Jun 29, 2020

The state of the 2020 presidential race.

The state of the 2020 presidential race.

Plus, a question about Trump's immigration strategy.

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Today’s read: 12 minutes.

Breaking Supreme Court news, the state of the 2020 presidential race and a question about Trump’s immigration plan. Also, some quick hits from the weekend.

Donald Trump and Barack Obama shake hands as Joe Biden and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) look on in 2017. The three are now campaigning for the 2020 White House. Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo


In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has struck down a restrictive Louisiana law limiting abortions across the state, ruling that there was no medical benefit to requiring admitting privileges at hospitals before performing abortions. The court ruled that the Louisiana law was identical to a similar Texas law struck down in 2016. Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, joined the court’s four most liberal justices in the ruling. After last week’s ruling that expanded the Civil Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, along with a ruling that temporarily protected DACA recipients, this is the third major blow in a matter of weeks to social conservatives who had hoped a conservative-leaning court would restrict policies they opposed.

Biden’s VP?

On Friday, I wrote a subscribers-only edition ranking Joe Biden’s top 5 options for vice president — including analysis about the pros, cons and likelihood of each choice. The newsletter drew some awesome feedback from subscribers, so I wanted to plug it. You have to be a paying member to read it, but it’s a good example of the kind of Friday content subscribers get. You can find it by clicking here.

What D.C. is talking about.

The 2020 race. We’re 127 days from the election. With so many major issues at an inflection point and a recent spate of polls showing Joe Biden with a healthy lead over Donald Trump, both camps are considering their next moves. Biden still has to decide who his vice president will be, an announcement that could come anytime between now and the Democratic convention in late August. Trump, on the other hand, sounds like he’s reconsidering how to campaign against Biden.

New reporting indicates the president’s team is considering a major shake-up to “revive his imperiled reelection bid,” The Washington Post reports. The latest New York Times/Siena College poll has Biden up by healthy margins in six battleground states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina (Trump won all six in 2016). A Fox News poll showed Biden up in Florida, while Georgia and Texas were toss-ups. Losing just one of those three would be a death blow — and a shocking turnaround — for the president.

Trump himself is abandoning his nickname for Biden, “Sleepy Joe,” and looking to “demonize” him in a way that resonates more with voters, especially suburban women. This week, the Trump campaign seemed to zero in on a new attack line: that the radical left was controlling Biden and would be the ones dictating his policy. That strategy might work, but advisers to Trump and Republicans in Congress seem to be pining for something more substantial.

What the right is saying.

They’re eager for a change of plans. Republicans in Congress are struggling to respond to every Trump blunder or tweet, and some have resolved to just not speak about the leader of their own party at all. Just months after Republicans were dreaming about controlling both chambers of Congress (the House and Senate) they may lose both — and the White House. The shining jewel of Trump’s presidency, a booming stock market and low unemployment rate, were dynamited by the coronavirus, which he’s failed to adequately contain. The market momentarily roared back but the recovery looks choppy now, and some staunch conservatives are warning that he could suffer the most “transformative political defeat in 40 years,” as John Podhoretz put it.

“To get four more years, his campaign needs good luck, a more disciplined candidate and a better message,” Michael Goodwin said in the New York Post. “To get back on track, honing and delivering an appealing message is essential. It must center around giving disaffected supporters and other fence-sitters an affirmative reason to give the president a second look.”

Those closest to the president are trying to stress calm, noting that they have not truly begun campaigning against Biden and reminding everyone that the world will look different in four months than it does now. Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh said this election, like every other, will be a choice. “A choice of President Trump’s record of building the best economy anyone has ever seen with the experience to do it again, versus Joe Biden’s record... With four months to go before the election, Americans will understand these differences... They won’t want to take a chance on Joe Biden."

In the meantime, stalwart conservative voices like The Wall Street Journal editorial board have taken a direct tone with POTUS, saying his “default now is defensive self-congratulation” and “Mr. Trump has no second-term agenda, or even a message beyond four more years of himself.”

“Mr. Trump’s advisers have an agenda that would speak to opportunity for Americans of all races—school choice for K-12, vocational education as an alternative to college, expanded health-care choice, building on the opportunity zones in tax reform, and more,” it wrote. “The one issue on which voters now give him an edge over Mr. Biden is the economy. An agenda to revive the economy after the pandemic, and restore the gains for workers of his first three years, would appeal to millions.”

What the left is saying.

There’s some cautious hope. In a fractured Democratic party, the most unifying message is unseating the president. But 2016 has left a lot of scars, and a few good polls aren’t convincing the party brass that they have the election in hand. Still, liberals believe the president is failing on the three most important topics in America right now: COVID-19, racial injustice and the economic recovery from the virus. Some 20 million people are unemployed, coronavirus cases are surging and the president can’t navigate difficult conversations about racial injustice in the U.S. at a time when public support for reforms is at an all-time high.

On top of all that, a few things seem to be falling into the left’s lap right on time: senior voters are flocking toward Joe Biden, new polls show Biden is far less hated than Hillary Clinton was and COVID-19 has created a situation where it’s socially acceptable for Biden to be hunkered down and off the campaign trail. For a candidate who is known for his gaffes and stumbling orations, who has been accused of being “creepy” and a bit too touchy, the get out of jail free card for avoiding public appearances is a major gift to his campaign. It leaves the attention on Trump, and for the first time, that seems to be hurting the president.

“The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure,” Jonathan Chait said in New York Magazine. “It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one. Second, Biden isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy.”

Despite the devastating national and swing-state polls, though, liberals are not celebrating. Trump is still in a perfectly good position to become competitive again, and a rash of incorrect predictions about his demise in 2016 has left everyone hesitant to call their shots now. A lot can happen between now and November, and — as Matthew Yglesias noted in Vox — all Trump really has to do is win Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona to win the election.

There’s good reason to think Florida and Arizona swing back to Trump before 2020, and it wouldn’t take much for him to put Pennsylvania back in play. He’s trailing nationally by anywhere from 8 to 11 points, but Yglesias says if Trump can “cut his national polling deficit down to 5 or so — which could be easily enough achieved by reminding right-of-center voters who are currently undecided that they have fundamental disagreements with Biden on policy — he’d be within ‘normal polling error’ range in the pivotal state.”

My take.

If the election were held today, Trump would lose. That much is clear to me, and it’s not hard to see why. The coronavirus is surging, red states are closing up shop after failed attempts at reopening, police reform just went south in Congress, we’re officially in a recession, the long-promised relationship with China is now marred by the COVID-19 fallout and a series of Supreme Court decisions blew some religious conservatives’ best (if not only) reason they held their noses and voted Trump in 2016.

The one place Trump has truly succeeded, by almost all accounts, is immigration (more on that in today’s reader question). I’m not sure that will be enough, though, especially considering how many of those policies appeal to little more than the 35% of Americans who make up Trump’s base.

What most caught my eye is that Trump is re-evaluating his nickname for Biden. As silly as it sounds, that very well might be the biggest “tell” that the president recognizes something is wrong. However childish and immature, his nicknames for his enemies are a major part of his brand, and his campaign absolutely believes they carry a certain power in defining the narrative of his political combatants. Conceding that “sleepy Joe” doesn’t do enough to demonize Biden is really a concession that Trump hasn’t done enough to turn voters away from Biden.

But I also don’t know how or why the president would change course now, even if his poll numbers are in the toilet. He’s defied norms, expectations, and the pundits for four years. He’s successfully surrounded himself with cabinet members and campaign staff who insulate him with as much positive news and affirmation as possible, having shed almost all of the staff with opposing views (and sometimes explicit opposition) who were at his side when he took office. There’s a reason Trump adopted the “Teflon Don” moniker once used for mob boss John Gotti: he has a way of making sure the charges “don’t stick,” and it doesn’t take much imagination to see these polls miraculously slide right off Trump’s back and begin to swing in the other direction.

It’s worth noting, though, that Gotti’s charges eventually did stick. He died in prison while serving a life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering, among a number of other crimes. If Trump doesn’t change course and find a new strategy — either by taking COVID-19 and racial injustice far more seriously, finding that perfect branding for his opposition or committing to another huge economic stimulus — his charges will stick, too. And we’ll have a new president in November.

Quick hits.

  1. COVID-19 is surging across the globe and the U.S. A single-day record of 45,255 new infections were recorded in the U.S. on Friday, and 39,000 new cases on Sunday. Global cases topped 10.1 million and more than 500,000 deaths. Texas closed down its bars and California rolled back reopening in seven counties. The U.S. total death count has broken 126,000.
  2. The New York Times reported that Russia offered bounties to Taliban forces to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan last year. The Washington Post says some of those bounties resulted in killings of U.S. soldiers, and that the Trump administration was planning to brief Congress about them today. Trump denied being briefed on the bounties, saying it was not credible intel and calling it another “Russia hoax.”
  3. President Trump re-tweeted a video of a Trump supporter yelling “white power” over the weekend. The video got four million views before the president removed it. The video showed residents of The Villages, a Florida seniors community that numbers 125,000 people, driving in Trump-themed golf carts as protesters shout obscenities at them. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the lone black Republican in the Senate, called the sharing of the video “indefensible.” White House spokesman Judd Deere said “President Trump is a big fan of The Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video… What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”
  4. The “defund the police” movement is already making strides. Minneapolis, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Hartford have already approved new cuts or begun the process of limiting the police budget. City officials in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Milwaukee, Denver, Durham, Winston-Salem, Chicago, New York City and Washington D.C. are also calling for changes, according to Axios.
  5. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg implemented new policy changes after a slew of advertisers announced a boycott of the company. Facebook was under increased pressure to limit disinformation after Twitter began labeling misleading tweets with additional information. Zuckerberg had resisted the changes, but finally folded after some of Facebook’s biggest ad spenders said they would no longer use the platform. The company will begin clamping down on false claims heading into the 2020 elections as well as banning hateful content in ads. It’s already removed 250 white supremacist organizations from the social media network.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. You can ask a reader question, or chime in with any feedback at all, by simply replying to this email.

Q: You recently interviewed Ryan Girdusky, who seemed to credit President Trump for a reduction in illegal immigration. But the numbers he cited show apprehensions were fairly consistent from 2015-2018, then spiked in 2019 before coming down again in April of 2020. Isn't it logical that apprehensions at the border are plummeting now because of COVID-19, not Trump's policies? And were apprehensions up because border police were arresting more people or because more people were crossing the border? What has Trump's impact on illegal immigration really been?

— Aidan, Auckland, NZ

Tangle: Immigration has been the central focus of President Trump’s presidency, and of all of his policy initiatives, one could make a good argument that it’s the singular piece he’s really followed through on. The border wall was always a pipe dream — and one most people outside his strongest base of supporters never took seriously. I’ve written critically about the wall both as a moral and ethical atrocity but also as a waste of government money, a massive piece of government overreach (it requires stealing private American land to construct) and an ineffective way to reduce illegal immigration or drug smuggling.

Since coming to office, the president has built 167 miles of border wall. Just three miles of that was a new wall that wasn’t replacing previously existing fencing or walls along the border, and the administration just lost a major court case on whether it could redirect military money for border wall construction — meaning it probably won’t get much more up before November than it already has.

Aside from that, which seems like a notable failure given that “build the wall” was basically his campaign slogan, Trump’s immigration agenda has been largely effective. But most of that success has been in reducing legal immigration into the U.S. His track record on illegal immigration is far more difficult to parse.

The spike you’re referring to came during a huge wave of migration from Central American migrants in 2019. You can see it in the orange line of the 2019 government data on border apprehensions below:

Even after that spike, the administration’s response was pleasing to Trump’s base. He essentially banned asylum seekers, limiting asylum eligibility to people who had not passed through another country before getting to the U.S. That forced all Central American migrants who came through Mexico to seek asylum there before coming to the states. He also created “Safe Third” country pacts with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, opening avenues for asylum-seeking migrants to be sent back to those countries when they arrived at the U.S. border.

All of this came after the administration instituted a “Remain in Mexico” policy in 2018 and instituted the now-rescinded family separation policies. The former meant asylum seekers had to stay in Mexico while they waited for their court cases instead of being able to live and work in the United States, and 60,000 migrants were sent back to Mexico as a result. The latter meant adults were being arrested and detained and separated from their children, with a so-called “zero-tolerance policy,” which drew such widespread indignation and fury (even from Republicans) that Trump reversed course, though some children remain in custody without their parents even now. The spike also came after all of Trump’s rhetoric, the initial border wall promises, and various other attempts at discouraging illegal immigration through the southern border.

All this is to say: it’s actually a little surprising that these policies and this language only marginally reduced illegal immigration during the first three years of Trump’s term.

In the context of the Obama years, Trump’s illegal immigration numbers have gone down just a tad. 2015 and 2016 saw 998,237 total border apprehensions, versus 936,604 in 2017 and 2018. Then the single year total exploded to 977,509 in 2019. All of these years, though, are far lower than the numbers we saw during Bill Clinton’s last year in office in 2000, when 1.64 million people were arrested crossing the border.

Mostly, since Trump took office and Obama left office, migrants have just begun using new routes and finding different points of entry to get here. Obviously, the tank we’re seeing now is almost entirely because of COVID-19. But — again — it’s Trump’s legal immigration restrictions that are satisfying his base more than anything else.

He promised a “ban on all Muslims” and — though that didn’t exactly come to fruition — he has successfully banned nationals of certain Muslim-majority countries from obtaining visas. He also successfully closed our doors to most refugees, with just 18,000 admissions in the 2020 fiscal year, a 79 percent drop from Barack Obama’s last year in office. The number of visas issued to foreigners abroad declined by 25 percent, from 617,752 to 462,422. Part of that is because of new, increased vetting Trump put in place.

By February of this year, legal immigration had already fallen by 11 percent during Trump’s term. And that was before he introduced new wealth tests for green cards and extended his travel bans in February. At that time, before COVID-19, experts estimated that legal immigration was going to fall 35%. The number of non-refugees who obtained lawful permanent residence in the U.S. had already dropped from 1,063,289 in 2016 to 940,877 in 2018.

Then, last week, he froze a half dozen visa entry programs, which the Migration Policy institute estimates could impact 219,000 temporary workers and their families and 158,000 green card applicants.

“He’s really ticking off all the boxes. It’s kind of amazing,” Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told The New York Times in February. “In an administration that’s been perceived to be haphazard, on immigration they’ve been extremely consistent and barreling forward.”

Given the economic impacts of COVID-19, Trump’s immigration agenda will be one of the few things he can run on in 2020 that will require little politicking for him to brag about to his base. He can honestly say that he’s fulfilled many of his immigration promises, and by the time November rolls around, he will have successfully reduced immigration to the U.S. across the board — almost all via executive action.

Of course, this is also a problem. Trump’s base, which one could argue makes up 30 to 35% of the country, is largely out of step with many of the voters he needs in 2020. His family separation policy was a horrific episode that began the exodus of some suburban women who voted for him in 2016. The “border wall” has been widely rejected by the majority of Americans. Banning travel from Muslim-majority countries, reducing the already low number of refugees we accept, and condemning asylum seekers fleeing real danger to squalid conditions in immigration camps on the border have all drawn rebukes — even from his own party (they’re also policies I personally find reprehensible).

Trump’s challenge in 2020 will not be successfully selling his immigration wins to his base, but instead highlighting the changes that are palatable to the many Republican and independent voters he’s going to need to win another election. I’m not sure exactly how he does that, but he will be able to run honestly on a successful campaign to reduce immigration on the whole during his first term.

A story that matters.

Nursing homes across the U.S. are evicting vulnerable, elderly and disabled residents. While most people think of the elderly when they hear “nursing homes,” their business is often caring for patients of all ages and income levels who are coming back from surgery or serious illnesses like strokes. Nursing homes have financial incentives to prioritize care for Medicare and private insurance patients, which reimburse them at a much higher rate than Medicaid (the coverage many low-income Americans have). 10,000 residents complained to watchdog groups about being discharged in 2018, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with fewer visitors allowed and less scrutiny of their practices, many of the elderly, poor and disabled are being sent to homeless shelters or rundown motels. Click.


  • 35%. The percentage of Joe Biden’s staff that are people of color, according to diversity statistics his campaign released.
  • 8 of 10. The number of the top COVID-19 clusters in the country that have occurred inside jails and prisons.
  • 25%. The percentage of voters who have a “very negative view” of Joe Biden, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll.
  • 42%. The percentage of voters who had a “very negative view” of Hillary Clinton in the same NBC/WSJ poll during April of 2016.
  • 43%. The percentage of voters who have a “very negative view” of Donald Trump, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll.
  • 53%. The percentage of voters who had a “very negative view” of Donald Trump in the same NBC/WSJ poll during April of 2016.
  • 59%. The percentage of Americans who say the worst of coronavirus is still to come.
  • 40%. The percentage of Americans who say the worst of coronavirus is behind us.

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A new one-time treatment in mice has successfully developed new neurons and eliminated Parkinson’s disease. Xiang-Dong Fu, a Ph.D. who worked on the study, said he has never been more excited about something in his entire career. Fu and his team at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine stumbled upon a method of deleting single genes in order to transform mouse cells into neurons. They believe the method could one day be a therapeutic approach for Parkinson’s disease in humans, which 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with every year. Click.

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