And so it is Friday. We are in the final countdown to the 2020 election.
The polls at the popular political website FiveThirtyEight favor Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are not out of the running. Every poll shows Biden far ahead of Trump in the popular vote, but because of our Electoral College system, the president could still win reelection. Virtually no one is suggesting that Trump could win the popular vote, and his campaign’s plan is simply to get enough Democratic votes thrown out in swing states that he can win those electoral votes and clinch the election. Never before in our history has a candidate openly planned to win an election by gaming the system, but here we are.
It feels today like a bunch of stories from the past are coming home to roost.
For all of the attention on the election, the top story remains the coronavirus, which is infecting Americans and killing us at an alarming rate. Today we broke a terrifying record: the U.S. had more than 100,000 new infections. In all but a handful of states, the virus is spreading unchecked. A scathing new report from a congressional panel chaired by Jim Clyburn (D-SC) calls the administration’s response to the pandemic “among the worst failures of leadership in American history.”
The coronavirus story is also the story of the election, as Trump and his supporters insist those eager to combat the pandemic are simply trying to hurt the president. Trump complains bitterly of the attention media is giving to “covid, covid, covid,” and today told people attending his rally in Michigan that doctors are exaggerating the threat of coronavirus because they get paid more if a cause of death is listed as Covid-19. The American Medical Association released a statement saying “The suggestion is a… malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.” It pointed out that doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are risking their lives daily to try to defeat the virus.
The administration’s changes to the reporting system for coronavirus have hampered our ability to combat it. In July, the administration shifted the way hospital data is collected, taking the project away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and giving it to a private contractor. CDC experts no longer check and analyze the data. Information on hospitalizations is no longer publicly available, so states cannot see what is happening elsewhere. This hides the picture of what is happening nationally, making it impossible for public health officials to plan for spikes.
Meanwhile, Twitter users today reminded us that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told the nation in mid-September that the White House was planning to have 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of October. A White House aide said today that that deadline was “kind of… arbitrary,” although Trump told a rally in Arizona this week that we would have a vaccine “momentarily.” No companies have applied for approval yet.
The Trump campaign mirrors the past practices of the Trump administration. The Government Accountability Office says Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli are in their jobs illegally, but Trump has kept them where they can do his bidding. He has recently dispatched the two men, along with top leaders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to hold press conferences in swing states boasting of Trump’s immigration policies. In an unprecedented politicization of their offices, they are making the case for Trump’s reelection, warning, for example, that there will be an “unimaginable public health crisis” at the southern border if Biden is elected. They are also putting up official billboards that support Trump’s reelection.
Dave Lapan, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served as DHS spokesman during the Trump Administration when John Kelly was the secretary, told TIME magazine, “The rhetoric that’s come out of Wolf and Cuccinelli is appearing to be a propaganda arm of the White House.” The agency looks like “an extension of the president’s re-election campaign.”
The attempts of the Trump administration to manipulate the election through government appointments showed up in another way today, too, when a video surfaced of piles of mail at the Miami-Dade Post Office. The person who took the video said the mail, which included ballots, had sat unsorted for more than a week, precisely what people feared would happen when Trump’s Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, implemented new rules for mail delivery this summer. Several Florida officials said they were launching an investigation, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan isn’t waiting around. He ordered the United States Postal Service to implement emergency measures to speed up delivery of ballots.
Republicans have more than 300 lawsuits underway in 44 states to try to stop the counting of mail-in ballots in general. In Texas, for example, they want courts to invalidate more than 100,000 votes in and around Houston because voters cast them at drive-through voting centers. In Pennsylvania and Minnesota, election officials are setting aside mail-in ballots postmarked on or before November 3 but arriving afterward, anticipating court challenges.
But judges are inclined to defend voting rights. So Republicans are now turning their focus to individual ballots. In Nevada, for example, they hope to examine the signatures on every single ballot to challenge the ones they don’t believe match.
Trump has hinted to his supporters that they should intimidate voters, either keeping them from voting or making them turn away at the polls. Voter intimidation—disrupting the voting process in any way-- is a crime under both federal and state law. States and the federal government take it very seriously indeed, setting up trained poll workers at every venue, and providing voter protection hotlines in each state and at the federal level as well. Earlier this month, right-wing activists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged on four counts of intimidating voters in at least five states through robocalls. If convicted, the men could face up to 12 years in prison.
For his part, Trump continues to preach to the converted at his rallies, but social media trackers say his shocking performances are no longer attracting positive attention on those sites. Followers find him boring, and much prefer Biden’s calm, solid messages.
So a better bet for Trump’s reelection is his pitch to call the election on November 3. He says that a longer time period would be new and unfair, but this is just wrong: the election is not over until a state certifies the results, and no state does that on Election Day. More to the point was Trump’s statement in March, when he objected to a Democratic proposal to encourage voting, saying “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Some stories from the past are continuing despite the election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today he would not take up a coronavirus relief bill until January. He also told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he had every intention of continuing to confirm judges, despite the Senate’s traditional practice of stopping judicial confirmations at some point during an election year. “We’re going to run through the tape. We go through the end of the year, and so does the President,” he said. “We’re going to fill the 7th Circuit. And I’m hoping we have time to fill the 1st Circuit as well.” “We’re going to clean the plate, clean all the district judges off as well,” he told Hewitt.
One more returning story from the past: today one of the Louisville police officers who stormed Breonna Taylor’s apartment has sued her boyfriend for emotional distress, assault, and battery. Taylor’s friend, Kenneth Walker, a licensed gun owner, allegedly shot the officer, Jonathan Mattingly, in the leg as the law enforcement officers broke into the apartment on March 13. Walker thought they were intruders and fired his gun. The police opened fire and killed Breonna Taylor. They arrested Walker for attempted murder, but the charges were later dropped. He has filed a civil lawsuit against the city and the police department. And now Officer Mattingly is suing him.
“Walker's conduct in shooting Mattingly is outrageous, intolerable, and offends all accepted standards of decency and morality,” Mattingly’s lawsuit said. For his part, Walker’s lawyer noted that his client was protected by Kentucky’s laws about self-defense in one’s home, and added, “One would think that breaking into the apartment, executing his girlfriend and framing him for a crime in an effort to cover up her murder would be enough for them….” He called the lawsuit a “baseless attempt to further victimize and harass Kenny.”
And after all these stories from the past, a story from the future: today Madame Tussauds waxwork museum in Berlin threw its statue of Trump into a dumpster in preparation for a new president.