The Home Stretch Begins

Now that Labor Day is over, we are officially in the home stretch of the election! Unfortunately, the track looks like this:

However, be of good cheer. The signs we can see are not so bad. You may see headlines saying the race between Biden and Whoozits is tightening. This usually happens as election day gets nearer. However, the FiveThirtyEight nerds say the opposite. It did tighten a bit after the end of the Republican convention, but now it’s widening up again.

On August 27– the last day of the Republican convention — the nerds were giving Biden a 70 in 100 chance of winning, and Trump 30 in 100. By August 31, it had tightened to 67 and 32, respectively. Today it is 74 and 29. However, it’s also true that on June 26 it was 79 and 21.

Last June, about the time Trump poll numbers were hitting bottom, there were reports that many Republicans seeking re-election were going to give Trump until Labor Day to turn things around, but after that they would start defecting. This is Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair, July 2:

Nervous Republicans worried about losing the Senate are now debating when to break from Trump. Trump campaign internal polls show Trump’s level of “strong support” dropping from 21 to 17 points since last week, a person briefed on the numbers said. A source close to Iowa Republican Joni Ernst’s campaign said Ernst advisers are upset that a solid seat is now in play. “Joni’s campaign is pissed. They should not be in a competitive race,” the source said. (“This is completely false,” an Ernst campaign spokesperson said in a statement. “Folks are energized about re-electing Joni Ernst, President Trump and the rest of Republican ballot in Iowa this November.”) A Republican strategist close to Mitch McConnell told me that Republicans have Labor Day penciled in as the deadline for Trump to have turned things around. After that, he’s on his own.

Is anyone defecting? It was widely noted that several Republican senators in close re-election contests were not speakers at the RNC convention, which was odd. This is Amber Philips, August 24:

Not speaking for the second time at a convention nominating Trump is the only living past Republican president, George W. Bush — a break from tradition. (All three past Democratic presidents offered remarks at that party’s convention last week.)

We also won’t see a ton of Republican senators and House lawmakers who are running for reelection in potentially competitive races. Republican senators running for reelection from swing states for both the White House and the Senate — such as Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Maine — won’t be making an appearance to speak on behalf of Trump. A number of them have started running ads that don’t mention Trump.

… many of these lawmakers are facing a difficult political reality in which Trump’s popularity is sinking in their states, largely because of concerns about how the president and his administration have failed to get the novel coronavirus pandemic under control. Voters also give the president poor marks on his handling of racial relations, which is unhelpful to senators representing increasingly diverse suburbs, especially in Southern states.

The conclusion is not to speak prominently at the president’s convention, which would almost certainly make it to their Democratic challengers’ TV ads. The one exception to this is Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in Iowa, who is in Republican leadership and facing a tough reelection but has apparently calculated that speaking will help her.

Another sign of Trump re-election problems is that he has blown through way too much of his campaign cash. I wrote a couple of days ago that Trump had canceled a $580,000 television ad buy in Arizona. This seemed odd, I said, because he won Arizona in 2016 and is trailing Biden right now. I can’t see how he can afford to lose any state he won before if he’s going to draw another straight in the Electoral College, so to speak, and $580,000 seems a relatively small amount of money.

Now, thanks to reporting by Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times, we know that Trump’s campaign has been spending money like a hundred thousand proverbial drunken sailors. Five months ago, Trump and the RNC had a nearly $200 million cash advantage over Biden and the DNC.

Five months later, Mr. Trump’s financial supremacy has evaporated. Of the $1.1 billon his campaign and the party raised from the beginning of 2019 through July, more than $800 million has already been spent. Now some people inside the campaign are forecasting what was once unthinkable: a cash crunch with less than 60 days until the election, according to Republican officials briefed on the matter.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has until recently been running a minimalist campaign because of the pandemic, and then he pulled in a “record shattering” $364 million in August. Biden can afford to run all the television ads in Arizona he wants.

The Trump campaign just released its August fundraising numbers today — $210 million. This is actually the Trump campaign’s best fund-raising month so far. Keep in mind that Trump filed the paperwork to run to re-election on his inaguration day in 2017. His re-election campaign appears to have officially begun in February 2018, although since then he has announced that his campaign was “kicking off” every few weeks. He seems to forget where he put his campaign and has to start over. See also The Trump Reelection Campaign Begins Its Third (at Least) Reboot. The point is, though, that he had a big head start on Biden for raising money, and it’s done him no good.

Back to Goldmacher and Haberman:

“If you spend $800 million and you’re 10 points behind, I think you’ve got to answer the question ‘What was the game plan?’” said Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who runs a small pro-Trump super PAC, and who accused Mr. Parscale of spending “like a drunken sailor.”

I want to add that I’ve never personally met a drunken sailor and have no reason to think that drunken sailors by nature are bigger spendthrifts than, say, drunken soldiers or drunken air traffic controllers or drunken accountants. But let’s go on … Goldmacher and Haberman say that nearly half of Trump’s cash was spent on fund-raising efforts that appear not to have been cost effective. Starting early also meant hiring early, and the campaign has been paying big salaries to consultants and other questionable people. They also spared no expense renting high-end office buildings. They’ve been using Air Force One for campaign traveling, which has to be reimbursed, and it ain’t cheap.* Trump blew nearly $11 million on Super Bowl ads. A record amount of legal bills have gone on the campaign tab. And at least $4 million has been paid to the Trump family business for hosting lavish donor restreats.

(*Trump seems not to have learned the time-honored trick of tacking a campaign event onto a trip for real presidential business, to save his campaign the money. But since Trump never seems to do real presidential business …)

And, do not forget all the Republican donor money spent on preparations for the convention(s) in Charlotte and Jacksonville, money that was more or less flushed down the toilet. The Democrats avoided that mistake by committing to a virtual convention many weeks sooner.

See also David Graham, Trump Is Running His Campaign Like He Ran His Businesses, at The Atlantic and Nancy LeTourneau, Why No One Should Ever Trust Trump With Their Money at Washington Monthly.

And then there are the campaign messages. Trump’s big appeal is that he’s an asshole the law and order candidate. A significant percentage of likely voters trust Biden over Trump to restore calm and order to the nation.  Biden is seriously addressing the pandemic, which many experts warn is likely to get worse as the weather gets colder. Many schools that opened are closing already. The official death toll is now at 194,624. The good news is that the daily numbers of new cases and deaths are down a bit from what they were in August, possibly because more people are catching on that the pandemic is not a hoax. Here in Gooberland I’m seeing more people wearing masks.

Even so, it appears Trump still wants to hold big, live rallies. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported today that two Nevada rallies Trump had planned for this weekend have been canceled because of the pandemic.

We hear today that Trump is not prepping for the upcoming debates.

According to a new report in NBC News, Trump has not once prepped for the upcoming debates, and has no intention of doing a formal practice round. Multiple people familiar with discussions told NBC that Trump doesn’t think he needs to practice because he’s “been preparing for debates since he was born,” in NBC’s words. Trump also apparently thinks his ability to respond on the fly is innate.

All par for the Trumpy course. But the President has also reportedly told aides that he’s confident Biden will have a gaffe moment or stutter, which the President anticipates will help do his work for him. Aides are, according to NBC, “worried that Trump appears to be banking on a Biden misstep in the first 2020 debate.”

But then again, Trump’s confident in his own cognitive abilities. Person, woman, man, camera, TV.

A lot will depend on the moderators. And I’m sure we’ve all noticed that the candidates’ actual debate performance often bears little resemblance to how that performance was framed later. This year there will be only one moderator per debate, beginning with Chris Wallace of Fox News. Wallace’s July interview of Trump was subtly brutal; it’s possible Trump himself didn’t appreciate how badly he came off.

Trump has been stepping in doo-doo on a daily basis lately. At a time when he really needed to keep his mouth shut about the military, in a press conference Monday Trump said this:

But Biden shipped away our jobs, threw open our borders, and sent our youth to fight in these crazy endless wars. And it’s one of the reasons the military — I’m not saying the military is in love with me; the soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.

It’s like he doesn’t know how decisions get made to go into war. The generals don’t decide these things. You really ought to read the whole press conference. It’s insane. In the next paragraph Trump brags that ISIS is entirely gone, for example. It isn’t.

And CNN has tapes of interviews of Trump by Bob Woodward for Woodward’s new book, Rage. Among other revelations, Trump admitted in February to knowing the covid-19 pandemic was far more deadly than the flu, but in March he admitted he kept that information from the public because “I wanted to play it down.”

We shouldn’t be complacent about the election, but damn.