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Showing posts with label Policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Policy. Show all posts

Friday, November 13, 2020

‘Purely outlandish stuff’: Trump’s legal machine grinds to a halt


A Michigan lawyer for Donald Trump’s campaign filed a case in the wrong court. Lawsuits in Arizona and Nevada were dropped. A Georgia challenge was quickly rejected for lack of evidence. His Pennsylvania legal team just threw in the towel.

The president’s legal machine — the one papering swing states with lawsuits and affidavits in support of Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud — is slowly grinding to a halt after suffering a slew of legal defeats and setbacks.

In the effort to stop Joe Biden’s victory from being certified, so many lawsuits have been filed in so many state and federal courts that no one has an exact number. But one thing is certain: the Trump campaign has an almost perfect record, having won only one case and lost at least a dozen.

Along the way, Trump lawyers have abruptly dropped core claims, been admonished in court for lack of candor and even been forced to admit they had no evidence of fraud, while their client inaccurately rails to the contrary on Twitter.

The sole Trump campaign victory came Thursday night: a Pennsylvania ruling that the secretary of state overstepped her authority by giving citizens extra days to fix signature mismatches on their mail in ballots. The ruling concerns a relatively small number of voters that are not even included in the election results for the state, where Biden leads by 62,000 votes with more than 98 percent of estimated votes reported.

On Friday, in another Pennsylvania case, the Trump cause was torpedoed yet again: an appeals court upheld the state’s method of handling post-Election Day absentee ballots, which could add more votes to Biden’s total.

“They’re throwing the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks — a mixed metaphor that’s deserving of this legal strategy. And ‘legal strategy’ should be in quotes,” said Ben Ginsberg, a veteran Republican election law attorney who headed the famed Florida recount team that ultimately led to George W. Bush becoming president.



Ginsberg chuckled at one hapless Michigan lawyer who filed an election challenge Thursday evening in a federal claims court in Washington, D.C., the wrong venue, and bizarrely titled it, “Donald Trump v. USA,” as if the president was suing the nation.

“Why would anyone ever use that title?” Ginsberg wondered, speculating that Trump’s lawyers are trying to “appease their client” by filing the suits that have little prayer of succeeding because, “they don’t have instances of fraud or irregularities that are relevant.”

Another lawsuit in Michigan, filed by the conservative Great Lakes Justice Center on behalf of two Republican poll watchers, was rejected Friday by a state judge who found that the plaintiffs’ allegations of fraud were really an exercise in speculation fueled by unfamiliarity with the vote-counting process.

“Sinister, fraudulent motives were ascribed to the process and to the City of Detroit. Plaintiffs’ interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible,” wrote Chief Judge Timothy Kenny. "It would be an unprecedented exercise of judicial activism for this Court to stop the certification process of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers."

Hours before, another Trump attorney dropped his star-crossed case in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where the campaign was pushing the so-called SharpieGate conspiracy theory, a bogus claim that ballots were spoiled because voters used a marker to bubble in their choice of candidates. During the hearing, Trump’s team abandoned mentioning the issue after elections officials made the case that it was an invalid argument.

Trump’s lawyer, Kory Langhofer, also admitted in court that some of the questionable affidavits in support of the suit were collected as part of an online evidence-gathering process that invited “spam.” He also used his business partner as a witness, called other witnesses who were unable to say they were disenfranchised and undercut Trump’s public messaging about fraud.

“This is not a fraud case,” Langhofer said in court. “It is not a stealing-the-election case.”

Similarly, in a Pennsylvania case, another Trump lawyer, Bob Goldstein, made it clear he was also not bringing a fraud claim because “accusing people of fraud is a pretty big step” that he wasn’t prepared to take.

Then, just before midnight Friday, Goldstein’s firm of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur dropped Trump’s campaign as a client, a rare move that underscores how fraught the quixotic case was for the firm’s reputation.



Barry Richard, a veteran election law attorney who also handled George W. Bush’s recount case in 2000, said the Trump campaign's legal strategy looks amateurish and disjointed.

“This is just purely outlandish stuff,” Richard said. “But we have an outlandish president. So I guess this makes sense.”

He said Trump’s campaign faces a huge challenge. To succeed, he said, the president would have to show that fraud or irregularities not only existed, but in such a large amount that the election needed to be invalidated in the select state.

In an earlier Pennsylvania case where Trump’s team tried to stop ballot-counting, the president’s lawyers were forced to admit that a “nonzero number of” Republican observers were allowed to witness ballot counting, contrary to false claims made outside the courtroom that no Republican observers were present. The judge reminded Trump’s lawyers they have a “duty of candor” in court.

Another recently filed Pennsylvania case argues that it will provide data-based “analytical evidence of illegal voting” at a future date. A newly filed Wisconsin case references “fraud” 31 times, but only to point out fraud in other places and races and provides no evidence of it happening in the state for this election.

In Montana, federal Judge Dana Christensen had harsher words for yet another team of Trump lawyers who were trying to stop mail-in voting in October when he called the claims widespread voter fraud “fiction.” And two days after the election in Michigan, federal Judge Cynthia Stephens rejected yet another lawsuit.

“Come on, now!” she admonished the lawyers at one point during a hearing. In her opinion, she referred to the campaign’s argument as “inadmissible hearsay within hearsay.”

The courts have been unsympathetic to the conspiracy theories and lack of evidence presented in Nevada, where judges all the way to the state Supreme Court have swiftly rejected Trump campaign arguments. A GOP-produced list of allegedly illegal voters in the state turned out to be legal voters who were soldiers, sailors and their spouses stationed elsewhere. A Nevada woman’s claim of voter fraud also proved so meritless that a federal judge rejected another Trump lawsuit.

On Friday, the Trump campaign dropped its ballot-counting lawsuit in Nevada.

In Georgia’s Chatham County, a lack of documentation of wrongdoing led a state court judge to say last week there was “no evidence” to support a Trump lawsuit challenging the counting and handling of mail-in ballots.

Yet for all of this, Trump’s campaign and his supporters are continuing to push on with more lawsuits, leading veteran election law lawyers like Kenneth Gross to speculate that he’s using the lawsuits to raise money or process the grief of his loss.

“There are all these stages of grief — anger, denial, bargaining etc. — and it seems to me he’s experiencing all of them simultaneously instead of linearly, except for acceptance,” Gross said. “Keeping multiple balls in the air that we know are not going to land in a good place could be partially to assuage his psychological issues of getting over the loss of this and giving his fans some thin reed of hope. But they’re being misled.”


Gross said the lawsuits are so groundless that the lawyers are more likely to be sanctioned for pursuing them than to succeed in court.

J.C. Planas, a former Republican lawyer and lawmaker from Florida who used to represent GOP candidates in election-law cases, said he can only speculate that Trump is holding out hope that he can pressure Republican legislators in other states to appoint their own electors and ignore the will of voters.

“The strategy is to pull a Jedi mind trick on legislators in these states to appoint their own pro-Trump electors,” Planas said. “In one respect, he’s succeeded because something like 70 percent of Trumpers say the election wasn’t fair.”

Outside the court, where the rules of evidence don’t apply and there is no threat of judicial sanction, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani last week alleged wrongdoing and fraud and promised multiple lawsuits. Biden’s chief legal counsel, Bob Bauer, ribbed the Trump legal team for their spurious claims and even for Giuliani’s widely mocked press conference at a landscaping company in an industrial park on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

“It's one thing for Rudy Giuliani to go out into the parking lot, sandwiched between a sex shop and a crematorium, and make the claims he made,” Bauer said. “It's another thing to be a lawyer in a courtroom and have your claims tested.”

Despite the numerous setbacks in battleground states, Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh insisted the campaign had a “methodical” approach that will result in victory.

“Over 72 million people now have voted for President Trump and those Americans deserve to know that this election was free, fair, safe and secure, and they deserve to know that every legal vote is counted and that every illegal vote is not counted,” Murtaugh said in a conference call about the lawsuits Thursday night. “You simply cannot ignore the very real evidence of irregularities.”





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Trump, for once, listened when aides told him to lay low


America finally got something it essentially hasn’t had since 2015 — a week without Donald Trump’s voice.

No rally. No sparring with reporters. No unwieldy Fox News interviews. No unscripted moments with world leaders.

Yes, there was his always-active Twitter feed. And there was even one speech late Friday about the progress of a coronavirus vaccine, announced on two-hours’ notice. But even then, the president mostly read from a script before deferring to advisers to carry the bulk of the event. He then succinctly thanked the audience and walked off as journalists shouted questions and staffers applauded.

Before the event, aides had urged Trump to not take questions so the headlines from the event would simply be about the success of a potential vaccine. For once, he listened.

It was a fitting end to a week for Trump where he remained out of view in the White House, shuttling between the residence and the Oval Office, stuck in his own election time warp, stewing over the results and pondering his next steps both for the coming weeks and for a potential presidential run in 2024. Advisers almost universally encouraged him to not say much, fearful of jeopardizing the campaign’s various legal efforts to challenge election results — advice Trump mostly followed, apart from the specious voter fraud claims he has been blasting out on Twitter.

Instead, he spent his days meeting with advisers, calling up allies and acquaintances like journalist Geraldo Rivera and Newsmax owner Chris Ruddy and trying to settle on a strategy for managing his election loss — all while President-elect Joe Biden has started to assemble his staff and Covid infections spike across the country.

“Well, I think he is letting his attorneys do their work,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and close Trump ally, when asked about the president’s relative silence for the last eight days. “I think he understands, in the end, he has to win an argument about the election with facts on the ground. Unless that happens, he does not have anything to say.”

Few advisers, allies or White House staff believe there is any hope of the Trump campaign reversing the results of the election. Most election lawyers see little merit in the Trump campaign’s lawsuits, which have failed to gain traction or offer serious evidence to back up claims of widespread voter fraud. And on Friday, media outlets finally called Georgia for Biden, giving him 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.

Still, few Republicans have pushed back against Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, nor have they publicly nudged him to concede to Biden, even though every TV network, The Associated Press and election experts officially called the race six days ago.

Privately, talk has turned to the chances Trump will mount a comeback bid in 2024, a prospect that would ensure he remains the preeminent figure in the GOP while simultaneously looming over Biden’s presidency.



“He’ll be the shadow president for 2 1/2 years until he starts running again,” said Bryan Lanza, a staffer from Trump’s 2016 campaign.

And when the Covid vaccine finally does become available, aides and advisers expect Trump to take full credit for an initiative pushed by his administration — even though Trump downplayed the virus for months, has mocked and cast doubt on mask wearing, and pushed schools and the economy to reopen without a national strategy.

Trump trumpeted his administration’s work on the vaccine at Friday’s Rose Garden event. Instead of laying out any future political plans, he tried to cast his administration’s response to Covid as a winning one. One of his advisers promised 20 million people could have the vaccine in December, with 25 to 30 million additional people receiving it each month after that.

"Ideally we won't go to a lockdown,” Trump said, alluding to the current record-setting rise in Covid-19 cases, before walking up to the line of conceding he was about to hand off to another president.

“Hopefully the — whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration will be,” he said. “I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown."

While Trump spoke, staffers lined the colonnade to listen to the president. Some took selfies and photos. Afterward, Trump walked back into the Oval Office and sat at the Resolute Desk as Vice President Mike Pence and top aide John McEntee settled at the chairs across from him.

As Trump has tried to make sense of the election results without conceding or calling Biden to congratulate him, White House aides and advisers have sought to show Trump is still governing. The Friday event on vaccines was part of that message.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has urged aides to think of conservative policy moves that can be completed during Trump’s remaining time in office, as various staffers finalize executive orders and rules to put out through agencies. The president is not involved in developing these policy plans, said one White House adviser.

Other White House staffers are looking for new jobs and coming to the White House complex later than normal. And Trumpworld is grappling with another coronavirus outbreak, with several of Trump’s top aides and allies, including Meadows, David Bossie, who is leading the president’s election legal fight, and Corey Lewandoski, another campaign aide, quarantining after contracting the disease.

Advisers do believe Trump will eventually accept the results of the election, even if he never does so publicly. Several speculate he will retreat to his South Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, in late January, where he will eventually settle into a routine of fundraising for Republicans, providing outside commentary on Biden and contemplating his presidential library.

For now, Trump’s political advisers and allies want him to stay silent as they battle the election results on his behalf while his policy advisers keep up the work of governing as if he has already started his second term.

“I don’t think there is a cost to his silence right now,” said one Republican close to the White House.

Meredith McGraw contributed to this report.




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Businesses brace for mandatory workplace safety rules under Biden


President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to issue mandatory workplace safety rules that employers must follow to protect workers from coronavirus exposure. It's likely to be one of his first big fights with American business and a test of how far he can go to create a national strategy to slow a pandemic that is still raging out of control.

Employers, which until now have been treated to a flurry of optional guidelines by the Trump administration that have been revised and rewritten throughout the coronavirus crisis, are bracing for the new Biden rules.

Biden and his allies believe that a national set of rules for employers could help workers return more quickly to offices and other workplaces since everyone would be following the same emergency standard, rather than a patchwork of state-by-state, county-by-county regulations.

“We cannot successfully restart our economy until workers are safe — and the first step is to require that businesses implement very basic measures to prevent the virus from spreading in the workplace,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama who's now with the National Employment Law Project. “To stem the growing number of cases, hospitalizations and death from COVID 19, it is critical that OSHA, or the Biden administration, promulgate an emergency temporary standard immediately to mitigate the spread of this disease at work and then back out into the community.”

But Republicans and the business community are likely to come out strong against any such broad mandates.

“If done the wrong way, if it's implemented as a strict regulatory requirement with little flexibility, I think it will be difficult for many businesses to implement,” Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, said during a press call this week. Ultimately, he said, it “will hold back both fighting the coronavirus and restoring the economy.”

The issue threatens to set up a contentious battle in the lame duck session of Congress, when lawmakers debate a new coronavirus relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are demanding a robust liability shield for businesses and schools as a condition for a new aid package — a provision that former OSHA officials say would strip Biden of the ability to enforce Covid-19 workplace protections.

As part of his plan to combat the coronavirus, Biden says he will direct his administration to issue the so-called emergency temporary standard, which would lay out specific precautions that employers must take to protect their workers from exposure to the virus.

The standard isn't likely to fully take shape until the new administration assumes control of the government, but a former OSHA official predicted it would at least mandate the Centers for Disease Control's guidelines, which broadly suggest allowing for social distancing, frequently disinfecting the workplace and providing protective equipment like gloves, goggles or face masks.

Implementing such a rule is something the new president could do quickly, even without Senate-confirmed leadership at the Labor Department or OSHA, according to two former senior OSHA officials.

Unions and labor advocates have slammed OSHA over its response to the pandemic. While the worker safety watchdog has cited companies for coronavirus-related risks over the past several months, large corporations have received meager fines in cases where their workers fell ill or have even died from the coronavirus. OSHA has also used its special enforcement powers far more leniently than previous administrations.

Unions say that much of the problem lies with the flexibility the watchdog has given to employers and the influence businesses have had over its enforcement efforts.

But flexibility is what businesses want to maintain.

The Chamber’s Bradley said that while he’s confident the Biden administration will listen to businesses' position, any emergency standard would need to “be flexible enough to recognize” employers’ ability to implement public health safety measures and to “accommodate the differences in how businesses operate.”

“There is a big concern,” said Robyn Boerstling, who oversees human resources policy issues at the National Association of Manufacturers. “Every manufacturing facility is generally different. They make different things, they have different procedures, they have different assembly lines, production processes. So, manufacturers need flexibility in different ways to implement their controls.”

Boerstling says Biden’s plan will leave businesses with little room to weigh in on how the rules affect their specific industry once the emergency standard is in place.

When OSHA determines workers are in "grave danger," the agency is able to issue emergency temporary standards that take effect immediately. The emergency standard stays in place until a permanent final rule is issued, but the agency will accept public comments on the standard during that period.

“An ETS is very immediate,” Boerstling said. “It’s permanent until it’s not permanent.”

The American Hospital Association, which represents more than 5,000 hospitals and health care providers that would be heavily regulated under any such infectious disease rule, suggested that an emergency infectious disease standard could hinder the health response to the virus.

The organization issued a fact sheet warning its members that an emergency standard would create “a new layer of conflicting and unnecessary regulatory burden at precisely the wrong time,” putting a strain on supplies of protective equipment and limiting hospital capacity.

“Unions have reported filing numerous OSHA complaints against hospitals; such actions could force hospitals to dramatically reduce their inpatient capacity rather than potentially expose themselves to very large fines,” the fact sheet said.

The maximum fine OSHA can issue against an employer is $134,937 per violation, when an employer's breach of safety rules is considered "willful" or is a repeated violation. For other violations, including "serious" and "other than serious" offenses, the safety agency's fines max out at $13,494 per infraction.

Such concerns were what prompted McConnell to push for Covid-19 liability protections — including shielding employers from being fined under federal safety laws — warning that “one-size-fits-all” rules would prompt “an epidemic of lawsuits” against employers who can’t comply.

But with both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats facing runoff elections that will determine which party controls the upper chamber, the GOP’s negotiating posture over another aid bill is weaker than when McConnell first made those calls.

While there’s little chance Democrats would be willing to limit their incoming president’s ability to police workplace safety in exchange for an aid bill in the lame duck, McConnell seems in no mood to drop his demand for liability protections.

“It should be highly targeted, very similar to what I put on the floor in October and September,” he said of the next aid bill during a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday.



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Cuomo says Trump is 'incompetent' and 'irrelevant' after vaccine threat


NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit back at President Donald Trump Friday evening after he threatened to withhold a forthcoming Covid-19 vaccine from New Yorkers, calling the president incompetent, delusional and retaliatory.

“The president lost New York state in the election by a huge margin. You have New York prosecutors who are investigating the president for tax fraud,” Cuomo told MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “This is his issue. It’s his credibility issue. It’s the fear that he politicized the health process of this nation, which is a well-founded fear.”

More than 50 percent of Americans in various polls said they worried about the efficacy of a rushed Covid-19 vaccine under the Trump administration, which Cuomo said has bullied scientists and other public health officials.

“Who’s going to put a needle in their arm if you don't trust the approval process of the vaccine?” Cuomo said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

New York is one of a handful of states to institute panels to review FDA protocol as vaccines are made public. Once vaccine candidates can be independently verified for safety, Cuomo — along with governors in states such as California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — will “build confidence in people” to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus.

“We are ready to distribute it,” he said on CNN. “The only problem could be if a scientific panel from my state or one of the other states reviewed the FDA approval process and said something was wrong.”

Despite those concerns in other states, Trump singled out Cuomo at his press briefing Friday. Cuomo, a personal friend of President-elect Joe Biden, has grown increasingly vituperative in his attacks on Trump in recent months and the president has responded in kind.

“As soon as April the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York state where, for political reasons, the governor decided to say — I don’t think it’s good politically, I think it’s very bad from a health standpoint — he wants to take his time with the vaccine,” Trump said in his first public remarks since his defeat. “He doesn't trust where the vaccine’s coming from.”

Cuomo said the president was targeting him due to personal and political spats they have had over the past four years, such as disagreements on immigration policy and the federal government declining to fund badly needed infrastructure projects in the region.

“That’s been his M.O.,” Cuomo said. “Everything is personal with this president. There can’t be a disagreement on principle, and he retaliates. He uses the government as a retaliatory tool. That's what he does.”

New York Attorney General Tish James also weighed in on Trump’s threat with an assertion of her own, vowing to sue the federal government if New York was somehow left out of the distribution process.

“This is nothing more than vindictive behavior by a lame-duck president trying to [take] vengeance on those who oppose his politics,” she said in a statement. “If dissemination of the vaccine takes place in the twilight of a Trump Administration and the president wants to play games with people’s lives, we will sue and we will win.”

Cuomo dismissed Trump’s involvement with distributing a vaccine, which is unlikely to be available before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

“The federal government on Covid has been very short on details, and has frankly been incompetent in the administration,” Cuomo said on MSNBC. "[He’s] irrelevant because I think it will fall to the Joe Biden administration.”



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Opinion | The Case for Political Exile for Donald Trump


What is to be done with Donald Trump?

He hasn’t yet conceded the election, but, come January 20, he will be looking for a new job. He is undoubtedly tempted to remain as much as possible in the public eye, rage-tweeting against the Biden administration and possibly starting up a new cable TV network. But he also has to worry about criminal investigations, and about defaulting on his considerable debt now that he can no longer use the presidency to drive business to his hotels and resort properties.

At the same time, President-elect Joe Biden is certainly not relishing the prospect of having Trump around for the next four years, spreading lies and insults about him at every turn. A Trump trial might be gratifying to Biden after the chants of “lock him up” at Trump rallies, but the resulting media circus would be an enormous distraction, making it more difficult for the new president to pursue his own agenda. What’s left of the GOP establishment, as well, is doubtless dreading having to continue defending Trump’s ever-crazier statements for fear he will back their primary opponents.

Fortunately, history offers a solution that could work to everyone’s advantage: political exile. The U.S. Constitution, of course, has no mechanism for imposing such a sentence on a former president, but Trump himself might enjoy following one particular precedent.

In April 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated the throne of France. Despite losing a massive army in Russia a year and a half earlier, he had continued to fight valiantly against a large allied coalition, but finally he was pushed back into his home territory and forced to surrender. By the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon agreed to leave France, and to renounce all claims by his family to the country.

It was a humiliation, but not a total one. The treaty allowed Napoleon to keep his title of “emperor” and gave him a new principality to rule: the Mediterranean island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany and not far from his native Corsica—a pleasant place roughly the size of Martha’s Vineyard, with a craggy coastline and mild climate. Napoleon would have a spacious mansion to live in, a 400-man honor guard and a large staff. As “emperor of Elba” he would enjoy all the trappings of sovereignty, including a crown and flag. True, the British navy would keep watch to make sure he didn’t leave. Still, for someone whose aggressive wars had led to as many as 4 million deaths across Europe, it was a mild enough punishment. Soon after signing the treaty, Napoleon set off for his new home, with the British press mockingly asking whether he would have enough “Elba room” there.

Following this precedent, why not give Trump his own island realm, and an imperial title to go with it? The chance to call himself Emperor Donald I might satisfy even this most titanic of egos and make up for the humiliating election loss to “Sleepy Joe.” Trump could build himself a palace, copying the décor from his penthouse in Trump Tower, which was itself inspired by Versailles. He could install Rudy Giuliani as Grand Chamberlain, and William Barr as his Lord High Executioner. Ivanka and Don Jr. could fight over who would inherit the crown. As absolute monarch, Trump could ban abortion, immigration and taxes, while declaring gun ownership mandatory for all his subjects. He could build a new Trump International Hotel, fly in supporters to stay there, and then stage rallies with them to his heart’s content.

The question, of course, is: Which island? Trump himself would probably love to take over Martha’s Vineyard, which would give him the chance to confiscate Barack Obama’s summer home. (Plus, he would have Alan Dershowitz as a neighbor.) But the islanders cast more than three-quarters of their votes for Biden, so they would probably object. One of the Channel Islands might work, but California went for Biden by nearly 2 to 1, and the citizens of Santa Barbara might have problems seeing their ocean view marred by gigantic Trump Towers on the horizon.

Consider the charms of Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. It is currently uninhabited, so giving it to Trump would not involve having to expel any residents. True, it still has dangerous levels of radioactivity from the 23 nuclear tests conducted there from 1946 to 1958. But for Trump, who boasted that he was a “perfect physical specimen” after he survived his bout with Covid-19, and who has legendary disdain for scientists and their expertise, surely a little radioactive strontium and cesium would not pose a problem. Nor would the threat of rising seas to the low-lying atoll bother someone who thinks of global warming as a hoax. Trump, of course, would find it difficult to resist ruling a place named “Bikini,” and the tropical climate might remind him of Mar-a-Lago.

There is one possible problem, however, as the story of Napoleon on Elba also reminds us. After less than a year in his miniature island realm, the former emperor of the French grew bored and restless. He also learned that the new French government, under the underwhelming King Louis XVIII, had already become massively unpopular. So, in February 1815, Napoleon and a group of loyal followers secretly embarked on a brig and sailed away from Elba, dodging the British patrols. Two days later, they landed on the southern coast of France and started marching north. The French flocked to them, King Louis fled for Belgium, and within weeks Napoleon had arrived in Paris and declared his empire reestablished. It would take a costly new military campaign, and a famous battle in June, for the allies to defeat him a second time, and to bring the episode of the “Hundred Days” to an end. Napoleon would then depart for a second exile, this time as a prisoner of the British Army on the tiny, windswept island of Saint Helena, deep in the South Atlantic, where he died six years later.

Donald Trump, as well, would almost certainly try to stage a return to power at some point. There are already reports that he is planning to run for president in 2024. Still, the Democrats might not have that much to fear. If the historical parallel holds, Trump’s comeback, however dramatic, could be followed swiftly by his Waterloo.



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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Obama: Trump's refusal to accept defeat is a 'dangerous path' for democracy


Former President Barack Obama warned that President Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential election was a "dangerous path" and "delegitimizing" democracy in America.

"It's one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration but democracy in general," Obama told CBS' Scott Pelley in an interview excerpt released Thursday.

Trump has yet to concede the election to his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, despite numerous news organizations calling the race for the former vice president Saturday. A litany of foreign dignitaries have congratulated Biden on his victory, and his team has already kicked off some of their transition efforts.

Trump and his allies have continued to challenge the results in court, insisting widespread fraud and other irregularities were responsible for his electoral defeat. But election officials from both parties have all publicly attested there was no mass malfeasance. And even if the president does score some legal victories, the wide margins in key swing states place the odds of reversing the election results at practically none.

Many of Trump's Republican allies in the Senate, House and his administration have refused to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect, claiming the election results were unclear. Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration, has also not yet recognized Biden as president-elect, which by law bars his transition team from formally going forward with his move to the White House.

During his interview, Obama said Trump's resistance of the results "appear to be motivated in part because the president doesn't like to lose." He added that he was "more troubled by the fact that Republican officials that clearly know better are going along with this."

Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, agreed with Obama's sentiment, saying her husband would be "very troubled" by Trump's refusal to accept defeat.

"It's dangerous for this to occur. It's time that the president get on the right side of history and make sure that our incoming president has all the things he needs to begin with his feet on the ground," McCain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday.



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Biden team reaching out to former Mattis officials for help with transition


President-elect Joe Biden's team has had initial discussions with people who worked for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about helping with the transition at the Pentagon and possibly serving in the new administration, according to three people familiar with the move.

The conversations are in the early stages, particularly as President Donald Trump has so far blocked the start of the official transition process, said the people, all former Trump administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel issues.

Biden is aiming to build an effective, bipartisan Defense Department leadership team, said one former Trump Pentagon official. The Biden team will in the coming weeks be reaching out to more former officials who were appointed by Mattis to talk about the transition and potentially serving, the person said.

The team is also seeking the former officials' help because they don’t expect current Pentagon leadership to be cooperative or particularly knowledgeable, the former official said.

Since early this year, the White House has been purging Pentagon officials who were deemed insufficiently loyal to the White House and installed those who can be trusted to carry out the president's wishes. On Monday, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and a day later three more top officials were replaced by loyalists.

“Essentially, everyone that would have been helpful has left the Pentagon by retiring or being fired,” the former official said.

Mattis, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, was confirmed nearly unanimously as Trump's first Defense secretary in January 2017 and is well-regarded on both sides of the aisle. Mattis’ relationship with Trump deteriorated over the course of his tenure, ending with his resignation in December 2018 over the president's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

Mattis initially avoided commenting on Trump's presidency after leaving but broke his silence this summer, denouncing the president as a threat to the Constitution after he sought to deploy active-duty troops in U.S. cities to tamp down civil rights protests.

Still, the Biden team is cautious about associating too closely with Mattis, who implemented some controversial Trump policies, including a ban on transgender people serving in the military, another former defense official said.

The people noted that members of Mattis' team have not yet been officially offered jobs in the administration.

A spokesperson for the Biden transition team declined to comment. Mattis also declined to comment.

Some former Mattis officials have also reached out proactively to the Biden team to offer advice. One former senior administration official said they recommended the Biden transition team bring on several Mattis appointees who are still serving and are “nonpartisan in nature.”

Biden on Tuesday announced his "agency review team" for the Pentagon, a group that will coordinate the transition even as the Trump administration blocks the formal process from moving forward.

The team will be headed by Kathleen Hicks, a top policy official in the Obama administration who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The team also includes several other leading female defense policy wonks who have close ties to Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of Defense in the Obama administration who is widely considered as a top contender to be Biden's Defense secretary. Christine Wormuth, who served as undersecretary of Defense for policy between 2014 and 2016, and Susanna Blume, who directed the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, are also on the team.

Bryan Bender contributed to this report.




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Labs sound alarm on coronavirus testing capacity, supplies


Clinical laboratories are warning they could soon face delays processing coronavirus tests, similar to slowdowns this summer, as infections again surge to record numbers across the country.

The nation’s testing capacity has increased, but not fast enough to keep pace with the swarm of new cases. Over the past week, the U.S. conducted nearly 10 million coronavirus tests, an increase of 12.5 percent from the previous week, while confirmed cases rose 40.8 percent to more than 875,000.

Quest Diagnostics this week said its average turnaround time for PCR testing is two days, but private labs say results will take longer to process once the number of new samples begins to exceed testing capacity.

"The surge in demand for testing will mean that some members could reach or exceed their current testing capacities in the coming days," said Julie Khani, the president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents private labs, including LabCorp and Quest.

Methods to conserve testing supplies like pooling are increasingly not feasible because of high positivity rates in communities across the country, Khani added.


Association of Public Health Laboratories CEO Scott Becker said that while the country has grown its testing capacity significantly since the spring, the current spike is “a terrible situation.”

“Labs are doing everything they can to eke out whatever additional capacity they can, but they are limited by supplies and in some cases test kits,” Becker said. “Some things have changed for the better, other things have not.”

HHS testing czar Brett Giroir told POLITICO the mean turnaround time for for commercial laboratories currently stands at 1.6 days. Lab-based testing is a significant portion of overall testing capacity; however, 50 million to 60 million point-of-care tests are available this month, according to HHS.

"These tests should obviate much of the need for expensive referral labs that do not supply immediate results and meet the infection control needs of critical institutions, like nursing homes," Giroir said. "If ACLA cannot provide appropriate turnaround times, we are happy to surge [point-of-care] tests and support local public health labs to make up the differences."

Some private labs are facing delays or cancellations of orders for supplies like pipette tips needed to perform tests amid the surging demand, Khani said.

HHS last month invested $33 million into the Swiss pipette tip-maker Tecan, due to the “unprecedented demand," but it will take until next October to set up new domestic manufacturing and start to scale up monthly production to 40 million. A Tecan spokesperson said the company is not canceling orders, but acknowledged it is having difficulty meeting customers' demand for the products.

The crunch for testing supplies could challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to ramp up testing. Biden has called for establishing a “Pandemic Testing Board” to increase production and distribution of tests, double the number of drive-through testing sites and increase investment into new types of Covid-19 tests, like those that can be conducted at home.

But Becker said the incoming administration has a limited ability to rapidly expand access to testing supplies. “With testing, decisions have been made over the last 10 months that make turning this ship quickly a difficult task,” Becker said.


Multiple public health experts told POLITICO the CDC should be making a greater effort to educate health providers and the broader public about how to understand the role and limitations of different types of Covid-19 testing. Reducing unnecessary tests could help save supply.

“There’s been a real lack of communication about how to understand results and when to get tested,” said one former HHS official who requested anonymity. “Nobody is really saying, 'Here is how to use testing responsibly.'”

Giroir and lab leaders called on people to more rigorously follow public health measures like physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing to help tamp down the new surge in cases.

“Testing is a vital facet of a public health strategy, but testing alone is not going to stop the spread of the virus,” Khani said. “We must take the actions necessary to contain the virus in all communities.”



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GOP clamors for Trump in Georgia, but he’s MIA


Georgia is at the center of a battle for Senate control. Yet President Donald Trump, America’s omnipresent political commentator, has remained mum.

Two runoff Senate races in Georgia, set for Jan. 5, will determine which party controls Congress’s upper chamber. Marquee political names like Vice President Mike Pence and former President Barack Obama are willing to make Georgia trips to rally supporters. Big donors from both parties are funneling money into the races. The state is even embarking on a hand recount of its presidential ballots as the Trump campaign challenges Georgia’s election results in court.

But back in Washington, Trump has been all but silent on the subject. Outside of a few scattered tweets and retweets about specious claims of voter fraud in Georgia, Trump has made no public remarks about the state or the Senate runoffs there. And there are no plans for him to visit Georgia until at least after the state’s recount is complete. In fact, apart from a silent appearance at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, Trump hasn’t appeared in public since two days after the election, and it’s unclear when he’ll resurface.

His avoidance of the Georgia runoffs has left some Republicans around Trump frustrated that the GOP’s preeminent figure is leaving his party in the lurch at a critical moment. Trump’s rallies and appearances, they argue, are a guaranteed way to drive interest in the state’s two GOP Senate candidates: Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. And, they noted, the Trump campaign’s focus on legally challenging the presidential election has spread out GOP resources and money that some wish would be funneled into Georgia.

“Several people have told him it’s important Loeffler and Perdue win because they will help keep his legacy intact. We’ve made the point to him that Republicans slowly dismantled parts of Obama’s legacy when we had control of the Senate in 2016 and a Democratic Senate would do the same to Trump,” said a Republican close to Trump.

“I’ve told the campaign his only priority should be holding onto the Senate,” the person added. “Frankly, he is losing credibility the more and more we have this fraudulent ballot fight.”

The silence is all the more notable given Trump’s past involvement in Georgia’s Senate politics.

In late 2019, the president personally pressured Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, to appoint Rep. Doug Collins, a close Trump ally, to the vacant Senate seat that Loeffler now occupies. The incident left Trump irritated with Kemp. And Collins is now leading the Trump campaign’s recount efforts in the state.

Indeed, the recount is where the Trump team has focused its attention in the state.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Trump campaign officials praised Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for choosing to conduct a manual recount of ballots cast in the presidential race and said they planned to forge ahead with their plans to reveal voter fraud and voting irregularities, but did not offer additional evidence.

“It’s going to be a process, and people are just going to have to be patient with the ultimate goal of the president being reelected,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh.

President-elect Joe Biden leads Trump by just over 14,000 votes in the state, which faces a Nov. 20 deadline to certify its results. State election officials said the recount would be done by next Wednesday.

Trump aides made a point of separating their recount efforts from broader GOP attempts to rally support for the two Senate runoffs.

“I want to reiterate that the procedure that has been outlined by the secretary of state at our request is not part of a political strategy, but the absolute best opportunity to determine exactly what happened in the state,” said Trump campaign counsel Stefan Passantino.

But the Trump White House is deploying some of its resources to rallying supporters in the Senate races.

At a lunch Tuesday on Capitol Hill with Republican senators, Pence said he would visit Georgia on Nov. 20 and on Twitter shared a video of Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on Fox News saying, “what happens in Georgia is going to determine the future of the United States for the next four years.”

But Jason Miller, a Trump campaign senior adviser, said for now, there are no plans for the president to get involved in the Senate races.

“I would not expect anything prior to his race being decided, but he’ll be supportive to ensure Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue win those races,” Miller said. “If the reported irregularities and concerns with illegally harvested ballots aren’t dealt with ahead of Jan. 5, that could impact Republican chances as well.”

On Thursday morning, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed Trump had no plans to head to the state.

“He hasn't made any determinations on that thus far,” she said, adding that the country would “be hearing from him at the right moment.”

In the two runoffs, Loeffler and Perdue are squaring off against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively, after no candidates were able to secure 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. If Republicans win one of the runoffs, they will secure control of the Senate. Democrats must win both races to gain 50 Senate seats and take back an effective Senate majority (Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would serve as the tie-breaking vote). Given the high stakes, the two races have seen an influx of fundraising dollars and national attention.

Other GOP senators, like Marco Rubio and Rick Scott from nearby Florida, have gotten involved in the races. Rubio attended a “Save Our Majority” rally in Atlanta on Wednesday, and Scott released a new ad in Georgia taking aim at Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“This is literally, you know, the showdown of all showdowns in terms of politics and what it means,” Rubio said. “And we don't want to win one of them, we want to win both of them. We need to win both."

Tens of millions of dollars have poured into the state. One top Republican fundraiser said the party has seen new donors appear, particularly those who did not participate in the 2020 presidential race. High-dollar fundraisers are in the works not only in Georgia, but in Florida as well.

“The people who can tolerate the Biden presidency but not a Democratic majority in the Senate are coming out of the woodwork,” said the fundraiser. “People aren’t in the mood to leave things to chance. There’s a kind of renewed sense of activism from people, especially those who sat out or didn’t write the checks they could have in the presidential campaign.”

A Republican strategist working on the races in Georgia noted that while the president has so far been absent from their runoff efforts in the state, his son, Donald Trump Jr., made a visit. They remain hopeful the president will get involved.

“There has been some activity from Trumpworld, but they’re trying to determine exactly what the president is walking into here because of the recount,” the strategist said.

But with the president, there are risks, said the Republican close to Trump.

“He would probably draw a larger crowd size than even his pre-election rallies,” the person said. “The only concern some people have is that he could say something out of whack on stage that would jeopardize his campaign’s legal challenges.”

Gabby Orr contributed to this report.



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How 2020 Killed Off Democrats’ Demographic Hopes


For years, the Democratic Party has operated under one immutable assumption: Long-term demographic trends would give the party something like a permanent majority as the country as a whole grows less white and more urban. President Donald Trump’s reliance on the politics of racial resentment would only quicken the process, solidifying support for Democrats among people of color.

Then came November 3, 2020. And all those assumptions now seem like total nonsense.

“The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of,” says David Shor, a Democratic polling and data expert who developed the Obama 2012 campaign’s internal election-forecasting system.

Trump, whose approval rating was historically low throughout his tenure as president, increased his support among Black men and Hispanic voters in key swing states, while maintaining his hold on white non-college educated voters. Democrats’ House majority shrank, thanks in part to losses in the suburbs, and split-ticket voting all but disappeared, dooming Democratic Senate candidates in rural, Trump-friendly states. And even while President-Elect Joe Biden is on track to win a higher share of the national popular vote than anyone challenging an incumbent president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the future for Democrats now looks, well, bleak.

“We have an election system that makes it basically impossible for Democrats’ current coalition to ever wield legislative power,” says Shor. “We are legitimately in a position from here on out where we would need to get 54 percent of the popular vote — which we did not even accomplish this time — for multiple cycles in a row, for us to be in a position to really pass laws.”

Since election results began rolling in, Democrats across the ideological spectrum have engaged in a fierce and surprisingly public debate over what went wrong this year and how to reorient the party for the long term. Much of that debate has been informed by ideological preferences. But what would it look like if you approached it from a data-centric perspective?

To get an answer to that question, sort through what a new Democratic coalition could look like and evaluate the most effective strategy to get there, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Shor this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation is below, edited for length and clarity.

The election is over. Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by a substantial margin, but not as large a margin as many polls suggested. Democrats didn’t retake the Senate, and they held onto the House but lost seats. What happened? What are what are your big takeaways?

Yeah, I think there are two separate questions: What actually happened, and why were the polls wrong? We’ll have to see what the final popular vote margin is, but it looks like Biden is going to end up something like 1.5-2 percentage points better than Hillary Clinton in kind of a uniform swing. College-educated white people, in relative terms, swung toward Democrats by a lot, and non-college-educated white people swung, in relative terms, against us. Education polarization ended up being larger than it was in 2016. Hispanic voters swung against us by large margins — though how large and the exact geographic and demographic distribution is going to be unclear until we get more precinct results. That’s the big picture for what happened.

Public polls substantially overestimated the extent to which there would be a uniform swing. They did not project a four-point race nationally. That’s not where the public polls were. With education polarization, most public polls showed it was going to decrease somewhat; few-to-none said it would get larger. The public polling of Hispanic voters did suggest declines [for Democrats] — that was something where reporters really sounded the alarm, though I think it was something people didn’t take super seriously. That said, the decline [in Hispanic support for Democrats] ended up being substantially larger than public polls predicted, even though the polls saw fairly large declines.

On that split between voters who went to college and didn’t: Are we at a high-water mark for the “diploma divide”? And will college suburbanites stay with Democrats, or do you expect them to go back to their GOP after Trump?

There’s a pretty consistent trend: In almost every country in the Western world, the gap between college-educated voters and non-college-educated voters has been steadily increasing for basically the last 60-70 years. There are very strong social currents pushing this change — that as the college-educated share of the population increases, this should naturally incentivize politicians to create cleavages by education.

Politics is fundamentally about splitting the country in half. And if college-educated white people are 4 percent of the electorate, like they were in the immediate post-World War II era, you can’t do that. But if they are 38 or 40 percent, suddenly you can. So, it’s unsurprising that as the education share has gone up, we’ve seen this happen.


If you think mechanically about the reinforcing currents that caused this, as college-educated white people enter the Democratic Party and become an increasingly large share of the Democratic Party while the reverse happens to Republicans, that naturally is going to influence who wins party primaries and what kind of people win internal party fights. In practice — given the fact that college-educated whites donate at disproportionate rates and volunteer at disproportionate rates — I think it’s going to be very hard for Democrats to resist the pull of catering to their preferences, which is naturally going to lead to losing votes among people who aren’t them: not just non-college educated whites, but, as we as we saw this cycle, also non-white voters.

It’s a reasonable expectation that these gaps will continue to grow unless parties make a concerted effort to swim upstream. And even then, it’s probably going to be more about slowing things down or keeping things where they were. I think an underappreciated aspect of Barack Obama is that he actually presided over one of the only periods of educational depolarization. In 2008 and 2012, the education gap actually depolarized, because he did unusually well among non-college whites in the Midwest. And some of that is probably the recession. So, it’s not impossible, but it will be hard.

Over the last week, we’ve seen some vocal disagreement within the Democratic Party over how exactly to appeal to voters in swing areas. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, who narrowly won reelection in Virginia, fumed in a call with other House Democrats that attack ads centering on “defund the police” almost cost her the race, and said she never wanted to hear Dems use the word “socialism” again. At the same time, the left seems to be where a lot of the energy is right now within the party. So, how do Democrats navigate that successfully?

It’s a real challenge. An underappreciated aspect of Democratic politics over the last 10 years — and, to be honest, arguably the last 40 — has been this increasing polarization and decline in ticket-splitting.

In 2006, among Democratic incumbents, there was basically zero correlation between the 2004 presidential vote share and Senate-race vote share: Ben Nelson in Nebraska did better than Bob Menendez in New Jersey. It used to be possible for politicians to stake out these individual brands and win on the basis of those brands. But these correlations are much, much higher now — just to put numbers on it, the correlation was something like -0.02 in 2006, and it’s gone up to something like 0.95. There are a lot of structural reasons for this. The decline of local media and local reporting means people are consuming much more national news. And there’s actually an interesting paper arguing that the rise of broadband and 3G mobile service accelerates political polarization and decreases ticket splitting. I don’t think that’s going to go away.


In 2020, there was this idea that ticket-splitting was going to increase, but actually, there was considerably less ticket-splitting than we were expecting. Democrats really expected our Senate candidates to overperform Biden. That didn’t happen at the rates the public polls suggested they would. There’s a pretty similar story you can tell about the U.S. House. This decline in ticket-splitting means that when people are voting on their local House candidate, they’re increasingly doing that on the basis of the news they read about the national Democratic Party. And this creates a hard tradeoff: It’s no longer true, in a way that might have been true 20 or 30 years ago, that someone in a safe seat can say whatever they want to energize the base without creating consequences in swing districts. Now, that doesn’t mean that Abigail Spanberger, for instance, should control the exact contents of what gets said, but it really highlights the importance of being disciplined and embracing things that are popular and not embracing things that are unpopular. I think that AOC has proposed a lot of things that are incredibly popular. The Loan Shark Prevention Act, which caps credit card interest rates at 15 percent — in the New Progressive Agenda Project polling we did with Sean [McElwee], where we have pro and con arguments, this was one of the most popular policies we ever tested.

But now that we have this increased polarization, we can’t escape that. There are very real tradeoffs to talking about things that aren’t popular. Obviously, there’s a lot of disagreement about what is popular and what isn’t, and polling is hard. It’s very easy to create polls that make single-payer health care popular or background checks [for gun purchases] popular. But then when these things show up at the ballot box in various ways, they end up losing. The things that liberals want — or that the left wants — some of them are very popular and some aren’t, and I think we have to be honest with ourselves about which is which. And that can be difficult, both from a coalition perspective and emotionally, but the importance of it is very high.


You know, there was a point where Republicans were losing a lot of elections because of the failure to impose message discipline. In 2012, Democrats won two Senate seats — and probably more, when you think of the national implications — because Republican politicians made very unpopular statements about reproductive choice.

Since then, they’ve done, I think, a much better job. Even though a lot of Republican activists really want to eliminate the capital-gains taxes or legalize machine guns or make it easier to pollute rivers, they don’t go out and hold their politicians accountable on those issues. They’re not demanding that of Republican politicians. And Ted Cruz isn’t out there tweeting that we need more assault rifles on the streets. He is instead doing message-tested propaganda.

There is a real existential question: What is activism for? What is public communication for? We should be pushing things that we think are going to move voters in a direction that we want. People can have reasonable disagreements about what those things are, but there are some issues that are clearly not on that side.

In Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s interview with the New York Times, much of her critique was about strategy and tactics — spending money online in the closing weeks of the election, or suggesting that Democrats should respond to high levels of white support for Trump by investing in “anti-racist deep canvassing” throughout the country. How should Democrats deal with flagging support among white voters? What does the data say about whether something like “anti-racist deep canvassing” would actually be productive?

The important thing to remember about campaigns, big picture, is this: The average voter in a general election is something like 50 years old — in a midterm or primary, it’s higher. They don’t have a college degree. They watch about six hours of TV a day — that’s the average; there are people who watch more. They generally don’t read partisan media. They still largely get their news from mainstream sources. They’re watching what’s on the ABC Nightly News. Maybe they see some stuff on Facebook, but it’s really mostly from mainstream sources.

You have to center on this person, and think about how they’re interacting with politics. With all of these things, whether canvassing or digital ads, the reality is that people are mostly forming their opinions on the basis of what the press says. This theory has a long history — [political scientist John] Zaller’s “Nature and Origins of Mass Public Opinion” — but it’s true. I don’t think this is a right-wing idea; this is a leftist theory of mass politics that goes back to the 1920s and ’30s radio. If you really want to affect public opinion, you have to do so via scalable media and communication. AOC, to her credit, really embraces this in a way that very few congresspeople do — talking to Vogue, being active on Instagram

In 2016, we didn’t lose because our get-out-the-vote lists were not sorted well enough. And it wasn’t that we had the wrong kind of digital targeting. We lost because, big picture, we ran a campaign that increased the salience of immigration at a time when marginal voters in swing states in the Midwest disagreed with us on immigration. That’s why we lost. Obviously, it was a close election, and maybe you could have done something different and gotten 0.4 points more in Wisconsin. But big picture, that is what happened. And I think it’s important to not miss the forest for the trees. There are reasonable debates people have about the cost-effectiveness of canvassing or how much we should be spending on digital ads, but ultimately, that’s not what determines elections.


One of my old bosses said that politics is like you’re in a hot-air balloon. A lot of the stuff that you deal with day-to-day — microtargeting models or digital ads or whatever — that’s just throwing sandbags on and off; the thing that really determines where you go is the weather. In politics, the important thing is to do what you can to change the weather, which is very hard. Most of what determines the “weather,” the national media environment, are these big structural forces — the economy, anti-incumbency, cultural forces, whether it’s what’s in the media or the country getting more educated or secular over time. But campaigns and activists do have the ability to shape media narratives about what gets talked about and what doesn’t. From an electoral perspective, those are the most important decisions campaigns and activists make, and that creates a real responsibility on the part of everyone involved.

When you look at “defund the police” specifically, there was a real movement among educated, liberal people in the media and among activists across a broad swath of the left to elevate this issue and get folks to talk about it. And there are pros and cons to doing that. I’m not going to claim that I know what the right thing to do is — sometimes, it makes sense to talk about unpopular issues. But we should acknowledge that in practice, those decisions to elevate the salience of certain issues and reduce it on other issues — those decisions are actually something campaigns and activists have a lot of control over. And they are going to end up influencing vote share much more than any decision that any individual campaign makes about what digital vendors they use, or how many digital ads they use versus what TV ads they use.

Ultimately, in this hyperpolarized world, what national media outlets choose to talk about is going to be much more important in determining whether [Democratic Congressman] Collin Peterson survives in Minnesota’s 7th district than anything he does. That’s just the reality. [This month, Peterson lost his bid for reelection.]

Georgia now seems like it’s more winnable statewide for a Democrat than Florida. How did that happen?

An underappreciated part of what has happened in Florida is that domestic migration really hurts Democrats’ chances. I think [Republican pollster] Patrick Ruffini once referred to it as the endless Red Army waves of white retirees moving to Florida every year. My best guess is that people moving into Florida since 2016 was worth a 1-point decline [in Democrats’ vote share]. It’s actually a very serious thing. Obviously, there’s international migration, too. And, of course, it has a very large Hispanic population, and there was a large swing there.


Florida is a very instructive push back against this idea of demographics as destiny. More than twice as many Florida voters cast ballots in 2020 as did in 2000. The Florida electorate is substantially less white than it was in in 2000. And yet, it is more Republican than it was 20 years ago. The reason that happened is that basically there used to be a bunch of rural white people in northern Florida who voted for Democrats, and that kind of stopped. Then, at the same time, the non-white population at first trended toward Democrats, and now it is turning against us. There are a lot of different factors.

When you look at Georgia, basically, we kind of bottomed out with rural white people over the past 20 years. So, there wasn’t much more bottoming out to do, so there is a lot of room to grow. The real story behind Georgia, much more than demographic inflow, is just these enormous swings in the Atlanta suburbs, which make up most of the state. There are a bunch of precincts where Obama got 30 percent of the vote, where now Trump got 30 percent of the vote — absolutely wild swings in these highly educated suburbs. That’s most of the story.

In both 2018 and 2020, you see the Black share of the electorate dropping or staying steady, and the support for Democrats among Black and non-white voters in general also dropping, but then support among college-educated white people and turnout among college-educated white people being off the charts. And that is the story: We had already bottomed out among non-college educated whites, and had a lot of room to grow among college-educated whites. And there wasn’t a large Hispanic population, like in Texas, so we had big gains among college-educated whites, and there wasn’t this large base of Hispanic voters to temper that increase.

Let’s talk about that. What happened in Texas’ border counties, where we saw this Hispanic surge for Trump?

I want to be honest and say that I don’t really know.

That’s totally fine.

I’ll still talk! [Laughter] I just want to be clear that I have a lot less certainty.

There was an initial tendency to say, “Oh, of course we lost Cubans in Florida,” or “In the Rio Grande Valley, they’re all very conservative.” But within Texas, we also fell tremendously in Hispanic precincts in Houston; there were substantial drops in Hispanic support for Democrats in the northeast, around Massachusetts; same thing in Osceola County, Florida, which is predominantly Puerto Ricans who live near Orlando. In large swaths of the country, there was a pretty broad-based decline. Looking at precincts in Miami-Dade specifically, the decline was basically the same for Cuban precincts and non-Cuban precincts — it was a little bit larger in Cuban precincts, but not by very much.

What’s really interesting is that this change was reflected down-ballot. That’s actually very surprising. In 2016, there were a lot of areas that swung 20 points against Democrats — rural, white working-class areas — but still voted for Democratic Senate, House and state legislative candidates. This year, in a lot of Hispanic areas, down-ballot Democrats got slaughtered. In Florida, we lost Hispanic House seats, and on the state-legislative level, it was pretty brutal. There was a congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley [Texas’ 15th district] that we had won by 20 points in 2018 and 2016, and this time only won by 3 points. It’s possible that politics is just different now in 2020 than in 2016, but that really tells me that this was a change in party ID more than anything specifically that Trump or Biden did.


There is a broader trend, though, that as college-educated white people become a larger share of the Democratic coalition and a larger share of the Democratic voice, they do pull the party on cultural issues. Non-college educated white people have more culturally in common with working-class Black and working-class Hispanic voters. So, it should be unsurprising that as the cultural power of college-educated white people increases in the Democratic Party, non-white voters will move against us.

Among Black men and Hispanic voters overall, there was an increase in support for Donald Trump in 2020. Do you see those voters coming back to the Democrats, or does the GOP become sort of a pan-racial, anti-cosmopolitan party?

The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of. But I think it’s worth remembering that both Black and Hispanic voters are still an overwhelmingly Democratic group, though Hispanic voters by a lot less than they were four or eight years ago.


In terms of whether these trends will continue or not, I think that when it comes to African Americans, there is this very real question: How sustainable is it to get 95 percent of the vote within a racial or ethnic group for long periods of time? And I think the answer is that it probably isn’t. If you look at these long-term structural factors, the reason why there are all of these culturally conservative African Americans who vote for Democrats is that, in the same way that there are a lot of economically liberal, non-college educated white people who vote for Republicans, there are these social institutions that kind of transmute identity with party politics. And if you look at what the big predictors are, what those institutions are among Black voters and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic voters, you’re looking at churches. You’re looking at a lot of community organizations that are declining in power. And you also have this broader trend of racial integration and intermarriage.

So, the long-term trend probably is toward racial depolarization. And I think that’s really interesting and surprising. Racial [political] polarization had been steadily increasing from 1992 up until 2016; 2016 is when it reversed course, and a lot of people thought that was an aberration. But 2018 and 2020 show it’s not. It is very strange, in some ways, that Donald Trump kicked off an era of racial depolarization.

I think the trends causing that will probably continue. But predictions about the future are very hard.


Given that, is it time to admit that this longstanding prediction of an “emerging Democratic majority” — with this inevitable demographic and geographic destiny for the left — is incorrect?

I’ll say that there are some positive things the Democratic Party has going for it. Age polarization is really working in our favor; I think it’s clear that the gap between young voters and older voters is substantially larger than it has been. And it seems like Zoomers even more liberal than Millennials, though there might be some interesting gender gaps between men and women there; Zoomer men might actually be more conservative. But these age gaps are very large.

Structurally, some of the factors that traditionally have been theorized to make people more conservative as they age — having kids, getting married, etc. — are complicated. Fertility rates are substantially lower than they were 10 or 15 years ago, to the point where it is statistically important. And at the same time, the median age at first marriage is like a decade higher than it was 15 years ago. That means that Democrats have more time and can own a longer part of voters’ life cycles. The flip side of that is that there’s always a dialectic with these things. It would have been very easy in 2004 to say, “Look at Florida: We won young people, and we lost old people, so in 20 years, we’re going to win.” And clearly that didn’t happen.

The other part of the good news, I think, is that now that highly educated people are so Democratic, this is going to influence how the media covers Democrats, since journalists are generally very educated, and the world is run by highly educated people. So, at multiple levels, whether it’s the boardroom or whatever, there are probably some long-term benefits. And that’s reflected in terms of Democrats raising more money now.

The flipside is that we have an election system that makes it basically impossible for Democrats’ current coalition to ever wield legislative power. Non-college educated whites are highly represented at every single level of government, and we are currently fighting elections on state legislative maps, congressional maps, an Electoral College map and a Senate map that are ludicrously unfavorable for us. We are legitimately in a position from here on out where we would need to get 54 percent of the popular vote — which we did not even accomplish this time — for multiple cycles in a row, for us to be in a position to really pass laws. That’s pretty bad.


We need to change the nature of our coalition if we want to wield legislative power. It’s possible that maybe the Republican Party will just really mess up. But we just had basically the most unpopular Republican president since Nixon, and Democrats were not able to capture the kind of legislative majorities we need to affect change. That highlights the need for us to try to change the nature of our coalition.

That’s not saying anything new to anyone who works in Democratic politics. Everyone from Bernie Sanders to Chuck Schumer to Nancy Pelosi — they would all love to have more working-class white votes. It’s a big question of how you actually do that, but if we care about enacting legislative majorities, the alternatives to us making these changes are bleak.

Broadly speaking, the choices Trump made in 2016 — embracing nationalism, chasing voters with high levels of racial resentment, having a very class-loaded language and speaking in ways that really educated people hate and uneducated people don’t hate as much — it’s kind of clear that was a good trade. It’s something a lot of people in the Republican Party didn’t like, but they know it was a good trade. They can see that they have these near-permanent structural advantages in the Senate and in all of these state legislatures. So, I’m skeptical that they will change course.

In this election, what percentage of the electorate was made up of people who support Trump but are otherwise generally disaffected from politics? And do you have a sense whether they’ll turn out for anyone else — for instance, will they turn out for the GOP candidates and in the Georgia special elections in January when Trump isn’t on the ballot?

In general, I think people really overestimate the importance of turnout in high-turnout elections. It’s definitely true that turnout was higher in 2020 than in 2016. But it’s clear, looking at the county results, that for the most part, these new voters were Democrats and Republicans in roughly equal numbers.

The story for this turnout increase is less about the mobilization efforts of either Democrats or Republicans; it’s that interest in politics increased in general. You saw this when you polled people and asked how closely they’re following things — it was much higher than four years ago. We’ve had a four-year period where everyone has been very intensely interested in politics. And we’ve never really seen that kind of permanent mobilization before. It’s led to record fundraising numbers, and a record number of protests, and more people running for office, and politics has become higher-status.

But it’s an interesting question whether things are going to depolarize with Biden. If so, will interest in politics go down? My guess is it probably will. And the question is just how far down. Are we going to go back to what we saw in 2012, or is it going to be somewhere in between? Or maybe there’s going to be government shutdowns every week and everybody’s going to really care. But if interest does go down, all indications are that this is going to happen in a pretty symmetrical way.

I still think mobilization in general is good for Democrats, but it’s a much less clear trade than it used to be, and in whiter parts of the country, it really might not be true at all. In terms of the partisan implications, I expect the effects to be small. The reality is that most of the change from election to election is people changing their minds, not who voted. The exception to this is in low-turnout elections, and, historically, Democrats get slaughtered in off-year elections. Over the Obama years, the lower the turnout was in off-years, the worse Democrats did. But our coalition is very different now.

Last question: Does Trumpism work without Trump?

People have really strong opinions on this. Four years ago, large swaths of the country swung heavily against Democrats — rural, working-class counties. A lot of those places, Obama had won. But even the ones Obama hadn’t, they had a variety of Democratic congressmen, state legislators, senators. And over the past four years, most of them have lost office. If you look at Democrats’ state-legislative performance in 2018 and 2020, most rural Democrats have gotten defeated. And so, I think the baseline should be that there is this large group of voters who used to vote with us but now have voted for many, many Republicans who are not Donald Trump. And that will probably continue.

The fact that there was more education polarization this cycle should be a little concerning in that regard. It’s possible that there will be a new set of candidates, and this will create a new kind of new kind of growth. But the general trend both here and across Western democracies is that education polarization has continued to increase, and I’m skeptical that the Republicans will have problems finding a candidate who can continue that trend.

But, of course, party leadership is weird. Maybe you can imagine primaries or incredibly chaotic events, and then Jon Huntsman somehow becomes the nominee in a 13-way field. History is chaotic.



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Could Trump Really Hold On? Why Experts Aren’t Worried


This week, as President Donald Trump persisted in claiming election fraud in the absence of hard evidence, Politico Magazine asked a dozen experts in election law if they saw reason to doubt that Joe Biden would duly be inaugurated in January. Could the election results be illegitimate? If not, is there a chance Trump would find a way to game the system anyway? And what’s the biggest weak spot in the process from here on?

Normally when we survey experts, we’ll get a range of answers—a breadth that reflects their backgrounds and particular corners of expertise. Not this time. In what might offer some reassurance to the members of both parties who are ready to accept the state results and move on, they all resoundingly said they’re confident Biden will be sworn in come January, and that the legal challenges Trump and his supporters are currently mounting are meritless.

“There is simply no evidence of fraud. Nor is there any other realistic basis for altering the apparent outcome,” wrote Steven F. Huefner, a law professor at the Ohio State University. That assessment was backed up by Lawrence Douglas, a law professor at Amherst College who has for more than a year been studying what could go wrong with this election. He saw “no reason whatsoever to question the legitimacy of the process or the trustworthiness of the results.”

As for other gamesmanship from Trump’s camp: “I have tried to imagine how he could even possibly accomplish” stopping Biden’s inauguration, wrote Lisa Manheim, author of The Limits of Presidential Power: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law. “And I just can’t figure it out.”

But that doesn’t mean what’s happening will be smooth, or that the long-term consequences don’t matter. The experts nearly all mentioned that in questioning the results of an election with no evidence of fraud, and in drafting much of his own party to play along, the president is playing with fire. Our system, once shaken like this, may not be the same.

Here’s how they broke the process down—and what they’re worried about next.

What about pending lawsuits, or state recounts?

Since the election, lawyers have filed nearly 20 lawsuits in support of Trump, alleging fraud in several states. Some suits have been dismissed already; some are still pending, and they may well continue. Based on what they’ve seen, our group of experts said this avenue is likely to fizzle.

“None of the cases would affect enough votes to swing a key state, and Trump’s goofball legal strategy would have to flip three,” wrote Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Judges won’t decide this election.”


Manheim, a law professor at the University of Washington, says the weakness of the president’s case starts with the legal claims themselves: “It’s not clear that Trump even understands the basic logic of a lawsuit,” she wrote. “To win a case, you need a claim, evidence and a remedy. Legal claims cannot be based on freewheeling tirades. They cannot be premised on unsubstantiated accusations. And they cannot support requests for relief that extend far beyond the scope of the claim.”

Matthew Seligman, who is currently teaching a class on disputed presidential elections at Harvard Law, had similar questions about the basis of the suits, and their likely impact. “Most of President Trump’s lawsuits don’t even allege that votes were incorrectly or unlawfully counted, instead challenging procedural minutiae like how many feet away observers could stand from the counting tables. Those few lawsuits that do make legal claims that could change vote totals also won’t ultimately change the results, because even if they win in court (which is doubtful) they would affect far too few ballots to close the current vote margins. Neither the president nor anyone else has put forward a scintilla of evidence of tens of thousands of unlawfully cast or counted ballots.”

“This was not actually a particularly close election,” University of Kentucky law professor Joshua A. Douglas wrote. “It looked close initially only because of the order in which some states counted ballots. … The process took a little while so election officials could process ballots to ensure there was no fraud. It is pretty hypocritical to now claim that that slower vote count suggests massive fraud.”


As for recounts, which will occur in at least Georgia and potentially Wisconsin? “Some states will hold recounts, as states do in almost every election,” wrote Seligman. “Those recounts are exceptionally unlikely to change the results in even one state. No recount in history has closed anything close to the gap that President Trump is facing in numerous states he would have to win.”

“Elections are conducted by humans, and humans make mistakes, so I would expect vote totals to change at the margins. But credible allegations of widespread fraud and/or official misconduct that would upset election results have not surfaced,” wrote Rebecca Green, law professor and co-director of the Election Law Program at William & Mary. “Diligent and committed election administrators nationwide and the hundreds of thousands of poll workers and election observers rose to the challenge: conducting a smooth election in a pandemic.”

“Speaking as a legal matter,” wrote Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine and a CNN election law analyst, “there is every reason to believe that Congress will count electoral college votes favoring Joe Biden on January 6, and under the 20th Amendment Trump will be out of office on January 20—no matter what he says.”

OK, but could Trump use other constitutional mechanisms to alter the outcome?

As Trump’s legal strategy appears less and less likely to affect the election outcome, attention has shifted to the process for choosing presidential electors, a normally smooth behind-the-scenes process that some Republicans now want to upend for the sake of keeping Trump in office.


Seligman sees the electors as “the most vulnerable point in the process from here to Inauguration Day,” but finds it unlikely that rogue legislatures will successfully manage to appoint pro-Trump electors in a state that voted for Biden. “That would almost certainly be a violation of federal election law and the Constitution, and luckily some critical state legislative leaders have so far ruled it out.”

New York University constitutional law professor Richard Pildes similarly sees this as the real Trump strategy as unlikely as it is to bear fruit: “The Trump campaign can’t have any hope of overturning in the courts the popular vote in three states, based on what it has filed so far. These suits have a different audience and a different aim: to shape a ‘lost cause’ narrative and to set Republican legislatures up to defy the popular vote in their states and claim the authority to appoint electors themselves. No state legislature has ever done that since the law governing the electoral college process was passed in 1887, and even if one or more did that this year, there are further steps in the process that would block those actions from having any effect on the outcome.”


Florida State University law professor Michael Morley pointed to weaknesses in the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which guides how Congress counts electoral votes and determines the winner. “The ECA is written in archaic language, is ambiguous in several crucial respects and leaves some key issues unresolved,” he wrote. One issue, for example, is that “it is unclear whether Congress may, or even must, reject votes cast by so-called ‘faithless electors’” who vote against their own state’s presidential choice. Nevertheless, Morley is confident that “based on the current electoral college projections and the vote tallies within the swing states, it appears extremely unlikely that the ECA’s deficiencies will impact the results of this election. It remains a serious problem, however—one that Congress should seek to address well in advance of future presidential elections.”

According to Hasen, who wrote Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy: “Trump cannot litigate his way to victory; the only path would be a brute force political one that would disregard the rule of law. Any strategy based upon trying to get Republican state legislators to try to stop the certification of the vote and appoint their own slate of electors would be a legally unsupported naked power play. State legislatures would only have the power at this point to appoint 2020 electors if voters failed to make a choice on Election Day. But voters did make a choice, and it would be a violation of the rule of law and democratic norms to try to get state legislatures to overturn the will of the people.”

Does it matter that Trump refuses to concede, as he has done so far?

“The lack of a concession,” Manheim suggested, “reflects little more than a sitting president grappling with a reality he cannot abide.”

“I am cautiously optimistic that Trump’s autocratic response to his defeat will not lead to a larger crisis of succession,” wrote Lawrence Douglas. “Conceding defeat is a normative act, in which the conceding candidate acknowledges—and accepts—the legitimacy of his opponent’s victory. Submitting to defeat, by contrast, is merely a tactical, de facto recognition that further fight is futile. I see Trump ultimately submitting to defeat without ever conceding.”

If the consensus is that the transfer of power will eventually work out, is there any real problem with how this is all playing out?

Here, again, our experts were united: Yes, there is.

“The real goal” of the president’s challenges, Joshua Douglas asserted, “is to undermine people’s confidence in the legitimacy of the election.”

And that could take our democracy to an unstable new phase. “Elections are the very essence of our democracy, and they are predicated on one fundamental principle: that the loser will accept the loss. If that principle no longer holds, neither does democratic government,” wrote Huefner.

“Even if the court challenges to the election fail—as we expect they will—the baseless attacks on the legitimacy of how the election has been conducted will have long-term effects on the health of our democracy,” wrote Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.



The dysfunction isn’t just about Trump: It has deeper roots in how the parties have worked the gaps in our aging constitution, wrote American University law professor Robert Tsai. “I don’t have much doubt Joe Biden will be sworn into office on January 20. But we shouldn’t simply clap our hands and say the system is healthy because it worked this time,” he wrote. “In a POLITICO poll, 70 percent of Republican voters now say they don’t think the election was fair, while 86 percent of Democrats trust the results. This bifurcated perception further strains a constitutional system rendered dysfunctional by the politics of partisan entrenchment and could stymie the reform we need to break out of our cycle of political gridlock and popular disillusionment.”

“Too many voters now believe that up is down, and doubt that Biden actually won,” wrote Waldman.

“Asserting that we must await the conclusion of all court proceedings before acknowledging the winner is a deliberate attempt to undermine public acceptance of the result,” Huefner adds. “This is now the greatest worry arising from the 2020 election, and it should be called out for the cynical, irresponsible and destructive ploy that it is.”



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