Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Proud Boys Win First Presidential Debate

Who would have thought that in a debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the winner would be:

The Proud Boys!

I found this description of the Proud Boys:

The group was founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a political commentator and the co-founder of Vice Media. The group existed informally online before McInnes began planning formal meetings in New York through a far-right publication, Taki's Magazine.

While the group officially rejects the notion of white supremacy and deny they are part of the "alt-right." They consider themselves "western chauvinists" who want to spread "anti-political correctness."

The New Yorker reports that the Proud Boys began distancing themselves from the alt-right in 2017, following the attacks of alt-right members against counter-protesters in Charlottesville.

"They care about the white race. We care about Western values,” McInnes said.


The Proud Boys also embrace political violence against leftists. The group has battled with Black Lives Matter protesters in Oregon throughout the summer. The New York Times also reports that the group instigated violence against self-described anti-fascists in New York in 2018.

The Presidents' words spawned an on-line celebration by the Proud Boys:

Members of the group praised Trump's choice of words during Tuesday night's presidential debate, his first against Joe Biden, resharing his remarks and even embedding the words in a new graphic with their logo. 

"Standing by sir," one user who identifies with the group wrote on the social-media app Telegram, according to Mike Baker, a correspondent for The New York Times.

"President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA...well sir! we're ready!!" another organizer, Joe Biggs, posted.

It could be that Trump, defiantly not wanting to give in to debate moderator Chris Wallace and Biden by using the words "stand down," chose instead to say "stand by."  Although some Democrats and more liberal members of the media immediately jumped to the conclusion that Trump was doing a clever dog whistle to his white nationalist supporters, I believe that way overstates Trump's intelligence.  Trump quite possibly did not grasp in the heat of the moment the YUGE difference between the two phrases.  

Today will be telling. Trump can clarify his Proud Boys comment and condemn the organization. (It needs to be done directly by him, not by campaign surrogates.)  Or he can let his "stand by" comment, well, stand, encouraging violence in the streets and, possibly, at the polls on November 3rd.  Even though it would hurt him politically, my guess is Trump will choose the second option.  Why?  Because, at the end of the day, Donald Trump is just plain stupid.

OOP's short takes:

  • By far Biden's worst debate moment substance-wise:  Refusing to answer the question on court-packing and getting rid of the Senate filibuster.   Because of time limits, Wallace could not do a follow-up so Biden was able to skate.  No doubt the issue of court-packing and the Senate filibuster came up during debate prep, so the response decided on was to refuse to answer the question?  You're kidding. The Biden campaign better come up with an actual answer for next time these questions are raised. 
  • By far Biden's worst debate style-wise:  His calling Trump a "clown" and telling him to "shut up."  While pretty much everyone was thinking what Biden said, as a possible future President, Biden needed be more, well, presidential.
  • The debate should  put to rest this whole "Dementia Joe" nonsense.  It won't though.
  • The big losers of last night's debate were all the Republicans running on the ballot this year with Donald Trump.  The are going to lose seats in the House and the Senate majority.  Speaking of the Senate, I see from this morning's poll that the Kansas Senate is basically a statistically dead heat.  That's not a first or second tier race in terms of competitiveness.  It is a third tier race. 
  • Going into the vice-presidential debate, expectations are that Senator Kamala Harris, with her prosecutor background, will easily best Vice President Mike Pence.  No doubt, Pence welcomes the shift in expectations from that the presidential contest which predicted Trump as the winner over Dementia/Sleepy Joe.  Harris supporters though need to have more tempered expectations.  As a former law school classmate of Pence, I can attest to the fact that the Vice President, while he clearly has sold his soul to the devil in return for his current position, is not dumb and can be very personable.  Pence's performance is going to be compared to Trump's and, on that score, Pence is going to look very good. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tonight's Debate and the State of the Presidential Race

Tonight is the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.  Hosted by Chris Wallace of Fox News (pictured), the debate is billed as critical to both candidates' chances.  I don't buy it.  This year we've gone through an impeachment, the worst pandemic in 100 years, a depression-like downturn in the economy, and the worst racial strife since the 1960s.   Through  it all, Trump's numbers have not dipped  - his popularity remains the same as it was at the start of the year.  The bad news for Trump though is that in January 2020 he was very unpopular.  

The big difference between now and then is that opinions about Trump and whether he should be re-elected have solidified.  Undecided voters have virtually disappeared from the electorate.

Debate performances are always measured by the expectations going in.  That is why Trump's political advisers were pleading with him to stop selling himself as a great debater (he claims he won every debate in 2016 - poll numbers say he won none of them) and to stop denigrating Biden's debating abilities.  For a couple days, Trump followed the script he was given, but soon got bored and returned to running down Biden's mental abilities.  Trump has so successfully lowered the expectation bar for Biden that it won't take Biden much more than showing up and stringing together a couple sentences to clear the expectations bar.

Trump's ace in the hole though is unpredictability.  While Biden will no doubt be more prepared and knowledgeable about the issues than Trump, I am not convinced the former Vice President will be prepared for all the curve balls Trump is likely to throw.   Biden has been caught off guard on the debate stage before, such as when Kamala Harris used Biden's previous opposition to busing against him.  Trump's attacks on Biden though are likely to be more pedestrian than Harris', but could still be effective if Biden loses his temper and goes off script.

Still, nothing that happens in the debate is likely to change the fact that a majority of Americans want to say "You're fired!" to President Trump.

Speaking of the state of the presidential race, Cook Political Report in June announced that it was moving Iowa and Ohio from "likely" to "lean" Republican.  Today, Cook Political Report moved those states leftward again, putting them in the tossup category.  The article (which is not behind a paywall) discusses at length the polling in the states, including the conclusion that Trump has lost significant support among white, non-college voters in those states.

In 2016, Trump won Iowa by 9.4 points and Ohio by 8.1.

Over at the FiveThirtyEight website, the updated election model has Biden at a 78% chance of winning the election.  Trump is at 21%.  In other words, Trump's current odds of winning are about the same as a bad hitting major league baseball shortstop, or the Cincinnati Reds, getting a base hit.  It does happen, just not very often.

OOP's short takes:

  • I still can't get over how the President managed to in just a few years shoot through the more than $1 billion he made off the Apprentice and now finds himself personally in a  $300 million hole.  This is the second time Trump has shot through a fortune with horribly bad business decisions.  Trump is not only a bad businessman, he may be the worst businessman that this country has ever produced.
  • According to the New York Times article, Trump has less than $750,000 of his wealth in securities such as stocks and bonds.   Let's assume Trump is worth $1 billion (he claims $10 billion).  That - assuming my Math is correct - means he has less than .07% of his wealth in more secure investments.  Instead almost all of his money is in high risk commercial properties.  What 74 year old billionaire has that kind of portfolio?  Of course, Trump is clearly not a billionaire.
  • It's funny watching Trump sycophants on television explaining why it is perfectly legitimate that Trump pays $750 in federal income taxes (and some years none) while some kid working part-time at McDonalds has to pay more.  They want you to just assume that Trump was just playing within the rules set forth by the tax code.  So we are supposed to assume that a man who has proven himself to be dishonest in every other area of his life, is, however, honest when it comes to paying taxes?  How stupid do they think we are?  The evidence from the NYT article strongly suggests Trump was, in fact, cheating on his taxes, primarily through phony business deductions.

Monday, September 28, 2020

New York Times Exposes Trump's Claimed Business Success As "Fake News"

During the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump sold himself as a self-made, successful businessman.  Having followed Trump's career, I knew neither was true - that he was not "self-made" or a "successful" businessman.  Yet, so many Republicans were willing to buy the image Trump was selling.  But it wasn't just Republicans.  Members of the media would label Trump a "billionaire," even at times inflating the billion to ten billion, an estimation of Trump's worth that comes from, well, Trump. 

Trump has zealously fought disclosure of years and years of tax returns, ostensibly based on the claim that those returns are under an IRS audit.   Of course, that is not why Trump was not disclosing his tax

returns.  The real reason was that Trump did not want the public to see that he is a spectacularly bad businessmen who has used questionable, and perhaps illegal, maneuvers over the years to avoid paying federal income taxes.

The New York Times though got ahold of Trump's more recent tax returns and published a story yesterday which belies the myth of Trump as business tycoon.  In the article, the Times reports that Trump paid just $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017, which is actually more than the 11 of the 18 years when he paid zero taxes.  The article offers this assessment of Trump's career as a businessman:

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.


Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.

Yeah, no doubt.  But the fact that pretend billionaire Donald Trump has paid little or no federal income taxes over the past two decades is hardly the most significant revelation in the NYT article.  The article details dangerous foreign conflicts-of-interest, crushing personal debt, an IRS attempt to claw back a large tax refund, and questionable, quite possibly illegal, maneuvers to avoid taxes and transfer money to his daughter, Ivanka.  Oh, and let's not forget mysterious "consulting fees" paid on overseas real estate projects which may well be disguised bribes in contravention of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Before winning the Presidency in 2016, Trump had exactly one other success in life - becoming a reality show star.  As co-owner of the Apprentice franchise, Trump earned a sizeable fortune playing the role of a successful businessman.  A shocking revelation from the NYT article is that Trump has now so squandered his Apprentice money that he has taken out $300 million in loans against Trump properties which he has personally guaranteed.  Those loans are coming due within the next four years.

Not that all Trump's business ventures are losing money.   Trump Toweris turning a profit.  So too is Mar-a-Lago, the  Florida resort which has become a magnet for domestic interest groups and foreign governments seeking to curry favor with the President. (It didn't hurt too that Trump doubled the admission fee to the club the month he took the office.)  Trump's branding business have been a money maker.   But other than those ventures, Trump's other businesses, especially the commercial properties the Trump Organization owns and runs, have proven to be spectacular failures.  Losing large amounts of money running a family business does provide one benefit though - you can dramatically reduce your taxes.  

As the Apprentice income began drying up, Trump turned to other sources to prop up his businesses:

In 2012, he took out a $100 million mortgage on the commercial space in Trump Tower. He took nearly the entire amount as a payout, his tax records show. His company has paid more than $15 million in interest on the loan, but nothing on the principal. The full $100 million comes due in 2022.

In 2013, he withdrew $95.8 million from his Vornado partnership account.

And in January 2014, he sold $98 million in stocks and bonds, his biggest single month of sales in at least the last two decades. He sold $54 million more in stocks and bonds in 2015, and $68.2 million in 2016. His financial disclosure released in July showed that he had as little as $873,000 in securities left to sell.

Let me translate.  Trump took assets that were in secure investments and sold them to prop up his businesses which regularly lose money.  By the way, how many 70 year old plus "billionaires" have less than $1 million of that fortune in securities, i.e. stocks, bonds, etc.?  I'm guessing none of them. 

The NYT article also revealed questionable consulting fees.  Ivanka Trump was paid nearly $750,000 by the Trump Organization to consult on two hotel projects even though she was an executive of the Trump Organization.  The NYT speculates that Ivanka's payments may well be an attempt to transfer wealth to the Trump daughter while avoiding gift taxes.  It is a maneuver similar to how Trump's late father, Fred, used to transfer money to his children.  Fred named his children employees of one of his businesses and paid them large salaries despite the fact the children, then minors, did no apparent work for the business.

Maybe of more concern is the consulting fees the Trump Organization paid on foreign projects, particularly one in Turkey:

On the failed hotel deal in Azerbaijan, which was plagued by suspicions of corruption, a Trump Organization lawyer told The New Yorker the company was blameless because it was merely a licenser and had no substantive role, adding, “We did not pay any money to anyone.” Yet, the tax records for three Trump L.L.C.s involved in that project show deductions for consulting fees totaling $1.1 million that were paid to someone.

In Turkey, a person directly involved in developing two Trump towers in Istanbul expressed bafflement when asked about consultants on the project, telling The Times there was never any consultant or other third party in Turkey paid by the Trump Organization. But tax records show regular deductions for consulting fees over seven years totaling $2 million.

It is speculated that these consulting fees were bribes paid to local Turkey officials who controlled whether the Trump project would move forward.  While foreign government officials often expect bribes as a cost of doing business in their country, it is actually a violation of  of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for American companies to pay such a bribe.  

The NYT article points to a need for Congress to enact laws requiring presidential candidates to release their taxes, put assets into a blind trust, and avoid conflicts of interest.  It is simply not enough that these practices are  "norms" that candidates will voluntarily follow because of political and public pressure.  Trump has proven that approach does not work.

OOP's short takes:

  • I remain mystified by states that are moving through their Covid-19 lockdown stages, loosening rules along the way.  Isn't movement through the stages supposed to be based on improvement in the numbers?  Yet, in most states Covid-19 infection rates are rising again.  We obviously did not, and still do not, have a good system for managing a pandemic of this sort.  Obviously more and better testing would have been a good start and would have lessened the need for harsh lockdowns.
  • A Sienna College/New York Times poll out today shows Biden leading by 7 points in the Nebraska second congressional district.  Trump won the Omaha-based congressional district narrowly in 2016.  Nebraska is one of two states (Maine being the other) which awards one electoral vote for each of the state's three congressional districts and two for the overall winner of the state.
  • A CBS News/YouGov poll released yesterday had North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis down 48-38 to challenger Democrat Cal Cunningham.  Down 10 points and with only 38% support, Tillis' time might be better spent polishing his resume. Stick a fork in him, he's done.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Why Biden's Lead May Be Bigger Than The Polls Suggest

As of July 11th, former Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed his largest lead in the national polls (using the FiveThirtyEight polling averages) at 9.6 points.  Today, as I write this, Trump has cut Biden's lead down to 7.3.  

Or did he?

The FiveThirtyEight averages noted above are based on a preference for likely voter polls, when those are available. If likely voter polls are not available, registered voter polls are used.

During the spring and early summer, most pollsters focus their polling on "registered voters."  Starting in July or so, pollsters switch their attention to "likely voters," a narrower group of voters.  The reason why is that in every election, WHO turns out to vote can dramatically affect the results.  Sometimes, Republicans turn out heavily while Democrats stay home (see 1980 and 1994 for example).  Other times the opposite occurs.  (See 1974).  The concept of "likely voters" is the pollsters' effort to figure out those voters.

To calculate whether a person is a likely voter, pollsters look at a number of factors such as voting history and the person's answer to particular questions.  In a 2012 article, Pew Research explained the concept of likely voters:

Identifying likely voters is one of the most difficult aspects of conducting election polls. More respondents say they intend to vote than actually will cast a ballot. As a consequence, most pollsters do not rely solely upon a respondent’s stated intention when classifying a person as likely to vote or not. Most pollsters use a combination of questions that measure intention to vote, interest in the campaign and past voting behavior. Different pollsters use different sets of questions to help identify likely voters.

We use a lengthy set of questions to assign each respondent a score on the likely voter scale in our final pre-election poll. Earlier in the campaign, we often use a somewhat shorter version of the scale to identify likely voters. The set of questions may include some or all of the following:

• How much thought have you given to the coming presidential election?
• How closely have you been following news about the candidates?
• Do you plan to vote in the presidential election? How certain are you that you will vote?
• Rate your chance of voting in November on a scale of 10 to 1, with 10 being “definitely will vote” and 1 “definitely will not vote.”
• How often do you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs?
• Have you ever voted in your precinct or election district?
• How often would you say you vote?
• Do you happen to know where people in your neighborhood go to vote?
• In the last election, did things come up that kept you from voting or did you vote?

Even though most pollsters have now shifted to a "likely voter" model, many still offer results for "registered voters."   Comparing the two, Biden generally (but not always) does worse with the likely voter model, by 1 or 2 points, sometimes more.  In other words, Trump voters are slightly more "likely" to vote in most models so that could easily explain the slight drop in Biden's national lead.

However, due to our electoral college system, it is the state polls that matter.  But you see the same pattern with states, i.e. that Trump does better with "likely" voters.  For example, the recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of Florida has Trump up 4 points among likely voters, but behind 1 point when it comes to registered voters.  That same pollster has Trump up in Arizona by 1 points when it comes to likely voters, but Biden 2 points ahead when Arizonians who are registered to vote are considered. 

Again, while Biden's lead in state polling averages has slightly narrowed from the early summer, that may well be due to pollsters shifting to the "likely voter" model.

The problem with pollsters guessing which voters are going to show up to vote, it injects more chances for error into the development of polls results.  In 2016, likely voter screens overestimated the number of Democratic-leaning voters,, and, conversely, underestimated the Republicans, casting ballots in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  While those polls results, which predicted modest Hillary Clinton wins in those states, were still well within the margin of error, turnout flipped those states, narrowly, to Trump.

But while trying to identify "likely voters" is always a challenge, it is necessary as election results inevitably depend on who turns out to vote.  But there is an exception to that  - those elections which are expected to feature heavy turnout among both Republicans and Democrats.  In those elections, which are rare, a better practice is for pollsters to focus on registered voters and omit the "likely voter" screen.  That is the election we are facing in 2020.  Believe the registered voter polls.

OOP's short takes:

  • Amy Coney Barrett is the nominee...let the Catholic bashing begin!  Seriously, the Democrats need to be smart about their attacks on Barrett or they are likely to see a backlash among Catholics.  Former Vice President Joe Biden has made inroads with Catholics and no doubt he would hate to see those gains lost.  Biden cannot have a repeat of Democrats, such as Senator Kamala Harris, attacking Catholicism, even if indirectly.
  • As a reminder, Harris had suggested a judicial nominee was too extreme and unfit to serve because because he had been a member of the Knights of Columbus.  The Knights, like the Catholic Church which sponsors the auxiliary organization, opposes abortion.  Carried to its logical conclusion, Harris was saying that anyone who chooses to be a Catholic is unfit to be a federal judge.  Fortunately for Biden, Democrats seem to have gotten the message not only to avoid Catholic-bashing, but to focus on threats to Obamacare rather than the abortion issue.  Preserving Obamacare is an issue that enjoys wide support that crosses party lines.  Abortion as an issue is more of a mixed bag.
  • Speaking of abortion, from hearing Judge Barrett's previous comments about abortion, it sounds like her focus would be on cutting back on Roe v. Wade (actually the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision has essentially replaced Roe which was handed down in 1973) to allow states to outlaw abortion during the second trimester.  While such a decision would still involve the Court rendering a policy decision arguably better left to legislative bodies, a focus on second trimester abortion instead of a complete overturn of Roe is better political terrain for Republicans.  Only about 10% of abortions happen during the second trimester and those abortions, while absolutely protected by Roe, are not popular. 
  • Here is the thing about abortion polling: while Roe v. Wade is popular (it enjoys 2-1 support), when you ask about some of the types of abortions protected by Roe, such as second trimester abortions, public opinion quickly goes in the other direction.  (The obvious conclusion is that the public doesn't actually know what Roe stands for.)  This is why during a recent Hacks on Taps podcast, former Chicago Mayor and Democratic political strategist Rahm Emanuel counseled Democrats to talk about Roe and not abortion.   That is smart politics.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Demographic Changes Since 2016 Could Doom Trump Campaign

In 2016, candidate Donald Trump did the best with older voters and the worst with younger voters.  As we approach the 2020 election, that dynamic has not really changed. But here's the rub - in the course of four years, a lot of people, mostly older, die, and they're positions in the electorate are replaced by older voters.  

As Trump won the 2016 election by only 78,000 votes in three states, he needs to add voters to replace those who have died.  Plus, you have other shifting demographics, like an increased share of non-white voters.  In short, the 2020 electorate will be substantially different from the 2016 electorate.  Yet, most analyses do not even acknowledge those demographic shifts.

David Wasserman of Cook Political Report though does acknowledge those changes in the electorate, penning a thoughtful article on the subject:

Four years ago, Donald Trump won the White House while losing the popular vote by 2.9 million to Hillary Clinton, thanks to a near-perfect geographic vote distribution that allowed him to win big Electoral College prizes by razor-thin margins. The key? Trump's unprecedented 37-point margin among white voters without four-year college degrees, who are especially influential in the Upper Midwest.

But as America becomes more diverse and college-educated, Trump's core demographic is steadily declining. In 2020, non-college whites are on track to make up about 43 percent of the nation's adult citizens, down from 46 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile, whites with four-year degrees — who are trending blue and increasingly behave like a different ethnic group from non-college whites — will make up 25 percent of adult citizens, up from 24 percent in 2016. And Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other non-whites — historically Democrats' most reliable supporters — will make up 32 percent, up from 30 percent four years ago.

A new interactive collaboration by NBC News and the Cook Political Report finds that if 2016's turnout and support rates were applied to 2020's new demographic realities, Trump would narrowly lose Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — more than enough to swing the presidency to Joe Biden. And, Trump would lose the popular vote by about four points, roughly double his 2016 deficit.

...Trump might need to boost non-college white turnout by about five points — from 55 percent to 60 percent nationally — just to offset the impact of their dwindling share of the electorate and get back to the same 306 Electoral votes he won in 2016.

At the moment, Trump's bigger problem is that Biden is winning more non-college whites than Clinton did four years ago. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Biden losing them by 23 points, whereas exit polls showed Clinton losing them by 37 points. That would be more than enough to offset modest gains Trump has made since 2016 among Hispanics and other non-whites.

... age isn't as straightforward: to put it gently, plenty of the oldest 2016 voters have since exited the electorate. At the same time, many 18-22-year-olds, who overwhelmingly dislike the president, have entered. And today, polls consistently show Biden doing several points better with seniors than Clinton, while Trump's support is concentrated among voters between the ages of 50 and 64.

Yep.  Trump needed to add voters to his 2016 coalition.  He just has not done that.

OOP's short takes:

  • Following yesterday's article about how Republican legislatures could override disputed popular vote counts, a number of people contacted me opining that the recent U.S. Supreme Court "faithless elector" case (Chiafalo v. Washington) required states to follow the popular vote when it came to assigning electors.  But that's not what that case held.  Chiafalo dealt with the issue of whether electors are free agents or whether a state could bind them to the popular vote in that state.  The Supreme Court unanimously concluded the latter. (Though there was a split of opinion on how the justices reached that conclusion.)  Chiafalo does not, however, stand for the proposition that states must tie electors to the popular vote.
  • CNN has a good article about possible post-election manuevers "How Republicans in key states are preparing to run out the clock on the election"
  • Speaking of good articles, Indy Republican has a good one about South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham's "pathetic pleas for money."  Hmmm, maybe Graham's permanently affixing his lips to Trump's butt was not a politically-winning move, even in red South Carolina.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

How The Trump Campaign Will Get Rid of Those Pesky Biden Mail-in Ballots

“It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.”

Okay, it turns out that the above quote, attributed to Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin (pictured), was not something he actually said.  But Stalin did say something very similar as have other dictators such as Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza:

"Indeed, you won the election, but I won the count." June 17, 1977.

During a press conference yesterday, President Trump said he would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.  That naturally was the focus of most news stories, but I was more concerned by this part of the exchange:

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," Trump said. "You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster." 

"We'll want to have — get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very — we'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

"Get rid of the ballots."  Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, September 23, 2020

Trump is not talking about the in-person votes cast on Election Day, which votes are expected to favor him.  The "ballots" Trump is talking about are the mail-in ballots which will be counted post-Election Day, votes which polls show will heavily favor Biden.  Given the difference about when in-person ballots are counted versus those cast by mail, Trump will likely have the lead in enough states on Election Day to win the Electoral College.  Trump will declare himself the winner and will say that any change in the Election Night result is evidence of fraud, that Biden and the Democrats are trying to steal the election.  And you know what?  Every last person in the Trump cult will believe the President.  

What happens next is that you are going to have Trump poll watchers and Republican lawyers challenging the validity of almost every single mail-in vote.  There will be an assortment of reasons, but the one that will call into question the most ballots is "signature mismatch," that the voters signature on the mail-in ballot envelope does not match what the local voter registration office has on file for that office.  I have emphasized on this blog repeatedly that people's signatures change over time and many, if not most, voter registration offices do not update the voters' signatures to reflect that change. 

You are going to see the dispute over these mail-in ballots end up in state and federal courts.  States have 35 days after November 3rd - until the December 8th, the so-called "safe harbor" deadline - to settle these disputes and certify which slate of electors (Republican or Democrat) will be casting the electoral votes for that state six days later, on December 14th.  

Let me pause for a quick note about how the Electoral College works.  Before the election, the Republican and Democratic parties (as well as any independent presidential candidates who qualified for the ballot in that state) identify a list of loyalists equal to the number of federal Senators and Representatives for that state.  Whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote in that state, his or her party's slate of electors will be the ones voting on December 8th.  All but two states in the United States do this on a winner-take-all basis.  So in Indiana, if Trump wins the election here, regardless of the margin, the 11 Indiana electors voting on December 14th in Indianapolis will be those previously identified Republicans who have agreed to be electors.

Now here is where it gets tricky.  The Constitution leaves it up to state legislatures to decide which electors will be casting votes for that state.   However, after a few elections, states passed laws so that selection of the slate of electors would reflect which presidential candidate won the popular vote in that state.   But those laws can be easily changed.  State legislators, faced with the prospect of a disputed popular vote count in their state and nearing the December 8th safe harbor deadline, could take that authority back and pick the slate of electors themselves.   It is not clear from the U.S. Constitution that a state governor could veto this legislative decision as the Constitution appears to leave the matter exclusively to state legislatures.  

To clarify, if in one of the swing states the vote is close and disputed, the state legislature could override the popular vote and decide which party's electors will be voting for President.  So let's look at the swing states, the electoral votes each has, as well as which party controls the legislature and governor's office:

Arizona (11):  Republicans control both chambers.  Republican governor.
Florida (29):  Republicans control both chambers.  Republican governor.
Georgia (16): Republicans control both chambers.  Republican governor.
Iowa (6):  Republicans control both chambers.  Republican governor.
Michigan (16): Republicans control both chambers.  Democratic governor.
Minnesota( 10): Republicans control Senate, Democrats control House.  Democratic governor.
New Hampshire (4):  Democrats control both chambers.  Republican Governor.  
North Carolina (15):  Republicans control both chambers.  Democratic governor.
Ohio (18) : Republicans control both chambers.  Republican governor.
Pennsylvania (20):  Republicans control both chambers.  Democratic governor.
Texas (38): Republicans control both chambers.  Republican governor.
Wisconsin (10):  Republicans control both chambers. Democratic governor.

If a state's dispute over ballots is not resolved by the December 8th, i.e. the safe harbor deadline, Congress decides which slate of electors to accept from that state.  In the case (which is likely given that Democrats control the U.S. House and the Republicans the Senate) both chambers do not agree, that congressional tie is broken by the state's governor.  This procedure is outlined in the Electoral College Act of 1887, a law which was enacted to try to prevent lengthy post-election vote counting disputes such as that which afflicted the 1876 presidential contest.  In that election, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was deemed the winner by Congress only after a deal was struck between Republicans and Democrats to end federal oversight (often referred to as Reconstruction) over the states of the Old Confederacy in exchange for giving Hayes the presidency.  

For more information on how this all works, see this Michigan Law Review article.

Now the 1887 law may or may not be constitutional.  Yesterday, Trump indicated he wanted his Supreme Court nominee confirmed before the election so she would be in a position to vote on any post-election litigation that reaches the Court.  One would think the admission by the President that he is appointing a justice to help him win re-election would obligate the new justice to recuse herself in any such litigation.  But we, alas, now live in a Trumpian world in which ethics and conflicts of interest do not matter.

But I digress.  Let me return to the topic of discussion - the counting of votes.  Let me just restate the President's words:

"Get rid of the ballots."  

That should send chills up your spine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What is Going on With Rasmussen?

This election cycle, a number of independent pollsters are publishing national and state polls.  Each of these pollsters, usually engaged by media outlets, use their own methodology and make adjustments to correct for any expected biases in polling sample obtained.  Despite often widely different approaches, these pollsters produce polls that generally differ by only a few points.  

The pollster which has consistently produced polls most favorable to President Trump and the Republicans though is Rasmussen Reports.  Rasmussen uses an automated dialing system to conduct its surveys.  The methodology Rasmussen uses is explained in more detail here.

Still Rasmussen's polls were not that far off what other pollsters have been producing.  Then suddenly things a couple weeks ago things seem to take a dramatic turn.  On September 10th, Rasmussen had Trump's "approval index" at -9 (Rasmussen's "approval index" is equal to strongly approve - strongly disapprove).  By September 18th, the approval index had risen to +4, a 13 point increase in just 8 days.

Today, Rasmussen has Trump's net approval at 50%.  The RealClearPolitics average is 44.7%.  Rasmussen likewise has documented a dramatic improvement for Trump in the presidential race.  According to Rasmussen, Biden's national lead is only 1 point.  (Which is actually down from a Trump 1 point lead Rasmussen had just a few days ago, which poll is the only national poll to have Trump leading since February).  The current RCP average has Biden's leading nationally by 7.1.

Looking back at state polls Rasmussen had conducted in September, the results were not far from the results other pollsters were getting:

9/7    Wisconsin          Biden by 8
9/8    Ohio                   Biden by 4
9/10  Michigan            Biden by 8
9/11  North Carolina   Trump by 2

The sudden shift is a bit odd.  However, I'm not the type to think independent pollsters, whose reputations for objectivity are absolutely critical to their financial bottom line, are going to start putting their fingers on the scale to get particular polling results.

But then I stumbled on Rasmussen's official twitter feed.  Wow.  Here is what Rasmussen retweeted in just the past 24 hours or so:

  • Protesters unloading "Abolish the Police" signs from a U-Haul truck
  • A Gateway Pundit article (I kid you not) about U.S. Mail gound in fitch in Greenville, Wisconsin which ,so; apparently included absentee ballots.
  • An article that Hunter Biden received a $3.5 million dollar wire transfer from the wife of the former mayor of Moscow.
  • Another slam on Hunter Biden
  • An article from Talking Points Memo criticizing Democrats for the court-packing idea
  • Promotion of a a book titled "Dumber" about "How Cuomo and DeBlasio Ruined New York"
  • An article calling out liberal bias in the media
  • Commentary by economist Stephen Moore saying Biden's "anti-business agenda would wreck the economy"

I can't begin to tell you how weird this is.  Pollsters zealously cultivate the image of being an umpire, calling balls and strikes like they see them.  Rasmussen though has flushed any appearance of objectivity down the drain.  It is almost as if Rasmussen is clamoring to be noticed ... perhaps by an audience of one? 

Biden-Trump Debate Performances Will Be Judged Against Expectations

Politico has an excellent article today on the upcoming debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden:.

Donald Trump will face Joe Biden within days for the first of three presidential debates, and some of the president’s supporters are already bracing for a humiliating loss.

White House allies, Republican donors and some of Trump’s closest advisers worry that a recent, frenzied push by his top lieutenants to portray Biden as a seasoned debater -- with the goal of raising expectations for the Democratic presidential nominee -- is too late and too disingenuous to have an impact when the two meet on the debate stage next Tuesday.

They worry Trump has set a trap for himself by incessantly attacking Biden’s age and mental acumen. It’s a tactic the president has maintained even as his campaign publicly insists the former vice president is fully capable of a satisfactory performance. Unlike the president, who has spuriously claimed Biden is “probably” on performance-enhancing drugs, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh attributed Biden’s “quite good” performance in past debates to the Democrat’s ability “to turn it on when the cameras come” after years of experience in politics.

“Eight years as vice president, three decades in the Senate, two debates as vice president and he just came through about a dozen debates in the Democratic primaries where he vanquished two dozen opponents — that’s the Joe Biden we’re expecting,” Murtaugh said.

It’s this type of expectation-setting that some of the president’s allies believe he and his campaign should have engaged in all along, an approach they’re now frustrated to see deployed so close to the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland. The Trump campaign spent the bulk of this summer questioning whether “Sleepy Joe” is fit for office and accusing the Biden campaign of trying to circumvent the traditional debates to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation for their candidate.

The Trump campaign not managing expectations going into the debate was incredibly dumb.  But then it is hard to blame campaign staffers when the candidate himself is the one driving the "Dementia Joe" bus, thus lowering the bar Biden has to clear to prevail.  At the same time Trump was lowering debate expectations for Biden, he was raising those expectations for himself, recasting himself as a great debater during the 2016 cycle when the evidence was overwhelming otherwise.

Trump does have one thing up his sleeve, however.  Unpredictability.   While I have no doubt Biden (unlike Trump) will prepare for the debate, I am not convinced he will be ready to hit the assortment of breaking pitches Trump is likely to be throwing.  For example, I could see Trump pulling a stunt such as challenging Biden to a cognitive functioning test during the debate.  While I have little doubt Biden's cognitive functioning is at a higher level than Trump's, I am not convinced Biden would handle the challenge during the debate well.  Biden better be ready for that one.

Nonetheless, the one thing I'm convinced of is that the debate won't move the polls much either direction.   Voters seem to have made up their minds.  The polls have barely budged for months. 

OOP's short takes:

  • In one of the few competitive Indiana state senate races, Republican incumbent John Ruckleshaus is seeking re-election.  I met John through GOP politics.  Even though I am more conservative than John, I always had a great deal of respect for his commitment to public service.  But I so wish John had chosen to resign instead of becoming embroiled in a nasty campaign that may well tarnish his reputation.  John's northside Indianapolis/southern Hamilton County state senate district has turned sharply blue since he last ran in 2016.  I just don't think there are enough Republicans left in the district, even in Hamilton County, for John to win.  
  • A similar thing is going on in Congressional District 5.  We are seeing Republican Victoria Spartz fighting to keep Republican control of the district formerly represented by Susan Brooks.  While CD 5 is a lot larger than Ruckelshaus' state senate district, it is also a district that's trending more Democrat.  If Spartz, who ran as a Trump enabler wannabe, is able to hold off a challenge from Democrat Christina Hale, it will likely be because of the rural Hamilton County portion of the district which remains ruby red. 
  • Look for the Supreme Court fight to help certain Republican Senate incumbents and hurt others.  Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will likely have their efforts boosted by the coming confirmation battle.  But it will undoubtedly hurt Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado.  Both are in blue states and probably the last Republican Senators we will see from those states.  As far as Arizona Senator Martha McSally goes...well, her campaign has been dead for months. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Anonymous RedState Editor Who Attacked Dr. Fauci Outed as Employee of Dr. Fauci's Agency

The news yesterday brought a smile to my face.

I used to religiously read the online conservative publication, RedState.  Prior to 2016, RedState enjoyed a good reputation among conservative intellectuals.  But when Trump was elected elected, RedState jettisoned its principled conservative writers to become a pro-Trump propaganda machine.  The intellectual heft of the publication declined dramatically, as the bulk of the writing fell to pro-Trumpers often using pseudonyms to cloak their real identity.  Needless to say, when RedState writers began writing anonymously, the quality and journalistic integrity of the publication fell precipitously

Occasionally I would post comments on RedState, often expressing my disagreement with positions taken by the RedState authors.  I was never argumentative or profane.  I just pointed out facts that contradicted the author's I have done on numerous websites over the years.  Thus, I was shocked when I went to poste one day and found that I had been BANNED from posting on RedSTate.  I eventually changed my user ID, but the next time I dared to criticize a position taken by a RedState writer, I was BANNED again.

To date, the only website which has ever banned me from posting comments is RedState.

I had always suspected the person behind my banning at RedState was an anonymous RedState editor and writer with the pseudonym "streiff."  (Yes he always writes it in lower case.)  I reached out to streiff on Twitter to get clarification on what policy I had violated.  No response.  I reached out to other people at RedState...again no response. 

That brings me to the news that made my day yesterday.  The Daily Beast found out who "streiff" is and outed him.  Turns out while he was attacking Dr. Fauci (pictured) and his recommendations, streiff actually was working public relations for Dr. Fauci's agency:

The managing editor of the prominent conservative website RedState has spent months trashing U.S. officials tasked with combating COVID-19, dubbing White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci a “mask nazi,” and intimating that government officials responsible for the pandemic response should be executed.

But that writer, who goes by the pseudonym “streiff,” isn’t just another political blogger. The Daily Beast has discovered that he actually works in the public affairs shop of the very agency that Fauci leads.

William B. Crews is, by day, a public affairs specialist for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But for years he has been writing for RedState under the streiff pseudonym. And in that capacity he has been contributing to the very same disinformation campaign that his superiors at the NIAID say is a major challenge to widespread efforts to control a pandemic that has claimed roughly 200,000 U.S. lives.

Under his pseudonym, Crews has derided his own colleagues as part of a left-wing anti-Trump conspiracy and vehemently criticized the man who leads his agency, whom he described as the “attention-grubbing and media-whoring Anthony Fauci.” He has gone after other public health officials at the state and federal levels, as well—“the public health Karenwaffen,'' as he’s called them—over measures such as the closures of businesses and other public establishments and the promotion of social distancing and mask-wearing. Those policies, Crews insists, have no basis in science and are simply surreptitious efforts to usurp Americans’ rights, destroy the U.S. economy, and damage President Donald Trump’s reelection effort.

“I think we’re at the point where it is safe to say that the entire Wuhan virus scare was nothing more or less than a massive fraud perpetrated upon the American people by ‘experts’ who were determined to fundamentally change the way the country lives and is organized and governed,” Crews wrote in a June post on RedState.

“If there were justice,” he added, “we’d send and [sic] few dozen of these fascists to the gallows and gibbet their tarred bodies in chains until they fall apart.”

Upon The Daily Beast unmasking of streiff as Cruse and bringing Cruse's comments to the attention of NIAID, the agency announced that Cruse was was retiring.

FYI, above I quote only a portion of streiff's outrageous comments quoted in the Daily Beast article.  People should read the entire article to find out how outrageous his writings have been..


OOP's short takes:

  • As I write this, Senator Mitt Romney has announced he will vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee when that nomination comes to a floor vote.  Romney was not in the Senate in 2016 for the Merrick Garland nomination thus, unlike other of his colleagues, he can't be accused of hypocrisy.  Although liberals are crying foul, Romney has always been a conservative who has supported judges that believed their role is limited to interpreting the law, not making policy. 
  • My guess that the confirmation vote would take place during the lame duck session might turn out to be wrong.  Looks like they're pushing it before Election Day.  The trouble with that as political strategy is that while the issue of a Supreme Court vacancy to be filled in the future is probably good for Republicans, that advantage goes away once the nominee is confirmed.
  • Remember my lesson about politics - when one side gets what they want, that side relaxes and the losing side gets energized.  With a third conservative nominee on the Court before the Election, Republicans will have gotten the one thing the major thing they wanted from a Trump presidency. With that victory in hand, GOP-leaning voters are likely to relax while Democrats will be energized to take out Republican Senators.  I would not be surprised if 7-8 Republican Senators lose in November.
  • I find it not a little bit ironic that the only thing the incompetent Trump has done successfully in office - judicial appointments - is something he totally outsourced.   If if wasn't for the Federalist Society and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Trump presidency would be bereft of any accomplishment.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Ginsburg Supreme Court Vacancy and the Politics of Abortion

Today on Morning Joe, former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough went on a rant about how the Ruth Bader Ginsburg vacancy on the Supreme Court put Republicans in a terrible position.  According to Scarborough, the fight over confirmation would end up being about abortion rights, causing suburban women to rise up and vote out Republican Senators. 

I've been hearing for four decades how the abortion issue is great for Democrats.  And yet the Republican Party has been winning on the abortion issue since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973.  While Scarborough is right in saying most people polled say they do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, the expansive abortion rights provided by that decision, including an unfettered right to second trimester abortions, is not supported by most Americans.  It should not be surprising that Americans answering those polls do not actually know the holding of the legal decision they claim to support. Even supporters of abortion rights generally do not consider the lengthy Roe v. Wade decision (65 pages in pdf form, single space), with its rambling, disjointed prose, to be a work of literary art.  Ginsburg was even critical of the decision and the reasoning used by the author Justice Blackmun, albeit the late justice did very much support the result.

Here is the thing about politics.  When one side gets what it wants on a political issue, the winning side relaxes and the losing side gets energized.  When it comes to the abortion issue, pro-lifers vote on the issue, while pro-choice voters do not.  If Roe v. Wade gets overturned, you are going to see that dynamic finally reverse.  A Roe reversal would, finally, activate abortion rights supporters, with the result being numerous state legislatures codifying abortion rights fairly quickly.   Many of those states, however, will not go as far as Roe v. Wade, particularly when it comes to legalizing second trimester abortions.

The Democrats seem to have learned the lesson about the politics of abortion.  They are not taking Scarborough's suggestion and making the Ginsburg vacancy about abortion, but instead are making it about healthcare, an issue for which the Democrats currently enjoy a clear electoral advantage.  The new justice may be the swing vote on an Obamacare case set to be heard during this coming Supreme Court term.  That is something Democrats can sell to voters.


OOP's short cuts:

  • It's starting to look like the actual vote to confirm a new justice will take place not before the election, but shortly thereafter, during the congressional lame duck session. That vote would have to take place before the first week in January when the newly elected Senators are seated.  
  • It might even have to take place before that - by November 30, 2020.  That's because the contest for an Arizona Senate seat is actually a special election, and if, as expected, the Democrats Mark Kelly defeats incumbent Republican, Martha McSally, Kelly would take his Senate seat at the end of November instead of with his colleagues in January.  Kelly's election would reduce the Republican advantage in the Senate from 53-47 to 52-48.  Since there is so little margin for error, it is almost certain Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will schedule the confirmation vote ahead of Kelly taking office.
  • A Mississippi poll by The Tyson Group (B/C rated pollster by FiveThirtyEight) released today has Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith leading Democratic challenger Mike Espy by just one point. (The same poll has Trump leading by 10.)  I'd be quick to write off the poll as an aberration, except for the fact that the same pollster polled the state in March and had Hyde-Smith with a 26 point lead.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

No, the Biden Campaign Should Not Be Knocking on Doors; Death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Michael Moore, liberal propagandist (no he is not a "documentary maker"...please do not put him in the same category as Ken Burns), is sounding the alarm!!!  Biden volunteers are not knocking on doors!  No ground game!

Over at The Week, Bonnie Kristian writes a column lamenting how the Biden campaign is failing because it is not knocking on doors, ostensibly due to the Covid-19. Kristian is dismissive of the excuse and talks about how effective door knocking is as a campaign tool.

I think I know something about the subject.  I've literally knocked on thousands of doors as a candidate and campaign volunteer.  I have also taught a campaign strategy class.

Yes, door knocking is a great strategy - for down ballot candidates who are not well-known to the voters.  In those campaigns, the most effective option is for that candidate himself or herself to have contact with the voter.  Next best option is to have a campaign volunteer knock on the homeowner's door.

But those are low information races in which the voters do not know much, if anything, about the candidates. They're basing their decision on what little information they have.  A candidate or candidate volunteer's visit to the voter's door is hugely impactful to those voters.

Presidential contests are not low information events.  About 99% of voters know Trump and Clinton.  About 95% of them have already decided how they're going to vote.  You're basically looking for the 5% of undecided voters...a little like finding a needle in a proverbial haystack.   Even if successfully in locating that 5%, a campaign volunteer is simply transmitting information that the voter can get from literally hundreds of other sources.  In terms of person-to-person contact, family members and friends are likely to be much more persuasive on a voter's decision in the presidential race than some stranger knocking on their door.

Then, of course, you have the fact that a door knocking is extraordinarily labor intensive and expensive.  Human and capital resources of a presidential campaign are much better spent in other voter outreach efforts, such as texting voters or phone calls.   

No, even if we were not in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, presidential campaigns should not be wasting time and money knocking on doors.

Michael Moore also talks about yard signs.  Campaign yard signs are about building a candidate's name identification. As noted, name identification is not a problem in presidential campaigns.  Presidential yard signs do not move the needle.  So what are presidential yard signs good for?  Raising money!   Yard signs bought in volume cost about 50 cents.  The Trump and Biden campaign then sells them for about $20.  Huge profit margin for the campaigns.  

Joe Biden leads in virtually every swing state, including by large margins in Wisconsin, Arizona and, yes, Michigan.  His campaign is flush with cash while the billion dollar Trump campaign is so broke it is pulling ads off the air in key battleground states.  It is hard to imagine the Biden campaign being in better shape.  Democrats have such a long history of campaign paranoia that it has a name - bedwetting.

As I've said many times before, people who want Trump gone should worry less about the casting of ballots and more about the counting of ballots.  That is where the real danger lies.


OOP's short takes: 

  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's lifetime of accomplishments is indeed impressive.  As a conservative, I was not always enamored with her rulings, however.  Still her service to this country is something that should be recognized and praised.  
  • Tacky, tacky, tacky.  In the same press release praising Ginsburg's service, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talked about holding a vote to replace her.  Geez, Mitch, couldn't you have at least waited until the body was cold?  The proper thing to do would be for Mitch to defer addressing filling the position for a few days until after the Ginsburg funeral, memorial service.
  • Hypocrisy should matter.  I actually think the so-called Biden rule about the Senate not considering confirming a replacement Supreme Court justice when that vacancy happens during a presidential year, is a good one.  That's what McConnell relied on when, with 7 1/2 months left before the 2016 election, he refused to consider President Obama's appointment of Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia who had passed away.  Now McConnell says he will fill Ginsburg's seat even though the election is just 1 1/2 months away.
  • I just don't buy that McConnell will be able to find the votes to confirm a Trump appointee to fill the Ginsburg vacancy.  There are too many Republican Senators in close races who will not be helped by having to vote for a conservative, and undoubtedly, controversial judicial nominee to the Court.  But the prospect of filling that vacancy post-election is a good issue to motivate Republican voters to go to the polls.  I think that may really be the angle McConnell is pursuing.

Friday, September 18, 2020

FiveThirtyEight: Democrats are Slight Favorites to Win Control of Senate

The Democrats are slight favorites (58%) to win control of the Senate according to a new statistical model released by FiveThirtyEight.   Republicans currently control the chamber 53-47.  Because the Vice-President sits as President of the Senate, Democrats need a net pick up of 3 seats, if Biden wins, and 4 seats if Trump wins.  Add one to each of those though as it is almost certainly the Democrats lose the Senate seat the party gained during the 2017 special election.

I would place the odds of Democrats winning control of the Senate a bit higher (let's say 65%) and have a few differences on the odds FiveThirtyEight assigned to particular races.  Let's examine some of them:

Maine:  Democrat Sara Gideon is given a 53% chance of ousting Republican Senator Susan Collins.  Too low. Democrats are going to win the President's race big, at least statewide, and I don't think Collins can overcome that.  This FiveThirtyEight prediction is a Democratic pickup.

Iowa:  Republican Senator Joni Ernst is given a 59% chance of winning re-election.  I'm fine with those odds.

North Carolina:  Democratic challenger Call Cunningham is given a 62% chance of unseating Republican Senator Thom Tillis.   This FiveThirtyEight prediction is a Democratic pickup.

Montana:  Republican Senator Steve Daines is given a 68% chance of turning back the challenge posed by former Montana Governor Steve Bullock.  That's too high.  Maybe 60%;

Colorado:  Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is given a 68% chance of defeating Republican Senator Cory Gardner.  That's about right.  This FiveThirtyEight prediction is a Democratic pickup.

Georgia:  Senator David Perdue is assigned a 68% chance of defeating Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.  Agree.

Alabama:  Republican challenger Tom Tuberville has a 72% chance of defeating Democratic Senator Doug Jones.  Those odds may be too low.  I'd make it closer to 80%.   This FiveThirtyEight prediction is a Republican pickup.

Arizona:  Democrat challenger Mark Kelly has a 78% chance of ousting Republican Senator Martha McSally.  Too low.  McSally is a dreadful candidate. I'd put the odds closer to 85%.  This FiveThirtyEight prediction is a Democratic pickup.

Kansas:  Republican Roger Marshall is favored to win this open seat (78%) over challenger Barbara Bollier. That's about right.

All the remaining states, the incumbent or party currently in control has an 80% or more chance of winning according to the FiveThirtyEight model.  This is where I have my biggest disagreement with the FiveThirtyEight model.

South Carolina:  No way Lindsey Graham has an 85% chance of winning re-election. Make that 65%.

Alaska:  The 87% favorite rating of incumbent Republican Senator Dan Sullivan against independent challenger Al Gross is far too high.  Maybe 70%.  

Kentucky:  Senate Majority, probably soon to be Minority, Leader Mitch McConnell is a solid favorite to win re-election, but 96%?  Too high. Make that about 90%.  Maybe 85%.  It is definitely high enough though that Democrats wanting to win control of the Senate would be wise to stop sending money to long-shot McConnell challenger Amy McGrath and instead invest that money in more winnable races.

OOP's short takes:

  • Indianapolis Republican council members held a press conference in which they demanded a repeal of the city's mask mandate.  Yet those same Republicans never have a problem soaking local taxpayers to pay for every corporate welfare scheme proposed by city leaders.  To recap those Republicans' position:  Corporate welfare paid for by taxpayers?  Yes!!!.  Wearing a cloth across your face to try to curb the worst pandemic in over a 100 years?  No!!!  Is it any wonder there are hardly any Republicans left in Marion County?
  • The Indianapolis Star reports that the Indiana State Republican Party is sending out absentee ballot application forms to Republican leaning voters.  Some of those applications are going to people who are not eligible to vote absentee, since Indiana requires a reason and not wanting to be exposed to a highly communicable disease during a deadly pandemic is not a good enough excuse.  In the article, Indiana Republican Chairman and Trump sycophant Kyle Hupfer spins the policy, insisting it is not contrary to Trump's opposition to mail-in voting.  No, Kyle.  Trump's objection is that vote-by-mail can lead by fraud.   Absentee voting is simply a type of vote-by-mail in which an excuse is required.  There is no difference in the security of the ballot between no excuse vote-by-mail and excuse vote-by-mail.  None. 
  • As I'm writing this a new CNN article pops up about "new reports" that "reinforce concerns about whether Trump's political motives are a higher priority than Americans' health."  Well, duh.  Trump has put his own selfish best interests ahead of the country's for 3 1/2 years now.  Why would that change now that we are in the middle of a pandemic?
  • Scores of battleground polls have been released since I last wrote about the status of the presidential race.  They are almost all bad for Trump.  Here is a quick summary of this week's state polls of likely voters, with Biden's lead in those states noted:  Wisconsin (+9, +7, +9, +4, +9, +10, +7, +7, +7), Michigan (+11, +8), Pennsylvania (+7), AZ (+9, +4, +5, +10, +3), Ohio (-3), NC (+3, +3, Even), Florida (+1, +3, Even), Minnesota (+16, +4, +4, +9), Virginia (+14), Georgia (+6), and Colorado (+11)
  • Regarding the working assumption that Biden does better in national polls than swing states, well that does not appear to be the case any more.  
  • Been hearing reports that the debates coming up are critical to the outcome of the election.  What malarkey.  Unless Biden (or Trump) keels over during the debate (seriously, several politicians have actually fainted during debates, including an Elkhart (Indiana) mayoral candidate in 2019), a Trump-Biden debate is unlikely to change the solid support both candidates have.
  • October Surprise:  No doubt Attorney General Bill Barr, to help President Trump's re-election effort, will drop the Durham report on the FBI investigation into Russian interference a month or so before the election.  The problem though is that Barr has so damaged his own integrity and reputation, nobody outside the Trump base is going to take the report seriously.  
  • The threat Barr poses is not what he does before November 3rd, but what he does afterward.  Imagine the Justice Department being used to seize disputed ballots in battleground states.  Imagine Justice Department lawyers filing lawsuits to throw out ballots which are likely to favor Biden.  Barr may be the most unethical and corrupt lawyer in America.  There is no discernable limit to how low he will go when it comes to helping Trump.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Comparing Traits of Pathological Cult Leaders to Donald Trump

In 2012, Psychology Today published an article written by Joe Navarro, formerly an FBI profiler and founding member of the its Behavior Analysis Unit.  In that capacity, Navarro studied Jim Jones, leader of the People's Temple (pictured below), David Koresh, who led the Branch Davidians,, Charles Manson, and numerous others cult leaders, not just in the United States, but from around the world.  

In the article, Navarro provides a lists 50 "typical traits of a pathological cult leader that you should watch for."  Below I provide Navarro's list, emboldening the ones that I believe apply to President Trump and his followers:

  1. He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.
  3. Demands blind, unquestioned obedience.
  4. Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement—expecting to be treated as special at all times.
  6. Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives, putting others at financial risk.  (Note, this is a bit "iffy" but the Trump fundraising efforts are pretty aggressive.)
  7. Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
  8. Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
  9. Takes sexual advantage of members of his sect or cult.
  10. Sex is a requirement with adults and sub adults as part of a ritual or rite.
  11. Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others. 
  12. Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.
  13. Makes members confess their sins or faults, publicly subjecting them to ridicule or humiliation while revealing exploitable weaknesses of the penitent.
  14. Has ignored the needs of others, including: biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs.
  15. Is frequently boastful of accomplishments.
  16. Needs to be the center of attention and does things to distract others to ensure that he or she is being noticed, e.g., by arriving late, using exotic clothing, overdramatic speech, or by making theatrical entrances.
  17. Has insisted on always having the best of anything (house, car, jewelry, clothes) even when others are relegated to lesser facilities, amenities, or clothing.
  18. Doesn’t seem to listen well to needs of others; communication is usually one-way, in the form of dictates.
  19. Haughtiness, grandiosity, and the need to be controlling is part of his personality.
  20. Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated or exploited for personal gain.
  21. When criticized he tends to lash out not just with anger but with rage.
  22. Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”
  23. Refers to non-members or non-believers as “the enemy.”
  24. Acts imperious at times, not wishing to know what others think or desire.
  25. Believes himself to be omnipotent.
  26. Has “magical” answers or solutions to problems.
  27. Is superficially charming.
  28. Habitually puts down others as inferior; only he is superior.
  29. Has a certain coldness or aloofness about him that makes others worry about who this person really is and or whether they really know him.
  30. Is deeply offended when there are perceived signs of boredom, being ignored or of being slighted.
  31. Treats others with contempt and arrogance.
  32. Is constantly assessing people to determine those who are a threat or those who revere him.
  33. The word “I” dominates his conversations. He is oblivious to how often he references himself.
  34. Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly; when he does he acts out with rage.
  35. Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong nor does he apologize for his actions.
  36. Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems.
  37. Believes himself to be a deity or a chosen representative of a deity.  (Note: If Trump has not explicitly said this, his supporters sure have.)
  38. "Rigid," "unbending," or "insensitive" describes how this person thinks.
  39. Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.
  40. Has isolated members of his sect from contact with family or the outside world.  (Note:  Although Trump hasn't explicitly does this, he doesn't have to.  Right-wing news outlets, including Fox News, and social media have created an echo chamber that reconfirms Trumpers pre-existing views and isolates them from outside information which would be critical of Dear Leader.)
  41. Monitors and/or restricts contact with family or outsiders.
  42. Works the least but demands the most.
  43. Has stated that he is “destined for greatness” or that he will be “martyred.”
  44. Seems to be highly dependent on tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments.
  45. Uses enforcers or sycophants to ensure compliance from members or believers.
  46. Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so.
  47. Conceals background or family, which would disclose how plain or ordinary he is.  (Trump tries to silence anyone, including family members, who dare tell the truth about his background.) 
  48. Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself and in fact sees himself as perfection or “blessed.”
  49. Has taken away followers' freedom to leave, to travel, to pursue life and liberty.
  50. Has isolated the group physically (moved to a remote area) so as to not be observed
By my count, Trump has 45 of the 50 characteristics of a personality cult leader.  Again, let me emphasize that Navarro came up with this list in 2012, three years before Trump announced as a candidate. 

OOPs short takes:
  • Keep an eye on a developing story involving sterilization of immigrant women at detention centers.  I read the nurse whistleblower complaint, which broke the story.   Although the media has thus far called it "forced" sterilization, the complaint makes it sounds like more like the women, who did not speak English, were duped into having hysterectomies.  Since the nurse did not appear to have direct knowledge of the sterilizations, I'm going to reserve judgment.
  • Yesterday, Attorney General Bill Barr said Covid-19 lockdowns are the worst threat to civil liberty since slavery.  I may have to rethink my position that Barr is dangerous because although he is corrupt, like Trump, unlike Trump, Barr is smart.  Barr might want to read up on the use of Jim Crow laws against African-Americans, the forced relocation of Native Americans after the Civil War, the Japanese internment camps set up by our government during World War II, and forced sterilizations of young women as part of eugenics programs.  Oh, and the Tuskegee experiment in which our government allowed African-American men to suffer and die from untreated syphilis because they wanted to document how the untreated disease progressed...yeah, that might have been worse than not being able to go see a movie with friends during a pandemic.
  • Saw that the Indianapolis City-County Council committee voted unanimously to issue a $155 million, 30 year bond to expand the convention center.  Apparently the fact convention business has been in decline for years and we are in the middle of a pandemic didn't slow down our local elected officials.  Is there any corporate welfare scheme that our local politicians won't wholeheartedly endorse? Is there ever going to be an Indianapolis politician stand up for the taxpayers?  I hope to write more about this soon.