The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 39

This week:

  • Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis upends presidential race
  • Republicans invest big in Michigan Senate race
  • Democrat’s sexting could save Tillis

Coronavirus: The last year of President Trump’s first term has been filled with nothing but bad news and bad luck for him. 

The coronavirus, which he could never have prevented, has obviously become the defining story of the year. Even amid a relatively strong and quick economic recovery from its ravages, the virus has pushed out of memory the strong economy of January 2020. Because of the pandemic, the success of Trump’s tax reform and deregulatory regime will not be fully enjoyed until sometime in 2021 at the earliest. 

Now, President Trump himself has caught the virus, as has First Lady Melania Trump. This means nothing in real terms — ultimately, it is likely that everyone will catch it at some point. But the media and the Left are trying to turn his infection from something routine into a symbol of his poor handling of the pandemic. To some degree, they will succeed, whether or not such a characterization is fair.

Worse still, this will put a serious damper on Trump’s campaigning. His personality and political style demand crowds. He feeds off their energy. He tells them stories in a way no other politician does, and they lap it up. Without his rallies, Trump’s campaign may suffer. And this is the time to hold them, when so much of the balloting by mail is actually going on.

Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis could potentially create some sympathy for him in the long run. But the more likely story, at this point, is that it is hurting him and creating problems for Republicans’ chances of winning elections up and down the ballot.

Debate: By now, the first debate seems like it was a million years ago. Trump acquitted himself well enough, but it was really a missed opportunity. He adopted a Biden-like strategy from 2012, of interrupting repeatedly. The problem is that this wasn’t enough. When Biden used that strategy against Paul Ryan, it helped him rattle a better-prepared and more knowledgeable opponent. When Trump used it, it helped allow Biden to avoid messing up and appearing senile. 

Trump also seemed underprepared at times — for example, shouting about socialism when he could have made more damaging and incisive points against Biden.

Still, it’s not as though Trump did badly. He merely didn’t make as much out of the opportunity as he perhaps could have.

Barrett nomination: Trump’s best chance at re-election, as we noted previously, is to make the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court the main and perhaps the only issue in the presidential and Senate campaigns in 2020. Democratic talk of packing the Supreme Court and attacks on her Catholic faith are sure to backfire and galvanize the Republican base. 

The question, however, is whether it will be enough. Although it is not outside the realm of possibility that Trump will win (no one expected him to win in 2016, either), Republicans’ best hope at this point is to keep a bare Senate majority and protect his legacy. A vicious Supreme court battle would work heavily in their favor in that regard, just as it helped them increase their Senate majority in the otherwise Democratic election year of 2018.

Trump is hoping for especially big boosts in states where religion and traditional values play well. That includes Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and perhaps Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin as well.

Senate 2020

Michigan: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s SuperPAC has committed to spending $9 million in Michigan as part of an overall $67 million ad buy. 

This could signify one of two things. On one hand, this could signify some level of optimism about a race that is unexpectedly close. Republican John James is running only a couple of points behind Sen. Gary Peters

On the other hand, this could be a move of desperation — a sign that things are going so badly elsewhere that this really is Republicans’ best chance of keeping the Senate. It could also be a bit of both.

Montana: Republicans are trying to highlight Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s problems in dealing with women and in dealing with staff cases of sexual harassment. This appears to be a late effort to secure Sen. Steve Daines in a race that he is probably winning, but only very narrowly. Daines, a very capable senator and candidate, should also expect to benefit from the Barrett nomination and an overall consolidation of the conservative base. 

North Carolina: Democrat Cal Cunningham seemed to be running away with his race against Sen. Thom Tillis before his sexts with a married California political strategist were exposed. This highly damaging information on Cunningham, the married father of two, could turn the race in Republicans’ favor, particularly in a Southern state with more traditional moral ideas. It makes matters much worse that Cunningham’s virtual (and perhaps real-life) lover is the wife of a longtime active duty Army petty officer with multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq

But it’s going to take quite a bit to save Tillis. Remember — campaigns go negative because they are losing. Tillis is definitely losing. This revelation about Cunningham’s infidelity only comes amid Tilliis’ astoundingly and consistently bad performance in the polls. He has not led in any poll since June, despite facing a decidedly second-tier opponent.