President Trump: “I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position.
Savannah Guthrie: I don’t get that, you’re the President. You’re not like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just-
President Trump: No, no. No, no.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Once again last night, Donald Trump was our national crazy uncle.
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 18 days to go until Election Day, and then 78 days until the Inauguration.
If you had a remote control, you could toggle back and forth between two alternative universe’s last night. In Politico, David Siders and Anita Jumar wrote that the dueling townhalls “came off less like a split screen than a breach in the political universe – ‘Die Hard’ versus ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”
Or, if you are looking for a different cultural analogy, Biff Tannen versus… Mr. Rogers. That first reference (To Back the Future Part II) is from me:
The Mr. Rogers reference (complete with misspelling) is from Trump flack Mercedes Schlapp:
Before we get to the most substantive stuff, let’s dwell on that for a moment. Searching for a new way to diss “Sleepy Joe,” the better half of the oleaginous Schlapp couple settled on comparing Biden to Fred Rogers, one of the most beloved figures of American popular culture. So, this didn’t have quite the impact that Mercedes thought it would have.
Mercedes Schlapp @mercedesschlappWell @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall feels like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood. https://t.co/bC8fIZPxHR
Let’s talk about the crazy uncle. Two moments stood out last out night. The first was Savannah Guthrie’s question about QAnon.
Here’s how that exchange went (with Trump’s constant interruptions somewhat edited out):
Savannah Guthrie: (18:15)
All right, while we’re denouncing, let me ask you about QAnon. It is this theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior, of that. Now can you just, once and for all, state that that is completely not true, and-….
President Trump: (18:37)
I know nothing about QAnon.
Savannah Guthrie: (18:39)
I just told you.
President Trump: (18:41)
I know very little. You told me, but what you tell me, doesn’t necessarily make it fact. I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it. If you’d like me to-
Savannah Guthrie: (18:54)
They believe that it is a Satanic cult run by the deep state.
President Trump: (18:57)
… study the subject. I’ll tell you what I do know about. I know about Antifa,….
You’ll notice the usual Trumpian dodges: (1) He claims he knows nothing, (2) he throws out a token disavowal, (3) but then he circles back to praise the movement’s goals. And then, of course, he immediately changes the subject.
And QAnon? Trump’s answer had to exceed their wildest and craziest expectations.
Then it got worse.
Guthrie asked Trump about his retweet of a bizarre Seal Team Six conspiracy theory. His answer followed a similar pattern.
Savannah Guthrie: (20:20) Just this week, you retweeted to your 87 million followers, a conspiracy theory that Joe Biden orchestrated to have SEAL Team Six, the Navy SEAL Team Six, killed to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden. Now, why would you send a lie like that to your followers?
President Trump: (20:35)
I know nothing about it, can I [crosstalk 00:20:36]-
Savannah Guthrie: (20:35)
You retweeted it.
President Trump: (20:38)
That was a retweet. That was an opinion of somebody-
Savannah Guthrie: (20:40)
President Trump: (20:41)
…. and that was a retweet. I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves. I don’t take a position.
Savannah Guthrie: (20:46)
I don’t get that, you’re the President. You’re not like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just-
President Trump: (20:47)
No, no. No, no.
At this late date, do we really need a national debate over why it is profoundly abnormal for the President of the United States to use his position to peddle toxic conspiracy theories?
Do we really need to have a discussion about why the excuse “I’ll just put it out there,” is reckless, dangerous, and disingenuous?
(But, Hunter’s laptop.)
Unfortunately, this may not have been Trump’s worst moment. Check out this fact check of his performance, from CNN”s heroic fact-checker Daniel Dale: “Competing town halls highlight Trump's dishonesty.”
And how did Biden do?
Pete Buttigieg @PeteButtigiegJust imagine turning on the TV, seeing your president, and feeling your blood pressure go down instead of up.
For the first time since late July, the tally of newly reported coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 64,000 on Thursday. In 44 states and the District of Columbia, caseloads are higher than they were one month ago, and many of the new infections are being reported in rural areas with limited hospital capacity.
More than 7,944,000 cases have been reported nationwide since February, and at least 216,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Rudy Disinformation. Via the Wapo:
U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, according to four former officials familiar with the matter.
The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine, where he was gathering information that he thought would expose corrupt acts by former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The intelligence raised concerns that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information and conversations.
Speaking of Rudy. Giuliani’s daughter has something she wants to say.
If being the daughter of a polarizing mayor who became the president’s personal bulldog has taught me anything, it is that corruption starts with “yes-men” and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience to maintain their proximity to power. We’ve seen this ad nauseam with Trump and his cadre of high-level sycophants (the ones who weren’t convicted, anyway).
This may be the best thing you’ll watch today:
Ben Sasse breaks bad.
After more than a year of near-total radio silence, Sasse unloaded on the Orange God King in a call to constituents.
“The debate is not going to be, ‘Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?’” ….
“It’s going to be, ‘What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?’”
“We are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami….
“The way he kisses dictators’ butts. I mean, the way he ignores the Uighurs, our literal concentration camps in Xinjiang. Right now, he hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers,” Sasse said.
“The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor,” Sasse continued. “The ways I criticize President Obama for that kind of spending; I’ve criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
Well, now he tells us.
For some context, here is what I wrote for NBC last September:
In the end, Ben Sasse got the Trump tweet he gave up so much to get. “Senator Ben Sasse has done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska,” President Donald Trump tweeted. “He is great with our Vets, the Military, and your very important Second Amendment. Strong on Crime and the Border, Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
And with that, one of the last Trump critics in the Senate GOP was brought to heel. “For Sasse, the past several months have represented something akin to surrender in the war for the soul of modern conservatism,” wrote The Washington Post’s James Hohmann.
To be fair, Sasse’s surrender was foreshadowed earlier this year by his vote to uphold Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to build his wall. The junior senator from Nebraska also won the president’s favor with his radio silence.
More significant than his voting record is the evolution in Sasse’s tone about Trump and his increasingly long periods of silence. He’s gone to apparent pains not to be perceived as a Never Trumper or to become a face of the Republican resistance, mostly by flying below the radar and not speaking out against the president on Fox News. His once prolific personal Twitter account has been dark since May. He rarely engages with reporters seeking comment on the story of the day in the corridors of the Capitol.
The NYT Upshot analysis today:
There’s no sign that things are getting better for President Trump. There’s no hint of tightening. No way to credibly construe the numbers as much better for the president than the average, or better than the prior edition of these polls. You could note that the venerable NBC/WSJ poll shows Mr. Biden up 11 points, down from its previous survey after the first debate, when it had the lead at 14. But that previous result looked as if it was running pretty hot for Mr. Biden, and it’s a lot easier to interpret the new result as expected movement back toward the overall average, rather than as an actual shift toward Mr. Trump.
There are 18 days to go.
1. Kelly Loeffler: Lifestyles of the Rich and Classless
Great read from our political columnist Amanda Carpenter in today’s Bulwark:
It’s entirely possible that Loeffler could spend many more of her millions, only to lose it all come 2021. And what would happen then? Loeffler would be forced to retreat to her $10.5 million, 15,000-square-foot mansion. Pour one out for the poor rich lady.
But maybe it’ll all work out for her. Maybe the Qanons she’s courted will go Quazy for Quelly. Maybe the good old boys in the militia will march to the polls for Loeffler and scare everyone else away. Maybe they’ll believe she is really one of them.
In a way, she is. If the Age of Trump is about anything, it’s about the triumph of plutocratic faux populism in the Republican party.
Kelly Loeffler has made herself into a real fake populist. She is Trump’s true heir. They’re political fam now, their fates inextricably tied. She wanted this.
2. The Conservative Push for a Social Media “Fairness Doctrine” is Pure Fantasy
Important read from Christian Schneider in this morning’s Bulwark:
Let there be no doubt that what Twitter and Facebook did was immensely stupid, giving Republicans a talking point for days, if not weeks, leading up to the election and shining an even bigger spotlight on the dubious report. Hunter Biden’s actions are virtually irrelevant to the current election; had the companies simply allowed the story to run its course, it would have died out.
But now the social media platforms are the ones on trial in “the discourse.” And that trial is revealing how thoroughly Trump has corrupted the traditional conservative brain.
Our vindictive president.
CNN Breaking News @cnnbrkThe Trump administration has rejected California's request for a disaster declaration for six destructive wildfires, including a massive central California wildfire that has become the single largest in state history https://t.co/EwzVMpv1hX
1. Biden Must Stiff-Arm the Court-Packers
Politically, Biden faces an unappetizing choice. If he endorses court packing, he will inflame a heated cultural and political issue to Trump’s advantage, and potentially harm several Democratic senatorial candidates. If he does not, he will alienate some progressives, and prematurely give up bargaining power on court reform should he become president—even before he knows what he can get through the Senate, and what his top legislative priorities must be in this badly wounded country. The only party that should want him to make such a choice before the election is the GOP.
2. A Conservative’s Case for Biden
There is a reason why the uninspiring Gerald Ford was an inspired choice to follow Richard Nixon. Ford had been a respected legislator for a quarter of a century. As president, he knew the personnel choices and institutional rituals that would begin to restore credibility to politicized agencies. Biden has the background and capacity to do the same.