In this edition: The “war on the suburbs” explained, why New York is having the worst time counting votes, and what we learned from a talkative weekend for the president.

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The White House put its stage together to highlight the “red tape” his presidency had slashed over the past three years, with two flatbed trucks and six heavy weights to symbolize regulations. But halfway through his Thursday remarks, President Trump veered to another issue: how Democrats would “abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs,” sending bureaucrats to dismantle an American way of life.

“Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now,” Trump said. “And what will be the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer as we know it. So, they want to defund and abolish your police and law enforcement, while at the same time destroying our great suburbs.” 

The next night, in a “tele-town hall” aimed at Wisconsin voters, Trump went further, saying that Democrats could “eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.”

That's a very specific warning, and it's tied to a specific policy — his plan to undo an Obama-era HUD rule designed to create more diversification in housing, which could happen this coming week. It's also bringing a campaign theme that Trump has struggled to sell in line with one that shaped suburban politics for decades. The looming question: whether the effectiveness of Trump's argument has run its course.

The threat of protests and police abolition moving from cities, to the suburbs built by (mostly white) people who left those cities, has a long and potent history, perpetually linked to racism. Housing integration was part of it, but some of the fear was more elemental — literally, that the people committing crimes or engaging in civil unrest would march to the suburbs and take apart society.

“To most whites, black power seems to mean that the Mau Mau are coming to the suburbs at night,” activist Stokely Carmichael wrote in 1966, as the backlash to civil rights legislation was building. (Kenya's Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule was a common reference at the time.) Carmichael's point was that protesters wanted prosperity of their own, not the destruction of a white suburban lifestyle.

That's the argument made, with less radical solutions, by the best-known political advocates of “defunding” the police now. In interviews and in an instagram story, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who was raised in both the Bronx and the suburbs of Westchester County, has said that the goal of “defunding” is not anarchy, but a society that “looks like a suburb,” a byword for health and safety.

“Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing, etc., more than they fund police,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote last week. “These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police, but because they have more resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.”

But by definition, that means a reduction in police funding and a reversal of the politics that defined Joe Biden's career. But the president's campaign has turned this on its head. A video from the Republican National Committee plays Ocasio-Cortez's “it looks like a suburb” comment under footage of a burning trash pile, with the caption “Biden's America: Chaos.” The congresswoman's comment was turned upside down, to make it sound like she craved unrest in the suburbs.

Trump's remarks, like his campaign ads, portray a social order that is coming apart and would disintegrate entirely under Democratic rule. A commercial that the campaign began running three weeks ago showed a police phone going to voice mail, informing the caller that “due to defunding of the police department,” it would take days to answer a 911 call. A newer ad attacks Biden's criminal justice restructuring plans more specifically and, with a few words, warns that the danger will grow beyond big cities.

“The radical left-wing mob's agenda?” a narrator asks. “Take over our cities. Defund the police. Pressure more towns to follow.”

Warnings about urban violence and gun crime have been mainstays of the media that the president often cites or endorses, from the “knockout game” scares of the Obama era to the drumbeat of stories about deaths in Chicago. Twinning this with a save-the-suburbs message has been tricky. After St. Louis attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey were photographed brandishing firearms at protesters who had marched into their gated community, conservative media portrayed them, at first, as people confronting urban unrest. Their mansion, after all, was within city limits.

“As their city degraded and fell apart around them and became dirty and dangerous over the last decades, they did not flee to the suburbs,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson told viewers last month. “Many of their neighbors did, but they stayed in their home.”

On Friday, when the couple appeared on a Trump campaign webcast, Mark McCloskey emphasized that they lived “in the city of St. Louis.” Yet the webcast's host, Kimberly Guilfoyle, introduced the McCloskeys as homeowners “from the suburbs of St. Louis,” and the conversation focused on whether protesters, who marched along the community's sidewalk, had come to kill them.

“They smashed through the gate into my neighborhood,” Mark McCloskey said. “I thought that within seconds we’d be overrun, that they’d be in the house, that they’d be setting fires, that they’re be killing us.”

But the protests that broke out across the country after the killing of George Floyd have scrambled this particular fear. In suburbs, protests have been peaceful, and often majority-white. In cities, protests with an economic focus have centered on policing, housing costs and gentrification, issues with far less relevance, or none at all, in suburbs. 

And the Trump campaign's focus hasn't made much of a dent against Joe Biden's Democrats. Since 2016, Republicans have lost significant ground in suburbs. According to the 2016 exit polls, Trump won suburban voters across the country by four points, a margin that grew in the pivotal states of Michigan (11 points), Pennsylvania (eight points) and Wisconsin (16 points). 

Two years later, the national exit poll found suburban voters equally split between Democrats and Republicans, and the president's party lost every statewide race in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In Michigan, where an unpopular Republican governor was retiring, now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won the suburbs by three points. In Pennsylvania, a Republican who modeled himself after Trump lost the suburbs to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf by 14 points. Wisconsin broke from the trend, with Gov. Scott Walker improving slightly on Trump's suburban vote — but losing ground in the places closest to Madison and Milwaukee. And in key House races, even as Democrats faltered in rural areas, they swung the suburbs.

The past few years have made Democrats more confident about their appeal in suburbs, which have grown far more racially diverse over the past decades, and less nervous about how the president's tactics are influencing swing voters. They sometimes cite Trump's 2018 warnings about “mobs” and a caravan of immigrants from Mexico, and subsequent suburban losses, as evidence that the suburbs don't behave as they did from the late 1960s through the early 1990s, when crime was at its highest. Even Democrats who lost, like Missouri's Claire McCaskill or Indiana's Joe Donnelly, made up ground in suburbs — just not enough to run past GOP gains in whiter, rural areas. Just as relevant was the 2017 race for governor of Virginia, when Republican nominee Ed Gillespie warned that Democrat Ralph Northam, by not barring “sanctuary cities,” would allow crime and the gang MS-13 to fester.

“Gillespie’s strategy was based on a 1990s-era view of suburban voters as white people terrified of crime from people who didn’t look like them,” said Jared Goldberg-Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association during the Northam campaign, when some Democrats worried that the strategy would work. “It turned out voters in the suburbs were way more pissed off about Donald Trump than they were afraid of MS-13. Gillespie’s strategy backfired big time: By leaning into race-based immigration attacks, he reminded suburban voters that he was just another Donald Trump Republican.”

The Trump campaign has nonetheless focused, for days, on portraying Biden as a catspaw for radicals, who would dismantle police departments and bring riots to the suburbs if he's pushed. That's largely based on Biden telling health-care activist Ady Barkan that some of the money spent on urban policing could be “redirected” to mental health or housing, similar to the point Ocasio-Cortez made. And it was bolstered this week when the National Association of Police Organizations endorsed the president, breaking a bond that Biden had counted on in his Senate races and his two campaigns for vice president.

So far, the strategy has not moved the suburbs away from Biden. In a Washington Post poll released Sunday, asked which candidate could handle “crime and safety,” just 41 percent of voters said Trump, and 50 percent said Biden. 

Reading list

Can the author of the crime bill be made to scare suburban voters?

Why the Democratic nominee isn't inspiring the same intraparty angst that Hillary Clinton did.

Worries about a candidate who can switch up messaging in an instant.

Inside the strategy to move nonwhite votes away from Biden.

How John Lewis played a bipartisan, saintlike role in politics, until Trump.

Why only one 2020 candidate talks about covid-19 in his ads.

Ad watch

Antone Melton-Meaux, “LGBTQ+ Allyship.” The best-funded Democratic challenger to Rep. Ilhan Omar is running on the premise that he'd be just as liberal, but more effective, and less caught up in scandals. His latest spot doesn't mention Omar at all, focusing entirely on his record as a lawyer in defending or expanding gay rights. “I'll bring people together to end discrimination and end Donald Trump's devastating impact on our community,” Melton-Meaux says.

Kris Kobach, “Establishment Attacks Conservatives… Again.” The onetime rising Republican star, who lost the 2018 race for governor, fires back against an ad campaign funded by Republicans who believe he could blow the November election. “Now they claim he's a white supremacist, and a loser, but the polls show him ahead of [Democrat Barbara] Bollier,” a narrator says. But the image on-screen, from FiveThirtyEight, shows that Rep. Roger Marshall, the preferred candidate of national Republicans, runs stronger against Bollier than Kobach does.

Steve Watkins, “D.A. Criminals.” Watkins, an embattled freshman congressman charged with felonies related to voter fraud, has watched many Republicans who were neutral on his race back challenger (and state treasurer) Jake LaTurner. Watkins's response to that, in addition to blasting “bogus charges against an American patriot” (he's a military veteran), is linking LaTurner's career as a D.A. to the investigations of the president. “Collusion. A corrupt prosecutor. A witch hunt. Sound familiar?” asks a narrator. In a small irony, the ad portrays Watkins and Trump at a rally that was held, in part, because Watkins was struggling in 2018 to hold onto a safe Republican district.

Poll watch

Who is more honest and trustworthy? (Washington Post/ABC News, 845 registered voters)

Joe Biden: 49%
Donald Trump: 35%
Other: 12%

As a wave of polling has found Biden leading Trump outside the margin of error, skeptics have pointed out that Hillary Clinton jumped out to a big lead in some summer 2016 polling. It's true, but it may be ignoring two factors that helped Trump in that election: Clinton's personal unpopularity, and her persistent image as an untrustworthy candidate. Like last week's Quinnipiac poll, which found a small plurality of voters calling Biden “trustworthy,” this finds a double-digit gap in how much voters believe what the candidates are saying. In 2016, Trump sometimes led on that question; the effect was that Clinton's attacks on him were often viewed as skeptically, or more skeptically, than Trump's attacks on her. As the president continues to misrepresent some of Biden's positions, there's evidence that it may not move the swing voters who think that he's dishonest.

Does this candidate have the mental soundness to serve effectively as president? (Fox News, 1,104 registered voters)

Joe Biden
Yes: 47%
No: 39%

Donald Trump
Yes: 43%
No: 51%

Portraying Biden as a “declining” senior citizen remains pivotal in Trump campaign messaging, with the president’s “war room” quickly clipping and posting from the moments when the Democrat stumbles over a word. (An example this week: Biden saying “kids to market” instead of “goods to market” during an economic address.) Fox, the only pollster that has asked consistently about the tactic, continues to find voters markedly more skeptical of Trump's “soundness” than of Biden's. In an otherwise decent poll for the president, which shows a double-digit deficit narrowing to eight points, he trails on every personal characteristic that got asked about.

In the states

New York's agonizingly slow vote count continued into the weekend, with the vote-rich boroughs of New York City only now getting to their final counts, weeks after the primary ended.

Why is New York taking so much longer to count votes than other states that modified their elections to allow more mail-in voting? It's a combination of a generous return-date rule and errors that could inspire lawsuits after leaving thousands of votes uncounted. 

First: The date by which ballots needed to arrive at election offices, a contested issue in other states, was helpful to last-minute voters. While ballots needed to be postmarked by June 23, the date of the primary, they could arrive one week later. In the most populous parts of the state, those piles of ballots were not even counted immediately; in New York City, as Adam K. Raymond points out, the count didn't start in earnest until July 6. 

Second: Thousands of ballots were invalidated by a flaw that set the state's generous absentee ballot delivery process against its outdated election integrity law. While the state sent New Yorkers ballots with postage-paid return envelopes, a policy recommended by voting rights advocates, the Post Office does not typically put a postmark on postage-paid mail. But any ballot without a postmark is supposed to be automatically set aside. As a result, according to a lawsuit led by congressional candidate Suraj Patel and state Assembly candidate Emily Gallagher, as many as 28 percent of ballots cast by Brooklyn voters may have been disqualified, far more than the margin separating Patel, who won the Brooklyn parts of the district, from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney.

Both of those problems could be attacked by state government ahead of the November election. Both are worse than the problems we've seen in other states, where rules about counting and qualifying ballots vary dramatically. (In the five states that use all-mail voting, for example, election offices count absentee votes received before Election Day ahead of the polls being closed.)

But a legislative fix would come too late for the candidates who appeared on the June 23 ballot, and confusion over the count has led to both new scaremongering about absentee voting and botched analysis of the count. After the primaries were over, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel claimed that Chris Jacobs, the party's nominee in a western New York special House election, had won by 40 points. That was the lead after Election Day, but absentee voters broke in a landslide for Jacobs's Democratic challenger. In the end, Jacobs won by 11 points, a decisive victory but smaller than the 25-point margin by which the president carried the district in 2016.

Candidate tracker

While Joe Biden said little over the weekend, President Trump held a series of tele-town halls and sat for an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace. The call-ins to Michigan and Wisconsin and Tennessee — not a swing state, but one where Trump-backed Bill Hegarty faces a tough Senate primary — generally repeated the themes the president hit at his Tulsa rally, the last traditional political event he has held.

In the Fox interview, as Wallace repeatedly challenged the president on false or misleading statements, Trump warned that Biden would not be able to stand the pressure of the presidency, as shown by his limited campaign schedule. 

“Let Biden sit through an interview like this,” Trump said. “He’ll be on the ground crying for Mommy. He’ll say, ‘Mommy, Mommy, please take me home.’ ”

The Trump campaign shared seven clips from the interview, four of them dealing with the president's mockery of Biden. But the president also litigated the mental aptitude test he'd taken last year, suggested that opponents of military bases being renamed might want them named for Al Sharpton, and claimed that Biden's agreement with Bernie Sanders committed him to defunding the police, which (as Wallace pointed out) it doesn't.

In a separate interview, with Maria Bartiromo on Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggested that FBI officials would be indicted before the election as the investigation into the 2017-2018 Russia probe concluded.

“I think the American people expect indictments,” Meadows said. “I know I expect indictments based on the evidence I’ve seen.”

Trump and Biden departed in their remembrances of Rep. John Lewis, who died Friday. The president tweeted a quick message of condolence and ordered the flags at the White House at half-staff for most of Saturday. Biden released an essay on Medium praising Lewis.

“John’s life reminds us that the most powerful symbol of what it means to be an American is what we do with the time we have to make real the promise of our nation — that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Kanye West continued making moves toward ballot access in the states where it's not too late for him to file as a candidate for president. In South Carolina, where candidate applications must be filed by noon Monday, West tweeted (and ran Facebook ads) an online form for supporters to sign if they wanted him on the ballot and announced nine locations in the Charleston area where voters could drive up and sign his forms. 

At 5 p.m. today, he was scheduled to hold an event (for “registered guests”) in North Charleston, but he needs 10,000 valid signatures to make the ballot, something that has bedeviled better-organized campaigns with more time to get ready. We'll know by the end of Monday, when West would also need 2,500 valid signatures to make the Illinois ballot, whether he has been able to throw together a historically effective signature-gathering effort with little media attention or time to plan.

Veep watch

Two of the black members of Congress touted as potential Biden running mates appeared on ABC's “This Week” on Sunday, both to share memories of John Lewis and argue for his legacy to be a restored Voting Rights Act.

“The first thing we need to do is to pass the Voting Rights Act and get it signed, because we're very concerned about the election coming up and voter suppression, and the fact that people are going to have to vote in dangerous conditions,” said Rep. Karen Bass of California. “They need to be able to vote from home.”

“John Lewis has left us a great road map,” said Rep Val Demings of Florida. “And if we can continue to be half of the servant fighting for social justice that John Lewis was, then we're going to be okay. We have to continue to fight and finish the work, amazing work that Mr. John Lewis started in this country.”

In the coming week, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California will introduce legislation to prevent evictions by extending a government moratorium from July 24 into next year. But per Axios's Alexi McCammond, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, of all of Biden's defeated primary opponents, has had the biggest effect on his agenda, with the Democratic nominee adopting her “buy American” plan and some of her environmental plans.

Countdown

… 16 days until primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington
… 18 days until primaries in Tennessee
… 20 days until primaries in Hawaii
… 23 days until primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin
… 29 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 39 days until the Republican National Convention
… 47 days until some absentee ballots start going out
… 107 days until the general election