In this edition: Watching 2020 as a super-engaged Trump (and Biden) voter, watching the legal battles over stay-at-home orders, and watching what happens to New York's presidential primary, which may or may not happen.
Guilty pleas just aren't what they used to be, and this is The Trailer.
On the 48th day of quarantine, as traditional presidential campaigning became a gauzy memory, I immersed myself in the worlds created by the campaigns of Joe Biden and President Trump. I downloaded both campaigns' apps — TeamJoe and Trump 2020, respectively — and agreed to get notifications. I created a Twitter list consisting of nothing but official campaign accounts and checked in a few times a day. What I found: The Republican effort was designed to keep supporters energized, inspired and sometimes angry. The Democratic effort was genteel and gave me much less to do.
Signing up for the Trump app subscribed me to not one, but two automated text chains. The first came in from the Trump campaign within seconds of sign-up, informing me that I had just gotten “Reward Access Unlocked,” thus qualifying me to “earn points & meet Pres Trump during the campaign in fall.” One minute later, the Republican National Committee thanked me for joining the “team,” and asked whether I could let the president “know what you think of this week's accomplishments.”
Following the first link took me back to the Trump campaign page; following the second gave me a yes or no poll on whether I approved of the president, with space to write about why. I didn’t go further than that, but two hours later, the RNC texted with news: “You were 1 of the 25 President Trump selected for a 5X-MATCH EXTENSION! The other 24 patriots already donated, now it's your turn.”
Not wanting to be left out, I clicked through to a page powered by WinRed, the newish Republican donation portal. A photo of the president pointing at me like Uncle Sam was displayed next to a pitch that had become even more urgent: “This offer is only available for the NEXT HOUR, so you need to act fast. Please contribute ANY AMOUNT in the NEXT HOUR and your gift will be 5X-MATCHED!” A $100 donation button was already colored in, and a box that would have made this a “monthly recurring donation” was already checked. When I tried to click away, a window popped up warning me, in vain, that the offer was about to expire.
All of that happened within two hours. The Biden campaign did not contact me until seven hours after I’d downloaded the app, finally texting me in the late afternoon. “It's Joe Biden and I owe you my sincere thanks, David,” the account wrote. “You all have been so great to this campaign.” (You all?) “I've been calling donors and it's so great to thank people personally. I'm calling more this week who are helping us start May strong. If you aren't a May donor yet, you can chip in here and I might be calling you soon.”
Following that link, I was offered a shot at “a video call from Joe” and told that the “average gift is only $25.” A form to fill in an exact donation amount was left blank; a box that would make this a one-time donation, not a recurring one, was already checked.
Over the next few days, it was easy to forget that the Biden app existed. Push texts were infrequent, and unlike the Trump app, the Biden app didn't let me track virtual campaign events. (That was on the website.) TeamJoe offered me a few options and news items, all of which directed me from the app back to the campaign website. For 24 hours, the top news item was a new Biden campaign pledge, which I could take, committing myself to “empathy,” “keeping the faith,” “humility,” and “no malarkey,” among other nice things. If I wanted to volunteer, the app made it easier, but not addictive.
Trump 2020 did not let me go so easily. A news feed let me read the latest messaging, just as it would appear to a reporter on the media list, or the campaign's curated tweets, which prioritized big names like campaign manager Brad Parscale. An “engage” button educated me on ways to “fight with President Trump,” from hosting a “MAGA Meet Up” to joining the campaign finance committee as a high-dollar bundler. Sharing the app with a friend would award me 100 points, while sharing any news item to Twitter or Facebook would give me a single point. A good prize, like expedited entry at any to-be-scheduled rallies, cost 25,000 points.
The “gamified” Trump app has made some Democrats nervous, not least because Biden hasn't tried to compete with it. Everything that came from the Trump campaign had an act-fast, as-seen-on-TV feeling; nothing from the Biden campaign did. Biden's campaign texted me a poll (“Are you planning to vote for Joe Biden in the general election in your state?”) and a longer “strategy survey,” asking if I wanted to volunteer and what issues I cared about.
The Trump campaign and the RNC, in the same time period, invited me to “the Trump 100 Club” (“offer permanently expires in SIX HOURS”), a “2020 sustaining membership” with the campaign, and a poll that claimed the president had closed “ALL borders to Keep America Safe.” (While citizenship applications have been halted, and while resources have been sent to the Mexican border, the nation's borders are not closed.)
All of this fit snugly with the rest of the campaign's other media and messaging. The point of the Trump app, social media accounts and Web TV was not just to keep me informed — it was to replace some of the news I might be getting from other outlets. “Forget the mainstream media,” went one ad that played at the start of the daily Trump video broadcasts. “Get your facts from the source.”
On the app was a world where the president's agenda was so obviously successful that the media and Democrats had to lie and smear to cover it up. Trump video content was varied but reliable. “War Room Weekly” would deliver updates on campaign organizing and messaging. “Triggered!” brought Donald Trump Jr. together with special guests, for a free-flowing conversation about unfair treatment of conservatives. Shows hosted by presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump or former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, had segment/commercial/segment formats that felt just like cable TV.
Much like swaths of Fox News or the president's increasingly favored outlet, One America News, the shows mixed information about the Trump record with denunciations of a mainstream media that they said refused to cover it fairly. On the “Latinos for Trump” broadcast, derision of “sleepy Joe Biden,” a candidate who can “barely keep his eyes open,” was dispatched with quickly, so the guests could talk about the president's offers to Latino voters — antiabortion policies, border security and, until recently, record low unemployment.
“President Trump built the greatest economy in the history of the world, until the coronavirus artificially interrupted it,” Guilfoyle said.
The Biden campaign had its own programming, but the tone couldn't have been more different. Its own Cinco de Mayo broadcast, “Todos con Biden,” started with a special message from the candidate about how “families belong together.” (Trump himself did not record new content for any of the Trump Web videos I watched.) The content, with guests including actor John Leguizamo and former Labor secretary Hilda Solis, packaged updates on coronavirus infections with condemnations of a president with “values that are unrecognizable to us,” according to Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas.
I had more company watching Trump content than I did watching Biden content. As of Thursday morning, the Biden campaign's Cinco de Mayo broadcast had clocked 7,000 views on YouTube and 180,000 on Facebook, while the Trump campaign's had clocked 11,000 and 900,000 views, respectively. Trump's campaign has 29 million followers on Facebook, while Biden's has less than 2 million. Biden got a higher percentage of his active supporters to tune in, but Trump had exponentially more supporters to draw from.
In some ways, the Biden campaign is years behind on this kind of engagement. By this point in the 2012 campaign, Obama's team had established a popular video series in which deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter shared good news and debunked Republican attacks. There's no such block-and-tackle effort from the Biden social media experience, apart from the occasional tweet responding to the Trump campaign — and no Trump-style points for helping get the message out.
An episode of “Triggered,” which took its title from Trump Jr.'s best-selling book, makes it hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't vote for the president. Wednesday's episode with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Trump Jr. began with the president's son regretting that he did not do more to defend Michael Flynn, the retired general who resigned as Trump's first national security adviser and pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators.
“It's terrible, and no one knows this better than you and the president,” Jordan said. “I mean, what you had to go through, your entire family — the 20 hours you had to sit there, to be interrogated.”
“It was almost 30, but who's counting?” Trump asked. “What's 10 hours of a perjury trap between friends?”
For more than an hour, Trump Jr., Jordan, mixed martial artist and “The Apprentice” contestant Tito Ortiz and former Navy SEAL Rob O'Neill riffed on the news. O'Neill, who famously fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden, was the first of them to mention the pandemic, in the context of ways that Democrats were trying “to get their party in power” by capitalizing on crisis and division. If I'd read only headlines about the campaign this week, I might have been surprised by the Justice Department's decision to drop the Flynn case. Because I watched “Triggered,” I understood the politics, and how much it meant to Trumpworld, instantly.
Biden's broadcasts didn't really discuss media coverage, which isn't surprising; polling shows that Democratic voters trust mainstream news outlets, and Republican voters don't. The result was that Trump campaign content was more involving, and even gripping, something easy to imagine as a cable TV program. Biden campaign content was not. The Democrat is belatedly staffing up to grow his online presence, but the result may look like what I saw this week: two campaigns operating in different realities, in different tones, with their voters consuming information that the other side will never see.
Inside a special election held under good conditions for the GOP.
“Left bucks Biden over Reade allegations,” by Holly Otterbein
Some long-shot primary challengers call for the Democratic nominee to quit.
“Top Republican fundraiser and Trump ally named postmaster general, giving president new influence over Postal Service,” by Josh Dawsey, Lisa Rein, and Jacob Bogage
A partisan pick for an agency that Democrats are increasingly concerned with.
“The state of the states: The legislatures,” by Chaz Nuttycombe
The battle for (let's be honest) control of redistricting in 2021.
Coming soon to a campaign near you.
“How Joe Biden can defeat Trump from his basement,” by Lis Smith
Lessons from Buttigiegland.
In the states
The growing political division over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is playing out most dramatically in two presidential swing states — Michigan and Wisconsin. In both states, a Republican legislative majority is trying to unwind a Democratic governor's emergency orders and even their power to declare an emergency. And in both states, they're fighting it out in court.
Wisconsin's Supreme Court met remotely Tuesday, to hear arguments for and against the state's health secretary (appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, but removable if the state legislature chooses to do so) extending the state's emergency order without legislative approval. The court's conservative majority — it still included Dan Kelly, a Republican appointee who lost reelection last month — sounded not just skeptical, but hostile to stay-at-home orders.
“Where in the Constitution did the people of Wisconsin confer authority on a single, unelected Cabinet secretary to compel almost 6 million people to stay at home and close their businesses and face imprisonment if they don’t comply, with no input from the legislature, without the consent of the people?” Justice Rebecca Bradley asked. “Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work, among other ordinarily lawful activities?”
One day later, Michigan's Republican legislators sued over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's rolling stay-at-home orders, one of which ends May 15. The rationale: Whitmer was invoking emergency powers which were written to cover an “area,” but it was unclear whether that area could be the entire state.
“Only the Legislature has the power to extend the state of emergency,” argued Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
Rulings for or against the plaintiffs won't necessarily affect how the states conduct this year's elections. But both states are deep into electoral warfare over whether these governors, both of whom have seen their popularity surge during the pandemic, have taken too much power away from businesses and consumers. That debate, increasingly, is moving toward the center of the presidential campaign.
President Trump, “Dangerous for America.” A few weeks after pausing its anti-Biden messaging on China, the Trump campaign has announced a $10 million ad blitz, starting with this spot. It's a classic kitchen sink approach, combining previously used footage of Biden with China's Xi Jinping with a newer clip of the former vice president saying “the growth of China is overwhelmingly in our interest.” Most importantly, the ad is designed to make Biden look confused and rattled, with footage of him pausing and acting awkwardly, to make the point that he “forgot” that he criticized Trump's travel restrictions. (Biden denounced the restrictions, which included bans on travel from Nigeria and other countries, as “xenophobia,” and did not single out the effect on China.)
Carolyn Bourdeaux, “Crisis.” The pandemic has overwhelmed most other messaging in House races, including this one, where a delayed primary has complicated things for this Georgia Democrat. Her latest ad doesn't focus on the pandemic itself, instead evoking normal, in-person campaign activity and her 2018 race, with a new voice-over. (Bourdeaux was fewer than 1,000 votes away from victory in the midterms but faces primary challengers for what was not, until recently, a competitive seat.)
Do you believe the sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden is true? (Monmouth, 739 registered voters)
Probably true: 20%
Probably not: 55%
Probably true: 50%
Probably not: 17%
Probably true: 43%
Probably not: 22%
One of the first pollsters to ask voters about Tara Reade's accusation against Joe Biden, Monmouth finds voters divided about whether to believe it, yet not changing their minds about Biden, who has denied it. Since last month, his favorable rating has dropped by just four points, and just one in five Democratic voters — and one in three women — say the candidate may have committed sexual assault. At the same time, the poll finds Biden nine points ahead of the president in a ballot test, with strong support from independents and overwhelming support from Democrats. The story, so far, has damaged Biden's reputation without reversing his lead.
2020 Massachusetts Senate primary (UMass Lowell, 531 likely Democratic voters)
Joe Kennedy: 44% ( 9)
Edward J. Markey: 42% ( 8)
Since February, and the start of the pandemic, the most competitive Democratic Senate primary in the country has been frozen in place. As undecided voters have sorted out their preferences, Kennedy, who is trying to replace Markey on the ticket, has gained only marginally more than the incumbent. But Kennedy's strength comes from his appeal to conservative unenrolled voters, who are allowed to vote in Democratic primaries. He leads by 28 points with that demographic and by 30 points with moderates, as Markey leads by 15 points with liberals. The 39-year-old Kennedy also leads the 73-year-old Markey with liberals, raising the question of whether Markey's alliance with young environmental activists — he is the Senate sponsor of Green New Deal legislation — can be tapped before the September vote.
President Trump has remained in Washington since returning from his Arizona trip, and sat for interviews with ABC News and the New York Post. None of that made as much news as his comments on the Justice Department’s decision to drop its case into Michael Flynn. While Flynn said in 2017 that he lied to FBI investigators about contact with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the president and his allies and Congress have repeatedly argued that he was railroaded, leading to the Justice Department's probe of the investigation.
“He was targeted by the Obama administration and he was targeted in order to try to take down a president,” Trump said Thursday. “What they’ve done is a disgrace and I hope a big price is going to be paid. A big price should be paid.”
Joe Biden took questions from the Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday, pledging to restore and expand protections for LGBTQ Americans if he won the presidency. On Thursday evening, he was set to join a “virtual rally” for supporters in Florida.
Dems in disarray
The on-again, off-again New York presidential primary was rescued this week by a federal court, thanks to a lawsuit initiated by defeated candidate Andrew Yang and eventually supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres, an Obama appointee, ruled that plaintiffs proved that there would be “irreparable harm without emergency relief” and that canceling the primary, as the state's election board did last month, would disenfranchise voters.
“We’re glad Judge Torres has restored basic democracy in New York,” Sanders's campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said after the ruling. “People in every state should have the right to express their preference in the 2020 Democratic primary.”
The June 23 vote, as before, will overlap with some local elections and all primaries for congressional elections. As The Trailer reported on Tuesday, a panoply of pro-Sanders groups has sprung up to maximize his vote in the remaining primaries and in doing so, get enough delegates to influence the Democratic Party's rules and platform.
While there has been no polling of New York's primary since most Democrats dropped out, leaving Biden as the presumptive nominee, Sanders has been able to crack the 15 percent threshold and win delegates in every primary since he suspended his campaign. Simply doing that in New York would net him dozens of delegates, which until this week — and pending the state's appeal — would otherwise go to Biden.
… five days until elections in Wisconsin's 7th District and California's 25th District, and the Nebraska primary
… 12 days until primaries in Idaho and Oregon
… 102 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 109 days until the Republican National Convention
… 179 days until the general election