GOP's bad romance?
John Cornyn of Texas is close to the Senate's Republican leadership. Like President Donald Trump, he's running for reelection. Unlike the president, Cornyn leads in polls, and he seems suddenly unworried that dumping on Trump will mean jeopardy from the president's fan base or Trump himself.
During a meeting with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's editorial board, Cornyn compared the arc of his relationship with Trump to "maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well." That was in response to a question on whether he and other Republicans regretted not pushing Trump to combat the coronavirus more aggressively.
He spoke of disagreements kept private — until now — on issues such as budget deficits and debt, tariffs and trade agreements and border security. "I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between," Cornyn said. "What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well." Is he now betting that soon it won't matter?
The Daily Beast reports Trump and his allies have kept close tabs on prominent conservatives the president believes are gearing up to throw him under the bus in the event he loses. Aides and confidants flag for him news coverage of Republican politicians either openly criticizing his conduct or else trying to distance themselves from the potential electoral bloodbath.
They include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who made a point of saying he hadn’t been to the White House since early August because of its cavalier approach to coronavirus precautions. This past week, the president attacked Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Twitter over "a nasty rumor" that she was going to oppose his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska kept his distaste for Trump largely muted until he let it rip in a conference call with constituents last week. Sasse accused Trump of treating the pandemic "like a PR crisis" and described him as someone who "kisses dictators' butts," "flirted with white supremacists" and whose family "has treated the presidency like a business opportunity." Trump hit back in a tweet that "Little Ben Sasse of Nebraska … truly doesn’t have what it takes to be great."
Still calling same plays
With the campaign's days dwindling, Trump still hasn't focused on a closing message. Instead, he's barnstorming with the familiar mix of personal grievances, attacks on his opponents and obfuscations, writes The New York Times. (A subject at his Carson City, Nevada, rally Sunday: Hillary Clinton's emails. Trump said, "I just want to know — why aren't they looking at that?")
Some Trump aides are quietly conceding just how dire his political predicament appears to be, and his inner circle has returned to a state of recriminations and backbiting.
Strategists fear Trump might spend the final weeks entertaining and energizing his existing supporters instead of mounting any concerted effort to find new ones.
Some midlevel campaign aides have even begun inquiring about employment on Capitol Hill after the election, not counting on prospects for a second Trump administration for them to serve in, the report said.
Janison: Cleanup in Aisle USA
Broad and basic governance problems await the winners of the election and others remaining on office on the federal, state and local levels. Key issues include the future of the American economy and who will win, lose and survive, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Record federal deficits and spending were developing before the pandemic. Budget deficits will reach almost $4 trillion by the end of Trump's first term, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reported.
Republican Trump is no belt-tightener, but perhaps in a second term he'd see fit to change policies, citing depleted resources. Democrat Joe Biden was long considered a deficit hawk. But if he wins, there is no sign that closing the budget gap would be a priority, given the pandemic's damage to the economy.
Biden’s post-COVID promises involve new spending programs and a pledge to raise taxes on the nation's top earners and entities. The key to all of it, or to carrying out Trump's different initiatives, would be congressional support, and what compromises are possible.
Heaping scoop of doubt
The New York Post reporter who wrote most of the newspaper's story on supposed dirt from a laptop purportedly abandoned by Hunter Biden refused to put his byline on it because he, like many in the newsroom, had concerns about its credibility, The New York Times reported, citing two Post employees as sources. Another reporter who had done minimal work on the Post story learned her byline was on it only after it was published.
Many New York Post staff members questioned whether the paper had done enough to verify the authenticity of the hard drive’s contents, five people with knowledge of the tabloid’s inner workings told the Times. There were further concerns that the named sources were Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser.
Giuliani, a fervent promoter of conspiracy theories, said he chose the Post because "either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out."
In a separate interview with The Daily Beast, Giuliani said chances were "no better than 50/50" that Andrii Derkach, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian official who has been feeding him anti-Biden material, "is a Russian spy." Giuliani also said he suspected George Soros, the liberal billionaire who is a perennial boogeyman for the right, was behind efforts to discredit the Biden story because "he’d like to see us collapse and see us taken over by the international … whatever."
Voters stuck in between
A small but potentially significant group of voters say they remain truly undecided less than three weeks before the election, and not just among the uninformed, The Associated Press reports.
One is Amanda Jaronowski, a lifelong Republican from suburban Cleveland. She supports Trump’s policies and fears for her family's business, which buys up consumer debt, if Biden is elected. As for Trump, she said, "It would be so easy for him to win my vote if he could just be a decent human being."
The New York Times reports Biden is winning back voters who refused to go for Clinton in 2016, viewing the former vice president as more moderate, less threatening and less — in their view — personally dishonest. In some cases, the difference was sexism.
"I identify more with Biden — whether that’s being a male chauvinist, or whatever you want to call me," said Thomas Moline, a retired sanitation worker in Minneapolis.
"The Republicans did a fantastic job of making Hillary Clinton seem like the devil for the last 20-plus years, so she was a hard sell," said Aaron Stearns, the Democratic chairman in Warren County in northwestern Pennsylvania. "It’s just a lot easier with Joe Biden because he’s a guy and he’s an old white guy. I hate saying that, but it’s the truth."
That Trump, he's inciteful
The arrest of 14 people in a kidnap plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn't stopping Trump from trying to stir up anger against her pandemic-management policies.
At a Saturday night rally in Muskegon, Michigan, Trump urged supporters to push Whitmer to reopen the state following COVID-19 restrictions. (Many of the state's restrictions from the spring had been lifted.) When the crowd started chanting "lock her up," Trump added, "Lock ’em all up."
Trump even belittled the foiling of the alleged plot by federal and state law enforcement — "I guess they say she was threatened" — and seemed to suggest the FBI's time would be better spent elsewhere. "Our FBI has to start looking at antifa and some people they are not looking at the way they should be," he said.
On Sunday, Whitmer on NBC's "Meet the Press" accused Trump of "inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism." She added, "It is wrong. It’s got to end. It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans."
Trump campaign adviser and daughter-in-law Lara Trump said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the president "wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all. He was having fun at a Trump rally."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Vera Chinese. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump’s top campaign advisers said Sunday they expect the president will strike a less combative tone at Thursday’s final presidential debate, after facing criticism for his performance at last month’s face-off with Biden, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
- Biden hit Trump at a drive-in rally in North Carolina for repeating over the weekend that the U.S. has "turned the corner" against the coronavirus. "As my grandfather would say, ‘This guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner,’ " the Democrat said. More than 69,000 new cases were reported nationwide on Friday — the most in a day since July.
- Twitter took down a tweet from Trump's favorite addition to the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Scott Atlas, that claimed widespread use of face masks does not help slow the spread of the virus. According to Twitter, Atlas violated its policy that prohibits sharing false or misleading content related to COVID-19 that could lead to harm.
- With the Biden campaign's huge cash advantage, he and his Democratic allies are on pace to spend twice as much as Trump and the Republicans in the closing days of the race, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG, The Associated Press reported.
- Two founding members of the Beach Boys got bad vibrations from a performance at a Trump fundraiser Sunday in Newport Beach, California, by a touring version of the group led by bandmate Mike Love. "We have absolutely nothing to do with the Trump benefit today in Newport Beach. Zero," said a statement from Brian Wilson and Al Jardine.
- Trump spent a rare Sunday morning at a worship service, visiting the International Church of Las Vegas. The senior associate pastor, Denise Goulet, said God told her the president is the apple of his eye. "The Lord said to me, ‘I am going to give your president a second win,’ " she said. Trump, in brief remarks, said, "I love going to churches.
Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter described Cornyn as the second-ranking Senate Republican. He left that position last year because of term limits.