In this edition: The fast-changing fight over China, Democratic electoral panic in southern California and how Biden has kept Democrats on board.
The “days since an armed protest at a state capitol” sign has been reset to “zero” again, and this is The Trailer.
On Thursday morning, House Republicans launched a 15-person China Task Force to develop legislative responses to the “China challenge.” A few hours later, the Trump campaign released an ad accusing Joe Biden of “protecting China’s feelings” by opposing elements of a January travel restriction on Chinese nationals.
By Friday, Texas Republicans were condemning the city of San Antonio after its city council unanimously voted to condemn the terms “Chinese virus” and “Kung Fu virus.” “They want to send the authorities after you if you utter the phrase ‘Chinese virus,’" freshman Rep. Chip Roy of Texas said in a video appeal to donors. “This, after last year they kicked Chick-fil-A out of the San Antonio airport.”
In short: The on-again, off-again Republican focus on China is on again, after a false start earlier in the spring.
Over the past few weeks, conservatives have begun to blame China for the coronavirus pandemic. “We should be focused on … holding China accountable for what they did to hide the facts from us in the rest of the world, and also to address the problems with supply chain,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican and China Task force member, told The Post’s Josh Rogin. “China's in control of so many things that are vital to us, like PPE, and even our generic drugs.”
To that end, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican freshman from Missouri, has introduced resolutions in favor of pulling America out of the World Trade Organization, allowing Americans to seek “justice” from China through lawsuits and launching an international investigation that could force China to pay reparations “to all affected nations for the harm caused by its decision to hide the emergence and spread of covid–19.”
Only the last resolution has any co-sponsors. All four are Republicans.
Democrats, while not disputing any of the criticism of China, generally view Republican messaging as an attempt to replace an invisible enemy with a visible one – and then, in turn, link it to Joe Biden.
In response, Democrats have talked about China as a Trumpian distraction, arguing both that President Trump has not been tough on the country, and that he is deflecting responsibility. Wisconsin Democrats, for example, said this week that Trump had not “taken the coronavirus seriously from the outset," instead "playing it down and kowtowing to China.”
Biden’s first tangle with Trump over China set the tone. In mid-April, the campaign responded to the first Trump ad on China with its own digital spot, mining a trove of positive comments Trump had made about China’s president Xi Jinping to suggest that Trump had been hoodwinked by “the Chinese.” The campaign took heat from Asian American groups that had been tracking racist sentiment and attacks; Biden’s campaign brushed off the criticism, though took note of it, and is expected to make any future anti-China messaging more specific.
Since then, the issue has gained new strength, with conservative media and local activists often taking the lead. The Job Creators Network, a pro-Republican group that had spent the Democratic primary attacking “socialism,” bought digital ads that capitalized on anti-China sentiment. “China, NOT small businesses, MUST pay for their dishonesty amid the covid-19 crisis,” the ad reads, while images of shuttered storefronts flashed across the screen.
That was relatively mild. Rush Limbaugh, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the president in February, said weeks later that the virus was a “ChiCom laboratory experiment” being used to hurt Trump politically. Glenn Beck endorsed the White House’s threat to cut off America’s payments to the World Health Organization, and described the organization “as nothing more than a Chinese Communist front.” The One America News Network, which is frequently promoted by the president, has told viewers that a “globalist conspiracy” could well be underway to enact the goals of left-wing philanthropists and enact population controls.
Republican candidates have generally not gone quite so far, sticking to two main points: that Biden did nothing to stop China’s rise, and that Democrats are too stymied by political correctness to do anything about China. In a debate ahead of the May 12 special election in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, Republican nominee Tom Tiffany argued that Trump “took the most important action almost immediately, back on Jan. 31,” referring to the travel restrictions, and "he was criticized for that.”
Lauren Witzke, a long-shot Republican challenger to Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, has accused Biden and his party of failing to respond effectively to China. “Biden and Coons are the perfect examples of Democrat politicians who pretend to care about the American worker, but are totally owned and bought and paid for by China, and you can count on that,” Witzke told Breitbart News. “Joe Biden, as far back as 2001, was outsourcing American manufacturing jobs to China.”
On the trade issue alone, Biden offers Trump some of the openings he used against Hillary Clinton four years ago. Like Clinton, and like the presidents who preceded Trump, Biden has mixed the occasional attack on China’s currency manipulation or abuse of trade rules with praise for the country’s economic growth. On the primary trail, Biden would often talk about the hours he spent with Xi, mingling his confidence that America could coexist with a growing China with confidence that the Communist country would never catch up. The first part of that sentiment has appeared in campaign ads; the second has not.
The story in San Antonio, which had no connection to Biden, pointed to another angle that Republicans could use against Democrats. Roy, of San Antonio, was joined by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in condemning the council’s decision, and linking it to a 2019 decision not to include Chick-fil-A in new airport restaurant negotiations. (The city council had cited a “legacy of anti-LGBT behavior.”)
“They want to send in the authorities if you dare utter the phrase ‘Chinese virus,’ ” Roy said in a video to supporters. The resolution did not empower law enforcement to go after anyone who used that phrase.
"As deaths mount, Trump tries to convince Americans it’s safe to inch back to normal," by Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Yasmeen Abutaleb
The struggle to return to the original 2020 plan: Vote on prosperity.
“How ‘Never Trumpers’ crashed the Democratic Party,” by Perry Bacon Jr.
Do former Republicans have much electoral punch?
The president, without basis, cries foul on a special election.
“Democrats fume over having to clean up Bloomberg's mess,” by Alex Thompson and Holly Otterbin
From a promise of a well-funded election PAC to a plea for Democrats to hire his former staffers.
“Both parties struggle with how to hold political conventions in the time of a pandemic,” by Josh Dawsey, Michael Scherer and Annie Linskey
A game of chicken with unusually high stakes.
“The end of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s revolution,” by Josh Kraushaar
Three of the four “squad” members – the three who endorsed Bernie Sanders for president – face primary challengers.
In the states
The special election in California's 25th Congressional District will be held on Tuesday. Republicans have grown increasingly optimistic that their nominee, Mike Garcia, can turn one of the state's blue seats red for the first time since 1998.
So why has the final weekend of the campaign been dominated by GOP cries of voter fraud, including from the president?
It started in Lancaster, one of the biggest cities in a district that covers the Antelope Valley and other once-conservative exurbs of Los Angeles.
The coronavirus pandemic, which began affecting life in California just days after the March 3 primary that initiated the runoff, has hobbled the ground games of Garcia and Democratic nominee Christy Smith and closed down traditional polling places. In their place, a dozen voting centers were opened, similar to the sites some other states have opened for last-minute voters to drop off ballots.
But fast-growing Lancaster, home to more than one in five of the 25th's residents, did not have a voting center, forcing voters to find their way to nearby Palmdale.
On May 4, Los Angeles County Democrats appealed to the city to open its own polling center. Los Angeles County Recorder D.C. Logan, a Democrat, agreed with them. R. Rex Parris, the city's moderate Republican mayor, obliged, wanting to eliminate “even the appearance of affecting the outcome by limiting the ability to vote.”
Despite Parris's support – and the fact that he had endorsed Garcia in the special election – the National Republican Congressional Committee accused Democrats of conspiring to “steal” the election, pointing out that Lancaster had “the second-highest percentage” of registered Democrats in the district.
Smith and Democrats scoffed at that theory, as the site remained open. “Explain exactly why you think that a community that is majority AfAm and Latino voters shouldn’t have an easily accessible vote center?" Smith tweeted. “Did you know Republican Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris was instrumental in helping?” The NRCC mocked Smith right back, asking how she could “play the race card” against a Mexican American candidate, while Garcia echoed the charge that Democrats were trying to “change the rules to steal an election.”
Then President Trump weighed in as well. In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump said not only that the voting site should not have been opened, but that the votes from it “must not count." Garcia did not react, while Democrats piled on.
“The NRCC and the Trump/Mike Garcia Republican Party are nothing if not consistent,” Los Angeles County Democratic Chairman Mark Gonzalez said in a statement. “Their latest tweet attack and attempt to suppress the vote is so on brand, they’re practically telling on themselves. The reality is, here in LA County and all across the country they are afraid of voters and democracy."
The president's tweet happened to come hours before a “day of action” that the Smith campaign and Democrats put together to shrink the gap in returned ballots.
The “stolen election" accusation seemed designed to energize Republican voters, who after years of California losses were ready to believe the worst; Democrats tried to spin it right back, hoping to wake up a base that has not paid much attention to the election. Democratic pessimism about Smith has mushroomed as Republican voters, who reliably vote earlier even in normal conditions, returned their ballots at a much higher rate. As of Saturday, 39 percent of returned ballots had come from Republicans to just 25 percent from Democrats, even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the once-conservative district.
Unite the Country, “Deserve.” The pro-Biden super PAC's advertising has been consistent, presenting the candidate as an uncommonly good man who understands Americans' personal struggles. Weeks of headlines about Tara Reade have not changed the plan. This digital ad relies entirely on Biden's voice, and the oft-told story of his family moving from Pennsylvania to Delaware to find work. As Biden speaks, title cards pitch him as the candidate who can get the country through a crisis: “He led the 2009 American recovery act. He oversaw rebuilding of the auto industry.”
The pandemic has crushed traditional fundraising, canceling high-dollar galas and forcing candidates to give their biggest supporters the less-than-enticing offer of Zoom meeting access. Two Democratic senators accidentally came up with a solution: Tweeting a lot.
On May 5, Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii tweeted about the Republican ad reservations in Iowa, a state that has trended toward the president's party but where Democrats think Sen. Joni Ernst is vulnerable. “If you can help Theresa Greenfield, it’s a very smart way to make an enormous difference,” Schatz wrote, directing followers to a donation page for the Democrat endorsed by the national party. (Three other Democrats are running in next month's primary.)
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut retweeted that, adding that the Iowa race was “TIED” and that Senate control could come down to the result. Over the next few days, over a series of tweets, the senators helped Greenfield raise $213,000, slightly more than the gap between Ernst's and Greenfield's fundraising over the first quarter of 2020. It wasn't their first round of fundraising tweets for Senate candidates, but it was far and away the most successful.
“This is the first election season that I've ever seen in which we don't have to make the case for the importance of the Senate,” Schatz said in an interview. “People get it. And as long as we talk about a race as pivotal for ousting Mitch McConnell, there are thousands and thousands of contributors out there who step up every single time.”
The evidence, Schatz said, was the rate of return on something that took little effort to pull off. When the Senate is not in session, the two men live 5,000 miles and six time zones apart. They text when it's feasible to do so, and they try not to filter the pitch.
“I think what helps is that it's actually Brian and I talking to each other on Twitter,” Murphy said. “I think folks can figure out when it's a fundraising staffer versus an actual authentic communication from a member of Congress.”
Schatz had not met Greenfield before becoming a six-figure bundler for the campaign. He still hadn't met her, and maybe won't meet her for the rest of the campaign. But the success of the fundraising burst, he said, had inspired “legislative candidates across the country” to reach out to get some help.
The age of the “virtual rally” is not yet upon us. Joe Biden tried to pull off the campaign's first multi-speaker, multi-location, online event on Thursday, something the defunct campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had pulled off with fewer guests. It did not go well, as The Post's Sean Sullivan reported, with glitches, freezes and at one point a total failure of the video connection. President Trump mocked the Biden approach, telling Fox News that he'd “love to see [Biden] get out of the basement so he can speak.”
Meanwhile, the race for the Libertarian Party's nomination, which will be decided in 15 days, saw its first all-candidate debate, as Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan joined a forum hosted by the party's Kentucky branch. He was joined by former judge Jim Gray, party activists Jacob Hornberger and Jo Jorgensen, and perennial satirical candidate Vermin Supreme, who bases his campaigns on a promise to distribute free ponies to all Americans.
“I look forward to working with all of these candidates,” Amash said, emphasizing his name recognition and experience, “and I'm proud to be the first Libertarian serving in Congress.”
Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, who joined the Green Party this year, said on Friday that he was not seeking its presidential nomination, but would consider it if offered.
“I won't shut the door,” Ventura said during a live stream. “If the Greens come back to me in the end of July and say, 'you're my man,' I can't guarantee I'll do it, but I will then have to reassess my situation.” The Green Party's convention is scheduled for that month, and New York activist Howie Hawkins has been winning delegates through party primaries.
Dems in disarray
Over the past week, Tara Reade's sexual assault claim against Joe Biden entered a new phase. After turning down several national TV interviews, she agreed to talk with Megyn Kelly, a former Fox News and NBC host who posted their conversation on Instagram. She also hired Douglas Wigdor, an attorney who has represented victims of sexual assault.
All of this has put Democrats, who got few questions about the Biden accusation for weeks, suddenly on the spot. With very few exceptions, they have rallied behind Biden and cast doubt on Reade's allegation, emphasizing the difference in what she said last year and what she says now. Even as Republicans accuse them of absolving Biden from the standards they applied to Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Democrats continued to defend the presumptive nominee.
“There has not been anyone with any objectivity who has been able to confirm that her allegations are accurate,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms said in a Sunday interview on CNN, when asked about Reade. “I'm referring to the media, who has had an opportunity to vet her allegations. Also, there has not been anyone who worked in the office at the time who could corroborate the allegations that she claims she made at the time, and also being mindful of the fact that her story has changed over time.”
Most Democratic responses to the story have taken the same tone, and the party's voters seem so far to trust Biden. Polling has found that Republicans and independents are inclined to believe Reade's accusation, while the vast majority of Democrats are not. A comprehensive look at the Democratic response by Politico's Holly Otterbein found just three candidates — all women, all challenging male incumbents in primaries — who said that Reade probably was telling the truth and Biden probably wasn't.
And those candidates have struggled. Delaware's Jess Scarane and Washington's Rebecca Parson have trailed the incumbents in fundraising by margins of 44 to 1 and 12 to 1 respectively, while New York's Lindsay Boylan is one of several well-funded challengers to Rep. Jerry Nadler. There's no detectable Democratic rebellion against Biden, and some Democrats in safe seats have derided Republicans for discussing the Reade allegation at all.
“They are the ones who are totally embracing their admitted sexual predator president,” Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii told Politico this week. “So for them to use that as some sort of a weapon against Democrats, and they themselves won’t even look to their own behavior, is more than hypocritical.”
Hirono was interviewed in the Capitol because the Senate returned to work last week for some minor business, including a hearing on a judicial nomination to the D.C. Circuit. The pandemic effect on campaigns, which has kept candidates and campaign staff largely at home, has altered the way that stories such as this tend to work. Senate and House candidates are no longer mingling in public spaces, where reporters and trackers can demand responses on uncomfortable topics. Instead, there's a sort of message-in-a-bottle quality to the response side of the story: Republicans ask whether Democrats still “believe women,” but the Democrats only fitfully go on the record when reporters ask.
That has meant that new angles in the story often go unremarked on by Democrats. On Thursday, California reporter Matt Fountain revealed a 1995 document filed by Reade's ex-husband when she filed a restraining order against him. While the document referred to “a problem she was having at work regarding sexual harassment,” Fountain noted that it “does not say Biden committed the harassment nor does it mention Reade’s more recent allegations of sexual assault.”
For the Biden campaign and its allies, it was yet more evidence that Reade's allegation had changed dramatically from 2019 interviews to interviews one year later. But Reade's attorney called it “support that Ms. Reade was sexually assaulted and sexually harassed,” and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC that helps elect Republicans, said in a statement that the document “corroborate[s] the allegations against Joe Biden.”
After a period of relative silence, Democrats are praising Biden and pointing out the inconsistencies in Reade's story. And so long as they're able to choose which media they do and don't respond to, Democrats have been able to stick to that.
… two days until elections in Wisconsin's 7th District and California's 25th District, and the Nebraska primary
… nine days until primaries in Idaho and Oregon
… 99 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 106 days until the Republican National Convention
… 176 days until the general election