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Why Things Are Different This Time – The New York Times

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Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

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Joe Biden leads in the national polls. He leads in swing states. He leads the money race. And his party has a big head start in the record-breaking early voting returns.

By all the measures that political strategists, pundits and operatives use to forecast elections, Mr. Biden should be heading toward victory on election night.

And yet, there’s that nagging feeling. That still, small voice that whispers: But 2016 …

Enough already. Say it with me, friends: 2020 is not 2016.

For four years, many Democrats and Republicans have assumed that President Trump has near-mythical political powers, able to rally hidden supporters who defy measurement in polling.

But as I wrote in today’s paper, the reality is that the 2016 election was a matchup between two of the most disliked and polarizing presidential candidates in American history.

Mr. Trump’s inflammatory and divisive rhetoric fueled much of that dynamic. But the particulars of that race also stemmed from how voters saw Hillary Clinton, a candidate who was already tarred by decades of Republican attacks and was also grappling with the sexism that would inevitably face the first woman with a serious shot at the White House.

Mr. Trump pulled off an upset against Mrs. Clinton, but again: 2020 is not 2016.

Take the accounts of focus groups from both elections told to me by strategists from the Clinton and Biden campaigns.

In the Clinton groups four years ago, voters agonized over their views of the candidate. They struggled with Mrs. Clinton’s ambition, finding her willingness to set aside her goals to serve in President Barack Obama’s administration more appealing than her own policy accomplishments as a senator and secretary of state.

Winning over female voters entailed walking a tortured path, the Clinton aides told me. Younger women condemned her decision to remain married to her husband after his marital infidelities became painfully public. Older women said that they couldn’t relate to Mrs. Clinton because they didn’t believe in their own ability to break barriers.

She had to be extraordinarily experienced, voters said, but also relatable. Highly qualified but not too ambitious, even as she pursued the biggest job in American public life.

As for Mr. Biden? Well, voters see him as a “decent guy,” said Steve Schale, a veteran Democratic operative who ran focus groups on Mr. Biden after the primary campaign this year. They don’t know a lot about his accomplishments — like his work shepherding the 2009 stimulus bill — but they think he’s “nice” and a good family man.

This difference shows up in the polling: By the time she ran for president in 2016, more than half the electorate had a unfavorable view of Mrs. Clinton, and her “very unfavorable” ratings were 10 to 15 percentage points higher than Mr. Biden’s this year, according to Democratic polling and public surveys.

Only about a third of voters saw either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton as “honest and trustworthy” in 2016, according to Gallup — but 52 percent of voters saw Mr. Biden that way last month, as opposed to 40 percent for Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden is also doing better than Mrs. Clinton in polling among groups that made up key parts of Mr. Trump’s coalition four years ago — white voters without a college degree, older voters and suburban white women.

So do these differences mean that Mr. Biden will win the election? Not necessarily!

Election models are based off results from previous “normal” elections. Correctly modeling deep electoral uncertainty — extraordinary events like a ranging pandemic, widespread voting by mail and record-shattering early voting — is really, really hard.

I suppose I can offer one tiny reassurance about the polls: If all the forecasts are wrong again, it won’t be for the same reasons.


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NAZARETH, Pa. — Lorin Bradley is a registered Republican who voted for President Trump in 2016 mostly because he didn’t like Hillary Clinton. But he has already voted for Joe Biden this year.

Mr. Bradley, 56, said he regretted his decision to vote for Mr. Trump shortly after the last election, and had been dismayed by Mr. Trump’s management of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think he should have taken it more seriously,” said Mr. Bradley, a human resources manager at a pharmaceutical company. “That’s just another example of his many lies. He should have not downplayed it as if it was just another bout of the flu.”

Mr. Bradley predicted that the surrounding Northampton County in eastern Pennsylvania, one of only three counties in the state to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 after backing President Barack Obama in 2012, would swing back to the Democrats this time because voters were “tired” of Mr. Trump. “He’s worn people out,” he said.

But Bill Schwab, a retired beer wholesaler and a registered independent, said he would vote for Mr. Trump again because he liked the president’s tax policies, and he was worried that a Biden administration would be too liberal.

“I’m afraid of the other side, what they’re going to do once they get in, as far as taxes and that type of stuff, and just the way they want to give away the farm,” Mr. Schwab, 65, said in an interview outside the post office in Northampton County.

Mr. Schwab said he was not happy with the president’s management of the pandemic, although that would not affect his voting decision. “It’s a pandemic, he shouldn’t have acted like it was going to go away,” he said.

In a county that Mr. Trump won by less than four percentage points in 2016, voters on both sides predict this year’s result will be close. But Democrats’ hopes were buoyed on Oct. 6 by a Monmouth University poll showing Mr. Biden leading by 53 percent to 42 percent in the 10 Pennsylvania counties — including Northampton — that were the most closely decided four years ago, when Mr. Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania as a whole.

Janice McGrogan, a Democrat who said she and her husband had already voted by mail for Mr. Biden, thought Mr. Trump would again win the county, which she said was dominated by Republicans who harassed Biden voters.

Wearing a Biden-Harris face mask outside a supermarket, Ms. McGrogan said she had been warned by a health worker not to wear the mask when she took her husband to a hospital appointment. “She said if you want your husband to have good medical care, do not wear this mask in the doctor’s office,” said Ms. McGrogan, 63, who worked in the county prison until she retired.

Deb Hayes, 64, a retired schoolteacher who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, said she would like to vote for him again because she opposes abortion. But she is concerned about the way he has behaved as president, and said she was undecided.

“I don’t like his leadership,” Ms. Hayes said. “So many times, I’ve kind of thrown up my hands and thought: ‘What is he thinking?’”

This item was part of a series of short Battleground Dispatches our reporters have been filing from swing states, offering an in-person snapshot of what it’s like to be on the ground in New Hampshire, Arizona and elsewhere. You can read all of the dispatches here.


The existential dread of a global pandemic is pervasive. … But every day, there is also Thelonious, a chipmunk who sits down to eat in a world without a doomful election and a deadly virus.

Can chipmunk restaurants save us all? Bon Appétit explores.


Thanks for reading. On Politics is your guide to the political news cycle, delivering clarity from the chaos.

On Politics is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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Justice Department investigating potential presidential pardon bribery scheme, court records reveal – CNN

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The case is the latest legal twist in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration after several of his top advisers have been convicted of federal criminal charges and as the possibility rises of Trump giving pardons to those who’ve been loyal to him.
The disclosure is in 20 pages of partially redacted documents made public by the DC District Court on Tuesday afternoon. The records show Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s review in August of a request from prosecutors to access documents obtained in a search as part of a bribery-for-pardon investigation.
The filings don’t reveal a timeline of the alleged scheme, or any names of people potentially involved, except that communications between people including at least one lawyer were seized from an office that was raided sometime before the end of this summer.
No one appears to have been publicly charged with a related crime to date.
The White House declined to comment on the court filing. CNN has previously reported that associates of the President are making appeals to him in the hopes of obtaining pardons before he leaves office. There is no indication that any of those associates are being investigated by DOJ in relation to Tuesday’s filing.
A Justice Department official told CNN that “no government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing.”
According to the court records, at the end of this summer, a filter team, used to make sure prosecutors don’t receive tainted evidence that should have been kept from them because it was privileged, had more than 50 digital devices including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives and computer drives after investigators raided the unidentified offices.
Prosecutors told the court they wanted permission to the filter team’s holdings. The prosecutors believed the devices revealed emails that showed allegedly criminal activity, including a “secret lobbying scheme” and a bribery conspiracy that offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for a convicted defendant whose name is redacted, according to the redacted documents.
Communications between attorneys and clients are typically privileged and kept from prosecutors as they build their cases, but in this situation, Howell allowed the prosecutors access. Attorney-client communications are not protected as privileged under the law when there is discussion of a crime, among other exceptions.
“The political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted]’s role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted name],” Howell wrote in her court order.
The grand jury investigation also appears to relate to unnamed people acting as unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” as they sought to secure a pardon and use an intermediary to send a bribe, the unsealed court records say.
Prosecutors hadn’t provided evidence to the judge, however, of any direct payment, and instead showed evidence that a person was seeking clemency because of past and future political contributions.
The investigators indicated in court that they intended to “confront” three people with the communications and complete their investigation.
Over the last week, the Justice Department told Howell it wanted to keep filings related to the matter confidential in court, because “individuals and conduct” hadn’t yet been charged.
Trump has granted 29 pardons and commuted 16 people’s sentences during his presidency, according to the US Pardon Attorney’s office. Several of those have gone to people close to the President or whose names would make a splash — including the 19th Century suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Bush-era adviser Scooter Libby and longtime Republican political adviser Roger Stone, who lied to Congress to protect Trump’s efforts in 2016.
Just last week, Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI, undisclosed lobbying for Turkey and the waterfront of potential related crimes that Flynn could have faced in the future.
This story has been updated with additional information.

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Josh Hawley shows what GOP politics after Trump will look like – The Washington Post

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What does the GOP base want? That question is of paramount importance to the ambitious Republican who would become the party’s champion in 2024. The emerging consensus is that the way to win that base’s affections is by channeling and encouraging their resentments, much in the way President Trump did.

Pulling this off won’t be easy for more conventional politicians. Many will try; the slate of potential candidates is long and growing. But if you want to understand how Republicans see their own voters, you can’t do much better than to watch Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and his performative populism.

It’s performative because while it’s vivid and dramatic, it has almost no policy content. Hawley doesn’t actually want to do much of anything that might hurt the interests of the wealthy and boost the fortunes of ordinary people; what he wants instead is to encourage seething resentment of the “elite” that he can ride to greater political fortune, a new culture war for the post-Trump era.

Consider this recent Twitter exchange:

Hawley knows perfectly well how nonsensical and incoherent it is to claim that his opponents are simultaneously corporate tools and radical Marxists. But that incoherence is a feature, not a bug.

This is a standard refrain from Hawley, that any Democrat he wants to criticize is a “condescending corporate liberal” looking down their nose at reg’lar folks while they do the bidding of big business (the “sneering” he references in this tweet is the key). As he said in a 2019 speech full of laughable distortions of history (the Framers, he claimed, “built a new republic governed not by a select elite, as in the days of old, but by the common man and woman”), the “cosmopolitan elite” that runs things leaves Americans feeling “unheard, disempowered and disrespected.”

And the mention of “critical race theory” — which approximately one in a thousand Americans actually understands — is another tell. It’s a way of saying that those elitist White liberals don’t care about you because they’re too busy caring about Black people.

This is what political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call “plutocratic populism,” a stylistic anti-elitism that wins popular support for an agenda that serves only the wealthy and corporations. Nearly every prominent Republican demonstrates it in one way or another, but Hawley offers us one of its clearest incarnations.

Hawley himself is as elite as they come. The son of a banker, he attended prep school before Stanford and Yale Law, where his term as president of the school’s Federalist Society chapter no doubt helped propel him all the way to a Supreme Court clerkship with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. His escalator to the top required no bootstrap-pulling.

Yet posing as a down-home populist has been one of the keys to Hawley’s rise. One example: During his 2018 run for Senate, he faced a serious liability in the lawsuit that he and other Republican attorneys general filed to nullify the Affordable Care Act, which would have yanked protections for preexisting conditions away from all Americans. So he aired an ad claiming to be the guardian of those protections for families like his own: “We’ve got two perfect little boys. Just ask their momma.”

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with politicians who come from wealth promoting the interests of the downtrodden; we have a long history of such figures, most notably Franklin Roosevelt. But the plutocratic populists like Hawley offer regular people only the spiritual succor of outrage: I may be working to increase inequality in America, but elect me because I hate the people you hate.

This is the shared strategy of Hawley and Trump: They’re both products of the American elite riding forth on anti-elite resentment. The difference is that Trump was driven by a sincere envy of the elite and a desperate desire to be accepted by them. He was always the kid from Queens whose (largely inherited) money couldn’t buy him a welcome into Manhattan society; no matter how many buildings he bought or how many times he was mentioned on Page Six, the old-money swells wouldn’t consider him one of their own, which caused him no end of whiny bitterness.

But Hawley is too smart to put himself in the story of grievance he tells; without a force of personality anything like Trump’s, he can only be a vehicle for others’ resentment. He’ll claim to be an enemy of corporations, rail against nonexistent “religious bigotry” and tell the Republican base over and over: You’re the victims. Get mad.

In this effort — indeed, in today’s GOP as a whole — dishonesty, hypocrisy and self-contradiction aren’t sins, they’re virtues, so long as they’re deployed to irritate the libs. Hawley understands as well as anyone that his is a party of trolls, particularly the activist base that will be so important in determining who gets the 2024 nomination; no quality is held in higher esteem among them than the ability to make the left angry.

And in that, Hawley is well on his way. The liberals who pay enough attention to politics to be familiar with him already consider him utterly loathsome.

It may be partly because they understand that while he isn’t exactly a dynamo on the stump, he could have some real appeal to Republicans, particularly when compared with some of the duds lining up to run in 2024, black holes of charisma such as Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Hawley is every bit as phony as any of them, but he’s much less likely to make voters recoil. Which makes him all the more dangerous.

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Trump's fights with fellow Republicans have political consequences beyond 2020 – NBC News

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WASHINGTON — President Trump is leaving office the same way he started his political career — by attacking fellow Republicans.

But the fights he’s picked with Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, as well as with Gov. Doug Ducey in Arizona, are different than those insults at John McCain, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry in 2015.

One, they’re taking place with the top elected leaders in onetime GOP-leaning states that just turned blue in 2020 — and with one of them (Georgia) holding twin runoffs in January that will decide the control of the Senate.

And two, Trump is upset that these Republican officials aren’t helping him overturn election results in states that he narrowly yet clearly lost.

Dec. 1, 202002:22

Let us repeat that again: He. Wants. Them. To. Reverse. The. Results.

“ALL 15 counties in Arizona — counties run by both parties — certified their results,” Ducey replied to Trump via Twitter. “That’s the law. I’ve sworn an oath to uphold it, and I take my responsibility seriously.”

“Georgia law prohibits the governor from interfering in elections,” Gov. Kemp’s spokesman said in a statement, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard.

These intraparty fights not only complicate the Senate runoffs in Georgia, but also future statewide contests in these two states.

As NBC’s Ed Demaria reminds us, Ducey might be the best Republican on paper who could win both a GOP Senate primary and a general election in Arizona in either 2022 or 2024. But what if Trump decides to sink his chances?

And that’s the dilemma for Republicans if Trump — once out of office — becomes the face of the GOP opposition to Biden.

Does he use his powers to help the party? Or exact revenge?

Tweet of the day

NYT: Trump has raised $170 million since Election Day

“President Trump has raised about $170 million since Election Day as his campaign operation has continued to aggressively solicit donations with hyped-up appeals that have funded his fruitless attempts to overturn the election,” the New York Times reports, citing one person familiar with the matter.

The rub: The fine print on the president’s call for donations to his “Official Election Defense Fund” show that the vast majority of donations don’t necessarily support a recount at all. Most of the money instead is headed for the president’s personal leadership pac, which he’ll be able to use to fund his post-presidential political activity, and to the Republican National Committee.

It’s not surprising, but it’s still astonishing.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6,238,766: Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote at the time of publication.

13,624,624: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 170,294 more than yesterday morning.)

268,990: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,394 more than yesterday morning.)

192.77 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

96,039: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

35: The number of days until the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs.

50: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

Biden rolls out his economic team

“President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday will formally introduce his picks for his economic policy team, including Janet Yellen for treasury secretary,” NBC’s Geoff Bennett and Rebecca Shabad write.

Biden Cabinet/Transition Watch

State: Tony Blinken (announced)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (announced)

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas (announced)

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (announced)

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (announced)

Defense: Michèle Flournoy, Jeh Johnson, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth

Attorney General: Doug Jones, Xavier Becerra, Sally Yates

HHS: New Mexico Gov, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Calif. Rep. Raul Ruiz, Calif. Rep. Karen Bass, Dr. Vivek Murthy

Interior: Deb Haaland

Agriculture: Heidi Heitkamp

Labor: Andy Levin, Bernie Sanders, Marty Walsh

Education: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Randi Weingarten

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (announced)

CIA: Michael Morell

Chief of Staff: Ron Klain (announced)

National Security Adviser: Jake Sullivan (announced)

Climate Envoy: John Kerry (announced)

White House Communications Director: Kate Bedingfield (announced)

White House Press Secretary: Jen Psaki (announced)

VP Communications Director: Ashley Etienne (announced)

VP Chief Spokesperson: Symone Sanders (announced)

Georgia Runoff Watch by Ben Kamisar

Today’s Runoff Watch checks in on the enormous amount of money pouring into Georgia over the next few months.

As of now, there’s been $293 million devoted to both runoffs (this includes TV and radio advertising already spent and booked, per Advertising Analytics). The special runoff (Loeffler vs. Warnock) has $158 million devoted to it, compared to the other runoff’s (Perdue vs. Ossoff) $135 million, with Republican groups outspending Democrats in both.

If no one else commits a dime to either race, the special runoff alone (from Nov. 4 on) will have more TV and radio spending in it than every single 2020 Senate race except for three (North Carolina, Iowa and Arizona). And in the Perdue-Ossoff runoff, that $135 million spent and booked between Nov. 4 and Jan. 5 is virtually the same amount spent on the race by Election Day.

But of course, it’s almost certain that there will be a lot more money flooding the state as both parties dig deep into the piggybank to help decide control of the Senate.

The Lid: Man! I feel like a woman

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the rise of women in Congress and now in Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks.

Shameless plug

All this week, NBC News will have in-depth coverage on the “Race for a Vaccine” across its programs and platforms, including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, TODAY, Dateline NBC, MSNBC, NBCNews.com and NBC News NOW.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joe Biden is outpacing or exceeding Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s timelines for choosing Cabinet members.

Some progressives aren’t happy about the business ties of some of Biden’s top picks for White House jobs.

Politico looks at how Janet Yellen became Biden’s pick for Treasury secretary.

The Washington Post looks at how Neera Tanden has become one lightning rod for the transition.

Biden received his first presidential daily briefing yesterday.

Controversial White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas has resigned.

Some House Republicans want to challenge the Electoral College count on the House floor.

Georgia voters will choose John Lewis’s short-term successor in a runoff election today.

There could be a huge economic recovery next year. But a lot depends on the winter.

What does an inauguration look like in a pandemic?

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