The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 41

This week:

  • Why Democrats are afraid
  • Trump’s hidden possibilities
  • Democrats show unusual restraint in Barrett hearings

President 2020

Why Democrats are afraid: Joe Biden may look like a barely-sentient fossil, but he holds a steady national lead in the race for the presidency. He leads President Trump in recent polls of the battleground states of Arizona, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and even Georgia. 

Down-ticket, Democrats appear poised to defeat as many as five sitting Republican senators and to lose no more than one of their own seats. In short, the polls are showing a Republican wipeout on a Democratic wave. Republicans are so hopeless at this point that they seem even unable to exploit Democrats’ talk of destroying national norms and packing the Supreme Court. They have gotten nowhere in spite of Democrats’ hugely unpopular promises to defund the police and destroy the gig-economy via a national California-style law forcing freelance contractors (in practice) out of work.

So why are Democrats terrified?

To many of them, it feels like 2016 all over again. The signs pointing to Democratic victory are, in fact, the same ominous signs we detected in 2016, when we believed Hillary Clinton would be the 45th president. It was not an unreasonable supposition at all, given all of the evidence at the time. The polls and the experts all said what they said. And Democrats then, as now, had built a shockingly large advantage in fundraising as well. Clinton doubled Trump’s spending.

But Donald Trump upended everyone’s expectations by accomplishing what no one thought possible. Despite being massively outspent, he brought voters to the polls who had never voted or hadn’t voted in years. He won Democratic votes, as he had promised to do and as no one had ever believed he could. The sole exception was one polling firm that went to unusual lengths to put respondents at ease about admitting they were for Trump. That firm, the Trafalgar Group, has him carrying most of the states listed above and even winning Michigan. The bold predictions of its head, Robert Cahaly, cannot be dismissed after the pollster was one of the few to get it right in 2016. Not only does he believe that Trump will outpace expectations, but he also believes that he might carry some endangered GOP Senate candidates — such as Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Arizona’s Martha McSally — over the finish line. 

Hidden votes: This is a big question again in 2020 — have the media and Democrats demonized Trump so thoroughly and so constantly as to intimidate anyone who prefers him, to the point that no poll is reliable any more? 

Certainly, no one has been able to escape the vitriolic anti-Trump drumbeat from cable news or newspapers nowadays. Democratic governors’ ludicrous shirking of responsibility and foolhardy claims that Trump caused the pandemic in their states have come to seem perfectly normal. Ordinary people have been ostracized and literally lose their jobs for supporting Trump publicly. So is it that hard to believe that his supporters would be much more eager to vote privately than they are to talk to pollsters?

To all of the above, add a new layer of unpredictability. With the COVID situation, voter turnout could be much lower than in the past, and a much larger portion of ballots than usual could be cast by mail. No one knows what sort of effect this will have on the outcome. Despite Trump’s railing against mail ballots, there are several states where Republicans traditionally do much better with absentee balloting. Indeed, many of his tantrums on the subject, incomprehensible to most people, might just represent covert attempts to discourage Democrats from voting.

What might a pandemic do to turnout? It’s anyone’s guess. There have not been many general elections yet during the pandemic, but there have been a few. 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court race from this spring could be considered one data point. It featured significantly lower turnout than the last presidential-year judicial race — down from 1.9 million to less than 1.6 million votes — despite being a hotly contested race. Then again, if the point is to scare virus-averse liberals out of voting, the left-wing candidate actually won that race. So take that result for what it is. 

Barrett nomination: Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for the Supreme Court appears, at this point, a certain success. She will be confirmed.

One reason is that, with few exceptions (Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is a very special person), Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee showed incredible restraint in the topics and questions they put to Barrett during the hearings. Even such a blow-hard as Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., understood the risk to Democrats’ electoral fortunes if the hearings had become an ugly culture-war event. And of course, Sen. Kamala Harris, D, the vice presidential nominee, was almost a stealth presence if you looked only at the questions she asked. 

In short, Democrats were far too smart to turn the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett into a new election-time opportunity for Republicans, they way they did with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination in 2018. 

Nearly all of the democrats on the committee, perhaps having learned from the Kavanaugh debacle, refrained from attacking Barrett over her Catholic faith or her membership in the Indiana-based charismatic organization known as the People of Praise. 

They might have also been especially concerned over the backlash that resulted from Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearings for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., famously blurted out at Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Democrats are still living that down. This may be why Feinstein herself was so tame during the hearing as to earn the Left’s ire.

One clever thing that Democrats did was to turn Barrett’s nomination away from the culture wars and toward health care, an issue on which they can credibly campaign. One questioner after another treated the nomination as if its chief significance were a specific case regarding Obamacare’s constitutionality. Barrett, they insinuated, would strike down Obamacare and those with pre-existing conditions would suddenly be uninsured. This is highly unlikely, but Barrett, who as a judge is committed not to pre-judge the issues in cases that might come before her, was limited in what she could say in her own defense.

The good news is that Barrett will be confirmed. But the bad news, at least for Republicans, is that her nomination will not be the electoral boon they had hoped the Democrats would provide them. Here, Democrats wisely refused to play ball. This is a sign that some sanity still reigns on a bipartisan level — or, alternatively, that their determination to pack the Supreme Court is so great that they don’t mind putting another conservative on the Supreme Court for now.

Hunter Biden: The move by liberal big-tech companies to suppress and censor a story about Hunter Biden’s sale of family access in Ukraine is sure to backfire. If anything, it has guaranteed that the story got more circulation than it might have otherwise. 

Will it hurt Joe Biden that he was evidently more aware of these activities than he admitted previously? It is possible, but media efforts to suppress the story reveal a broad, public conspiracy to aid Biden’s candidacy. For now, this has alarmed the Right about the power of social media to suppress and paper over legitimate news stories. It may be too late, however — especially with mail-balloting already underway — to make voters fully aware of the issue.