No gloom in their Zoom rooms
President Donald Trump has mocked Joe Biden and last week's Democratic National Convention for depicting pandemic-stricken America as a dark and gloomy place. Republicans will present an alternative reality at their convention this week — a sunnier place that most of the GOP faithful believe they are living in, according to new CBS News Battleground Tracker Poll. Trump's challenge will be getting other voters to believe it, too.
The poll, conducted Aug. 19-21 and released Sunday, found 75% of Republicans think America is better off than it was four years ago. Their biggest reason: confidence in Trump. But only 35% of voters overall think the country is better off. On the state of the economy, 67% of Republicans say it's good. Among voters at large, 61% say it's bad.
A 73% majority of Republicans think the U.S. is dealing with the coronavirus well; when asked of all voters, only 38% think so. Even the number of coronavirus deaths — more than 176,000 — is judged "acceptable" by 57% of Republicans; only 10% of Democrats and 33% of independents agree. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans also think the death toll is exaggerated.
Even with a convention scaled down because of the persistent coronavirus threat, Trump and his supporters are determined to present an “upbeat” vision for the country from Monday through Thursday nights, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. They will focus on highlighting the stories of Americans aided by Trump’s policies.
Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Republicans will show "what the president's second-term vision is going to look like.” If so, it will be a first. As Newsday's Tom Brune points out in "5 things to watch for" at the convention, Trump so far has sidestepped or not answered questions about what he'd do with four more years. Given another whack at it in a Fox News interview Sunday night, Trump said, "I would strengthen what we’ve done and I would do new things." His campaign put out a few specific goals on matters such as job creation, tax cuts, curbing economic ties with China and a "return to normal in 2021."
For all the emphasis on happy talk, Trump's unyielding, angry stance in the nation's cultural and racial divide also will be on display. The speakers will include a white St. Louis couple charged with unlawful use of a weapon after they pointed a handgun and assault rifle at Black Lives Matter protesters who marched past their home.
Trump will speak on all four nights, culminating in an acceptance speech from the White House South Lawn on Thursday. Is the campaign worried that Trump has been underexposed until now? The president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner told CNN's Fareed Zakaria: "Look, because of the pandemic, a lot of the country has been distracted. I think these conventions are a real kickoff."
Virtual, mostly, out of necessity
Most of the key moments at the Republican convention will be strictly made for TV. But unlike the Democrats, the GOP will have a small gathering of live delegates who have been given protocols to stay healthy.
The rules for the Charlotte, North Carolina, portion of the convention limited delegates to six from each state and territory for a total of 336, writes Newsday's Michael Gormley. A traditional convention has nearly 2,500.
The Republican National Committee on Sunday unveiled a speakers list of more than 70 people, a mix of Washington politicians, White House and campaign staff, the president’s family members and others. The Monday lineup includes Donald Trump Jr. and two of Trump's fiercest defenders against impeachment — Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer who is still pursuing the sort of conspiracy theories about Biden that led to impeachment, is due to speak Thursday night. Could grievances over investigations of Trump become an unannounced part of the program?
Some Trump Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, also will address the convention — a move that critics have argued further blurs the lines between the presidential campaign and official business.
Two producers who worked on Trump's "The Apprentice" show have been involved in the planning, The New York Times reported.
Janison: Trump owns the distance
The look of this week's Republican convention reflects the slow pace of Trump's response to the coronavirus, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Trump's cherished vision of packed and screaming arena crowds fell apart just as his "Easter reopening" did.
But Biden and his party last week showed how this new ad hoc form of virtual convention becomes a four-day infomercial. It could suit the incumbent's needs. When Trump gives his acceptance speech Thursday night from the White House, exploiting the trappings of the government for a private campaign stage could give it the extra pomp he seems to like.
Expect Trump to answer all the corruption and collusion allegations from Democrats with his familiar contrivances of past Obama administration wrongdoing and "witch hunts." When it comes to projecting family values, the theme of love and loss in Biden's sentimental messaging likely won't fit the current first family.
Over the weekend, a secretly recorded audio of the president's eldest sister, retired federal Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, came out in which she called him cruel, phony, unprepared and a liar with "no principles" and unworthy of trust. The sibling's contemptuous comments, provided by the president's disaffected niece, Mary L. Trump — who didn't tell her aunt she was recording her — will give contrast to remarks by a half-dozen Trump family members featured as key convention speakers.
New chapter in Conways' soap opera
In a revolving-door White House, one constant has been Kellyanne Conway, the senior counselor who has been with Trump since his campaign in 2016. But on the eve of the convention, Conway said she will be leaving to focus on her family, famously polarized over Trump.
The strains went public years ago as her husband, George Conway, a conservative lawyer, became a prominent anti-Trump Republican voice. As his wife leaves the White House by the end of the month, he is stepping back from his role with the Lincoln Project, which has been churning out anti-Trump ads.
"We disagree about plenty,” the Trump confidant wrote of her and her husband in a statement reported by The Washington Post, “but we are united on what matters most: the kids. Our four children are teens and tweens starting a new academic year in the middle school and high school that will be conducted remotely from home for a least a few months." She has decided her children need "less drama, more mama."
The Conways' teen daughter had drawn attention for Trump-loathing social media presence.
A bounce in Biden's step
A series of polls following the Democratic convention suggest that while Biden did not grow his lead, his support now is more about him, not just against Trump.
In an ABC News/Ipsos poll, Biden's net favorability rating climbed 8 points from minus-3 points to plus-5 points among all adults. Trump's favorability sank to 32%, while 60% viewed him unfavorably. A Survey Monkey poll for Axios had Biden up 9 points in favorability with independents, though he's still underwater at 32%-38%.
Biden leads Trump, 52%-42%, among likely voters in the CBS News poll, unchanged from before the convention.
So's your old man
Biden was asked in an ABC News interview that aired Sunday night to respond to the 74-year-old Trump's attempts to get voters to question the 77-year-old Democrat's mental fitness.
With a laugh and a come-at-me gesture, Biden said, “Watch me, Mr. President, watch me. Look at us both" — referring to running mate Kamala Harris, who sat a distance away. "Look at us both — what we say, what we do, what we control, what we know, what kind of shape we're in.”
Biden added: “I think it's a legitimate question to ask anybody over 70 years old whether or not they're fit and whether they're ready. But I just, only thing I can say to the American people, it's a legitimate question to ask anybody. Watch me.”
Trump's attacks on Harris as "nasty," a "mad woman" and the like drew a retort from the California senator. "I think that there is so much about what comes out of Donald Trump's mouth that is designed to distract the American people from what he is doing every day. That is about neglect, negligence and harm to the American people," she said.
Race for the cure for Trump's race
Like everyone, Trump wants a coronavirus vaccine. And if it hasn't happened by Election Day, Trump charged without evidence on Saturday, it looks like a plot against him.
"The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics," Trump tweeted. "Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives!"
The Food and Drug Administration also faced intense White House pressure before an emergency-use authorization to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma, just days after the agency rescinded the EUA for the treatment — a move Trump called “a breakthrough” at a news conference on Sunday and FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn called “promising.”
Many scientists and physicians believe that convalescent plasma might provide some benefit but is far from a breakthrough and needs more study, The Washington Post reported.
Trump repeated his accusation Sunday, saying there are people at the FDA “that can see things being held up … and that’s for political reasons.” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health, told The Associated Press that the statement, and Hahn’s silence while Trump said it, added up to a "disgraceful” attack on the integrity of FDA employees.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Scott Eidler. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- A Trump tweet Sunday morning — attacking mail-ballot drop boxes as "a voter security disaster" and a coronavirus risk — was grossly false enough for Twitter to hide it with a "public interest" warning label as violating Twitter rules "about civic and election integrity."
- Before going on a Twitter hiatus, George Conway tweeted that he recently brought Kellyanne's New Jersey primary ballot to a Bergen County drop box. He tweeted: "There were security officers there. The drop box was clean, but I didn’t have to touch it because there was a narrow, clearly marked slot to put the ballot in!"
- Looking to frighten "suburban housewives," Trump has moved to halt federal housing desegregation efforts with a racially coded warning that "low income housing would invade their neighborhood." But just a year ago, Politico reports, the Trump administration embraced an affordable-housing plan for the federal government to push local governments, including in suburban areas, to overhaul zoning rules that prevent the construction of high-density apartment buildings.
- White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump, despite angry tweets about a House-passed USPS relief funding package, would consider a version from Senate Republicans. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a three-member panel from the USPS Board of Governors will investigate changes to operations that have resulted in widespread delivery delays and report back by Labor Day. See Newsday's stories by Rachelle Blidner and Michael O'Keeffe.
- Rep. Lee Zeldin, a loyal Trump supporter, was rewarded with a prime-time speaking slot at the convention. The Shirley Republican's office said the Iraq War veteran, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, will speak Wednesday from Long Island in a "positive" address on the topic of service for about three to four minutes, reports Newsday's Brune.
- Trump has accused Biden, a churchgoing Catholic, of being "against God." On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted, "Happy Sunday! We want GOD!" The tweet was sent shortly after Trump arrived at his Virginia golf course, for the 293rd day of his presidency spent at one of his golfing properties.
- A Los Angeles judge ordered Trump to pay Stormy Daniels $44,100 for her legal fees. The porn star sued the president over a nondisclosure agreement made before the 2016 election to keep her from telling her story about an alleged affair with him.