Mr. Trump enjoyed a 48 percent approval rating on the economy this month, down from 63 percent in January. The decline was particularly acute among moderates, independents and voters who attended at least some college."

Here's link to the full Gallup Poll quoted above. 

So this is the guy who won the three Great Lakes battlegrounds by a combined 78,000 votes in 2016. That's much less than a 1% victory in all three, and he squeaked by in the biggest battleground, Florida, by 1%. Now his standing on the economy has tanked 15%. The decline was "particularly acute" among "moderates and independents," precisely the swing voters. So if, as the article says, almost all Republicans still think he walks on water, and almost all Democrats still think he is Lucifer in the flesh, and their views have scarcely changed from when his economic approval was at 63%, then how much has his economic standing among the third of voters who are moderate and independent declined in order to pull the whole average down by 15 points? Well, the simple arithmetic would put that at around 45%. That's enormous. And again, those are precisely the persuadable people, the "moderates and independents" who are the SWING VOTERS everyone is always talking about. 

Trump could still win. The economy is a potential lifeline, as long as his numbers there aren't as terrible as his numbers on everything else. He could also make headway on patriotism, as he defines it, and on fear of demonstrators, as he's trying to do with his "law and order" pitch. But he needs those numbers to get a lot better. The last four national polls that came in last week gave Biden an average 8.5% national lead. In 2016 Trump was able to eke out an electoral win BARELY, with a 2.1% national deficit. As of right now he's losing, and he'll need those economic numbers to improve substantially to reverse that. It may be possible, but they're not there yet. I'm sure he realizes where he stands and will be working hard to try to get there. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

What's Behind Trump's Frantic Efforts to Cheat?

Donald Trump is currently defunding and interfering with the operations of the US Postal Service and is spreading disinformation about the security and efficacy of voting by mail. I am convinced that a big part of Trump's desperation and frantic attempts to cheat come from his realization that once he is out of office his criminal immunity will end and his lap dog Attorney General William Barr won't be there to use the resources of the US government to shield Individual Number One. Joe Biden has already said "no way" when asked if he'd grant Trump a pardon. Trump's tax frauds, obstructions of justice, campaign finance violations, briberies and extortions will all be fair game and the agents he has impugned in the Southern District of New York and the FBI will be more than motivated to take him down. His complicit minions will sing like canaries to save themselves without him in office to grant them pardons and commutations.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Who is Donald Trump, Really?

Who is Donald Trump, really? Damon Linker, writing in "The Week" makes the case that Trump is awful, but that styling opposition to him as a "resistance" and calling his Administration a "regime" is taking things too far. Commentators like Linker woefully underestimate the danger Trump represents to American democracy. Yes, some people go too far. Yes, we are not (yet) an autocracy and people can (still) voice opposition. But Trump is doing everything he can to weaken these restraints. He lies constantly, blurring the very idea of objective fact. He actively tries to discredit those who report fact, referring to the real press that reports on him accurately with the Stalinist phrase "enemy of the people" and dismissing their factual reporting with the epithet "fake news." Like autocrats everywhere he seeks to deny people an independent source of information from his unending torrent of lies. If he gets his way we will no longer be a democracy, but a tyranny. Jefferson understood the vital role of free and independent media when he wrote, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." He understood that without an informed populace democracy cannot be sustained against the unchallenged propaganda of a despot.

Trump calls for physical violence against the press, dissenters, criminal suspects and those exercising their First Amendment rights. He publicly calls for America to disregard humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Convention which we ourselves introduced to the world. He publicly calls for his political rivals who have been convicted of no crimes (nor even charged) to be thrown in jail. He silences or fires anyone who reports on his corruption or calls out his lies, followed by streams of vicious slander against them. He violates the Constitution by subjecting asylum seekers to cruel and unusual punishment (caging, dividing families, considering people guilty before judgment) and by spending moneys (for his wall, for instance) that have been legally appropriated by Congress for other purposes. He has subverted the security of the United States for his personal, corrupt purposes by attempting to extort a vulnerable foreign ally at war by denying it congressionally appropriated moneys (another breach of the Constitution which requires the president to see that the laws are faithfully executed and of his oath of office to support that Constitution) to force it to concoct lies to help him in his re-election effort. He has threatened to unleash the military power of the US armed forces against the civilian population. He has repeatedly lied to and knowingly spread disinformation to the American people about a deadly pandemic, resulting in the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of people to serve his imagined political self-interest. He has obstructed justice in a serial manner to hide a full investigation of his wrongdoings.

There has never been a president like Trump. Linker is wrong to say the military leaders, by opposing him, are dangerously injecting politics into the civilian-military chain of command. They take an oath to the Constitution, not to one man, and when that man orders them to violate the Constitution they are oath-bound to resist, disobey, and call him out, as they have begun to do. He is the one injecting politics into the military, trying to make it a tool of his racial and political enforcement, and if they go along and follow such orders he will succeed. Linker is wrong, for the road we are on leads to dictatorship. There were several years during Hitler's rise when he hadn't destroyed the free press, he was only talking about it. He hadn't sent Jews to concentration camps, he was only talking about persecuting them. Hitler hadn't launched his war of conquest, he was only talking about how the French, Poles and Russians had to be annihilated to make way for the growing multitudes of Aryan Germans. Many believed he was only spreading such venomous hate and making such outlandish pronouncements to rile up the people and get into power, and then he would become responsible and act like a gentleman. It turned out he meant every word of them and tried to carry out his program just as he had promised. Sixty-five million people paid the price for naïveté like that, entire continents were devastated, and hundreds of millions were thrown into tyranny for decades thereafter as a direct result.

When a man in charge of a powerful country says predominantly brown and black people constitute the "shithole countries," that Nazis and Klansmen are "very fine people," that anyone reporting the facts is a national "enemy," that he believes the dictator of Russia over his own loyal American public servants, that maybe his supporters will insist he serve more than two terms, that police ought to be able to mistreat suspects, that he has the right to order unidentifiable secret police to attack American citizens on the street to clear a way for his photo op, that people of a certain religion cannot immigrate to this country, that the military should be used to unleash a bloodletting on American streets, and that the power of the state should be used to make it more difficult for certain people to vote, we ought to take him at his word. "Resistance" is exactly the way we need to define our approach to such a person, and "regime" is exactly the way we ought to understand what he is trying to institute here.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Trump's Virus Lies and Inaction Cost 54,000 Lives, So Far

From today's New York Times, on the cost in lives of delaying the nation's coronavirus response, we see a damning indictment of Donald Trump's lies and disinformation.

Inaction that cost lives

By the final days of February, many public health experts were sounding the alarm about the coronavirus, and some people were listening.
In the San Francisco area, major employers began directing their employees to stay home. Washington State declared a state of emergency. South Korea, Vietnam and other countries ordered aggressive measures.
President Trump did not.
On Feb. 26, he said — incorrectly — that the number of cases was “going very substantially down, not up.” As late as March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Some local leaders also continued to urge business as usual. In early March, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers to “get out on the town despite coronavirus.”
This kind of advice appears to have cost tens of thousands of American lives, according to a new analysis by researchers at Columbia University.
If the U.S. had enacted social-distancing measures a week earlier than it did — in early March rather than mid-March — about 36,000 fewer Americans would have died, the study found. That’s more than one third of the current death toll, which is about 100,000.
If the measures had been in place two weeks earlier, on March 1, the death toll would be 54,000 lower.
By The New York Times

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Trump's Risky Re-Election Reopening Strategy

President Donald Trump has assessed that economic carnage will destroy him in the election. Therefore he's decided to pull out all the stops, throw caution to the wind and push for a rapid re-opening. If the economy rebounds he is a winner and if it doesn't or just kind of muddles along in mediocrity he can at least say he tried. 

The risks for him are these: 1) first, people say 70-30 they are more worried about re-opening too soon than they are eager to reopen right away. They are more afraid of getting sick than the economic pain, at least currently. I would expect that to continue to shift in favor of reopening the more the economic pain grows, though, unless there is a very scary acceleration in infections and deaths (a real possibility, to be sure.) 

2) Data is showing an ominous price for Trump and the GOP's avidity in prioritizing the economy over safety with a group crucial to their electoral chances everywhere, particularly in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. That group is senior citizens. Yes. They always count on their advantage with older voters to offset Dem support among younger voters. Lose that and they are in dire straits everywhere, because seniors exist everywhere and they vote in higher numbers than other groups. Throw grandma and grandpa under the bus and you just might pay a heavy cost. They are most at risk and most fearful, and polling shows they are deserting. Trump is truly between the proverbial rock and hard place, and has to pick one poison over the other. It will depend on how it all turns out, economic recovery and disease carnage will decide the outlines of the election. 

From NYT I cut and pasted; see ominous finding below:

recent Morning Consult poll found that Mr. Trump’s approval rating on the handling of the coronavirus was lower with seniors than with any other group other than young voters. And Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, in recent polls held a 10-point advantage among voters who are 65 and older. A poll commissioned by the campaign showed a similar double-digit gap.