The election is closer than it should be

Given the facts, why is it a tie?

Supporters of former president Donald Trump attend the Turning Point Action People’s Convention on June 15, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan (Getty Images)
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Welcome to Thunderdome. So I want to open with a caveat: Fox News is my employer, and anything I say that is critical of their pollsters should be understood as distinct to their pollsters, and not to the network as a whole. That said, their pollsters have occasionally been… very wrong. Who can forget the ludicrous Indiana Senate poll from 2018 that envisioned a dead heat between the candidates in a race the Republican won by seven points? So the point is, everyone can be off on occasion. But right now, the Fox prognosticators are…

Welcome to Thunderdome. So I want to open with a caveat: Fox News is my employer, and anything I say that is critical of their pollsters should be understood as distinct to their pollsters, and not to the network as a whole. That said, their pollsters have occasionally been… very wrong. Who can forget the ludicrous Indiana Senate poll from 2018 that envisioned a dead heat between the candidates in a race the Republican won by seven points? So the point is, everyone can be off on occasion. But right now, the Fox prognosticators are out with a poll that shows Joe Biden up, and the opinions about the economy up as well. It’s been a shift that is notable over the past month.

For Republicans, this may come as a shock, or they might dismiss it. But it’s probably pretty accurate, or close to it. Things just aren’t as bad for Joe Biden politically as some people would like to believe. The indications are dire on paper, to be sure — but even with his failures on the economy, chaos on the world stage and his radicalism on culture war issues, Biden is hanging in there.

The truth is that none of this is a significant change. Trump has been within the margin of error for a long time now and it’s hardly a surprise to see him there again. But it might be a surprise to those Republicans who thought the former president was running ahead. 

The power of incumbency is significant. So is the advantage bequeathed to Joe Biden by having a compliant media and massive donor support structure. Virtually every entity and institution of note is on Biden’s side. So for the former president, this is an uphill battle.

For Democrats, next week’s debate is about establishing stability and framing the upcoming fall contest. For Republicans, it needs to be about detailing all the failures of the Biden administration for voters who have generally tuned out of political news in the past few years. Anyone watching it needs to come away with the conclusion that the affordability of a home, food, gas, electricity and basic needs for a family are all problems that Joe Biden exacerbated. If they don’t, that’s going to be Donald Trump’s fault for spending too much time on issues that aren’t priorities for Americans.

If given the choice, I’d still rather be the Trump campaign than the Biden campaign at this point. But this is a much closer race than it should be given the state of affairs. The possibility of a shy Biden vote is very real. And no amount of hammering away from the right’s media arm will alter that fact. It will take a performance from the candidate himself.

Righting the RNC ship

Amber Duke’s latest at The Spectator looks at the challenge of correcting the GOP’s party mechanisms.

Initial reports about the Trump takeover of the RNC raised concerns that the committee would effectively serve as a slush fund for the campaign. Charlie Spies, a top GOP lawyer, was forced out of the RNC not long after he was hired, allegedly due to insufficient loyalty to Trump. Trump, according to a previous report from The Spectator, directed the brutal firing of dozens of RNC staff because he wanted “shock and awe.” However, the RNC either already has or is planning to rehire most of the people caught in the cull. “Only a handful of folks got screwed,” the former staffer noted.

A number of RNC staffers were tapped to move to Florida and work on the campaign to supplement the skeleton crew that got Trump through the primaries. While the DeSantis campaign had hundreds of staff during the primary, Trump maybe had dozens.

“By combining forces and operations, the Trump campaign and RNC are deploying operations that are fueled by passionate volunteers who care about saving America and firing Joe Biden,” LaCivita told
The Spectator in a statement over email. “We do not feel obligated however to discuss the specifics of our strategy, timing and tactics with members of the News Media.”

Trump’s gag order is still on for debate

An unprecedented restriction.

A gag order issued by Judge Juan Merchan in the hush money case will prevent Trump from discussing at the debate, for example, his concerns about one of the lead prosecutors and the judge’s daughter, both of whom Trump has argued presented conflicts of interest in the case.

Matthew Colangelo, who had a leading role in helping Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg secure a conviction against Trump last month, worked in the Biden Department of Justice before Bragg, an elected Democrat, hired him to help with the hush money case in December 2022.

In March, Trump told reporters Colangelo was a “Biden DoJ guy.”

“Why is he in the Manhattan DA’s office trying the case? That in itself is a conflict. He’s in the Manhattan DA’s office trying the case. I mean, that’s called a conflict,” Trump said.

At the request of prosecutors, Merchan swiftly issued a gag order in March that shut down Trump’s ability to speak openly about Colangelo, citing concerns for the safety of Colangelo and others whom Trump has publicly criticized.

Merchan then expanded the order to include family members of prosecutors and court staff after Trump attacked the judge’s daughter in posts online. However, Trump had nonfrivolous concerns about Loren Merchan that he also raised in court motions.

The former president will not be able to discuss these motions at the debate.

They involved Trump asking Juan Merchan to recuse himself from the case on the grounds that his daughter’s line of work presented a conflict of interest. Loren Merchan is an executive at a top Democratic marketing firm, and her company has raked in millions of dollars from some of Trump’s most prominent political rivals by providing marketing services to them. Those rivals, such as Representative Adam Schiff, have solicited campaign donations by highlighting Trump’s criminal trials. Trump’s attorneys argued in the motions that the judge’s family stood to gain monetarily from the outcome of the case. Juan Merchan denied both motions.

The gag order specifically instructed Trump, under the threat of fines or jail time, to refrain from speaking about witnesses, all prosecutors except Bragg, all court staff except Juan Merchan, and the family of prosecutors and court staff. Trump has already been fined for violating the order, and the judge warned jail would be his next move if the violations continue.

Trump appealed the order, but on Tuesday, New York’s highest court tossed out the appeal, meaning the gag order remains active indefinitely as Trump awaits sentencing and as he plans to file an appeal to his conviction.

Lara Trump has also confirmed that the RNC is not planning to use donations to pay for Trump’s legal bills, despite the failure of a resolution to codify the ban proposed by Mississippi RNC member Henry Barbour in February.

How the RNC should interface with the Trump campaign was of course one of the debates that led to McDaniel’s getting the boot earlier this year after becoming the longest-serving RNC chair. She was knocked by Trump’s allies for running a faux-neutral primary in which everyone realistically knew Trump was going to be the nominee. Team Trump also allegedly chafed that McDaniel decoupled herself from the Trump campaign after the former president installed her as RNC chair in 2017 and tacitly supported her through an attempted leadership coup in 2022. Some observers chalked up her departure to a long-term pressure campaign by pro-Trump RNC committee member Tyler Bowyer and his friends at the youth activist organization Turning Point USA.

But McDaniel’s attempt to split the baby earned her plenty of enemies from Trump’s challengers too, who bristled at the notion that they had to spend precious campaign resources early in the cycle to meet the RNC’s rigorous debate criteria while Trump refused to participate.

More importantly, there were problems at the RNC under McDaniel’s leadership that were bigger and more entrenched than anything directly related to Trump. For one, outside of the joint fundraising committee with the Trump campaign, McDaniel had a difficult time meeting fundraising goals. McDaniel raised $11.6 million in January and $10.6 million in February; the RNC raised more than $32 million in April, the first full month with the new leadership team in place.

Others felt McDaniel did not have the killer instinct needed to win in an era of left-wing lawfare and a hopelessly biased media landscape. “Ronna did need to go, but more so because of her attitude. Despite being handpicked by Trump she was still hanging onto the old ways of politics. Pretending it’s a nice, statesmanlike game,” the former RNC staffer said. In one instance toward the end of her tenure, the communications team at the RNC was told to back off of hammering NBC for a shoddy article. McDaniel was worried that it could jeopardize her negotiations with the network to obtain an on-air commentator position. McDaniel would eventually join NBC, but the network canceled her contract in less than a week amid complaints from left-leaning staff. “Contrast that with the new order, they are here for a knife fight. They know the current media landscape well, what works for Trump and how to hit the left,” the staffer asserted. Since Trump’s conviction on thirty-four counts in a May trial that many considered at best a political prosecution, it’s even more important for Republicans to have someone at the helm who is willing to take the gloves off.

Latino voters trust Trump over Biden

Even on immigration.

Democrats no longer hold the robust advantage among Latinos they once did on immigration, according to a new poll.

Why it matters: Once reliably Democratic voters, many Latinos are increasingly identifying as independent, and working-class voters are leaning more toward the GOP.

An estimated 36.2 million US Latinos are eligible to vote in this year’s election.
Zoom in: An Equis poll released Tuesday of 1,592 registered Latino voters in seven battleground states found 41 percent of Hispanic voters trust Trump on immigration compared to 38 percent for Biden.

What they’re saying: the problem for Democrats and Biden “is great uncertainty in support” for the president among Latino voters, Carlos Odio, co-founder and senior vice president for research at Equis Labs, told reporters Tuesday.

One prominent factor: Democrats don’t hold the advantage they once did with Latinos on immigration, Oido adds.

One more thing

RFK Jr. almost made the CNN debate, but failed to qualify by the deadline. A major part of the issue: the early nature of the debate means that many states have not yet certified which candidates will appear on the ballot, and CNN itself is engaging with Trump and Biden as “presumed nominees” — so adjudicating RFK’s ballot access is a major problem for him. He also came one poll short on that more arbitrary requirement. What will prove interesting is if the latter debate this cycle is forced to take him, since that will come after many state deadlines are in play. But don’t be surprised if the other campaigns try to muck with the system to deny him access again.