Trump on Defense

There are 59 days until the election, and Trump is on defense. That’s unusual in a presidential election; usually the Republicans are on offense and Dems are on defense. This is a good sign.

In spite of Trump’s being on defense, not many Republicans not drawing paychecks from the White House or his campaign are defending him.

AMID ALL THE FURIOUS responses to the Atlantic article alleging that President DONALD TRUMP had called American troops “suckers” and “losers,” one thing leaps out: You didn’t see Republican members of Congress leaping to defend the president’s character.

SOME OF THIS may be the late summer recess talking. But I’m told telephones and the internet still work outside of Washington — and Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill did not exactly rally to his defense. Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), for one, managed to praise the president for saving the military publication Stars & Stripes, but said nothing directly about the big story White House aides and loyal alumni were scrambling to discredit. Other prominent GOP members ignored the subject altogether.

The GOP has positioned itself as the champion of military glory since the end of World War II. Trump has been accused of doing the most unforgivable thing a Republican POTUS can do, which is trash the troops. High-level Republicans aren’t defending him because they realize it’s probably true. If they go out on a limb for him a tape could turn up, or John Kelly might speak out.

It’s rare to find an analysis of the race that doesn’t include a big, fat disclaimer that nothing is set in stone and either Biden or Trump could win. Yet the signs point to some serious floundring on the Trump side. For example, the AZ Mirror reports that the Trump campaign canceled an ad blitz in Arizona, a state they probably will need and in which they are currently behind.

On Thursday, records filed with the Federal Communications Commission by Phoenix-area television stations showed that the Trump campaign cancelled all of its ads between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14. The air time totaled approximately $580,000 in the Phoenix media market, which includes most of the state except for the areas surrounding Tucson and Yuma.

A campaign spokeswoman confirmed Trump was suddenly going dark in a state where he has consistently trailed Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the polls — a state that has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1948.

The excuse is that the campaign is going to focus its ad buys on early voting states and will resume ads in Arizona at a later date. But $580,000 seems a small amount given the hundreds of millions Trump has raised. He won Arizona in 2016 and, given that his only hope is to squeak out another Electoral College win, he can’t afford to lose it.

I couldn’t find anything at Open Secrets to suggest the Trump campaign is having money trouble. But then he’s been burning through campaign funds to pay legal bills.

In New York, Mr. Trump dispatched a team of lawyers to seek damages of more than $1 million from a former campaign worker after she claimed she had been the target of sexual discrimination and harassment by another aide. The lawyers have been paid $1.5 million by the Trump campaign for work on the case and others related to the president.

In Washington, Mr. Trump and his campaign affiliates hired lawyers to assist members of his staff and family — including a onetime bodyguard, his oldest son and his son-in-law — as they were pulled into investigations related to Russia and Ukraine. The Republican National Committee has paid at least $2.5 million in legal bills to the firms that did this and other legal work.

In California, Mr. Trump sued to block a law that would have forced him to release his taxes if he wanted to run for re-election. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have paid the law firm handling this case, among others, $1.8 million.

Mr. Trump’s tendency to turn to the courts — and the legal issues that have stemmed from norm-breaking characteristics of his presidency — helps explain how he and his affiliated political entities have spent at least $58.4 million in donations on legal and compliance work since 2015, according to a tally by The New York Times and the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

It’s not unheard of for a presidential campaign to run up some legal bills, but $58.4 million worth of legal bills is off the charts. And someday we’ll probably learn that some astonishing amount of all those donations was paid to the Trump family business, somehow.

It’s also the case that none of his campaign messaging appears to be working for him. If he did get any bounce from the convention, it’s gone now, per the FiveThirtyEight forecast. After a week of attempting to terrify Americans of the Coming Democratic Anarchy, all that law and order messaging isn’t moving the needle for Trump. Polls show that more voters think Trump is just making the chaos worse, and more voters prefer Biden on race relations and public safety and think Biden would do a better job of unifying the country.

Dan Balz at WaPo has a good analysis of the race right now.

Trump has tried many things over the past months in an effort to avoid becoming a one-term president. So far, nothing has proved to be the magic potion the president seems to believe is out there.

Trump has claimed Biden is mentally challenged. He has gone after Biden’s son Hunter as corrupt. The president has accused Biden of being a radical leftist, a socialist. He says the former vice president is weak. He says his challenger is soft on China. He has said Biden supports violent protesters and doesn’t support the police. Oh, he’s also said Biden’s 1994 crime bill was too tough on crime (and by implication, therefore, on the side of the police).

And now he’s moved on to law and order and terrifying suburban housewives into thinking that a vote for Biden is a vote to give their neighborhoods over to scary housing projects. So far, nothing. The polls are remarkably stable.

Trump’s mistakes, record and history plague his candidacy. He paints his record in glorious superlatives: “The greatest economy in history.” Or, “No one has done more for (fill in the blank) than I have.” The reality is something else, and it shows in how people continue to view him: negatively in terms of his job approval and distrustful of what he says about the coronavirus pandemic.

A real leaders would be speaking frankly to the American people about the problems we’re having and what he intends to do about it. But not Trump.

The pandemic is far worse and more deadly because of how he handled it in the early stages and how he is still handling it. He speaks about it as if it is almost history. He mocks Biden for wearing a mask. He predicts the readiness of a vaccine by late October, a scenario that he obviously sees as a lifeline to his political resurrection. This rosy outlook runs contrary to the assessments of medical experts. Meanwhile, one forecast of the covid 19 death toll by early next year has been revised upward to 410,000.

See also White Voters Are Turning Away from Donald Trump at Washington Monthly. Barring an unforeseen event, Trump’s next chance to change the trajectory will be the first presidential debate, scheduled for September 29.

In other news: A Trump boat parade on Lake Travis outside Austin appears to be in big trouble; several boats are sinking. No idea why.

President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images