In this edition: Texas Democrats try a virtual convention, the politics of “law and order” take an unexpected turn and a limousine drives from Italy into Colorado’s Senate race.
Congratulations if you had “Mitt Romney marches with Black Lives Matter” on your 2020 bingo card, and this is The Trailer.
GEORGETOWN, Tex. — The disembodied voice of Joe Biden played softly through a monitor to a nearly empty room.
“I wish we were all together this year under different circumstances,” Biden said in a recorded address to Texas Democrats. “I wish I was with you and I’m anxious to campaign in person.”
But nobody can campaign in person right now. So over a weekend in a suburb of Austin, Texas’s Democratic Party held a largely virtual political convention, one that national Democrats will study for clues of how they might run their convention in Milwaukee. A skeleton crew of staffers and technicians held a virtual delegate selection, a mix of virtual and in-person events and a fundraiser, much of it in a few spare rooms near a hotel pool.
“For the national party, this probably would be more effective,” said Gilbert Hinojosa, chairman of Texas’s Democratic Party, after the event wrapped on Saturday. “Yeah, [traditionally] there’s 15,000, 20,000 people in a convention hall, but there’s millions more people watching at home. If it’s done well, like this convention, it could project the image of a progressive party that’s serving people with great leadership.”
The pandemic has roiled both Democrats’ and Republicans’ plans for standard national conventions, initially scheduled to be held in arenas in Milwaukee and Charlotte. Republicans, committed to holding at least some sort of mass rally, bolted Charlotte after the city’s Democratic mayor, and North Carolina’s Democratic governor, demanded that they follow local ordinances and scale it down. The president’s party is now scrambling to find another site that will meet their demands.
Democrats have taken a different approach. They have not threatened to leave Wisconsin, a state that Hillary Clinton was criticized for not visiting in person in the months before the 2016 election. Instead, they delayed the convention’s date by a month, from mid-July to mid-August, and tweaked party rules to allow virtual meetings to hammer out the convention’s work.
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez has already begun to describe the possibility of scaled-back event as a plus, a contrast between a responsible party and one moving heaven and earth to have a MAGA rally. “We’re going to continue to follow the science,” Perez told reporters on a Friday call-in to the convention. “Joe Biden doesn’t have the ego gratification need to have tens of thousands of people fawning over him.”
Those remarks were broadcast in a media room that contained just one staffer for most of Friday and Saturday, sitting behind a laptop to manage calls from remote guests and questions from remote reporters. The handful of guests who gave live remarks had the option to come to that room, sit behind a laptop and answer questions on Zoom — similar to the party’s caucuses, which had been scaled back to online meetings that candidates could call into, instead of visiting them in person.
The rest of the in-person convention was relegated to a ballroom that had been transformed into three studios. In one, two party officials sat behind a “news desk” they’d found for $200 on Craigslist, and introduced each segment, taped or live. Behind them, a space was filled with socially-distanced chairs, where a few panels took place.
To the right of that, a lectern was set up for speeches by the in-person guests. Backstage, a technical crew wiped down microphones, lecterns and chairs as soon as speakers were finished with them. To anyone watching, it looked just like an ordinary convention, minus the chants and crowd energy.
“It’s definitely a different experience,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who arrived at the convention with a George Floyd face mask he’d picked up at a barbershop. “You don’t end up taking as much time, because there’s no applause.”
Texas Democrats had thrown this together in a few weeks. Plan A was to hold the convention in San Antonio’s convention center, which could fit 12,000 delegates and hundreds of reporters and speakers. That was scrapped after Bexar County introduced social distancing rules. Plan B was a virtual convention in Austin, where the Renaissance hotel could meet their more limited needs. That was working, for a while, until the county extended its pandemic rules into June, making even a socially-distanced event impossible.
“There was even a week where I was planning an in-person and an online convention at the same time,” said Hannah Roe Beck, the convention’s director. Local Republicans were plowing ahead with their own convention in person, which to Roe Beck sounded absurd: “I think it’s incredibly irresponsible, and I’m not particularly concerned with how it looks.”
The operation moved to Georgetown for a simple reason: Suburban Williamson County had looser stay-at-home orders than liberal Travis County. None of the in-person guests required special security, something that wouldn’t be true of a Democratic National Convention.
Velvet ropes at a few entrances closed off the area from the wedding guests who decisively outnumbered the nine party staffers and dozen technical crew members. (A typical convention might have three times as many technicians, and all of the party’s 60-plus staff.) When the party’s traditional tech contractor laid off some of its staff, Texas Democrats gave one of them a contract to run it all.
The result was almost seamless. Glitches came from the guests, not the party — a guest calling in a little late, a speaker giving them a raw video that included a few seconds of her trying to pronounce a colleague’s name. None it would have stood out at a traditional, loud, normal convention.
But it wasn’t a normal convention, and became, intentionally, more of a telethon. In their branded masks — “Texas is the BIGGEST battleground state” — staffers and guests urged supporters to give money, at least $38, one for each of the state’s electoral votes. It worked: They raised more than $1 million over the course of the week, the biggest digital haul ever for a state Democratic Party.
That wasn’t without a cost. The party saved at least $500,000, by its estimate, by scaling back from an in-person convention. But it lost “several hundred thousand dollars” in corporate donations, according to Hinojosa. The DNC would lose more it if were forced to scale back the events in Milwaukee.
“They weren’t sure how it was going to work, so it was hard to get corporate sponsors for this convention,” Hinojosa said. “But now that they’ve seen what we produced, I think that if we ever are in this situation again, maybe it’s going to be easier to raise money. We got so many people watching it online.”
“Trump clings to jobs numbers as a campaign life raft — and as a race-relations plan,” by Philip Rucker, Annie Linskey and Jeff Stein
One better-than-expected jobs report reboots a fading Trump campaign message.
Why Democrats worry that the long count in Philadelphia will stoke conspiracy theories about 2020.
“America convulses amid a week of protests, but can it change?” by Dan Balz and Greg Miller
What could happen after a dramatic few days.
“How Trump’s demands for a full house in Charlotte derailed a convention,” by Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman
Inside the GOP’s game of convention chicken.
“Congressional Democrats to unveil police reform package next week,” by Derek Hawkins
Where the policing debate might go next.
God closes a camera lens and opens up a Zoom room.
On the trail
GEORGETOWN, Tex. — One week ago, as looting followed some protests over the killing of George Floyd, a clear narrative was ready to go. President Trump would run as a “law and order” candidate. Voters would cheer for the National Guard and military forces to control the streets. Prison and criminal justice reform, something the Trump campaign was touting as recently as mid-May, would go out of vogue, with Democrats listening to the concerns of an increasingly suburban base.
On Sunday, the President took a page from that playbook. “Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to ‘DEFUND THE POLICE,’ ” the president tweeted on Sunday morning. “I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!”
But the politics on the ground are much more complicated than Trump’s missive would suggest. Over the past few days, support for police forces has declined, while a majority of voters say they agree with protesters. At the same time, the slogan “defund the police” has become so popular with activists that it was literally painted on Washington’s 16th Street, not far from the stretch of road where the city had approved a “Black Lives Matter” mural. When the mayor of Minneapolis declined to support “defunding” the police, he was heckled out of a rally in his own city.
Taken together, it puts Democrats in a tricky position. The party is trying to align itself with the Black Lives Matter movement, but also moving slower than protesters would like.
After a criminal justice-focused speech at the Texas Democratic convention this weekend, Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas scoffed at the idea that his party could be accused of wanting to abolish police forces. “The prospect of Trump lying about something else is par for the course,” Castro said. “Look, you don’t have people in Congress calling for no police force. Right? Or bringing police budgets down to zero. You have to do things like qualified immunity, and demilitarize police on the local level. You’ve got to reform these collective bargaining agreements.”
With the exception of Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis, Castro’s fellow congressional Democrats have avoided the defund-the-police thicket. There is bipartisan legislation already introduced to scale back qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement from being sued for most actions in the line of duty. In the coming week, the party will roll out the Justice in Policing Act, which would make some police behavior illegal (such as “no-knock warrants” and chokeholds) and give the federal government more power to investigate and prosecute police departments.
Some of that could be trickier than the “defund the police” slogan; the arguments over it resemble the fights about the slogan “abolish ICE” in 2018, which didn’t drag down swing-seat Democrats because they rejected it. Police unions have been widely critical of Democrats, and endorsements by local and national unions have praised the president for undoing the police reforms backed by Barack Obama at the end of his presidency.
The Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Trump in 2016, is so supportive of his presidency now that it condemned impeachment, comparing him to “law enforcement officers… often convicted in the media.” While the FOP backed Republicans in the past, it has not backed a president who openly told police “don’t be too nice,” and it has not had to deal with multiple, daily, viral videos that make police look like aggressors in standoffs with protesters.
That’s the environment Democrats are operating in now, where activists see reasons to scrap police departments and start over, but the party and its nominee favor reforms of the current system. Even if the party won’t go nearly as far as protesters demand, it’s going to come into conflict with police unions with loud megaphones, who are ready to label any reform as “anti-cop.”
“You have to have some sort of police in society to do very basic types of work,” said Texas state Rep. Gene Wu (D). “But we don’t have to have cops in body armor and tanks everywhere. That’s not necessary. I know there’s a lot of cops who dress up for normal work in full tactical gear. Dude! Why are you all tac’d out for just patrolling the street?”
In Texas, where Republican weakness in the suburbs has made Democrats competitive for the first time in decades, there has been little hesitation about criticizing the president’s “law and order” responses, from threatening to use military support to quell protests to his support for letting police departments obtain military gear.
“This isn’t China, with how they’re dealing with Hong Kong protesters,” MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who’s leading in the runoff for the party’s Senate nomination. “I am against the militarization of our police force. I am against any politician who would just swallow down their conscience and spew self-preservation, political party allegiance.”
Marjorie Greene, “Antifa.” The safely Republican 14th District of Georgia is open this year, and Greene has spent the most of anyone running, much of it ($700,000) from her own pocket. She has positioned herself as a tireless culture warrior, and this spot exemplifies that, highlighting donations to bail funds by celebrities and Joe Biden campaign staffers to warn that the left is supporting domestic terrorism. “I have a message for antifa terrorists: Stay the hell out of northwest Georgia,” she says, cradling a rifle.
Bob Hamilton, “Guns.” Toting and shooting guns has been a theme in Republican advertising for years, both by front-running candidates and by insurgents who are trying to get buzz. Hamilton, one of the lesser-known candidates in Kansas’s crowded Senate primary, is in the second camp. “The Second Amendment is not an option, it’s a right,” he says. “And if the liberal gun-grabbers want to take away my semiautomatic, I have one message for them.”
America First, “Joe Biden on Energy Jobs.” At one of the first Democratic debates, in July 2019, Biden and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee were asked about their energy plans, and Biden said he’d “end subsidies for coal or any other fossil fuel.” CNN’s Dana Bash followed up by asking whether there’d be “any place for fossil fuels” in his administration, and Biden said he’d “make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those.” The framing of the question and Biden’s first few words of response made it sound like he would literally end the use of fossil fuels, something he doesn’t support. But this Pennsylvania-focused ad cuts the quote at “eliminated,” and repeats it twice, taking advantage of the confusion to insist Biden would kill “600,000 jobs” — more than 10 percent of the jobs available in the state. Biden has had a few tongue-tied moments like this, and they’re starting to show up in ads.
The Lincoln Project, “Leadership.” The biggest growth industry in 2020 advertising is Republican anti-Trump spots. The Lincoln Project produced two in 24 hours, and this one focuses on the letter Dwight Eisenhower prepared in case the D-Day operation failed. “Great leaders prepare for every eventuality,” a narrator says, before contrasting that with the president rejecting responsibility for the downsizing of the pandemic response team.
Presidential election (Marist, 1,062 adults)
Donald Trump: 49%
Joe Biden: 44%
Joe Biden: 88%
Donald Trump: 9%
Joe Biden: 59%
Donald Trump: 35%
Like every national poll this year, Marist’s found a lead for Joe Biden outside the margin of error — 7 points. But he gets there with lower support from nonwhite voters than Hillary Clinton enjoyed in polls around this time in 2016, and lower than she won on Election Day. Clinton won the black vote by 81 points and won among Latinos by 38 points; Biden’s leads, respectively, are 79 points and 24 points. So, what explains the lead? Trump won the white vote by 20 points in 2016, and here, he has the thinnest Republican advantage with white voters since 1996, when Bob Dole carried the demographic by just 3 points. Recovering some of the white vote without losing those gains with nonwhite voters would erase Biden’s lead; holding onto white voters while winning back some of Clinton’s nonwhite support would push Biden toward a landslide.
Presidential election in Michigan (EPIC-MRA, 600 likely voters)
Joe Biden: 53% ( 3)
Donald Trump: 41% (-3)
Michigan’s most famous pollster had a very rough 2016, first missing Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the primary, then releasing a pre-election poll that missed Trump’s last-minute surge. But that poll, which EPIC-MRA cautioned about at the time, is a study in how odd the 2016 election really was: Clinton held just 42 percent of the vote in November 2016, to 38 percent for Trump, and a surge of support from undecided voters put Trump over the top. That’s why results like these are so grim for the president. It’s not enough to convince undecideds that Biden is unacceptable; he has to convert current Biden voters, something his reliable plays to his base aren’t designed to do.
Which candidate would be best at handling this issue? (NBC/WSJ, 1000 registered voters)
Cutting the unemployment rate
Donald Trump: 48%
Joe Biden: 35%
Dealing with the economy
Donald Trump: 48%
Joe Biden: 37%
Being competent and effective
Joe Biden: 47%
Donald Trump: 38%
Dealing with the coronavirus
Joe Biden: 48%
Donald Trump: 37%
NBC’s poll gives Biden an overall seven-point lead on Trump, and an eight-point lead in the states that had the closest 2016 results. (That’s a departure from CNN, which added Georgia, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia to its “battleground state” subgroup, and found Trump with an overall lead.) It finds Trump nevertheless leading Biden, as he has all year, when voters are asked who would be the best steward of the economy. Trump’s audacious message, that he is not to blame for the recession and has proven he can rebuild the economy, is far and away the most successful part of his reelection campaign. But it has not been enough to push him past Biden, who leads on nearly every other question put to voters.
President Trump spent Friday on a modified campaign trail, using official White House events in the Rose Garden and in Maine to tout economic recovery, celebrating an unemployment report that showed 2.5 million people rejoining the workforce after the pandemic.
“We were doing so well and then it came in,” Trump said of the virus. “But we’re going to be back there. I think we’re going to actually be back, higher next year than ever before. And the only thing that can stop us is bad policy, frankly, left-wing, bad policy of raising taxes and Green New Deals and all of the things that you have been writing about, long and hard, that will stop it like you wouldn’t believe.”
Trump was less direct in talking about the ongoing protests against police violence. In a pair of weekend tweets, 24 hours apart, the president attacked Joe Biden for passing the 1994 crime bill, which greatly increased funding for law enforcement, then accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police.”
Biden stayed at home in Delaware, appearing in a video for Texas Democrats at their convention and publishing an op-ed in the L.A. Times about his plan for a “national police oversight commission” to reform law enforcement.
“We need to implement real community policing and ensure that every police department in the country undertakes a comprehensive review of their hiring, their training, and their de-escalation practices, with the federal government providing the tools and resources needed to implement reforms,” Biden wrote. “But, we cannot wait for new leadership to make reforms. Congress should take action immediately to outlaw chokeholds, stop the transfer of weapons of war to local police forces, improve oversight and accountability, and create a model use-of-force standard.”
Notably, Biden did not emphasize one of his campaign’s proposals: greater funding for the aforementioned community policing.
Dems in disarray
When Democrats talk about their strategy to win the Senate, they describe two states as virtual locks: Arizona and Colorado. In the former, they drafted astronaut-turned-gun-safety activist Mark Kelly, who cleared the primary field. In the latter, they brought in popular former governor John Hickenlooper shortly after his presidential bid sputtered out. Hickenlooper has led every single poll of the race.
But Hickenlooper spent this week taking blow after blow, with the state’s ethics commission finding he violated the law on political gifts twice — after holding him in contempt for not appearing at a virtual hearing. A nearly two-year chase by conservative activists, who obtained Hickenlooper’s travel records, had accused the former governor of nearly 100 violations.
“At the outset we said that John Hickenlooper broke the law as governor,” said Frank McNulty, a former Republican speaker of Colorado’s House of Representatives who founded the organization that launched the complaints. “Now Colorado knows that John Hickenlooper illegally accepted gifts from U.S. and foreign corporations.”
The violations involved two trips far from Colorado: a donor’s private jet flight to Connecticut for the commissioning of the USS Colorado, and a limo ride at the Bilderberg conference in Italy. Hickenlooper’s campaign defended the travel, characterizing it as part of the work he did to pitch Colorado to employers.
“The Republicans who launched these attacks pursued 97 allegations, and the Commission dismissed 95, a result that shows you they’ve been focused not on the facts but on political smears,” Hickenlooper spokeswoman Melissa Miller said on Friday. “[H]e followed the guidelines in his travel to bring business to Colorado, which went from 40th in job creation to number one in the country while he was governor.”
The campaign had hoped for something different: a clean slate, and a chance to say that the allegations were baseless. Skipping the video conference hearing drew more attention than the charges themselves, and Hickenlooper appeared after the state’s Democratic attorney general after a subpoena.
The story unfolded exactly as ballots began to be sent to voters in the June 30 primary. Hickenlooper has led decisively in polling since entering the race, leading most of the Democrats who had been running — and running to his left — to drop out. But that has produced a fairly one-on-one contest with Andrew Romanoff, a liberal former speaker of the state House who, in part because he lost races in 2010 and 2014, national Democrats saw as a weaker candidate.
… two days until primaries in Georgia and West Virginia
… 16 days until New York’s presidential and congressional primaries
… 32 days until the Green Party meets to pick a presidential ticket
… 71 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 78 days until the Republican National Convention
… 148 days until the general election