In this edition: The left's fears about Susan Rice, some good turnout news from Tuesday's primaries, and the debate about debating.

If no one is convening, can you still call it a “convention?” This is The Trailer.

There will be no floor fight at this year's Democratic National Convention, and no “floor” to have it on. The messy details — the platform, Joe Biden's running mate — are being hashed out in Zoom meetings before a made-for-TV event this month. For the first time in 92 years, the party's nominee won't even appear in person to thank the delegates and dodge balloons.

That has not quieted the resistance to Biden's policies and personnel inside his party, coming from activists who say they will work to get him elected but are still working to influence the type of president he'll be. A coalition of Bernie Sanders delegates has made a series of futile but messy protests against Biden's health-care agenda and the party's donation rules. And as former national security adviser Susan E. Rice is touted as a potential vice president for Biden, hundreds of delegates out of nearly 4,000 are begging him not to, urging him to sideline “hawks” inside the party and warning that he will lose votes if he doesn't.

“Susan E. Rice would be a travesty if she were chosen to be his VP candidate, or for any position in his Cabinet,” said Marcy Winograd, a California delegate for Sanders who has distributed a letter urging Biden to ditch Rice and six other veterans of previous Democratic administrations. “She pushed for every war, against Iraq, Libya, Yemen. She has left a trail of carnage in her wake. Elevating her would be a death wish for the Democratic Party.”

Biden's move to the left, which has drawn attacks from Republicans and fitful praise from liberals, has occurred largely on his own terms. Sanders, who won 46 percent of the party's pledged delegates in the 2016 primaries, commands just over 25 percent of them now, and he has repeatedly praised Biden for the liberal policies he has adopted while declining comment on the policies he hasn't.

That has left a Biden-skeptical resistance fending for itself. The Bernie Delegates Network, an email group that grew out of complaints about Hillary Clinton's 2016 nomination, has circulated two letters that criticize Biden. The first, reported last month by Politico, pledged delegates “to vote against any 2020 Platform that does not include a universal, single-payer, Medicare-For-All, platform plank.” That vote would fail, as votes to add Medicare-for-all in the smaller platform committee failed, while giving Sanders delegates something to rally around.

The second, which was obtained by The Post last week and partially detailed by HuffPost yesterday, named eight individuals “who have demonstrated poor judgment on national security issues” — seven high-profile veterans of the Clinton or Obama administrations, as well as Amit Jani, the campaign's Asian American Pacific Islander outreach director. The others are former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken; former National Security Council staffer Nicholas Burns; former CIA deputy director Avril Haines; former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power; former State Department aide Jake Sullivan; former undersecretary of defense Michelle Flournoy; and Susan E. Rice, the only member of the group being looked at for the vice presidency.

“Susan E. Rice argued for the war in Iraq, endorsing the Bush administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction,” the letter reads. “She supported the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya and argued for intervention in Syria and presided over the CIA program ‘Operation Timber Sycamore’ that armed militants there; oversaw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. She also asserted that ‘unwavering support for Israel’ — even as led by right-wing extremist Benjamin Netanyahu — was her imperative as UN Ambassador.”

Biden's campaign declined to comment on the criticism of Rice. There's no evidence that Rice “argued for the war” as carried out in 2002, when she was serving as a fellow for the Brookings Institution. While she advocated for limited military involvement, also opposed by the left, she stopped short of endorsing invasion. But her record on Libya and Syria is undisputed, and a source of bafflement for anti-interventionists as they watch the “veepstakes” unfold.

“I’m very concerned that her previous foreign policy stances have not been in favor of diplomatic solutions,” said Nadia Ahmed, a Sanders delegate who signed the letter. “She’s been duplicitous in way she's handled several issues. I question her judgment.”

Ahmed has also signed an anti-Rice letter organized by Muslim delegates to the convention — a group, she says, that came together as far-flung delegates pored over the lists of their peers and looked for other “Arabic-sounding names.” That makes the same allegations about Rice's Iraq views, before saying that her response to the 2011 “Arab Spring” revealed instincts that should be kept out of the White House.

“One would have thought that following the carnage in Iraq, Rice would have learned the high cost of war required she choose another path with Libya,” the letter reads.

Like the delegates who signed the Medicare-for-all letter, the critics of Biden's wider foreign policy circle don't have the numbers to stop Biden from doing what he wants. As of Thursday afternoon, 388 delegates had signed the letter, fewer than two in five of the delegates Sanders brought into the convention. 

Neither campaign includes a threat to withhold votes in November. As Bernie Delegates Network organizer Norman Solomon has helped these campaigns add to their numbers, he has launched a “Vote Trump Out” campaign to “urge progressives in the dozen battleground states to vote for Joe Biden rather than sit out the election or cast a third-party protest vote.”

The signers of the foreign policy letter have also scored some wins during the platform debate, led by the California delegation, which is dominated by Sanders supporters. Before the platform committee began meeting, it proposed additions that sometimes made it in, such as a commitment to “end the forever wars” (a reference to Iraq, Afghanistan and other interventions launched after 9/11) and to “end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.” 

Before that, Biden characterized Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” state and threatened to cut off arms sales, a position that was only rarely discussed during the Democratic primary but was welcomed by the sort of activists who held on to an animus against Hillary Clinton.

That has not calmed worries from foreign policy doves about Biden's personnel. Daniel Jones, the Senate researcher who led the investigation into CIA torture practices after 9/11, criticized Haines over her work in the agency. (Last month, in a rare interview with reporter Spencer Ackerman, Haines defended her record but added that she could understand people wondering whether I am someone who can help to promote big change where it is needed.)

“Vice President Biden was the most prominent member of the Obama administration advocating for the declassification and release of the Senate's report on the CIA's use of torture,” said Jones, who is not a Democratic delegate. “My experience with Ms. Haines was quite the opposite.” 

Reading list

The fight for fast mail delivery, just weeks before it would begin affecting the election.

How Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman won.

Fake claims live on social media even after they're caught.

Why a race between two pro-Trump Republicans got so nasty.

Down-ballot gains for a movement that lost the presidential primary.

Yes, this is still happening.

A great fundraising month for the president ends with the Democrat wiping out the cash-on-hand gap.

Turnout watch

Like we wrote on Tuesday, the primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington were tests of five different election systems and how they could perform in pandemic conditions. The happy answer: mostly fine. 

In Michigan, conducting its second statewide election since a package of voting overhauls passed two years ago, turnout was higher than it had been in 2018, when both Democrats and Republicans had contested statewide primaries. (Neither had one this year.) In Kansas, where Kris Kobach appeared on the ballot in both cycles, Republican turnout rose by nearly 25 percent. And in Arizona and Washington, where early voting was popular and counting was relatively slow even before the pandemic, turnout was tracking higher than 2018 for both parties.

The outlier was Missouri, the one state voting this week that does not open polling places before Election Day and that requires an excuse for requesting an absentee ballot. (Tennessee, discussed in another section of this newsletter, has strict absentee laws but plenty of early voting.) Turnout was down a bit from 2018, when both parties had uncompetitive Senate primaries and a ballot measure to end a right-to-work law drove Democrats to the polls.

But it wasn't down by much. While 1,389,316 Missourians cast a vote on the 2018 ballot measure, 1,263,776 turned out for this year's measure on whether to accept the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. It passed by more than 80,000 votes while winning just eight counties: Kansas City and its suburbs, St. Louis and its suburbs, and the metro areas of Columbia and Springfield. Most significantly, the measure won in suburban St. Charles County, the third-most-populous part of the state and a traditional Republican stronghold. While President Trump carried the county by 24 points, Amendment 2 eked out a three-point win there.

Turnout was highest in St. Louis, where Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush became the third Democrat this cycle to knock out an incumbent member of Congress in a primary. Two years ago, when Bush first faced Rep. William Lacy Clay, she won just 53,056 of 143,670 votes. On Tuesday she won 72,812 of 149,809 votes, while Clay lost ground massively from the 2018 race. He edged out Bush in the part of the district that covers suburban St. Louis County but lost handily in the city itself, where Bush has been a key figure in protests.

In Michigan, Rep. Rashida Tlaib easily defeated challenger Brenda Jones, who'd defeated her in a 2018 special election and rallied Tlaib's old primary adversaries behind her campaign. Turnout spiked from 89,179 to 108,196, almost entirely to Tlaib's benefit. Jones's vote rose from 32,727 in that 2018 special election to 36,493 this week; Tlaib more than doubled her vote, from 31,084 to 71,703. 

Turnout was relatively high everywhere, and national Republicans generally wound up with candidates they were happy with. In the 8th and 11th districts, Trump-won suburban seats flipped by Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens in 2018, Republicans nominated Trump administration veteran Paul Junge and attorney Eric Esshaki. Both defeated fringier and poorly funded opponents, but both start the general election with just one-tenth the cash on hand of Slotkin and Stevens. 

In the 3rd District, where Rep. Justin Amash is retiring, veteran and supermarket chain heir Peter Meijer won easily, setting up a race with a fellow first-time candidate, attorney Hilary Scholten, in a potential swing seat. (Its population center, Grand Rapids, has been moving left.) In the 10th District, a safe Republican seat where the incumbent is retiring, business executive Lisa McClain pushed past conservative state Rep. Shane Hernandez, ensuring that Republicans will send their first female representative from Michigan since 2016.

Republicans got even better news in Kansas, where the tumultuous career of former secretary of state Kris Kobach was halted, perhaps for good, by now-Senate nominee Roger Marshall. In 2018, Kobach had won the gubernatorial primary by the thinnest of margins on turnout of 313,440. That was dwarfed by turnout of 394,360 this year, boosted in part by the primary in the 3rd District, in the suburbs of Kansas City, where former state party chair Amanda Adkins won handily. Marshall won the district narrowly, with plumbing magnate Bob Hamilton, who dominated the media market, running strongly. 

Meanwhile, Kobach's 2018 coalition fell apart. He'd previously won Sedgwick County (Wichita) by 4,000 votes; Marshall won it by 10,000. He'd run even in the “Big First” district that stretches across the state; when faced with Marshall, who'd represented the district since 2017, his vote collapsed. Marshall triumphed with 40 percent of the vote, and Kobach carried only the 2nd District where, in another good development for Republicans, scandal-plagued Rep. Steve Watkins was ousted by state Treasurer Jake LaTurner.

It's too early for some Arizona and Washington races to be called, and the high-profile Republican primary for Maricopa County sheriff was deadlocked, with 88-year-old former felon Joe Arpaio just hundreds of votes away from the lead. (Arpaio, a Democratic bête noire for years, lost the office to Democrats four years ago.) The congressional primaries were less complicated, with moderate Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran pushing past a liberal challenger by 18 points and 2018 House candidate Hiral Tipirneni winning the party's nomination in the increasingly competitive 6th District. 

Turnout was up in that district from 53,694 in 2018 to 72,913 and counting this year; Anita Malik, the Democrat who'd lost the 2018 race here, improved slightly on her 2018 primary vote, while losing to Tipirneni by 18 points. Republican turnout was similar to the 2018 primary numbers; 655,298 votes were cast in that year's competitive Senate primary, while 620,826 votes have been counted so far in this year's primary, won easily by Sen. Martha McSally. (Her challenger, Daniel McCarthy, did best in the area around Tucson that McSally had represented in the House.)

In Washington, where counting will continue for days, we don't yet know the turnout or final matchups in the 8th District, which Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier flipped in 2018, or the 10th District, a safely Democratic seat that Rep. Denny Heck is vacating. (Heck easily won a spot in the November runoff for lieutenant governor.) It's unclear whether Republicans Jesse Jensen or Keith Swank will face Schrier, but both ended the primary with less than $100,000 to the Democrat's $2.4 million. In the 10th, liberal state Rep. Beth Doglio has declared that she will get a runoff spot against former Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland; the race has not been called, but Republicans look to be locked out of the November runoff.

Ad watch

Joe Biden, “Donna.” Filmed in the Villages, a Florida retirement community where Republicans tend to dominate the vote, this 60-second spot features a “lucky” couple who can't see their family anymore due to pandemic restrictions and worries. “I don't blame Donald Trump for the virus,” the ad's star says. “I blame him for his lack of action.”

President Trump, “Delaware.” Continuing with the new style of post-reboot Trump advertising, the latest GOP ad accuses Biden of dodging questions on “far-left” policies and wasting away the election as a “diminished” figure in a basement. The spot might be most notable for a series of photo edits; a microphone is removed from Biden's hand to make him look confused, and a crowd is removed from a scene of Biden at an Iowa house party to make it look like he's sitting alone on a floor.

Manny Sethi, “Babies.” The conservative challenger in today's Tennessee Senate primary has run a series of bracing, anti-liberal spots that portray the nation on the brink of chaos, and the left as willfully making it worse. “I don't believe most liberals actually care about Black Lives Matter,” says Sethi, a doctor. “They don't care that most Planned Parenthood clinics are placed near minority communities.”

Bill Hagerty, “Propaganda.” The onetime front-runner has closed out his primary campaign with a series of attacks on Sethi, here referred to as “a millionaire who refused to donate a dime” to Donald Trump in 2016. The attempts to link either candidate to liberalism have been labored and based on everything from a long-ago donation to, in one Sethi attack on Hagerty, the candidate's association with a corporation that released a Black Lives Matter statement.

Poll watch

Iowa presidential contest (Monmouth, 401 registered voters)

Donald Trump: 48%
Joe Biden: 45%
Jo Jorgensen: 3%

Republicans surprised even themselves with the scale of their 2016 win in Iowa, as working-class towns that had voted Democratic even in great GOP years went overwhelmingly to President Trump. The president has led in every poll of the state since, but as in other parts of the Midwest, Biden does not have all of Hillary Clinton's weaknesses. Yet he has not pulled back most of Iowa's Obama-Trump voters, even though the 2016 exit poll found the state's electorate narrowly approving of President Barack Obama. One reason: the opinion of the state's Republican governor on the coronavirus is positive, and the opinion of the president's pandemic response, deeply underwater in most swing states, is 50-50 here.

1st District
Abby Finkenauer (D): 51%
Ashley Hinson (R): 41%

2nd District
Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R): 47%
Rita Hart (D): 44%

3rd District
Cindy Axne (D): 48%
David Young (R): 42%

4th District
Randy Feenstra (R): 54%
J.D. Scholten (D): 34%

Two years ago, Iowa Democrats recovered from their worst losses in generations to flip two House seats, hold another and come close to defeating Rep. Steve King in the deep red 4th District. Since then, like Biden, Democrats have held their own in cities and suburbs but not won back their old supporters in small towns. Democrats have held the 2nd District, which contains liberal Iowa City, since 2007; Miller-Meeks, who has run and lost in the district three times, is getting Trump-level support in rural areas. Yet Miller-Meeks has been the weakest fundraiser of any Iowa GOP congressional candidate, ending June with $500,000 to Hart's $1.4 million, which has allowed the Democrat to jump on the air with ads.

On the trail

It's primary day in Tennessee, the only state that holds these elections on Thursdays. That's helping lift an unusually bitter GOP Senate primary into the spotlight — the last major primary of the year where the president has campaigned for a candidate. Bill Hagerty, the former ambassador to Japan, won Trump's support even before he left that job to seek this one.

“The other side's spending a lot of money but Bill is somebody who will just never, ever let you down,” Trump said during a July tele-rally for Hagerty.

Hagerty led in early polling but has lost ground in the final stretch to Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi, who has campaigned alongside Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The two candidates have rarely disagreed on substance, instead linking each other to unpopular Republican moderates and highlighting donations to and associations with the political left. There are more than a dozen fringe candidates on the ballot, but the real contest is between Hegarty and Sethi.

Republicans also will choose their nominee to replace retiring Rep. Phil Roe in the 1st District, a deeply Republican stretch of eastern Tennessee, where business executive Diana Harshbarger has loaned more than $1.3 million to her campaign and has come under fire from the crowded field for her association with a company whose practices landed her husband in prison. The Club for Growth and House Freedom Fund have endorsed conservative state Rep. Timothy Hill, keeping him competitive with two other self-funders, Josh Gapp and John Clark.

Democrats have little on the ballot today, though longtime Nashville-area Rep. Jim Cooper is being challenged by Keeda Haynes, a public defender who spent four years in prison for a marijuana possession-related crime she says she was wrongly accused of. Neither Cooper nor Haynes has spent much on the race, though this race could test the electorate of the fast-growing city ahead of redistricting next year, when Republicans would have the power to split it up into different seats.

Debate season

What do Elizabeth Drew, Joe Lockhart and Thomas Friedman have in common? None of them work for Joe Biden's campaign. All of them have written arguments for why Biden should not automatically commit to a traditional, three-debate agreement with President Trump. And all have been wrapped into a story line about Biden balking at debating the president.

“They're acting as the media arm for the Biden campaign. Biden doesn't want to debate,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a Fox News interview this week. “I think if he doesn't debate, if he doesn't do all three, he should be disqualified from actually running for president.”

There's no evidence that Biden doesn't want to debate, and he repeatedly has said he would. His campaign committed to the debate schedule six weeks ago, with the dates floated by the Commission on Presidential Debates. What's new is that the Trump campaign, via a letter from his attorney Rudy Giuliani, has argued that an earlier, fourth debate should be added. But the punditry about why Biden should skip the debates, or demand conditions for appearing in them, has shaped hours of Fox News coverage. 

“Joe's biggest fans in the media mob are now begging him not to show,” Fox's Sean Hannity told viewers Tuesday night.

“His advisers are saying 'Don't even go to the debate, just skip the debate,' " campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp said on a Wednesday night episode of the Trump campaign series Team Trump Online.

This isn't true. None of the debate-skeptic pundits work for Biden or advise his campaign. But the argument is twofold: that a pro-Biden media's advice for the campaign might as well be official strategy and that Democrats are worried about Biden tripping over his words onstage.

That last part is based in reality. Biden and Trump can both test the boundaries of verbal coherence, and both give remarks that get mined for point-and-laugh videos. Biden sometimes changes course mid-sentence or switches a word choice, while Trump plows ahead, using familiar words and phrases (“strongly,” “so important”) to tie his clauses together. If Biden is a sedan backing up a few times to fit into a tight parking spot, Trump is a getaway car careening through fruit stands at maximum speed, and the latter is usually more fun to watch, if equally mystifying.

Trump's campaign argues outright that Biden's slips are proof of mental decline. But he has talked like this for a while. His last general election debate, the 2012 faceoff with Paul D. Ryan, is remembered as a Biden triumph, but all the tics picked apart by 2020 Trump videos were there. Biden fixed factoids in mid-sentence ("$1.7, $1.6 trillion in wealth lost”), or switched up idioms (“if you heard that, that little soliloquy on 47 percent, and you think he just made a mistake, then I think you're, I, I, I, I, I got a bridge to sell you.) Four years earlier, Biden made a reference to “Katie's Restaurant,” a Wilmington, Del., restaurant that had not gone by that name for more than a decade.

None of this really shaped coverage of how Biden was seen, but there was not a months-long campaign of ads and video clips super-cutting the moments when words escaped him. That's a long-term Trump campaign effort; a short-term effort is to lobbying for a fourth debate, held before early voting begins in a month. In a letter yesterday, the campaign argued that “as many as nine million” voters may have cast ballots by the night of the first scheduled debate, on Sept. 29, and that voters would be “disenfranchised” if they did not get a chance to see Biden and Trump debate before that.

This is also confusing. Early voting and absentee voting can start in some states as early as four weeks from now. But no voter is required to send in an absentee ballot so early. The debate demand is largely about drawing more attention to Biden's age and gaffes, a premise the campaign invests more in with every week.

But so far, the debate hardball hasn't paid off, if the goal really is a fourth debate. On Thursday, the CPD responded to Giuliani by pointing out that only a handful of voters, historically, voted before Sept. 29, and the original plan was the one the commission was sticking to.

Candidate tracker

President Trump went to Ohio on Thursday, where he was not welcomed by the governor, who earlier in the day tested positive for the coronavirus. Before that, he made a series of phone-ins to digital rallies and held news conferences, which often dipped into misinformation about mail voting.

You know what’s going on in New York with the Carolyn Maloney [race],” Trump said on Wednesday, referring to a contest in New York's 12th District where thousands of ballots were uncounted after a post office error. “I think they have to have a new election.” Maloney's opponent Suraj Patel has not conceded the race, though the state has certified it, Maloney has declared victory, and her campaign has accused him of giving talking points to Trump.

Trump's campaign, meanwhile, spent more and more time accusing Joe Biden of dodging public appearances because they'd lead to more gaffes. A Trump campaign text to supporters asked them to answer two questions about Biden: “How would you rate Joe Biden’s mental fitness?” and “Is there anything else you’d like to share with the President about Joe Biden’s declining mental state?” And on Wednesday, Biden announced that he would not appear in person at the party's Milwaukee convention this month, raising the possibility that he will not leave the general Wilmington, Del., area until the debates begin next month.

Biden continued to hold fundraisers and participate in some limited interviews, with the most time spent on a roundtable with the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The most news came from his irritation with a question about whether he would take a cognitive test. “That’s like saying you, before you got on this program, if you take a test where you’re taking cocaine or not, what do you think?” Biden asked CBS's Errol Barnett. “Huh? Are you a junkie?”

The panel ranged far afield of that subject, though, with Biden saying he would not direct his Justice Department to investigate Trump (though he would not intervene in ongoing investigations).

Countdown

… two days until primaries in Hawaii
… five days until primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin, and runoffs in Georgia
… 11 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 12 days until primaries in Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming 
… 21 days until the Republican National Convention
… 29 days until some absentee ballots start going out
… 89 days until the general election