More culture war than election campaign
Updates/reader feedback at end
E minus 127: The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t seem to be slowing due to summer weather and remains a serious threat. All too often, the social justice protests (Black Lives Matter) that broke out after the police-inflicted death of George Floyd on May 25 have led to looting, vandalism, violence, and radical political demands. It may take quite a while (e.g., until after the November elections) for our social and economic lives to resume some semblance of normalcy.
Political races for the fall elections have been basically suspended since mid-March – much to the dismay of the president and his supporters, who have felt frustrated by the lack of action. With the presidential election shaping up as a referendum on how President Trump has handled these extraordinary challenges, they are itching to start making his case to the American public.
Team Trump shouldn’t count on help from the mainstream media, social media (Google, Facebook, etc.), big business, or the academic community, because it’s not likely to materialize. Consider, for example, these examples of skewed coverage from the USA Today network:
•Defund the GOP, and join Romney to try and save it, editorial, 6/12/20.
Three specific charges are lodged against the current president, all seen as “a long way from the ideas espoused by the GOP’s last great president, Ronald Reagan.” (1) A cult of personality in which lifelong public servants are forced to knuckle under to “a lawless, petty and incompetent leader;” (2) Systematic support for the “airing of white grievances, as shown by its immigration policies and tacit support of racist and white supremacist causes;” (3) Willingness to cling to power against popular sentiment “through the grotesque gerrymandering of legislative districts and blatant voter suppression laws and policies.”
•Negative take on Trump (essay included in a special section on the 45 US presidents), 6/21/20.
“Trump became the third president to face impeachment when details emerged about a phone call with Ukraine’s leader in which Trump is accused of withholding military support in exchange for a political favor. He entered 2020 waiting for the House of Representatives to submit articles of impeachment to the Senate.” Query: What was the reason for not adding that the president was acquitted by a Senate majority on February 5, 2020?
When the wave of protests erupted in late May, there was an immediate relaxation of policies that had been in effect to encourage Americans to avoid public meetings, practice social distancing, etc. in the interests of minimizing transmission of the coronavirus. Team Trump understandably responded by announcing its intention to begin scheduling campaign rallies again after a 3-month hiatus.
The first of these rallies was scheduled to take place in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20, at the Bank of Oklahoma Center with a seating capacity of 19,000 people. Over a million people reportedly applied for admission tickets online, so an overflow event was planned outside the building.
This entry will recap how the rally went and what this event portends about the coming presidential campaign.
A. Opposition – Was the Tulsa rally a promising idea for Republicans? The president’s opponents apparently thought so given their efforts to block, disrupt or disparage it.
The initial line of attack was that the event would represent a public health hazard. OK, there had been some social justice protests lately, but most of them had taken place outside; the Trump rally would be held inside and the resultant mingling of people in a confined space might be far more dangerous.
Team Trump declined to move the rally outdoors, but they did announce that temperatures would be checked on arrival and that participants would be presented with bottles of hand sanitizer and face masks (the wearing of which would be optional).
Based on the public health concerns plus claims that the rally might attract protestors and thereby lead to a civil disturbance, a lawsuit was filed to block it. The Oklahoma courts declined to oblige, ensuring that the event could and would happen.
Nonstop media coverage contributed to concerns about the health risks of attending the rally, and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) advised people with health concerns to stay home and watch on TV.
Re online signup, it turned out that the numbers might have been inflated by tech savvy teenagers submitting bogus ticket requests on TikTok.
There were demonstrators outside the BOK Center, some of whom may have attempted to discourage participants from passing through the metal detectors to enter. The police handled the situation capably, however, and no serious problems were reported (notwithstanding references in the president’s speech to “some very bad people outside”).
Although it wasn’t evident from the TV coverage, the BOK Center attendance was below expectations – somewhere between 6,000 (fire marshal estimate) and 12,000 (campaign estimate) versus the 19,000+ capacity – so the planned overflow event was canceled. The empty seats weren’t obvious from the TV coverage, but were gleefully reported by critics afterwards.
The Fox News start-to-finish broadcast attracted an outsized television audience for a political rally (rallies are less of a draw than debates). Trump rally sets all-time ratings record on Fox News, Jack Davis, westernjournal.com, 6/22/20.
Between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., [the rally] drew an average of 7,661,000 viewers, with 1,536,000 in the 25-54 age bracket most coveted by advertisers.
If this had been a Biden rally, some suggested, the turnout would have been far smaller. While media savages Trump rally, reporters hardly notice disaster at Biden rally in PA, Randy DeSoto, westernjournal.com, 6/22/20.
Here’s the scene at the Biden event as described on social media by Lisa Lerer of the New York Times:
•About 20 handpicked local officials, small-business owners and reporters sat in folding chairs, each placed within a large white circle taped on the floor of a recreation center to maintain — or at least encourage — social distancing.
•There was no introduction by an organizer to pump up a crowd that wasn’t there, as is typical with campaign events. [Biden] just stood behind a lectern, pasted with the placard “Reopen Right: Safer and Stronger,” and began reading [an 18-minute] speech off the teleprompters, assailing President Trump.
B. Trump’s speech lasted one hour and forty-one minutes, pretty much covering the waterfront. Here’s a high spot recap, and a link to the transcript for anyone who wants to dive deeper.
The empty seats (unusual for a Trump rally) weren’t visible to television viewers, but the president and live audience were well aware of them. Nevertheless, the participants (few of whom were wearing masks) greeted the president enthusiastically, broke into a USA-USA-USA chant at one point, and generally appeared to be enjoying themselves.
Trump made a point of thanking participants for coming, after all the dire warnings from the media. “Don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything.” Also, there were “some very bad people outside” who “were doing bad things [unspecified].” Fortunately, the participants had come anyway. “You are warriors, thank you. *** We have just a tremendous group of people in Oklahoma.”
The president characterized the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln and law & order. He took credit for appointing conservative judges, instituting VA choice & accountability, lowering prescription drug prices, rebuilding the US military, making US allies pay their share of defense costs, negotiating fair trade deals that put America first, delivering the biggest tax cuts in US history, streamlining regulations, and supporting the US oil industry (including solving recent oil production issues with Russia & Mexico).
For its part, the Democratic Party wanted to substantially raise “your taxes” and squelch the oil industry boom. Joe Biden had trouble remembering what state he was in when he went on the road, and Democrats had no answer for “the extremism and destruction and violence of the radical left.”
The media (e.g., CNN) were all too willing to characterize the conduct of radical leftists as peaceful when it was nothing of the sort. Those “bad people” that we just saw outside – people burning buildings in Minneapolis until national guardsman were called in and solved the problem in one hour – protestors taking over big chunks of Seattle. And if anyone pointed out what was happening, they would be slammed by the media for saying a “terrible thing.”
After the coronavirus reached our shores from China, it was necessary to impose travel bans and other restrictions, which saved “hundreds of thousands of lives” but threw the economy into a recession. The federal government built extra hospital capacity, procured ventilators, and laid the groundwork for a huge testing program. To date, 25 million tests have been administered in the US, which is way more than anywhere else, and we may need to slow down on the testing a bit because the more tests are administered the more Covid-19 cases will be discovered. (This last comment was sharply criticized after the rally, and the president eventually copped to being “sarcastic.”)
With all the testing and follow-up, said the president, it had been proven that young people were far less threatened by the coronavirus than their elders. Accordingly, it was extremely important to reopen US schools this fall.
The president told a long-winded story about how he had been observed having trouble negotiating a ramp down from the reviewing platform at the West Point graduation (his mistake was wearing leather-bottom shoes that could have easily slipped on the metallic ramp) after giving the commencement speech. Also, he had supposedly raised a glass of water to his mouth with both hands (it was hot on the reviewing stand, he had exchanged some 600 salutes with graduating cadets as protocol required, and he was concerned about spilling water on his tie).
Coverage of these incidents had gone viral based on speculation that the president might have an undisclosed medical issue. “They [the media] are among the most dishonest people anywhere on earth,” he said at the rally. “They’re bad people. Bad people.”
Another subject was unpatriotic behavior, such as tearing down statutes and burning American flags. Maybe there should be a law to put people in jail for a year if they burn the flag [this is protected speech according to the Supreme Court], and if the governor and mayor needed backup in dealing with the anarchists who had taken over several blocks of downtown Seattle they should ask for it. The president stood ready to help, and the situation could be taken care of in less than an hour. But don’t ask Joe Biden, who “has surrendered to his party and to the left-wing mob.”
The president referenced recent stock price gains, including a new NASDAQ high, and predicted that economic recovery was already beginning with the “greatest economic year we’ve ever had” on tap in 2021. If the Democrats won the election, however, “then the rioters will be in charge and no one will be safe and no one will have control.”
Trump went on to claim that Democrats favor open borders versus enforcing the immigration laws, want to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are more eager to prosecute people for going to church than for setting church fires, are undermining respect for the criminal justice system by abolishing bail requirements and disrespecting the police, etc.
On the international front, the president claimed to have shown toughness and resolution and gotten results, whereas Joe Biden’s track record showed exactly the opposite. Thus, Biden had opposed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and supported the Iranian nuclear deal. No wonder China and Iran were so anxious to see him elected president.
The forgotten men and women that I campaigned for and everyone else will lose everything. They [progressives] aren’t the elite, “you are the elite.”
The president said he was planning to release a list of candidates for future Supreme Court appointments, all solid conservatives, but predicted Biden wouldn’t follow suit because the names on his list “would be too extreme, too radical.”
The Trump administration had won the DACA case, contrary to popular belief, except that the justices faulted the paperwork. OK, the paperwork would be adjusted and refiled in order to reach a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.
Look who Biden was putting on his team. First he put Beto O’Rourke in charge of gun control, and then it was AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) overseeing environmental and energy policy. “How does Oklahoma feel about being petroleum free? Not good, right?” And don’t forget Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who wants to tell us “how to run our country” and is basically in favor of anarchy including “no safety, no police.”
Over the years, Biden has been “a Trojan horse for socialism. And “virtually every policy that has hurt black Americans for half a century, Joe Biden has supported or enacted. I’ve done more for the black community in four years than Joe Biden has done in 47 years.”
Our record: Criminal justice reform – record funding for historically black colleges & universities – opportunity zones to attract federal dollars to inner city investments – school choice.
Their record: Decades of failure on schools, jobs, housing, justice, and crime. “In major city public schools run by Democrats, over two thirds of students are falling behind in reading and math.” All 20 of “the most dangerous cities in America” are controlled by Democrats, and so is “nearly every major city with a child poverty rate that’s over 30%.”
Soon the whole country would be like that due to the “Democrats’ push against our police.” In contrast, “I will always support the incredible men and women of law enforcement.”
I’ll protect Social Security and Medicare for our great seniors, protect patients with pre-existing conditions (from losing healthcare insurance), appoint more judges to interpret the Constitution as written, end deadly sanctuary cities, and keep building that border wall that’s now up to 212 added miles.
Elect a Republican Congress to approve a “fair, safe, sane, and lawful system of immigration that puts American workers first.” Greatly upgrade US infrastructure (no mention of cost) – have more goods “Made in the USA” - become the world’s premier pharmaceutical and medical manufacturer - stay out of foolish, stupid, ridiculous foreign wars – never hesitate to kill America’s terrorist enemies.
“Proud citizens like you helped build this country, and together we are taking back our country. We are returning the power to you, the American people. With your help, your devotion and your drive, we are going to keep on working, we are going to keep on fighting, and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning.”
C. Assessment – The vibe from the Tulsa rally and other GOP activity is so strongly at odds with recent activity of the other side that one has to wonder whether Republicans and Democrats are operating in the same political universe.
TEAM TRUMP wants to uphold the law, restore order, and reboot the US economy by phasing out the restrictions that were imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The transition must be handled safely, but time is of the essence and there’s no such thing as a zero risk approach. The upcoming elections should take place in the normal fashion, with live campaign events, spirited debate of the issues, and the majority of voters going to the polls on Election Day. Congressional and state Republicans are inclined to follow the president’s lead, although some of them fear he may be headed for a defeat in November that could drag them down with him.
TEAM BLUE sees a continuing need for the coronavirus-related restrictions until a vaccine and/or highly effective therapies become available. Economic recovery will require more relief spending and astute government direction; everyone knows “trickledown economics” don’t work. The social justice protests are constructive, racism has been tolerated for far too long, and harsh repressive measures would be inappropriate. Public health considerations should rule out live political rallies, large scale conventions, or extensive debates. Voting by mail is safe, convenient, and will produce higher voter turnout. Direction is coming from left-wing Democrats, with the Biden campaign following their lead.
Caveat: For better or worse, the Team Trump profile is supported by specific actions and statements of the president and his supporters. The Team Blue profile reflects the activity of a larger cast of characters, as the Biden campaign is primarily following rather than leading, and in some cases includes inferences based on circumstantial evidence as distinguished from direct observations of things that have happened.
The fundamental difference between the two profiles is that Team Trump wants to restore the status quo ante in the near future – or reopen the country if you will – whereas Team Blue would just as soon keep things closed down for a while and use this time to overhaul the economic and social framework of the US in ways they haven’t clearly explained.
Current polling suggests that Americans remain concerned about the coronavirus and don’t expect a rapid economic recovery. Many seem to have adapted to restricted interactions with the outside world and will take time to get back in the swing of things. Majority say economy reopening too quickly, David Hogberg, Washington Examiner, 6/26/20.
Left unsaid is that protracted economic stagnation would make the eventual recovery longer and less certain. And while political leaders from both parties have talked about enacting another round of economic relief payments – such as the $3 trillion HEROES Act that was passed by House Democrats in late April only to be pigeonholed in the Senate for now – the government won’t be able to cover the cost without soaking Americans with higher taxes and/or a serious bout of inflation. In other words, as all concerned should have learned by now, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Furthermore, the tradeoffs are more complicated than lives saved (by lockdown policies) versus profits (from restarting the economy). It seems there are significant health drawbacks associated with the lockdown policies – depression, substance abuse, suicides, and deferral of elective medical procedures for other ailments. Some doctors [600 of them signed a letter to the president] claiming lockdown is becoming a serious health problem, Simon Books, moms.com, 5/23/20.
So while quickly opening up the economy is hardly a “no brainer,” as the president seems to be saying, he at least deserves credit for trying to restore confidence and get the country focused on finding solutions versus wallowing in misery. Team Blue’s approach seems unduly reliant on distributing handouts, which at best would dull the pain of economic recession versus recovering from it and moving on, and subjecting additional segments of the economy to government controls. Such an approach runs counter to SAFE’s smaller, more focused, less costly government agenda, so we are naturally inclined to disagree.
As for law and order, it’s hard to see much merit in the Team Blue approach. The current protests and political demands have gone far beyond the killing of George Floyd (which no one condoned in the first place). And while there is ample evidence that police operations could be improved, the core problem isn’t systemic racism – as has been claimed – but a combination of inadequate training and ineffective procedures for investigating public complaints and holding police officers accountable if they are shown to be in the wrong.
Such problems can’t be fixed by defunding police departments, ordering officers to stand back and let riots happen, or the like. If there are some statutes that liberals want to remove, let’s have a conversation about it, but allowing mobs of protestors to tear down whatever statutes happen to offend them (including many historical figures who weren’t Confederate generals, such as George Washington, Francis Scott Keys, and Ulysses S. Grant) isn’t the way to go about it.
With support from the president, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and others drafted a police reform bill. Senate Democrats blocked discussion of this bill with a filibuster, thus effectively indicating that they want a campaign issue versus corrective action. Democrats play politics on police reform, Shay Hawkins, Wall Street Journal, 6/25/20.
To be complete, House Democrats have since passed their own police reform bill, and there may be a discussion in the Senate at some point. Whether the discussion will prove fruitful, however, remains to be seen.
Also, it’s been reported (source: Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware) that if the Democrats win control of the White House and the Senate in November, they will abolish the filibuster rule in order to speed a progressive legislative agenda through Congress. The filibuster is going, going . . . , Wall Street Journal, 6/25/20.
House Democrats don’t openly support violence, that would be political suicide, but they unanimously voted down a resolution to condemn such activity – perhaps because the language of the resolutions made clear that defunding the police wasn’t the answer. House Dems block resolution condemning looting and rioting, Joe Sanders, westernjournal.com, 6/25/20.
In sum, the president’s support for law and order seems eminently reasonable. And if the presidential election turns on that issue, one might think he would have a lot of support.
Is the Trump Team message getting across. Some observers have suggested otherwise, ranging from a Wall Street Journal editorial (Trump needs a second term agenda) to a suggestion from Steve Bannon (ditch the rallies and make trips around the country to showcase accomplishments of your administration).
We’re not so sure about ditching rallies, but do agree that the Tulsa rally left room for improvement. Here are some modest suggestions (which will be duly e-mailed to the White House):
1. The coronavirus situation continues to be challenging, and the president should have covered the current situation and plans rather than leaving that part to the audience’s imagination. Also, he should have acknowledged the role being played by Vice President Mike Pence (who was present at the rally and introduced the president) in leading the coronavirus task force. The only solid point about the path forward was a plea to open US schools this fall, which in our opinion is highly desirable.
2. The president’s personal attacks on Biden came across as mean-spirited and aren’t likely to resonate with voters. Trump’s Biden problem: People don’t hate him like they did Hillary, James Antle, Washington Examiner, 6/24/20. If Trump keeps attacking Biden’s declining abilities, moreover, this could backfire by prompting the last minute substitution of a younger candidate.
3. Some stories told at the rally were old news, like the president’s negotiations with Boeing about the cost of new Air Force One planes, and the West Point story lasted too long. Cut out some of this filler material, and provide a more thorough discussion of the items that are covered.
#We sent the following e-mail to the White House (and received standard acknowledgement same day).
Dear President Trump - Our organization is centered in Delaware and has been advocating smaller, more focused, less costly government since 1996. We consider ourselves well informed about the current political scene, and just posted some thoughts about the 2020 presidential campaign - including our take on the Tulsa rally - that you may find of interest. To access our analysis, follow this browser path: Secure America's Future Economy (or s-a-f-e.org) - Blog Page - 6/29/20. If you have any questions or we can help further, please advise.
#We sent the following e-mail to Sen. Chris Coons - We wanted to give you a heads’ up re this week’s blog entry. Some people might wonder how you can justify plans to abolish the filibuster rule at such time as Democrats may be in the majority with the routine use of this rule while the shoe was on the other foot. To access our analysis, follow this browser path: Secure America's Future Economy (or s-a-f-e.org) - Blog Page - 6/29/20. If you have any questions or we can help further, please advise.
#I am pessimistic about the upcoming elections. – SAFE director
#A bit long, but worth reading. Evidently SAFE isn’t e-bullient about Mr. Biden. – College classmate
#This week’s entry was really good. To me, Trump seems hopeless. – Retired finance manager
#Enjoyed the latest letter. - Retired finance executive