I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can reach me anytime by replying to this email.
Today’s read: 10 minutes.
Who is the 2020 favorite? Plus, a question about campaign strategies and the origins of “Tangle.”
The 2020 ticket is set. Photo: Andrea Widburg
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On Fox News this morning, President Donald Trump admitted that he was blocking a deal in Congress that would provide $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service because it would make mail-in voting easier. “Now, they [Democrats] need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said in an interview. He added: “Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.” The news shocked some political reporters who have been trying to track down sources on this story, noting that the president admitted on national television to trying to influence the election by not funding the Postal Service.
There’s no sign of movement on a second coronavirus package, The Washington Post reports. A meeting between the White House and Democrats ended just minutes after it began on Wednesday, and President Trump said a deal is “not going to happen” — just days after suggesting he was open to a new round of negotiations. Earlier this week, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer released a statement saying the White House was “refusing to budge,” followed by a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying Democrats have “no interest in negotiating.”
Weekly unemployment claims dropped below one million for the first time since March, a sign the labor market recovery is gaining steam. Claims are down significantly from the peak of seven million in March, but remain at historically record-breaking levels — well above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 weekly claims. The seasonally adjusted number for the last week was 963,000. An estimated 31 million people are now collecting unemployment.
The U.S. is averaging 52,000 new coronavirus cases a day this week, down about 10.5% from last week, despite positivity rates still being high. The spread of the virus is slowing in 21 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. Testing is also down across the U.S. by about 4.5%, according to Axios. “Progress has to start somewhere, and these numbers are encouraging,” Sam Baker reported. “But the U.S. still has a very big coronavirus outbreak and a flawed, incomplete plan of attack to fight it.”
Israel announced today it will establish “full normalization of relations” with the United Arab Emirates and “forgo plans to annex the occupied West Bank territory” in order to focus on improving ties with its Arab neighbors. The news broke in a surprise statement from the White House that has major ramifications for international politics, global security and trade. This is a developing story.
What D.C. is talking about.
The 2020 favorite. On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate. Yesterday, Tangle took a deep dive into what her pick means for the race. Shortly after, FiveThirtyEight released its coveted election forecast, giving Joe Biden a 72% chance of winning the election. RealClearPolitics, another polling behemoth, showed Biden up by an average of 7.5% across national polls in the U.S. Betting markets have opened giving Biden a 57% chance of becoming president and Trump a 39% chance of becoming president, though Biden’s odds tumbled after he selected Kamala Harris as his running mate.
In the crucial swing states, Biden is in control in the polls. According to RCP’s averages, he’s +6.5 in Wisconsin, +6.7 in Michigan, +6.4 in Pennsylvania, +5.0 in Florida and +2 in North Carolina.
While voters largely perceive the polls and prediction markets to have failed in 2016, some fared far better than others (like FiveThirtyEight, which only gave Trump about a 30% chance of winning on election day in 2016). Others had serious issues, too, most notably those that underrepresented whites without a college degree, who make up a huge chunk of Trump’s base.
Now that the full ticket is set, though, and with little expectation of Trump replacing vice president Mike Pence — the 2020 predictions are off and running. So, who is the favorite?
What the right is saying.
Interestingly, it tracks with their political views: Trump’s supporters believe there are cracks in Biden’s lead already, and feel confident Trump will pull it out. Never-Trump or more moderate Republicans think he’s underwater and could bring the Republican-controlled Senate down with him.
Joseph Curl, who ran the conservative blog Drudge Report for four years, said there are “secret Trump voters” all across the country — and especially in swing states — that the campaign has identified. These voters, Curl posited, aren’t comfortable sharing their support for Trump with random pollsters, and many just say they are undecided heading into 2020.
“With the media bashing the president daily — going so far as to call him, and by extension his supporters, racist — some don’t want to face the scorn of supporting him,” Curl said. “My guess is that they’re still out there — and more angry than ever. They may not show up in all the polls, but they will turn up on Election Day to cast their ballots.”
In American Conservative, Paul Gottfried asked if the polls were “hiding a Trump landslide.” He pointed to the work of Joseph Ford Cotto, who has broken down NBC and Wall Street Journal polls showing Biden well ahead of Trump. Cotto notes that these polls are undersampling Republicans by as much as eight points, and often using registered voters (instead of likely voters) to jack up the difference in the two camps.
“Biden’s staffers assure us that even if voters are generally unenthusiastic about Biden, the widespread disapproval of Trump will carry them across the finish line,” Gottfried wrote. “But if Rasmussen is right and Trump’s approval rating is now at 51 percent, a recent prediction in the British Economist that Biden will run away with the electoral college as well as the popular vote seems wildly premature. We may wonder whether the Dems can count on a tidal wave of anti-Trump feeling or Trump’s verbal impulsiveness to bring their side victory.”
Allahpundit, the anonymous conservative blogger who runs Hot Air, allowed that the polls may be accurately reflecting a large gap between Trump and Biden, but that’s okay.
“If the election were held today, I suspect Trump would have a less than one in 10 chance at victory,” they wrote. “But the election’s not being held today, is it? And in a year like 2020, when anything seems possible, we should allow for the chance that the country will endure another major shock or two, or 12, before November 3 that might reorient the race in Trump’s favor.”
What the left is saying.
There’s some cautious optimism. Harris is certainly viewed as a “do no harm” pick, and many in the establishment and even progressive wing of the party recognize that she probably doesn’t change Biden’s odds of winning much — which is the point.
CNN’s Harry Enten directly addressed the idea of “secret Trump voters” in a recent op-ed. Enten took a look at a recent Iowa poll from Monmouth showing Biden three points ahead of Trump (Trump won Iowa by nine points in 2016) to make his point. That poll was weighted by party registration, using government data, meaning there is no “secret hidden Trump voter” — party registration is a fact. Unless those Trump voters are registering as Democrats en masse (and thus unable to vote in Republican primaries) they are not hiding. We can see them.
“This poll reinforces that there is little sign of a vast supply of hidden Trump support in the electorate,” Enten wrote. “No matter how you measure it, Biden is ahead and by a not insignificant margin. All of this said, it is still possible Trump still wins this election. For one thing, the election is still about 90 days away… In previous years, the difference between the polls at this point and the result have been wide enough to not feel overly confident that Biden's advantage will hold.”
Others are more gung-ho. Phillip Elliot compared Trump’s support amongst white middle-class voters from late last year until now.
“Back in October, the pollsters found Trump with a 9-point advantage over a generic Democrat among white middle-class voters,” he said. “By the first week in August, Biden claimed an 8-point advantage over Trump.”
A successful campaign is usually driven by Republicans winning a majority of middle-class voters, and usually white middle-class voters by 20 points or more. That Trump is behind with that group of the electorate after a 17 point negative swing doesn’t just spell trouble, “it could mean a disaster for both Trump and other Republican candidates lower down the ballot.”
The only thing that matters is what this election ends up being about.
Go back to 2016: the election was defined by immigration, Hillary Clinton and Trump versus the establishment. Trump was bucking the party, hated by Republicans and Democrats, deriding immigrants and framing Hillary Clinton as corrupt. The entire election came down to this dynamic where Trump was a rule breaker, where he was going to build a wall and preserve America, where he was hated not just by Democrats but establishment Republicans, too.
Politically, that was like being dealt a royal flush for Trump. Americans hate Congress, hate the media, and the right hates Hillary Clinton like few other politicians in history. On immigration, many important working-class voters (of all races) in swing states had generally favorable views on reducing immigration. And Trump’s royal flush hit: he won three crucial swing states by about 77,000 combined votes (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan) and swung the entire election. He hit the lotto.
What’s 2020 about? Right now, it’s about coronavirus, police, race relations and turning the economy around. It’s also about health care, which has become an even larger issue now that 30 million Americans are filing for unemployment, over 5 million have contracted the virus, and millions more have lost their employer-provided insurance. It’s also about Congress failing to pass a second stimulus package. Besides faith in an economic reversal, none of these issues play well for Trump — and the polls reflect that.
Voters view coronavirus as the single most important issue of the day, and Trump’s approval ratings on how he’s handled COVID-19 are (rightfully) awful. We have a quarter of the world’s cases, over 160,000 people have died, the working-class economy has been destroyed (even if the market is climbing back) and we’ve got a looming back-to-school crisis that will be an absolute nightmare for everyone involved.
If in November this election is still about COVID-19, Trump will lose. If it’s about race relations or police reform, Trump will be in trouble. But we don’t know what it’s going to be about yet.
As David Shor recently explained, “moderates” and “swing voters” in politics are not actually moderates or swing voters. In reality, they are people who have incongruent political beliefs — a reality that this newsletter aspires to address. For instance, some people may be very left on an issue like health care but could be very right on an issue like immigration. So in 2016, when the election was more about immigration, many of those voters went with Trump (some of whom had previously voted for Obama). Their views didn’t change on health care, they didn’t suddenly believe Trump was going to implement lefty health care policies, they just voted on the dominant issue of the election. Were some motivated by racism or racial resentment? Yes. But plenty moved because of fundamentally diverse political opinions.
The same will be true this time around. Most voters are baked in — and they have been since the morning after the 2016 election. But enough people are malleable to make a difference, especially in the crucial swing states. As Nate Silver said upon the release of his prediction model (which has Trump at a 28% chance to win):
“If the election were held today, he [Biden] might even win in a landslide, carrying not only traditional swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania but potentially adding new states such as Georgia and Texas to the Democratic coalition. But the election is not being held today.”
All this, of course, is to say nothing of the unbelievable number of variables: Will mail-in voting function? Will the president’s effort to suppress mail-in voting by not funding the USPS work? Will a third-party candidate get any traction? (Jo Jorgensen, who I’ve reached out to for an interview, is running on the Libertarian ticket; Kanye West is trying to get on the ballot in crucial swing states) Will another major national event happen between now and November? Will a vaccine be released? Will a COVID-19 cure be found? What will happen in the debates? What if Trump picks a new running mate?
We just don’t know — and I certainly don’t think anything is certain. Like most elections, it will depend on the last few weeks leading up to the election: what we’re talking about, who actually shows up to vote (and doesn’t just talk about it) and where the mood of the nation is.
On July 29th, 2019, my fiancé’s brother and I were discussing my plan for a politics newsletter. I had the concept, had the vision, but was struggling with a name. This morning, he dug up this screenshot from that day — the very first time “Tangle” was ever uttered. My first reaction: “That’s good.” I am also very happy I did not go with “Albatross” or “The Pear.”
Your questions, answered.
Remember: asking a question is easy. Just reply to this email and write in — it goes straight to my inbox!
Q: With the election being less than 90 days away, what could make voters flip at this point? Are there lots of undecided voters whose votes are up for grabs? It seems unlikely that people can not know at this point whether they'll vote for Biden or Trump. It seems like it's very clear who Trump is and what he's all about. If people have gone this long into his presidency supporting him, is there a realistic chance they'll change their mind and vote for Biden? How much of the remaining campaigns for each candidate is trying to get voters to flip vs. just convincing people to actually get off their couch (and mail in?) their vote?
— Sean, Lindenhurst, New York
Tangle: This is a question every campaign has to ask itself: who is our target market, how are we courting them and how do we get them on our side?
As I touched on in the “My take” section above, I definitely think there are still some voters “up for grabs.” In the Tangle poll administered last week (which is not in any way scientific), 6.1% of readers said they were “not sure” and 2.7% of readers said they were planning to vote for a third-party candidate. Tangle’s readership still leans to the left, so I found those numbers (a combined 8.8% saying they wouldn’t vote for Trump or Biden) pretty high. That’s a big deal for both candidates and — if it holds nationally — means a lot of people can still be moved.
In the last Quinnipiac poll from mid-July, a similar trend occurred. 11% of all voters said they “didn’t know,” “wouldn’t vote” or would vote for someone else if the election were held today. In other words: those people are out there.
Again, this really matters. This is not a scientific way to do it, but just some back of the napkin math on this shows how important it is. A little more than six million people voted in Pennsylvania in 2016. More than 267,000 of them voted for third-party candidates or wrote in a random politician. If 11% of those six million Pennsylvania voters were undecided right now, that amounts to 660,000 voters.
Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes.
In other words: that 11% would represent about 15 times the difference between Trump winning and Trump losing one of the most crucial swing states in the election.
Even more important than this, though, is definitely getting out the vote. Because while 6.1 million people voted in Pennsylvania in 2016, there were 8.7 million people registered to vote — meaning 2.6 million people could have walked or driven to a polling place and cast a ballot but didn’t bother. And there were over 10 million eligible voters. So that 660,000 pot of swing voters is important — but arguably less important than the nearly four million people who could have voted but didn’t show up.
And this is where both sides are focused. Conventional wisdom in political science right now is that the higher the turnout, the better the chance Democrats win. That’s because across the country and in most swing states there is a larger Democratic base — more people registered as Democrats, and a more liberal voting-age population, entering politics. And of that base, Democrats need huge turnout from both young and Black voters, who vote with them a lot more often than with Republicans.
For Trump’s campaign, though, the job is the inverse. They’re trying to turn out more white working-class voters and older voters who helped Trump win in 2016. A lot of people tend to think Trump “maxed out” that vote back then, but he didn’t. First, take a look at these numbers showing what percentage of eligible voters are white and working-class in these crucial swing states:
Second, understand that many of these eligible voters still didn’t turn out in 2016. In other words, Democrats could do even worse with white working-class voters and non-college white voters than they did in 2016. Predictably, that’s where Trump and his campaign are focused. They are trying to register as many of these voters as they can across all the crucial swing states.
As for how these strategies compare (are they trying to up turnout or trying to flip voters?) I think it’s different for each campaign. If Biden’s team is smart, which I think they are, their primary focus is ramping up turnout — not flipping voters. Democrats have won without the voters Trump won in 2016, and they did it by inspiring major turnout amongst Black voters, suburban women, and college-educated voters as they did with Barack Obama. They’re going to follow that plan again this time.
For Trump, there is definitely a focus on getting his target audience out to the polls in 2020, and the campaign knows they can tap the white working-class well again. But there’s also the reality that 2016 Trump voters are defecting to Biden right now, primarily older white voters and white-collar white workers.
You can see these realities in the campaign focus of both sides: Trump’s latest campaign has shifted to images of old white women being robbed while 911 doesn’t work. When he talks about the economy, he’s emphasizing 401ks and retirement funds. He’s targeting older, wealthier white people who voted for him in 2016 but are leaving now. Same goes for Biden and Harris: their campaign kickoff yesterday focused on Trump’s racism (targeted for non-white voter turnout) and Trump’s failure to control coronavirus and the virus, in turn, destroying the economy (keeping the voters who are defecting now).
If the focus of the race moves off these issues, the dynamics could change again. But for now, this is where we are.
A story that matters.
Grocery store workers say morale is at an all-time low. “Overwhelmed employees are quitting mid-shift,” The Washington Post reports. “Those who remain say they are overworked, taking on extra hours, enforcing mask requirements and dealing with hostile customers. Most retailers have done away with hazard pay even as workers remain vulnerable to infection, or worse. Employees who took sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.” There are 2.7 million grocery store workers in the U.S. making an average of $13.20 an hour — or about $27,000 a year. Many are now facing hazardous work conditions and low pay in order to eat, and Congress doesn’t seem close to adding a second coronavirus package that could have doled out hazard pay.
48.7%. The percentage of Tangle readers who say they live in a major U.S. city, according to a poll conducted last week.
55.4%. The percentage of Tangle readers who “always” wear a face covering or mask when they leave the house.
18.3%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they would prefer Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s vice president pick last week.
46.5%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they would prefer Elizabeth Warren as Joe Biden’s vice president pick last week.
9.2%. The percentage of Tangle readers who selected “someone else” as Joe Biden’s vice president pick last week.
59%. The percentage of likely voters who said they think it’s “likely” or “very likely” that Joe Biden does not finish his first term, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll.
48%. The percentage of Americans who say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police.
53%. The percentage of Americans who said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police in 2019.
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The last Blockbuster in America is still open in Bend, Oregon, and now you can spend a night in it. Bend’s Blockbuster manager has been running the store since 2004, and as a thank you to the Bend community that’s kept it alive all this time, she recently put the store up as an Airbnb rental. It’s only available for residents of that county, but you can stay in it for just four dollars — or “one cent more” than the price of a three-day movie rental. The store has been equipped with beds and couches and turned into a movie-lover’s dream (and a blast back to the 1990s). “If you close your eyes and think about the ‘90s, that’s what the room is going to look like,” store manager Sandi Harding said.