Sep 15, 2020

The voters changing sides.

The voters changing sides.

A look at why people are switching teams.

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. You can read Tangle for free, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

Why Republicans are voting for Biden and never-Trumpers are voting for Trump. Plus, an important update in the Breonna Taylor story and some reader feedback.

A social media image created by Magdalena Bokowa / Tangle News Instagram

Reader feedback.

Yesterday’s issue about the wildfires out west drew a ton of responses. I wanted to be sure to share a few of them. First, several readers wrote in to point something out that I should have mentioned yesterday: 57% of the land in California is federally owned, and 3% is state land. The rest is private. That means forest management is more a federal issue in some respects than it is a state issue. This is a very important point, as it means some of the forest management suggestions — like controlled burns — are things that would largely need to be done by the U.S. Forest Service. That, in turn, requires funding and support from Republicans and, by extension, President Trump.

Brandon, who works in wildlife management, wrote in from New Jersey and said that "it's important to look at why forest management has been a problem, and also important to point out that fires aren't just on state land. Much of it is on federal land (USFS, NPS, BLM, and USFWS) which has been underfunded for years. This shows that while non-federal land has a higher number of wildfires per year, they burn less acreage than wildfires on federal land. I interpret this as larger wildfires occurring on federal land — the main issue at hand. Any wildfires that occur on federal land should fall on the shoulders of the federal government and not on the state's. More funding would go a long way towards managing forests better, especially since we're years behind in management already due to underfunding."

Scott from Los Angeles also wrote in with frustration about the narrative that Californians or others did not listen to the warnings about wildfires. "It's weird that these articles keep saying ‘nobody listened! We knew it would go up!’ I mean, it's obviously a bubble, but many of the people I know have seen this coming for years, I don't think any Californians are surprised. Every drive through the Sierras, every hike in Sequoia and Yosemite for the last few years, my friends and I have looked at the vast swaths of dead trees and said ‘man, this is all gonna go up one day.’ It feels less like ‘nobody’ listened and more like there was a lack of political will.”

Quick hits.

  1. President Trump was briefed on the California wildfires yesterday, including some tense exchanges with Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crawford. At one point Crawford warned Trump against putting our heads in the sand on climate change. “It’ll start getting cooler… you just watch,” Trump responded. “I wish science agreed with you,” Crawford responded. "Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said.
  2. In the meantime, “gusting winds and low humidity continue to fuel wildfires Tuesday in parts of Northern California and Oregon,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Officials warned the conditions are still dire, and more than 4.6 million acres have now burned in 10 states. The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning early Tuesday, indicating more dry weather and wind.
  3. Officials representing Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will sign the Abraham Accords at the White House today. The accord does not end a state of conflict but it does normalize relations between Jewish and Arab states that have been warring for decades — and it gives Trump a major win that shows he is “bringing new harmony to the chaotic Middle East.”
  4. Michael Caputo, a top Trump communications official in charge of combating coronavirus, made a series of outlandish and bizarre claims on Sunday in a Facebook live video. The video, which was shared only with Caputo’s Facebook friends, claimed government scientists were taking part in “sedition,” that left-wing hit squads were going to kill him and prepare an armed insurrection after the election, and warned friends to stock up on ammunition and firearms. Caputo is the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. In the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group called the “Problems Solvers Caucus” says they are unveiling a $1.5 trillion compromise bill for COVID-19 relief legislation today. It’s “a long-shot attempt to break a months-long deadlock on providing relief to the pandemic-battered U.S. economy,” Bloomberg reported. The bill includes $1,200 checks to individuals, funding for food stamps and rental assistance, $500 billion for cities and an extension of the $600 enhanced unemployment benefit, so long as it does not exceed 100% of a person’s previous wage.

Podcast appearance.

A couple months ago, I sat down for an interview to chat about Tangle on the Instagram live show Pol & Pals. The interview is now available in the form of a podcast. I discuss how I got started, why I created a newsletter in this format and what’s broken about the news ecosystem. It’s a casual conversation, and I also drank some nice Japanese whiskey and cursed a few times (this was at the height of quarantine, and I was very tired). If you’re interested in hearing more about the origins of Tangle, or just want to see what I sound like, and aren’t offended by the F-word, you can listen on Apple here or on Spotify here.

What D.C. is talking about.

Today’s issue is a little something different. Instead of highlighting the major story of the day, I want to focus on a theme that’s been floating around D.C. for months: the people who are publicly expressing their plans to “change sides” in 2020. This includes Hillary Clinton or never-Trump voters who are now casting ballots for the president, and former Republicans or Trump voters who are now casting ballots for Joe Biden.

Last week, I answered a reader question about swing voters. The gist of it was that the pool of persuadable voters is getting smaller, and is probably less important than ramping up turnout, which is a big reason for the kind of campaigning we’re seeing in politics today — there’s less of a focus on bridging gaps and bringing people together and more of a focus on getting your side angry, scared or excited so they will actually show up and vote.

But the persuadable, flippable voters could still make a difference. And we are 14 days away from the first presidential debate and 49 days from the election, so I thought it’d be fun to take a look at what each side is saying about why they’ve decided to change teams.

What new Biden voters say.

Most of them focus on Trump’s character. Angela Ryan, a Florida voter, penned an op-ed in 2019 titled: “I was one of those white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Now I see what a terrible mistake I made.”

Ryan said she was a lifelong Republican who wanted to cast a ballot against Hillary Clinton but had concerns about Trump. When the FBI announced it was reopening its investigation into Hillary, though, she held her nose and voted for Trump, imagining the “guardrails” would keep him in check. But since his election, she describes having had a “political rude awakening.”

“My politics and involvement in the political process have been irrevocably changed,” she wrote. “The Republicans have all bought into Trump’s chaos, lies, bullying and rage-tweeting. ‘Great,’ they say, ‘his base loves him.’ They’re all complicit. The abject cruelty to immigrants and others of brown and black skin are perfectly acceptable to Republicans, as long as they win the next election and continue to hold power. The sheer lawlessness and incompetence are staggering.”

Ashley Pratte, an op-ed writer for USA Today who said she is voting for a Democrat for the first time this year, had begun her exit from the party after Trump became the GOP nominee in 2016. She said this year was the first time she watched the Democratic National Convention and she was moved by the positive rhetoric. But Trump’s record is what is pushing her away.

“The past four years have been full of reckless policy, hateful rhetoric, authoritarian decision-making, lack of leadership, nepotism and blunder after blunder. Think about all that has happened since 2016: the #MeToo movement, the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, the coronavirus pandemic, the impeachment investigation, an economic recession, the lack of decorum, and the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a result of police brutality and racial tensions in our country,” she wrote.

“Trump conned his supporters into believing he would ‘Make America Great Again,’ but all he did was make America the worst and weakest it has ever been and expose a dark and dangerous underbelly of our country, full of hate for those of different colors, creeds and genders. His main mission was to paint a dark picture of ‘us vs. them’ and, unfortunately, he has succeeded.”

In The Houston Chronicle, William Treadway tried to make the case to Texas voters to follow him behind Biden. He describes himself as a “gun totin’ Texas property owner” who supported both George W. Bush elections, served in the U.S. Army, led soldiers into combat against the Taliban and swore an oath to protect the U.S. “against all enemies — foreign and domestic.”

“Well, we have met the enemy, and he is a bigoted, failed businessman whose primary use of the American presidency has been to dodge accountability for his own misdeeds, to distract from ongoing Russian attacks on both our election systems and our soldiers, and of course, to line his pockets with money squeezed from the blood and sweat and suffering of Americans nationwide,” Treadway wrote. “He has even sent federal agents, dressed like my soldiers were in Afghanistan, to a city near you with the prime goal of beating, assaulting and abducting women, veterans, and others exercising their First Amendment rights as part of a program of unconstitutional ‘proactive arrests.’ (Never has a more Stalinist term been uttered in this decade.)”

Treadway specifically calls out Republicans planning to vote third-party or write in a candidate of their choice, saying that is “an evasion of civic responsibility.” He says “The right to vote is sacred and hard-earned, and to waste it on what amounts to abstention is an insult to those who have given their lives to protect that privilege.”

There have also been numerous stories on Trump voters leaving the show. Trump voters who backed him in 2016 but say they won’t this time represent just about 2% of the electorate, a New York Times story said. In The Washington Post, some suburban white women pointed to the COVID-19 response as the reason they’re leaving. Many of the other views are summed up nicely by this quote from Judith Goines, a 53-year-old finance executive in North Carolina who voted for him in 2016 but won’t in 2020.

“I think if he weren’t such an appalling human being, he would make a great president because I think what this country needs is somebody who isn’t a politician,” Goines said. “But obviously with the coronavirus and the social unrest we’re dealing with, that’s where you need a politician, somebody with a little bit more couth.”

The billionaire Republican donor Bill Kristol has also funded the website RVAT, or Republican Voters Against Trump, that collects stories from Trump voters and Republicans who are planning to vote for Joe Biden in 2020.

What new Trump voters say.

There are quite a few former never-Trumpers now — or people who expected him to be a lot worse than he’s turned out to be and feel that their lives have improved since Trump took office. In The Wall Street Journal, Michael Krauss wrote about his transition from never-Trump to Trump voter, saying he wrote in Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan for president in 2016. “I found Donald Trump boorish and misogynistic, and I was dumbfounded that he had captured the GOP nomination,” he said. But while he still finds Trump’s style “grating,” cringes at his narcissism, and thinks his friendliness with dictators is dangerous, he believes the Trump presidency has been successful.

“He not only insisted that immigration conform to the rule of law, but advocated for and (where legally permitted) built a border wall,” Krauss wrote. “The president has appointed more than 200 federal judges, most of whom are superb and committed to finding the law, not making it up. He has followed through on his promise to reduce taxes and to begin deregulating the economy, creating a remarkable boom that reduced unemployment for minorities to the lowest rates ever recorded.”

On foreign policy Krauss says “the president promoted a historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” he “withdrew from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, the signing of which was possibly the single worst act of the Obama presidency,” and he “eliminated Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani, essentially crushed ISIS, and neutralized its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He signed the Taylor Force Act into law, cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pays support to the families of terrorists. Mr. Trump recognized that a cold war exists with China, and he has taken concrete steps to counter that country’s efforts to weaken our republic.”

When it comes to Biden, Krauss argued, he “is weak and presides over a party that coddles extremists and sometimes seems to condone riotous violence.”

In The Federalist, David Marcus says he has come “to embrace a president I once feared and detested.” Marcus was once considered one of the most intense never-Trumpers in America. “I exposed his connections to Mafia figures, I latched on to any vague allegation of racism I could find, I didn’t just want him to lose, I wanted him to lose in a landslide,” Marcus wrote.

“Very quickly the president’s conservative victories started to stack up,” Marcus argued. “Actual conservative Supreme Court Justices, not fair weather institutionalists like John Roberts. A US embassy in Jerusalem, and real tax cuts came into being. He actually pulled out of the disastrous Iran Deal and Paris Accord; he threatened and imposed tariffs on China, abandoning the failed neoliberal policy of appeasement, the childlike fantasy that free trade alone would transform that communist country into a liberal democracy.”

When the Republican and Democratic conventions came around, Marcus said his vote was cemented. In Biden, he saw someone who “ran a convention based on fear of the virus, who embraces a new normal in which petty dictators like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio control my life, a desperate old man who said he would lock me down again.” Meanwhile, “President Trump did what he does best; he spoke to a crowd. There was joy and optimism and patriotism. Instead of fear there was pride. For me, he was no longer the lesser of two evils but a man I dearly hope will remain our president.”

In The Washington Post, Danielle Pletka wrote that she fears both Trump and the Democrats, but she fears a leftward lurch of the Democratic party more than anything else. She “never” considered voting for Trump in 2016, believes he has ushered in “the worst degradation of American politics,” and concedes there are “execrable gun-toting racists” that “have received too much tacit encouragement from Trump.” Still, though, she “may be forced to vote for the man.”

“I fear that former vice president Joe Biden would be a figurehead president, incapable of focus or leadership, who would run a teleprompter presidency with the words drafted by his party’s hard-left ideologues,” she wrote. “I fear that a Congress with Democrats controlling both houses — almost certainly ensured by a Biden victory in November — would begin an assault on the institutions of government that preserve the nation’s small “d” democracy. That could include the abolition of the filibuster, creating an executive-legislative monolith of unlimited political power; an increase in the number of Supreme Court seats to ensure a liberal supermajority; passage of devastating economic measures such as the Green New Deal; nationalized health care; the dismantling of U.S. borders and the introduction of socialist-inspired measures that will wreck an economy still recovering from the pandemic shutdown.”

On top of all that, Pletka says, she fears handing power to “virtue-signaling bullies who increasingly try to dominate or silence public discourse — and encourage my children to think that their being White is intrinsically evil, that America’s founding is akin to original sin.”

My take.

One of the most fascinating developments in politics for me has been the rise of the “Trump fan.” It’s hard to imagine, but before 2016 supporting your president meant little more than sticking up a yard sign or throwing a bumper sticker on your car. In 2008, Barack Obama ushered in an era of celebrity that felt unprecedented — he was adored by the media, by late-night talk show hosts, by athletes, by comedians, by just about everyone on the left or center who had celebrity. There were even some cool t-shirts with his face on them.

But Trump fans took things to a different level. His celebrity — the Trump fan — is something that you encounter in your day-to-day life. I remember vividly the first time I saw a Trump 2020 flag on the back of a car and thought, “that’s a lot more aggressive than a bumper sticker.” Little did I know we would soon witness Trump parades, Trump boating events, Trump golf cart lines, and mega-rallies or political conventions dedicated solely to the idea Trump was the greatest of all time. The Trump fandom, to me, often resembles die-hard sports fans, and it’s always been one of the most confounding parts of his presidency. I have never seen, heard or encountered a politician who evoked that kind of love and loyalty in me.

All of that makes some of these stories — both the people coming to and leaving Trump — that much more interesting. So much ink has been spilled on the “Trump base,” the 20%-30% or so of those American voters who are the Trump fans — the ones at the parades and rallies who believe everything he does is right no matter what. But we spend a lot less time thinking about why people may stick with Trump or move toward him despite some serious reservations. Researching today’s newsletter was a great insight into that, even from voters who were finally deciding to leave him.

The most important factor, it seems to me, is whether the character and person are primary or secondary to the policies and the outcomes. Most voters leaving Trump are leaving him because it became obvious to them he was not interested in uniting, leading or legislating. He was more interested in the fight and the media wars and the culture wars and the absolute defense of everything he does rather than ushering in a new era of legislating and policies to change the country.

For voters coming to him, they’re surprised at how effective he’s been or scared out of their wits by what they’re seeing from the far left. The courts are being totally remade with conservative judges, America is taking a “tough” stance on the global stage, taxes have been cut and all immigration is being reduced. At the same time, the voters flocking to Trump are seeing riots in the streets, “anti-American” literature being mainstreamed and massive, trillion-dollar progressive policies like the Green New Deal actually getting traction. For them, Trump being boorish or crude or a liar or unqualified, is secondary, when what they’ve gotten in the last four years is far less scary than what they think they might get under a Joe Biden presidency.

I think these arguments have also clarified my own struggles with Trump. I wouldn’t go to a neurosurgeon who lied to me or embellished every other sentence. I wouldn’t pick a trainer at the gym who was credibly accused of sexual assault or harassment by dozens of women. I wouldn’t send my kids to a teacher who was on tape talking about grabbing women by their genitals. I wouldn’t eat at a restaurant whose owner was famous for shafting low-wage workers or contractors. And I wouldn’t enjoy having a beer with someone who couldn’t be criticized or ragged on or talk about anything besides themselves.

And if those things are disqualifying for a gym trainer or a surgeon, a teacher or a restaurant owner, or some “guy I want to have a beer with,” they should be all the more disqualifying for the presidency. That’s to say nothing of the dozens of experienced military officials, politicians, government workers and intelligence officers that have worked side-by-side with Trump and since warned the rest of the country about him being unfit for office.

I suppose that makes the policies secondary for me when it comes to Trump, and makes me see everything else Trump does through that lens. Who he is is too often too much for me to swallow. I’m aware that some Trump supporters say the same logic could apply to Biden, who has also been accused of sexual assault, and called out for making women uncomfortable. He’s also spent decades in a Democratic party that has often seemed to have forgotten about working-class Americans. Fair enough.

The difference is Biden has apologized, promised a change of course, and listened. I’m still skeptical those Trump supporters would argue that Trump and Biden are operating on the same “decency” plane, and — even though I think there’s an argument for Biden on the policies alone — I simply struggle to get to the policies when considering my vote for 2020. I’m just stuck on the men running for office. And I think seeing these arguments makes it clear the difference for many moderate voters in this election is going to be which part of the president they put first, the person or the policies.

Your questions, answered.

As the election approaches, I’m very curious to hear what Tangle readers are worried about, thinking about, or looking for clarification on. I have about six or seven questions “on deck” right now but today’s newsletter was getting long, so I am skipping the reader question today. I just wanted to use this space to encourage you to write in and ask a question if you want — all you have to do is reply to this email and send me a note.

A story that matters.

The city of Louisville, Kentucky, will announce a settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor today. Taylor, a 26 year old Black woman who was killed during a “no-knock” police raid in March, became a central rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement in their fight for police accountability. She and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were sleeping at the time of the raid, and the man police were after turned out to be in custody already. Walker, a legal firearm owner, said police did not identify themselves and he fired one shot when they broke through the door into the apartment. The police returned fire, shooting Taylor five times and killing her. Activists have been calling for the officers involved in the raid to face criminal charges. The settlement will reportedly include a cash payout to Taylor’s family and commitments to substantial police reform. Louisville has already banned no-knock warrants, and the settlement will not impact an investigation into whether the officers should be charged.


  • 3%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they have personally tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • 11%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are “pretty sure” they’ve had coronavirus, even though they haven’t been diagnosed.
  • 21%. The percentage of Americans who believe that all coronavirus restrictions should be lifted immediately.
  • 41%. The percentage of Republicans who believe that all coronavirus restrictions should be lifted immediately.
  • 6%. The percentage of Democrats who believe that all coronavirus restrictions should be lifted immediately.
  • 56%. The percentage of Americans who believe that there is a great deal or fair amount of bias in the news source they use most often.
  • 9%. The percentage of Americans who believe that there is no bias at all in the news source they use most often.
  • 69%. The percentage of Americans who are more concerned that the news other people are getting might be biased than they are that the news they themselves are getting might be biased.
  • 29%. The percentage of Americans who are more concerned that the news they themselves are getting might be biased than they are that the news other people are getting might be biased.


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Have a nice day.

A cancer survivor has become the first woman to ever complete the Sea to Summit triathlon. Andrea Mason, a 39-year-old swimmer, had to swim 34 miles around Lake Annecy, cycle 205 miles up Mont Blanc, run 105 miles and then complete 4,000 feet of climbing to finish the triathlon, which took place in the French Alps. In 2017, she underwent life-saving surgery to remove cervical cancer and has since started her own charity called Lady Talk Matters that aims to destigmatize conversations about reproductive health. It took Mason five days to complete the triathlon, and she said she even hallucinated at one point, due to how hard she pushed her body.

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