In this edition: Trump’s Blue Lives campaign, the aftermath of the Massachusetts primary, and the moderators for this year’s presidential debates.
Nature is healing, and Joe Biden is campaigning in a swing state by saying something he shouldn’t say. This is The Trailer.
The national media spotlight did not flatter Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth. He was pilloried for not immediately watching the cellphone video of Jacob Blake’s shooting, even though it was the spark for the city’s unrest. He’d watched remarks made two years go viral, though he’d already apologized for saying that shoplifters who’d fled the police were “garbage” who should be “warehoused” and prevented from breeding.
On Tuesday, Beth joined business leaders, politicians and other law enforcement professionals at a roundtable with President Trump. He thanked the president for delivering the resources Kenosha needed, and he added another note of gratitude.
“Thank you for being the president that likes law enforcement,” the sheriff said. “On behalf of law enforcement, I’m telling you, the group that’s here, I hope you could feel the love that they have for you, and everybody who came.”
Until 2020, the idea that there might be a different kind of president, one who didn’t “like” law enforcement, would have made no sense. Trump’s two general election opponents, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, were accused by activists of siding too frequently with police, supporting massive increases in law enforcement funding and spreading racist myths about crime.
Both of them moved hard toward overhauling policing, and away from their priorities in a higher-crime era, in their runs for president. Trump has moved in the other direction, defending police, warning of the threat posed to them by left-wing activists and embracing the “Blue Lives Matter” brand. He gives speeches flanked by police officers, intervenes when companies restrict pro-police messaging, and constantly contrasts his praise for law enforcement with Democrats who want policy changes or budget cuts.
“I have the endorsement of, like, so many — maybe everybody,” Trump said in Kenosha of the police. “Frankly, I think they’re incredible people. They want to do the right thing. It’s a tough job. It’s a dangerous job. But I have to say this to the police: The people of our country love you. You don’t hear that. You don’t hear it from them. But the people of our country love you.”
The Biden-Trump battle over “law and order” has often been more about messaging and emphasis than content or policy. While the Trump campaign has released five law enforcement “promises” for a second term, its pledge to “fully fund and hire more police and law enforcement officers” has no further details. Biden, who has highlighted how the White House’s budgets would have decreased grants states use for law enforcement, hasn’t suggested any federal spending reductions. Instead, he has touted a “police oversight commission” to be implemented at the start of his presidency, creating national standards police would live by.
“I’ve worked with police in this country for many years,” Biden said Monday in Pittsburgh, part of a speech that has been clipped by his campaign into a 60-second ad. “I know most cops are good, decent people. I know how they risk their lives every time they put that shield on and go out the door. I’m confident I can bring the police to the table as well. I’d make sure every mayor and governor had the support they needed from the federal government.”
As a senator, candidate and vice president, Biden frequently won support from police unions and pursued their priorities, like vast sections of the 1994 crime bill and a never-passed Police Bill of Rights. But overall, the law enforcement community and its leadership have moved politically to the right since then, and while Kenosha’s former police chief and two current police officers attended Biden’s Thursday community meeting in the city, the conversation centered on economic justice and over-policing instead of unquestioning support of law enforcement.
The president tends to give police a bigger role, trading praise and thanking the White House and the Department of Justice not just for their actions but for their words. Trump’s campaign sells “Cops for Trump” T-shirts, signs and hats, all co-branded with the “thin blue line” version of the American flag; there’s no similar merchandise from Biden. Even the president’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice includes only representatives from law enforcement, a contrast with the Biden-Harris “everybody at the table” concept.
That hasn’t gotten much attention, but it epitomizes the Trump approach. As he did in 2016, courting and winning the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council, Trump defends every kind of law enforcement and chastises other politicians for any real or perceived criticism. “The fact that people are more upset about Mr. Trump’s tone than about the destruction wrought by open borders tells us everything we need to know about the corruption in Washington,” the NBPC explained in its endorsement then, and the approach hasn’t changed since: The president sides with the badge, because siding with protesters or critics lowers morale and effectiveness.
That has led to the most full-throated endorsements of a president by law enforcement in history, and the promotion of some law enforcement figures who take solace in the president when they’re attacked or protested. The premise is the same as Trump’s support for any figure of authority: Their problems come when politicians get in their way. Online pro-police communities like Blue Lives Matter, a Facebook page with nearly 2.3 million followers, are resolutely pro-Trump, mixing in stories about disrespect to police with updates about Biden’s stumbles.
“When President Trump gets re-elected, be prepared to defend him and the Republic against anarchist Marxist terrorists who are determined to destroy this country,” wrote Jesse Francis, a Pasco County, Fla., deputy, on social media two months ago. “Remember, forcible felonies (arson, felony/aggravated battery, etc) could be responded with and up to deadly use of force in self-defense and defense of others.” Days later, the president came to the region to accept the endorsement of sheriffs in Pasco and 47 other Florida counties.
As both the Biden and Trump campaigns engage on the “law and order” question, pro-Trump messaging emphasizes or implies that Biden, by not doing more to praise police, is undermining them. A series of ads from Preserve America, a new super PAC, features law enforcement families describing the murder of their loved ones and then explaining that the Democratic nominee is not is supportive of police as Trump is.
“I haven’t heard Joe Biden stand up for law enforcement, which says a lot,” Alyssa Cordova says in one ad, after recounting the killing of her husband, a police officer, and the anger she felt when a monument to fallen officers was vandalized. “You’re part of the problem, because you’re condoning it. What kind of a leader are you?”
Biden’s approach, of offering some praise for police officers while hearing out protesters on their priorities, was not enough.
The same steady theme was heard at the Republican National Convention, too, and at the last Republican stops in Wisconsin before the president’s visit to Kenosha. Last month, Eric Trump stopped by the Milwaukee Police Association for a short speech, dovetailing into political topics but coming back to respect for the law. As officers, former officers, and elected officials nodded, Trump promised that his father would continue to defend police against the protesters who maligned them, asking why Democrats wouldn’t.
“They’re going out there, and they’re rallying against police officers,” he said. “You know what? People don’t want to work in that profession when people are attacking them every single day. And honestly, my father’s been the one person standing up for it.”
Why so much money is going into an ad in which the Democrat condemns looting.
“Why Joe Kennedy’s Senate campaign flopped,” by Stephanie Murray
The fall of Kennedy and what it means for Massachusetts.
When “helpful” interviews go wrong.
“This is Democrats’ doomsday scenario for Election Night,” by Trip Gabriel
Inside the “red mirage,” and the many other worries Joe Biden’s party has about November.
“Biden campaign deploys Harris as ambassador to Black activists,” by Chelsea Janes
The sometimes under-the-radar strategy for Biden’s running mate.
“Trump’s tactic: Sowing distrust in whatever gets in his way,” by Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers
From Indian casinos to a presidential election.
Tuesday’s primaries in Massachusetts made history, ending a 74-year streak of wins by the Kennedy family while showing the limits of the liberal surge. Rep. Richard E. Neal, the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, easily held his seat; Rep. Stephen F. Lynch put away a challenger by a landslide; and Marine veteran Jake Auchincloss appeared to have the advantage in a nine-way race, moving the state’s all-Democratic delegation marginally to the right.
All of this occurred under breathtaking turnout, the biggest in any Democratic primary in the history of the commonwealth. As of Thursday morning, with some mail ballots still to count, 1,381,594 votes had been cast in a primary open to Democrats and voters not registered to any party. That was more than double the votes cast in the 2013 primary that started Markey on his path to the seat, and it was more than the 1,177,790 votes eventually cast in the 2013 special election. In any other Democratic primary, Kennedy’s 616,500 votes would have been more than enough for a clear win.
And in another state, Kennedy’s coalition would have pulled it out. He won eight of 10 cities with the biggest Black populations, losing Boston and Markey’s hometown of Malden. Kennedy dominated the towns and cities with the lowest levels of college education; Markey won 69 percent of the vote in places where college attainment was highest. The senator’s biggest margins came in Cambridge and Somerville, the liberal and well-educated suburbs closest to Boston.
That vote pattern proved pollsters right and said a lot about the preferences of the Democratic Party’s base. Kennedy did not run as a moderate, but Markey outflanked him as a liberal. That helped him pile up incredible margins in the Berkshires and Boston suburbs, while Kennedy dominated the south shore — not just the part of it that he’d represented in the House, but working-class towns around the coast. It didn’t matter, because most of the Democratic electorate lived somewhere else and because Markey did well enough with blue-collar Democrats to cut Kennedy’s advantage.
But Markey was the only liberal candidate who triumphed in a high-turnout Tuesday primary. Two insurgent challengers went down hard, and liberals split their votes in Kennedy’s open 4th District seat. Tens of thousands of voters marked their ballots for Markey, then for the more conservative candidate in their House races. The biggest liberal loss was in the 1st district, where Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse won just 41 percent of the vote in his challenge to Neal, much worse than public polling had suggested.
What happened? It starts, again, with turnout. In 2018, just 70,162 ballots were cast in a primary between Neal and attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, and Neal won in a rout. Morse nearly tripled the vote for Neal’s last challenger; Neal nearly doubled his vote from 2018. In Springfield, Neal’s political base and the site of his election night speech, he’d won 9,065 votes in 2018, but 15,861 this year. Morse drove up turnout in Holyoke and the rest of the Connecticut River Valley towns, but it didn’t matter: Neal increased his total vote there, too. In 2018, Holyoke cast 2,068 votes for Neal and 1,141 for Amatul-Wadud; in 2020, it cast 4,366 votes for Neal and 3,940 for Morse.
The turnout surge was even higher in the 8th Congressional District, which covers south Boston and which Lynch defended from liberal challenger Robbie Goldstein. In Boston itself, Goldstein outperformed any recent Lynch challenger, winning 16,538 votes — nearly as many as his main 2018 opponent, game designer Brianna Wu, got across the entire district and more votes than Lynch had gotten in Boston two years ago. Goldstein’s total vote, 54,774, was actually more than Lynch won two years ago. But Lynch more than doubled his support since then, helped immensely by turnout in the Senate race. He demolished Goldstein in places that Kennedy won, and he ran ahead of Kennedy in the places that Markey won, carrying every town.
It’s hard to separate each factor in these races — turnout, college education, incumbency — and come up with a unifying theory of what worked. We’ve seen since 2018, in higher-turnout primaries, that the Democrats most likely to come off the sidelines are moderates who didn’t prioritize primary voting until the Trump presidency. The left’s dream, a working-class vote that’s waiting to be pulled into the electorate on its side, didn’t pan out in the presidential primary. It still looks like a mirage.
In the 4th District, which has yet to be called, there was a clearer test of different strategies. Auchincloss, a councilor in the district’s biggest city, Newton, went on the air early, won the Boston Globe’s endorsement and emphasized his “coalition” approach to politics — he had worked for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker but was focused less on ideology than on constituent work and defeating Trump. Becky Grossman, another Newton city councilor, went after the same vote.
The left didn’t consolidate behind one candidate and instead made three different pitches. Former gubernatorial aide Jesse Mermell touted her support for abortion rights and Medicare-for-all. Former regulator Ihssane Leckey ran a Sen. Bernie Sanders-style campaign, denouncing corporate power. Physician and first-time candidate Natalia Linos, who entered the race at the last minute, made a unique “representation” pitch: She was a scientist, she had a coronavirus strategy, and there weren’t many people in Congress who could say the same.
Mermell raised the most money of the left-lane candidates, picking up $1 million compared with less than $300,000 for Linos and less than $250,000 for Leckey. And Leckey, who had initially jumped in to challenge Kennedy before he bolted for the Senate race, made a massive loan to her campaign that allowed her to go on the air early.
The result: None of them had a winning coalition. Mermell won the vote-rich suburbs of Boston, but Linos, a fellow Brookline resident, grabbed 2,127 votes there. It was the same story in Wellesley, where Linos got 1,328 votes, from college-educated suburbanites compelled by her “lead with science” message, and a campaign that opponents dismissed as a series of wonky Zoom town halls. As Mermell campaigned with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Leckey touted support from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Linos held live chats with Harvard colleague and Bush administration diplomat Nicholas Burns.
Leckey, meanwhile, did best in working-class towns where Mermell had little support. She ran second or third in Attleboro, Fall River, North Attleborough, Norton, Seekonk, Swansea and Taunton, all places won by either Auchincloss or Grossman. Her campaign argued, accurately, that Mermell hadn’t broken through outside of the Boston suburbs; the problem was her lack of support from college-educated liberals, who went for Mermell or Linos.
Those voters never considered a vote for Auchincloss, but he did well enough outside greater Boston that, with a few towns still counting votes, he’s the favorite to head to Congress, after 75 percent of Democrats picked somebody else. He’ll have company, after a similar left-wing split helped Rep. Lori Trahan win the Lowell-based 3rd District two years ago.
Preserve America, “Alyssa.” The new super PAC’s first spots portray Biden as not just soft on crime but not supportive of police officers, with the family members of murder victims saying they worry about Biden’s commitment. “I don’t want my kids to ever be afraid to honor their dad, to say, hey, I back the police,” says Alyssa Cordova, whose husband, an Arizona cop, was killed in the line of duty. The evidence that Biden hasn’t sided with police amid protests is outdated, a May 31 article that described the Democrat as “relatively quiet” in his response to the George Floyd killing, two days before he gave a speech about criminal justice reform.
Biden/Harris, “We’re Listening.” The Democratic campaign is now on the air with two ads about civil unrest and police reform. One of them boils down his Monday speech in Pittsburgh to 60 seconds, with an emphasis on stopping looting. This takes another approach, one that panicky Democratic donors are worried about: leaning in to the police reforms Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris would enact and centering Black Americans. “Part of the point of freedom is to be free from brutality. From injustice. From racism, in all of its manifestations,” Harris says, during her first vocal appearance in an ad like this. Harris also delivers the campaign promise to “hold police accountable.”
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Presidential election in Pennsylvania (Monmouth, 400 registered voters)
Biden: 49% (-4)
Trump: 45% (+5)
Republicans’ own polling found the president improving in swing states since the start of the Republican National Convention, but public polling has only started to pick it up. Monmouth’s July poll found Biden up by 12, which, if it held, would have been the biggest Democratic victory in Pennsylvania since 1964. Some improvement for the president has made the race tighter, making it more closely resemble the single-digit knife-fights for this state in 2012 and 2016.
Both candidates are in better shape than the nominees at this point four years ago, in the same poll. Trump was doing worse in every way, but there was an opportunity for him: While just 31 percent of Pennsylvanians viewed him favorably, just 35 percent viewed Hillary Clinton favorably. Biden’s now viewed more favorably than unfavorably, while the president’s favorable numbers are underwater by 7 points.
Who do you trust to do a better job on crime and safety? (Fox News, 801 likely Wisconsin voters)
The riots in Kenosha last week gave Democrats their first real panic in months and moved Joe Biden off a planned strategy (a school openings plan he’d delay by two days) for the first time since April. The first look at Wisconsin since the protests and fires, with every interview conducted in the aftermath, doesn’t find the “law and order” issue breaking the president’s way. Overall, Biden leads by eight points, and when asked about crime, voters in cities favor Biden’s approach by 24 points, voters in suburbs go for Biden by three points, and voters in rural areas back Trump by six points.
This poll was part of a state poll package from Fox, with similar surveys in Arizona and North Carolina. Each state shows the same picture: Suburban voters, suburban women especially, favor Biden when asked generally about “crime and safety.”
Would electing this candidate make you feel more safe or less safe? (Quinnipiac, 1,081 likely voters)
More safe: 35%
Less safe: 50%
No impact: 15%
More safe: 42%
Less safe: 40%
No impact: 16%
This stab at the “law and order” question, with a national sample, could have been written by Biden himself. His Monday speech in Pennsylvania framed the question as whether a second Trump term would make America more safe or not, given that crime was up overall since the end of the Obama-Biden administration. Black voters are most likely to say there’d be “no impact” based on the election results, but those who do expect an impact overwhelmingly say Trump would make it worse.
By two points, White voters say Trump would make the country safer; by eight points, they say Biden would make it less safe. That’s a smaller advantage than Trump has with White voters overall, though the president’s in a deeper hole when voters are asked about issues like the pandemic response.
Which candidate would better handle this issue? (CNN/SSRS, 997 registered voters)
Biden: 56% (-)
Trump: 38% (-1)
The criminal justice system
CNN’s poll found increased support for Biden overall since the end of the conventions; the network’s pre-convention national poll, putting the Democrat up by just four points, was one of his worst all summer. The sub-questions now show Trump leading Biden on only the economy, and narrowly, while two versions of the “unrest” question find an advantage for Biden. The Democrats’ lead on “racial inequality,” even with White voters, isn’t entirely a reaction to Trump. Biden launched his campaign by decrying the racist “Unite the Right” march on Charlottesville, saying that Trump had “fanned the flames” of division, and has tried to bend the law-and-order conversation back to systemic problems and racism, instead of police responses.
On Wednesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates selected the moderators for three debates between Trump and Biden and the single debate between Vice President Pence and Harris. The president made clear what he wanted from the high-profile showdowns, which regularly draw tens of millions of viewers. And he didn’t get it.
The moderator for the first debate, on Sept. 29, will be “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace, who in 2016 became the first reporter from that network to sit in the chair. The vice-presidential debate, on Oct. 7, will be moderated by Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief and a frequent TV news guest. The second and third Trump-Biden contests, on Oct. 15 and 22, will be moderated by C-SPAN’s Steve Scully and NBC News reporter Kristen Welker.
Only Wallace has moderated a presidential debate before, but this quartet has something in common: None of them appeared on the list of 24 media personalities given to the CPD by the Trump campaign on Aug. 4. The Trump campaign floated 10 different Fox News or Fox Business anchors or commentators, but not Wallace, a tough interviewer whose July 19 sit-down with the president produced days of negative headlines — including a dismissive answer, “it is what it is,” to a question about the coroanvirus death rate.
These debates are expected to follow the format of every four-part series since 2000, with Scully hosting a “town hall” forum (social distancing requirements tbd) and the other hosts asking their own questions. That’s a small defeat for Trump’s campaign, too, as it had asked for a fourth, earlier debate.
“Certainly former Vice President Biden would agree with the need to avoid having millions of Americans disenfranchised by not being able to see and hear the two major party candidates debate before they have ballots in hand,” Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani wrote last month.
The CPD brushed that off, noting that just because voters can request ballots early, they need not vote early.
For the first time since 2012, it happened: Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for president made appearances in Wisconsin. Trump visited Kenosha on Tuesday, and Biden traveled there Thursday, both of them doing so after Gov. Tony Evers (D) urged politicians to keep the campaigns away from the city.
Neither event resembled a traditional campaign stop. As discussed above, the president held a community roundtable, joined by Attorney General William P. Bar, that touched on the city’s response to unrest and detailed the resources the federal government had put into last week’s law enforcement response. (The state and city’s Democratic leadership were not there.) Biden held a private meeting with Jacob Blake’s family, with his press detail waiting outside, then went into the city for his own community roundtable, where he heard from a selection of residents from law enforcement to community activists.
The day before, Biden had released an updated plan for getting schools operating under pandemic conditions, while the president went to Wilmington, N.C., to designate it as a World War II heritage city.
“We’re not ashamed in America,” Trump said, touting his executive order that clarified existing law that can give a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for destroying a federal monument. “We’re not ashamed of anything.”
But the remarks were pushed out of the news by comments Trump made to local media suggesting that voters should go to the polls after sending in mail ballots, to test whether the state’s election system really did prevent them from voting twice.
“They’re going to have to go and check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way, because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump said. “So let them send it in, and let them go vote, and if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated they won’t be able to vote, so that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do.”
… one day until North Carolina begins sending out absentee ballots
… five days until primaries in New Hampshire and Rhode Island
… 12 days until the Delaware primary
… 17 days until early voting begins (in Minnesota)
… 26 days until the first presidential debate
… 61 days until the general election
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