Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of May 22, 2020, in 7.5 minutes.
THIS WEEK INSIDE THE BIG TENT:
① The good and the bad in our new poll (and how they’re the same thing)
② There’s no such thing as OBAMAGATE but IG-GATE is very real
③ Democrats can and must stop Trump from extorting states amid the pandemic
Was this forwarded to you by a friend? Sign up to get Big Tent delivered to your inbox every Friday.
GREAT LAKES AND VEEPSTAKES
Here’s an optimist’s view on the state of the election: In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost by the thinnest of margins to Donald Trump in Michigan, which has served ever since as a reminder that had she performed just a little better in the upper Midwest, she’d be president, Trump would be a racist cable talk-show host on OANN, and someone competent would have been in power when coronavirus became a global pandemic. Four years later, Joe Biden leads Trump there by three points.
Here’s a pessimistic view: Donald Trump has just presided over preventable losses of 40 million jobs and 100,000 American lives and he’s still only three points down in Michigan—a state he can afford to lose, but Democrats absolutely can’t.
These views are both completely consistent with the findings of our first general election poll, which we conducted with Change Research. That poll is in turn consistent with other polls that show Biden leading Trump nationally by a healthy margin, but by a nerve wracking margin in key swing states. (Those other polls are consistent with very tense shoulders, and massages are illegal now.)
Fortunately, the rest of our poll is here to help.
Below the toplines, we conducted several messaging tests, asked a bunch of issue-approval questions, and tried to determine whether Biden’s reported potential running mates would boost his campaign or create a drag on it.
Here’s the story I think our findings tell: Before Trump let a deadly virus spread undetected across the country, plunging us into a depression—i.e. when the economy was good, and Americans weren’t dying by the thousands each day—Trump was looking pretty vulnerable in the election. He may look a bit more so now, but for stupid and frustrating reasons, voters in Michigan still think Trump would do a better job than Biden of bringing back the good old days of four months ago. The fact that he ruined the economy hasn’t yet sunk in, the myth of his prowess as a builder—laughable as It is to those of us who pay close attention—hasn’t yet been punctured. Trump was going to run on a fairly simple line: Whatever you think of me personally, the economy is good, and I’ll keep it that way. That won’t be possible anymore, but as long as his level of culpability for the abrupt collapse remains an open question, he can pivot to promising a quick recovery and limit what should be catastrophic damage.
For all of us to breathe easier, Biden needs to widen that three point margin, and to do that he needs to drive Trump’s undeserved high marks on the economy way down. He can do that with message discipline and building a campaign that plays to the strength of that message.
Biden seems to know he needs to undo years of unanswered Trump lies about having built the economy he actually just inherited. This Biden video, which hopefully hints at the campaign to come, makes a case for the needed message and ends on the right note: “Donald Trump didn’t build a great economy. His failure to lead destroyed one.” 1) Contradict the myth that Trump built the prior economy; 2) Make him own this one.
Our own polling shows that undecided and independent voters are highly receptive to the (true!) notion that Trump’s priorities since the crash have been corporations and his rich friends.
Here’s the message that tested best: “Joe Biden says that Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic is more focused on helping big corporations and wealthy investors than small businesses and American families. The Trump administration has given hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to huge corporations and professional sports teams while thousands of family-owned businesses got shut out.” (If you know an undecided voter, consider working this into casual conversations about family, dogs, etc.)
Fortunately, the polling also suggests (as we’ve long suspected) that whomever he invites onto the ticket probably won’t have an appreciable impact on head-to-head numbers. He can pick the vice presidential nominee he wants without regard to hazy or self-interested arguments about who will play better in Peoria. And, crucially, he can pick someone who best helps him prosecute this particular case most convincingly.
The problem with firing people who are bound by law to police corruption in the executive branch—particularly when you keep doing it every time they sniff out corruption in the executive branch—is that you turn them from cops into witnesses. And in a happy contrast to the many other scandals House Democrats have allowed to drift past the horizon without a single hearing, they seem to have taken a real interest in Trump’s inspector general firing scandal.
A few thoughts:
If we call this the “Inspector Scandal” it would mesh well with the Inspector Gadget theme song. Something to consider.
Consolidate: Trump has fired or sidelined IGs from the Departments of Health and Human Services, State, and Transportation, along with the intelligence community and coronavirus response IGs. Different House committees have jurisdiction over these departments and functions, which is fine, and they each have roles to play, but this is one scandal: Trump keeps firing internal watchdogs because they get in the way of his ability, and the ability of his cronies, to steal from and corrupt the government. So make one committee—probably the Oversight and Reform Committee—first among equals here. That’ll help the public understand it, and make the investigation a better (and actually real!) counterpoint to the sham Senate Republicans are perpetrating.
Learn from this: The flip side of firing IGs who do their jobs right is that they will be replaced with Trump loyalists. Yet this week Joe Biden promised not to fire any IGs if he becomes president. No no no! The objective has to be rooting the deep rot of Trump’s corruption out of government. That includes cronies playing the part of anti-corruption cops, but who were actually hired to turn a blind eye to Trump administration crimes, and will use their positions to fabricate a bunch of BIDENGATES if they keep their jobs. Firing them, and giving the honorable IGs their jobs back, is part of that goal. Promising not to fire any IGs ties his hands: It allows Republicans to pretend to believe that cleaning unscrupulous Trump loyalists out of government is the real corruption, and reporters will, of course, happily pretend to believe them.
WE WERE WARNED
The big warning from Adam Schiff and constitutional-law scholars during the impeachment process was that a president who would extort foreign leaders to sabotage his domestic enemies would also, in a national emergency, extort desperate governors for electoral gain. That warning has been realized repeatedly since the U.S. coronavirus epidemic began, and never more plainly than this week when Trump threatened to withhold aid to Michigan and Nevada unless they agreed to deprive their citizens of safe access to the ballot box (because he thinks rigging reduced turnout amid plague conditions will help him and Republicans in the election).
The depravity of this speaks for itself, but it’s also a reminder that Trump is motivated only by self-interest and self-preservation, which means his and the GOP’s stated reluctance to consider more coronavirus rescue legislation is pure kabuki. In a few weeks we’re going to see a wave of layoffs of state employees and a wave of small-business closures just as 40-million newly unemployed Americans lose their enhanced unemployment benefits. A real, lasting depression will follow unless Republicans drop the act and ask for more stimulus. But when they do the conditions have to be ironclad, and they now need to deprive the Trump administration of discretion over state spending. He can’t be trusted, and ensuring a free and fair election is perhaps the most important piece of the coronavirus response. We should save both the economy and democracy from the virus, and spare no expense to do it, but we shouldn’t spend our way into an autocracy that will deprive us of the right to govern ourselves for years or decades to come.
I am OFFICIALLY NEUTRAL in the controversy over whether Nancy Pelosi should have called Donald Trump “morbidly obese.” On the one hand, there are more enlightened ways to prosecute this feud. On the same hand, she should get under his skin with relentless investigations of his official and personal corruption, not by inflaming his insecurities. On the other hand, it’s karmically correct for a Nazi-coddlling racist who goes on and on about how great his genes are to have his blinders peeled off.
People are mad at Trump for refusing to hang Barack Obama’s official portrait in the White House, as tradition dictates, and it’s definitely typical of what an outrageous asshole he is. But I actually think this is a good thing. Trump should be expelled from the haughty rituals of the post presidency, and if that's what's to happen, he can't be expected to honor them himself. Maybe Joe Biden can post that picture of Trump’s VPL (Very Presidential Lines) above one of the briefing room toilets or something.
Like this newsletter? Hate it?
Like parts but disagree with others? Send Brian your feedback firstname.lastname@example.org