With just 135 days until the 2020 election, it will be here before you know it. Every Sunday, I outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked – so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.
P.S. – Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! This was my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I wrote about it here.
5. The Senate landscape keeps getting worse for Republicans: Late last week, the Cook Political Report, a leading non-partisan handicapper of campaigns, moved the Montana Senate race – in which Sen. Steve Daines (R) is taking on Gov. Steve Bullock (D) – from “leans Republican” to “toss up.”
Explaining the move, Cook Senate editor Jessica Taylor wrote:
“There’s some evidence that maybe Bullock’s performance with handling COVID-19 and generally good favorability in the state makes this a unique situation where traditional rules may not apply. Unlike other states with candidates newer to the statewide ballot, Bullock is already well-defined in voters’ minds, and it may be harder to change voters’ opinions of him.”
With the move, the Cook Report now carries five Republican-held Senate seats in the “toss up” category: Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina. A single Democratic-held seat – Alabama – is in that much jeopardy.
Broadening the aperture, Cook’s Taylor rates eight other Republican seats as potentially competitive (including Alaska!) while just three additional Democratic seats fall into that category.
Do the math and you have 13 Republicans seats (out of the 23 they are defending) in some level of peril with five months before the election.
And when you consider that Democrats need to net only three seats (if Joe Biden wins) and four (if Donald Trump is re-elected), you see why Republicans are rightly and increasingly concerned about their chances of holding the chamber this fall.
4. SCOTUS watch: As the Supreme Court nears the end of its term – the final day it is in session is a week from Monday – there are still several HUGE cases that it has yet to rule on.
The two most notable, politically speaking, deal with President Donald Trump and his resistance to release any and all financial records.
In Trump v. Mazars USA, the court must decide whether Trump is required to turn over financial information to Congress. In Trump v. Vance, the issue is whether Trump must turn over financial documents to New York state prosecutors.
How the court decides the two cases could have major implications in the coming 2020 election. The President has never released any of his tax returns, insisting he is under audit and/or that they are too complex for any mere mortal to understand.
If the court rules against him – particularly in the Mazars case – there is a very high likelihood that voters will get at least some glimpse of Trump’s financial standing (how much he is really worth, where he owes money, etc.) before the election.
If the court, on the other hand, sides with Trump on the Mazars case and rules against him on Vance, then the financial records will be released only to a grand jury – and the general public will almost certainly see nothing of them before voting this November.
Much hangs in the balance. And as we’ve seen by the court’s LGBTQ and DACA rulings already this year, how the nine Justices decide can have profound – and immediate – impacts on our politics and culture.
3. Coronavirus isn’t done with us yet: Despite President Trump’s attempts to put the coronavirus behind him – “I don’t even like to talk about that, because it’s fading away. It’s going to fade away,” he told Sean Hannity last week – it’s clear that the virus is still raging in parts of the country.
Florida is regarded as a next potential epicenter of the virus. Arizona and Texas recorded daily highs in the number of cases over the past week. (Ten states hit their daily highs in recent days.)
Almost two dozen Clemson football players have tested positive for the virus. Thirty LSU football players have been quarantined out of fear they may have Covid-19. Five members of the Philadelphia Phillies reportedly contracted the virus in the team’s spring training facility in Florida.
How do governors – and the President – react? So far, the Republican governors of Texas, Florida and Oklahoma have largely downplayed their increased cases, writing it off to an increase in testing and asymptomatic cases among the 20s and 30s set. Which is not entirely accurate – and overlooks the fact that asymptomatic young people can still pass the disease to more vulnerable populations.
On Sunday morning, CNN reported that the CDC “has been conducting a scientific review about the public health benefits of masks, and will soon make an updated recommendation.” Which seems likely to be, well, wear one.
Of course, thanks to Trump, wearing a mask has become political. He has refused to do so when around cameras – and at his Tulsa rally on Saturday night, masks were handed out but not required.
So, what now? The virus isn’t gone, no matter how much Trump wishes it was. How does he – and governors, mostly Republicans, in the states where Covid is on the rise – handle this resurgence? Ignoring it isn’t an option.
2. The Berman debacle: There are times when the political malpractice of President Trump – and those close to him – hits you smack in the face. The removal of Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman is one of those moments.
The timeline of events is a testament to how not to handle a high-profile firing.
On Friday night, Attorney General Bill Barr announced that Berman was leaving his post, from which he was overseeing several high profile investigations – including one looking into Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani.
Berman released his own statement around 11 p.m. Eastern making clear he was not, in fact, resigning. And he showed up to work Saturday morning.
By Saturday afternoon, Barr had sent Berman a letter firing him; “Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” Barr wrote.
Asked about the move shortly after, Trump said this of Barr: “That’s his department, not my department. I’m not involved.”
Uh what? Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!
There’s no question that this debacle will – and should – draw the scrutiny of congressional investigators.
But on an even more basic “Politics 101” level – how the hell does the US Attorney General announce that the head lawyer of the Southern District of New York is resigning if said guy hasn’t made a specific pledge to do so? And how the hell does the AG say the President told him to fire Berman only to have the President say he wasn’t involved?
The message being sent here is that no one knows what is going on. Which isn’t a good message five months before an election.
1. Does Trump have a plan B?: President Trump made no secret of the fact that he viewed Saturday’s campaign rally in Tulsa as a jump start to his fading political fortunes. He hyped it up on Twitter. His campaign flew in elected officials and top surrogates from around the country.
And then, well, it flopped. Saturday was dominated by news that six Trump staffers on the ground in Oklahoma had tested positive for Covid-19. The speech itself was long and all over the place – and it was delivered to a less-than-full arena.
“Sick staff and empty seats: How Trump’s triumphant return to the campaign trail went from bad to worse,” read CNN’s story from the rally.
“Trump Rally Fizzles as Attendance Falls Short of Campaign’s Expectations,” was The New York Times headline.
“Trump rallies in red-state America — and faces a sea of empty blue seats,” blared The Washington Post.
Not exactly what Trump was going for. And it showed. The video of him arriving back at the White House – around 1 a.m. Sunday morning – tie undone, “Make America Great Again” hat in his hand said it all.
So, what now? The rally clearly didn’t create the spark – in Trump or the campaign – that they were hoping for. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect, especially when you consider that Trump’s line that he told his “people” to slow down testing for coronavirus because they were getting too many positives will be fodder for Democratic ads for the rest of the campaign.
The attempts by the Trump campaign to suggest that the rally was a giant success (they sent out a press release afterwards touting how many people had watched it online) suggests that the President is very unhappy with how it went and trying to change history on it.
That’s a losing proposition. The rally was a dud. Anyone who watched any part of it could see that. The problem for Trump is he has no obvious answer to the “what now?” question. If rallies won’t save him, what will?