October 29, 2020
Four years ago, headlines across the country announced that FBI Director James Comey had sent a letter to Congress on October 28 saying that the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. That announcement, made despite the Justice Department’s policy of taking care not to do anything that could affect an election, swung the election toward Donald Trump, who won.
Four years later, Trump’s attempt to seed another “investigation” into his rival through the “discovery” of a compromising laptop has fizzled. Today, NBC News noted that a document purporting to show Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden in a corrupt relationship with Communist leaders in China was actually ghost written by an academic and published under a fake identity.
Meanwhile, a record number of 80 million early ballots have already been cast, and we are all parsing the polls for clues about who will emerge as the winner of the 2020 election.
What is clear is that, as we approach the end of the campaigns, each is reflecting its presidential candidate.
This morning, the New York Times revealed that Trump and Attorney General William Barr worked together to try to stop a criminal investigation into a bank owned by the Turkish state. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, was preparing a case against Halkbank, which the government suspected was laundering money and sending billions of dollars to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions. Investigators believed Iran was using the money to pay for its nuclear weapons program. The case involved President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and members of his family and his political party. In June 2019, Berman was shocked when Barr asked him to end the investigations and let Halkbank get away with paying a fine and admitting some wrongdoing.
The story shows Trump undermining American policy to advance his own interests. From the beginning of Trump’s presidency, Turkey worked to gain influence with the new administration, hiring Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn, for example, as a lobbyist. Erdogan had personally lobbied Trump hard to get rid of the Halkbank investigation. Senior officials worried that the president was chatting with an authoritarian leader about a criminal case, in a country where Trump does business. Erdogan had tried unsuccessfully to get the Obama administration to drop the case, but now appeared to be having better luck. Erdogan told reporters that Trump had assured him he would take care of the matter. It was not until Trump and Erdogan clashed over Syria last October that the U.S. charged the bank, but the charges did not include any individuals. Barr fired Berman this summer.
Similarly, Trump’s willingness to defend his own interests at others’ expense is showing in the final days of his campaign. It is showing generally, with his willingness to expose his supporters to coronavirus infections at his rallies. It is showing more specifically with Trump’s refusal to support endangered Republican Senators who have stood by him and lost support because of it. At Trump’s recent visit to Maine, he did not mention Senator Susan Collins, who is in a tight race with her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon.
In Arizona, Trump mocked vulnerable senator Martha McSally. “Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick. You got one minute!” Trump said, as the senator rushed to the stage for some airtime with the president. “One minute, Martha! They don't want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let’s go.” Trump gave McSally just 60 seconds to speak before turning the microphone over to other national figures.
A recent endorsement of the president was damning. The publisher of the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, urged people to vote for Trump only because he claimed Biden’s policies would “strike at the economic well-being of the country.” As for Trump himself, the editorial acknowledged, he “is a bully and a bigot…. He panders to racists and prevents sensible immigration reform in a nation built on immigrant labor and intellect. He tweets conspiracy theories. He’s cavalier about Covid-19 and has led poorly through the pandemic. He seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without proposing a replacement. He denies climate change.”
Even such a half-hearted endorsement drew rebuttals from an editor and a columnist at the paper.
The campaign continues to downplay the coronavirus. Tonight, campaign spokesperson Donald Trump, Jr., told Fox News Channel personality Laura Ingraham that the number of deaths from Covid-19 is now “almost nothing, because we’ve gotten control of this.” But today alone, at least 951 Americans died of the coronavirus, and more than 91,000 new cases were reported. Our overall official death total is approaching 230,000. “If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday night.
Trump has begun to muse about losing the election, and said he would like simply to drive away, or fly away, from the burden of the presidency. Yesterday, retired Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack wrote that, with his immense financial debts and pending legal issues, “Trump appears to be a classic flight risk.”
Still, though, the president continues to fire up his base with accusations that Democrats are engaging in voter fraud, and that counting ballots after November 3 will mean a stolen election. His rhetoric is so worrisome that business owners in Washington, D.C., are boarding up their windows and Walmart is pulling guns and ammunition from its shelves (although it will continue to sell them on request).
Tonight, both candidates are in Florida, and while Trump could have focused on today’s economic report showing 7% GDP growth in the third quarter, he went all-in with attacks on Hunter Biden and mused about losing.
In contrast to Trump’s erratic personality-driven campaign, Biden’s campaign is smooth and professional. Unlike the Trump campaign, it has plenty of money, and is running fun, moving, and professional ads on social media emphasizing unity and healing for the country.
In addition to the many other groups breaking in Biden’s favor, early data suggests that young Americans are turning out to vote in record numbers. About 63% of voters from ages 18 to 29 say they support Biden, while only about 25% support Trump.
While the polls are suggesting there is little movement in the race, there has been a shift toward Biden in Georgia in the past few days. That shift will likely get a boost from an astonishing moment in a hard-hitting debate last night between embattled incumbent Senator David Perdue, a Republican, and his challenger, Democrat Jon Ossoff.
After Perdue attacked Ossoff for taking money from out-of-state donors who support a “radical socialist agenda,” Ossoff countered with a devastating takedown: “Perhaps Senator Perdue would have been able to respond properly to the Covid-19 pandemic if you hadn’t been fending off multiple federal investigations for insider trading,” he said. “It’s not just that you’re a crook, Senator, it’s that you’re attacking the health of the people that you represent.” Perdue seemed frozen. The clip has gone viral, and today Perdue pulled out of the final debate scheduled between him and Ossoff. Instead he will join Trump for a rally that night.
Biden and Harris are reaching out to Hispanic voters, whose support will matter a lot in southern states. In Florida tonight, at a drive-in event, Biden hammered on Trump’s approach to the pandemic, called for racial justice, and promised that he will not be too hard on Cuba or too soft on Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president. Biden got a boost today from an op-ed in the Miami Herald by Hispanic business and economic leaders who endorsed Biden as the candidate who would build “a stronger, more dynamic economy that works for everyone.” With Hispanic voters extra-concerned about charges of “socialism,” the op-ed’s authors emphasized that Biden is the candidate of “free enterprise.”
Today, Biden wrapped together his pitch to Hispanic voters, an appeal to morality and a better future, and an illustration of how a Biden presidency will be different than its predecessor. He promised that, if he is elected president, he will immediately create a task force to reunite the families of the 545 immigrant children still separated from their parents.