Good Friday Morning, and welcome to the 2020 Presidential General Election. We still have conventions to watch over the next couple of weeks but with the selection of Senator Kamala Harris to the VP slot of the Democratic ticket, we now have the candidates who will duke it out for the November election.
Also released is Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast model. They have Biden with a 71% chance of winning, to Trump’s 29% — almost a one in three shot for Trump. Notably, this is where Silver’s model ended for the 2016 election with Clinton/Trump. Biden’s national poll average is larger than Clinton’s, but his battleground state lead is around the same. We’re probably looking at a large Biden blowout or a slim Trump lead as the two most likely scenarios. Not much is new.
This week I’m writing about Kamala Harris’s impact on the race, and why I think she’s a potential drag on the ticket in Trump’s favor. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Trump needs to turn Biden’s strength into a weakness – The Conservative Institute.
Trump’s coronavirus executive orders are legal – and smart politics – The Conservative Institute.
The Vice Presidential Selection Process is over…
My short take on Biden’s VP: It’s a bad choice. He should have gone with Sen. Cory Booker. Harris is dead weight on the campaign, and will likely cost Biden the race. I think she opens up a viable path of victory for Trump.
There’s going to be a lot of ink spilled over the past positions and flip-flops of Sen. Kamala Harris over the next few weeks, at least until the convention. The internet being the internet, everything came out at once yesterday with news sites trying to get clicks by publishing ready-to-go pieces on her. Harris was the consensus pick for a reason, and who I thought would end up getting it. Where I want to start on this story, though, is not Tuesday, when Biden announced. I want to start two weeks ago when the Harris pick leaked.
The media knew the pick well ahead of time.
Now, we do have to acknowledge upfront that media organizations in these VP hunts will pre-write announcement articles for all possibilities. Politico had one of those written for Harris, which they released, but wasn’t just a garden variety story. Politico published an announcement that included a quote from Joe Biden, that called Harris “a worthy opponent and worthy running mate.” The same day, The Associated Press released a picture of Joe Biden’s talking points before a speech. The top of the notes included several talking points about Harris, while the VP section was more generic.
On July 28th, two weeks ago, it seems clear that Harris was already the choice. After that, we got a lot of stories about the importance of all these other candidates. You can read that in a bunch of different ways. My view is this: 1) Harris was the early pick. 2) Many in the media knew she was the pick. 3) Politico had a quote from the Biden camp ready to go, knowing the pick was in. 4) The last two weeks with talks of Karen Bass and Susan Rice were used to kick up dust and make Harris seem more moderate and pragmatic, and the media played along with it.
In short, there’s evidence that the media is working with the Biden campaign on these kinds of stories. And it’s not just the pre-Harris decision stories that prove that point.
Harris had a chance in the primaries to run as a pragmatic choice. She refused and bizarrely went after the Bernie/Warren wing of the party. That didn’t stop newspapers like the NYT calling Harris pragmatic and moderate when Biden announced her. It’s a deliberate choice to mislead the public. They want to cast Trump-Pence as the extremists, and Biden-Harris as the sensible moderates, which is something neither Biden nor Harris is to any degree.
Enjoy the glowing profiles of Harris. I fully expect the media to try and put up the protective bubble around her, saying any attacks are sexist, racist, or right-wing conspiracies (or all the above). They’re going to build her up into something she isn’t.
Harris, Democrats, and Black voters.
The thing is, I only think this works on the white, woke readership of the New York Times. Harris is not an unknown quantity. Tim Alberta, arguably one of the best journalists out there right now, had a long conversation with a group of black voters in Detroit a few weeks back. It’s a fascinating piece in Politico Magazine. At one point, though, he asked them about Biden’s VP slot, and this is what they said (the article was published on 06/24/2020):
Then she turned to the issue of a vice-presidential selection, noting that Biden had pledged to pick a woman as his running mate. After rattling off some names, she asked everyone, “What about Amy Klobuchar?”
“You mean Amy Cooper?” cracked Tenisha Yancey.
The table shook with laughter. Cooper, a well-to-do white woman, had gained infamy weeks earlier for calling the cops on a Black man who was birdwatching in Central Park, alleging—falsely— that he had threatened her life even though he’d only asked that she put her dog on a leash. Video of the incident, which was viewed tens of millions of times, captured the worst stereotypes of white America and its expectation that law enforcement would take its side to the detriment of Black people.
Yancey, a state representative whose district covers parts of Detroit and Gross Pointe Woods, waved her hands to silence the commotion. “Nah, nah. Nothing against Amy Klobuchar. I’m just sayin’—that’s the mentality of the liberal white woman.”
“I’m not even going there with Amy Cooper,” said Brandi Neal, the city of Detroit employee. “I’m gonna do like Michelle: Take the high road.”
“Michelle! Now that’s who Biden should pick,” Yancey shouted, referring to the former first lady, with whom all these women were on a first-name basis. “If he puts Michelle on the ticket, everybody turns out.”
This much the table agreed on. But there was no such unanimity on Biden’s actual shortlist. In fact, the harshest criticisms were reserved for the person widely viewed as the frontrunner, California Senator Kamala Harris.
“She’s fake. She’s phony. She’s not one of us. She built a political career by over-prosecuting Black kids,” Neal said.
Yancey agreed: “You know, back when I was a prosecutor, my bosses would always say, ‘We’re not social workers.’ But as Black women, we should have some of that social worker sensibility. Kamala wasn’t like that.”
Interestingly, the consensus favorite at this table of Black women wasn’t a Black woman. It wasn’t a woman at all. It was Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator. The ladies all believe Biden made a mistake by ruling out a man for the job. “Now look, it shouldn’t be two white men,” Gay-Dagnogo clarified. “But don’t patronize us, thinking you’ll get our votes just because you pick a woman, or a woman of color.”
I bolded that first line. It’s a crucial part of the exchange. They’re describing how they view Harris — and it’s fake and phony. The piece got published in June, and the Harris primary campaign was long over. The Harris campaign ended the day Tulsi Gabbard eviscerated Harris on the exact points the people in Albert’s piece above note: Harris over-prosecuted and did so to obtain power.
Someone in the Trump communications shop read that same piece. The first attack ad they released on Twitter explicitly targeted Harris on the phony angle. The ad cleverly says that Democratic voters rejected Harris because she was a phony. In contrast, Biden wasn’t smart enough to spot the same kind of phoniness. Phony Kamala doesn’t have the same ring as past nicknames — but it targets a genuine and potentially deep mistrust of Harris with a critical demographic that 2020 Biden must outperform 2016 Clinton in to have a shot at winning.
How both parties view Black voters is wrong.
The second bolded point in the Alberta piece is where I want to focus next. We have a problem in American politics in how we treat black voters. Both parties do it, both parties think this way, and it’s exactly wrong. The belief is this: black voters will vote more for anyone who is black. Throw a black person on the ticket, and you’ve got the vote. Or get someone connected intimately with the black community (Hilary to Bill, Biden to Obama), and you’ll get an automatic connection.
This is wrong, it’s patronizing, and it shows neither party cares one bit about going out and winning a key segment of the electorate in American politics. At least partially, Hilary Clinton lost in 2016 because she took blacks for granted, and she dropped Obama-level support. She thought she could cruise by on the merits of Bill Clinton’s success in the 90s and the post-Obama wave. That was false. Biden won South Carolina because of black voters — that does not mean he’s going to get the Obama, or even a Clinton level margin in November.
Votes are earned, not given. In the pre-Harris announcement, FiveThirtyEight had a podcast episode where they talked about a potential issue in Biden naming a black woman to the ticket: tokenization. That the perception around a nomination like Harris wouldn’t be that she was qualified, but instead that she’s the token black person to get black voters on board. The only problem with this mindset? It probably won’t work. FiveThirtyEight also points out that there’s little empirical evidence Harris will boost black vote margins:
The percentage of Black voting-eligible people who cast ballots was significantly higher in 2008 (65 percent) and 2012 (66 percent), when there was a Black candidate on the ticket, compared to 2004 and 2016 (both around 60 percent) when there was not. Some political science research shows that Black people vote at higher rates when a Black candidate is on the ballot, although that finding is somewhat contested, and that research is about voting for a Black candidate at the top of the ticket, not a white candidate with a Black running mate.
So it’s not a crazy idea that Harris might boost the ticket with Black voters. It has some empirical basis. But I think the stronger case, at least based on what we know right now, is that she won’t have much of an effect in terms of Black voters.
Why not? First of all, while it happened in 2008 and 2012, it’s just really hard for Democrats to get that much more support from Black voters, who even in elections like 2004 or 2016 vote at fairly high rates(significantly higher than Asian American or Hispanic voters) and overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates.
Second, it’s not 2008 or 2012, when Black voters had the chance to elect and then reelect the first Black President. Third, Harris herself seems unlikely to particularly excite Black voters. This is not a random guess — Harris ran for President for much of last year and was not the preferred candidate of older Black voters in the Democratic primary (that was Biden) or younger Black voters (that was Sanders or Warren in earlier stages of the race). Obama, in contrast, had very strong Black support during his 2008 primary run, previewing what would happen in his two general election campaigns.
That’s Democrats. On the flip side, you have Republicans helping Kanye West’s bid for President. The sole goal for them is to get black voters to cast a ballot for Kanye West, thus hurting Joe Biden’s chances. Suppose you believe Trump can’t/won’t win with black voters. In that case, the only other option is to either use negative advertising to get them to stay home (the Kamala ad) or shrink the vote totals by getting them to vote for Kanye.
It’s the same line of thinking that Democrats are using — Biden-Harris to win back a demographic — only with a celebrity.
It should be no wonder then that black voters view both parties will equal scorn right now. On the side, you have Trump, whose views on race are like something out of 1970s television. And on the other, you have a Democratic Party that has convinced itself that blacks will vote for them no matter what, and there’s little reason to go after them.
Joe Biden got chosen by black voters. Kamala Harris did not. She got rejected. That matters. Echelon Insights, a right-leaning polling firm, studied potential matchups in late-March, early-April. They found Klobuchar helped the most, leading to a 49%-40% Biden vs. Trump. Biden-Harris fared worse at 47% to Trump-Pence at 42%. Harris shaved two points off the Biden lead, making it a five-point lead.
And those are only national numbers. It’s a different ballgame in the battleground states. Trump always fares better in these states. Nate Silver released his election model, which currently has Trump with the exact same odds in 2020 of winning as he did at the end of the 2016 race — 29% to Biden’s 71% (almost 1 in 3). Silver’s model is far more cautious than other models out there, and he gave this reason why:
Still, as a rough rule-of-thumb, perhaps you can subtract 2 points from Biden’s current lead in national polls to get a sense for what his standing in the tipping point states looks like. Add it all up, and you can start to see why the model is being fairly cautious. Biden’s current roughly 8-point lead in national polls is really more like a 6-point lead in the tipping point states. And 6-point leads in August are historically not very safe.
Everything from Trump’s job approval to poll standing is better in battleground states. We witnessed a similar dynamic during the impeachment hearings. Polls of battleground states like Wisconsin showed Trump performing around 2-5 points better than in the national averages.
What am I saying? Play this thought experiment with me: Biden’s 8 point lead is 2 points lower in battleground states, bringing it to 6 points. Harris sinks the campaign another 2 points, bringing us to 4 points. That’s a much closer race than what national polls indicate. Finally, sprinkle in the chaos that Dave Wasserman points out could ensue from mail-in ballots, where Democrats lose more of an edge. Hilary Clinton won the “popular vote” by 2.1 points. I could easily see Biden winning by ~3 points and still losing the electoral college.
Oh, and for fun, just note that the RealClearPolitics average of battleground states shows Biden with a 4.3 point lead right now, slightly less than Clinton’s 4.7 point lead at this time in 2016. The margins we’re talking about here are closer than people think — and if the race tightens (which I think it will), election narratives are going to change fast. Watch Kamala Harris’s people if the race tightens. She wants a political future, whether Biden wins or loses. She or her people will absolutely knife Biden in the back if things go sideways.
What I’m describing is a perfect storm, of sorts, that could reelect Trump. Biden obviously has a clearer path to reelection. But we witnessed a perfect storm in 2016. And if you wanted a puzzle piece that could help lock in the storm of events needed to reelect Trump, I’d have said Harris was one of them. Either her or Elizabeth Warren.
To use a poker analogy, Trump needs to draw another inside straight. In 2016, the Comey announcement at the end of the campaign was Trump’s final card to pull off the miracle. He may need another one of those hands again. But if he does, Kamala Harris dragging Biden’s campaign down would be one of the precursor cards Trump needed. He just got it.
Tighten your chinstrap.
Links of the week
[August 2019] How San Francisco’s Wealthiest Families Launched Kamala Harris: At splashy weddings, charity balls, and all the right restaurants, she hobnobbed with San Francisco’s moneyed elite—and made lasting allies who backed her at every stage of her political career. – Michael Kruse, Politico Magazine
Why the UAE Chose to Normalize Relations With Israel: The agreement reflects two important realities in the Middle East. – Eli Lake, Bloomberg Opinion
National Nuclear Lab’s Employees Sent to Seminar That Claimed ‘Rugged Individualism’ and ‘Hard Work’ Are ‘White Male Culture’ – The seminar for Sandia Labs executives also involved writing apology letters to marginalized people. – Robby Soave, Reason Magazine
My dad wanted his work to continue: Here’s how we, his team, are going to honor his wish – Dr. Melanie Cain Gallo, Herman Cain’s website.
I had COVID-19, and these are the things nobody tells you – Bill Plaschke, LA Times
How Houston Defied Doomsday COVID Predictions – Tobias Hoonhout, National Review
Did Hillary Clinton’s Emails Include Evidence of Child Sex Trafficking? No. – Alec Dent, The Dispatch
It’s Way Too Soon To Count Trump Out – Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight
How Young Conservatives Can Topple Woke Ideology – Avi Woolf, ISI
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Report: Kamala Harris Already Vetting VP Picks – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!