It’s Tuesday, October 20, 2020. Election Day is two weeks away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
The Groundhog Day Election
Joe Biden has a comfortable lead in every poll. Coronavirus cases are surging. Donald Trump is downplaying the pandemic and criticizing his own public health experts.
Each of those statements is true — and dominating headlines — this morning, and each has been true on almost every morning since the general election began. Welcome to the Groundhog Day Election.
For months now, the coronavirus pandemic has frozen much of American life. With major get-togethers off the table, most of us have gone through the same social-distanced, Zoom-filled routine, day in and day out.
The presidential campaign is no exception. On one hand, the 2020 race feels like it has been one of the newsiest in recent memory — A pandemic! A Supreme Court vacancy! A hospitalized president! — and yet, at the same time, the daily rhythms of the race have barely changed since the nominees were crowned.
Take one of Monday’s biggest headlines, for example: President Trump claimed in a conference call with his campaign staff that “people are tired of Covid” and called Dr. Anthony Fauci “a disaster.” Later, in a tweet, Trump continued to needle Fauci, criticizing some of his earlier statements from the pandemic — and even his choice of face mask and Opening Day first pitch.
The president attacking a top doctor amid a global pandemic would normally make for shocking news. Except for it’s nothing new: I wrote on April 13 that Trump had added “yet another controversy to the at-times-tenuous relationship between the president and the government's top infectious disease expert” by retweeting “#FireFauci.”
But this time, one might say, Trump’s is downplaying the virus amid a steady rise in cases, with the U.S. and other countries reporting record levels of new infections. Old news, still: “The surge in new cases came as President Donald Trump claimed in an interview on Fox Business News that the virus would soon ‘disappear,’” I wrote on July 2.
Over on Capitol Hill, not much has changed either: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are scrambling to strike a stimulus deal, just as they have been doing since the last one ran out in the summer.
“Stimulus talks falter as deadline looms,” I wrote on August 7. And that’s true again today, as negotiators face a self-imposed deadline from Pelosi (today) to bridge their differences on state-and-local funding, coronavirus testing, and other issues. And even if Pelosi and Mnuchin seal an agreement, it’s unclear whether its odds of passage will be any better this time around, as Senate Republicans reaffirm their opposition to a $2 trillion-ish bill.
And then, of course, there are the polls: the quantifiable indicator that politics have been frozen in amber since the summer. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden currently boasts an average polling lead of 8.9%. Three months ago, on July 20, he led by 8.6% — virtually unchanged. In fact, since the beginning of July, Biden’s lead has almost never been smaller than 6% or larger than 10%, one of the smallest ranges in polling history.
Biden’s lead has barely budged, even through a Supreme Court confirmation battle, a caustic first debate, and a presidential illness — exactly the type of events that one would expect to move a race. A New York Times/Siena poll released this morning found the former vice president leading by 9% (firmly within his normal range), favored by voters on nearly every issue tested in the poll, from coronavirus to law and order.
The two candidates, though, are tied on the economy, as Trump aides attempt to focus on the president’s economic record in the closing days of the campaign. But it seems like somebody forgot to tell the president that. At a rally on Monday, his focus was anywhere else, attacking Hunter Biden, the debate moderators, the Cuomo family, and other perceived rivals in a disjointed address.
It may not be much of a coherent closing message, but at least — like everything else — it is consistent. Trump has “struggled to arrive at a simple narrative against Biden,” I reported on August 13, noting the president’s difficulties in settling on a clear message as the general election began to heat up.
In other words: all these months later, we’re right back where we started.
Supreme Court gives Pennsylvania more time to tally votes: “The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania’s highest court that allowed election officials to count some mailed ballots received up to three days after Election Day. The state is a key battleground in the presidential election.”
“The Supreme Court’s action was the result of a deadlock. It takes five votes to grant a stay, and the Republicans who had asked the court to intervene could muster only four. . . The result suggested that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom President Trump nominated to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death last month, could play a decisive role in election disputes.” (New York Times)
DOJ files antitrust lawsuit against Google: “The Justice Department will file an antitrust lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Google engaged in anticompetitive conduct to preserve monopolies in search and search-advertising that form the cornerstones of its vast conglomerate, according to senior Justice officials.”
“The long-anticipated case, expected to be filed in a Washington, D.C., federal court, will mark the most aggressive U.S. legal challenge to a company’s dominance in the tech sector in more than two decades, with the potential to shake up Silicon Valley and beyond. Once a public darling, Google attracted considerable scrutiny over the past decade as it gained power but has avoided a true showdown with the government until now.” (Wall Street Journal)
Next debate to include mute button: “The final debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden will feature a mute button to allow each candidate to speak uninterrupted, organizers said on Monday, looking to avoid the disruptions that marred the first matchup.”
“The Trump campaign voiced objections to the change — made after the president repeatedly talked over both Biden and the moderator at last month’s debate in violation of its agreed-upon rules — but said the Republican would still take part in the Thursday night event, one of his last chances to reach a large prime-time audience before voting ends on Nov. 3.” (Reuters)
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will participate in a town hall hosted by Sinclair Broadcasting at 3 p.m. He will then travel to Erie, Pennsylvania, to speak at a campaign rally at 7 p.m.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has no public events scheduled.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will participate in a virtual rally with Wisconsin leaders at 4 p.m. to mark the first day of in-person early voting in the state. Later, she will attend a pair of virtual fundraisers.
The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. The chamber is expected to vote on a measure adding funds to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the small business loan program created in March.
The House will meet at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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