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On the roster: Trump ducks debate, a dire sign from an incumbent – Veep debate: Civility, substance and ducked questions – Corona woes drive Trump lows in new poll – Bumper crop of cash for Ernst challenger – Walla walla, hubba hubba
TRUMP DUCKS DEBATE, A DIRE SIGN FROM AN INCUMBENT
We notice a great deal of conversation around the question of whether it would be “good” or “bad” for President Trump to go through with his boycott of the second of three scheduled presidential debates.
This conversation may certainly be premature since Trump reverses himself more often than a forklift operator, but such a move would hardly be without precedent for an incumbent. Both George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter refused to debate their challengers before ultimately relenting.
Assuming Trump makes good on his word, there is no way to know the political value of his decision.
First, goodness or badness would depend so much on variables we don’t – and probably won’t – have. Would Trump be more in control of himself than his Krakatoa routine from last week? Would Democratic nominee Joe Biden get vapor lock while answering a question from the audience? Would Ken Bone please come back?
It’s certainly right to say that Trump needs the debate more than Biden, but imagine if Trump had another bad night like he did in Cleveland. That’s way worse than nothing. We also don’t know what Trump’s stamina is like after his bout with coronavirus. Maybe he’s concerned about looking or seeming tired.
Subjective reasoning is one thing, but subjection on subjections just isn’t worth the time.
What is worthwhile, though, is figuring out what this says about the state of the race now and what the closing three weeks may look like.
As regular readers know, we hear very regularly from Trump supporters complaining about our exclusion of Rasmussen Reports polls, which we shun along with several other methodologically unsound surveys. Well, here’s your big chance, so soak it up: The president’s favorite pollster declared on Wednesday that Trump is trailing Biden by 12 points.
We don’t have any more confidence in this finding than we did with Rasmussen results that were so much more favorable to Trump, but it kind of gives you an idea of how things are going. This would be like Tony the Tiger telling people to try Frosted Mini Wheats.
After two miserable weeks, the strong indication is that the bottom has fallen out for the incumbent. Like Bush and Carter, Trump is running out of options. His decision to refuse to debate is no doubt a reflection of his understanding of his own dire circumstances.
There is still time for more changes in the dynamics of the race. It’s easy to see how Trump might close the gap somewhat before the election is over and Biden is certainly capable of massive self ownership.
But Trump’s decision to duck the debate tells us where we are right now which is an incumbent heading toward a major shellacking.
THE RULEBOOK: *SEND TWEET*
“The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote inhabitants of the Union.” – Alexander Hamilton, discussing miscellaneous objections to the Constitution, Federalist No. 84
TIME OUT: LOVING YOU FROM ANY DIRECTION
Smithsonian: “A new study suggests dogs may find the staring at the backs of their owners’ heads just as stimulating as looking at their faces. Though our four-legged friends appear to be capable of reading human emotions, the new study found dog brains don’t have a specific region that activates when they’re shown a face, reports Nicola Davis for the Guardian. … In the study, published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers presented 20 pet dogs with an array of two-second videos that showed either the front or back of a human or dog head. The dogs were shown the videos while lying still inside an MRI, allowing scientists to spy on their brain activity, reports Laura Sanders for Science News. For comparison, the researchers also showed 30 people the same videos. … The differences in dog brain activity that the researchers did observe suggested dogs were more attuned to identifying whether the star of the video was a fellow dog or a person.”
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NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 41.8 percent
Biden: 52.4 percent
Size of lead: Biden by 10.6 points
Change from one week ago: Biden ↑ 1.2 points, Trump ↓ 1.2 points
[Average includes: Fox News: Trump 43% – Biden 53%; CNN: Trump 41% – Biden 57%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 39% – Biden 53%; Monmouth University: Trump 45% – Biden 50%; NYT/Siena College: Trump 41% – Biden 49%.]
BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(270 electoral votes needed to win)
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6)
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes)
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes)
[Full rankings here.]
TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 44 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net Score: -9.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 2 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 47% approve – 52% disapprove; CNN: 40% approve – 57% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 43% approve – 55% disapprove; NYT/Siena College: 46% approve – 50% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approve – 55% disapprove.]
GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to [email protected]
VEEP DEBATE: CIVILITY, SUBSTANCE AND DUCKED QUESTIONS
Roll Call: “With plexiglass barriers on stage to help shield the participants from coronavirus droplets, pandemic response was a predictable focus of Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate. But while Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris were more civil with each other on a stage at the University of Utah than President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were with each other last week in Cleveland, many of the key questions were left hanging.”
Frustration grows over refusal to answer on court packing – The Atlantic: “Maybe the Biden team thinks court packing is a distraction from the fight over [Amy Coney] Barrett—his communications director, Kate Bedingfield, has said as much. Maybe the question is still unresolved within the campaign. Maybe Harris didn’t want to answer a question from Pence; throughout the evening, both candidates dodged direct queries from the moderator, too. Whatever the reason, if Democrats win big in November, court packing will be an urgent and live question that Biden and Harris will have to take on within their coalition. Evasion isn’t a good enough answer.”
Pence evasive on health insurance – NYT: “About halfway through Wednesday’s debate, Vice President Mike Pence — a seasoned and sly veteran of high-stakes political theater — was asked whether President Trump had a plan to protect patients with pre-existing conditions if he succeeded in killing the Affordable Care Act. His response was a master class in evasive rhetorical jujitsu: First, the vice president ignored the question (the White House has not, in fact, come up with a plan), then launched into a long defense of his anti-abortion views and, for his dismount, demanded that Senator Kamala Harris say if she supported a plan to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court. …Time and again, Mr. Pence, whose deliberate Midwestern delivery masks a switchblade-quick political mind, seamlessly changed the subject when cornered by an inconvenient query.”
Like a human GIF machine – NY Post: “Sen. Kamala Harris let her facial expressions do all the talking during Wednesday night’s debate — and social media took notice. The 90-minute showdown with Vice President Mike Pence featured a host of visible emotions from the Democratic vice presidential nominee, spurring a flood of attention on Twitter. … ‘SNL’ star Chris Redd tweeted, ‘Kamala Harris has the best ‘I can’t believe this bulls–t right HERE’ face I have ever seen.’ … But viewers across the aisle weren’t as amused. … David Dudenhoefer, the Republican who is seeking Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s seat in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, wrote, ‘Kamala Harris is unlikable with her smug facial expressions.’”
Sign of things to come? – Politico: “At one point during Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, Mike Pence answered a question about abortion laws in Indiana by discussing Qasem Soleimani. Kamala Harris responded to a question about whether she and Joe Biden would expand the Supreme Court by invoking Abe Lincoln. Let’s say this at the outset: This was a boring, unfocused debate between two well-prepared and polished candidates who had little interest in answering the questions posed to them — and were under virtually no pressure from the moderator to do so. In other words, it was sort of how debates used to be: professional politicians who are mostly civil to each other making their points, occasionally skirting the rules, and frequently spinning the facts. There was a lot to critique, but the participants were bound by some shared sense of propriety. … So maybe the way to see the Harris-Pence snooze-fest is as a peek into the future of American politics once this Trump-dominated era is over.”
Biden, Harris, Pence travel to Arizona post debate – Fox News: “The former vice president is traveling to Arizona on Thursday for his first joint campaign stop with Harris as the race heats up in the battleground state. The Democratic ticket will meet with Native American tribal leaders in Phoenix before departing for a ‘Soul of the Nation’ bus tour. Harris and Biden will meet with voters and small-business owners in Tempe and Phoenix. According to an aggregate of polls by RealClearPolitics, Biden is leading Trump by a little more than 3 percentage points in the state. The vice president and second lady Karen Pence are headed to Peoria, Ariz., where Pence will fill in for the president at a Make America Great Again rally. The event is slated to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET, according to an announcement Saturday by the Trump campaign. … Early voting in [Arizona] began on Wednesday.”
CORONA WOES DRIVE TRUMP LOWS IN NEW POLL
Fox News: “Democratic candidate Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by a 53-43 percent margin, in a Fox News national survey of likely voters conducted after a combative debate and the president testing positive for coronavirus. Biden’s 10-point advantage is up from a 5-point lead last month. The incumbent faces a challenging landscape: Voters think the stakes are high. A 70 percent majority believes our democracy is ‘in danger’ in this election, including about 8 in 10 Biden supporters and 6 in 10 Trump supporters. On coronavirus, most, 72 percent, favor requiring masks when people are outside their home, while the number who think the virus is under control is small (24 percent mostly/completely) and down from a month ago (30 percent). Almost twice as many voters prioritize limiting the spread of coronavirus over restarting the economy. Most rate economic conditions negatively (65 percent only fair/poor). … Biden leads Trump by 39 points among those saying coronavirus is the most important factor, while Trump is preferred among those saying the economy by 12.”
Trump to return to in-person events as soon as Monday – ABC News: “Just days removed from Walter Reed hospital, and still battling the coronavirus, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is already plotting the president’s return to the campaign trail, with an event in the cards for as soon as early next week. The president has been sidelined for nearly a week after testing positive for the coronavirus late last Thursday, forcing the Trump campaign to cancel five previously announced rallies in Florida, Wisconsin, and Arizona. In recent days, Trump’s team has started working to nail down details for a potential return to the campaign trail for the first time since the president tested positive, with a return event under consideration for as soon as Monday and possibly in Pennsylvania, multiple sources tell ABC News. The president’s team is also eyeing a return to other campaign stops in swing states including Iowa, where campaign staff toured potential event sites earlier this week, sources tell ABC News.”
BUMPER CROP OF CASH FOR ERNST CHALLENGER
Iowa Starting Line: “Theresa Greenfield raised more money in the last three months than any Iowan running for U.S. Senate had raised in an entire election cycle. In the third fundraising quarter of 2020, spanning July through September, Greenfield’s campaign says it raised $28.7 million, a ‘record-shattering’ figure never before reported by a U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa. The campaign is expected to report closing Q3 with more than $9 million in cash-on-hand. The total is even more than both Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst’s combined 2014 fundraising for that entire cycle (both raised about $12 million each). … Sen. Joni Ernst’s campaign has not released its Q3 fundraising total, and as of Thursday morning, neither candidates’ latest fundraising reports were yet available on the Federal Election Commission website. According to Greenfield’s campaign, she received contributions from individuals in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, with 95% of the total contributions received in Q3 coming in at $100 or less.”
Graham faces formidable coalition backing Harrison – WaPo: “One day after Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) entered the 2016 GOP presidential race, Richard N. Wilkerson joined the finance team trying to raise funds for a quixotic bid that ended months later as the senator traded insults with Donald Trump. Less than five years later, Wilkerson began supporting another long shot: Democrat Jaime Harrison, who is trying to knock off Graham in his bid for a fourth Senate term. … In a state that President Trump won by 14 percentage points in 2016, Harrison has touted his personal story… Strategists in both parties have never viewed South Carolina as a tipping point for the Senate majority, believing that if Harrison could pull off the biggest upset of 2020 it would mean Democrats had already won many seats.”
Nebraska Republican gets backing of former Dem opponent – Omaha World-Herald: “Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., has secured the support of the man he defeated to get the job back in 2016. Former Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., said in a statement to The World-Herald on Wednesday that he is backing Bacon over Democratic challenger Kara Eastman in Nebraska’s Omaha-based 2nd District. ‘It was my intention to remain neutral in this Congressional race,’ Ashford said. ‘However, more than ever we need unifiers not dividers in Congress.’ Ashford released the statement just minutes before the start of Wednesday night’s debate between Bacon and Eastman. In the statement, Ashford touted his own bipartisan record during the one term he served in the House and said that Bacon has followed a similar path by supporting protections for those brought into the country illegally as children, helping craft a bipartisan pandemic relief proposal and fighting to maintain private health insurance for families.”
ECONOMIC PAIN WORSENS AS LAYOFFS CONTINUE
AP: “The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to a still-high 840,000, evidence that job cuts remain elevated seven months into the pandemic recession. The latest sign of a flagging recovery comes two days after President Donald Trump cut off talks over a new rescue aid package that economists say is urgently needed for millions of unemployed Americans and struggling businesses. A failure to enact another round of government aid would crimp household income and spending, and some economists say it would raise the risk of a double-dip recession. Thursday’s report from the Labor Department said the number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits dropped 1 million to 11 million. The decline suggests that many of the unemployed are being recalled to their old jobs. But it also reflects the fact that some have used up the 26 weeks of their regular state benefits and have transitioned to extended benefit programs that last an additional three months.”
Trump scrambles to revive talks on stimulus – Fox Business: “President Trump said he shut down coronavirus stimulus talks with House Democrats on Tuesday because he didn’t ‘want to play games’ but added Thursday that relief for Americans could be back on the table. … ‘We are starting to have very productive talks,’ he said. ‘[House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] wants it to happen too. She doesn’t want it not to happen. I believe she wants it to happen because it’s so good for our country.’ Trump claimed talks about an airline bailout plus $1,200-per-person stimulus checks were back on.”
Pelosi won’t budge on a standalone airline bill – Axios: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would not agree to a standalone bill to assist the airline industry without a broader relief package that addresses public health, unemployment, and aid for state and local governments. … Mnuchin discussed such a bill and other piecemeal measures with Pelosi Wednesday morning, but Pelosi was adamant in saying Democrats won’t play ball unless the White House agrees to deliver more comprehensive relief. The airline industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and mass layoffs began last week.”
FEDS BUST MILITIA PLOT TO KIDNAP MICHIGAN GOVERNOR
The Detroit News: “The FBI says it thwarted what it described as a plot to violently overthrow the government and kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and federal prosecutors are expected to discuss the alleged conspiracy later Thursday. The alleged plot involved reaching out to members of a Michigan militia, according to a federal affidavit filed Thursday. The court filing also alleges the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer’s personal vacation home and discussed kidnapping her to a ‘secure location’ in Wisconsin to stand ‘trial’ for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election. ‘Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,’ an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit. ‘The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.’ The affidavit was filed hours after a team of FBI agents raided a Hartland Township home Wednesday…”
The Judge’s Ruling: Michigan court ruling overturning COVID-19 restrictions is victory for liberty – Fox News
“Does this mean Pence is… pretty fly for a white guy? I’ll see myself out… #Debates2020” – Ashley Moir, a producer for “Special Report with Bret Baier,” in a tweet about the insect that landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head for two minutes during Wednesday night’s debate.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“For the past several weeks, I’ve been getting texts and emails asking me how I’m going to vote. They usually start with ‘Hi, this is [name] from [innocuously named organization].’ I don’t know who they are, but one dropped the name of someone I don’t support. Unless it’s a group I’ve heard of, I’m not answering, especially in this heated political climate. Rather than argue about [how] many people do the same as I do, I want to know how polls would count people like me.” – Valarie Baez, Sugar Land, Texas
[Ed. note: Whatever those texts and emails are, they are not polls, I can assure you, Ms. Baez. Unfortunately, spam texts have become part of life in the same way that unwanted, seamy emails have long been. At some point you likely added your phone number to a list to receive updates or maybe to a merchant who offered to text you status reports on an order. Your number was stolen or sold and is now being used by a campaign, pressure group or, most dangerously, a scammer. You should certainly not click on ANY links or follow any instructions from any sender who you do not know and trust. You should then report the text as spam to your provider, which is easy to do on Apple phones. If you were being polled by a legitimate outfit, you would have gotten a telephone call from a real live human who clearly identified themself and their organization off the bat.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at [email protected] and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
WALLA WALLA, HUBBA HUBBA
UPI: “Officials with a Canadian business said they were left surprised, confused and somewhat amused when Facebook refused to run an ad because a photo of onions was flagged as an ‘overtly sexual image.’ Jackson McLean, a manager at Gaze Seed Company in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, said the company submitted an ad to Facebook to promote its walla walla onions, but the submitted image was rejected by the social media network because the photo, which depicted only a group of onions, was deemed to be ‘overtly sexual.’ ‘We got notified the other day that it’s an ‘overtly sexual image’ that they had to ban from the site,’ McLean told CBC News. … McLean said he had to laugh at what was apparently an error by Facebook’s anti-nudity algorithm. ‘I just thought it was funny,’ he said. ‘You’d have to have a pretty active imagination to look at that and get something sexual out of it…’”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Baseball is rich, but not redemptive. Metaphysics it ain’t. The fact that, in fiction, baseball is becoming metaphysics says something about how little of it we find elsewhere.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about how baseball is America’s pastime in the Washington Post on May 12, 1989.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.