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Long IslandPolitics

In 2016's Trump Country, he's not seeing enough red in 2020

President Donald Trump at his rally Wednesday in

President Donald Trump at his rally Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Olson

Trump has reason to worry

"For me to only be up by 6 [points], I’m a little bit concerned," President Donald Trump told a rally crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday night. Recent public polls from the state show he's actually tied with Joe Biden or behind by as many as 5 points. Trump won Iowa by almost 10 points in 2016.

All over the map of battleground states, there are signs that should shake Trump's confidence in reelection. New polls out Wednesday showed Biden with narrow leads in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Arizona — all part of Trump's Electoral College majority four years ago. Another, Ohio, was at a virtual tie, and Michigan is increasingly looking out of reach.

The night before, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Trump pleaded, "Suburban women, will you please like me?" He aired bitter-sounding feelings about such rejection before the Iowa crowd too. "I do think I'm a nice guy. You know, a lot of people, they say suburbia. Suburban — I saved the suburbs, OK? I saved the suburbs. Then I heard I'm not doing well with suburban women. OK?"

He's not OK with lots of them. "Honestly, all the moms I know, we are really nervous about our kids, what kind of future they’re going to have. And Trump is the one making us nervous," a woman in the wealthy, ultraconservative township of Brighton, Michigan, told Politico. "He’s just so angry all the time. I really believe that he brings out the worst in people, the worst in situations."

Less than three weeks before Election Day, Trump’s lack of a consistent and coherent closing argument is alarming some Republicans, The Washington Post reported. Early voting data suggests heightened enthusiasm among Democrats, with registered members of Biden's party outnumbering Republicans by about 2 to 1 in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, according to the Post.

Trump has been unable to drag down Biden’s favorability ratings, articulate a clear second-term agenda or reverse a negative verdict by most voters on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He is further handicapped by a funding crunch from mounting the kind of ad blitz he needs.

Biden on Wednesday hit Trump as an erratic president across the board, including on coronavirus stimulus package negotiations. "Three days later, after he said he was walking away, he said he’s coming back," Biden said in a virtual fundraiser. "One day, he’s tweeting that the relief package is too big … next day, it’s too small." Touching on Trump's pandemic response and foreign policy, Biden said, "The longer he’s president, the more reckless he gets."

Great halls of fire

This is a guarantee: Trump and Biden will be talking over each other between 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday on what would have been the night of their second debate, before Trump's case of the coronavirus upset plans.

NBC announced Wednesday that Trump will appear in a live town hall from an outdoor location in Miami. Trump and moderator Savannah Guthrie are to sit 12 feet apart during the event, which also will be shown on MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo. The president is to take questions from Florida voters.

ABC previously lined up Biden for a live town hall from Philadelphia. While it will start at the same time as Trump's, it is scheduled to last 90 minutes. ABC said it also will stream simultaneously on ABC News Live, which is available to watch on Hulu, Roku, YouTube TV, Amazon Fire tablets and TV stick, Xumo, Sling TV, Facebook, Twitter, ABCNews.com and the ABC News and ABC mobile apps.

Don't want to miss a thing? Set a DVR or watch online replays.

Barr — the door?

Trump is losing patience with Attorney General William Barr for failing to deliver indictments against Obama administration officials, and the president told Newsmax he may not want Barr back if he wins a second term.

"I have no comment. Can't comment on that. It's too early," Trump said. "I'm not happy with all of the evidence I have, I can tell you that. I'm not happy."

The Washington Post reported that now-resigned U.S. Attorney John Bash in Texas, appointed by Barr to investigate the "unmasking" in surveillance reports of figures such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Trump called that conclusion "a disgrace." Another prosecutor, U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut, has been looking into other aspects of the Russia investigation but is not expected to put out findings before the election. "I had to go through elections with all those clouds over my head. But they don't because the Republicans are so nice," Trump said.

It's evidently not enough for Trump that Barr's Justice Department has taken extraordinary steps to go easy on the president's allies, such as Flynn and Roger Stone. Nor that the DOJ has taken on jobs that normally would be expected to handled by Trump's personal lawyers, such as defending him in a defamation suit by a woman who accused him of raping her in the 1990s and in battles to keep his tax returns secret from Manhattan prosecutors.

Just on Tuesday, the Justice Department sued Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser and confidant of first lady Melania Trump, alleging she breached a nondisclosure agreement when she published a scathing tell-all about her experiences.

Janison: Hoaxes spring eternal

A cluster of investigations targeting the last presidential administration was supposed to help extend the current one for another term. But here we are in mid-October, and none of these Trump-era look-backs at the Obama administration's actions has yet to offer the incumbent much electoral aid, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The unmasking inquiry was the latest dud. Official GOP dives don't seem to have delivered the desired results, including probes into the Clinton Foundation, Ukraine "servers," Biden’s son Hunter and the roots of the FBI look at the Trump camp's many Russia contacts.

Trump's spray of falsehoods about his foes ranges wide this week. These included retweeting conspiracy theories Obama sacrificing the lives of U.S. Navy SEALs to faking the killing of Osama bin Laden. (Former SEAL Robert O'Neill, who supports Trump, tweeted to reassure Americans that the SEALs are alive and bin Laden is dead.)

So Trump and his private-sector lawyer Rudy Giuliani are left at this late hour to try to manufacture their best negative stories, peddling Biden "scandal" stories of opaque provenance. A shrewder opponent than Trump might have better capitalized on Joe Biden's policy wiggles.

Smoking gun or exploding cigar?

Going back to his 2018 machinations in Ukraine, Giuliani has been a credulous conduit for Russian-sourced disinformation about the Bidens. There's no solid evidence at this point to suggest the provenance of a tale Giuliani steered to the New York Post is foreign, but the circumstances are peculiar.

The story: A "smoking-gun email" found on a laptop abandoned at a repair shop shows Hunter Biden's communications with an official of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company he worked for, about meeting Joe Biden, then the vice president. Biden's campaign denied there was ever a meeting, though a cursory encounter at a public event wasn't ruled out. Biden is adamant that he never used his office to help Hunter's business interests. One of the purported emails has Hunter saying of his father: "What he will do and say is out of our hands."

How did Giuliani get the material to give to the Post? As the newspaper described it, the repair shop owner didn't know who dropped off a damaged laptop in April 2019. It was never claimed. He figured out it probably belonged to Hunter Biden, contacted the FBI, made a copy of the hard drive himself and sent copies to Giuliani's lawyer. The contents haven't been independently authenticated.

The Post didn't name the repair shop owner but left clues for reporters from other outlets to figure out it was John Paul Mac Isaac of Wilmington, Delaware. The Daily Beast reports a nervous Isaac gave contradictory versions of what happened and said he feared for his life, referencing the infamous and debunked right-wing Seth Rich conspiracy theory about the Clintons murdering a Democratic staffer.

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter set off a further controversy by limiting distribution of the New York Post story. Facebook said it was to await fact-checking. Twitter blocked the story, saying it violated its policy about material "obtained through hacking." The Washington Post writes why some key elements in the New York Post story ring false or should be regarded skeptically. Some of the emails were shown in PDF printouts but the supposed "smoking gun" message was a photo without header information or metadata.

Rudy's cyber-buffoonery

Giuliani meanwhile set off another of his cyber-fiascoes, this one with a racial element. With a camera left running, apparently by accident, he mocked a Chinese accent and bowed stereotypically in a video uploaded on Youtube, which was taken down overnight.

The recording occurred after an interview with the former White House secretary Sean Spicer for Giuliani's podcast.

Barrett remains on track

Judge Amy Coney Barrett ended her third and final day of her Senate confirmation hearings by fending off questions about the impact she’ll have on the Supreme Court, which she’s all but certain to join, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.

While Judiciary Committee Democrats plan a move Thursday to push back further proceedings by a week, the GOP chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, assured Barrett she would be confirmed and on the court soon — likely putting her in place in case of a disputed election and in time for the Nov. 10 oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act.

Barrett declined to answer questions that might have shed light on her take on Trump's expansive view of presidential powers. In a 2018 tweet, Trump said, "I have the absolute right to PARDON myself." Barrett ducked by saying, "It would be opining on an open question when I haven't gone through the judicial process to decide."

In a surprising fumble, Barrett came up short when Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) asked her what should have be an easy question for a noted former law professor: "What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment?" Barrett paused. "Speech, press, religion, assembly," she said, counting. "I don’t know, what am I missing?" Sasse finished the list: "Redress or protest." (See video.)

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, reported by Newsday's staff and written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris is suspending in-person events until Monday after two people associated with the campaign tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Trump's parting words at his Iowa rally: "Get the hell out to vote, because if I don’t get Iowa, I won’t believe that one. I may never have to come back here again."
  • Trump’s 14-year-old son, Barron, tested positive for COVID-19 after both of his parents did, Melania Trump revealed on Wednesday. Both mother and son, who she said exhibited no symptoms, have since tested negative.
  • In February, while the Trump administration's public posture was that the coronavirus threat would quickly pass, a group that included big GOP donors heard more alarming messages in private briefings from officials such as top economic adviser Larry Kudlow. That gave elite investors an early warning to make their moves before stock and other financial markets teetered, The New York Times reported.
  • Trump has seized on isolated incidents of improperly discarded mail ballots as evidence of a plot to rig the election against him. This story muddies that theory: A Pittsburgh-area mailer carrier, arrested after bags of undelivered mail were found outside his home, is an apparent supporter of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy cult, according to Pittsburgh City Paper.
  • On a conference call with reporters Monday, senior administration officials spoke favorably of an international petition called the Great Barrington Declaration that sees a role for "herd immunity" in fighting COVID-19. The declaration's website claims more than 15,000 scientist signatories, but the Daily Beast reports finding dozens of fake names, including Drs. I.P. Freely, Person Fakename and Johnny Bananas.
  • While the president was agitating in August for college campuses to open for in-person learning, a top supporter voiced delight to a private meeting of conservatives that the coronavirus would keep many closed, The Washington Post reported. Charlie Kirk reasoned that up to a half-million left-leaning students probably would not vote. "So, please keep the campuses closed," Kirk said. "Like, it’s a great thing."
  • The Biden campaign said it raised $383 million in September and has $432 million in cash on hand.

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