Hello from Pennsylvania, aka the Keystone State, a nod to its central role in the formation of the nation. The architectural term denoting a central stone that holds a structure together is especially fitting this year as both President Donald Trump and Joe Biden have made this state the bedrock of their electoral hopes. Many forecasts, including OZY’s, show Pennsylvania as the state most likely to deliver the decisive Electoral College vote for the winner, which is why I’m in Erie, Pennsylvania, speaking to folks ahead of tonight’s debate. Trump’s campaigning here offers clues to what we can expect from four more years if he wins despite trailing in the polls. Today’s Daily Dose explores what we know — and don’t — about Trump 2.0, as well as what to expect from the final frenzied weeks on the campaign trail.
Nick Fouriezos, Senior Politics Reporter
sketching trump’s second term
What the president is saying (and not) about his White House plans for 2021 and beyond.
1. What the Future Is Not
“Make America Great Again” implies a certain forward-looking mindset. But Trump spent nearly the entirety of his speech Tuesday night in Erie talking about what would happen if Biden won — everything from turning America into a socialist country to leading a devastating recession and tripling (even quadrupling) people’s taxes. “I did more in 47 months than Joe Biden did in 47 years,” Trump declared. It wasn’t until the end of his hourlong speech that Trump began to list some of what his second term would entail: making America the “manufacturing superpower of the world,” banning “deadly sanctuary cities,” defeating terrorists, ending surprise medical bills and becoming the first to land an astronaut on Mars, among other things.
2. Oil on Their Hands
Among Trump supporters willing to risk a packed rally on a foggy Erie night, energy issues came up again and again. “I came here because I like oil,” said Tom Douglas of Oil City, who works in the oil industry. “I like the fact that he’s trying to bring back all the businesses to America, bring back oil, gas, fracking,” added Tammy Anderson, a Trump fan from Kaine. And Trump recognized the issue’s salience, playing a prerecorded clip that drew loud boos while showing both Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, making statements against fracking during the Democratic primary. “Only by voting for me can you save your fracking,” Trump said. While speaking in oil-rich western Pennsylvania in August, Biden pushed back against the characterization, stating: “I am not banning fracking, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.” But the issue remains a sticky one for Biden.
3. Traffic Jam
Everybody loves gridlock, right? Even if Trump does win, the president will almost certainly face a Democratic House of Representatives — and very well could lose the U.S. Senate too. That means his second term could look a lot more like the past two years — in which Trump has struggled to get through any meaningful legislation — than his first two, which included the First Step Act, a Veterans Affairs reform bill and landmark tax cuts. That hasn’t stopped Trump from making his mark, of course: The president has signed a number of executive orders to cut regulations that have benefited businesses but potentially put the environment at risk. And as commander in chief, his reshaping of U.S. diplomacy on the global stage will only continue.
Trump’s colleagues on the other side of the aisle can afford to ignore his legislative agenda for now. But if Trump wins another term, a Democratic Congress would have to pass something that POTUS would actually sign … or risk being labeled as obstructionist as Obama-era Republicans. So why not start with reducing drug prices, an issue that Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, have championed — and that Trump has co-opted to bolster his own populist bona fides. “The drug companies do not like me very much. … You better give me the credit, damn it,” Trump said in Erie on Tuesday. Everything from legalizing drug importation from Canada to allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies could be on the table. Plus, it’s an issue with rare bipartisan consensus nationally, as Americans have seen more than ever the value of affordable health care amid the pandemic. If pharmaceutical companies went along with a reform deal, it would give Big Pharma a chance to build on the goodwill the industry has garnered amid a search for a vaccine.
In a contentious interview with David Letterman on Netflix this week, Kim Kardashian refused to be rattled while discussing her work with Trump on criminal justice reform — even declining to say who she’s voting for this year. One obvious reason: She believes she can do even more to advance reform under the Trump administration, after playing a pivotal role in getting activist and drug offender Alice Johnson pardoned and the First Step Act passed. Advocates on both the right and the left have often said that the act — which eased punishments for well-behaved prisoners and curbed some mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses — was only meant to be a starting point. And a second-term Trump may be eager to build on an image as a benevolent justice reformer, given his propensity for bragging on the campaign trail about how much he has done for Black voters.
The term has become a bit of a joke owing to lack of movement in recent years, policywise. But Democrats and Republicans alike are feeling pressure from constituents to pass spending bills that inject cash into their backyards, particularly as the pandemic has gutted local government budgets. Trump made it clear in Tuesday’s speech that he wouldn’t be fiscally stingy, promising to protect Social Security and Medicare, among other expensive budget items. And Democrats may be more willing to play ball on an infrastructure bill if they know it won’t be a campaign talking point for a term-limited Trump.
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Election meddling, it’s not just for the Russians anymore. U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has blamed Iran for sending fabricated, threatening emails in the name of far-right group Proud Boys to Democratic voters. (Ratcliffe also said the Russians have access to U.S. voter data, but he was less specific about what they’re up to.) Iran is denying the allegation while simultaneously stirring the pot, indicating this is a winner for Tehran no matter how it shakes out. “The world has been witnessing U.S.’ own desperate public attempts to question the outcome of its own elections at the highest level,” said Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian Mission to the U.N. “These accusations are nothing more than another scenario to undermine voter confidence in the security of the U.S. election and are absurd.”
2. The Next President’s Biggest Global Test
Mass protests in Chile, a new leftist leader in Bolivia, the dumpster fire that is Venezuela: Latin America is shaping up to be the steepest challenge for the next president — be it Biden or Trump. Even as Moscow and Beijing hog the attention, and rightfully so, we’re going to need to hear more from both candidates about America’s turbulent neighbors down south.
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt loves you — and everyone. The Third Rock From the Sun and 500 Days of Summer actor talks to Carlos about his new Netflix movie and why the ‘60s feel relevant today. Raised by activist parents, he says “the left is in my blood” and that true patriotism is pointing out a country’s flaws and working to improve them. Don’t miss this episode with the ever-charming JGL.
There’s a substantial rule change from the meltdown last month to today’s second and final presidential debate in Nashville (airing across the major networks at 9 p.m. EST): the mute button. Given the mostly Trump-initiated interruptions, the debate commission will mute the opponent’s microphone while a candidate is delivering his two-minute uninterrupted answer to a question, before the “open debate” portion where both men can yell at and over each other like the good ol’ days.
2. Hunter, Hunter, Hunter
We heard a lot about Joe’s troubled son, Hunter Biden, in the first debate. But Trump has new ammunition in a series of New York Post stories about a cache of emails reportedly recovered from Hunter’s hard drive that imply he introduced his then-VP dad to a Ukrainian businessman and later sought a lucrative deal with a government-tied Chinese energy company, with hints at a cut for Joe. The rest of the mainstream media has treated the story with intense skepticism, especially given that the hard drive was provided by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and social media companies sought to limit its reach (likely only drawing attention to the story). Muted or not, Trump will not stay silent on this story tonight. So far, Biden has only offered a prickly response to reporters, so his reaction will be instructive.
3. Here’s the (Closed) Deal
Biden didn’t look great in the first debate, particularly early on, but a bullying Trump couldn’t crack him — even when he went after Hunter’s drug problem. (Biden’s emotional reply was one of his most effective of the night.) He was evasive on “court packing,” though Biden now says he will appoint a bipartisan commission to study the issue, an answer which will satisfy precisely no one. Still, polls and other data suggest Biden is winning, and a steady performance could go a long way toward sealing the deal for voters put off by Trump’s personality and looking for a safe harbor. Trump, meanwhile, is reportedly being told by debate preppers to lighten up and do less interrupting in order to allow Biden to stumble on his own. But he didn’t heed the coaching last time, so who knows.
Our exclusive election forecast in conjunction with the data firm 0ptimus — which crunches polls, historical data, economic factors and more — shows Biden continuing to strengthen, ticking up to an 86 percent chance of victory with less than two weeks to go. An ocean of cash for Biden in the latest Federal Election Commission reports only cemented the advantage we were seeing in the polls and other data. Trump continues to trail in the key swing states he has to win for a path to 270 electoral votes, and this week saw North Carolina dip from toss-up into lean Democrat territory, with a 63 percent chance of a Biden victory.
Trump’s Erie event marked his third visit to the northwestern Pennsylvania manufacturing town since his surprising 2016 win. Biden has made 15 visits to Pennsylvania, including a trip to Erie earlier in October. The bellwether city has a traditionally union-friendly, working-class voter base that flipped toward Republicans in recent years but has also seen marginal economic gains since Trump became president. “Tighten your chin straps and get ready to knock over anybody who is wearing the color of the opposite team,” shouted U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly in his opening act at the Erie International Airport. Most of the rally attendees we spoke to believed Trump will win, but said they hope he will step down gracefully if he doesn’t.
Decked out in Trump hats and shirts, Matt Peters and his daughter, Laurelai Nowicki, have been shocked by the number of Democrats and independents flowing into their local party office in Butler County to reclassify as Republicans. “Democrats are going to get blindsided again,” said Peters, 61, who works in construction and registered for the first time in 2016 to vote for Trump. The Trump-loving family isn’t imagining things: Republicans in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina are seeing higher percentage gains in voter registrations than Democrats. Democrats say they aren’t worried so far … even if a similar shift in Pennsylvania in 2016 did presage Trump’s surprise victory there. That’s because Democrats are leading where they believe it counts — by 132,695, when counting only new voter registrations, as in folks who registered in Pennsylvania for the first time this election. Those first-timers are more important, says Jim Wentz, chair of the Erie County Democratic Party, who argues that party switchers were mostly people “realigning themselves to the party for which they were voting much of the time anyway.”
4. Another State to Watch: Georgia
Long hyped as shifting from red to blue because of an increasing nonwhite vote, Georgia is firmly in play for both the White House (we show Trump with a 51 percent chance of victory) and not one but two Senate races. There’s been a ton of attention on a wild “jungle primary” race that likely will be decided in a January runoff between the top two November finishers, but it’s the race between Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff that’s heating up. Speaking at a Trump rally in Macon, Perdue appeared to mock the name of his Senate colleague Harris (“KA-mala, Ka-MA-la or Ka-mama-mama-mama, I don’t know”). Ossoff quickly raised nearly $2 million in a race that sits firmly as a toss-up, while we give Perdue a 57 percent chance of victory.
a word from the undecideds
OZY has been speaking to undecided voters across the country. Are you torn between Trump and Biden? Thinking third party? Weighing whether to vote at all? We want to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Jequan Mayo, 20, Pennsylvania
This is my first presidential election. I’ve heard that Trump is bad for people of color. And I’ve seen it too, which is the main thing that bothers me this election. But I don’t feel like anything is going to change. At this point, there aren’t any issues that I care about — because, at this point, candidates always say they will do this or do that, and nothing ever happens. So at this point, whatever comes, it comes.
I just wish there was a better choice. From a character point of view, the president doesn’t have many good character traits. If you ask me, he says some terrible things. On the other hand, there’s not many policies that I like the sound of on the progressive side. I’m concerned with a transition to a new administration because they’re so vocal about moving away from the chemical and energy industry. And so that’s not good for me. It’s not good for my livelihood to switch to an industry that doesn’t exist — clean fuel.
3. Cynthia Ogrey, 78, California
When Trump was running against Hillary Clinton, I didn’t want either of them. I was in the same quandary. So I voted for everything else on the ballot and said I would come back to the question … but accidentally sealed the envelope and turned it in, so I didn’t vote for president. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, that was such a Freudian thing.” Now I’m going to have to face it and say “yea” or “nay.” And I still feel like both parties are not representing me as a person.