No Decent Interval

Countdown Journal: 43 days To Go

How seriously are we going to take this? Well, this is 2020, and it’s already a t-shirt and a rally chant.

#MAGA keeping it classy:

A couple of data points to start the morning: A new poll finds that 62% of Americans think the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by the winner of the November election. Since Friday night, the Democratic fund raising site, ActBlue, has raised more than $100 million (which is crazy money), suggesting that the court vote is mobilizing Democrats in a way that Biden alone has not done yet.

This should give the GOP some pause. But it probably won’t, as the GOP seems to be lurching toward a quick vote. Whether that really “changes everything,” seems very much an open question.


Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 43 days to go until Election Day and then 78 days until the inauguration.

It’s Monday, and the country is waking up with a massive hangover, compounded by a pandemic, an economic downturn, wildfires, an increasingly vicious campaign, and the possibility of a looming constitutional crisis.

Because this is the country we live in now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday night and the country bolted past a decent interval of respect to political civil war. Barely an hour after the news broke, Trumpist Ned Ryun declared on Fox News: “This is an opportunity, and I say they seize the moment.”

And, indeed, that’s very much the mood on the right. All those pledges to avoid an election year vote on a SCOTUS nominee? You’re kidding, right? Even though he was on tape explicitly promising not to move ahead close to the election, Lindsey Graham predictably was Lindsey Graham.

Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins demurred, and Mitt Romney has kept his powder dry, but the prospects that a fourth GOP senator would stand athwart the Trump/McConnell track and shout “Stop,” seemed to fade when retiring veteran Lamar Alexander declared his support for the snap confirmation.

Emotions are (ahem), running high. Over the weekend, one of our podcast listeners tweeted out her outrage that JVL kind of likes Amy Coney Barrett (even though he would not vote for her confirmation at this point). “I literally sat up in bed,’ she wrote, “and unsubscribed and deleted Bulwark from my iPod.”

As much as we regret her departure, this may actually have been a prudent move, because if you really do not want to be subjected to ideas you disagree with, you probably should not subscribe to us. And the court is a good example. Over the last few days, we’ve published a range of reactions and takes, and they are all worth your time:

On Saturday morning, Constitutional scholar Kim Wehle looked at the civility and decency of Justice Ginsburg.

Also on Saturday, Jonathan V. Last wrote “Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Coming Political Crisis,” which argued that a pre-election or lame duck vote would badly damage the legitimacy of the court.

I put out a special newsletter taking a dark view of what’s about to happen. “If you’ve been working on your ‘Worst Case Scenarios,’ you’re going to have tear them up and start over. If you’ve been playing at home, it’s possible that your 2020 Apocalypse Bingo card is nearly filled up. “

Also in the Bulwark: Constitutional expert Adam White wrote “Save the Vote, Save the Court,” writing:

 President Trump should promptly nominate the late Justice Ginsburg’s successor, but Senators should delay a final vote on the nomination until after the election.

If Trump wins reelection, then his victory will secure not just the new justice’s appointment, but also her public legitimacy. And if Trump loses, then Senate Republicans and Democrats will have an opportunity to commit to not pack the Court, and thus to not destroy it.

Our political columnist Amanda Carpenter laid out the Trump/GOP rationale for pushing a pre-election confirmation vote. (She’ll join me later today on the Bulwark podcast.)

What makes anyone think those Republicans who lost their dignity defending Trump for the last four years will throw away the chance to get a third Supreme Court justice? They will get that judge because, to many Trump voters, this is the only redeeming thing about the Trump presidency. And this is their last, best chance to win another prize before Trump potentially loses to Joe Biden in November.

Why would they throw that away? Please don’t be naive enough to think that digging up old clips and op-eds of Republicans saying something else some other years will persuade them otherwise. There are only two principles at play: politics and power.

Christian Schneider had a very different take, arguing that a vote before the election would actually deprive Trump of one of his most potent issues, and make him essentially irrelevant.

But if Trump does make his pick and McConnell does push the choice through the Senate, his coalition of traditional conservatives and populist nationalists will likely dissolve. Gone will be the fear that a Democratic president will appoint a justice who will swing the Court so far to the left that gay marriage will be mandatory and abortions will be performed at Costco.

In effect, by making a pick, Trump may be rendering himself obsolete in November.

In a special newsletter Sunday, Tim Miller warned about the dangers of the tyranny of the minority. He asks us to imagine 21-year-olds who live “in a median American city and who wasn’t educated about our infallible nation by the new Patriotic Common Core Curriculum.”

They were born in 1999. Two of the three presidents in their lifetime were elected by minority vote. The only one who was twice elected with a majority vote was denied the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice based on some quite shaky arcana and phony rule-making that they think was largely political bullshit. The president they know the best has a complete disregard for the law or political norms, received about 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, had the help of a foreign enemy, was impeached for soliciting illicit foreign help again and not removed from office. After all that, he did exactly the thing that his party said the black president who had actually received a majority vote couldn’t do in an election year. 

And in today’s Bulwark, Bill Kristol lays out how Joe Biden will handle the SCOTUS vacancy.

It will not be hard for Joe Biden to present himself as the pro-RBG, pro-Supreme Court, and pro-Roe v. Wade candidate. And in each of those cases, he will be sitting smack-dab in the center of the majority opinion. Which is most likely a winning place to be.

Speaking of Biden, the former VP pushed back on the idea of court-packing, while urging a delay in any vote until after the election. “If Donald Trump wins the election, then the Senate should move on his selection and weigh the nominee he chooses fairly," Biden said. "But if I win this election, President Trump’s nominee should be withdrawn and I should be the one who nominates Justice Ginsburg’s successor.”

It’s a fair assumption that the nomination process will be dominated by the abortion issue, but other considerations will also weigh heavily: Democratic messaging is already focusing on the threat to the ACA and protections for pre-existing conditions, and Trump may get distracted by the bright shiny object of picking a justice who will help him win Florida.

Ramming speed. Has everyone thought out the time line here? If Trump names a successor to Ginsburg this weekend (as he is suggesting), there will only be 38/39 days to go before Election Day. The average normal time from a nomination to confirmation is 69 days. So this will have to happen crazy fast in the midst of a presidential/senate campaign.

What could go wrong?

This is mind-blowing. “Biden Has $466 Million in Bank, and a Huge Financial Edge on Trump.”

Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign said on Sunday that it entered September with $466 million in the bank together with the Democratic Party, providing Mr. Biden a vast financial advantage of about $141 million over President Trump heading into the intense final stretch of the campaign.

The money edge is a complete reversal from this spring, when Mr. Biden emerged as the Democratic nominee and was $187 million behind Mr. Trump, who began raising money for his re-election shortly after he was inaugurated in 2017

White knuckle polling update: Polls taken before Ginsburg’s death show (surprise) a stable race:

But here are two dramatically contrasting takes of where we stand six weeks out from Election Day:

Via Politico: “Trump Is Riding High. Can He Keep from Blowing It?”

It might sound a little unseemly, and even a tad nuts, considering the ongoing pandemic, the wheezing economy and his trailing position in most polls, but … all of a sudden, Trump’s in a pretty good spot. Maybe one of the best of his presidency. With the imminent chance to pick his third person for the nine-seat high court, he has the ammunition he needs to amp up enthusiasm for his reelection among the most fervently anti-abortion portion of his base and maybe flip a script that has had Joe Biden in the lead for months. After the often chaotic, erratic past four years, Trump has within plausible reach a shot at being one of the more consequential presidents ever.

Via CNN: “Why it could be a Biden blowout in November.”

There is also the distinct possibility that Biden blows Trump out. It's something I've noted before, and the Washington Post's David Byler pointed out a few weeks ago.

If you were to look at the polling right now, there's a pretty clear picture. Biden has leads of somewhere between five and eight points in a number of states Trump won four years ago: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those plus the states Hillary Clinton won get Biden to about 290 electoral votes.

If you add on the other states where Biden has at least a nominal edge in the averages (Florida and North Carolina), Biden is above 330 electoral votes.

That's not quite at blowout levels, but look at the polling in places like Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. We're not really talking about those places right now, even though one or both campaigns have fairly major advertising investments planned down the stretch in all four.

The polling there has been fairly limited, but it's been pretty consistent. Biden is quite competitive.

There are 43 days to go

Quick Takes

1. Jesse Helms, a Racist? I Had No Idea.

Really, don’t miss this interview of former anti-Trumper Danielle Pletka by Isaac Chotiner. It’s both revealing and awkward, especially when they get to the whole Jesse Helms thing.

Saying this now about racial issues, how do you feel in hindsight about your work with Senator Helms? [Helms was known for decades of race-baiting campaign tactics and vehement opposition to the civil-rights movement.]

I did foreign policy for Senator Helms. I worked for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As far as I was concerned, in my work with him, he never uttered a racist statement, never betrayed a racial bias. To the contrary. And believed more than many of the people I worked with in human freedom, human rights, equality of opportunity. He fought for people who were disadvantaged. So there may have been a Jesse Helms one day who did things that were wrong.

You know things that were wrong. This isn’t a “may.”

Cheap Shots

1. The Lord’s Work

2. Grade inflation.

Deep Thoughts

1. The True Founding?

This whole thing is just embarrassing. “Down the 1619 Project’s Memory Hole.”

Throughout the controversy, the line about the year 1619 being “our true founding” continued to haunt the Times. This criticism did not aim to denigrate the project’s titular date or the associated events in the history of slavery. Rather, the passage came to symbolize the Times’s blurring of historical analysis with editorial hyperbole. The announced intention of reframing the country’s origin date struck many readers across the political spectrum as an implicit repudiation of the American revolution and its underlying principles.

Rather than address this controversy directly, the Times—it now appears—decided to send it down the memory hole—the euphemized term for selectively editing inconvenient passages out of old newspaper reports in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Without announcement or correction, the newspaper quietly edited out the offending passage such that it now reads:

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

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