The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: Trump is touting an enthusiasm gap with Biden. But his campaign may be looking at the numbers the wrong way.

with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning and happy almost July Fourth weekend. Jacqueline Alemany is on vacation until July 15 and Power Up is brought to you today by one of our esteemed Post colleagues. Power Up will be dark next week, too. We wish you a relaxing holiday weekend – please stay safe and healthy.

The Campaign

WHY ‘LESS IS MORE’ FOR BIDEN: The final four months of a presidential campaign typically unfold at a frenetic pace. It's not uncommon for candidates to start the day in one state, attend an event in another, campaign some more in a third, and then overnight somewhere else entirely. Then they do it again the next day. 

Now, of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. 

And, in some very tangible ways, that has been a boon for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who polls show has gotten a significant bump while he's stayed out of the spotlight and in the “basement, as critics like to say, ceding the rest of the house to President Trump. 

It's not you, it's me: Democratic voters appear highly motivated headed into November. But not necessarily to rally around Biden as much as to oust Trump.

New polling data shows Biden is, to many of these voters, in some ways beside the point.

We’ve all seen the slew of recent polling showing Biden with significant leads in key battleground states, including Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. (The typical caveats apply: poll numbers can and will change.) 

Digging into the cross tabs of a recent New York Times/Siena College battleground state poll — taken early to mid-June — we also find the dramatic extent to which both Trump and Biden voters are motivated byTrump. 

  • When the president’s supporters in Florida and Arizona were asked, “Is your vote more of a vote for Donald Trump or a vote against Joe Biden?” about 80 percent said it was an affirmative vote for Trump.
  • When Biden voters in those two states were asked the same question, more than 60 percent in each state said their vote was more “a vote against Donald Trump” while about 35 said their vote was more “a vote for Joe Biden.”
  • The trends were similar in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, key swing states Trump won in 2016, where a majority of Biden supporters said their choice of the Democrat represented more of a vote against Trump.

It's not just Democrats:

  • Polls show independent voters supporting Biden are particularly motivated by Trump, with 78 percent of independents in Florida saying their vote for Biden is more a vote against the president, and around 70 percent of independents saying the same in the key states of Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
  • Biden leads Trump among independents by around 20 percentage points in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania; and by 7 and 9 percentage points in Wisconsin and Michigan, respectively.

An enthusiasm gap: Trump and his campaign aides are fretting about the recent string of bad news. They've tried to parry it by arguing Republicans are far more enthusiastic about the president than Democrats are about the former vice president.  “President Trump has historic support within his own party,” the campaign said in a memo sent to reporters last week. 

  • “And when it comes to the most important factor, enthusiasm, President Trump is dominating. The unprecedented enthusiasm behind the president’s reelection efforts stands in stark contrast to the flat, almost nonexistent enthusiasm for Biden,” campaign manager Brad Parscale wrote in a Post op-ed today. 

This is the dreaded “enthusiasm gap” about which strategists often like to talk. But Trump campaign advisers may have turned this dynamic upside down to show a stronger picture than exists for the president.

  • Republicans are enthusiastic about voting for Trump, but it's also clear Democrats  — even those for whom Biden was their second or third choice as the party's nominee — are pretty excited about voting against the president.
  • It's perhaps that dynamic on which the strategists should be focusing.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden outlined his points for managing coronavirus if elected, and condemned Trump's response on June 30. (Video: The Washington Post)

Base politics: Meanwhile, the president’s public remarks on the George Floyd protests and the pandemic — which he has repeatedly called the “Kung flu” — have been highly inflammatory, signaling Trump is doubling down on the culture wars that animated his first presidential campaign  Those instincts might help shore up support among his base but they also turn up the sense of urgency among those who do not like what they see and hear.  

Already, the 2018 midterms showed that white, college-educated women had significant reservations about the president. 

With the United States undergoing a dramatic transformation in public consensus around race and structural racism, Trump's highly divisive message garners negative headlines. But it does little to expand his political coalition. 

  • Key quote: “The President’s message is the same as it was in 2016. The country has changed, but his messaging has not,” said Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican pollster.
  • Trump weighed in yesterday in a tweet by contending painting “Black Lives Matters” on Fifth Avenue in New York — proposed by mayor Bill de Blasio (D) — would be “a symbol of hate” despite widespread support for the peaceful protests against racism and police violence.
  • The day before, the president dug in on his defense of Confederate iconography, warning in a tweet he would veto a defense bill renaming Fort Bragg and other military bases named after confederate military leaders.

Laying low: Meanwhile, Biden's camp has appeared perfectly content allowing the campaign to unfold without much attention falling on the former vice president, who in the past has been prone to misspeaking — even as this has especially irked organizers and voters of color who would like to hear him speak more forcefully about efforts to defund police departments (something he doesn't support).  

The strategy, as my colleague Michael Scherer wrote earlier this week in an excellent piece, has reinforced the frame of the 2020 election as a referendum on Trump himself. 

  • “The contrast extends to their public travel,” Michael wrote. “Over the last 10 days, Trump logged about 4,000 miles on Air Force One to hold events in three states, including two rallies that attracted thousands of people.”
  • “Biden held two remote local television interviews and a couple of virtual events and took a one-hour drive from his home to the courtyard of a Lancaster, Pa., recreation center, where he met with five citizens to talk about health care before giving a speech on the topic that received scant national attention.” 

And the former vice president has acknowledged the extent to which his low visibility is helping him.

“The more that Donald Trump is out the worse he does. I think it is wonderful that he goes out,” Biden quipped at a virtual event over the weekend. “I’m being a bit facetious because it is dangerous what he is doing at his rallies. But look at it: His numbers have dropped through the floor.”

The big question remaining is whether the broad coalition of voters Biden needs to win will demand more specificity and a higher profile on key issues from him in the months ahead.

At the Pentagon

CLINT LORANCE GOT A PARDON, BUT HIS UNIT CAN'T SHED HIS PAST: “Lorance had been in charge of his platoon for only three days when he ordered his men to kill three Afghans stopped on a dirt road. A second-degree murder conviction and pardon followed. Today, Lorance is hailed as a hero by [Trump]. His troops have suffered a very different fate,” our colleague Greg Jaffe reports this morning in a special report on “The Cursed Platoon” Lorance left behind.

While in command, Lorance averaged a war crime a day, a military jury found: “On his last day before he was dismissed, he ordered his troops to open fire on three Afghan men standing by a motorcycle on the side of the road who he said posed a threat,” our colleague writes. “His actions led to a 19-year prison sentence.”

But now Lorance has a book deal and has joined Trump onstage at a rally: “For the men of 1st platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, the costs of the war and the fallout from the case have been profound and sometimes deadly,” our colleague writes.

  • Since returning home in 2013, five of the platoon’s three dozen soldiers have died: At least four others have been hospitalized following suicide attempts or struggles with drugs or alcohol. The last fatality came a few weeks before Lorance was pardoned when James O. Twist, 27, a Michigan state trooper and father of three, died of suicide.”

Outside the Beltway

CORONAVIRUS CASES ARE CLIMBING: For the first time since the pandemic began, U.S. cases topped 50,000 a day at a huge 52,780. The awful new numbers come as Americans plan to celebrate July Fourth weekend, and many states and governors are urging them to stay away from celebrations outside their homes while rolling back reopening plans in key states.

  • California, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia all broke their previous records for cases in a single day. 
  • States that reopened first are the ones with the most cases.
  • Yet Trump said this to Fox Business yesterday: “I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus,” Trump said. “I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of disappear, I hope.” He added he was “all for mask” and would himself wear one something he's steadfastly declined to do publicly “in a tight situation with people.”
  • ICYMI, Vanilla Ice plans to hold a 2,500 concert this weekend in Austin, Texas. Yep.

Tulsa rally is still reverberating throughout Trump campaign: “In the past two weeks, the campaign has contended with waves of fallout from the rally, where the president put on a pugilistic performance before an arena that was only partly filled,” Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig report.

The fallout began before the event even started: “It was just hours before [Trump] was set to take the stage for his rally in Tulsa last month when the news broke: Six staff at the site had just tested positive for the coronavirus,” our colleagues write. “The president, who was en route from Washington, was livid that the news was public, according to people familiar with his reaction.”

  • Some top aides like campaign manager Brad Parscale have self-quarantined: The hope had been the rally would signal a return to normal for the campaign. “But some advisers now see the rally as ill-advised, an event that created a cascade of problems that have challenged the campaign and its staff. Campaign officials had previously said they were planning more large rallies, but the Tulsa event has led to increased concerns and debates on how — and whether — they can be pulled off. ”

At The White House

NO RESPONSE TO RUSSIAN BOUNTIES PLANNED: “The White House is not planning an immediate response to intelligence reports of Russian bounties given to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan because [Trump] does not believe the reports are true or ‘actionable,’ according to two senior administration officials,” Ellen Nakashima, Josh Dawsey, Karen DeYoung and Shane Harris report.

  • The debate inside the White House: “One administration official said there is an internal White House dispute about how much information to declassify to support the president’s skepticism of the intelligence. Some of Trump’s own senior intelligence officials viewed the information as credible enough to warn the Pentagon and allies so they could ensure they had measures in place to protect their forces in Afghanistan, and to begin developing options for responding to the Russian operation, national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien said.”

Russia appears to be increasingly emboldened: “It doesn’t require a top-secret clearance and access to the government’s most classified information to see that the list of Russian aggressions in recent weeks rivals some of the worst days of the Cold War,” the New York Times's David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt report.

A recap of what's happened: “There have been new cyberattacks on Americans working from home to exploit vulnerabilities in their corporate systems and continued concern about new playbooks for Russian actors seeking to influence the November election. Off the coast of Alaska, Russian jets have been testing American air defenses, sending U.S. warplanes scrambling to intercept them.”

  • But for now there's no response: “Yet missing from all this is a strategy for pushing back — old-fashioned deterrence, to pluck a phrase from the depths of the Cold War — that could be employed from Afghanistan to Ukraine, from the deserts of Libya to the vulnerable voter registration rolls in battleground states.” 



THE NEW HIGH: “Newly reported cases across the United States on Wednesday catapulted to a new high — 52,788 in all — as individual states continued to topple their own grim records. Hospitalizations and deaths also continued to surge in some areas amid scattered reopening efforts,” Michael Brice-Saddler and Jacqueline Dupree report.

  • The surge has been led by states that reopened first as infections rose 50 percent in June: “States that took an aggressive approach to reopening led the country in infection spikes — along with California, the nation’s most populous state, where leaders have been more cautious. California reported 110 new deaths, more than any other state,” Anne Gearan, Derek Hawkins and Siobhán O'Grady report.

The pandemic is exacerbating an existing health crisis: “Nationwide, federal and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses — a hidden epidemic within the pandemic. Emerging evidence suggests that the continued isolation, economic devastation and disruptions to the drug trade in recent months are fueling the surge,” William Wan and Heather Long report.

  • The grim reality: “Data obtained by The Washington Post from a real-time tracker of drug-related emergency calls and interviews with coroners suggest that overdoses have not just increased since the pandemic began but are accelerating as it persists.” 

This level of global economic devastation hasn't been seen since WWII: “The global economy is suffering its deepest recession since World War II, according to the World Bank, with most countries experiencing downturns at one time since 1870. It’s the fourth deepest recession in the last 150 years, twice as deep as the Great Recession of the late 2000s,” Anthony Faiola reports.

  • Poverty is projected to skyrocket: “Up to 100 million people globally are poised to fall into extreme poverty, the first increase since the Asian and Latin America financial crises of the 1990s, and the biggest increase since the World Bank began tracking the number in 1990.” 

In the Media


Biden continues to outraise Trump: “As the presidential campaigns gear up in earnest for the general election, supporters are contributing in massive amounts to support the two presumptive candidates, with [Biden] outraising [Trump] by $10 million in June, according to new figures,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Annie Linskey report. “That means Biden outraised Trump for the second month in a row.”

  • The president is set to host a private high-dollar fundraiser in Florida next week: “The invitation does not name the owner of the home hosting the $580,600-per-couple event. Campaign manager Brad Parscale, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and other senior RNC fundraisers are listed as hosts of the event,” Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report.

Mary Trump's book is back on: “A New York court lifted a temporary restraining order against the publication of a book by President Trump’s niece, enabling publisher Simon & Schuster to continue printing and distributing the explosive insider account by Mary L. Trump,” Michael Kranish reports

Capital fireworks will still go Fourth: “Flyovers by the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels jet demonstration teams, plus a huge fireworks display, will highlight the Fourth of July festivities Saturday on the Mall, the Interior Department announced,” Michael E. Ruane and Julie Zauzmer report. “Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, 300,000 cloth face coverings will be available to visitors …”