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Fri Oct 16, 2020, 08:20 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Battling Townhalls Show A Clear Choice

The second wave of the pandemic now appears to be upon us. Yesterday, over 60,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in the U.S. That number has been heading upward all week, in fact. And it's higher than it has been since the last wave hit (some call the impending wave the third wave, due to the two previous spikes, we should point out). And we are less than three weeks away from the presidential election.

This, more than any other factor, may become the key reason Donald Trump loses. Sure, we're all tired of hearing about the pandemic (and have been for quite some time). But then Trump caught it, which relaunched it back onto center stage in the political arena. Although he quickly recovered, for once Trump could not manage to change the storyline. And now it looks like the fall/winter wave is here. This will mean COVID-19 will, once again, lead most news coverage. For the next week (at the very least), stories will again appear about overwhelmed doctors and hospitals. It will be on everyone's mind.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is increasingly astonished that everyone else in the country does not actually inhabit the fantasy world he has created inside his own head, where we're "turning the corner" and the pandemic will just magically go away. Trump's been hoping for this magical retreat since the start of the pandemic, but these days it sounds downright delusional. This is far beyond a normal politician sounding "out of touch," in other words. People are dying out there, and Trump doesn't seem to even grasp that. Not exactly a portrait of a strong leader, in other words. Or a sane one, for that matter.

This was all more than evident at the NBC townhall last night. A healthcare worker expressed her concerns about the people doing the frontline work, and Trump tried to gaslight her into believing that everything was not just fine, but downright wonderful. Trump should be praised, Trump said, and everyone should just do like Trump does and pretend that the pandemic has gone away.

Voters living in the real world see this, and they're already reacting to it with the most massive early-voting tsunami in American history:

With less than three weeks to go before Nov. 3, roughly 15 million Americans have already voted in the fall election, reflecting an extraordinary level of participation despite barriers erected by the coronavirus pandemic -- and setting a trajectory that could result in the majority of voters casting ballots before Election Day for the first time in U.S. history.

In Georgia this week, voters waited as long as 11 hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting. In North Carolina, nearly 1 in 5 of roughly 500,000 who have returned mail ballots so far did not vote in the last presidential election. In Michigan, more than 1 million people -- roughly one-fourth of total turnout in 2016 -- have already voted.

The picture is so stark that election officials around the country are reporting record early turnout, much of it in person, meaning that more results could be available on election night than previously thought.

So far, much of the early voting appears to be driven by heightened enthusiasm among Democrats. Of the roughly 3.5 million voters who have cast ballots in six states that provide partisan breakdowns, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 2 to 1, according to a Washington Post analysis of data in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Additionally, those who have voted include disproportionate numbers of Black voters and women, according to state data -- groups that favor former vice president Joe Biden over President Trump in recent polls.

Voters are also opening up their wallets. Democrats once again outraised Republicans last month, by a whopping amount. In fact, Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee just set a new monthly record of raising $383 million -- beating their old record of $365 million from the previous month.

But back to that townhall for a moment. While some heaped scorn on NBC for allowing Trump an hour of primetime at precisely the same time Joe Biden was doing a townhall over on ABC, it actually was a bigger success than many had hoped for. Personally, we didn't really expect much from Savannah Guthrie, but we were pleasantly proven as wrong as can be on that. Guthrie managed to do what very few journalists have managed to do over the past four years -- beat Trump at his own game. Although the townhall was only an hour, Guthrie spent the first third of it -- 20 full minutes -- grilling Trump over what he had said at the first presidential debate. She bored in, she knew her facts, she refused to let Trump lie unchallenged, and she more than held her own against Trump's bombast and bullshittery. She even likened him to a "crazy uncle" at one point. Savannah Guthrie put Chris Wallace to shame, in other words. Whenever Trump tried his standard deflections, Guthrie immediately hit him with the facts and the truth. Trump got angrier and angrier and his non-answers and evasions were left in tatters. Guthrie turned in a Pulitzer Prize-worthy performance last night, and we applaud her for being the first journalist to not just sit back and let Trump bloviate and lie his face off with impunity.

Trump, in response to Guthrie's questions, wouldn't say whether he had been tested on the day of the last debate, even though he was required to be by the rules. Trump wouldn't admit how often he got tested at all, in fact: "I don't know. I don't even remember. I test all the time. I can tell you this." When pressed, he did admit that he wasn't actually tested daily. But please remember, this is a man who is trying to paint his opponent as being senile. And he can't even remember how often he gets tested?

Or his sycophant doctor's name, for that matter. Trump installed a Fox News regular in the White House named Dr. Scott Atlas, who has no expertise in pandemics at all but who agrees with Trump that everyone should just reopen everything and act like we're all back to normal once again. Last night, Trump called him Scott Atkins. And Guthrie pointed out that he has no relevant expertise, much to Trump's annoyance.

Trump refused to denounce QAnon, as well. Once again he appeared astonished that people actually live outside his fantasy-world bubble, because to him and everyone who lives there the biggest threat to America today is Antifa, who are -- even as we speak -- out there burning cities to the ground, murdering people with abandon, and will quite likely soon try to move into the house next to you in the suburbs. Seriously, this is what Trump (and Fox News) firmly believe, so it's easy to understand his astonishment that anyone would believe otherwise.

Trump also refused to deny that he owes over $400 million in loans that will come due in the next four years. In Trump's fantasy world, he is not so shunned by the banking industry (because he's lost them so much money over the years with his multiple bankruptcies) that he has to get shady loans overseas from foreign banks -- instead the bankers all come to Trump and beg him to take their money. Trump apparently felt sorry for some of these bankers and agreed to borrow $400 million, just to make them feel better. Seriously, that's exactly what he said last night. He also promised to reveal -- before the election -- who he owed all that money to. This promise will immediately be tossed down the memory hole, just like all Trump's promises to release his income taxes before it.

All around, it was instructive to have the duelling townhall meetings last night, because people could easily flip between the two while pondering who they will vote for. On one channel, an angry and self-obsessed lunatic ranted away. On the other channel, Joe Biden was giving calm and complete answers to average voters on any subject they tossed his way. Biden admitted the complexities of the issues, and had nuanced responses. The difference really couldn't have been more stark.

Team Trump keeps trying to push the idea that Joe Biden is boring. Yesterday, Trump's campaign tweeted out a snarky bit about how people who suffer from insomnia might want to catch the Biden townhall to help them fall asleep. Trump himself calls Biden "Sleepy Joe" all the time. But they're really shooting themselves in the foot in a big way with this tactic.

Most of the public is just tired of Trump. That's why he's losing so many groups he won previously. People are just sick and tired of the constant anger, the constant fistfights, and the daily (if not hourly) playground insults from the president of the United States. Joe Biden could win because he is more boring than Trump, to put it another way. Because most people want politics to be an occasional (and mostly boring) news story, not an eternal circus of delusion and lies and insults.

In fact, Joe Biden should put this more front and center in his campaigning. He's already said it before, but he needs to repeat at every possible opportunity: "If I am elected president I give you my sworn oath that you will never -- never -- be embarrassed by one of my tweets. No American child will be confused by their president bullying people at random. I will restore decency and manners to the White House once again." It sounds kind of boring -- but that's exactly what people are looking for right now.

Serious times call for serious people. We are quite likely on the leading edge of the next wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Over 60,000 people a day are now catching it. Temporary hospitals are going up, once again. And this is likely just the leading edge of this wave -- meaning things are likely going to get worse before they get better. One presidential candidate is telling voters not to believe their own eyes and instead believe their Dear Leader when he tells them we've "turned the corner." The other candidate acknowledges the seriousness of the problem, leads by example (by wearing masks), and has a multipart plan for America to deal with the crisis. The choice really couldn't be clearer.

Our awards this week both go to senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a Kabuki-theater hearing on the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice.

Now, Joe Biden has been getting the "court-packing" question for a while, but he still hasn't figured out how to say a very simple phrase: "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it." Seriously, this is Politics 101, but Biden still hasn't come up with a way to punt the question. He keeps repeating: "If I answered the question, you journalists would all run it as a headline the next day." There are multiple things wrong with this tactic: (1) every time Biden says this, headlines run the next day anyway, saying: 'Biden Dodged Court-Packing Question', (2) as president, every time you answer any important question, there will indeed be headlines written about it (so get used to it, Joe), and (3) attacking the media is a Republican thing, not a Democratic thing.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse showed how this question should really be answered: with vague ominousness. He told the Republicans on the committee that there will be consequences for what they are doing now, and that they are not likely to enjoy these consequences:

"Don't think when you have established the rule of 'because we can,' that should the shoe be on the other foot, you will have any credibility to come to us and say: 'yeah, I know you can do that, but you shouldn't,'" Whitehouse said. "Your credibility to make that argument at any time in the future will die in this room and on that Senate floor if you continue."

The Rhode Island Democrat succinctly stated what's on everyone's mind: Once [Amy Coney] Barrett is confirmed, all bets are off about how the Senate -- and the Supreme Court -- might look a few months from now if Democrats sweep in November.

Whitehouse's remarks were pointed enough to serve as a warning for Republicans but vague enough to avoid creating the "court-packing" headline that the GOP would want coming out of Barrett's hearing. In an interview afterward, Whitehouse called his statement "more or less a preview of coming attractions and work to be done, than it was a threat."

"What the Republicans have done to the reputation and integrity of the court through these last three nominations leaves a tarnish on the court that I don't think the court can bear," Whitehouse said. "That means it's going to be on us to figure out how to clean up that mess and restore a court that is demonstrably not the organ of big special interests."

Now that is how to answer the question! For making this so explicit without previewing the exact nature of the retribution, Sheldon Whitehouse is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Joe Biden should really start using Whitehouse's verbal construct, instead of the line he's been using up until now.

[Congratulate Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) showered Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with praise as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett wrapped on Thursday with little drama, standing in sharp contrast to the contentious and acrimonious hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh that nearly blew up the Senate in 2018.

"I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best set of hearings that I've participated in," Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Graham. "Thank you so much for your leadership."

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who angered Democrats by abandoning his 2016 vow not to confirm a Supreme Court justice in a presidential election year, then embraced Feinstein in a hug. Notably, neither senator wore a mask.

. . .

While Feinstein echoed other Democrats in opposing Barrett, the top Democrat on the committee took a more conciliatory tone throughout the hearing, welcoming her warmly as questioning began on Tuesday.

"It's wonderful to see you here," Feinstein told Barrett.

After an exchange with Barrett about the Affordable Care Act, Feinstein praised the nominee, saying Barrett's answer left her "really impressed."

Democrats reacted to the 87-year-old senator's handling of the hearing and her praise of Graham, a top Trump ally who is on the ballot in November, with anger and dismay.

"It's very hard to watch a colleague in decline. That this is occurring publicly is even harder," said one Democratic senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Excuse me while I go punch a hole in the wall," Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko added on Twitter.

That's about how we feel about it too -- even more so considering she is our senator.

I mean, being nice and polite is one thing, but hugging Lindsey Graham without masks is entirely beyond the pale. Seriously, DiFi, what were you thinking?

For such a spectacular failure to lead by example in the midst of a deadly pandemic (especially when you are 87 years old yourself), Senator Dianne Feinstein is out Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. See, this is why we really didn't want her to run for re-election last time around.

[Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]

Volume 593 (10/16/20)

The focus of politics is all on the upcoming election now. So we've constructed our talking points with that in mind. Everyone has to do everything they can to guarantee that Donald Trump becomes what he's always feared the most -- a giant loser. So here are our closing arguments that Democrats should be making (although two of them come from a Republican senator, we should mention). We're in the homestretch now, folks.

Biden beats Trump

This one hurts, so be sure to twist the knife.

"I see that Joe Biden got a million more viewers for his townhall last night than Trump did. Man, that's gotta hurt -- you know Trump always lives and dies by his ratings. But Biden beat Trump last night. So which show should be renewed for a new season, do you think?"

Boring is good

Show Trump how he's shooting himself in the foot.

"Donald Trump calls Joe Biden 'Sleepy Joe' as if that were a bad thing. But I for one have been exhausted living through the last four years of an all-drama-all-the-time president, and I heartily welcome the change."

Delusion or action?

The choice is stark.

"Who do you want for a president -- someone who refuses to admit that a crisis is still happening, or someone who not only sees the problem but has a well-thought-out plan for how to fight the pandemic, which relies on science and not politics -- who would you pick? Because 65,000 people tested positive just yesterday, so it's kind of an important question."

$400 million

Another easy point to make:

"I want a president who doesn't owe 400 million dollars and won't even say who he owes it to. What kind of loser has to go overseas to get a loan because every U.S. bank refuses to lend him money after he's declared bankruptcy more times than you can count? Joe Biden doesn't owe anybody 400 million dollars -- not to Germany, not to shadowy crime bosses, not to Russia. That's the kind of president I want, personally."

Calling all rats to now leave the ship...

The exodus has begun, apparently. Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, was recorded in a phone townhall this week absolutely denouncing Donald Trump in remarkable language. In fact, Sasse hit Trump on two separate issues, so we're going to give him two separate talking points:

But the reality is that [President Donald Trump] careened from curb to curb. First, he ignored COVID. And then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this. And that was always wrong, I mean, and so I don't think the way he's led through COVID has been reasonable or responsible or right.

Seriously, guys, the ship is sinking, better leave now...

Sasse also hit Trump on foreign policy and a whole raft of other issues, to boot:

The way he kisses dictators' butts. I mean, the way he ignores the Uighurs, our literal concentration camps in Xinjiang. Right now, he hasn't lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers. The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending; I've criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists.

If we can do it, we will

It's about time Democrats played some political hardball. This is essentially the same point Sheldon Whitehouse made, we should mention (to give credit where it is due). Let's just hope Democrats keep it up after the election.

"The new Republican rule for exercising power in the Senate -- let's call it the McConnell Rule -- seems to be: 'If we think we can get away with a power grab, then we will do it.' It's not just Donald Trump that has thrown out the rulebook, McConnell has in some ways been worse. So if Democrats take back control, you can be damn sure we'll be playing by the rules Mitch McConnell taught us. And I don't want to hear any whining from the Republicans when we do so -- they made this bed, and now they are going to have to lie in it."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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Reply Friday Talking Points -- Battling Townhalls Show A Clear Choice (Original post)
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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Oct 16, 2020, 08:21 PM

1. The rest of this column

Are there new limits on the length for posts? It seems to be impossible to paste the whole column in this week, so here's the rest of it (hope it posts in this comment)

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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Oct 16, 2020, 08:24 PM

2. OK, there we go...

there was a random open tag in my text. Sorry for the mixup, the whole column has now been posted...

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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Oct 16, 2020, 08:44 PM

3. K&R

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