With just 177 days until November 3, 2020, Election Day will be here before you know it. Every Sunday, outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked – so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.
5. A Republican panic button?: Over the past few days, there’s been a series of stories and analyses about the eroding political landscape for Republicans in the House and Senate this fall.
The Cook Report’s David Wasserman released his latest House analysis suggesting that “anything from no net change to a small single-digit gain for either side is possible.”
On Sunday, The Washington Post ran a piece headlined: “Republicans grow nervous about losing the Senate amid worries over Trump’s handling of the pandemic.”
And that followed an April 25 story in The New York Times that declared: “Nervous Republicans See Trump Sinking, and Taking Senate With Him.”
It’s hard to overemphasize what a massive earthquake it would be if Democrats not only won the White House but also retook the Senate majority and held onto – or even expanded – their House edge.
It would mark a stunning reversal in just four years – from Trump’s remarkable victory over Hillary Clinton and the decision by Republican elected officials to throw their lots entirely in with the man who had just performed a hostile takeover of their party.
That decision lies at the root of the current Republican conundrum. With 1) Trump’s numbers being, broadly speaking, weak, 2) his handling of the coronavirus turning negative, and 3) the economy badly weakened and the President erratic as always, the smart move politically would be for endangered congressional GOPers to distance themselves.
But such a move will be near impossible because of the bear-hug those same Republicans have given to President Trump over these past few years.
Politics is – and always has been – a pendulum. It swings back and forth. And it looks to be swinging against Republicans (all of them) at the moment. The worst thing is? They can’t do much about it.
4. The Tara Reade story, week 3: More a week after former Vice President Joe Biden went on national TV to unequivocally deny allegations that he had sexually assaulted a former Senate staffer named Tara Reade, the story continues to percolate – with no signs of disappearing anytime soon.
Reade, who alleges that Biden sexually assaulted her in the early 1990s when he was a senator from Delaware, sat for a 40+ minute interview with former Fox News and NBC personality Megyn Kelly in which she, among other things, called on Biden to leave the race.
Here’s the key bit from Reade:
“You and I were there, Joe Biden. Please step forward and be held accountable. And if you feel that you can address this in a real way, then you know and I know that you should step down. You should not be running on character for the president of the United States.”
And then there’s this: “A divorce document from 1996 obtained by CNN shows that Reade’s ex-husband, Ted Dronen, said under penalty of perjury that when he was dating Reade in Washington, DC, in the spring of 1993, she confided in him about ‘a problem that she was having at work regarding sexual harassment, in U.S. Senator Joe Biden’s office.’”
Biden himself hasn’t addressed what Reade told Kelly or the reporting on Reade’s ex-husband. But in a statement to CNN on Thursday night, deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said this: “The truth is that these allegations are false and that the material that has been presented to back them up, under scrutiny, keeps proving their falsity.”
There’s little question that Biden and his team had hoped to put this allegation behind them more than a week ago. But Reade’s interview with Kelly, the reporting on the ex-husband and the fact that Biden is still refusing to authorize the release of any and all documents related to Reade in his Senate papers at the University of Delaware means this story isn’t done yet.
Not even close.
3. When will the economy bounce back?: With the vast majority of states in some stage of reopening, the big question is whether the decision to do so – even as its clear that the coronavirus remains a major public health threat.
The economic situation is dire. The unemployment rate in April hit 14.7%, the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping, well, statistics in 1948.
And President Trump’s economic team is warning things will get worse before they get better. Kevin Hassett, Trump’s top economic adviser, told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that the May report will “probably” show unemployment surging to 20%.
Trump, for his part, has tried to paint a rosier picture. “I created, as President – we had the strongest economy in the history of the world, the strongest economy we’ve ever had, and we had to close it which is artificial,” he said on “Fox & Friends” Friday. “We artificially closed it. Those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon, and next year we’re going to have a phenomenal year. People are ready to go.”
It seems likely that the economy will bounce back. Trump is right that stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus amounted to an unprecedented shutting down of the national economy.
But the key question – certainly when it comes to Trump’s chances at a second term – is when things starts getting better (and/or people start believing the economy has rebounded.)
Simply because a governor says you can go out to get your nails done – or get a tattoo – doesn’t mean that most people will do so. Opening the economy is all well and good, but it’s not the same thing as people genuinely believing things are returning to normal and that they can safely resume normal activities.
The political reality is that if we are still looking at double-digit unemployment numbers in the fall, Trump’s chances of winning are narrow. If, on the other hand, unemployment is dropping steadily by, say, October, and the country feels more like the country we had pre-coronavirus, Trump has a far better case to make.
The difference of just a few months in terms of the economic recovery could be the difference between Trump winning or losing.
2. Coronavirus in the White House: Even as President Trump tries to change the subject – much more on that below – the persistence of the coronavirus keeps smacking him in the face. Almost literally.
As of this moment, we know that Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller, the wife of Trump confidante Stephen Miller, has the virus. As does Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant. The director of the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are quarantining after being exposed to the virus in the White House. Dr. Anthony Fauci is on a “modified” quarantine for the same reason.
That proximity to the virus makes it very, very difficult for Trump to do what he wants: Act as though the country is moving beyond it, as state after state reopens despite not meeting federal guidelines to do so.
That the coronavirus has penetrated the White House speaks to a harsh reality: We aren’t done with it, no matter how many times Trump touts the country’s testing successes or his administration’s response. Beating an infectious disease like this one isn’t as easy as saying “We did it!”
“We have to understand that we’re riding this tiger, we’re not directing it,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “This virus is going to do what it’s going to do.” (Osterholm also predicted that 60-70% of the population will eventually get the coronavirus.)
That’s the reality. We aren’t in control here. That the coronavirus has penetrated the White House speaks to that. No matter what the President says.
1. Trump’s Russia obsession returns: Faced with the grim reality that coronavirus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and polling that suggests he is a clear underdog to Joe Biden in the fall campaign, President Donald Trump is returning his attention to an old favorite: The idea that the so-called “deep state” – including outgoing President Barack Obama! – sought to sabotage his presidency before it ever began with allegations of Russian collusion.
“They tried to take down the President of the United States, a sitting, duly elected president of the United States before I even won,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” during a nearly-hour-long phone interview Friday morning. (He never made clear who “they” actually were.)
Then, between late Saturday night and Sunday morning, Trump tweeted or retweeted more than 50 times in relation to Russia – both the Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the release of interview transcripts from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation – according to Axios.
Such is Trump’s power as a social media bullhorn that by Sunday morning the term “Obamagate” was trending on Twitter – although what the actual scandal was remains deeply unclear.
Let’s remember that Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in interviews about the depth and breadth of his interactions with the Russians prior to Trump coming into the White House. And the President made clear – on a number of occasions – how he believed the Justice Department should exonerate Flynn. It’s not exactly a surprise then that it happened. Nor is it an obvious example of justice being, you know, done.
But for Trump, the timing could not be more perfect. He badly needs a way to rally his base and move the conversation away from the ongoing questions regarding his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
And what better way to do that than alleging a vague conspiracy theory that the last president – a Democrat! – was involved in an attempt, coordinated among intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice and other pieces of the federal bureaucracy – to bring him down?